I think it’s time for a rant. You know when you throw your hands up in the air about three times in five minutes of a TV show that you are going to have to run to the internet and broadcast your thoughts to the world. Well, I do anyway.
When Ben and I chose to watch The Great British Budget Menu last night, after a long day, I think we both thought it would be interesting , inspiring, and entertaining viewing – which made our disappointment all the more upsetting. Now I’m not the first to write about this show and its shortcomings, but I do have a few points to add to Jack Monroe‘s succint and very valid rebuttal.
I do only make vague attempts to flick through newspapers and news websites, but I think it is fair to say that this year the big “thing” has been the food crisis in the UK (as a history graduate, I can also tell you that philanthropy has a very British phenomenon since Victorian times – only in Britain do I see this many ads for charity and fundraising – and every year there seems to be a new fashion as to where to donate your money). The Live Below the Line campaign, which encouraged people to raise money and awareness by living off £1 a day for five days, received huge coverage, and there is a steady stream of news reports on the poverty on our doorsteps and the rise of the food banks. Unfortunately, it also came under fire as it encouraged participants to buy food in bulk (or as much bulk as you can get if you club together your five days’ worth of pound coins) so as to reduce individual meal costs – which is indeed very sensible if you are trying to save money, but if on any given day you actually only have a grand total of £1 to your name, then that £1.50 bag of rice that will last you the week really isn’t an option.
Anyway. That was one thing the Great British Budget Menu got right: the chefs – taking on the challenge of cooking a nutritious meal using only the amount of money that the family would actually spend on food – took that amount of money and used it to buy the ingredients for that one meal. Not the most cost-efficient, but perhaps the most realistic.
Except that not one of the chefs actually stuck to that budget! One of them came really close, but found he had to go over budget when he bought a few jars of spices and seasonings. “They will last a few weeks”, he argued – yes, but that extra money technically didn’t exist on that day! Another came close, and got herself a really good deal on the meat that she bought, but still went over budget by buying extra vegetables to go with her dinner. Again, this was justified by pointing out that there would be leftovers for following meals – but again, that is all a moot point when you spent money that didn’t exist.
Lastly, and most worryingly, Richard Corrigan decided to scrap the entire budget in order to cook the family of six a nutritious meal using a giant piece of fresh salmon worth over £11 – and was later filmed simmering it in an aromatic coconut milk-based Thai broth. “This broth can be reused for at least another meal”, he explained helpfully as if he was offering the budget cooking tip of the century. I don’t need to explain what is wrong with that, do I? If you do want a bit of a laugh though, check out his budget cooking tips which include pearls of wisdom like “How do you buy protein?” (he doesn’t actually offer an answer to that one), “Stock up on tinned food” (dried pulses are cheaper, and I thought the whole point of this was to introduce more fresh food?), and “Make friends with a butcher so he can give you cheaper meat” (no comment).
As much as it was disappointing that the chefs all failed in their task, what most bewildered Ben and I was that they all used some form of meat (yes, salmon is meat to me). I understand that they wanted a nutritious, filling, and protein-rich meal. But surely it is common knowledge that meat is one of the most expensive foods? How about replacing rice or pasta with lentils or dried beans – then you get your carbs and your protein and your fibre in one cheap, mineral-rich shelf-stable package? How about at least making an effort to explain on camera that these meals are an option for a special occasion, when you can splash out on meat and on bulk foods to restock the cupboards?
And you know what, I’m not even going to say anything about the nutritionist who explained to the mother who has replaced food with sugary tea that she may be suffering from anaemia due to the lack of red meat in her diet. Then follows up with a concern about the lack of fibre in her diet. See my point above on pulses, protein, minerals, and fibre. In fact, see any resource at all on the benefits of red meat vs the health concerns surrounding red meat, and the cost of red meat.
And then we had the “Budget Banquet”. As somebody who works with the principle of specificity in my main profession, I would argue that this was all pretty irrelevant. But it is a TV show, and an offshoot of The Great British Menu so I will turn a blind eye and focus my rage on everything else that was wrong with this TV show. Again, we have plenty of meat (oh, but it’s reduced budget sausage meat… because that’s both nutritious and good value, of course), we have gnocchi (because why learn to walk with staples like rice and oats when you can sprint with gnocchi), and we have tiny little portions – cooked by people who aren’t pressed for time, judged by people who aren’t hungry.
Their parting gifts to the families were large boxes of store-cupboard staples – because why teach a man to fish and feed himself, when you can give him a few fish to last him the rest of the week, or at least until you can get out of there? Richard Corrigan’s gift included egg-laying hens, because everybody needs eggs (right?) so they may as well be free (at least until the several months’ worth of feed runs out, and then the family have a few extra mouths to worry about feeding).
I’m not sure what exactly this show set out to do, but its parting messages went something like: Shop in the clearance aisle, make sure you buy lots of meat so you can freeze it and ensure you can always eat meat, stop doing what you’re doing, and I’m damn pleased I don’t have to live the way you do. Nothing remotely inspiring or encouraging, much less educational. Although I am the first to proclaim that people eating budget ready-meals due to financial constraints could do with a bit of education as to cheaper, healthier sources of nutrition, I genuinely think these chefs were the ones in need of some nutritional education. Or maybe just some life skills.