The Food Chain

The Food Chain

United Kingdom

The economics, science and culture of what we eat. What does it take to put food on your plate?

Episodes

The Hidden Cost of a Home-Cooked Meal  

Who does the cooking in your house? In many cultures the responsibility for preparing meals at home traditionally falls to women. But as more women join the global workforce, traditional household responsibilities are changing. What impact is that having have on our internal family dynamics? As part of the BBC's 100 Women season, we hear about the social and economic costs of putting a meal on the family table, when the most expensive ingredient is time. Four women from different continents explain the challenges they face trying to balance family life, work, and food. A working mother in Mumbai tells us why she won't give up her kitchen, and a stay at home mum in New York explains why her working husband does most of the cooking. Plus, we hear that in parts of rural Kenya women who cannot cook are far from marriage material. (Picture: A woman prepares vegetables in a village in Bangladesh. Credit: Jewel Samad, Getty Images)

Full English Brexit  

Twentieth century British playwright and novelist Somerset Maugham said that to eat well in Britain, you should eat breakfast thrice daily. And, nothing speaks to British culinary tradition more than the Full English breakfast - bacon, sausages, egg, beans, black pudding and mushrooms all on one plate. But how much of the ‘full English’ today is actually English? And, in a post-Brexit United Kingdom, how will the industries that cater to British breakfasters fare? The BBC’s Manuela Saragosa works her way through each food on the full English breakfast plate and explores how they could be impacted following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. Ian Dunt, author of Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?, explains why many believe food prices are set to eventually rise. The UK imports two thirds of its supply from neighbouring Ireland, but as the BBC’s Diarmaid Fleming finds out, some Irish mushroom farmers have already gone out of business. Claire Macleod of Charles Macleod Butchers tells us why Brexit has cast uncertainty on the future of her black puddings. And, we speak to the staff and diners of Brunchies Café in Sutton, south of London – are they concerned about adding a sprinkling of Brexit to their breakfast and if costs rise, is it a price worth paying? (Photo: A traditional English breakfast plate, with Union Jack flag. Credit: Thinkstock)

Burnt  

From the golden crust on a perfectly-baked loaf, to a crispy, crunchy potato chip - do you ever wonder why food that's been browned or charred, can smell, taste and look so good? It's one of cooking's most important flavour secrets. But it's now at the centre of a battle between health campaigners and the European food industry. The BBC’s Mike Johnson follows the story of browned and burnt food from an unexpected discovery in Paris 100 years ago to a state-of-the-art food testing laboratory in the UK, picking up some tips at a London cookery school along the way. (Picture: Unhappy burnt toast Credit: Thinkstock)

In Search of Lost Foods  

What happens to a food when people stop eating it? Most of the food we eat today comes from a handful of crops, but before we became a globalised society, our diet reflected a variety of plants, proteins and foods that were cultivated as local specialties. Now, as our diets become less diverse, these foods face a critical point in their existence. In this programme the BBC's Dan Saladino explores several stories of foods that are dying out and talks to the farmers and producers who are working to save them. (Photo: Mexican Blue Corn Credit: Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images)

Plate of the Union  

Can you tell a Democrat by their salad? A Republican by their hamburger? An Independent by their coffee? With the outcome of the US presidential election just days away, The Food Chain looks at the surprising role food has played in a campaign like no other. We visit Arizona, a swing state in this year’s election, to see whether Americans think your food preference can be determined by your political preference. Regina Ragone of Family Circle magazine tells the BBC’s Kent DePinto how a comment by Hilary Clinton started a nation-wide baking contest that has been running since 1992. Plus, Lizzie O’Leary from Marketplace follows the money to understand how the political wishes of big food companies is expressed in political donations. We look at how taco trucks have become one the 2016 election's most polarizing issues. And we hear about the forgotten tradition of the American election cake. Photo: A blueberry pie in the design of an American flag. Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Dining with the Dead  

Food is a fundamental part of life’s biggest celebrations, from birthdays and weddings to religious feasts. It’s also a key part of death. This week, we hear how saying farewell to the departed has inspired centuries of food tradition, from corpse cakes and sin-eating in medieval Europe, to the pan de muertos and sugar skulls of Mexico's Day of the Dead. We visit a Death Cafe in London to find out how food and drink help end the taboos around discussing grief and loss, and we go graveside feasting in Estonia, where family meals include the departed. Plus, how funeral food extravagance is driving families into enormous debt in Ghana. (Picture: Chocolate skulls prepared for Mexico's Day of The Dead celebrations)

Vegan Babies: Should You Restrict Your Child’s Diet?  

Are parents wrong to impose their own restrictive diets on their children? An Italian MP wants to jail parents who choose vegan or other “reckless” diets for their kids. But many of these families argue their children are healthy and happy. This week, we take a look at the implications of excluding certain foods from a child’s plate. Should children be encouraged to develop their own food choices regardless of their parents’ convictions? Vegan, veggie and Paleo parents talk to the BBC’s Manuela Saragosa. (Photo: A child contemplates a plate of salad. Credit: Thinkstock)

Should We All Be Vegans?  

What would happen if we all became vegans? Veganism – cutting out animal products from your diet, and often your wardrobe – suddenly seems more mainstream than ever. It is attracting followers from Beyoncé to Al Gore, and there’s a new breed of vegan, too: vloggers espousing their veggie-heavy lifestyle to millions of online fans. Whether it is for health, environmental or ethical reasons, more and more people are embracing plant-based food. The BBC’s Mike Johnson sets out to explore what the world would look like if everyone gave up animal products tomorrow, and the economic consequences of a meat and dairy-free world. We talk to the owner of the first vegan café in Qatar, we test a meatless burger that ‘bleeds’ beetroot juice and we weigh up the human cost of an animal-free diet. (Photo: A detail of a painting by Giuseppe Acrimboldo featuring a man's head made out of vegetables. Credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

Stories from Syria  

How do people living through the Syrian conflict find food? The BBC’S Dan Saladino explores what’s happening in Syria, where food is often used as both a weapon and target of war. Bakeries have been reportedly targeted in bombings, and profiteers look to gain from the scarcity of staples by hiking up prices for the food that is available. We speak to Jakob Kern, who oversees a $700m operation for the UN’s World Food Programme as he attempts to get food aid into besieged towns and hard to reach communities. And we hear a meal shared between two re-settled Syrian families as they try to start a new life away from their war-torn homeland. Plus, we further explore how a food culture re-forms after it’s forced to flee and relocate, as Syrian-American Dalia Mortada shares the food stories she’s been collecting from the diaspora in the United States. And the small industries that might offer hope for farmers in a post-conflict country. (Photo: Bakers pack bread at a bakery in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Credit: Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty Images)

The Olympics of Chinese Food  

The world's top names in Chinese cuisine meet once every four years in a prestigious and gruelling cooking contest to determine which of them is the very best. Can a team of UK chefs make a gold medal-winning debut? The BBC's Celia Hatton takes a front-row seat at the World Championship of Chinese Cuisine, often called the Olympics of Chinese cooking. She follows Gavin Chun, a first-time competitor from London, who hopes to help his team to culinary glory. But will the chefs be able to execute the complicated 56 dishes they have to make? And what does the competition say about the evolution of modern Chinese food? (Photo: A chef at the World Championship of Chinese Cuisine)

Pestatarians  

The aliens have landed. This week, we’re looking at an unlikely product of globalisation: invasive species or pests. That’s a species of animal that ends up in an ecosystem that isn’t their natural home. As we'll hear, they pose a huge environmental risk to local ecosystems and food systems. But perhaps there’s a solution and it might involve getting our taste buds used to the idea of eating them. Some of us are doing it already. One of the most popular items on one London menu is the pesky grey squirrel. We also head to Australia to hear how feral camels have found an unlikely market with an immigrant community. And why a lobster has Sweden and North America getting their claws out. If you can’t beat em’, eat ‘em? (Picture: A camel at QCamel dairy, Queensland, Australia. Credit: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

The New Sushi  

It's widely agreed that bugs could be a sustainable source of protein for humans in the future, but large-scale production is very labour intensive. As the BBC’s Katy Watson discovers, in Mexico - where there is a long bug-eating tradition - the infrastructure required for a profitable bug industry is almost non-existent. In the US though, where the idea of having insects for lunch still turns most stomachs, some farmers are adding bugs to protein bars and crushing them into powder for health-conscious Californians. Some proponents say insects could be the new sushi. But are they right? (Picture: A scorpion served up in Mexico.)

Food on the Open Road  

It could be argued that our global economy is in some ways, driven by drivers. That is, long-haul truckers who carry goods from one side of a country to another. But truck driving is a profession that is struggling to recruit new members and a lot of it has to do with lifestyle and what’s available to eat. The BBC’s Mike Johnson discovers that a lack of fresh food options, combined with a sedentary lifestyle and strict schedules, leave truck drivers facing a higher rate of obesity and a shortened life-span when compared to other professions. But some truck drivers are working to change that. Plus, we discover what it’s like to eat on the road in the world’s longest country, and get a lesson in cab cooking along the way. (Photo: Truck drivers wait to pass at the border between Greece and Bulgaria. Credit: Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP)

Big Beer  

Next month, the world’s current largest beer maker, AB InBev is expected to take over the world’s second largest beer maker, SABMiller. If the plan goes ahead, together they will become the world's largest brewer, making about one out of every three beers around the world. But many, craft beer drinkers especially, do not like the idea of a single company making so much of our brew. The BBC’s Manuela Saragosa asks whether their concerns are valid - or whether it is all just froth. She talks to beer writer Peter Brown and travels to a hop farm in the English countryside to see where it all begins. We head to Uganda where homemade brew is still the traditional drink of choice, and Jasper Cuppaidge from Camden Town Brewery - a London-based brewer - tells us what being taken over by a global company has done for his business. And, the BBC’s Rob Young breaks down the deal for us in the pub.

Naturally Misleading?  

What is 'natural' food and is it better for us? We explore the language of food labelling. Does a product bearing the word 'natural' on its label make you more likely to buy it? Or, is describing food as 'natural' just a marketing trick? We hear from a cattle farmer in the US state of Vermont who stopped using growth hormones on his herd so that the meat can be sold as 'natural'. Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, professor emeritus at Goldengate University in the US, explains how companies market "natural" food to us. Are some supermarkets misleading their consumers with the way they are presenting their food? Journalist Tom Levitt from The Guardian tells Manuela Saragosa why some packaging may not tell the whole story. And we hear how the mislabelling of food in China can provide rich pickings for professional label readers. With more and more products declaring their 'pure' origins, David Jago, director of Global Insight and Innovation at the market intelligence company Mintel, outlines the size of the market. Should the word 'natural' be more closely defined? We ask Daniel Fabricant, CEO of the Natural Products Association in the US and a former FDA official. Also, Manuela asks whether a diet of completely unprocessed natural food could actually be healthier for our bodies. Nutritionist Dimple Thakrar from Fresh Nutrition tells us why some processing could add to a healthy diet. And lawyer Kun Hoe describes how some professional label readers in China can benefit from mistakes in packaging. (Photo: Shoppers in China's Anhui province. Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Survival Stories: Fish bacon for breakfast  

Our second episode of Survival Stories further explores our relationship with food in the most extreme circumstances. What choices do we make about what we eat, when we’re all alone in the wild? Do our reflexes, instincts and tastes change? First, the story of Steve Callahan, who was adrift on an inflatable raft in the middle of the Atlantic ocean for 76 days. He tells the BBC’s Emily Thomas how he began to make three courses out of just one fish, and how it felt when his only companions and friends were also his main source of food. Plus, the tale of Yossi Ghinsberg who was lost in the Amazon rainforest. When he got separated from his group, Yossi survived for 20 days on what the forest gave him, and hoped desperately for a monkey to fall from a tree. We also find out what happens to our bodies when they go into survival mode with Dr Chris Fenn, who specialises in survival in extreme environments. How much can we rely on our gut instincts? And should you ever drink from the sea? (Photo credit: BBC)

Survival Stories: Lost in the Desert  

What happens when your food choices are determined by nothing but the environment around you and your own resolve? The Food Chain follows the story of 72- year-old grandmother Ann Rodgers, who went missing in the Arizona wilderness in March 2016. In this illustrated food survival story, we examine the food choices we make when left with just our animal instincts. The BBC's Emily Thomas uncovers the science behind those decisions too – and what happens to our bodies when our diet goes from balanced to bare with nutritionist Dr Chris Fenn. (Photo credit: Ann Rodgers)

Fertile Food  

How much could your diet affect your ability to have a child? Throughout history, harvest and the abundance of food have been associated with the creation of life. Join us on a journey from ancient traditions to the latest science. When the vegetable sellers of east London shed little light on which foods make us fertile, the BBC’s Emily Thomas goes to the Wellcome Library to look through some 16th century recipe books with Dr Jennifer Evans from the University of Hertfordshire. From stags' testicles, to ‘mad apples’ we find out which food the ancient Egyptians thought to be the biggest aphrodisiac, and why a 300 year old recipe book tells us beans lead to babies. How well does this all sit with the latest science? We talk to Dr Jorge Chavarro, from the Harvard Schools of Public Health and Medicine. Also, unless you're a woman trying for a baby, you may think folic acid isn’t something you should be too worried about… but in about a third of countries in the world, it is mandatory to add it to main food products, such as wheat flour. Why supplement the whole population with something that might only be needed by some? We speak to Mark Lawrence, Professor in Public Health Nutrition at Deakin University in Melbourne. Plus, hear some Bulgarian fertility music and find out why the grinding of black peppers is a ritual performed by men at weddings. Finally, we look at how hormones get into the food chain with Dr Richard Lea of the University of Nottingham, and ask if this should be a cause for concern. (Photo: New arrivals at the Queen Charlotte Hospital, London, in 1945. Credit: Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Food on the Move: What We Want, When We Want It  

Fruit in the summer, grain in the autumn - our diets once consisted of eating what was around us and what was in season. But we now live in a global food village, where in many countries the idea of eating seasonally has been consigned to history. In the 21st Century we ship, fly and truck our food supply across huge distances. Britain, for example, imports 90% of its fresh fruit. The BBC’s Mike Johnson is dockside at one of Europe’s biggest ports to hear how - and why - the world is racking up the food miles. Ross McKissock at the Port of Tilbury outlines the importance of the food trade to the port business. We step inside a vast refrigerated warehouse and ask Dale Fiddy of NFT Distribution if the new facility is a sign that the industry is on the up? Technological advances have made their mark on the way our food has moved over the centuries - Susanne Freidberg, professor of Geography at Dartmouth College, takes us back through time with the history of food transportation. We hear from a vegetable packing plant in Kenya, which leads the world in terms of exports of fresh produce by air. Shipping food over vast distances is now an established part of global trade, but does it really make financial sense? Washington economist and expert on international shipping, Marc Levinson explains the economics of moving food in huge volumes. And, could it actually be good for the environment? A question for Kath Dalmeny from environmental group, Sustain. (Photo: Factory workers sort out creates of peppers. Credit: Sergio Camacho/Getty Images)

Inside the Kitchens of Power  

Why is cheese essential when the German Chancellor comes for dinner? For millennia, international relations have been massaged by the chefs working inside palaces and state kitchens. The BBC’s Dan Saladino finds out about their unusual vocation and how their food might have influenced some of the biggest decisions in history. He meets Gilles Bragard, the founder of the world’s most exclusive culinary club, Le Club des Chefs Des Chefs, which brings together twenty people who cook for Heads of State. Gilles shares some food secrets, including how the Kremlin's kitchen keeps President Putin’s food safe. We visit the huge kitchens of Hampton Court Palace, where in 16th Century England, wine fountains and extravagant roasted meats were cooked to help Henry VIII impress - and intimidate - foreign dignitaries. We move from there to look at arguably the most powerful cooking place in the modern era - the White House kitchen. Sam Kass, a former chef and close friend to the Obamas, explains how new ideas and even food policies for the future can be cooked up in State kitchens. Plus, we go behind the scenes in the Belgian Embassy in Chile to see diplomacy in action – and talk to professor Stephen Chan of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies about Mugabe’s lavish feasts. We also meet David Geisser, a former Vatican chef and hear insights into the culinary preferences of Pope Francis. We find out if the Vatican leader practises what he preaches about food. Finally, we talk to a journalist in Brussels who has witnessed some recent and dramatic EU meals, including the former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s last supper with European leaders. (Photo: Barack Obama in 2008. Credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

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