What the Great American Recipe teaches us about the benefits of diversity

Roderick Graham
8 min readJul 16

They could have determined the cooks through merit. Maybe the producers could have set up some regional cooking competitions, where taste testers choose the best cook in each region. Then the winners from each region become the contestants on the nationally televised show. If the cooks who earned their way onto the show just happened to all be white men, so be it. If they all happened to be lesbian Latinas, that would also be fine.

But I suspect that is not how The Great American Recipe chose their contestants. They went for diversity. And it is one of the best cooking shows on television.

The show also demonstrates how and why diversity is a positive good, and how we can do diversity in America going forward.

The contestants on The Great American Recipe

Where can I get some kugel?

There are nine contestants on The Great American Recipe. They are all home cooks, not professional chefs or owners of restaurants. There is a native Hawaiian woman who is a nurse. You have a semi-retired architect living in Chicago of Greek origin who loves cooking for his wife. There is a gay Sephardic Jewish man living in New York City whose family is from Libya. There is a white woman who loves cooking Midwestern cuisine. There is a black man from Cleveland…you get the point.

In each episode, these home cooks are asked to complete a series of cooking challenges and are judged by world-renowned chefs. Of course, the chefs are also a diverse group: Graham Elliot (white male, Hawaii), Elizabeth Cohen (Filipino female), and Tiffany Derry (black Female from Texas).

The show’s strength lies in the warm emotions generated by letting each cook express their background and life experiences through food. The show’s host, a New York City native of Puerto Rican descent Alejandra Ramos, is perfect for setting the tone. When one sees Ramos introduce each challenge, with her big smile and the sartorial choices of a bubbly, fashion-forward primary school teacher, we expect smiles, hugs, and maybe a few tears.

Show host Alejandra Ramos. Image credit: PBS
Roderick Graham

Gadfly | Professor of Sociology at Old Dominion University | I post about social science, culture, and progressive politics | Views are my own