From the kitchen to 10 Downing Street: Jamie's School Dinners and the politics of reality cooking

James Leggott, Tobias Hochscherf

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


In an average week in September 2007, viewers of British television would have had difficulty avoiding programs with some kind of cooking element. On terrestrial television there were at least a dozen weekly of daily shows of this sort, including the magazine show Saturday Kitchen (BBC1, 2006-), the celebrity cookery show Ready Steady Cook (BBC2, 1994-), competitive reality formats like Britain’s Best Dish (ITV, 2007), The Restaurant (BBC2, 2007), and Hell’s Kitchen (ITV, 2004-), documentary cooking shows such as The Wild Gourmets (Channel 4, 2007), and the most recent series by the cookery superstars Nigella Lawson, Ray Mears, and Jamie Oliver. Viewers with access to digital, cable, or satellite television were able to watch countless other examples of this broad-ranging genre of programming, including an entire channel (UKTV Food) devoted to the subject. For a nation not renowned for its culinary prowess, this seemed remarkable. Had the United Kingdom suddenly changed into a nation of gourmets au fait conversant with terms such as sauté, tapas and al dente, or was this cluster of programming more the result of format evolution? As part of a wider trend toward lifestyle programming in both daytime and prime-time television, the upsurge of cookery shows is certainly not unique to British television culture, as a quick glance at television guides across America and continental Europe would confirm. Though such programs are undoubtedly part of a global programming trend toward a diversified and demand-led broadcasting culture, however cookery shows in other countries have hardly ever become part of political discourse, as they have recently in the United Kingdom. In particular, the four-part series Jamie’s School Dinners, first broadcast on Channel 4 in 2005, and a one-off sequel shown the following year, generated considerable debate about governmental versus parental responsibility not only among academics from various disciplines but also in the UK media in general (Spence). The program charted the attempts by the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to improve the quality of food served to children in British state schools as well as to raise awareness of nutritional issues. It showed Oliver taking charge of the provision of food in two schools that were struggling to produce fresh meals on a limited budget; one in Greenwich, a suburb of London, and another “up north” in County Durham.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Tube has Spoken
Subtitle of host publicationreality TV & history
EditorsJulie Anne Taddeo, Ken Dvorak
Place of PublicationLexington
PublisherUniversity of Kentucky press
ISBN (Print)9780813125534, 9780813129419
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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