How Cooking Shows Changed The Way We Eat

Friday 27 April 2018, 09:11 AM

Michael Briers
Journalist , Freelance

  • How-Cooking-Shows-Changed-The-Way-We-Eat-Veganism-Cook-Large

Cooking shows have been carving out a rich genre of television since 1946, and they’ve had a marked impact on our eating habits.

On the grand spectrum of small-screen entertainment, cooking shows are still a relatively new phenomenon. From The French Chef to Iron Chef, Hell’s Kitchen to The Great British Bake Off, you don’t have to search too far to locate a tasty TV treat that is as entertaining as it is educational. And that’s just it. 

Ever since cookbook author James Beard first inspired a generation of food enthusiasts with I Love to Eat in ’46, this is a genre that has launched careers and turned relative unknowns into household favourites. Here’s looking at you, Dave Lamb, narrator of Come Dine With Me, whose double-entendres and light-hearted mockery often leave viewers giggling into their desserts. 

Barring the celebrity specials, Come Dine With Me is also a textbook example of a show that actively encourages home chefs to dazzle their guests with a range of mouth-watering meals and tasty treats. It’s all wrapped up in one delicious, entertaining package, as amateur cooks compete for a £1,000 prize – all the while slinging insults at one another in the taxi home. 

This competitive element has its roots in the 1990s, when major broadcasters rustled up food-trivia games like Pressure Cooker and instant favourites in the vein of Ready Steady Cook. Viewers tuned in to enjoy the host’s personality and expertise and maybe – just maybe – kindle their own curiosity in the fine art of cooking. 

By the mid-2000s, the cooking genre had ballooned in size – rising up to the forefront of mainstream television like a warm, oven-fresh loaf. Shows like Hell’s Kitchen and MasterChef launched careers like the foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsay and provided the recipe for unmissable, binge-worthy cookery. Even now, 10 years later, both shows continue to draw a huge following of food enthusiast and intrepid home chefs, which, if nothing else, proves that we haven’t quite had our fill when it comes to food-related television. 

But how has it changed the way we eat, exactly? Well, for one, the kitchen is no longer just a place to house the refrigerators; it’s the beating heart of the home. A centre of nourishment in which the family comes together to trade knowledge and secrets about top-secret recipes and their favourite cuisine. 

Select food shows actively encourage this participation, too, with links to featured recipes and other useful tips that cater to all skill levels – regardless of whether you consider yourself to be a seasoned expert or something of a wooden spoon in the kitchen. 

Besides, with so much content to choose from, there are series like Martha Stewart's Cooking School (MSCS) that are practically designed to be insightful culinary classes. Trading entertainment for education, MSCS doesn’t shy away from cooking’s less glamorous side –  roasting, braising and blanching…to name but three – as Stewart guides viewers through every step in the process. Hell, she may as well be in your kitchen. 

Participation is a big draw, then, but so too is knowledge. In the past decade alone, the meteoric rise of so-called “foodies” has been nothing short of astounding, as home chefs develop more sophisticated palates, and a natural curiosity about the food-making process – from its source to the dinner plate.

Cooking shows play a big part in raising awareness, too, as TV experts like Paul Hollywood have launched their own range of artisan-inspired bakery goods designed for the average consumer. No longer will you have to pay hand over fist for a tasty treat at the local bakery, simply make it at home! It’s healthier, too. 

In fact, according to media psychologist Emma Kenny, Netflix isn’t the only thing we’re guilty of binge-watching. 

“Fast-forward to 2016 and there are over 18 days’ worth of cookery shows available on our screens each week plus social media offering so much delicious content. It seems that, as a nation, we are fixated with any activity related to food culture.”

And then, there’s the Internet. The Instagram era, for instance, has had a marked effect on veganism, with over 500,000 people in the UK swearing off meat as of 2016 - Link: That’s a 350% increase in only 10 years, while vegan chef Day Radley is in the process of launching the UK’s first plant-based cooking show, Just Good Food. 

Driven by youth and social media, a plant-based diet – one that’s totally free of meat and dairy products – is typically presented as very desirable and, crucially, sustainable, as it helps reduce your carbon footprint and safeguard animals from the at times brutal effects of factory farming. Veganism is about to go mainstream, then, and it’s a movement that shows no sign of slowing down. 

Indeed, there was 'Veganuary 2018', a widespread campaign designed to raise awareness about a healthy, plant-based diet. Now in its fifth year, it’s tapping into a food culture that can be traced back to all those aforementioned cooking shows (see: MasterChef, Hell’s Kitchen), as social media junkies angle their dish to be as photogenic as possible all in an effort to please the Instagram Gods. 

And, well, there’s always food porn, which is part of the reason why we tune in to those mouth-watering shows in the first place. 

Toss in a dollop of creativity and a pinch of good-natured competitiveness and you have a recipe for unmissable, binge-worthy content. So it’s no wonder why The Great British Bake Off tends to bring out the inner chef in us all. Now all we need is a Vegan-friendly spinoff – to her credit, Day Radley is cooking up the next best thing: Just Good Food.

And remember the oft-used saying that in life, you can win anyone’s heart with good cooking. Something to bear in mind if you are approaching a special occasion! 

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