At any point in the day, you could walk into my apartment and I would bet the Food Network is on and yes, we are a ‘Chopped’ household and not ‘Cutthroat Kitchen.’ Food, in every way shape and form will be popular, it’s not a trend or fad but necessity, and the Food Network intendeds on capitalizing on it. The Food Network has created a lifestyle empire through exploring the seemingly unrealistic heights food can reach through combining nonfiction television with reality. “But unlike other media fantasies, on the Food Network, there is explicit advice, in both advertising and programming, about how the viewer can realize the commodity fantasies” (Ketchum, 217).
The Food Network is commodifying the pleasure of making and eating food as a lifestyle. The Food Network is host to a number of shows, and you guessed it all revolving around food. The morning timeslots tend to focus on instructional cooking shows like ‘30 Minute Meals’ featuring celebrity chef Rachael Ray. Primetime slots focus on the entertainment of cooking with shows like ‘Chopped’ that can create the same amount of suspense as making ice cream with three minutes left compared to a close car chase. These shows are unscripted, for the most part, and do not involve any type of fiction, meaning a dragon does not teach you how to make an omelette. They highlight the simplicities and complexities of cooking through entertaining segments, attracting viewers that may even be chefs themselves or college-students that cannot even boil water.
The viewers are given the same thrill as rooting on your favorite athlete and knowing all the lyrics to your favorite bands songs, except you are actually cheering on amateur chefs who have to make a cake from scratch and you study your favorite celebrity chef’s cookbook like a textbook. The Food Network has achieved a fan base among predominantly white middle class women, usually attracting young adults through the elderly. This is due to the fact that the Food Network is not a basic cable channel, therefore you need to be able to purchase a cable package with the Food Network included and a great majority of this middle class is predominantly white. Lower income families are heavily comprised of minorities that in most cases cannot afford channels beyond the basic package. I also argue that they mainly attract women due to the societal stereotypes that women are the cooks and providers of food in the family.
While I think they still aim to attract white, middle class women, they try and diversify their programming to suggest otherwise. They have a numerous chefs from many ethnicities, that in most cases explore the food of their culture (i.e. an African American woman cooking soul food, or Hispanic man exploring the best taco restaurants around the country). I would argue that they have about an even split of male and female celebrity chefs and try to attract more males through programming that focuses around meat, barbecue, etc. Finally, and I thought most surprising, the Food Network is trying to lower its age range to children under the age of 12. Through the introduction of children’s cooking competitions, like Chopped Junior, they aim to expose younger generations to the cooking, ‘foodie’ lifestyle. However, as Banet Weiser notes, “The early loyalty of a child audience is important for television networks… In 2001, four-to-twelve-year-olds had their own annual income of approximately $40 billion, and children as an influence market are responsible for over $300 billion” (Banet Weiser, 74). Obviously, the Food Network can only benefit from expanding its audience base, which has led to these programming changes.
Overall, by commodifying the pleasure people get from cooking and eating food, the Food Network was able to create one of the most popular channels on cable. Their wide range of programming that makes nonfiction seem like fantasy increased the number of Food Network regulars. “The Food Network took food—what might be considered mundane—and turned it into an opportunity for the viewer to learn about its social and sensual possibilities” (Ketchum, 231).
Banet-Weiser, Sarah. (2007). Kids Rule! Nickelodeon!: Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship. Retrieved from https://compass2g.illinois.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-2340596-dt-content-rid-24694059_1/courses/macs_320_120168_151046/Nickelodeon.pdf
Ketchum, Cheri. (2005). The Essence of Cooking Shows: How the Food Network Constructs Consumer Fantasies. Retrieved from http://jci.sagepub.com/content/29/3/217.full.pdf+html