Good Chef, Bad Chef

I am normally a pretty big fan of cooking shows but I have to say that Good chef,Bad Chef screening on Channel Ten in the afternoons has me asking lots of questions with a furrowed brow. 

Starring Janella Purcell (the Good Chef) and Adrian Richardson (the Bad Chef) the show is clearly sponsored by a weight loss company whose ads you will see not only during the breaks but as infomercials as well.  While I know we can see such ads at any time, it’s not even the sponsorship that concerns me most.  It’s the entire premise of saying that one chef, because of the types of food they choose to cook with and then create, makes them good, and the other because of their choices, bad.

As the ‘Bad Chef,’ Adrian cooks in a way that is free, open and appreciative of ALL food.  In other words – it’s balanced.  I have seen him use ingredients such as butter, oil, flour, sugar, vegetables, fruit, vine leaves, fish and a host of other things.  As the ‘Good Chef’ Janella shuns many of the things Adrian cooks sticking with a more limited range that never involves things such as white sugar or flour, or indeed most of the staples you are likely to find in your pantry or mine.  Janella isn’t afraid to let Adrian know how incredibly disapproving she is of his ‘bad food.’  There is persistant eye rolling, grimacing and frowning while she watches him cook.  He however never returns the criticism to her.

Janella also will often only taste the smallest amount of Adrian’s food possible.  He eats hers with relish.  Once, after he made a cake and suggested what a great occasional treat it was for a family, Adrian asked Janella if she agreed, to which she replied “Never!”  This is absolutely not a healthy and balanced approach to cooking and eating.  When we have a television chef and nutritionist stating that the baking and sharing of a cake as an ‘occasional treat’ is not ok, I have real concerns.    

Why does this bother me so much?  It’s not just about emotionally labelling food good or bad.  It’s much more than that.  Because of the meaning of the words, we have a moral judgment being placed on food and even further to this, the people who choose to eat either one way or the other or even just choose the occasional supposed ‘bad food’. 

Those who choose to eat good food are in turn seen to be good themselves; pure, wholesome, controlled, doing the right thing.  Those who choose to eat bad food are in turn seen to be bad themselves; decadent, slovenly, less than, wrong.  Can anyone see the direct relationship here between how in society thin people and fat people are viewed?  I certainly can.  Those who are thin are often seen to be much more controlled, attractive, good, even beautiful.  Those who are fat are not seen or portrayed this way at all.  They are seen to be gluttonous, disgusting and unacceptable.  It’s not a coincidence.  

Portraying food and those who eat it in this way provides the classic ’set up’ for many, many people to have a tortured relationship with food, their body and themselves.  Such extreme black andwhite thinking is perfection for those who may be at risk of an eating disorder or disordered eating.  For those at risk of anorexia or a restrictive type eating disorder, the eating of only ’good’ foods can help to make them feel pure and strong until the inevitable begins to happen.  They find more and more foods that are ’bad’ and cannot be eaten.  They feel ‘bad’ when they eat ‘bad’ food.  They must be punished when they eat ‘bad’ food through things such as the restriction of even more food or self harming.  All behaviour and eating has weight loss as its intense focus.  For those at risk of a binge type eating disorder they too can experience all of the above things, including the desire to lose weight but the deprivation and intense focus on moralising food leads to bingeing excessively.  All can lead to a miserable existence of self loathing that in some cases can be life threatening or even fatal.

Are there some foods that provide our body with more nutrition and health benefits than others?  Yes.  Does this means they should be labelled ’good’ and others ‘bad.’  No.  There should be no such thing as good food or bad food.  While it may not be sexy to weight loss companies and diet spruikers, the best approach for any person trying to have a more balanced relationship with food is simply to enjoy a balance of all foods where nothing is off limits.  I believe that if we all listen to our heart, mind and body, we intuitively know that it is not balanced to eat highly processed or take away food all the time, just as it is not balanced to eat only green vegetables and drink water all the time either.  For many people when they are told or tell themselves they cannot have a certain food or even entire food group, it quite literally makes them crazy.  That’s what deprivation does to people.  That’s what dieting does to people.  And that’s why it doesn’t work if our aim is to have a balanced, even and steady relationship with food, which is something I am sure all people want.

So while I’m all for showing people different ways to cook things (and that includes things are that are higher and lower in content of things such as fat, sugar and flour) that are delicious and nutricious, I wish the entire premise of Good Chef, Bad Chef and therefore good food, bad food and sometimes in turn, good people and bad people, didn’t exist.  Unfortunately, the moral judgment that goes with describing food and cooking in this way is just too powerful to ignore. 

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