Over Thanksgiving (a holiday which we tend to overindulge in food), my husband and I took a road trip to Iowa. In order to pass time and avoid some weird talk radio stations on the drive, we bought a few audio books. Ironically, we selected The Hunger Games trilogy for our little road trip. For the two people in the world who haven’t heard of these books, I will provide a two sentence summary. In a post-apocalyptic society, every year children are selected from each district to participate in a televised kill-or-be-killed hunger games. The districts are poor and starving; so the area that sends the winner gets additional food for the year. It was an interesting juxtaposition to listen to a story about people who have so little (and the books themselves are also drawing connections to modern society) while we had so much.
Naturally, I let this slide from my mind in the days following Thanksgiving; and soon I was back in the habit of trying to catch up with my Netflix queue. I don’t know why, but I decided to watch Man v. Food. I had seen most of the other two seasons, and enjoyed them so I guess I wanted to continue the streak. Man v. Food features host Adam Richman as he travels the country in search of interesting local dishes and food challenges—ranging from conquering incredibly spicy munchies to consuming insanely large portions. Richman hangs with the locals, tells jokes, and attempts incredible feats of stomach strength (or expansion).
As always, I have to be honest– I like Man v. Food. My sister hates it and tells me it is “gross” (her word, not mine). She doesn’t like to watch a person eat five plus pounds of food in a single sitting. I guess I can understand her reaction, but I get an entirely different feel from the show. Sure, the featured segment of each show is whether Adam can demolish a hamburger the size of a Renault hatchback or pizza that is the same diameter as Rhode Island; but I find the show is about so much more. Richman travels to restaurants that Anthony Bourdain wouldn’t be caught dead in. He visits cities and towns that many people haven’t even heard of. And he orders stuff off of the menu that Gordon Ramsey would most likely pretend to vomit after taking a bite. However, these are places most people would frequent—the local diners and bars– and the menu items everyone wants to try (but may be ashamed to admit out loud). He has eaten sandwiches with fries inside, pizza with sandwich toppings, and items that are battered and fried that I couldn’t even imagine making the trip to a deep fryer (deep fried cheesecake, anyone? Whoa.).
Not only does Richman try dishes that any supposedly renowned (is that synonymous with snotty?) chef wouldn’t dare taste, but he enjoys the food. He puts on no airs when he tries the specialty dishes of each restaurant; and in that respect, the show reminds me a bit of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. I find him quite likeable as a host. Although I know critics are often popular because they can rip things apart (do I need to look in a mirror here?); it’s refreshing to see someone with a positive attitude. The restaurants that he visits are not owned by a fancy chef with classic French training; instead, these have the feel of the small “mom ‘n’ pop” restaurants. It reminds me of home—the people are excited to be on the show, and Richman treats them all with courtesy and a few dashes of silliness.
All the praise aside, I do question the popularity of these food shows in general. Often, it does seem to be about excess (whether overly or implicitly), and I wonder what draws us to these shows. Trust me, I am passing no judgment if you watch any food shows—I love them. But, at times, I imagine what anthropologists in the future may say about our culture—one that almost reveres programming about food, or, as some call it, “food porn” (no, this is not literal pornography, but the glorifying and tantalization of food in the media); while others in the same society go hungry. Damn, I eat one double down with a box of red wine and I go all “thinky” in my review. I will have to remember this for the future.
Cerebral intentions aside, Man v. Food is an entertaining show. While some people, like my sister, may not enjoy it; I found it to be an interesting slice of American culture. To me, it kind of felt like a road trip—stopping at restaurants in the towns/cities along the way for some no-frills eats.
Have a wonderful day!
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