Sometime last semester, my friends and I came across a video of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and we voted to watch it while eating our lunch. We loved the episode so much — it made for cheap entertainment — that we decided to go through all the other episodes (and seasons) during all our lunches and dinners in the days to come.
So every single day, twice a day while we dig in our food, we watched as Gordon Ramsay threw restaurants upside down. He would come in, scrutinize the dishes served, and make blistering comments peppered generously with vulgarities. Our dates with him went on undisturbed for weeks until one evening we decided to eat out at a restaurant off-campus.
The Night of Transformation
The restaurant was empty when we entered it, save for a small family of three seated in the middle. We were quickly ushered to a corner booth, where the waiters took our orders without much fanfare and made for the kitchen.
“Where are all the other customers?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it says something about the food here?”
“Then why are we eating here?”
The conversation then turned to other topics. Barely minutes later, we heard a “ding!” coming from the kitchen, and a waiter walked out with our first dish — spaghetti carbonara. He placed it deftly on our table, slid the cutlery over, and returned to the kitchen as another “ding!” echoed in the empty restaurant.
My forehead scrunched looking at the plate before me. Comment after comment blazed through my mind: “Soggy. Too thick. Flooded with too much gravy. Bad presentation,” I touched the plate. It was cold, “Must be microwaved.” My fingers made for the fork, and I found myself jabbing the food, trying to find the spaghetti immersed under all the gravy. I was becoming increasingly annoyed and agitated, and when the spaghetti finally entered in my mouth, my lips gave way to a frown. I let out a sigh, meeting the gaze of my roommates, “Not worth it.”
The waiter came again. I resisted the urge to complain about the food and concentrated on swishing my spaghetti around on the plate. He placed the next dish on the table — calamari plate.
As soon as he was gone, I watched my friend as her face, like mine, broke into a frown. She picked up the fork and began separating the array of fried seafood on the plate. There were only three pieces of calamari. I saw her struggle to keep her comments to herself. She picked up one of the calamari, fed it into her mouth, and began chewing. Seconds later, the food came out again. Meeting my gaze, she explained with a tinge of irritation, “Too much flour. Tastes weird.”
When the third dish arrived — seconds after another “ding!” from the kitchen — we both looked at the plate before us and scrunched our forehead. We grabbed a spoonful, tasted it, and begun making comments again, completely dissatisfied.
Only then did it struck me that we were acting exactly like Gordon Ramsay in Kitchen Nightmares.
In media studies, there exists a certain theory called the “cultivation theory” where the premise, put simply, is that when someone watches something on television over time, the content of what he watches will soon affect his own thoughts and actions.
One of the most quoted research in the area is that of television violence and its effect on children. Results after results of duplicated research have shown that children’s tendency to act violently is directly correlated to their watching of violence on television; the more they watched violent programs, the more they are likely to act violently.
Similarly, after weeks of watching Gordon Ramsay’s behaviour towards food, my friends and I were wiring ourselves to emulate the very same behaviour when faced with food in a restaurant. Without realising it, from the moment we entered the empty restaurant, to the times when we heard the distinct “ding!” from the kitchen (a sign of bad food in the Kitchen Nightmares episodes), to the point where we jab the food and taste it critically, we were all merely re-enacting what we saw.
Just like what we eat becomes a part of our body, so does what we consume through our eyes and ears become a part of us, affecting our thoughts and behaviour.
“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that is more purifying for them. Surely Allah is aware of what they do.” – Qur’an 24:30
So the next time you turn on the television, or spend time watching videos on YouTube, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself if you are willing to be that which you consume.