Put away your tin foil, Giada de Laurentiis enthusiasts; lay down your many meats, Guy Fieri fans, and please, Sandra Lee watchers, resist buying all of the pre-packaged ingredients you can easily make on your own. Food Network viewers be warned: your favorite celebrity chef is encouraging wasteful, unhealthy behavior from the grocery store to the plate.
The burgeoning home-cooking trend is a wonderful thing and the Food Network empire (cooking shows, cookbooks, online recipes, magazines, cooking ware, etc.) is a valuable resource for people who want endless options and culinary inspiration. Unfortunately, many of the network's beloved faces are cooking up a hailstorm of garbage, from wasted packaging to edible trash. As an emerging icon in American eating, the Food Network needs to re-examine the message it sends to consumers.
Take Giada De Laurentiis, who manages to add nearly 1,000 square inches of aluminum foil to her Los Angeles landfill while preparing to tickle her friends' taste buds during the "Wine Tasting Party" episode of her show "Everyday Italian." In the process of making Parmesan Tortilla Crisps and Salami Crisps, De Laurentiis recommends using 4 heavy, large baking sheets (14" x 16") each lined with aluminum foil for easy cleanup. She suggests using yet another foil-lined pan for marinating swordfish.
Instead of washing her bake ware, De Laurentiis simply balls up her greasy foil and tosses it away--an ingenious process that brings her great delight. What De Laurentiis doesn't recognize is that the aftermath of her soiree will leave an indelible mark on the planet, since aluminum foil does not decompose: imagine the ramifications if thousands of Food Network fans were to routinely mimic such an extravagance.
Guy Fieri is an environmental and nutritional nightmare. His "Dragon's Breath Chili" is enough to set Michael Pollen's entire body of work into flames. Let's look at what he encourages his audience to consume during an episode of "Guy's Big Bite." To make eight servings of Chili, Fieri calls for 2 tbsp butter; 3 tbsp bacon grease; 1 lb boneless chuck; 2 lb ground beef; 1 pound bulk Italian sausage; 12 oz lager beer; doubled-fried French fries; 1 c cheddar. This single dish calls for 4 pounds of meat from three animals, if you include the chicken stock.
Fieri is encouraging one of America's worst habits--the profligate consumption of meat from anyplace. Chances are the average family can't find local, organic butchers to source the wide variety of flesh Fieri calls for, so he sends his audience to the nearby grocery store to support what Mark Bittman called, "assembly-line meat factories," which, "consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world's tropical rain forests."
Meanwhile, the perky Sandra Lee is telling us to buy our ingredients encased in plastic, even when purchasing them fresh would be perfectly simple--and more affordable. Her "trademark 70/30 Semi-Homemade® philosophy," means that the majority of what she prepares comes pre-made. For example, Lee's "Las Chalupas" dish calls for a package of taco seasoning (a combination of common spices); bottled salsa; bagged, pre-shredded cheese; bagged, pre-shredded lettuce and store-bought guacamole.
What Lee is doing is not really cooking... it's arranging. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the food she puts together comes wrapped in soon-to-be-waste. Chopping your own tomatoes, cutting your own lettuce and mashing your own avocados would save a bundle, not to mention a quite a few bottles, bags and containers. Multiply all of that packaging by Lee's national audience, and you've got a lot of unnecessary garbage.
The example set by these Food Network celebrities is disheartening. Encouraging viewers to be too lazy to clean up after themselves or to chop their own produce is truly insulting--to say nothing of the artery-clogging recipe suggestions offered by some of the network's more gluttonous cooks. (For more health disasters, see anything made by Paula Deen.)
The image these chefs are creating of our country's food ethos and practices wreaks of wastefulness, over-indulgence and laziness. The Food Network and its celebrity chefs should inspire Americans to savor quality food and the entire process of making a meal--from good food choices, to mise en place, to clean up. It's a shame that these chefs don't use their popularity to truly help improve how Americans cook and eat.