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An epidemic of overspending

A UK TV show highlights compulsive consumerism

An epidemic of overspending

Dear All,

A relatively unpublicised but popular programme on British TV provides food for thought: it deals with the compulsive overspending on food that has become the norm in modern day urban life. The title of the show is self-explanatory — Eat Well For Less — and it reveals how the country’s middle classes are wasting their money, thanks to the way they overspend on groceries.

You might think this is not really a very exciting premise for a TV programme but it actually is compelling viewing, as each week the team visits a different family, analyses their weekly spending, puts them through a period of ‘blind’ tasting, and then teach them not just how to save money but also about themselves and the way they live.

The EWFL team consists of Gregg Wallace, one of the judges on Masterchef, and Chris Bavin, a greengrocer. They provide families with not just tips on how to save money on food bills but also with a wealth of information on nutrition, marketing techniques, self delusion and brand loyalty. This question of whether famous brand products are actually better than their ‘unbranded’ counterparts is one of the most interesting parts of the show as a number of taste tests are carried out and the products are rated on their quality. Facts like their sugar and sodium content and calories are also highlighted. The team consults their nutritionist about various matters, and they present the families with simple recipes to suit their particular lifestyle.

At its heart EWFL is both education and therapy. It does not just deal with food shopping bills, it provides recipes and tips for improving family relationships and for shopping according to palate rather than habits. The period during which the family has no clue at all what brand of product they are consuming is a real eye opener and reveals the extent to which consumers are duped into buying certain products. Lessons on how to bring the members of the family together through food and cooking are provided too.

But the central preoccupation of the programme is getting best value for your money, so it is, in effect, a post-recesssionary lesson in capitalistic and consumeristic addictions and how to avoid them. The way that preconceptions around known brands are questioned is really also an attempt to fight back at a system in which consumers can become trapped in a spiral of spending.

The team consults their nutritionist about various matters, and they present the families with simple recipes to suit their particular lifestyle.

Eat Well for Less joins the host of TV shows like Jamie Oliver’s Money Saving Meals which empower people through information and advice and in doing so free them from the shackles of marketing-driven prejudices and expectations about products and brands. Because brand addiction really is a sickness, a compulsion that overcomes reason and sanity and hurtles individuals towards debt and dissatisfaction, leading them to state of mind where their self worth is measured by the brand they buy rather than its actual utility, beauty or function.

Such ‘people power’ shows are firmly rooted in common sense and grounded in reality in a way that shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and Fantasy Homes by the Sea quite obviously are not. They are a breath of fresh air in a mass of programming that mostly peddle fantasy and celebrity and encourage people to indulge in mindless spending and acquisition. And for that they must be commended.

Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The author is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline.

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