Saturday, November 15, 2014

Top Chef Boston and Cooking in Pop Culture

Contestants pick out produce at Whole Foods Maket in Lynnfield, MA.
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Reality shows aren't going away any time soon, and neither are the programs in the sub-genre of cooking reality shows. Food and cooking are becoming more and more visible in pop culture, from controversy over the word "foodie," to CSAs and farmers markets gaining popularity, to everyone suddenly brewing their own beer. Does the entertainment media have a responsibility to portray a responsible food system? And if so, how are they doing with that?

Bravo's Top Chef filmed its current season, which is airing now, right here in Boston, and it's gotten some of us locavores raising eyebrows at what the producers have chosen to showcase.

A recent interview with Top Chef judge Gail Simmons focused on Simmons' personal preferences for food that is healthy, seasonal, and ethically sourced. In fact, almost every judge and contestant on the show has, in a private interview, mentioned something to the effect that these issues are important to them in their own cooking, but they rarely come up on the show itself.

The Boston season, like most seasons of Top Chef, features the contractually obligated trip to Whole Foods in nearly every episode, which never bothered me until I thought about all of our great local grocers, butchers, and farms that would have made for way better local color than the strained Revolutionary War references they insist on weaving into every episode.

We can hope that Whole Foods was chosen because of its quality, but this is never really stated, and we're left wondering whether Whole Foods just did a better business deal than Stop and Shop or- gasp- Market Basket. We know that there are a lot of advantages to the way that Whole Foods sources its products, but either this topic never comes up when the cameras are rolling, or it gets edited out in favor of the personal squabbles that give Andy Cohen something to get excited about.

What are your thoughts? Do cooking shows help or hurt the problems with our food system? Or should we look at them in a vacuum, as pure entertainment? And if you're watching Top Chef Boston, who do you hope will win?

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