Food Network missing key ingredient?

Pat and Gina Neely
During February, Food Network ran a curious promo spot. It featured two of its newest personalities (pictured above) who said, “Hi, we’re Pat and Gina Neely, hosts of Down Home With the Neelys. Join us and Food Network as we celebrate Black History Month.”

Every time I saw the spot, it bothered me, but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why. It finally came to me a few days ago. What exactly was the channel doing to celebrate Black History Month? Featuring classic African American recipes on its Web site? Examining George Washington Carver’s influence on food and agriculture? Highlighting the nation’s top black chefs? Uh, no.

Instead it ran this awkward promo that had the feeling of being put together at the last moment. It was like someone said, “Oh yeah, we have to do something for Black History Month. Anyone available?” (Cue chirping crickets.)

I watch Food Network constantly, but until now, I’ve never considered just how lacking in diversity it is. Sure, there are two or three shows hosted by black people, that one Latina lady and those gay guys. But by and large, Food Network’s leading personalities are mostly–as Dave Chappelle would say–white dudes. (Yes, I’m aware of Rachael Ray and the other ladies on the channel, but it’s still mostly dominated by men. )

In January, We Are Never Full wrote a post titled “News Shocker! Diversity Finally Comes to Food Network!” that discussed the Neelys and the cable channel’s pervasive whiteness. It also addressed something that I’ve also thought was weird and offensive–the use of dubbing for Japanese chef Masaharu Morimoto. (I’ve always found Jamie Oliver and his thick British accent harder to understand than Morimoto.)

“[The Food Network] completely degrades him every time he’s on Iron Chef by dubbing some dudes voice over his own. HE IS SPEAKING ENGLISH WHEN YOU DUB OVER HIM WITH ENGLISH!!!! I understand he has a strong accent, but at least let us hear the master speak. For fuck’s sake, degrade him a bit less by using subtitles. I wonder if this pisses him off?”

Should I be glad that that Food Network is trying to add some color to its programming with the Neelys and that it bothered to remember Black History Month? Sorry, this time there’s no “A” for effort.

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3 Comments

Filed under Essays, Food and race

3 responses to “Food Network missing key ingredient?

  1. I really, really appreciate you talking about this issue. It took my that post almost a month before anyone even dared comment on it. Although, yes, The Food Network is attempting at some real diversity, they still have a long way to go. The Neely’s may not be the least annoying of people (I actually am not that bothered by them, but it seems many are… Rachel RAY on the other hand, well that’s another story!), but they really are the first cooking show hosted by a minority in a long time. Even Ingrid Hoffman doesn’t look Latina (and that german name???). Anyways, thanks for posting this. I never saw that Black History commercial, but I would’ve been just as dissappointed w/ the FN doing this as well. Get it together, food network!!! – amy @ http://www.weareneverfull.com

  2. AlkiT

    I’d say Comedy Central/Daily Show’s approach to Black History Month is a little more honest, if nothing else:
    http://www.thedailyshow.com/tagSearchResults.jhtml?term=generic_tag_black_history_month&itemId=111490

  3. Lorraine

    It’s always important to keep diversity front of mind — and kudos to you for calling out the lack of it on such a well-viewed and successful network. I’m dismayed to think the network can celebrate such diversity in food but can’t seem to get it right on the people front.

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