Fed Up - By Jessica Conant-Park & Susan Conant


I peeked in the rearview mirror of my car, touched up my lip gloss, and ran my hands through my hair. I was, after all, going to be on television, so I had every excuse in the world to double-check my appearance. Okay, well, it was actually my boyfriend, Josh, who was going to be on television. Still, I was going to be in the vicinity of the taping of a television show, and if the camera just so happened to find its way to me, I had to be prepared. My hair disagreed; far from behaving itself, it was doing everything it could to fight the anti-frizz and straightening products that I had slathered on this morning. I got out of the car, slammed the door, and cursed Boston’s triple-H weather: hazy, hot, humid. I should’ve taken my friend Adrianna’s advice about wearing my hair curly. I had taken her advice, however, about wearing a cute, if uncomfortable, outfit. I tugged at the hem of my lime green and sky blue retro-print dress and tried to smooth out the wrinkles that had developed during the drive. And these darn toeless pumps that matched the green in the dress were going to be hell; I could already feel my big toe whining about being squashed. You have to suffer to be beautiful, you have to suffer to be beautiful, I repeated to myself.

The parking lot of the upscale grocery store, Natural High, was moderately full for four o’clock on a Monday afternoon in late August. I was there—on location, as I liked to think of it—because Josh had been invited to participate in a local cable reality TV show called Chefly Yours. I was tagging along, but Josh was one of three local chefs competing to win the prize of starring in a new eight-part cooking show. The other two contestants were Josh’s friend Digger and a woman named Marlee. Chefly Yours was scheduled to have nine episodes, three for each chef, with the contestants competing in rotation. Josh, Digger, and Marlee had each filmed one episode. Today was Josh’s second turn. When all nine episodes had aired, viewers were going to call in to vote for the winner. Each episode followed the chef contestant into a grocery store, where the chef approached a shopper and persuaded the surprised stranger to participate in the show. The chef then selected and bought food and accompanied the shopper home to cook a gourmet meal. The hope was that the chosen shopper would have a spouse or partner at home, an unsuspecting person who’d provide moments of drama by expressing astonished delight—or filmworthy rage, maybe—when the TV crew burst in. Crew: considering that the cable station, Boston 17, provided one producer-director, Robin, and one cameraman, Nelson, the term struck me as a bit generous. Also, the premise of Chefly Yours hit me as disconcertingly similar to the premise of a big-time national program hosted by a hot Australian chef, but when I’d told Josh that Robin was copycatting, he’d brushed me off.

Still, my boyfriend’s first episode had gone well in spite of an unexpected challenge. Because the “lucky shopper,” as Robin called her, turned out to have numerous food allergies, Josh had been forced to cook an incredibly simple seared fish fillet with practically no seasoning. To his credit, instead of throwing up his hands in frustration, he had used the episode to showcase his technical culinary skills, and he’d taught his shopper and the audience how to break down a whole fish and cook it perfectly. Nonetheless, I was hoping that today he’d find a truly adventurous eater. I hadn’t been present for the taping of Josh’s first show. When Robin had given me permission to watch today’s taping, she’d made me swear that I wouldn’t make Josh nervous. I’d given her my promise.

The location, Natural High, was an elite market in the Boston suburb of Fairfield, which our local papers always described as the wealthiest community in Massachusetts. As the store’s name suggested, its specialty was organic produce, but it also sold fresh meat and seafood. As the automatic doors opened and I stepped in, I felt a surge of irritation at the show for what was obviously a search for wealthy guest shoppers. It seemed to me that the people for whom it would be a big treat to take a chef home were middle-income and low-income shoppers at ordinary supermarkets. The station, however, evidently preferred to have a good chance