Active interest in food, so long in Britain the preserve of society's top bit and of the chattering classes, is becoming a populist phenomenon. Foodies are no longer a well-off eccentric minority: everyone, from working mothers to beer-swilling blokes, is interested in food. Suddenly and most significantly, food is even for lads.
In a remarkable but undeniable cultural shift, the merits of Puy lentils and pesto have become worthy of discussion up there alongside the merits of Shearer and Sheringham, and this month two new media ventures are launched to take advantage of this, on the back of a tidal wave of food programming and journalism.
Tomorrow a pounds 5 million cable TV channel entirely devoted to food goes on air, dishing up celebrity chefs, food quizzes and foreign food specials to a daytime audience. Next week, a deliberately racy new magazine for foodie men will be on the newstands.
A glance at the autumn television schedules might lead you to believe the public has been fed to near bursting point with food and cookery packages: between this Monday and this Friday, on terrestrial TV alone, there are 35 food slots - 26 on BBC1 and BBC2 and another nine on ITV and Channel Four - ranging from Ready Steady Cook to the Perfect Pickle Programme. But there is strong commercial faith in the idea that Britain is still far from full up.
Tomorrow morning the Carlton Food Network is launched, billing itself as the UK's first TV channel devoted entirely to food, with "1,300 hours of exclusively foodie programming" every year. "If you had any doubts about Britain being a nation of gastronomes," shouts the advance publicity, "dispel them!" You've heard of CNN; this is CFN.
"Five years ago the whole idea of an entire TV channel devoted exclusively to food would have been unthinkable," says Janet Goldsmith, CFN's managing director. "But the attitudes of people have changed. Brits are no longer content with grey meat and overcooked veg. They want to explore food."
The channel will broadcast back-to-back food programming every weekday from noon until five, and the line-up promises the inevitable glimpses inside celebrity kitchens, as well as a basic cookery show for children aimed at countering the microwave culture.
Celebrity chef Anthony Worral Thompson, among others, will be "showing busy people how to prepare exciting meals in just thirty minutes".
Also intent on demystifying the whole thing will be Eat Soup, a new IPC magazine from the Loaded stable, which goes on sale a week on Wednesday with a determined mission to capture the hearts and stomachs of "the new lads".
The first issue features a special report on the potency of traditional aphrodisiacs. Flick a few pages on and you are confronted by a shot of a nude, crouching woman, marked out with lines to indicate the prime cuts of meat. The editorial team, careful to avoid accidentally straying into the realms of good taste, have also illustrated an article about butcher's cuts with a photograph of a doe-eyed, bleating lamb next to the caption, "It's fresh, tasty and under-age".
The editor, 31-year-old Dave Lancaster, believes the current obsession with food is a time-lagged reaction to the restaurant boom of the Eighties. "People are a little more inclined to enjoy themselves with food again, so our magazine is about not feeling guilty about it all."
Others are also on the trail of the new lad's tum. The BBC has already commissioned a men's cookery series called The Larder Lads which is to be presented in the new year by the Men Behaving Badly star, Neil Morrissey. But Mr Lancaster has got in first. He came up with the idea for his new magazine when he realised that most of his male friends were interested in food and drink and yet had nowhere to read about it. The strange title, he says, came later. It is intended to echo Marie Antoinette's infamous edict about cake. But how and why did he come by such a politically incorrect editorial tone?
"It is a sense of tongue-in cheek enjoyment. People don't take what they read as God's given truth anymore. Food magazines nowadays don't need to patronise their readers so much. Presumably people already know what they want to eat."
To help Eat Soup home in on its target reader, the editor has picked the young Michael Caine as a style icon. A feature in the first edition focuses on the seminal scene in the film version of the Len Deighton thriller The Ipcress File, where Caine, as the spy Harry Palmer, whips up an expert omelette in his bachelor pad as a prelude to sex.
The magazine also borrows the term "mumsie" from Caine's other screen incarnation as the philandering Alfie. The word originally described a homely girl, but it also happens to apply to the kind of practical, friendly food journalism the Eat Soup writers want to avoid.
The runaway BBC success is of course Ready, Steady, Cook, a daytime cookery game show with ratings which have peaked at five million after only two years. It is hosted by Fern Britton, a woman who, if not happy to be thought "mumsie", says she is quite content to be considered "the homely and acceptable face of food".
Shesays: "British food was always thought to be rather boring. Now there's a new pride in British chefs who are cooking food which is really different."Reuse content