Alex Riley, a comedian from Sheffield, has done some culinary explorations into the world of nasty foodstuffs at the BBC. Having worked on a TV show called Mischief Manifesto he is now particularly interested in ridiculing parts of the food industry in the not so subtly named: Britain’s Really Disgusting Food. While he isn’t much like Morgan Spurlock –the guy who stared in Super Size Me– they both assume that humor and satire work well as a medium to create relatively effective and partialy entertaining educational documentaries. This is exiting for me because it seem comedy does indeed stand for something.
For the most part Rileys Disgusting Food doesn’t make you want to go out and eat the product he is trying to disgust you with, which was what happened to me after I watched Super Size Me. I think this is because I don’t, on a regular basis (by which I mean more than once every two months), eat the food products that Riley has a problem with. On the other hand the ridiculous assumption in Super Size Me that most of the obese population are that way because they eat fast food irritated me, since it’s not just fast food but a combination of lifestyle choices, which includes fast food but probably is down to over snaking and a lack of excercise.
However, both Super Size Me and Disgusting Foods are a bit messy with how they apply strict standards of journalistic integrity. This concerned me because I find I get cynical about inaccurate or unfairly argued points of view. The main criticism that is leaveled against Spurlock is that he claims to take in about 5000 calories a day, which is actually quite hard to do at McDonald’s, provided you eat a regular amount of food, you don’t have two or three Big Mac meals for dinner. Other criticism can be read on wiki.
Disgusting Food has not seen so much critical attention pointed in its direction, but thats perhaps because it hardly grossed the same amount at the box office. For the most part I think Riley is accurate and fair, but there are times when he does not allow for the right of reply, making it seem like he wants to control the story more than he wants to get behind the truth. Funny enough though, he opts for some interesting stunts where one does see how situation, advertising and the right sort of language show how gullible some parts of the human species are. In each episode, Riley goes out and tries to reproduce some of the nasty food stuffs that can be found in supermarkets or corner shops. In one episode he replicates a beef burger which has less than 50% beef then serves it up as a delicacy to some night-time town revelers, some of whom love the stuff. In the same episode he makes a chicken Kiev with less than 11% chicken and serves it as an alternatively sourced food product at a “green” market in some posh area. Needless to say, people love it.
While I think that the Docu-Cause Comedy is not a perfect translation of a documentary or news story that has integrity and fact check-ability, alongside the right of reply, I still think it’s a great form of entertaining TV, which gives the honest and moderate consumer something to think about. Great stuff.