The great contest of the kitchen is over. For the second year in a row, MasterChef skewered the public imagination. Surprised and gratified parents are ceding command of the stovetop to their children - this can only be good.
And that’s not all. Every time the judges minced through their forkfuls and tenderise contestants with their ambiguous gazes, the nation was reminded that what we eat requires close attention. The show ignited passionate debate from newsrooms to tearooms. It inspired people to cook for one another.
Extrapolated slightly, these are three invaluable cooking lessons: food matters; food is cultural; and food is social.
But the show also had a bitter kick: food is corporate.
I visited a Coles supermarket recently. MasterChef flags cluttered the window and crowded the head space. Cardboard signs cloaked the alarms at the entrance, declaring: “MasterChef has chosen Coles to supply quality ingredients to the pantry.”
Spuds weren’t just spuds: they were MasterChef spuds.
Broad signs arched over each aisle, like banners at the end of a race, spurring the shoppers on: “To cook like a MasterChef cooks, shop where a MasterChef shops.”
But if you care about food, the aisles of a supermarket must not be your finish line - even if they are decorated with the logos of our most popular TV show.
This time last year, before the MasterChef finale, Chris Berg from the Institute of Public Affairs penned a column for the Sunday Age celebrating the show for disregarding “over-cooked moralising about the ‘ethics’ of food”. (The inverted commas are his).
“You get the impression,” he wrote, “that even if a MasterChef contestant used ingredients that were artificially grown in a chemical factory by robot arms, the only thing the judges would be interested in would be taste, texture and presentation. You know, the reasons why we enjoy eating.” (This, I should clarify, was intended as a compliment.)
Another of Coles’ slogans, however, is: “it all counts.” And so it does. The choices we make when we buy our food have a staggering array of consequences, not the least of which is visited upon our taste buds.
Other possible dangers, to list only some, are: obesity, diabetes, animal cruelty, land degradation, chemical runoff, biodiversity loss, climate change, packaging waste, rural social decline and worsening world poverty.
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