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Illustration from my comic, Eating the blues from our anthology Kinds of Blue

Mum and I have started to become concerned by the glut of cooking shows on TV at the moment. On any given night there will be some food-related show on, whether a competition (like Masterchef or My Kitchen Rules), a how-to (like Better Homes and Gardens, Jamie’s 15/30 minute meals, Nigellissima or Nigella’s Kitchen) or a combination of travel/cultural exploration and food (Food Safari, Island Feast, Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam).

I guess the nickname ‘food porn’ is pretty apt, as the shows bear little resemblance to reality and the food is all tarted up to look good on camera. For example, my colleague, D, has talked about cooking in Vanuatu on a camp and how even though they had a proper kitchen, she needed to chop the ingredients under nets to keep the flies off the food. I remember that from my own time in PNG and Fiji; the flies are everywhere. But on Island Feast? Nary a fly to be seen, so that it looks completely plausible, clean and enjoyable to cook a meal on a beach under a palm tree. And of course, there’s the common complaint that there’s no way Jamie’s 15 minute meals actually take 15 minutes (sure, they’d take 15 minutes if you had a team to prep every ingredient, you only start timing from when you turn the oven/stove on, and you have a team to wash up afterwards).

Food is god. Excellence in cooking is prized, only the best ingredients will do, and spending hours watching others prepare and eat three course meals is a valid thing to do.

But at the same time, we hear constantly about the obesity epidemic, and slim personal trainers who stick to 1300Kj-a-day eating plans and train hard every day are held up as paragons. So fitness and thinness is god too.

On the SMH webpage at 10:45pm tonight, I counted 10 articles or ads displayed talking about weight, dieting or body image. Another nine promoted recipes, restaurants or used food/beverage photos to illustrate the headline.

A cursory scroll down, and scattered fairly evenly down the page were pictures of a purposely grotesque hamburger, people running on treadmills, a handful of sugar, a man’s huge gut, fried chicken, champagne glasses, a woman measuring her bust, a bowl of pasta, a plastic surgeon’s scalpel, a table set for fine dining. So even if you didn’t read the articles, the images were subliminally reinforcing the food/fitness obsessions, pulling in opposite directions.

Is it any wonder problems with food and body image just simmer away under the surface for so many of us?