What’s Cooking on the TV?

In its wisdom, the BBC has opted to schedule on Channel 2 a big, blockbuster ‘food season’. This is much heralded and promises to inform in ways we have never before been informed about-food. Yawn. Really? How many more programmes about food can we take? And how many more times must we be told that refined foods, salt, fat, fast food, takeaways, sweets, chocolate and the demon sugar will be the undoing of us?

Let me see. ‘Masterchef’, ‘Hairy Bikers’, ‘Nigella’, ‘Saturday Kitchen’ and on and on-the programmes exhort us to produce more, varied and extravagant meals using more, varied and exotic, unheard-of ingredients. We sit and watch, munching our takeaways or our toasted cheese sandwiches and nodding-‘mm, yes, that looks nice’. How many viewers rush out to the supermarket next day for Tahini paste, syrup of nasturtium seed or essence of wild boars’ scrotum? How many search online for a high temperature vacuum bath or a freeze-drying machine? Heston Blumenthal has much to answer for.

It was all vastly simple decades ago. My childhood diet followed a weekly timetable that varied little beyond which meat to cook for a Sunday roast or what was available in the back garden vegetable plot. Mondays would yield up something with the remains of Sunday’s roast, the remaining days repasts would revolve around Spam-with mashed potatoes, with chips, with beetroot or eggs from the hens at the end of the garden-omelettes, fried eggs and mash or chips. We children never questioned or grumbled. We had no dislikes and would clamour only for an orange or a banana since these were prized items [rationing was not yet a distant memory], although as I’ve mentioned before we were only permitted a banana if it was accompanied by a slice of bread.

If the first course was a little sparse there would be a vast rice pudding or a suet sponge for the purposes of filling us up. Meals always consisted of two courses. Not only did we survive on this regime, but we were relatively healthy and never became in the slightest bit overweight, still less obese, even though the occasional day out to the seaside would conclude with fish and chips wrapped in newspaper.

How ironic that the more elaborate and fiddly TV chef meals become, the more the population capitulates to fast food and fry-ups, snacks and sweet treats.

Here in Portugal, where we have fled to escape the UK’s wintery temperatures we de-camped on our first evening-after five days of driving- to the village restaurant where we were shown a box containing assorted, gargantuan fresh fish, from which we selected our favourites. They were taken away and grilled with a little salt and served with a salad, crusty rolls and a plate of fried potatoes. No sauces, ‘beds’ of anything, snotty-looking foam or those stupid drips and smears dotted around the plates. The result? Completely delicious.

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Odious ads and Radio Balm

                I always consider we are lucky, here in the UK, to have a commercial free broadcaster. Yes, I know that the BBC has had to take some stick for transgressions lately, both current and historic, -but during periods of travel, when we have had to digest news alongside adverts, I’ve found the TV almost impossible to watch. You get one, aggressively hyper story, delivered in a full-on, excitable manner, followed by what seems like half an hour of fragrant persuasion on the subject of Durex condoms or haemorrhoid cream. The adverts are always much louder than the programme itself, which to me is a most annoying, cynical and patronising ruse.

                Though I seldom watch commercial channels, when I do I am able to appreciate the artistry, irony or wit of the entertaining advert. Many, such as the Cadbury’s Smash ads for instant mashed potato in the 70s, or the Guinness ads of the 90s belong to a kind of commercials ‘hall of fame’. Many, like the Meerkats ‘Simples’ begin by being entertaining and become increasingly tiresome as time goes by.

                One thing I find hard to understand is how advertising can possibly work. I cannot think of one single commodity that I’ve bought as a result of watching a TV commercial. I can see how children become ensnared by their wiles, but fully functioning adults should be able to resist, surely? Or are we all prey to some underlying, subconscious thread that works away when we are unaware or asleep?

                Then there are all the annoying, animated ads that dot the screen when we’re attempting to undertake a serious Scrabble move, share what we are cooking for dinner on FB, look at a news website, forward a funny email or put in a bid on Ebay. They are there, flickering and buzzing away off to the side or on top. Sometimes a little delicate scrolling can put them out of sight, or there is a chance to ‘hide’ them, but mostly they continue to blemish the screen. Heaven knows what any of them are for-I certainly don’t look and I don’t know anyone who does.

                Most of all I’m a fan of talk radio. I can get my regular dose of a ‘soap’, news updates, documentaries, comedy, comment and debate, magazine programmes, consumer programmes, quality plays and literature without any kind of interruption from anyone trying to sell me anything. And all of this can be delivered while I’m occupied, undertaking the sort of menial tasks that might otherwise be quite tedious, such as ironing, washing the floor or peeling potatoes. The visual image, I feel is overrated, just as books, for me are generally superior to their film versions. I expect it’s a generational thing, setting me, as usual, amongst the dinosaurs of the world!