Remember restaurants? I do — even if I haven’t eaten in one since March. I used to love going to fancy and hole-in-the-wall places trying familiar dishes or new foods entirely. It was fun and communal and it’s gone now, thanks Coronavirus. Cooking at home is not the same, no matter how healthy your sourdough starter. Luckily we still have food TV.
Pardon my metaphor but cooking shows are the comfort food of television, both unchallenging and pleasant to consume. Hulu’s Eater’s Guide to the World is all these things but it’s also a vision into what our media would be if it reflected actual reality. You know — if it weren’t so white, so male, so in love with the powers that be.
In Eater’s Guide to the World, Los Angeles is as important as New York, each getting their own episodes and cameos. Latin America takes up two-out-of-the-three trips abroad (it IS the closest) with episodes focusing on Mexico and Costa Rica (and the third, Morocco). In a slight to colonizers everywhere, the show doesn’t even bother with Europe, something those of us with roots in the global south have to cackle at. In this world, cabbies have as much culinary insight as academics. In the New York episode, we spend time at a 24-hour badminton club mostly filled with cab drivers (and one student!) learning about their favorite snacks. And Eater’s Guide to the World takes their late-night gastronomic preferences as seriously as it does Dr. Sharon Suh who appears in the first episode and presents her theory on mindful eating. Both groups get equal time and the same tone, making them of equal interest and giving them the same level of respect.
This is the world I actually live in. It’s delicious and brown and egalitarian. I don’t define a person’s worth by the power, money or accolades they have. Instead, I try to treat everyone with respect, knowing everyone has a story and something to contribute. Now I don’t normally turn to cooking shows for validation of this worldview or political commentary. But as a Latina TV critic, it is rare that I see a mainstream show that makes me feel seen and Eater’s Guide to the World does just that.
I’m not saying it’s perfect. Maya Rudolph is a great narrator but the mix of edgy and earnest lines they stick her with can feel forced. For example, there’s lots of swearing in the show but it doesn’t really do much, just signal that they’re trying to be cool. I mean, I’m an adult — I only notice swearing when it’s trying too hard (and it’s trying too hard here). This attempt at edginess is particularly silly when paired with lines like calling the Costa Rican abuela “95 years young” — talk about cheesy and precious at its worst (even if Rudolph does what she can with it).
Plus, for me, the entire concept of the first episode “Dining Alone in the Pacific Northwest” doesn’t work. You can’t really capture what it’s like to eat alone since by having a film crew there the eater’s not alone, particularly when they’re speaking directly to the camera,. But thankfully, the other themes are compelling (eating on the hood of your car in LA, where to stop on your way to the airport), so go ahead and skip the first episode, circling back if you’re still hungry at the end.
Overall, this show’s appealing view of humanity manages to be both sweet and savory (get it? wink, wink). The culinary delights mostly come from POC hands and the white folks that do appear are not more “normal” than their darker counterparts. The implied viewer is adventurous and multicultural, as interested in what drag queens eat after finishing their sets as in lost maiz varieties having a renaissance in Mexico. It’s nice. And it’s a reminder that food is a universal language, one that Eater’s Guide to the World uses to show it is both normal and delicious to be Latina, Black, queer, Asian, etc. ¡Buen provecho!