Down with foodie fetishes

If the rabbit entrails don't make you want to vomit, the celebrity chefs will

<strong>The Wild Go

There are times when I believe myself to be the calmest, most sane person in the world . . . and there are other times when I think that, in truth, the slightest little thing will set me off. One of these "little things" occurred this past week as I watched Channel 4's latest food show, The Wild Gourmets (Tuesdays, 8.30pm). The series is presented by Guy Grieve, a writer and "adventurer" (well, aren't we all, dear?), and Thomasina Miers, who won the BBC's MasterChef contest and now cooks at a Mexican restaurant in Covent Garden.

Together, they are traversing the countryside in their white Land Rover - don't panic: it runs on cooking oil - killing and harvesting wild food. Miers then cooks it all up back at "base camp" over a wood fire. Sometimes dinner guests appear. This is not, you quickly gather, a Ray Mears-style paean to fried worms and dubious berries; we're talking woodcock, sorrel and the kind of mushrooms that, were you to pick them up at a farmers' market, would cost £25 a kilo.

The show is totally preposterous and embarrassingly staged. "Lunch!" Guy will shout, waving a bag of freshly picked mussels at Thomasina, who is busy prepping up on the beach. At which point Tommi will look up excitedly, as if she cannot believe their luck. It's enough to make you vomit, and that's even before you've had to stare at a load of rabbit entrails. For authenticity's sake, the director does let us see things going wrong - in Dorset, Guy tried and failed to stab a fish with a hazel spear - but not often. The series has more get-out clauses than your local friendly builder. It's remarkable how helpful people can be when a film crew hoves into view.

At a farm shop, the owner was thrilled to swap some eggs for the beefsteak mushrooms Guy had hacked off an oak tree (though the expression on her face hinted that she didn't actually know what they were), while a kindly landowner was delighted to hand over the keys to his herb garden. "Oh, wow! Thyme!" cried Tommi. What was she expecting? Findus Crispy Pancakes and a tube of Polos?

But it was none of these things that led to my existential rage. I stoically kept my cool until Thomasina prepared a warm pigeon salad. The pigeon looked fine; it was Thomasina who was the problem. She was wearing a gold, sequinned headband. Do wild, foraging campers usually wear sequinned headbands? I think not, and I began telling the world so, very loudly. Well, it had been a maddening 24 hours. The previous night on BBC2, I'd caught Nigella Express (Mondays, 8.30pm), possibly the most fake cookery show ever. She grins, she flirts, she gets the bus - and I don't believe a word she says, which is why I won't try her recipes. I'm suspicious of them, and, with cooking, trust is all. (Also, as I don't own a BlackBerry, what right have I to try out her cunning short cuts for busy people?) Afterwards, on ITV, it was the final of Hell's Kitchen (17 September, 9pm). Marco Pierre White has long professed to loathe TV chefs but, having joined the club, he has surpassed them all at a single attempt. He obviously thinks he's Tony Soprano, but the last time I saw acting this hammy, I was watching Howards' Way.

What, I wonder, do foreign visitors think as they switch on the television in their hotel bedroom? The gap between what the British eat and what they watch people eating on television has long been startlingly wide. But at least food programmes were once aspirational: if you bought the ingredients and followed the instructions it was possible that you would end up with something nice for your tea. Those days are now officially over. The new-generation cookery shows bear the same relation to the domestic kitchen as the National Parks of Kenya do to your local recreation ground. Result? Far from reaching for our egg whisks, we sink yet deeper into our sofas and murmur: "Look, lobster!" in exactly the same tone of voice as one might say: "Look, wildebeest!" while watching David Attenborough. Thomasina, Nigella, Marco: listen to me. With your strangely glinting eyes and your obscure foodie fetishes, you are scaring a nation of microwave lovers half to death.

Pick of the week

Stuart: a Life Backwards
23 September, 9pm, BBC2
True story of friendship between a writer and a homeless man.

Flight of the Conchords
25 September, 9.30pm, BBC4
Silly Kiwi singers play themselves in a musical sitcom set in NY.

Secret Diary of a Call Girl
27 September, 10pm, ITV2
Billie Piper plays the blogging "I'm my own boss" hooker, Belle de Jour.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 September 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Trouble ahead: the crises facing Gordon Brown