The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Pigging out

It’s not too late to save our bacon, argues Alexander Newton


Last week a small Cheshire café made headlines for offering up Britain’s unhealthiest breakfast. The Hibernator challenges people to consume 8000 calories worth of full English in one hour.

It costs a generous £20 (and probably a couple of sweaty hours spent in the loo afterwards) and challengers who are successful receive legendary status: they will be added to the Wall of Fame and have the breakfast named after them. The challenge, which has no doubt brought great publicity to the ‘Bear Grills’ café, was inspired by Man vs. Food.

For many of you I am sure the television series needs no introduction, but to give a quick overview the programme follows host Adam Richman around the US as he samples legendary local eateries and takes on diabetes-inducing food challenges.

The show is unique: part-travel guide, part-cookery show and this paired with Richman’s charming personality has made it popular in the US and the UK. The legacy of which is both obvious and worrying: gluttony seems to be back on the menu.

Although undoubtedly entertaining, Man vs. Food shamelessly embraces excessive eating and is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with our food culture.

Many refer to food as the new porn, perhaps because we just can’t get enough of it. Whether it be splashed across glossy magazines, internet blogs or beamed into our living rooms, there really is no escape.

Man vs. Food is nothing new in this respect and watching Richman struggle to contain himself while salivating over a smoked rack of ribs the length of your arm makes me think he would probably burst, if he was to have seen some of Marks and Spencer’s adverts in recent years.

Whereas pornography is often resigned to the shadows as a lonely pursuit of desperate old men or spotty hormonal teenagers, we celebrate our love affair with food openly.

Food is not only the pursuit of yuppies dining in swanky Michelin-star joints; it is also the leisure of middle-class housewives (or husbands) and the salvation of drunken youths queuing up at 3am for a kebab. All of which is perfectly OK—it would be absurd to suggest that food does not have a significant cultural relevance to society.

However I think we need to realize that this glorification of man’s most basic requirement can overstep the mark. Globally hunger kills more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. We in the developed world are lucky in that we have a choice in the way we can view food: simply as fuel for our bodies, or a pleasure and pastime, for some perhaps as their reason for existence.

Recently, however, there has been a growing trend of people embracing over-indulgence. This is typified by programmes such as Man vs. Food and YouTube channels such as Epic Meal Time, in which a group of amateur chefs from Montreal create monstrous concoctions involving enormous quantities of fast food and bacon.

The Epic Meal Time hosts make no attempt to morally justify what they do, they simply don’t care. The show is a self-aware comedy that celebrates its own excess.

It would be wrong to apportion blame for our gluttony solely to a few bearded Canadians with a camcorder. This programme is merely a product of a commercial society and acts as a mirror for our apathy towards our eating habits. We commit food crimes daily in order to satisfy our appetites.

Although there have been movements in recent years to transform the way we think about food, little has changed: obesity figures are still high, meat remains hugely popular and we are wasting more than ever before. The food industry gleefully feeds our addiction, selling to us products packed with sugar, chemicals and who knows what else (horse meat?) all to fill the pockets of greedy CEOs.

Human rights violations, environmental concerns and health scares in food industry are reported in the media daily and quickly forgotten. We are still far too happy to ignore the impacts and implications of our eating habits and make a radical concerted effort to change them.

How can we change? Maybe we should look to the top for inspiration. René Redzepi’s ‘Noma employs a unique philosophy, “we look to our landscape and delve into our ingredients and culture, hoping to rediscover our history and shape our future,” which has proven a recipe for success, establishing it as the world’s best restaurant.

The menu is comprised of locally sourced, seasonal produce which are foraged rather than imported. Although the menu may be beyond a student’s price range, perhaps the concept can provide a blueprint for a more sustainable future.

We ought to remember why gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins; after all, stuffing out may satisfy your stomach but cannot appease your soul.