Food. It’s important. It is one of the few things that we work for that we actually need. Take away our iPhones, our laptops or our massive televisions; we would grumble a bit, but we would be fine. Even if you took away our houses, most of us would manage to find some sort of shelter and survive. Take away our food though, and we would all be dead within a couple of weeks. Food is essential in the truest sense of the word. No food equals no us.
It isn’t surprising then, that food is central to most cultures, and that a great many customs and traditions have formed around it. Christmas dinner, Sunday dinner, Ramadan, and Shrove Tuesday all centre around eating together with family and/or friends. We take our significant others out to dinner. We celebrate our marriages with a big cake. Easter brings chocolate eggs. Japan has whole ceremonies built around tea. The Hungarians celebrate Apple Day. Cookbooks sell in their millions. Chefs have become celebrities… You get the picture.
It makes sense then, that television should reflect our obsession with all things culinary. There are shows that teach us how to shop for food, and shows that teach us how to cook it when we get it home. Shows that explain the consequences of each kind of food on our health, and shows that show us how it is made/grown and where it comes from.
Then, there is The Great British Bake off.
For those readers not familiar with the format, The Great British Bake off is a weekly TV game show in the form of a cookery competition. Each episode shows a single round. At the end of each show, the contestant who has failed to please the panel of self-important arseholes by the greatest margin is eliminated and forced to return home in a little puff of flour. It’s a bit like Big Brother for twats.
The format itself is fine enough. Do some tasks, have them judged, pick a winner. It the pomposity of the whole thing that must be seen to be believed.
To begin, the food that the contestants are asked to produce is sickeningly twattish. Rather than being asked to ‘bake me a nice cake’ they are requested to ‘make me a confection in the shape of an emperors bollock bag, which uses spun sugar, fine brandy, and the ribcage of a Brazilian piss finch’.
As the challenge goes out, we cut to the individual faces of the contestants, who look on aghast. We get the occasional soundbite of ‘I’ve never cooked a piss finch before’ or ‘I think I might have to drink the brandy (chortle)’. At the same time, music, fraught with tension, makes any of us that were not aware of just how much is riding on the successful production of this particular kind of bun, understand that this is a new and very specific kind of important.
We spend the next 15 minutes or so watching our brave contestants work at their stations, occasionally returning to the judges and hosts, who drivel on about the expected qualities of the cakes that they are going to sample when it’s finally all over.
“The danger with spun sugar is that the texture could overwhelm the delicate aroma of the shape”.
“Yes, if that happens, I’m going to make the cunt that made it cry.”
Brilliantly, we don’t need to wait until the cutting words of the judges if we want to see tears. By this point in the competition, someone has invariably dropped a sugar lump or spilled some treacle, and is sobbing like a baby. Eyes streaming, they stand and stare in utter disbelief as the camera zooms in to catch the rogue item almost as if it matters.
The slightly zanier of the two hosts will make some a flippant remark, and the competition moves on to its inevitable conclusion.
What irks me about the whole thing isn’t the fact that making cakes has now become prime time TV. I have known that the general public’s imagination has been falling out of its arse for years. It isn’t even the fact that it’s all so desperately twee. Television is supposed to provide us with a break from reality, and for the vast majority of us, a glimpse into this little world of village fetes so quaint that one could quite reasonably expect Miss Marple to pass through at any moment is certainly a change from the norm. It isn’t even the fact that it’s such a load of unadulterated old bollocks.
What really gets my goat is that while a great number of the planet’s inhabitants can’t scrape together enough food to nourish themselves, we choose to broadcast footage of a 45-year-old accounts manager crying because he’s broken his biscuit. I mean, really?
If it’s food and raw emotion that we want, what about a reality series in which five starving African children are pitted against each other in an attempt to take home a bag of rice for their family? It sounds distasteful on the face of it I know, so it would likely need a little bit of jazzing up if it’s to go on Sunday afternoon telly. Maybe we could put them in spangly leotards or something. The format could remain largely untouched, but instead of the cooking parts, we could have rounds of fighting or begging, and the soundbites would be incredible.
“I am very sad that I could not win the bag of rice for my family because my little sister is very sick and now she will die.”
I jest, of course. Who wants to wash spangly leotards?
My point is, though, that if we are really going to spend our free time watching people cry over food, perhaps it would be better to remind ourselves that a lot of people actually have something to cry about.
Minister of Stuff.