Food on TV: What can we learn?

Food on TV: What can we learn?

If you’re anything like us, you like to unwind with a TV show now and then (or, ahem, most nights). 

The most popular food-focused TV shows encompass a diverse range of culinary experiences. You can watch cooking competitions, see foodies travel the world to discover new dishes, and watch top chefs share recipes and cooking techniques that you can try at home. 

One of the very first TV cooking shows in the world aired on 21 January 1937 in the UK. It was called Cook’s Night Out, and viewers watched Marcel Boulestin (a well-known author of books about French cuisine) prepare an omelette. The show was 15 minutes long, broadcast live, and in black-and-white – and it was a sign of things to come. 

Today, cooking shows are everywhere. And if you watch closely, you can learn a lot from them.

Our favourite foodie TV shows include…

  • Chef’s Table. It’s a documentary series on Netflix which explores the lives and culinary work of chefs from around the world – a captivating glimpse into their food philosophies and approaches to cooking.
  • Nigel Slater’s Middle East. A mini-series that follows food writer Nigel Slater on a culinary journey around the Middle East, exploring cuisines and the culture of food.
  • Top Chef. A reality series where contestants compete in cooking challenges, judged by a panel of food TV personalities and professional chefs. We love the Arab-language version here in the MENA region, too.
  • Ugly Delicious. Another Netflix series, hosted by David Chang, which focuses on a different dish in each episode. Chang tastes the food with other chefs or celebrity friends, and gives us the lowdown on the history and cultural connections of each meal. 

But food shows go deeper than just entertainment

Studies have found that cooking shows don’t just reflect what’s going on in society – they also influence it. Consumption of food shows can influence a population’s food preferences, and this can be a good thing (when people are watching shows that promote healthy food) or a bad thing (when people are watching shows that promote foods with a high sugar content for example; or unhealthy diet culture). 

Positively, food shows have also been found to encourage viewers to try new tastes and textures, and experiment with dishes and cooking techniques that are unfamiliar to them. And they’re linked to shifts in the food culture of viewer populations. For example, UK show Masterchef, which highlights amateur home cooks competing at a high level, has given people confidence in their own capacity to cook delicious food if they put the effort in. 

In the US, however, popular TV shows focused on baking and desserts have coincided with a serious increase in sugar consumption among the population – with Americans consuming over 11 million metric tonnes of sugar since 2019 (up from about 10 million metric tonnes in 2010). 

But what comes first: The food trend or the food show? 

The question, then, is what comes first: the food trend, or the cooking show? 

And there’s no conclusive answer to this. 

The truth is, it’s likely to be a bit of both: current food trends influence the kinds of shows that get aired, and then those shows make those trends stronger. 

But we’d love to know what you think: has watching a TV food series ever changed your perspective on food, inspired you to cook new dishes, or motivated you to add (or eliminate) certain foods from your diet?

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