Top Chef — A Cultural Barometer

Matthew Blaisdell

A cultural studies major may find grounds for a thesis in following the treatment of vegetarianism in ‘Top Chef,’ which I’ve gotten roped into the last 2 seasons.  This season started on a typical meat-obsessive note, with the first contestant mockingly dismissed for attempting a seitan-stuffed pepper.  Even the thought seemed to make the judges ill.  Since then, a later-rounds competition was based on preparing a vegetarian meal (highlighting Natalie Portman’s celebrity advocacy) with the winner being the chef who most understood what vegetarians want–a meal as satisfying as a meat-dish, not just creatively prepared vegetables.     
More surprising was the fact that the first 1/2 of the final episode featured another vegetarian competition.  Again, the judges seemed surprised that a conceptually simple dish of vegetables could be so satisfying.  (This episode’s them focused on a long-term trend in the program–‘natural’ and ‘sustainable’ foods.)   However, one contestant prepared foi gras, and this was deemed consistent with the theme.  Yet, this made me think that chefs are a microcosm of the culture, in that we prefer positive options (new choices) over negative ones (more restrictions).  I don’t disagree with Chicago trying to ban foi gras, but it seems like the best way to promote better practices in America is to promote better vegetarian options, rather than telling people what they can’t eat.  (Kind of like promoting new technologies rather than instituting a carbon tax to address climate change.  Obviously, there would be more money for investment if funded by a tax.  I didn’t say it was the most rational response, only that that’s how attitudes operate here.)

3 Responses

  1. I wonder what you think of Nigella Lawson’s show. I happened to see just one where she was cutting up baby squids with relish and bruising lemon grass to make it yield its juice. Reading your post just reminded me of that episode. I’ve written about it here:

  2. […] vegetarianism in ‘Top Chef […]

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