Cathy Erway on Fixing the Mixed Messages of Food TV Shows

In Chapter 14 of 16 in her 2012 interview, author and food writer Cathy Erway answers "Why Should Food Media Be More About Education Than Entertainment?"  Erway highlights the need for food media television and blogs to be more clear in their intent.  She believes audiences see entertainment as instructional.  Erway takes issue her and aims to clarify the intent or purpose of shows teaching cooking and selling cookbooks that do not promote healthy eating. 

Cathy Erway is an author and food writer living in Brooklyn.  Her first book, "The Art of Eating In" developed from her blog "Not Eating Out in New York".  She earned a BA in creative writing from Emerson College.


Erik Michielsen:  Why should food media be more about education than entertainment?

Cathy Erway:  Well, I mean, not to sound too naive, but I think that, yes, I understand there is a difference in tone for the purpose of a food media thing, television show, for example, and a lot of the times we don't see it, we don't see that line and it gets confused for authenticity or just, you know, plain instructions, something that you should follow, but of course a lot of entertaining stuff is out there that--it wasn't--it didn't have that purpose.

So, the first food media, TV shows started, you know, in the '50s when television -- that truly was--that was like housewives need to know how to flip an omelet, so this is how you do it. That's really where it started, but of course, now we have all sorts of crazy shows, all sorts of funny, entertaining blogs out there too, and we need to, like, just be a little more clear on which, you know--what we should be watching it for, and--I mean, not that there's anything wrong with entertaining food media. I love watching funny shows like Food Party. I love the old British series Posh Nosh but, I mean, if you're going to instruct a food and sell cookbooks, I think that there needs to be more purpose behind that than just to entertain. Because you're going to have a real impact on people's eating habits, and they do, and they really do.

And, you know, I've noticed when I write something on my blog that's a recipe that is kind of hilarious, over-the-top--bacon cream cheese cupcakes--that the readership spikes and sure enough, you know, that's fun and stuff, and I do that once in a while, but it's not something I want to do simply to have a broader audience and, you know, I just -- because I don't want people to eat -- I don't eat that way all the time.

Erik Michielsen:  Right. Yeah, yeah, it's misleading.

Cathy Erway:  Yeah. I think so.

Erik Michielsen:  Only if it's done for entertainment's sake then it -- Okay, the goal is to entertain and then to sell advertising behind that and to make a productive, you know, television show, but when you're--

Cathy Erway:  Then you're like a tobacco company. Right? You're just like selling something that people like even though you know it's not good.

Erik Michielsen:  Yeah, there's a deeper element there that can be probably used a bit more.

Cathy Erway:  I like to write recipes that, if you read the behind the lines I do have a mission, but I'm trying not to hit you over the head with it. I talk about how delicious turnips are. And they are, but I mean, who would've thought that originally? It's not something you'd read and be like, "Oh, yeah, totally!" You know, there's, I feel like there's media that is affirmative like when the watcher--when the viewer is watching it, it's, you know, there's a positive experience which is, "I agree with you, and I already do agree with you." And that's the easiest kind of positive response to get.

But when you challenge by bringing up a totally new thought or new revelation like turnips taste decadent. Right? Or you try to make it sound decadent instead. There this like, "Eh." You know, non-- but you know after a while maybe they'll try and maybe they'll think it's a positive thing afterwards. So it takes a lot more time, it's harder to do, it's harder to get people to have a good experience because they have to actually do it or try it or something.