Guy Fieri’s comeuppance is my Schadenfreude

Guy Fieri, the tenth-highest-paid chef in America, symbolizes everything wrong with North American food culture. 

Recently, a reviewer for the New York Times named Pete Wells published a scathing review of a new restaurant in Times Square which happens to be the baby of one spiky-haired bottle blonde by the name of Guy Fieri.

In case you aren’t familiar with Fieri’s body of work, he is most famous for his Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives wherein he tootles about America looking for, well the title says it all. His entire career is built around seeking out the least healthy or refined food available and glorifying it.

Now, I like the occasional plate of unhealthy food as much as the next guy. And I am certainly loathe to celebrate another chef’s failure, since I know very well the difficult and unforgiving life of a restaurateur. And yet, seeing Guy’s American Kitchen get absolutely obliterated with a zero-star review, which has since gone viral, makes me happy. It is a shameful joy, but joy nonetheless.

Allow me to explain.

First, let’s take a look at how Guy makes his money. If you’ve never seen “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,” don’t. He basically goes around finding the most regressive, unhealthy foods on the planet and then telling us how magnificent they are.

That’s it.

Again, junky food has its place. But what Fieri does is lionize the food which has been responsible for an epidemic of obesity and diabetes across the U.S. which is so bad that it now extends to children. Think about that. How bad is your diet that your school-aged child has type two diabetes?

But in my mind there is something even worse, even more insidious about Fieri’s life work. He celebrates the food that keeps us stupid about food. This is a very big deal. For one thing, it is dishonest and demeaning to the profession for someone who calls himself a chef to go around looking for the greasiest 20oz. burger in America.

It’s not that the food is so incredibly low-brow, which it is. It’s that he is undermining our relationship with food in general, that he is celebrating a regressive and ignorant way of eating which is unhealthy for your mind and body. It is about our attitudes towards our food. Some people spend their lives dumbing down the world and Guy Fieri is exactly one such person.

For years, generations even, the North American relationship with food has been superficial and detached. Our tastes were mired in burgers, hot dogs, processed cheese, and the whitest of white bread.

Over the past couple of decades, our tastes have broadened. Our palates have matured. We have come to appreciate both our relationship with food and the value of having a conversation about how it is produced, how it gets to us, and how to prepare it with skill and respect. We know how nutrition and flavour overlap, such that healthy food need never taste like “health food.” In short, the past couple of decades have undone generations of devastatingly unhealthy and ignorant habits.

So what does Guy Fieri do? He brings the conversation right back to hamburgers, hot dogs, and processed cheese. But on some level, that might be forgivable, were it only done with a little honesty. This food is the food of the people. It is modest in its intentions and only really strives for accessibility. At Guy’s American Kitchen, a burger will run you $17.50. That’s far from accessible. In fact, the only way to forgive that price is if it’s the best thing you ever ate. Wells’ review makes it very clear that no such forgivenes is on the table.

So puzzled was the reviewer that he posed a series of questions to the owner.

Let’s take a look.

“Were you struck by how very far from awesome the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders are?” Not only is it unacceptable even at a diner to fail at chicken tenders, but only a catastrophic tool would put the word “awesome” anywhere on his menu.

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