The Sustainability Dilemma With Cooking Television
Many, if not the vast majority of people who have become chefs over the past five decades will often cite a cooking show or celebrity chef as the person that inspired them to get into the kitchen or put on their wholesale aprons and start a restaurant.
From Julia Child to Bobby Flay, from Alexis Soyer to Gordan Ramsey, and from Masterchef to The Great British Bake-Off, celebrity chefs and cooking shows are tremendously influential and can not only turn innovative unknowns into household names but shine the spotlight on entire culinary traditions.
However, the nature of television production and in some cases just a lack of care means that a lot of cooking shows have a sustainability problem, not only with the providence of the ingredients and the potentially wasteful habits they tacitly endorse but also with what happens to the food afterwards.
Due to the punishingly long filming days that can see ingredients spend hours in front of hot studio lights, whilst many shows make efforts to either donate food or have leftovers be eaten by the cast and crew, in some cases large quantities of food go to landfill.
Landfill At Kitchen Stadium
Possibly the most egregious example of this is one of the most egregious and over-the-top cooking show franchises in history.
Ryori no Tetsujin, better known as Iron Chef, is a highly energetic Japanese cooking show produced by Fuji Television with a somewhat infamous reputation for outlandish signature ingredients, over-the-top presentation and highly skilled chefs.
Presented as a live sport, the “Cooking Battles” in “Kitchen Stadium” showcased a wide variety of ingredients, but what made it controversial was its often lavish use of exotic ingredients that had dubious environmental and ethical implications.
Over the course of a seven-year run, the show used 893 portions of foie gras, as well as 4.6kg of caviar and 84 pieces of shark fin, all three of which are ingredients that are at best criticized for their use and at worst are now outright illegal.
One episode also featured as its central ingredient swallow’s nest, a dangerous and unethical practice, particularly during surges in demand which mean that pickers take the last nest of the swallow and kill the eggs and hatchlings in the process.
There was also one contest where the chefs were tasked with cooking live octopus, and even during the show’s initial run, actress Julie Dreyfus refused to eat a dish with whale meat owing to the particularly cruel practice of whaling still undertaken today.
When the show became unexpectedly popular outside of Japan thanks in part to its somewhat unusual and exotic nature, the show received an American spin-off that emphasized sustainable sourcing of ingredients with a farm-to-table approach.
This included one episode that used secret ingredients bought from a nearby farmer’s market, and a huge number of ingredients were banned in this iteration of the show, including bluefin tuna, shark fin, Russian sturgeon and caviar.
This change highlights the increased responsibility that even the most outlandish of cooking shows feels, and given the position of influence cooking shows have on our eating habits, it is important to use that force for good.