If you haven’t seen the show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, now in its second season on the TLC network, then you’ve surely heard about it. The cloud of criticism that surrounds the antics of Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson—a sass-spouting seven-year-old pageant contestant—and her family’s life in rural Georgia, has ranged from eye-rolling disapproval to righteous condemnation for the family’s nose-picking, mud-wrestling, cheesy-ball-eating lifestyle.
The show’s producers have also been denounced for framing the show with establishing shots depicting stereotypical markers of low-class Southern life: outhouses, drainage canals, slow-moving railroad ticking through town, and humping dogs. Unsurprisingly, there is lots of food imagery too—in fact, what the Shannon/Thompson clan puts in their mouths is a main focal-point of the show. If there is one dish that characterizes their diet, it would be “sketti,” which June “Mama” Thompson calls her family’s favorite. ‘Sketti’ is spaghetti, boiled until it can stick to the wall when flung at it, sauced with a melted slurry of margarine and ketchup nuked in the microwave. It’s a dish that would make the Alice Water’s of the world clutch their pearls in horror.
The family’s diet is an easy target for reality-show masterminds looking to get a rise out of the folks at home, jeering while munching on organic pita chips. There’s an obvious emphasis on heavy, fried fare; vegetables are completely absent; throw-away pans and plates are used for every meal; and, most infamously, June pumps Alana full of “go-go juice”—a mixture of Red Bull and Mountain Dew—to escalate her energy before a pageant. Her recipe for canned cranberry sauce, sliced into rounds and doused in sugar, is about the closest thing they get to a salad.
Yet for all the nutritional woes of the Shannon-Thompson family’s meals, there is something earnest and admirable about some of their food habits. If we ignore the scripted dialogue and exploitative doctoring inherent in reality television, and instead take take Here Comes Honey Boo Boo at face value, we see a rich and engaged domestic sphere, one that can illuminate links between class and diet, poverty and health. Here are five things we can learn from the world of cup-a-farts, dogpiles, and monstrous five-pound pulled pork sandwiches.