River Cottage goes lame
You have to be careful when you’re preaching to others about what they should eat. I was uncomfortable with some of the content on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s program The River Cottage Treatment last night—quite apart from the fact that it was contrived reality TV that didn’t work very well. The basic idea behind the program is a good one: take some regular punters whose diet mainly consists of ready meals and take-aways, and get them to cook ‘real’ food. So Hugh gets these people to camp in a field at the bottom of the garden, and does food-related things with them.
Last night in the segment I saw they gathered blackberries and went to see a couple of Hugh’s sheep being slaughtered (he thought this was important—or maybe his producer thought it was important because it would make good TV—and much weeping ensued at the admittedly rather gory demise of the lambs, although to the credit of the punters only one of them turned vegetarian as a result).
The bit I was uncomfortable with, though, was where Hugh took them to some food safety officer to show them just how bad the food was eating. It was an unbelievably lame segment. They took a burger and the food scientist chap prepared a row of bottles containing the ‘chemicals’ that had been added to it. The punters were shown this row of chemicals (all of them white powders) and Hugh then asked a burger-eating chap how he felt about it. The guy looked fairly clueless, but on pressing by Hugh he sort of agreed how horrifying and disgusting it was. Hugh had more luck when the food scientist read the ingredients list on a Tikka Masala ready meal, because he found it contained E120 (cochineal). Hugh turned to a girl (whose intellect resembled Alice off the Vicar of Dibley) and triumphantly announced, ‘That comes from beetles!’ The girl obliged, a look of horror crossing her face, ‘I’ve been eating beetles, ugh!’ The irony that this is in fact a natural food colouring was lost on all of them. Look, I agree that it’s best to eat food that’s been messed about with as little as possible, but to use this sort of manipulative, fear-based propaganda about ‘bad’ food isn’t the way to go. It makes bad television, too.