But our new favorite show, The Next Food Network Star, is different. The contestants say nary a word against each other. The challenges, while contrived, are really hard. The failures are real, as when Aria forgot to salt the potato gratin. And the victories are inspiring and delicious. Who doesn't love to see a beautiful shrimp curry from an untrained cook impress Bobby Flay?
Yep, my foodie kids and I are hooked.
At the root of this, of course, is the centrality of food in our lives. I have a post on this blog entitled "Butter and Such," indicating our familial devotion to (read: obsession with) food. But I mean this -- this notion of food being central in our lives -- in a broader way. Food is sustenance. Food is energy. At its best, food keeps us healthy and strong. Food is yummy and fun. Food is culture. For a mommy, food can be a daily chore. Food is what our bodies miraculously make for our babies as we hold them to our breasts, and food is what we obsess over as our children learn to eat peas and pears and chicken. Food is what we send with our children to school each day, a little taste of home in a colorful lunchbox. Food is celebration and tradition and holidays. But it is also a bowl of instant oatmeal at five-thirty in the morning when you've been up half the night with a fussy baby.
I grew up in a culture where, when someone died, the ladies made hotdishes and Jello salads. They brought their offerings of sustenance and support to the family and to the church basement for the funeral luncheon. They fed their neighbors and friends, bodily and spiritually.
There are many parts of my original culture that I have shed. For instance, I do not make hotdish with cream of mushroom soup and I do not make Jello anything. But today I did cook for a dear friend and her family. When her mother died yesterday, I cried with my friend, and held her hand, and didn't know just what to say, and assured her that her mother knew she loved her, and told her that I love her, and cried some more with her. Having lost my dad last summer, I remember too well the shock and pain, the exquisite pain, of the loss of a parent. As more friends arrived to offer their condolences, I slipped out, came home, and made a menu. It is, after all, what we do when someone dies.
This is what I love about The Next Food Network Star. The contestants cook because they love food and they embrace the challenge of making food interesting, beautiful, tasty, and representative in some way of their own identities. Sure, they want to be TV personalities. But I like to think that they compete in the contest to hone their skills in the ministry of food, too.