Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Melting Alaska, Bin-gate and the editing of moral fibre?

Hello!  It has been a while! I have been busy planning the new direction of my blog (and my life post-degree of course) but I could not resist writing a quick entry on what seems to have taken social media by storm this last week: Bingate.
Like countless others across the nation, I LOVE ‘The Great British Bake Off’. For years the baking competition has built a reputation for ‘amateur’ bakers who have an incredible amount of skill to fight to the death and become the metaphorical ‘cherry on top’ using swords made of Ciabatta loaves, shields made of Apple and Lavender Tarte Tatins, catapults of sherry-infused Trifle with volleys of innuendo arrows.

The contestents of GBBO are seldom foodstuffs, but this is pretty much what goes on in a baking show...right?

Not quite. In fact the format is much simpler, and a lot less violent. 

The bakers simply bake recipes based on the ‘theme’ of the week, such as breads, cakes, biscuits etc. Three bakes to be exact: a ‘signature’ or recipe which is regularly made at home, a ‘technical’ in which the contestants attempt to mimic a recipe from one of the judges and a ‘showstopper’ in which the bakers use the essence of creativity to construct the most extravagant item to impress the judges (who happen to be Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood). Each week a baker leaves while another is crowned ‘star baker’, and the process is repeated for 9 or so weeks until we reach the final. Audiences even are given some interesting food history lessons all of this in a wholesome hour.

Nonetheless, audiences were thrown into a state of furor as last weeks episode, which was focused on 'Desserts' caused outcry. Contestants attempted to make the best Saucy Pudding, Tiramisu and Baked Alaska possible. It was the latter that caused the #Bingate and #PoorIain hashtags to trend all over the UK on social media. 

I will try to find  the dramatic moment where you can just about see Iain's soul shatter into 1000 pieces below as he discovers what was supposed to be 'Chocolate, black seasame seed and coffeee caramel Baked Alaska' was put outside the freezer and left to melt, causing him to go into meltdown *pun intended!*, binning his melting mess and storming out of the baking tent to cool off *sorry Iain*. 

On the hottest day of the year and with a time limit, the task of making a successful Baked Alaska seemed to be impossible. While a hot day has very little effect on baking a cake or making a meringue, the other two main components to the dessert, ice-cream is much trickier. My heart sank for Iain, whose ice-cream looked more like... a mess really. In the spur of the moment it is fully understandable to want to get rid of such a melting monstrosity and bin it.

The tricky Baked Alaska in all it's frozen glory.

As a result of his actions, which ultimately led to the dramatic and somewhat humilating moment of Iain 'presenting' his bake to the judges - aka bringing the bin to the judges table - he was asked to leave the baking tent that week.

As a member of the audience, I was outraged to see Iain go. I wanted justice. My feelings were not in isolation, as over 800 complaints were made to Ofcom about the BBC letting go of the bearded Northern Irish baker. 

However, there is a much darker side to this tale. Diana, the 70 year old baker was heavily implicated for the worst baking crime of all: sabotage! The edit of the fiasco implied it was her fault that Iain's ice-cream was not set correctly. Audiences took the show, which has the reputation of being so wholesome as gospel and went on a scathing attack on Diana on social media. Some simply wanted her kicked out or reprimanded her for 'actions', others took a much more violent approach of which I will not divulge on here. All of this... for ice cream?

Audiences forgot that this in fact, was a 70 year old woman. As I type this entry, the latest episode is starting to air. Somewhere early on in the show it will be explained that due to illness Diana has had to leave the competition. It turns out that as a result of a fall, she is now has lost the majority of her sense of taste and smell. Just desserts some would argue, but I think this is a moment of tragedy. It would be fair to say that the bakers only enter GBBO to showcase their passion and love for baking, cooking and food. To have one of the most crucial and pleasuable senses, taste, taken away from you is a devastating and tragic event.

Unlike other reality tv that saturate modern media, there is no prize money or million dollar record deals which are up for grabs. The prize is nothing more than an honorary title, although previous winners have gone to start a career in baking: publishing a range of books, making regular appearances on morning television or even opening retail stores of baked goods in their local area. Taking this into account, it seems highly unlikely that a 70 year old woman intentionally made an effort to ruin the chances of her fellow bakers.

Whether Diana intentionally or accidentally played a role in this debacle, the audiences will never truly know.

Nevertheless, it seems surreal that such a seemingly simple programme could cause so much outrage. Even more bizarre that the producers and editors of the show felt the need to present the drama in such a passive-aggressive way. Sure, it is slightly reassuring that a group of viewers dotted all over the nation can come together to fight for what they percieve is justice, I think this incident easily outlines how easily the moral fibre of society can be bent and led to believe something that may or may not have possibly happened.

In the aired show, there was no sense of real remorse or apology from Diana and her tone was particularly pointed and coy towards the cries and growls of Iain. It is too easily to forget the process of editing (which as a student I am certainly guilty of from time to time!) which is used in all forms of media to portray a particular conclusion.

For anyone who would like to attempt this can found here and good luck!

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

Wednesday, 26 March 2014


As my final term at university comes to an end and the final wave of deadlines loom Shannon O’Malley’s sage advice has never been so apt. As I have developed this blog over the last few months I have been surprised how easily the literature of food is used to create a moral imperative for readers to follow or evaluate. What has surprised me most from my findings is I initially assumed I would only find evidence within literature from the Victorian era to the present day. However, as I have demonstrated throughout this blog, moral suggestions or criticisms can be found in literature throughout the ages. This suggests to me, and hopefully to you that the of moral imperatives within the literature of food is in fact a timeless trope of this genre of literature.

It also amazed me the diversity of issues raised within the texts, whether it is socio-political critique or behaviour we should consider adhering to. Nevertheless, there appears to be a strong correlation between the literature of food and wanting to improve society. This process of reform O’Malley perfectly explains to her readers in the blurb of her cookbook, as they are instructed to “laugh in the face of doom [and] face your fears mouth first”. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed engaging and researching this independent project but will take a sabbatical for a month or so to work on the rest of my deadlines, but I will then resume uploading my thoughts on the moral messages that can be found within the literature of food.

But for now, I hope you have enjoyed digesting the social feast!

Works Cited:
O'Malley, Shannon. Apocalypse Cakes: Recipes for the End. London: Running Press , 2011. Print.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Politics of the Apocalypse

It is a slightly daunting task to discuss the coming of the end, but I shall try my hardest without conjuring doom. Nevertheless Shannon O’Malley engages within the concept of the apocalypse as she visually and verbally engages with the form of a cookbook to make it an exciting and politically charged text. Before each recipe O’Malley gives a brief satirical context to outline the aspect of society the aims to critique, which she supports with factual content.

The Risen South White Cake from an initial glance appears to be pretty bland. The ingredients include flour, sugar, eggs, fat, milk, baking powder and some vanilla extract: a basic sponge. What makes the cake unique and extremely comic is its method and presentation. While making the sponge readers are told to look out for a “pure and smooth (batter), just like the Aryan race” (42). O’Malley conflates the American South with terminology associated with Nazi Germany, evoking the ideology of eugenics and superiority. By including these connections the recipe becomes comic, as it becomes clear to readers that the cookbook is used by O’Malley to criticise the racist beliefs of both cultures, rather than a book for insightful culinary information.

Risen South White Cake - an inventive use of cinammon sticks!
The ideological joke is continued within the decoration, by using the only ingredients that could be used to flavour the cakes: two cinnamon sticks. Readers are instructed to make a crucifix, by tying “your cinnamon sticks together with twine and submerge into a cup of vegetable oil. If you really want to rock this one, take your cake out and ignite it on someone’s lawn” (42).

An alternative apocalypse is used for commentary of topical issues, such as the catastrophic Haiti earthquake in 2010. The design of the Seismic Haitian Mud Cake looks incredible, yet it is inedible. The recipe, containing just dirt, salt and vegetable shortening, critiques the self-righteous nature of first world nations only helping third world countries during natural disasters.

Seismic Haitian Mud Cake
The cake is used both as a literary and visual representation of the indifference to assist poor nations unless there is a natural disaster. O’Malley uses dark humour in her preface to the recipe by remarking “[y]ou never know how long it will take for a disaster to strike that will guilt the international community into finally bringing you a meal” (11). The link between food and guilt is particularly interesting, and in the wake of such a devastating event is particularly chilling. Following from this, the barren and dry structure of the cake as a result of being left “to dry under the scorching sun”(12) for 12 hours poignantly depicts the abandonment of these nations either before natural disasters as “[a]ll of a sudden, rich people everywhere flew to Haiti and got to be a part of something” (13).

The final recipe I will look at will be the Pharma Nation Nut Cake, which  identifies a problem of over-reliance of pharmaceuticals “[b]ecause  having feelings is symptomatic of a “disorder” and the only way to cure a disorder is to dose it with antidepressants, the entire population is sure to find happiness through one fatal, pharmaceutical, mouth-foaming seizure” (121). Once again readers are given a specific instruction for the decoration by covering the cake “with 1 cup of your favourite little helpers” (122). The satire in this recipe is fuelled on irony, as the problem O’Malley identifies is in fact perpetuated by making and consuming this cake.

Throughout all of these recipes, the evocation of laughter is used for a socially transformative effect. As readers are subjected to what the cookbook considers to be a cause of the apocalypse, they question the ways in which the issues raised by O'Malley can be prevented or resolved.
Works Cited:

O'Malley, Shannon. Apocalypse Cakes: Recipes for the End. London: Running Press , 2011. Print

Monday, 24 March 2014

Rationing: the propaganda within wartime food.

Often when we think of the Second World War images and rhetoric of conflict, politics, and mainland Europe flood our mind. Yet a similar discourse existed and thrived within Britain, as food was portrayed as the key to win the war. This is achieved by establishing and maintaining a patriotic force on the home front.  All of this food material can be found in the Imperial War Museum, which I visited a few weeks ago.
Please click the picture to see a bigger image!
The pamphlet ‘Christmas 1945’ was created by Army Catering Corps at the end of the war for meals expected to ‘emerge from the cookhouse’. The opening page, titled ‘OPERATION “CHRISTMAS”’, tied in with the image in the corner and immediately establishes a militarised tone. However this tone is juxtaposed against the actual goal of the pamphlet, which is to “recapture the pre-war spirit of Christmastide”. Although initially this juxtaposition against the celebratory and the indulgent nature of Christmas, the inclusion of the ‘[t]hinking units’ act as transitional phrase for soldiers to integrate into a more domestic sphere.
Please click the picture to see a bigger image!
During the war the Ministry of Food published a range of leaflets which included: jams and sweets, salads, soups, tomatoes and various recommended diets for children of all ages.  One of the main purposes of these leaflets was to inform the British public about alternative uses of food. However, woven into all of them is imagery that provokes paranoia, leading to a sense of patriotism. One leaflet that particularly stood out to me was the Ministry of Food’s leaflet ‘Carrots’ published in July 1943. Much like ‘Christmas 1945’, this leaflet is also saturated with military connotations.  This leaflet was published in the wake of radar technology which was used to shoot down enemy planes or ships,  the connection between carrots and helping us ‘see better in the blackout’ is particularly interesting. It actually refers to vitamin A which does help to maintain eyesight, yet does not lead to the superhuman ability of night-vision. Reading this in the archives caused me to chuckle to myself, as the myth about carrots helping you see in the dark was told to my sister when she was a child as encouragement to eat her vegetables! Although this probably was not taken so literally by merging the domestic triviality of carrots with the war effort imbues a sense of patriotism, as Britain is eating for victory.  

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The question of Victorian vegetarians

Today there are many types of dietary options, meaning a broader range of choice for the likes of pescatarians, vegans and vegetarians. It is the latter which appears to be most problematic for the Victorians, demonstrated in from the political periodical Punch. John Leech’s ‘Grand Show of Prize Vegetarians’ (1852) portrays the discussion and ultimate condemnation of the role of vegetarianism in Victorian society. The title of cartoon acts as a pastiche of the Great Exhibition of 1851, as Leech depicts an exhibition of vegetarians, who have been transformed into vegetables due to their diet.
Click the picture to see a bigger, more detailed image!

Next to most of the vegetarians are signs to indicate what their diet consists of in the absence of meat. One of the signs simply states ‘on potatoes only’, implying that diet is the fundamental cause for these shocking mutations. Carol J. Adams, provides a moral explanation for vegetarianism, stating “[v]egetarians identify a connection between a healthy diet and a diet that protects the moral relations between us and other animals” (146). Leech however clearly disputes this within his cartoon, indicated by the use of the word ‘fed’ in most of the signs. The effect of this verb creates a sense of irony, dehumanising the vegetarians inferring they are similar animals at a market as the ideology of vegetarianism is bathetically undermined.
Leech establishes the power dynamics between the omnivores and vegetarians through a stark visual opposition, using comic grotesque imagery.  The image conforms to Mikhail Bakhtin’s definition of the comic grotesque, with attributes including “exaggeration, hyperbolism [and] excessiveness” (303) all of which are present in the cartoon.  Applying this theory to the image it becomes clear Leech establishes the power dynamics between the omnivores and vegetarians through a stark visual opposition. As the vegetarians sprout leaves or roots that protrude the floorboards and even a sign the characters become more engrossed in the grotesque, as Bakhtin elaborates further on the construction of the grotesque as “a body in the act of becoming. It is never finished, never completed; it is continually built, created and builds and creates another body” (317). It is evident that Leech engages with these ideas to make a comic criticism of vegetarianism. 

I think the intended audience is supposed to be appalled by these dietary choices, as readers are prompted to identify with the child in the centre, who points at the turnip boy. The effect of this stigmatises the ideology of choosing not to eat meat as vegetarians become a spectacle of satire. Failing that, they are supposed to be shocked by the grotesque imagery. This is reflected by the woman on the far-left of the frame, whose facial expression is that of disgust and horror. Leech appears to lace ambiguity within the cause of the woman’s disgust. He seems to be asking readers to decide if she simply shocked at the grotesque nature of the ‘Prize Vegetarians’, or the behaviours that have led to the ‘Grand Show’?






 Works Cited:

Adams, Carol J. The Sexual Politics of Meat. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990. Print.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Massachussetts: Indiana University Press, 1984. Print.
Leech, J. “Grand Show of Prize Vegetarians” (1852). Punch Magazine < => Date accessed 13/02/2014
Spencer, Colin. The Heretics Feast: A History of Vegetarianism. London: Fourth Estate Limited, 1994. Print.