Globally, food television has inspired and contributed in pulling down barriers. It has thrown open a window for bonding with varied traditions, cultures and societies with no reservations
Chaotic, grimy, odorous, smoky and sweaty — this would be the natural atmosphere of a kitchen in any middle class Indian home with women spending on an average two to three hours daily toiling to prepare food for the family. After preparing the dishes, mopping the floors, cleaning the kitchen and emptying the garbage follows. For the millions of working class Indian homes this is the day to day reality. Food is a basic necessity and a quick and simple act.
The same act when presented on television cookery shows surprisingly takes away all the tediousness and miraculously transforms the mundane chore to some razzle-dazzle requiring fiddly skills. Especially with over 150 television cookery shows and the numerous niche channels to flashy food beaming into our homes and vying for our attention.
Thanks to the advent and alchemy of food shows, cookery programmes drip with glamour, gloss and gaiety. Food television has evolved over the years and has become a lifestyle in its own way. The ambience of these shows, the technology, the tools of the modern kitchen and the irresistible colours and mouthwatering dishes packaged with visuals and effects make for a feast for the viewers’ eyes.
Many middle-class Indians have never seen such top-of-the range blenders, ice-cream makers and pressure cookers, let alone industrial blast chillers. Few might even be wondering when did preparing and consuming food become such a fuss, filled with rigorous methodology. It is another matter that many of the working-class viewers do not have access to the world presented on these television shows.
Food shows have become the new entertainment on television. The demographics of the viewers who watch food television is no more limited to female viewers. Young and urban males too are showing interest in the genre satiating their appetites.
The concept of food television primarily is an American import. It all started as early as in 1946 with “I love to eat” on NBC. It was the first nationally televised cooking show presented by James Beard. Few years later another show titled “French Chef” hosted by the entertaining Julia Child followed. India had its “Khana Khazana” moment in 1993, apparently the longest running programme on Indian television.
So, what prompts us to tune into food television? Are we looking for a passive, mind-resting experience? An escape from the demanding, garish and loud daily soap operas with their twisty plots? What is happening to the pioneers of the food television genre in the West?
According to a recent Harvard Business Review article only 10 per cent of Americans love cooking. It sounds inexplicable given the proliferation and popularity of dedicated food television channels watched by millions in the US. It suggests that the fondness for food has inspired people to watch more food television, and the desire to eat more, but it has not necessarily increased the desire to cook. Food television has raised our standards to discouragingly high levels, the report says. The top 25 food and beverage companies have lost $18 billion in market share since 2009. Grocers are watching customers make fewer trips to stores, and many chains are in a prolonged price war, it adds.
While Indians do not need any introduction when it comes to cooking home food, the question remains, seeing so much of food on television, are Indians faring any better? Inspired by these programmes, are they indulging in experimenting and cooking more these days? It would be a safe bet to presume that while Indians have not given up home cooking, the younger generation has definitely shifted to fast food and instant ordering through food delivery apps in a big way.
Viewing English lifestyle television channels, one wonders what a foreign celebrity chef is doing in India. Seemingly, learn the chaotic Indian dishes from his Indian hosts. Then concoct the recipes and present it to the same very Indians, who taught him in the first place, in a flashy style from unusual locations like fishing boats, rough seas and back waters.
To the other extreme you have the slugfest shows ala Master Chef with drama, plot, histrionics, entertainment and suspense thrown in. Strikingly, some of the shows are even centered on kids participating in the cooking show. How are children as young as 8-10 years allowed to play with fire and made to participate in the cookery contests?
Is that the age at which you hone their culinary skills and reward them? Normal households would never allow this in their homes. But the compulsion of commercial television programming is always searching for newer grounds no matter how culturally bizarre.
Food television is now an established category of its own. cookery shows have enormous influence as they have transformed food traditions into cultural outreach. The shows that introduce you to the places, people in their own traditional settings humanise the culinary affair far more than an artificial, sterile and fake in-studio kitchen can ever do.
The love for food seems universal. Globally food television has inspired and contributed in pulling down barriers. It has thrown open a window for bonding with varied cultures and societies with no reservation.
(The writer is a communications and management professional with cross-sectoral experience)