Roadfood: Discovering America One Dish at A Time, hosted by Misha Collins (Supernatural, Encounter), has only been on air for about a month and a half. However, in that short time, it’s already managed to garner quite a loyal fanbase — despite the initial hubbub concerning where to watch. Today, we’re exploring what makes PBS’s latest food-related endeavor a great programming choice and why Roadfood should currently be on your watchlist.
Of course, I can’t write this article without mentioning the food, can I? It’s called Roadfood for a reason. As he details in the show’s opening sequence, Collins is keeping the legacy that Roadfood founders Jane and Michael Stern worked so hard to build alive by carrying on their mission. Traveling all over the USA, Collins has set out on his latest journey to uncover the myriad of regional food dishes found across the country. You can read more about Roadfood’s history here.
As he and the crew traverse the continental United States, Collins delves into both well and little-known regional dishes from different areas, uncovering the traditions and history behind them along the way. The heterogeneity of American culinary tradition isn’t just demonstrated by the sheer variety of locations and dishes showcased. Throughout episodes, viewers find that there are even nuanced variations within the specific region being featured. Whether that be different sauce combinations, preparation styles, or that secret something that restauranteurs are loathe to give up too easily, there’s variety to be found everywhere you look.
These culinary staples aren’t just traditional American foods. While there are some dishes that are part of the traditional American food culture like barbeque and fried chicken, there are also unique combinations of old and new as traditional foods from other parts of the world are integrated with the American style. One early example of this is the Viet-Cajun-style crawfish from episode 1 set in Houston, TX. From soul food to cajun delicacies like gumbo to tripe tacos, there’s always an abundance of mouth-watering dishes being presented on your screen.
The shots of these delicious-looking dishes will have you wanting to reach through the screen to grab some for yourself. You can see the passion the restauranteurs have for their craft, and that devotion clearly translates to the food. While viewers can’t taste it (bummer), sensory inputs like the crunch of the first bite of fried chicken, the vibrant hues of color from a fresh garden-picked salad, or the crew’s praise are enough to make your mouth water. Luckily, Roadfood’s website also provides lists of the restaurants the crew visits. Recipes from the niche dishes put on display are also found as a part of the show’s extra content on the website.
Connecting With People From All Walks of Life
But more than just showcasing the delectable-looking dishes themselves, food serves a secondary purpose on Roadfood. Collins has repeatedly admitted that food is simply the vehicle the show uses to get at something deeper. The show’s real goal is to promote tolerance, understanding, and insight into the cultural circumstances that cultivate ideological viewpoints.
Interspersed between checking out local food joints, Collins takes the time to seek out conversations with various community members. These people’s occupations differ, ranging from local restauranteurs to governmental figures and community activists to local artists. While these conversations do cover the local food scene, they also cover a myriad of other topics. From connecting the roots of soul food in the North to the Great Migration and African culture to learning of Vietnamese-American immigrants’ experiences mass migrating to Houston, TX, thought-provoking conversations are had in every episode.
These topics are not always easy to cover. Racial justice, food inequity, gun violence, political loyalties, and cultural legacy are all examples of heavy, but important topics that Collins navigates with locals. These conversations could easily become melancholy. However, Collins’ approach to these conversations, coming from a place of respect and a yearning to truly understand the things people encounter in their lives, and community members’ extensive pride and knowledge in their cultures leaves viewers with a sense of better understanding and unity. Throughout all of these different experiences the show shines a light on, common threads of the human experience are clearly able to be seen everywhere you look.
That’s not to say that there aren’t lighthearted moments as well. Zooming around a racetrack with the crew, (sweatily) helping traditionally pit-roast ingredients for a dish, and polka dancing are only a few of the extra activities that have been undertaken so far. Collins never fails to find some type of shenanigans to get into on his travels. These moments aren’t only fun for viewers, but seem to foster a sense of camaraderie and respect between the host and the people being showcased, better paving the way for those deep conversations.
Increasing Cultural Competency
The two previously described aspects of the show combine to showcase the cultures in these regions in a more complete way. Viewers don’t just get to see how regional dishes and culinary traditions shape the community. They get depth. They get to experience art, language, and how the community interacts and supports one another. America is a melting pot; just about anywhere you travel, you can encounter a variety of communities and cultures, and Roadfood is doing a great job of showcasing that diversity.
From the vibrant community-centric streets of Little Dominica, you learn about the niche pocket of Latinx culture that’s been carved out in Manhattan. From Barberton, you learn of the town’s industrial history and how that’s made Midwestern work ethic one of the community’s core values. From the streets of Detroit, you see how community activists are shaping a new culture of urban revival and food justice while sticking to their cultural roots. Viewers are constantly bombarded with facets of regional culture from the past, present, and future, increasing their knowledge of customs, traditions, and heritage that they might not encounter in their everyday lives. The show perfectly aligns with the core mission of PBS, “using media to educate, inspire, entertain and express a diversity of perspectives” and “[empowering] individuals to achieve their potential and strengthen the social, democratic, and cultural health of the U.S.”
Roadfood manages to strike that perfect balance of serious and intriguingly fun, taking viewers on a ride they’re loathe to get off. Watching the show is like being on a road trip of your own, cruising America’s backroads and seeing all the different aspects of life this vast and diverse country has to offer. And the best part is, you can do it all from the comfort of your home. While every food show is going to have a somewhat similar premise, Roadfood is doing a great job of setting itself apart by digging deeper than just the food itself, and I think that’s what’s endeared its fans to it so quickly and wholeheartedly.
Roadfood‘s first season may be halfway done, but there’s still much more to learn from its remaining six episodes. We can’t wait to see what new dishes, people, and experiences Collins and the crew encounter on the rest of their journey this season. Roadfood is available to watch in a variety of ways depending on your region. To find out your options, check out our article detailing ways to watch. As always, check out our other content related to the show here, Roadfood’s website for additional behind-the-scenes content and other information, and stay tuned for more updates as they become available.