Nutritional content of supermarket ready meals and recipes by television chefs in the United Kingdom: cross sectional study

Television chefs aim for taste and appeal

18 December 2012

In the 2012 Christmas Issue, Howard et al reviewed the macronutrient content of ready-made meals and of recipes of prominent TV chefs.1 They conclude that both fall short of WHO recommendations. To the authors’ apparent surprise, TV chef recipes score worse on fat, protein and fibre content than ready-made meals.

Food and food preparation is about a lot more than health. Our eating behaviour is informed by a large set of norms and values, including convenience, health, taste and cost. These values need not exclude one at other at all times, but sometimes they do. In such cases, we weigh them against one another in the context of a concrete meal. In the preparation of our annual family Christmas supper, we generally favour taste over convenience, appeal and prestige over cost and enjoyment over health. Other meals present different pictures.

TV chefs may have aligned themselves with the value ‘health’ from time to time, as Howard et al indicate. Jamie Oliver did it with his project on UK school dinners. However, a few exceptions aside, in the cuisine of prominent chefs (on TV, in Michelin-star restaurants or elsewhere) taste, appeal, experience and enjoyment triumph over health and often cost. TV chefs provide ideas and aim to stimulate creativity in home cooking – or plainly entertain an audience. In other words, recipes by television chefs are not about health and evaluating them as such will yield exactly the results Howard et al found.

TV chefs have, however, a very high ‘dietary credibility’, meaning that in all food related issues their voice is heard and respected.2 Often, and perhaps always, higher than public health scholars or nutrition scientists.3 With this credibility comes a certain public influence and connected responsibility. But this responsibility is a social responsibility, rather than a public health goal.

We have all noticed Jamie Oliver putting on some weight over last years. This has not harmed his dietary credibility at all, since it is fuelled not by (public) health values, but above all else by the appeal and taste of his meals and the entertainment they provide to watch on TV, read in his books, and try them at home.

1. Howard S, Adams J, White M. Nutritional content of supermarket ready meals and recipes by television chefs in the United Kingdom: cross sectional study. BMJ 2012;345.

2. Penders B, Vam Dam F, editors. Ingrediënten van Geloofwaardigheid. Goed Eten onder de Loep. Den Haag: BoomLemma, 2012.

3. Shapin S. Expertise, common sense and the Atkins diet. In: Porter JM, Phillips PWB, editors. Public science in liberal democracy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007:174-93.

Competing interests: None declared

Bart Penders, Assistant Professor in Biomedicine & Society

Maastricht University, School for Public Health and Primary Care, PO Box 616; 6200MD Maastricht, the Netherlands

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