Is the Food Network the whitest of the cable stations?

by guest contributor Jae Ran Kim, originally published at Harlow’s Monkey

I read a while ago on someone’s blog that Food Network was one of the whitest cable stations and after a week of watching I have to agree it’s pretty bad. Most of the major celebrity chefs are white. Other than the new host of a show that features Latin food, it’s all white hosts. What happened to Martin Yan from Yan Can Cook and his heavily accented, chop-schtick antics? Even Al Roker went missing. It seemed like it was show after show of white men and women cooking their fusion-style, All-American dishes.

All week, Food Network showed clips of it’s upcoming show, Down Home with the Neely’s. Now, I’d heard the Neely name mentioned in at least three different shows, because they are a big name in BBQ. So yesterday morning the premiere episode came on, and I’m watching it. Part of me was skeptical right away, because this show seemed to be straight out of a program developer’s notebook on “Southern Black Family 101.” They showcased BBQ ribs, slaw, strawberry salad. Everything looked great, the food, the personalities of the Neelys seemed genuine, all good. Why am I crabbing?

I just hope that this isn’t going to be the sum total of what Food Network thinks is “Black” food. Just like “Asian” food is much more than Tyler Florence showing up at a family’s house to show them how to cook Korean food as he did in one episode of Food 911. So glad for Lisa that Tyler was there to show her how to make authentic Korean-style BBQ! Whew, poor Lisa would have been so screwed if Tyler wasn’t there to show her how to be more authentic Korean!!

And what made me wince in pain more than my stitches was when Pat Neely, in a little bit just before commercial break, announces that February is Black History Month.

Woah, Food Network, you sure fooled me. Really – February is Black History Month? What an ingenious time to introduce your one and only show featuring an African American family who actually COOKS! I’m just saying, it’s time to give that program assistant a huge gigantic raise!

(I have to say, HGTV, for some of your schmaltzy shows, you do a far better job of featuring hosts of all diversities, both as designers and in real-life families. And without the stereotypic “ethnic” design segregation. What a relief that your African American designers are not limited to only featuring African masks and animal prints in their designs, or that Vern Yip isn’t forced to place bamboo in every re-design. That they actually get to design what they want is refreshing).

Yes, it seems Food Network is very behind the times here. All the white cooks can do all kinds of different ethnic foods. Ingrid Hoffman only gets to cook Latin-inspired dishes since she’s Latina. And since Giada and Mario identify with their Italian heritages so they must cook everything Italian. Guess the philosophy of Food Network is if you want the freedom to cook whatever you want and cross those ethnic boundaries, don’t let it be known what your racial or ethnic heritage is – or you’ll be forever segregated into a cooking ghetto.

On the plus side, I have a whole load of new recipes I can’t wait to try!

  • katatak

    I know this is an old thread, but I gotta say- super racist. But miguided racism. It’s like these people just don’t know anything about other races. I mean, the three shows starring black people are: “down home” with the neeleys, “big daddy’s” kitchen, and cooking “for real.” I don’t know how they all got their titles, but I know when Aaron McCargo Jr was on the Next Food Network Star, he wanted to name is show something else, and they pushed the “big daddy” idea on him. The network is racist, but I do enjoy many of the shows. I just wish they would allow for more variety and creativity among their chefs.