What’s Wrong with Cooking Shows? Foodie Underground

What's Wrong with Cooking Shows? Foodie Underground

Column A new study links cooking shows and weight gain. Is the problem us, or what we’re watching?

Cooking at home is the best food choice you can make, right?

If you cook at home you can skip all the processed nasty stuff and focus on the good stuff. The real food. And with all the cookbooks and cooking shows out there, that has to be easy, right? That’s what we would like to think.

A new study published in the journal Appetite took a look at women who watched cooking shows, and how those cooking shows affected their health. The results were a bit disheartening.

“Our main finding is that it seems that if you watch food television and then actually cook the recipes that you see, you’re at risk for having a higher BMI [body mass index],” study author Lizzy Pope told NPR’s food blog The Salt, who asked the question “do TV cooking shows make us fat?” Pope is a researcher in nutrition and food science at the University of Vermont, and with her colleagues surveyed 500 women in their 20s and 30s.

The women were put into two categories. There were the “viewers,” those who watched for fun but didn’t necessarily cook at home, and the “doers,” those who watched and cooked from scratched. The doers were worse off than the viewers. Amongst those women, those who watched cooking shows and frequently cooked from scratch were found to have a higher BMI, about 11 pounds more than the women who just watched.

But given the research done on the link between cooking from scratch and a healthier diet, it raises an important question: if we’re watching all these cooking shows and cooking from them, but that cooking is making us fatter, what is wrong with these shows?

The issue is multi-faceted. To begin with, we have an unhealthy relationship towards nutrition. “Everything in moderation” is not a policy that most of us manage to master. Instead we live in a world of extremes, with overeating and regular indulgence at one end, and waking up at 4am to go to the gym and then do a 10-day juice fast on the other.

The popular cooking shows that most people watch are either Fancy Celebrity Chefs Making Things You Will Never Make At Home or Down Home Cooking That’s Good for Once In Awhile But Probably Isn’t Best As a Regular Eating Routine. Also, there’s Cupcake Wars. Take a look at the list of popular cooking shows and there isn’t much in the top 10, or even 20, that’s focused on balanced, nutritious eating.

Therein lies our problem. These shows simply aren’t teaching us how to eat better. Either they are putting chefs on a pedestal, or showcasing meals that are great for once in awhile, but aren’t part of an everyday balanced diet.

There is no show devoted to real, simple food. Or at least not one that I have found.

Of course, maybe that’s because real food isn’t sexy. The networks probably think it wouldn’t get very many views, but “Super Sloppy Joes” do, and that means ad dollars. Not to mention that it’s lucrative to cook poorly and then get sponsored by a pharmaceutical company that sells diabetes drugs.

If television cooking shows are making us fat, it’s because of the content. It’s not because people are cooking at home, it’s what they are cooking at home. Until we have more television shows focused on smart, healthy, real food – that’s both time efficient, budget-friendly, and yes, fun, all of which are doable – then we can just expect more of the same.

Which is why we should turn off the television and go back to the basics. Real food, made at home. Some butter on occasion, just as Julia would like it.

Related on EcoSalon

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The Truth About Good Fats and Bad Fats

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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.

Image: Alex Lines


Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.