How I Became A Man v. Food Show Convert

Thursday, September 23, 2010

There’s no question Anthony Bourdain reigns king over everything travelers dream about — getting paid traveling around the world with a film crew documenting it all. His snarky personality and textbook Kung Fu displays create perhaps the purest travel show that exists. When the Travel Channel was bought by the the owners of the Food Channel (and if you read The Expeditioner with any regularity, you have followed our collective thoughts about this), you can imagine our concern over the future of their programming. We feared Tony would become Emeril, and we’d be stuck watching Samantha Brown-turned-Rachel Ray until the slow and painful death of the travel show faded into nothingness. Now we have Food wars . . . and Man v. Food. Hardly a window into the culture of places we hope to tread one day.

I realize that simply eating food is not traveling. I also realize that stuffing your face until you are, generally, the size of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters, doesn’t fill the pages of guidebooks with facts of an area.  Perhaps, and I’m just throwing this out there, Adam Richman is some kind of magical face-stuffing Tinkerbell who has figured something out the rest of us are in the dark about. Let me explain.

Over a Christmas holiday visit to my dad’s house a few years ago, he made me sit down and watch one of his favorite shows. He explained how this guy goes from town to town and attempts outrageous eating challenges. I enjoy eating and I traveled across the country to spend time with my father, so I figured I’d humor him for a while. Then he turned on the Travel Channel and we began to watch my first episode of Man v. Food.

I can’t say I was hooked , more like entertained and pleasantly surprised by the show rather than appalled by its lack of travelness. Adam’s witty shenanigans took us through some of the history of the area and to the kitchens of the restaurants he visited. By the time the eating challenge portion of the show came, I found myself willing each bite into his engorged mouth to conquer the challenge.

This past Wednesday, Adam visited my home of Butte, Montana. More accurately, the show he recently filmed here aired this past Wednesday.  I’ll be the first to say if you haven’t been to Butte, you truly haven’t lived (you hear that Bourdain!). It’s an island of culture with a history that rivals any other city in the country — and that’s truly no euphemism.  That being said, eating 5 pounds of Jumboli Stromboli in an hour won’t explain the boom and busts experienced by this ever-resilient mining town, and it won’t help you grasp the fact that there are over 10,000 miles of tunnels and mine shafts underneath it, or allow you to hear the echoes of history through the renovations of hundred-year-old buildings and copper king mansions. Nope, it won’t do any of that . . . but it will provide a window.

For example, he ate a “traditional” food here, the pasty.  These aren’t the shimmering star stickers that dancers use to conceal their, well, you know whats. This is a baked pastry filled with meat, potatoes, and other variations. It’s nothing flashy, nothing catchy, but the story about its origin provides history unique to this place. The meal came with the influx of immigrant miners as an easy, hearty food the miners would take underground for lunch so they wouldn’t have to use silverware or go through the time consuming effort to return to the surface for lunch. You don’t often find that kind of story sitting on your plate.

I’m no longer against Man v. Food as a travel show — I’m a convert — but, I was leaning this way even before Adam dressed up as our very own Evel Knievel, jumped his motorcycle over the Berkeley Pit, and capitalized on my Butte pride. Food is truly one way to gain insight into a place and culture — 5 pounds of Jumboli may be a little much — but it is perspective into a place, nonetheless (and let’s face it, in America, we need some dude eating his face off to get our attention). As for the result of the challenge, I can only encourage everyone to catch the next airing.

To Adam: Although I’m still waiting for an e-mail telling me you’ll be in Butte, I thank you for the visit, and offer my congratulations on your travel show. You’ve proven yourself as Butte Tough — and that’s not a designation people around here bestow on just anyone.

© 2018