Last Night's TV: E Numbers: an Edible Adventure/BBC2
Hurricane Katrina: Caught on Camera/Channel 4
Florida – Paradise Lost/ITV1
Friday 27 August 2010
Did you know there were E numbers in caviar? No, me neither. But see, even posh food has preservatives. E numbers are in wine too. And peas. They're everywhere, almost – and maybe it's no bad thing. At least that's what food writer Stefan Gates thinks. E numbers, not to mention the range of other edible tricks that manufacturers employ, might actually be OK.
The "E", he explained in last night's E Numbers: an Edible Adventure, isn't for extra-terrestrial, or expect-noisy-kids, or even-worse-than-you-thought, or anything like that. It's for "Europe". Of course, if your name is Nigel Farage, this might rather put you off. For the rest of us, it doesn't sound so bad, especially seeing as it means everything is OK by the EU, as opposed to, say, lead, which used to be used in children's sweets. Ruth Goodman (from Victorian Pharmacy) was there to show us, though not without donning a mask beforehand to protect her from the fumes. Lead doesn't change the taste of the sweets, but it does change the colour – to a vivid, child-friendly, red.
Colouring is big business for E numbers. The strength of association between smell and taste is well-known, but who would have thought a panel of wine clubbers would be fooled by a white wine dyed red? Of course, this could all work to health-minded parents' advantage; the finale of the show saw Gates feed brussels sprouts disguised as dessert to a party of fussy-eater kids.
E Numbers: an Edible Adventure did very much what it said on the tin. Gates went from laboratory to restaurant, London to Lanzarote (where the beetles that make the red dye E120 are harvested), testing out theories and busting a few myths. It was all terribly interesting, and our host was good at his job, though I have to say I'm not entirely convinced.
I'm sure a lot of the fuss over E numbers is utter, helicopter-parent rubbish; dozens of E numbers can be found in nature anyway (whatever that means once they've been extracted, processed, and added to something new). Still, there is one fundamental flaw: most of us don't know the good from the bad. We couldn't sort the hyper-activity-inducers from the sprout-disguisers if our lives depended on it. And that's a problem. Hopefully, though, Gates will show us how. He's got two more episodes after all.
It's always amazing that, when a disaster is being reported on television, they start showing bits of DIY footage. Stuff filmed by ordinary people, not professionals, caught up in the midst of it all. Hurricane Katrina: Caught on Camera was like that. Except, instead of brief five-minute snippets, there was a whole hour, and a host of mini-narratives to go with them.
Like that of Pam and Fabian, the middle-aged couple who spent a fraught 24 hours in their attic, watching as the water slowly filled their house. They had decided to stay in their home rather than flee (a privilege of the few, thanks to mounting traffic jams and a shortage of fuel), but when, in the howling, whipping horror of the storm, they changed their minds, there was no one available to help. Even the emergency services had stopped running. They survived, along with their home videos of the drama, all solemnly narrated by Pam.
Or there was Cheryl. Furniture bobbed past the camera as she tried her hand at black comedy. "Tax returns?" she asked her husband. "You want me to save those?" And then there was Shelton. Relentlessly filming, he was the star of last night's show. We saw him before the winds struck, chewing over whether to stay or go. We saw him head to the Superdome stadium, the city's improvised shelter and venue – movingly – for 2013's Super Bowl. And we saw him returning home, three months after the disaster. All in the grainy footage of his hand-held camcorder.
Distressing as the videos of Caught on Camera may have been, they were, ultimately, somewhat uplifting. All of our videographers survived and the human spirit prevailed. Not so in Florida – Paradise Lost, which was bleak in a totally trivial sort of way. Well, trivial compared to Katrina.
Whether it was the so-called "successful" Florida expats inspecting properties or the estate agent-bots showing them ("Welcome to this beautiful Mediterranean-inspired residence") or the broken families having to return empty handed to pokey rental properties in the UK, Paradise Lost was a lesson (albeit not a terribly interesting one) in caution.
Of all the couples we saw hop the pond, only one had an idea that sounded remotely like a savvy business proposition. Yes, the property magnates made their way buying and selling, and there was an aerobics instructor who had become an infomercial star. But it was only John and Jenny Taylor who were on to something repeatable: setting up Ye Old England B&B and tearoom. The Americans love it, booking slots for tea and scones, renting rooms for anniversary trips to "London". Unfortunately, John and Jenny seemed to take rather too much pleasure in conning their customers. "We tell them what they want to hear," giggled Jenny. "We fall down the walls at things that come out." Next stop for them is New York, where, I suspect, things might not be so easy.
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