Padma Lakshmi’s most recent production, “Taste the Nation,” is not just a new venture for the model, actress, and television host but the fulfillment of her lifelong passions as an authentic food writer, history enthusiast, and cultural steward.
Throughout her career, she has demonstrated a keen interest in these areas, making her latest show a natural progression of her passion for food, culture, and history. By showcasing the diverse cuisines and cultural traditions that have shaped America, she is using her platform to break down the longstanding stereotype of what constitutes an American identity.
During my younger years, I eagerly awaited my return home to catch my favorite shows on the Food Network. First on the list was Gale Gand, whose show “Sweet Dreams” featured delectable desserts that left me drooling. However, every week, I was most excited to watch Padma Lakshmi’s “Melting Pot: Padma’s Passport,” where she would cook up warm Indian rice pudding or flavorful saffron and preserved lemon-scented shrimp rice pilaf. It was a unique and thrilling experience to see someone who looked like me on a national stage representing my culture and cuisine. This occurred in the year 2001.
As the year 2001 drew to a close, most Americans became familiar with Afghanistan and Al Qaeda. Unfortunately, this period also saw an increase in prejudice against Brown people who did not fit their expectations. While some aspects of this social climate remain unchanged in the intervening years, there has been a notable shift in public awareness of Padma Lakshmi. As a result of her continued success, more and more people recognize and appreciate her contributions to food culture and beyond.
In the years following 2001, Padma Lakshmi accomplished a great deal. She has starred in a Bollywood film, written a memoir, hosted a travel specialist for Planet Food that took her across the globe, served as a judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” welcomed a child into the world, authored a thought-provoking op-ed in the New York Times, demonstrated the art of eating tacos with grace and now, added to this impressive list, she has launched a 10-episode series on Hulu titled “Taste the Nation.” This show seeks to challenge the longstanding notion of who holds power to determine what and who is considered American. By showcasing a variety of cuisines and cultures, Lakshmi aims to promote inclusivity and celebrate the diversity that defines the American identity.
Padma Lakshmi has been a familiar presence in our lives since our youth, and as we’ve grown older, it seems she has grown and evolved alongside us. America, too, has undergone significant changes during this time, as highlighted by Padma’s mother, Vijaya, in an episode of “Taste the Nation.” She observes that there are now many Indian stores and vegetables readily available, marking a shift towards a more diverse and inclusive society. Perhaps “Taste the Nation” represents the true essence of Padma Lakshmi all along, a culmination of her passions and experiences, finally manifested in a show that is uniquely hers. This program offers us an opportunity to see Padma in all her authenticity, celebrating her heritage while promoting a more inclusive vision of American culture.