OPINION: MasterChef can save us from being a nation of snackers

Andy Newman points out that snacking is not part of the culture of many European nations

Andy Newman points out that snacking and eating between meals is something that's not part of the culture of many European nations - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

You know that spring is finally here when the pages of the newspapers are full of my favourite topic: food.

As surely as the first eagerly-awaited asparagus spears will be slathered in Hollandaise, news editors up and down the country are digging out weird, wonderful and on occasion downright disgusting stories about the nation’s eating habits.

Perhaps the strangest of these was a ‘story’ this week – actually a press release, but as a PR man, I see nothing wrong in that – revealing a new survey which has found that one in five of us snack while in the bath, one in 20 Brits tuck in while getting intimate in the bedroom (careful where you drop the chilli sauce…), and, grossest of all, one in six of us aren’t averse to eating while sitting on the toilet.

There are many, many things wrong here. The obvious one is the hygiene issue; but perhaps just as worrying is that 18 per cent of our compatriots are so desperate to stuff their faces that they can’t even wait five minutes while they, ahem, create some more room for the next food instalment.

I apologise if I’m putting you off your breakfast, but I’m not making this up - that job has already been done by the PR department at Peperami, which conducted the ‘research’.

Actually, our obsession with snacking is one of the reasons that as a nation, we find it so hard to haul our lardy backsides off the bog and onto a dining chair when we want to eat.

People often ask how come other nations which are well-known for their love of food (by which they always mean the French) manage to stay so slim despite tucking in to rich, multi-course meals.

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The answer is that while they eat well at mealtimes, that is by and large the only time they eat. It’s very rare to see French people waddling down the street stuffing their faces with crisps; they keep their appetites for the dinner tables, which is where they invariably eat, not on their laps in front of the TV.

The TV dinner is a particularly Anglo-Saxon thing, which is doubly ironic given that from tonight the programme that many people will be watching while they wolf down their dinner (assuming they are not dining in the loo) is one which celebrates the best of what is happening in the nation’s kitchens.

That’s right, it’s time for gurning greengrocer Gregg Wallace and suave Aussie John Torode to return to our screens for the 18th series of MasterChef. Starting this evening, and for the next seven weeks, 45 amateur cooks will be battling it out in an all-new MasterChef studio.

Cooking as sport shouldn’t be this enjoyable. For me, the pleasure of the kitchen is taking your time, not putting yourself under pressure, and creating delicious plates for people you love. Which is almost the exact opposite of what happens in the MasterChef studio.

And yet the programme is irresistibly watchable, as evidenced by its continuing presence on prime-time TV. I think that’s because unlike so many reality TV programmes, it’s not the ‘journey’ or the back-story which will get the best cooks to the final – it’s their ability on the stoves, pure and simple.

There is no room for the kind of preening egos you see on so many shows where the only aim seems to be to become famous for being famous. MasterChef, like its summertime equivalent Great British Bake Off, is a proper competition, where the prize is won by the person who makes the best food, not the best telly. Satisfyingly, it is often those who have the highest opinion of themselves who fall at the first hurdle. And it’s all the better for that.

It is too much to hope for that MasterChef will inspire those people who think so little of food that they are prepared to eat it while sitting on the loo. But I’m sure the sight of people who are clearly amateurs – albeit talented amateurs - does encourage some people to get in the kitchen and try to cook something different, proper meals which require a bit of effort.

I hope so, because the alternative is a nation of obese snackers grazing all day, not even able to stop while performing the most basic of human functions.

Changing that kind of habit is a huge task; in fact, as Wallace would say, it doesn’t get tougher than that.