The Comfort And Safety Of The Food Network

Over the past year or so I’ve been in several different waiting room settings where there are televisions playing to entertain those who are waiting.  The one common characteristic has been the TV channel playing in every waiting room:  The Food Network.

Why is The Food Network seemingly on every waiting room TV set?  It could be because little elves creep around at night and change the default setting, or it could be that businesses consider The Food Network to be the safe choice when you are offering a generic option to help diverse people, all of whom would rather be somewhere else, pass the time while they are waiting.  In a group waiting room, where most people would never presume to get up and change the channel to their personal choice, most businesses aren’t going to risk picking a channel that might unduly bore, or deeply offend, one group or another.  Fox News or MSNBC or The Jerry Springer Show are going to rub some people the wrong way, and the appeal of the Romance Channel or the Sci-Fi Channel is pretty limited. Hence, The Food Network.

This makes perfectly good sense, when you think about it.  We all have to eat, and The Food Network programming consists of a lot of smiling people, of all sizes and types, who are enthusiastic about all things food.  They’re either going to some beautiful setting to eat it, or preparing it using carefully pre-measured ingredients and colorful bowls and gleaming aluminum utensils, wearing spotless aprons like the Mom in a ’50s sitcom, chattering happily all the while, and when the dish is finally prepared it inevitably looks mouth-watering.  Even the “reality” programming, like Chopped, is pretty low-key as reality shows go — no tantrums or personality clashes or scheming to undercut other contestants, just hopeful people who are passionate about food racing against the clock to prepare appealing dishes from bizarre ingredients and win some money.

People who regularly entertain know that guests who come over for cocktails or dinner are likely to congregate in the kitchen.  Why not?  It’s clean and warm and comforting, it usually smells good, and it’s a relaxed place — not stiff and formal like the dining room or the living room.  The Food Network is like the American Kitchen of the Airwaves.

The Old South Peeks Through

Until recently, I didn’t know who Paula Deen was.  I may have heard her name, but I’ve never watched her show on The Food Network.

I’ve heard about her now, thanks to the release of a transcript of a deposition Deen gave in a discrimination lawsuit.  In the deposition, she admitted to using the n-word and telling racial and ethnic jokes.  There was a firestorm of criticism — quite properly — and then Deen got canned by The Food Network.  Now she’s come out with an apology video, saying in a syrupy Southern accent that she’s sorry for the pain she’s caused.  It’s another example of a celebrity’s last-ditch attempt to salvage their career after confessing to racist comments, consisting of after-the-fact contrition — usually expressed in some kind of sympathetic, carefully controlled setting — and then hope for ultimate forgiveness.  I doubt that it will work any better for Paula Deen than it did for Michael Richards.

Obviously, it’s no great loss if Paula Deen gets knocked off the airwaves; there are plenty of cooking shows being broadcast already.  What’s sad, though, is that the incident just provides more evidence of inner ugliness and the prevalence of racial stereotyping.  I’m sure that people who live in the South and hope to someday escape from the shadow of slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and lynchings are cringing at Deen’s statements, just as young Germans must cringe that the anti-Semitic statements of neo-Nazi skinheads.  Deen’s deposition testimony suggests that, for some people at least, the New South seems to be a lot like the Old South.


Capitalism 301 (And The Food Network)

If, like Kish and me, you like to watch The Food Network from time to time, you’ve been exposed to capitalism at its very essence.  Whether it is Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, where great food made from scratch earns raves and steadfast loyalty from customers, or the latest competitive cooking or baking show, or Restaurant Impossible, where the host tries to rescue a failing business every show, viewers of The Food Network regularly see how capitalism works.

Restaurant Impossible is a good example.  Each episode, chef Robert Irvine takes his bulging biceps to a new restaurant that’s on the skids.  In short order, he finds out why the place has one foot on the banana peel.  The food is slop.  The service stinks.  The decor is dreadful.  The owner doesn’t know how to keep the books or otherwise run a successful business.  The kitchen is a grease-laden horror story.  The cooking staff doesn’t even know how to properly chop vegetables.

The viewer quickly understands why the marketplace has spoken and the business is doomed.  Irvine, however, injects $10,000 and effort into the venture and tries to turn it around in two days.  The place gets redecorated.  The menu gets changed.  The staff gets trained and a kick in the butt, besides.  The owner gets schooled on basic business and finance principles.  And, quality and the importance of serving hot, tasty, attractively presented food in a pleasant setting are emphasized and re-emphasized.  After two days the place reopens to rave reviews and we learn how the business fares over the next few months.

In short, Irvine and his team are like the Bain Capital of the restaurant sector of our economy.  They don’t get an equity interest in exchange for their investment of time and money, but the principles of what they are doing is the same:  figure out why a business is failing, decide how to fix the problems, and then spend the money and time necessary to try to turn the business around.  In the real world, unlike on Restaurant Impossible, sometimes the turnaround can’t be achieved.

Restaurant Impossible is a weekly, one-hour lesson in business basics and the “invisible hand” at work.  Adam Smith — and probably Mitt Romney, too — would be proud.

Capitalism 101

Capitalism 201