Nothing kicks off a 10-day saga of catered food and drink and more food -- the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour, I mean -- like a panel dedicated to a Travel Channel show celebrating the glories of gluttony.

Actually, Travel Channel's "Man v. Food" isn't really about the glories of gluttony at all. Or at least that's what host Adam Richman too great pains to explain to critics on Tuesday (July 28) morning, especially the critics treating him as the cause of America's ever-increasing fatness.

"Here is the one thing that I would like to make abundantly clear. At no point do I or the network or the show espouse overeating," Richman attempted to make abundantly clear. "This is not about that. These are about once-in-a-blue-moon indulgences because at no point will we ever espouse eating like I eat or eating what I eat like a lifestyle choice."

As fans of "Man v. Food" know, Richman travels the country, participating in ambitious challenges forcing him to eat a location's spiciest pasta or largest burrito or a four-pound hamburger successfully completed by only the most intrepid of diners. Sometimes he succeeds, but just as often he fails, with the kind of nobility that can only be achieved when your face is red, your belly engorged and your shirt covered with the detritus of hastily consumed meal. Even when he wins, what Richman does doesn't exactly look like the sort of thing that would be good for the human body. Yet, like the competitive eaters celebrated on Coney Island every 4th of July (an ignored by most of the populace for the rest of the year), Richman doesn't look like a man who eats for a living.

"I stay super vigilant about my health," he promises. And I don’t eat necessarily like I eat on the show in my day-to-day life. I think that it’s a system of checks and balances and I just really do try to stay extra vigilant not just with doctor visits, but also staying on top of supplements, making sure I do work out on a daily basis, making sure that I do monitor my health in a rigorous fashion. I think it would be foolhardy not to."

While not a competitive eater himself -- he's actually a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, it seems -- Richman received coaching from hot dog champ Joey Chestnut, a first season guest star.

"Joey Chesnut’s big thing is running. So what I actually do is I combine strength training with running the morning of," Richman says. "He is a big, big proponent of running in terms of both elevating his appetite and metabolism. Also, he stressed to me the importance of staying hydrated, which I guess is a good thing anyway."

But it isn't all about the eating, so much as the spectacle.

"The challenge is so much about the experience that I don’t usually like to get bogged down with the sort of minutiae of the physical stuff. For me it’s such an amazing event," he says. "It’s somewhere in between, like, an absolute party and the Roman Coliseum."

He adds, "To paraphrase John Cougar Mellencamp, 'Ain’t that America?' The thing is it’s not solely about the food. This is a travel show. It is – basically it’s exploration of a destination one bite at a time. So it’s using food as the point of departure — and a highly delicious point of departure, I might add — to sort of explore these cities. So I’ve recently just been to Springfield, Illinois. I’m going to Boise. I’m going to Little Rock. And the thing is they may not necessarily have the culinary profile of a New York, a San Francisco, a Philadelphia, a Chicago in terms of haute cuisine, but they do have their staples. And these foods are a point of pride to these people. And I feel that what I’m really trying to show is the food, yes, but the food is part of a larger experience."

 

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The other highlights of a fairly slow first day of press tour included a Fox Reality Channel promo for "Househusbands of Hollywood" that claimed that star Billy Ashley lost his chance at baseball stardom because of an injury (rather than a .233 lifetime after and difficulties hitting off-speed pitches), Joy Behar saying she wanted to interview Sarah Palin (but being willing to settle for her maid or her babysitter) and George Lopez explaining his recent difficulties with customs.

The day culminated in a relatively intimate cocktail party/dinner for AMC, where I talked to Matt Weiner and Christina Hendricks about "Mad Men" and Jim Caviezel about Comic-Con, the nature of stardom and "The Prisoner."

Up on Wednesday? Panels with Joan Rivers, Matt Damon & Marisa Tomei, Ice Cube and David Tennant.

Stay tuned.