When Masterchef Australia first aired in 2009, I was living in a house with 4 other guys and a duck. I very quickly got hooked on the show along with two of my housemates. Come 2010, my parents got hooked and regular interstate travel meant I had to consider my night time or early morning arrangements to ensure that I could keep up to date with what was happening on the show.

It wasn’t long until I started purchasing Masterchef Magazine and started experimenting with the recipes published inside. I was shopping for fresh fruit and vegetables, and in some cases for things I had never purchased before. I was cooking at my parents’ home one day and my mother was looking at the ingredients.

She asked me why I had bought old ginger and floppy celery. I looked at her blankly.

It was news to me that you could tell by simply looking at the ingredients to determine whether or not the produce was fresh. She then told me about fresh ginger and how to pick it, about fresh celery and to snap it to check it. There were a number of vegetables that she had commented on and told me how to look out for them in the supermarket.

Now while I don’t blame anyone for my lack of knowledge in this area, it is my belief that the increase in popularity of cooking shows on broadcast television should be encouraging people to shop better. This is particularly true for fresh fruit and vegetables. Masterchef fans would recall the small “scandal” about the puff pastry that was out of date during the Team Challenge in an earlier season.

Let’s be honest, in the words of Tony Abbott, shit happens.

But fruit and vegetables don’t have use by or best before dates. Without relevant education, how are consumers supposed to know what fresh produce is good and what is bad?

I had suggested that perhaps schools could hold some classes towards the end of students’ final years in school to teach them briefly about what is fresh and what is not. However, it was pointed out to me that some parents would be outraged by this, as they are paying for students to be educated, not to be taught about “home economics” or how to shop.

Is there a solution? It’s my belief that television shows and magazines dedicated to cooking should be encouraged to show people what is good produce. While there is a risk that this could be hijacked by individual producers  who have paid for their spots on whatever TV show, it is more likely that the supermarkets will follow on from the farmers markets that are popping up all over the country and increase the quality and freshness of their produce.

How would this be implemented? Simple shopping knowledge would be fantastic. The relevant person would go to a supermarket and get examples of good and bad produce, and show how they are different and the tricks and tips that could be used to choose good products. Photos in magazines or brief segments on TV shows could be sponsored by a supermarket.

With this increased knowledge, the first thing I thought of following on from this is “What about all the produce that is deemed to be not fresh?” There are options here, through using these goods for generic products (jams, stewed fruit, soup, etc) to donating them to charities and soup kitchens, where people are thankful for decent produce with which to help the less fortunate.

I would note that I am now a better purchaser of fruit and vegetables since receiving a brief education into the matter from my mother.

A further trap for young cooks is the tempting short cut of choosing pre cut meat such as stir fry strips and diced meat. Having watched several Masterclasses (usually while hungover on a Saturday morning), they always cut their own meat but never said “Cut the meat yourself, it will save you money.” You can save up to $10 a kilo by buying the meat as it is and then cutting it up at home. It is also better for portion control.

In conclusion, I would encourage Masterchef Australia, My Kitchen Rules and the other cooking TV shows and magazines to consider the new cooks that are willing and able to learn, and teach them what to keep an eye out for when shopping for their food in the future. Better quality food brings better flavours out and is usually healthier as well.

So what are your thoughts? Should these cooking shows be responsible for education AND entertainment, and is such an idea the stepping stone to more educational reality TV? Leave me your comments below

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