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Ugly Delicious is food programming for a politicised, post-Trump America. Using stories around food to make a historical comment on America’s cultural melting pot, the show appeals to an audience that wants to understand where their food has come from, both geographically and emotionally. We explore the insights behind the show, and explore why people are increasingly open to hearing the ugly truth.

Ugly Delicious is the latest media property from David Chang, the Korean-American founder of the Momofuku restaurant group. In the Netflix show, Chang and his cohort of celebrity friends do what people do on any food show – they visit restaurants and talk about food. The difference with Ugly Delicious is its emphasis not only on the stories behind the delicacies featured, but on the role they’ve played in the formation of identity in America and the politics attached to those narratives. While one episode titled ‘Fried Chicken’ tackles the racism that surrounds a dish often associated with African-American culture – dating back to how enslaved Africans were made to cook it for captors – ‘Fried Rice’ offers an insight into the discrimination Chinese immigrants have faced in the country for over a century.

Netflix teams up with David Chang to bring the ugly truth to the table
Netflix | YouTube (2018) ©

“There are some pretty vile things that are associated with food that no one ever really wants to talk about,” says Chang. The name of the show says it all – good food isn’t always pretty. And it’s appealing to a population that’s growing tired of social media-dictated perfection, which has seen a subsequent push-back against the artisan food movement – something Chang and his peers reference throughout the show. But it’s also about the ugly stories behind the food. A full 75% of leisure travellers have been motivated to visit a destination because of the food, but many remain unaware of the history that it stands for.

At a time when brands are expected to be open and honest, there’s a renewed hunger to hear those stories around food. “It’s good practice to acknowledge where the idea for the recipe came,” says Dr. Nolwazi Mkhwanazi, a senior lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand. “Food often comes with stories that show how we are connected to geographies and histories that position us in far more complicated ways than belonging and not belonging.”

Lore Oxford is a behavioural strategist at Canvas8, which specialises in behavioural insights and consumer research. She previously ran her own science and technology publication and was a columnist for Dazed and Confused. When she’s not busy analysing human behaviour, she can be found defending anything from selfie culture to the Kardashians from contemporary culture snobs.


28 Mar 18
2 min read

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