Man vs Food: Disgusting but very, very addictive

Man V. Food has become my new Come Dine With Me pre-dinnertime TV watching.

Man V. Food has become my new Come Dine With Me pre-dinnertime TV watching. Only instead of laughing along with the contestants at one host’s attempt to flambé a crème brûlée I find myself in awe at Adam Richman’s attempts to eat a twelve pound burger or down five 24-ounce malt milkshakes in thirty minutes. It sounds disgusting, and it is, but it’s also addictive viewing.

The format of the programme is like a bit like a game show. We have our presenter-cum-contestant Adam Richman who travels across the States in search of diners and dives with gastro-nomical menus,  and we have our challenge: eat this eighteen inch burrito and win a place on our hall of fame! Or hey, have our XXL promotional T shirt and wear it like a trophy. But is the “reward” worth the health risks?  And what kind of message does it send to viewers?

Made for the Travel Channel and aired for four seasons, Richman must have done some damage to his arteries with all that food consumption. He said he’d run on a treadmill for hours after a food challenge to counteract the calorie attack, and fast the day before a show if he could, but is it enough against the damage he’s doing to his body with salty, fatty foods?

I always thought food was to be enjoyed, not conquered, but it’s fitting for Man V. Food to set up a dining experience like a stadium competition. Lone challenger faces imminent death by Stupid Wings while fellow restaurateurs cheer on over their chilli fries. And then there’s the irritating narration from Richman that’s been added on after filming to frame together some kind of narrative.This in-your-face style of presenting with a mock Will-I-won’t-I finish this death burger? wares thin.

It’s definitely made for American TV. However, I don’t think it transitions well onto our UK screens. We’re used to Delia Smith and Best British Bake Off, with the occasional Jamie Oliver school-dinners show or Gordon Ramsey flipping out on Hell’s Kitchen. But I do think it acts as a fantastic foodie-tourist guide to many little-known eateries across America.  Rather than going down the Super Size Me road of McDonald’s big eats, Richman goes out of the way to visit lesser-known but popular local restaurants. No wonder after each episode airs business booms for the featured restaurants. And that’s probably a good thing.

What is worrying is the depiction of a culture obsessed with indulgence and over-eating that praises people who over-eat. What message does that send to viewers? Probably best to let Man V. Food remain indulgence TV, not a call for challengers.