Hulu’s “Taste The Nation” with Padma Lakshmi should be required viewing for Americans, or anyone interested in America. With a flavorful mix of history, culture, food, and politics, Padma Lakshmi weaves together a tapestry of what it means to be American.
In the premiere episode of “Taste the Nation”, Lakshmi tackles the border wall crisis, speaking with those in the foodservice industry about their employees (some who travel over the border to work), the cultural changes that have occurred, and the racial divides that have sparked a battle over the border.
While the idea for the show might seem a bit daunting, the episodes are tantalizing, lush, and infused with warmth. While there may be a division between us, food can help bridge the gap. We all need to eat. All of us grew up with specific dishes that we now share with our families. We celebrate with food, we show love with it, and we treasure the recipes handed down by our ancestors.
“Taste the Nation” dwells on delicious food as much as it does uncomfortable conversations, blending them together in a complicated, yet understated way. Lakshmi’s gentle, probing questions toward those who seem at first defiant seems to melt them in a way that makes them more human, more open to discussion, to change.
It’s almost magical, and somewhat hypnotic, to watch these stories unfold. One man cooks food from ingredients his ancestors would have used because he moved around so much as a child that this is the only way he knows how to find a home. Another man runs a restaurant with employees from across the border and must contemplate how his views affect their relationships and even the future of his business.
This is the power of visual storytelling. While we may not be able to smell the burritos that Lakshmi is tasting, we can hear the sizzle of the meat as it cooks, we can see the tears in someone’s eyes as they consider their future on either side of the border, and we can understand that this moment in history matters.
There are plenty of people who do not understand the power of a shared meal, but all throughout history there have been important foods used in ritual and celebration. We eat cake and ice cream for birthdays, we cook traditional foods for the holidays, and historically, Native Americans are to thank for sharing their food with the Puritans at the first Thanksgiving.
Our lives revolve around food, to some extent. We have our favorite restaurants, the chosen snacks for game nights, the traditional burger and fries that suffuse the world’s idea of what it is to be an American. Food matters, and who we share it with matters. Sharing a meal with others has been a staple of culture for as long as we have been alive.
Lakshmi’s understanding of the importance of food and the good it can do is astounding. Watching her experience various cultures and meals while she speaks with the people who make and eat various dishes helps us see each other’s similarities as well as understand how important it is to celebrate the differences.
I highly recommend giving “Taste the Nation” a chance, even if it doesn’t seem like your typical fare. It is welcoming, intriguing, and uniting in such a way that I never saw coming. The cinematography and the music underneath the unhurried, quiet conversations make this an inviting show for the entire family. If this idea piques your interest, watch an episode or two (or binge the entire season, no judgment here!) of “Taste the Nation” on Hulu.