I started watching Eat Drink Love mostly because the rest of the world was at that very moment tuning into a new episode of Breaking Bad-- which, as I admitted last week, I am woefully behind on. And even though I should have known better I will admit that I was a little excited about it: I spent my first few years out of college working for a food-focused non-profit, and I hoped that maybe a show centered on three professionally successful women would cover something more substantial than their love lives. They could gossip and fight all they wanted, as far as I was concerned, as long as they did it over anything other than the men in their lives. The food industry is notoriously a masculine one, and anyone who's made her way to the top of it has got to have more going on than the real housewives of American suburbia.
My first inkling that this was not going to achieve even my modest dreams for it came midway through the first episode. The show's cast, some of whom know one another well and some of whom are pretty clearly strangers to one another, gathered at a taco place for dinner. "It's so nice to be out with women who eat," Nina Clemente, a private chef observed.
"Oh, I don't eat all day in order to do this," Waylynn Lucas, owner of Third Street's Fonuts, told her casually. The conversation moved on from there, highlighting publicist Brenda's recurring fear that she's "the big girl" in the room and in the city. At the end of the episode the rest of the women threw Brenda a birthday party at an exclusive bar where they gifted her with a vibrator, a dig at her very single status, and Brenda called out the beautiful, flirtatious Kat Odell for stringing along the bar's owner among a host of other men. The second episode tried to play Kat and Brenda off of one another again, though from Brenda's voice overs it's clear that she knows the supposed object of their affections, Chris, isn't into her and certainly isn't looking to settle down.
There are other narrative threads: Jessica's struggle to be taken seriously by the male kitchens of the restaurants she manages, Nina's attempts to rise above her current position as a mostly untrained private chef who cooks fancy dinner for wealthy families. And it is fascinating to watch Brenda and Waylyn disparage Kat, which they do freely in interviews, while both acknowledging that they need her (she's an influential food blogger) and that they think she's a hack who gets ahead because she sleeps around.
In some ways it's telling of the way women in every profession are ghettoized: they're lumped together and told to support one another, forced to duke it out for a vanishingly small number of token positions. Of course they hate one another, and of course they have no choice but to be friends with one another. The show has an interesting story but it's not the kind that gets ratings, so it doesn't choose to tell it. Women arguing with one another always sells. The reasons why they might be doing it, sadly, are still immaterial to the story they're trying to tell.