Modeling Behavior: Giada at Home

Giada at Home is a show on the Food Network that I became familiar with over spring break. Although Giada doesn’t go out of her way to use local, organic or whole foods, it reminds me of my time at City Market because they sell almost all of the ingredients used in the show, and also I love to cook!

In this clip, Giada prepares Spinach Bacon Grilled Cheese for her family. The clip opens with a scene of her and her family, yet she is the only one we see in kitchen preparing food. Giada is dressed up and appears to be wearing a significant amount of make-up. In this episode (and all others that I’ve seen) we never see Giada eat the food she makes. Social Learning Theory says that we learn how to behave by modeling others behavior. Social theorist Albert Bandara uses this theory to explain potential effects of mass media on people’s behavior, asserting that “children and adults acquire attitudes, emotional responses and new styles of conduct through filmed and televised modeling”.

Under this discourse, the video of Giada at Home models behaviors that could contribute to how the public identifies with: the role of gender in the space of the kitchen, standards for physical and bodily appearance in realation to food, overall family structure and division of labor between members of the family. The gendered identity brought out by Giada at Home is illustrated by a quote from the Essence of Cooking Shows: How the Food Network Constructs Consumer Fantasies by Cheri Ketchum.

Within a tradition of women being socialized into being intimate care providers, this affirms a larger gender-stereotyped fantasy of social relations. These lone women also advised their audiences how to make meals that were sure to please others, a common selfless act that women are encouraged to engage in. For example, Sara Moulton of Sara’s Secrets asked, “Can you imagine how happy your child will be with these desserts?

Furthermore, Giada’s unusually petite size could contribute to young girls and adults feeling they need to be skinny, physically attractive, dress well and wear make-up in order to fit the role that Giada portrays (mother, chef, wife, etc.)  The fact that we rarely see Giada eat on the show may suggest that women should prepare food for their family, but not necessarily eat it, which raises many of its own questions. Given that 65% of women in the U.S. have eating disorders, the potential contribution this could have on audiences’ food practices could be highly problematic or  dangerous as women today are going to increasingly extreme lengths to look more like the unrealistic body types that are see on TV and through other media.

Another way entertainment media such at Giada at Home may impact health practices surrounding food is through consuming products (foods, appliances, etc.) that the viewer believes will make them “more like” Giada. Unsurprisingly, much of Giada’s success is attributed to her cookbooks, brand alliances and food products, and it’s not just Giada at Home, but the Food Network at large. According to Ketchum, the life-style oriented Food Network portrays ecstasy through consumption, creating new standards for entertaining, which gives people visions and advice on how to gain pleasures through consuming. For example, by buying Giada’s cookbook viewers may feel they’ve formed a connection to her which in turn creates pleasure.

While this is not problematic in itself, the article mentions that it’s dangerous to move toward a situation where content is even more closely tied to selling goods. Ketchum refers to this as “infomercials packaged as programming” and argues that the more this occurs the less likely shows are to seriously address any of the problems with contemporary food production and consumption (e.g., genetic engineering, the exploitation of a disenfranchised).

With entertainment media modeling consumption, unrealistic beauty standards and gendered kitchen work, I’m concerned. What changes need to be made so that cooking shows like Giada at Home provide a more accurate and diverse reflection of our contemporary food system and the myriad of identities, people, organizations that are part of it?

WP 3/23

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3 Comments on “Modeling Behavior: Giada at Home”

  1. Anonymous
    March 27, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    While I love Giada at Home as well, I can see certain factors being problematic when viewing and connecting this show to the larger society. Yes, Giada is a slender woman, however, what is better, a show showing a smaller woman cooking or a larger woman cooking like Paula Dean? I know personally that I wouldn’t want to cook what Paula does, because obviously weight gain is a part of it! I’d also like to say, that perhaps Giada eats the food she makes in moderation, which would be a good lesson for everyone. We do see her sample her foods often on the show, and then see her family eat normal sized portions at the end. Overall, there are many questions that can be posed, and this blog attempts at questioning and analyzing some significant material.

  2. cookingandobserving
    March 27, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    Thank you for the thoughtful response. You raise an interesting point: is it better to see a smaller or larger woman represented in cooking shows? My answer: I don’t think it’s necessarily a matter of size, but the pairing of a small size with not eating that could be potentially troublesome for viewers.

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  1. Cooking and Observing at the Co-op - April 1, 2012

    […] other day I posted about this, pointing out that consumer fantasy allows the Food Network to further blend content and […]

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