Binging with Babish is a huge staple of food-based YouTube. If you aren’t one of the channel’s 9 million subscribers, the show is run by Andrew Rea and gained fame from his meticulous recreations of some of TV and film’s most delicious foods. Now expanded to the Babish Culinary Universe, Rea lifted the name for the channel from Oliver Babish, a fan-favorite on “The West Wing.” Rea himself has now eclipsed the character though, with the Google Images results featuring his face on the top page just as much as actor Oliver Platt.
Rea started the channel with a simple recreation of the “Parks and Recreation” Burger Cook-Off. Here, Rea coined his now-iconic torso-only filming style, as well as his deep voice-over. Since then, he has switched kitchens multiple times but has maintained his signature filming and voice-over throughout his YouTube career, often ducking into the frame only to sample his creations (when he is not revealing his face on his newer spin-off content).
His style is so recognizable that other cooking channels have taken to jokingly copying him, one being Mythical Kitchen, a spin-off channel of the popular show “Good Mythical Morning.” Rea has also bargained himself two separate cookbook deals based on his channel, though the first, “Eat What You Watch” (2017), seems to have taken a backseat to the more recent “Binging with Babish” (2019). Rea also has a website where his recipes are readily available.
The problem comes when you look at the content Rea makes, because recreating food from movies, TV, video games and more means selecting media to recreate from. Because Rea seems to use mostly TV as source material, it seemed prudent to use gender-based statistics from television and film rather than video games or other media and to focus on the U.S. rather than international film and television, as that makes up the majority of Babish’s audience.
And as of right now, women account for 44-45% of major characters on TV and a mere 29% of solo protagonists. In film, 47.8% of lead actors are women in 2020. Binging with Babish leans into the gender divide, and not in a revolutionary way. After totaling all of the available Binging with Babish episodes — 240 at the time of writing — 175 or roughly 60% feature notably male-led media with a male protagonist and/or an indisputable male majority leading cast (so “Seinfeld” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” would qualify, but “Friends” would not).
Seventy-five or roughly 31% of the channel’s videos feature ensemble casts or are video games with customizable player characters, such as “Parks and Recreation,” Skyrim and even “Bob’s Burgers” (Bob may be the title character but the main characters are almost equally male and female), leaving only 20 or roughly 8% that feature recognizable female leads, like “Broad City” or “Beauty and the Beast.”
Obviously, this is shaped by a multitude of variables — too many for a single article to account for — but it does seem important to mention that Rea is a man and most of his staff also seems to be male. However, the ratio seems to have improved, with his most recent 10 videos featuring two female-led media pieces, “Broad City” and “Raya and the Last Dragon,” but that still puts the channel below the 29% statistic for television and far below the 47.8% of film.
It could be because of views; the channel’s six most popular uploads are from media with male leads, but it seems that guessing why would be akin to a chicken-or-egg situation since, technically, working with the 8% breakdown of his content, less than half of the videos featuring a female-led media piece would make the cut for a randomly selected six videos.
On the bright side, Rea does seem to want to include women on the channel. Recently the channel employed Sohla El-Waylly, a chef who gained fame from the now generally disgraced Bon Appetit YouTube channel. However, El-Waylly and Rea seemed to have ended their partnership as of early 2021.
There’s also the fact that the chef industry is remarkably male-dominated. According to this study, 25.8% of chefs are female while 70.3% are men. This could potentially account for a lack of internal pressure from the cooking community to include more female-led media on the channel if we assume that the ratios present in the study roughly transfer to YouTube chefs. Rea does seem to be following a reasonably diverse spectrum of creators gender-wise on his account, though most of the cooking YouTube channels seem to be male-run.
In the end, Binging with Babish is still a fun show; it’s wonderful to watch food be coaxed to life from some of your favorite shows and films, and Rea himself is relentlessly charming with his theatrical cooking gestures and soothing tone. One does hope that Rea begins to diversify his selection — after all, this article really only hit the tip of the iceberg regarding this issue — as there is undoubtedly more to be said about the channel and the media’s limited representation of BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled folks and other marginalized identities. For now, though, the bullet might be worth biting if Rea does make food from your favorite shows; just consider leaving a comment requesting more diverse picks while you’re there.