Leaving aside certain swanky Riviera spots, beaches are, as a rule, not great places for the food lover. For a start, sand is no respecter of your carefully wrapped sandwiches, and more importantly, it’s hard to work up much of an appetite when all you’re doing is lying around hoping to eventually turn from pale gammon to crispy duck.
One thing that does travel well, however, is the podcast; as good for whiling away a few quiet hours with your eyes shut as it is when you’re stuck in traffic en route. Though audio might seem an unlikely medium for a topic that’s best experienced through taste and sight, the food category is booming, with hundreds of different series devoted to every detail of production and consumption, including an increasingly healthy homegrown crop to rival the wealth of weird and wonderful content from the United States.
Dan Saladino, series producer of Radio 4’s long-running and multi-award-winning Food Programme, credits its success to the fact that, because of the limitations of the medium, the story has to be about more than just the food on the plate. “As a nation we buy more cookbooks, watch more television programmes about food and go out to restaurants more than our parents did,” he wrote last year. “However I’m not convinced we all know as much as we need to about how our food is produced, what the consequences of our buying decisions are and what impact any particular food has on our bodies. Our mission statement is ‘Investigating every aspect of the food we eat’ and that pretty much sums it up.”
Gilly Smith produces the Delicious magazine podcast, the only non-BBC shortlistee in the best radio programme or podcast category in this year’s Fortnum & Mason food and drink awards. She tells me that, although she’s also worked in print and television, “audio is the best. It’s so immediate… the stories I got from the former drug addicts who make the award-winning cheese at San Patrignano in our July episode would have been a nightmare with a camera, but it was just me, a Zoom recorder and genuine empathy.”
These lower production costs (Smith often records links underneath a duvet to improve the sound quality) allow for more diversity in the market – she compares them to pop-up restaurants: “The same spirit of adventure, getting in there and on with it… it’s about immediate, easy-going chat and real connection with people. Most successful podcasts are a bit quirky… and certainly treat the listener as an equal. It cuts out the middle (wo)man.”
Olive magazine’s Janine Ratcliffe agrees: “Our whole podcast is made by the editorial team – it means we can be really reactive to getting guests we are interested in. If that means travelling to a festival or going to a new gin bar at 11pm for an interview, we’ll do it. And when it’s random chat between the team it’s more like listening in to an entertaining talk with friends who are as food obsessed as you are.”
Their 61 episodes to date have covered everything from the Olive staff’s favourite sandwich fillings to the green arguments for eating insects. Whether you’re interested in the geopolitical history of hummus or where to get the best burger in Brooklyn, cultural appropriation in western food media or the surprisingly lewd history of the peach emoji – like the hotel breakfast buffet, there’s something for everyone. Including, of course, podcasts about hotel breakfast buffets.
This article appears in the 09 Aug 2017 issue of the New Statesman, France’s new Napoleon