A Master Education?

We Don’t Need No BAD Education

It’s indisputable that one of the most popular programs on television at the present time is MasterChef: Australia. The second series attracts over 2 million viewers each night, all with either a desire to improve their own culinary skills or to relish in the melodrama experienced by some of Australia’s most talented amateur chefs. While MasterChef is a conventional addition to the hugely popular cooking show genre, “it’s hard not to be impressed by the role MasterChef has played in boosting the culinary confidence of a nation” (Vashti, 2010: 1).
Sucked in...The final eight MasterChef wannabes get all dramatic with Heston Blumenthal in London.
2010 MasterChef Finalists in London

However, as a serial analyst I am endlessly intrigued by the number of mixed and often, juxtaposed, messages that appear throughout the show. Along with millions of other Australians I watch MasterChef with a great deal of interest. I stress when Gary screams “only five seconds to go!”, I converse with my television trying to figure out why my favourite contestant chose the wrong ingredient and, naturally, I sneer at the gluttonous facial expressions of the judges as they munch on their € 100/gram truffles.

My primary concern involves the messages MasterChef sends regarding attitudes towards food. As an Argentine-Australian I come from a developing country where poverty is an unfortunate part of the national fabric. Perhaps it’s my background or my indirect experiences with poverty that set off some sparks, but I have recently learnt that I am not the only one having strong emotional reactions to the ways in which the  judges comment about the food placed before them each night. Instead various commentators have also voiced their concern over the ways in which programs such as MasterChef are shaping people’s attitudes towards food. According to a food wasting survey conducted by the Waste Resources and Action Programme (WRAP) in 2007 , “on average nearly one third of all the food purchased by households is wasted, of which approximately half is inedible and half is edible. This equates to 6.7 million tonnes of food waste…per year” (WRAP, 2007: 1).

So what does MasterChef have to do with these figures? My belief is, probably something.Whilst watching the program I noticed that there are many instances where the program has an indirect link with these figures. I’m not bidding on a causal link, but I do believe that influential programs such as this can send out the wrong message when it comes to the treatment of  food. A few weeks ago, contestants were competing in London where they had to produce a five-star dish for the judges. During their preparations in the kitchen one judge (Gary) approached a contestant who had just removed a tray of mini meringue’s from the oven. After observing them with a greedy sneer, Gary proceeded to tell him that they were “absolutely useless” due to the fact “they are not shiny” and “in my kitchen, I would chuck those”.  Similarly, while other contestants were having their plates judged, a number of comments were made regarding the quality of the food. Another judge (George) described one plate as “very poor”, stating “I would never serve that, in my kitchen I would throw that out. No questions asked. This plate is made for the bin”.This might appear to be a one-off, the same situation happened only this week – twice. Firstly, a contestant was told to re-cook a sauce three times because the mix was “too grainy”. Secondly, one challenge required a group of seven contestants to prepare 10 perfect pancakes in order to rejoin the current MasterChef contestants and make it to the top 10. During this competition, some contestants made pancakes that were either “too thick”, “too thin”, “too white”, “too brown” or “too uneven”. Subsequently, I would estimate at least 3 kilograms of pancakes were simply, “thrown out”.

Now, I’m not trying to say that MasterChef is solely responsible for the useless discarding of food, obviously the problem is much more wide-spread, but the problem here is influence and education.

The program is evidently popular, from children to the elderly; the program is influential and inspiring – using melodrama, suspense and competition to entice the culinary expeditions of ordinary Australians. But with the nail-biting, cringe-worthy and totally unnecessary comments made about certain dishes that ultimately seals their demise to the rubbish bin it’s no wonder food wasting is so prolific.

In 2007 the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) conducted a survey in the United Kingdom that demonstrated one of the highest rates of food waste in the world. Similarly, in the same year the Australian Bureau of Statistics collated data on household habits in relation to waste, including kitchen or food waste. The ABS found that in the year to March 2006 just over half of Australian households had not eaten left-overs or composted kitchen or food waste. According to the ABS, “the implication is that a majority of Australians do not perceive food waste to be a problem in their household” (Foodwise online). Research by The Australia Institute shows that Australians throw away about $5.2 billion worth of food every year. This includes $1.1 billion of fruit and vegetables. The Institute also estimates that the average Australian household throws away $616 worth of food per annum (Australia Institute online).

So whether or not you consider the program to be influencing negative attitudes towards food, food waste is an evident problem in society.

While MasterChef may only have a minimal impact on these figures, there is no reason to excuse the snubby, high-class, gluttonous attitudes they evoke throughout each drama-draining episode.

(c) Lilen Pautasso

References:

The Australia Institute (2009) “What a Waste: An Analysis of Household Expenditure on Food” (online article) Available from:  http://foodwise.com.au/media/72673/tai%20what%20a%20waste.pdf

Foodwise Australia (2007) “Food Wasting in Australia” (online article) Available from: http://foodwise.com.au/did-you-know/fast-facts.aspx

Institute of Grocery Distribution (2007). “Household Food Waste in the U.K” (online article) Available from: http://www.igd.com/index.asp?id=1&fid=1&sid=17&tid=0&folid=0&cid=298

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