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Kale Wars? Dumpster Diving? Must See Food TV!

Food TV could look like this. Photo illustration credit: Adair Seldon

Food TV could look like this. Photo illustration credit: Adair Seldon

I haven’t watched the Food Network since kitchen turned coliseum. The old shows served up a relaxing, aspirational escape, but once they got all “Cutthroat,” I cut the cord. Instead of relaxing and aspiring, I was stressing and perspiring. Sheesh. If I wanted that kind of anxiety, I’d cook dinner myself.

With guys full of tats and swagger and show themes such as “Superstar Sabotage,” the Food Network has perfected its junk-food formula to a tee. Must-see-testosterone-TV.

According to The Atlantic, the five most-watched prime-time shows on Food Network this year are competitions: “Food Network Star,” “Worst Cooks in America,” “Chopped Tournament,” “Cutthroat Kitchen” and “Guy’s Grocery Games.” According to Nielsen, the 20 most-viewed prime-time shows on the Food Network pulled in a median of roughly 1.1 million viewers per episode in 2014, compared to 255,000 viewers per episode in 2000.

Sure, the Food Network has its salt-sugar-fat formula down, but what if it could provide content that both entertained and nourished — edgy and educational — while keeping the ratings intact? Who says suspense, conflict, humiliation and ring-molded entrées with Jackson Pollock-inspired plating can’t have a higher calling? So before the Food Network goes from offal to worse, I propose it start feeding viewers something more nutritious.

Here are three ideas for more filling, yet thrilling Food Network shows:

No. 1: Food Activist Star

Format

Former congressman Dennis Kucinich mentors six “food fighters.” They each have a cause they fight for, whether it’s stopping a retail grocery chain from carrying meat with antibiotics; getting a processed-food company to stop using GMO ingredients; getting a fast-food company to stop sourcing pork from pigs raised in gestation crates; or getting a school district to stop selling soda in vending machines.

Episodes

Each week the food fighters have an assignment, from crafting a strategy and creating a campaign to getting media attention and planning a rally. At the end of each show, one food fighter is eliminated. The three judges are Woody Harrelson, Michael Pollan and activist blogger Vani Hari, aka Food Babe. There will be additional commentary by experts in the field.

Finale

The final two fighters meet with corporate execs from two companies that represent the opposition. The winner is judged on both the effectiveness of the meeting and the campaign as a whole. The prize is the winner’s choice of seed money to start a nonprofit or a year’s salary to work for an existing nonprofit.

Thrilling

The feisty Kucinich gives planetary do-gooders a tough-love education in food politics. Think Donald Trump with a bigger brain and smaller comb. And live-wire Harrelson as a judge? Enough said.

Filling

Viewers will be inspired to work toward a food system that is healthier for people and the planet, while learning how politics influences our food supply.

No. 2: Dumpster Divers

Format

Jeremy Seifert, filmmaker and star of the film “Dive!,” hosts two teams of “divers” who hunt for food in dumpsters behind grocery stores. We witness vast amounts of wasted food as they forage through garbage and collect their unspoiled spoils.

Episodes

Each week, two teams (two divers per team) collect edible food from grocery store dumpsters in shopping carts (a la “Guy’s Grocery Games”). The second half of the show takes place in a studio kitchen equipped with showers, where the teams emerge squeaky clean and reveal their bounty. They are allowed certain swaps so that it’s even among both teams, and we watch them prepare a meal in a set time. Upon dramatic, heart-thumping music, the “taster” emerges to test each dish to ensure the food is not spoiled before three celebrity chef judges try the dishes. Each week one team is eliminated. There will also be commentary by food waste experts and a lawyer.

Finale

The winners from previous shows return and are assigned to two final teams. They must dive at two locations — a grocery store and a bakery — and the meal must include dessert.

Thrilling

Stealthily dressed characters in protective gear and flashlights enter gross-out zones so vivid, we can smell it. And celebrity chefs eating trash? Bon appétit!

Filling

The audience will learn eye-opening statistics about food waste in this country that will awaken and empower them to reduce waste.

Kale salad. Credit: Adair Seldon

Kale salad: The revolution starts here? Credit: Adair Seldon

No. 3 Kale Wars

Format

Four chefs park their kale carts next to anonymous fast-food chains in urban food deserts. Each chef hands out samples of a kale dish he/she has made to introduce the fast-food eaters to a healthy alternative with the goal of starting a movement that demands more grocery stores and fresh produce be brought to the area.

Episodes

Each week takes place in a different food-desert city, from New Orleans to Memphis to Detroit to Chicago. The chefs must get passersby to taste their dishes and to join the “kale revolution.” The recruits sign a petition and agree to write letters, make phone calls to local government officials, go to city council meetings, etc. With chefs strategically staked out in different regions throughout the series, the revolution will spread as cities compete against each other. Each week, the four kale revolution chefs are judged by two chefs and one politician on their kale dishes, as well as the number and quality of recruits they sign up. The winner of each show donates money to a local food bank.

Finale

The winning chefs from previous shows and cities all compete for the grand-prize money that the winner will donate to a nonprofit related to food deserts.

Thrilling

Kale pushers getting in-your-face with burger-hungry folks? Hot dog!

Filling

The audience will learn about the millions of people in America who live without access to healthy food options, resulting in high levels of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

And there you have it.

Food Network execs: Have your people call my people. I’m giving you first dibs before I shop these gems around.

Main photo: Take your hands off the remote — food television of the future could look like this. Credit: Adair Seldon



Zester Daily contributor Adair Seldon is an award-winning advertising copywriter, humorist and fair-food advocate who has parlayed two of her greatest pastimes -- overthinking and overeating -- into the blog Lentil Breakdown. Whether praising a pea or appraising the planet, this wry culinary inquisitor brings it all to the table.

5 COMMENTS
  • Judy at Two Broads Abroad 11·7·14

    So very funny. Totally agree about the Food Network and its programming. I am going to shop these ideas around though. My peeps will call yours.

  • Nancy Eisman 11·7·14

    You are brilliant, funny, and just the right amount of hangry. Write on!

  • Lynne @ CookandBeMerry 11·7·14

    I don’t watch the Food Network, but I would watch these. Great ideas!

  • Cathy | She Paused 4 Thought 11·7·14

    Bring it on, finally shows that sound worthy of watching.

  • Sippitysup 11·10·14

    I just recently “cut the cable” at my house. No TV at all anymore. I might have kept it going for these entertaining shows. GREG

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