We need it, we crave it and we can't live without it — but how much do we really know about food? The National Geographic Channel miniseries "Eat: The Story of Food" aims to fill in the blanks as it explores comestibles from a historical and cultural perspective over six hours on Nov. 21-23.
Featuring interviews with nearly 70 of today's biggest food personalities including Padma Lakshmi, Rachael Ray, Ruth Reichl, Michael Pollan, Marcus Samuelson, Nigella Lawson and Graham Elliot, the fact-filled miniseries is organized by theme, starting with the premiere, "Food Revolutionaries." These pioneers range from Julia Child and Christopher Columbus, whose search for spices led him to the New World, to canned food pioneer Hector Boiardi (aka Chef Boyardee) and frozen food innovator Clarence Birdseye.
Aptly titled "Carnivores," the second episode, which airs on Nov. 21, is devoted to meat, while subsequent installments deal with sugar and our addiction to it; seafood and its cultivation, preparation and conservation; guilty pleasure junk foods that we love but which are detrimental to our health; and the grains that are the "Staffs of Life" for the world.
In the video below, chefs discuss what taste they simply couldn't live without, including Marcus Samuelson (pictured) and Nigella Lawson.
"Food is a topic that seems mundane, but it's actually a window into the history of humanity, why we do everything we do — sex, technology, revolution, economics, politics. There's a through line from what's on your plate to everything that you see around you. The scope and sweep and the breadth are pretty massive," says executive producer Nicole Rittenmeyer, who says that each episode carries its own message.
"One of those is sustainability. But 'Eat' is also presented in a way that really makes you look at the food on your plate in ways you never expected to before," Rittenmeyer says. "It draws connections for you and makes you question your consuming, your buying practices and the choices that you make in your home. You can't help but do that once your eyes have been opened to how vast and rich the back story is behind what you're eating."
Chef and restaurateur Eric Greenspan, star of NGC's "Eric Greenspan is Hungry" and who appears in "Eat," agrees. "I think that we are now more aware about food and its impact that it has on our lives. While watching this show, you start to realize how connected food is to everything that we do all across our lives and our histories and our cultures and everything. And when you start to really realize the depth of the connection, it changes the way you think about food forever."
Food Network personality and author Simon Majumdar, who also stars in the series, says that as he has traveled the world, he's "seen just how much food impacts every society and every period of history and how much it has impacted the way we live today. It unites people and brings us all together." But he also points out a concern, as the series brings forth: "We waste food, and we have problems with our agricultural and farming systems."
In this clip from "Eat: The Story of Food," experts discuss why a varied diet is important to overall health.
Andrew F. Smith, food historian, teacher, sugar expert and author whose 26 books include "Sugar: A Global History," appears in all six episodes and comments on the sweet stuff's impact on history and health. "I talk about its beginning in New Guinea to India to the Muslim empire and Europe. The reason why there was slavery in the Americas has to do with sugar — cotton and tobacco came later," he points out. "Then there's the serious obesity problem. It's a fact: sugar and fat make us gain weight. There are more people who are obese in the world than there are people who are malnourished. That's frightening. People need to take responsibility for what they eat."
Smith makes sure to emphasize that there are plenty of things to be optimistic about in "Eat." "There are a lot of really fascinating things that are underway, in both conventional and alternative agriculture. The best news on obesity is it is not increasing at the rate it was,” he notes, adding that the message is clear: "I think people will not look at food in the same way and that’s the purpose of the program."
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