Tube Talk: Food Network serves perfect ‘hospital food’

Connie is a friend of mine who recently left her home and life in Los Angeles to care for her terminally ill mother in Florida. One way Connie and her mom kept up with the outside world is by watching television.

I like to think of this as further evidence that television can be a lifeline—helping people feel connected with the rest of the world, even when they’re stuck inside. Sadly, Mrs. Wang passed away last month after a brave battle with cancer, but toward the end, her children did everything they could to make her final months as happy and comfortable as possible.

Mrs. Wang was originally from Taiwan, so when her son had a satellite dish installed at her home this spring, he chose a package that included Asian channels such as Jade, CCTV and TVBS. Being able to watch the Chinese soap operas and movies she loved made spending so much time at home a little easier for this once-energetic woman. Although the elections are still a couple years away, she especially enjoyed TVBS’s ongoing coverage of the contentious Taiwanese presidential race.

During a fairly long hospital stay with no Asian channels available, mother and daughter wound up watching the Food Network more than anything else. Everyday Italian, Good Eats, The Food Network Challenge—they’d watch whatever happened to be playing. Connie kept me updated, via the Internet, about what Bobby Flay, Sandra Lee and Alton Brown were cooking and offered a running count of how many sticks of butter Paula Deen used in a single show.

Granted, Mrs. Wang was more fluent in Taiwanese and Mandarin than English, so following cooking shows was easier for her than following complicated soap opera plots and scripted shows. (Having doctors and nurses interrupting all the time didn’t make it easy to pay attention to programs, either.) After a few days of The Food Network, Mrs. Wang quipped that Americans can’t seem to survive without cheese, then asked how Giada de Laurentiis stays so thin when she puts cheese in everything she cooks.

During that hospital stay, one of the doctors noticed they always had The Food Network on and admitted he, too, was a Food geek. Is it any coincidence he quickly became Mrs. Wang’s favorite doctor?

Consider the irony: she was often nauseous, unable to keep food down, and on a supplemental feeding tube, yet Mrs. Wang still loved watching The Food Network.

Even at home, The Food Network and Asian channels weren’t the only things she watched. She enjoyed shopping channels, too, even if she thought the merchandise was overpriced, and loved Wheel of Fortune. Maybe she couldn’t solve all the puzzles, but she sure knew what “Big money!” meant.

It’s comforting to know that, thanks to TV, even when someone is feeling too sick or tired to do much of anything—or is busy caring for someone who’s that ill—they can still feel as if they’re part of the world and be entertained by skinny women who cook with cheese.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications including American Bungalow, SatelliteORBIT, and TVGuide.

From the July 5-11, 2006, issue

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