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When Veggie-Gate and Reality TV Collide: Let the Viewer Beware

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News travels quickly in the gastronomical world, and today’s scandal is much ado about ringer vegetables.

It’s been revealed that the Food Network substituted stunt double produce during an Iron Chef America competition featuring the alleged harvest of the White House garden. The throw-down – delivered by Michelle Obama – starred Food Network regulars Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, and Mario Batali, aired January 3, setting a viewer record for the foodie channel.

The challenge for the celebrity chefs was to use only perishables provided by the White House garden. As with the beginning of all Iron Chef shows, the participants learn the terms of the competition, accented with interesting camera shots and thundering background music meant to churn the tension to a frenzy.

While the beginning of the show was filmed last fall at the White House, the actual competition was held a week later in a studio in New York City. The lag time demonstrates the obvious need to procure new, fresher veggies, but it doesn’t explain why the Food Network neglected to mention that fact either prominently or in passing.

When I first heard the story, I imagined that the White House bounty may not have been worthy of an Iron Chef competition. After all, the summer of 2009 should go down in the annals of time as the Bummer Summer – cold, wet and gray – or at least that was the way it was in Michigan. As a guerrilla urban gardener myself (guerrilla because I place food plants in the most unlikely of places, and urban because 8 Mile is two miles away), last year’s pitiful harvest can be counted on one set of hands. Two cucumbers, one Asian eggplant, two regular eggplants, one zucchini, and not enough tomatoes to can. It’s a good thing I like lettuce, because conditions were perfect for a bumper crop.

Posted news items explain away the stunt veggie replacements, and much hoo-ha is made that the originally chosen fruits of the White House lawn eventually found their way to a local food bank. No harm, no foul, right?

Perhaps. My beef is not with the Democrats, Michelle Obama, or even the old switcheroo of NYC veggies for White House nibbles. No, my ire is directed at the Food Network.

The lack of candor about the starring vegetables is just the tip of the iceberg. The Food Network lost me years ago. Yes, me, who loves Mario Batali but so despises Rachael Ray with the heat of a thousand suns that I joined the Facebook group dedicated to her demise — now defunct. EVOO my eye.

I love good food and wine and the Food Network used to be a fine resource. However, like nearly every other channel on TV, the Food Network long ago decided to fly with a reality show aspect, concentrating on the glitz and glam of food-type ‘personalities’ instead of the core mission of the network – food. Pseudo-gastronomes like the down-home domestic divas Paula Deen or Ina Garten or the perky drop-dead gorgeousness of Giada De Laurentis. (I hate her; she’s beautiful.)

While some of the programming is entertaining (I can tolerate Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives), the Food Network has sold its apron to the devil for better ratings. It is no longer my go-to source. Ever try to replicate what Rachael Ray does on her show? You can’t. There was an honesty in the foibles of Julia Child that you can't find on modern TV. The truth is there are better, more reliable recipes on the web and elsewhere.

The moral of the Veggie-Gate scandal is one that sensible foodies and cooks can take to the bank: Reality shows are rarely real. Let the viewer beware.

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About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.
  • Kt

    Very punny….I mean funny. Thanks for posting!