When dairy-free ice cream featured on The Great British Bake Off recently, it highlighted to us the potential for cookery shows to educate as well as entertain. And if free-from diets are in focus on TV, it's about time food provenance was too.
The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) is one of the nation’s favourite TV programmes. The BAFTA award-winning mid-week show, which is now in its sixth series, regularly pulls in around 10 million viewers and is widely credited with kick-starting the baking craze that’s swept the UK in recent years.
A responsibility to viewers
GBBO, like so many other widely watched programmes with a food or farming theme, has a real opportunity – even a responsibility – to go beyond the run-of-the-mill, escapist subject matter favoured by so much prime-time TV to embrace some of the more pressing food-related issues of our day.
And, earlier this month, it did just that when it devoted an entire episode to special dietary requirements – a logical and important move given the epidemic of food allergies and intolerances, as well as the growing commitment to healthy eating, in society today.
In the episode, contestants were charged with creating gluten-free pittas, dairy-free ice cream and sugar-free cakes. In a similar vein, vegan brownies were featured on sister show An Extra Slice in 2014.
The decision to include these variations on typical ingredients is a sure sign of our changing times and evolving food habits. You need only look to the runaway success of the new breed of health-food bloggers out there to realise just how much people care about what it is they’re putting into their bodies. Maybe next they’ll start thinking about where their food comes from, too?
Producers clearly have their ears to the ground, which begs the question: why aren’t cookery shows like GBBO encouraging a more open and honest discussion about food provenance? In a world that’s struggling with food insecurity, ecological devastation and a sickening population, it’s extraordinary the subject isn’t yet more widely acknowledged on TV.
Although a handful of big-name chefs – including Compassion supporters Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver – work hard to champion higher-welfare meat, fish, eggs and dairy, many of our most watched food programmes shy away from the harsh realities of industrial food production – a crying shame, given that regular mentions of, say, the importance of free-range eggs or higher-welfare dairy could act as a megaphone for getting the message out there.
A sign of the times
Last week, it was announced that McDonald’s is switching to cage-free eggs in the US and Canada – a groundbreaking move that’s set to benefit 7.4 millions hens and a clear indication of the groundswell of public concern surrounding factory farming. Times are clearly changing.
Here’s hoping that other fast-food outlets and food businesses will follow suit, continuing to work with us to catalyse a global backlash against factory farms that will make free-range eggs on GBBO and other shows – as well as dining tables around the world – the norm rather than the exception. An exciting thought.
And if TV production teams need any inspiration, they need look no further than our annual baking and fundraising frenzy, Bake with Compassion. Held each and every September to coincide with GBBO, this event celebrates baking (often with a farm-animal theme) with higher-welfare or vegan ingredients, from free-range eggs and organic butter to plant-based dairy alternatives. And the results are delicious.
Join us and other local groups to help raise some much-needed awareness about the plight of animals trapped in factory farms. Aprons on, it’s time to bake!