Confession: I can’t fall asleep without watching an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Yes, there are plenty of loud proclamations about how things are “off the hook” and “so money,” and, yes, there’s Guy Fieri’s bleached tips, and lots of other obvious things to be higher-than-thou about. And yet.
When it comes to visibility and inclusiveness, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives succeeds. Big time. In its twenty-five seasons (twenty-five!) over the last nearly ten years, Triple D has shown an incredibly diverse range of people operating restaurants all over the country (and there have been a few visits outside of America, too). I really believe that most anyone could watch the show and see herself or himself reflected in it.
Take a recent episode, “Global Greats” (Season 25, Episode 5). Guy paid a visit to Holy Land in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He told the story of the remarkable business run by a family originally from Jordan and Kuwait. Wajdi Wadi, Holy Land’s founder, started the business in an eight-hundred-square foot storefront. It’s grown to occupy an entire city block. In addition to groceries and a bakery, Holy Land now includes a restaurant, a hummus factory, and a huge catering business.
Watching Guy—who is, for all intents and purposes, a famous, wealthy, white, straight, cisgender guy—come to Holy Land and celebrate its story, food, and culture is a welcome sight during this election season. According to its website, one of Holy Land’s mottos is “The time for peace is now.” It’s hard not to feel hopeful knowing how big Triple D’s reach is and how many viewers get to know people they might not otherwise know.
Food allows the show to highlight inclusivity without being about inclusivity. Guy is not at all political on the show. He’s not making statements. He’s not asking about the political story of hummus; he’s discovering the personal story behind a specific hummus. (And then just devouring said hummus.) Food becomes the great equalizer—and the great access point. It’s how we get to know the people behind the dishes. It’s an invitation.
It’s also an invitation to explore traditions rarely seen on television. Twenty-five seasons in, and the show has no choice but to unabashedly highlight lesser-known specialties. When Guy visits Curry Corner in Tempe, Arizona (Season 17, Episode 7), he skips many of the dishes that most Americans might be accustomed to finding in Indian or Pakistani restaurants and goes straight for Farah Khalid’s Punjabi specialty goat karahi. “Oh my gosh,” Guy says as he picks up pieces of goat with his hands. Many bites later he says, “I can’t stop.”
This consistent positivity, especially in contrast to all the competitive and combative food programing, is why the show has become a lullaby for me. It’s the last thing I watch before I go to bed because there’s no suspense and no worry. It always ends well. It quiets my mind, which often ricochets with small details. The show is predictable and, therefore, dependable. Guy always signs off with the promise of all that we’ll discover next time. And with that, I drift off.
Julia Turshen is the author of Small Victories. She lives in upstate New York with her wife, dogs, and cat.