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A Pinch of Ethics and a Soupçon of Home Cooking: Soft-Selling Supermarkets on Food Television


Lewis, T and Phillipov, MM, A Pinch of Ethics and a Soupcon of Home Cooking: Soft-Selling Supermarkets on Food Television, Food, Media and Contemporary Culture: The Edible Image, Palgrave Macmillan, P Bradley (ed), United Kingdom, pp. 105-124. ISBN 9781137463227 (2016) [Research Book Chapter]

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On 27 August 2013, Australian commercial broadcaster Network Ten screened a new reality show, Recipe to Riches, in a primetime slot. Based on a Canadian format of the same name, the show sees contestants - ordinary people with no formal training or food credentials - competing for the prize of having their homemade recipes recognised as worthy of being top-selling supermarket products. This chapter discusses the Australian version of this somewhat unusual reality show, situating the rise of the format in the broader contexts of the increasing politicisation and scrutiny of food production and provenance as well as the role of agribusiness and supermarket players in Australia and internationally. Reality-based food shows like MasterChef Australia (Network Ten 2009-) have proved to be highly successful commercial ventures, integrating 'below-the-line' advertising and commodities seamlessly into their format structure and content. Sponsored by major Australian supermarket chain, Woolworths, Recipe to Riches takes this commercial logic considerably further. Turning the recipes of ordinary Australians into mass products through a large-scale 'batch up' process in a (purportedly} commercial kitchen, the show's narrative involves developing a branding strategy and a product launch, finally resulting in its temporary placement on Woolworth's shelves, at which point viewers get to vote for their favourite product by buying it in-store or online.

While the show's commercial logic is clearly linked, at least in part, to increasing product sales, as one of only two dominant players in the Australian supermarket sector (the Coles supermarket chain is the other), we argue that Recipe to Riches is primarily about boosting the image of supermarkets in the community. In recent years, supermarkets in Australia have come under attack for their perceived poor treatment of farmers, suppliers and local producers, while questions of animal welfare have resulted in mounting pressure on the two majors to stock more 'ethical' products. At the same time, foodie culture and cooking at home have undergone something of a renaissance, with celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver (who is highly popular in Australia) encouraging people to cook from scratch rather than eat processed foods, and home-grown chef-personalities like Stephanie Alexander and her Kitchen Garden Foundation teaching a new generation of foodies in schools across Australia how to grow, harvest and prepare healthy food. This artisanal turn has also occurred against the backdrop of an increasing critical focus on the industrialisation of food in mainstream media. In this context, we argue that Recipe to Riches can be seen as attempting to reconfigure the public image of supermarkets. Describing itself as 'lifting the lid' on supermarket products, the show borrows from the behind the scenes conventions of critical revelatory TV shows and documentaries exposing the practices of food processing and industrial agribusiness, such as Food Inc. (2008), Food Factory (BBC One, 2012), Jamie's Fowl Dinners (Channel 4, 2008), Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (ABC, 2010) and Hugh's Chicken Run (Channel 4, 2008). This chapter will discuss the ways in which Recipe to Riches reworks the critical logic of such shows for its own ends by attempting to gloss over the industrial realities behind Woolworth's processed food products and to link supermarket products with the homes, recipes and artisanal cooking skills of ordinary Australians and with the ethical credentials of celebrity chefs. Locating the show within the broader context of heightened mainstream awareness of, and concerns about, how we produce, source and buy our food, we discuss the growing role of shows like Recipe to Riches and non-state actors like supermarkets and celebrity chefs in attempting to intervene in and shape normative discourses and practices around food ethics and politics.

Before discussing Woolworths' strategic use of Recipe to Riches as a vehicle to appropriate and re-figure questions of food production and provenance, the chapter provides a broad contextual background to the recent foray of supermarkets in to the televisual space. Accordingly, the chapter is structured as follows: it begins by briefly mapping the growing media focus on questions of where our food is sourced and how it is produced. It then outlines the recent media critiques of supermarkets, focusing on contemporary debates in Australia. This is followed by a review of some of the ways supermarkets have attempted to respond to these critiques before moving on to an in-depth examination of Recipe to Riches and the way in which it attempts to intervene in, and reshape the terms of, debates around industrialised food production and lengthened commodity chains.

Item Details

Item Type:Research Book Chapter
Keywords:supermarkets, food television, ethical consumption, Recipe to Riches
Research Division:Language, Communication and Culture
Research Group:Communication and media studies
Research Field:Media studies
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Communication
Objective Field:The media
UTAS Author:Phillipov, MM (Dr Michelle Phillipov)
ID Code:105310
Year Published:2016
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (DE140101412)
Deposited By:School of Social Sciences
Deposited On:2015-12-18
Last Modified:2018-02-17

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