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Los Angeles, CA, United States


Monday, August 29, 2011

Social Responsibility

 I love cooking and I love cooking shows on TV.  When time permits, I will channel surf and invariably, the remote will stop on either Travel Channel, Cook Channel, Food Network, KCET, and Living Well Network.  Andrew Zimmern, Anthony Bourdain, Rick Bayless, Rachel Ray, and Alton Brown are household names here in the Huang home.

Some of you may have seen this post I shared on my FB page about Andrew Zimmern's pov regarding the furor ignited when Anthony Bourdain in a TV Guide interview criticized Paula Deen for “telling an already obese nation that it’s O.K. to eat food that is killing us.”  http://andrewzimmern.com/content/bourdain-deen-bruni-redzepi%E2%80%A6and-why-it-matters#.TlgEY9anrsA.facebook

So is Bourdain and Zimmern out to crucify every food show cook because they cook rich, fatty delicious food? In a way, the answer is yes.  Jamie Oliver's influence and campaign to bring healthy food back to schools and America have finally reached the Travel Channel and Food Network.  It's important to note that Bourdain and Zimmern are on Travel Channel and Paula Deen is on Food Network.  Both are owned by Scripps Networks Interactive.

So Bourdain and Zimmern feel that TV chefs whose shows are predicated on certain niche foods should warn against the evils of high caloric and fatty food-the very foundation upon Paula Deen and Sandra Lee among others-have built their career, popularity and wealth on.

The fact that the interview sparked controversy is indeed funny.  Andrew Zimmern is a slightly smaller version of Butterbean the boxer and Bourdain enjoys a smoke, a drink, a toke, and some very rich foods on his show.  Hypocrisy?  Possibly?  But who's to judge. Yes there shows are more travel related while Paula Deen is a cooking show.  It's so easy to be an armchair quarterback and blame Paula Deen for teaching the public how to cook delicious albeit fat food. Is Julia Child also to blame for the obesity of America?  But what is important about Bourdain's comments is that it sparked conversations and again brings the issue of of America's growth (not the economy) in waistline to the forefront.

I think that all these celebrity chefs have their place on TV and yes, it'd be nice if Paula Deen pushed a healthier menu on her show.  But blaming a cooking show chef for killing America;  that's a bit of a stretch and takes out the one major factor in the equation-the person eating the food.

Defending Paula Deen and other cooks is not my intent here.  But if Bourdain is going to target someone for the obesity of America, target the food processors of the world.  Target the soda companies or the frozen food companies.  Or target the overall business climate of the US.  That's what's killing the population.  Would convenient processed foods either canned, frozen or packaged "fresh," even be viable if you and I didn't have to work 10 hours a day then come home and cook.   Single moms and parents where both work full time have it tough.  Working all day then come home, clean, cook dinner, help with the homework then go to bed and do it all over again.  It's a full time job and hard to blame a parent for picking up a bucket or nuking a frozen dinner with disregard for the unhealthiness of the meal.  Some may argue that it doesn't take that long to cook a healthy meal and to make wise choices.  Busy parents will retort, "walk a mile in my shoes!"  Yes it takes effort and planning and time to plan out the meals.  But in today's world, marketeers have tried so hard to make it easy for busy people by providing quick and easy solutions.

And it's not happening just here but in up and coming third world countries.  In my travels, I've personally  seed the stark differences in size and girth between countries.  For example, Cambodia and Vietnam are considered much poorer than their neighbor, Thailand.  Infrastructure is much more developed in Thailand and it's a more industrial nation.  Consequently, there is more wealth there compared to Vietnam and Cambodia.  This wealth equates to hard targets for food processors.  Fast food chains and american food aren't lacking in Bangkok but head over to Saigon or Pnnom Penh and the difference in fast food presence is significant.  In Cambodia, we visited a mall and went to the food court.  Our driver was with us so we asked him what he'd like to eat.  He asked if he could try the fried chicken strips.  He never had them before.  We were startled.

Paula Deen nor any other chef on TV is to blame for the "growing" population.  But I hope that she takes this opportunity to respond to Bourdain's comments in a positive fashion and agree that families need to make healthy choices consistently and although her food is tasty, it's not something to be eaten daily.  Life is about choices. Pepsi's Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi has Pepsi buying companies that lean toward healthy alternatives.  She's smart because she knows there will be a backlash and she wants Pepsi in position.  She's also right when she says
“Let me first correct you on one thing: Doritos is not bad for you. Pepsi-Cola is not bad for you. Doritos is nothing but corn mashed up, fried a little bit with just very little oil and flavored in the most delectable way. And Pepsi-Cola was discovered in a pharmacy for a stomach ailment. So these are not bad-for-you products.
“I say to you that any product consumed in excess is bad for you — any product,  including Tropicana, including Quaker (two other brands in the Pepsico portfolio). Everything has to be eaten in moderation, and drunk in moderation.”
Unfortunately, her marketing people would shudder at the thought of putting warning labels on their unhealthy foods stating, "Eat smart and in moderation."

I'm with Jamie Oliver and I think the steps toward a healthier America is the removal of all junk food vending machines in schools.  Replace them with fruit and yogurt machines.  Secondly, school cafeterias need to provide portion control and healthier foods.  Get rid of mac 'n cheese and give healthier sides.  Third, educate the kids.  If we can have "Scared Straight" and DARE in school, why not have PHAT-Providing Healthier Alternative Treats or "Scared Thin." 
It's important that the training and education teach kids about the marketing ploys used by companies to influence buying habits.  I think these steps are a beginning toward a healthier America. 

Note to Andrew Z and Anthony B: It's about personal choice and accountability, not Paula Deen. 

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