The TV show that I am most embarrassed to admit having watched more than once is “Man V. Food” on the Travel Channel.
Adam Richman starts out each show explaining that he is not a competitive eater, i.e. he’s not competing against other men to eat the most of one item of food. "Adam will take on the city's toughest food challenge. Whether he's devouring the Atomic Hot Wings platter in Pittsburgh, or a 13-pound pizza in Atlanta.”
Some will suggest that I object to MvF because it is too manly for me, the guy who watches Project Runway and So You Think You Can Dance. I have explained my interest in those shows and how they do not diminish my manliness; I find it hard to look away from Mario Lopez on ABDC because he is a clown, not because he is so damn cute.
Why am I embarrassed to have watched MvF? What could be more awesome than watching a man eat a 10 pound hamburger or destroy his palate with a sandwich topped by jalapenos, Serrano's, habaneros and ghost peppers?
I see no shame in MvF just because it is a show watched in sloth, one that you watch only because nothing else is on. And I see no shame in that MvF revolves around other disgraceful sins of America: gluttony and waste of food. One man’s sin is another man’s pleasure of the flesh.
Yes, MvF is food porn. The pictures ought to be scrambled on your TV. You sit down on the couch with your bag of nacho cheese Doritos and the remote, start clicking around the channels and there’s a guy with 4 pounds of cinnamon roles on his plate, about to dig in. You start to get a little aroused and all drooly. Before you know it, your Doritos are gone and your chin, your fingers and the front of your t-shirt are smeared with the orange shame of self-indulgence; you feel at peace and ready for a nap.
And there you go: That is not Man versus Food. Any implied conquest is a delusion. Man conquers food when he kills it, because by doing so he conquers Nature. And I’m not talking about taming the land and farming. Anyone can defeat a head of lettuce. It takes a man with strength and courage to bring down an animal and make it into his food; even if the guy has to hire a helicopter and take a high-powered rifle to chase down and slaughter some moose, he will do it.
Man is not challenged in MvF. Consuming the hottest peppers in the world or the biggest hamburger in Duluth is only playing with yourself. If MvF is food porn, the sex porn equivalent would be Adam sitting in his cheap motel room with a stack of Hustlers, seeing how many times he could, um, “respond” to the pictures.
MvF is not man versus food any more than ODing is man versus drugs. MvF is man against his weakness; it is food’s revenge. A real competition against food would consist of putting me in a room with 4 pounds of cinnamon rolls, a 10 pound hamburger, a few pies and a couple liters of beer and see how long I could go without consuming any of it. Man versus food is any time I get a plate of French fries and try to leave just one on the plate. (Sadly, even if the last one is undercooked, bruised and cold, I will eat it – and enjoy it.)
Someone will try and tell me that if I want to see that struggle, I should watch the Biggest Loser. No, that is a woman’s show about eating right and exercising. The only thing for men on that show is Jillian, whom we can drool over while we eat Doritos. On TBL, everyone loses weight, so everyone is a winner. Who wants to see everyone win? If “everyone is a winner” were a desired goal, we Americans would negotiate with our enemies instead of bombing and shooting them. Women would be world leaders instead of men.
Of course, that would free us men up for more couch time, shamefully manipulating the remote and conquering the Doritos.