The kind of porn you watch with your family

The Great British Bake Off final is now officially ranked the most watched TV programme of the year with 13.4million viewers, coming second to the BBC’s most viewers of all time by the World Cup final last year. Over half of those with their TVs switched on last Wednesday were tuned in to watch Nadiya claim the winning title, so for all other TV channels between 8 and 9pm, the contestants’ bakes were quite literally show-stoppers. But this only puts GBBO at the forefront of a whole host of television programmes, MasterChef, Come Dine With Me, Saturday Kitchen and Jamie’s Super Food just to name a few, all of which offer something different to the viewing public but with one thing in common – food porn.

So why are we addicted to food programmes? Why do we sit and watch other people cook or bake, and then give that food to other people to eat? Food primarily hits three senses – taste, smell and texture – all of which are completely absent to a television audience (having said that, perhaps Sony and Panosonic need to get their act together and innovate). We wouldn’t want to sit and watch someone have a massage for an hour, that’s just plain torture, so why do we want to sit and watch (what look like) the most delicious cakes in the world being made, when we can’t even have a nibble? Talk about dangling the carrot cake.

So I thought I’d answered my own question when drawing on the educational element of it. As a nation stuck in a love affair with all things food, we subconsciously are attracted to such programmes in order to feed our wealth of kitchen knowledge. I guess this is what Jamie’s Super Food aims to do in its entirety, and Saturday Kitchen for the more confident cook. But Come Dine With Me? I definitely don’t tune in to learn how to cook. But this is where the competitive element (and the best narrator in the world) plays a huge part, similarly with MasterChef. Competitive programmes make up a large percentage of the television listings because its natural way of captivating audiences and if there’s food in the competition, you’ve caught me. This explains why the GBBO competition format has been mirrored in a number of different countries with France’s ‘Le Meilleur Patissier’, ‘The American Baking Competition’ and The Great Australian Bake Off (nailed the inventive title there, Australia). Globally, the human race now find themselves clenching our toes as a contestant pulls out a soufflé from the oven, breathing a sigh of relief when its risen, and slapping our knees when its not.

Television fashion changes relatively swiftly, but food programmes seem to have stuck around, not like the 90’s denim jacket that is thrown to the back of the cupboard and occasionally worn, but like the pair of jeans you refuse to wash because you couldn’t possibly go a day without wearing. Back in 2012, entertainment ‘guru’ Simon Cowell even put forward his own programme, ‘Food Glorious Food’, demonstrating the globally recognised opportunity for success. Where the programmes were previously shown in the daytime, to stay-at-home mums seeking inspiration for the family supper, they now have prime time viewing spots, those that are worth millions and subsequently represent the fortune that is to be made.

Additionally, the food porn trend is enabled by the fact that it is essentially relatively easy to do when you compare it to other popular do-it-yourself programmes. Homes Under the Hammer and Grand Designs require the audience to have a load of spare cash and time in order to act on the inspiration they get from watching the programme. Cooking programmes on the other hand, can easily find themselves being reenacted in domestic kitchens, irrespective of whether the pastry is crisp, cakes have risen or dishes are seasoned enough. Viewers can get stuck in and get involved, sharing in the excitement and learning as they go.

So, just like the multitude of dishes made in front of our eyes, there seems to be a recipe for success for food programmes. Never has the alchemy of flour, butter, sugar and eggs created pure TV genius, but when you throw in a bit of education, sprinkle on some competition and add one or two celebs, the final product is definitely one worth getting your teeth stuck into.

Pictures are not my own.

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