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Did Food Network used to ban references to slavery?

  • Kardea Brown, host of Food Network's Delicious Miss Brown, recently discussed slavery on her show. "I was delighted to see and hear this, and not just because of the convergence of culinary content and American history — my own wheelhouse," says Dan Kohler, now a producer on Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family. "But I was amazed that she talked about enslavement at all, because for years, Food Network and its associated properties (Cooking Channel and Food Network Kitchen) wouldn’t let me make any such mention on its outlets. Over the past four years, producers working with the network, owned since 2018 by Discovery Inc., have repeatedly asked for my silence on the topic of enslavement. And just in case you think I’m the only one, just last year, Brown — one of the few Black hosts on the network — told Southern Living magazine that she had experienced the same resistance." Kohler says when he began working on his pilot and telling executives he would have to discuss slavery, "I was greeted with polite laughter, and then the admonishment from one of the producers, 'Oh, you’ll never say "slavery" on air.' I replied: 'But how do we explain marinara when we get to an episode on red sauce? Tomatoes don’t arrive in Italy until after Europeans start packing folks against their will into the bottom of ships and sailing them back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean.' Another producer smiled and said, 'Well you can talk about the ships, but we’ll just call them 16th-century cruise liners.' I tabled the conversation, and then we made the pilot. Throughout the process, I watched as a network executive and the executive’s handpicked production company cut anything they thought might be 'controversial.' We were still in preproduction, so the snipping was either in our scripts or on the phone, where I was encouraged to acquiesce to reach the ultimate goal: a series order from the network. They removed watermelon from the script because it meant we had to discuss its origination in the Kalahari Desert and also the way its image has been used as a vehicle of discrimination in this country. They removed ketchup because the network wanted to tell only the story of Heinz, instead of the 2,000 years leading up to that blood-red final chapter (a story that begins in Vietnam and helps explain why some spell the word 'catsup' and others 'ketchup'). They asked me to pretend the Middle Eastern owner of a Hawaiian restaurant was of Hawaiian descent, assuming viewers wouldn’t know the difference." Ultimately, Kohler's pilot was never picked up. So he wrote a post-mortem report to the network, but "no one ever responded," says Kohler. In Southern Living, Brown recalled a similar experience. “I started talking about slavery, and people said, ‘We don’t know if we can say this,'" she told the magazine. “I was like, ‘Why not? It’s the truth!’ … Sadly, it is 2020, and we are still not ready to have that conversation.” When The Washington Post requested a response to the Southern Living piece, a Food Network spokesperson said: “This is not something that either Kardea or her executive producer recall as ever happening/being said on the set.” Pasquale DeFazio, executive producer of Delicious Miss Brown, issued a statement: “No one ever directed us to avoid talking about any subject, nor did we ever direct Kardea to avoid talking about any subject. In fact, we encouraged Kardea to be open and honest about anything she wanted to talk about, including the history of the Gullah people. As the show has developed from pilot to present (85 episodes in) there has been a natural progression and exploration of Kardea’s personal history, as well as the history of her culture and the Gullah people.” Food Network also disputed Kohler's allegation. “This is inconsistent with what producers who have worked with Dan recall,” the spokesperson wrote. “Creative discussions happened on many points and there was never any intent to silence any topic.”

    TOPICS: Food Network, Cooking Channel, Delicious Miss Brown, Kardea Brown, African Americans and TV

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