TV review: Summer's Supermarket Secrets, BBC1
Greatest Little Britons: Cake Decorators, Sky1
Get ready for Morning Centenary. Eleven years in the making, spectroscopically analysed and lab tested for squish-resistance, Morning Centenary is a new variety of strawberry, the latest weapon in Sainsbury's battle to nudge its summer trading figures even higher than they are already. And in Summer's Supermarket Secrets, Gregg Wallace followed the last stretch of its progress to the shelves, the final hurdle being a blind tasting by consumers. It passed with honours, which means that if you actually bother to read the small print on your 2-for-1 punnets, its name may soon be replacing Elsanta and Jubilee. And when the yen for strawberries first strikes you, don't think for a moment that it's an expression of your own independent will. You're just part of a herd, the movements of which respond to the season with a predictability that is frankly unnerving. In Scotland, the big spike in barbecue sales is triggered at 20 degrees centigrade. In southern England, it isn't until the thermometer hits 24 degrees that we feel the urge to burn meat in the open air.
It was an infuriatingly interesting programme this. Infuriating because you might have hoped for a slightly more questioning attitude to such powerful operators in our daily lives. As Wallace pointed out, something like 90 per cent of what we consume comes from the big supermarkets, a fact that gives the big three remarkable insights into our appetites, and a remarkable ability to manipulate them. But apart from one passing remark – "Is there such a thing as too much choice?" – he never really questioned the mechanics of advanced consumer capitalism, instead offering a showcase for the ingenuity of the big players' logistics. And try as you might, it was hard not to be impressed by their remorseless Darwinian drive to carve out a slightly bigger niche in the grocery eco-system.
The sheer scale of the operation was dazzling. We buy our bananas a bunch at a time. But the business of ensuring that we can always reach out and pick a bunch up, its colour precisely graded to match our expectations, involves vast warehouses at which the ripening of the fruit can be carefully calibrated. So dependable is this item in the British shopping basket (and so important to the supermarket's cash flow) that Tesco has now rigged its tills to sound an alarm if they haven't clocked any bananas for five minutes. Backstage, some humble banana wrangler's badge will bleep, warning them that the shelves must be running low. If you were hoping for anything about the effect of our banana-fixation on the developing economies that supply them, you'd come to the wrong place. But if you could live without that it was fascinating.
A new series for Sky1, Greatest Little Britons, has had the canny idea of profiling some of the country's competitive perfectionists – professional and amateur. We're tantalisingly promised a visit to the Good Funeral Awards later in the series, but it began with Cake Decorators, tracking four entrants in the run-up to Cake International, a celebration of the sculptural possibilities of sugar paste and piping. Poor Marcia, who seems to work almost exclusively in the niche genre of cake footwear, thought she was home and dry when she saw that the competition included a special "Shoes and Bag" category. Sadly, she didn't read the fine print and was disqualified for improper structural support.
Terry Tang – who deliciously based his entry on his own tattoos – took a top award for a chocolate-and sugar-paste rendition of a fight between a tiger and an oriental dragon. And Elizabeth's hours of work on a lacy display wedding cake were also rewarded with a gold medal, though her choice of category couldn't help but seem a little ironic: "I'm not very successful at relationships," she confessed. Taste – in any sense of the term – did not appear to be a critical issue for the judges.
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