Why are there so many shows with food as the ‘lead character’?
I was happy to note that Season 2 of The Bear had dropped (as everything seems to these days). Like many, I enjoyed Season 1. The lead character, the support, and their concerns had me rooting for them. I’d liked the backstory. A flawed (and charismatic, we are told) man dies, leaving in his chaotic wake a brother who has to deviate from his own seemingly straightforward path, and take on the unenviable task of running a broken café with broken people.
Unfortunately, unlike the majority and their co-brother who are telling me this is the greatest show on earth, I couldn’t get past Ep. 3 of Season 2. I surfed about and settled on a European show set in a hospital. (I’m deliberately not naming the show because that’s not what this piece is about.)
Soon, it came to me why The Bear (S2, readers, please note) had left me colder than Lionel Boyce AKA Marcus’ exotic desserts, even annoyed a bit — and not just because of Ayo Edebiri and Abby Elliot’s grating vocal fries (no cooking pun there, I promise) — while the other show had had me immersed. One show was telling me that food, not its accessibility to the deprived, mind you, but its look, taste, and presentation, hyper-curated to appease a bunch of indulgent idiots, was a life-and-death situation. While the other was saying life and death were, well, a life-and-death situation.
It was sheer serendipity that I had stumbled upon this show after abandoning The Bear. It gave me perspective in the most literal way possible. That food is food. That despite all the purported angst of the lead characters, there was really nothing in there for them (and, therefore, me) to get their apron strings twisted into a reef-knot with the nada of their knickers. Meaning, no one would die if this hyper-ventilating, self-involved lot didn’t open that restaurant.
When has this food-related insanity taken over our race? Why are there so many shows with food as the ‘lead character’? And I’m not even talking about the surfeit of ‘reality’ cookery shows where a pack of pretentious plonkers — who deserve to be beaten with the hardback edition of S. Meenakshi Ammal’s Samaithu Paar — heckle, harangue and hector a bunch of hapless half-wits whose life dream, apparently, is to produce what looks like ET doo-doo, embellished with brush strokes of Belgian chocolate and drizzles of extra-virgin olive oil. And weep in defeat or delight, depending on whether the twit of a judge condemns or approves.
I’m talking of the nauseating buffet of dramas with food as the central theme, with swelling music accompanying shots of vegetables being chopped, dough being kneaded, meat being fried, and noses being picked (okay, I made up the last one). With the protagonist being a cook (I know I should say chef, but I shan’t) or aspiring to be one. Why aren’t there a similar number of shows on plumbers, electricians or handymen, if you leave out adult entertainment, that is? Are you saying their stories are less worthy of being told? Cooks, superheroes and serial killers. That’s our entire repertoire?
You think my issues are with the elite, the guys who want to exoticise food for Michelin stars and suchlike? No, sir. The bargain basement purveyors of this new trend are as bad if not worse.
Going by Insta reels, from street-side dosa vandis to hole-in-the-wall messes, everyone apparently has to queue up for their food. Anxiously wondering whether they'll get a plate of that violently orange bajji or, heaven forbid, will the cook will run out of the arsenic-laced batter, in which case they’d have to jump off the nearest bridge.
Waiting to eat when you’re a paying customer — it used to be a rarity. It was what fancy folk did on weekends, holidays, at fancy restaurants. Now we all have to, I hear. Every day. At unearthly hours. In godforsaken places. Otherwise we aren’t eating. Or living even.
I’ve never got this phenomenon. Why should I wait? I’m hungry, and places are full, I’ll eat a banana, a piece of chocolate, or go home and eat leftovers. It’s food, for god’s sake.
What, suddenly everyone is a connoisseur whose taste buds are so special that they have to eat that particular bandicoot biryani at that particular street-side joint redolent with the smell of urine at 3 am? And that is what gives life meaning? And this is practically everyone, if social media is anything to go by.
So basically this is our life now? Watching a show about food as we eat food that’s been brought to us by some unfortunate on a two-wheeler, after which, inspired by the show, and not fully satiated by the food we ate watching it, we drive 20 km to Adambakkam so we can eat their to-die-for fried kebab gulab jamun in avakkai sauce at Jangamanga Fast Foods, film it, post it, go back home and call it a day with a fruit for good health?
How sad and desperate we have become. Craving something once in a while is human, I guess. But everyone craving everything at all times is a sickness that needs further examination.