Supermarkets should 'buy local' says Masterchef judge ahead of Harvest series
As pairings go, BBC Two’s choice of presenters for their wholesome new three-part farming series Harvest is a rather unusual one.
On one side is TV golden girl Philippa Forrester, best known for hosting science show Tomorrow’s World and cosy nature series Halcyon River Diaries alongside her wildlife cameraman husband Charlie Hamilton James and their three young sons.
But it’s not Countryfile’s Adam Henson or go-to hale and hearty host Ben Fogle who’ll be at Forrester’s side to present the series.
No, it’ll be the frank MasterChef judge Gregg Wallace.
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That’s the same Wallace who recently landed himself in hot water for allegedly fighting with a man who reportedly touched his 27-year-old girlfriend’s bottom at a party.
It’s a few days before this run-in when we meet up, and it seems that Forrester’s influence has rubbed off on Wallace, 48 – who was married three times before he began dating Anne-Marie Sterpini – as he’s much milder in person than he seems on the hit cookery contest.
And despite seeming like chalk and cheese, Forrester and Wallace are quick to point out their similarities.
They’re both, for example, concerned about the state of our food and enjoyed visiting farms across the UK ahead of the series, to find out how farmers use their knowledge of nature, along with clever technology, to feed us.
They’re also both eager to see the results of the early harvesting report, which will give an indication of which UK crops are likely to be the winners and losers in the next few months.
But when it comes to the strain British farmers are under to keep our bellies full, Wallace, who has shed three stone off of his frame in recent years, has plenty of trademark bite.
“As someone who runs small businesses, seeing how little the farmers knew about their harvest shocked me,” he says.
“You plant a seed, which is in itself an enormous cost, and then you don’t actually know what yield you’re going to get,” he continues. “You don’t know the quantity of that yield, or the quality.”
There’s no denying Forrester, who lives in Somerset, and Wallace’s passion on the subject, and it’s clear from the facts and figures they reel off that they’ve swotted up.
“No matter what technology you use, you’re still at the mercy of the weather, in the same way that early farmers 2,000 years ago were,” adds Wallace, in his trademark forthright style.
“A 3-5% difference in the size of a product can make a 25% difference in the sale price. It’s ridiculous.”
Despite the tricky conditions our farmers work under, the presenters are upbeat about the outcome for their own children’s generation.
“I’m a glass-half-full person,” says 44-year-old Forrester.
“There will be a demand for this programme by people who care and support UK farmers, which we’ve seen growing and growing in recent years, and that will only increase.”
Wallace, who’s “not usually an optimist” nods his agreement, but admits that certain foodie phrases, used to describe people who care about their grub, get his goat.
“I’ve never understood the term ‘food lover’ because if you show me someone who doesn’t like food, I’ll show you a corpse,” says the glib judge.
The former greengrocer hopes the series spurns people on to take action.
“I would like legislation for every single supermarket in the UK to stock at least 5% of its fresh produce from within a 50-mile radius,” announces the bald and bespectacled presenter.
That said, he’s pragmatic about the country’s need to buy in food from abroad.
“I’m very, very fond of a banana. Quite where I’d be without a slice of lemon in my gin and tonic, or a plump juicy mango, I don’t know,” he says.
“We haven’t been able to support ourselves with food properly since the Georgian era, but if a piece of fruit or a vegetable has a season in this country, celebrate it by buying it then.
“There’s a whole generation of children growing up thinking that strawberries taste like those awful ones in the refrigerator in February, and they don’t. They taste much better than that.”
Forrester knows only too well how good home-grown produce can taste, not that she has much chance to eat the fruits of her labour with three growing boys at home – she’s mum to Fred, 12, Gus, nine, and six-year-old Arthur.
“Some mornings I’ll say to the boys, ‘Go and pick your breakfast from the garden’,” she says, laughing. “They’ll go to the raspberry bushes and there’s nothing left for me>, but that’s great. There’s nothing better for them to be eating.”
She admits that she hasn’t always been so enthused by her vegetable patch, and has thought of turning in her tools.
“I’ve grown my own fruit and vegetables for years. One day I walked past my vegetable patch with my then five-year-old son thinking, ‘Really, is this one thing too many that I’m doing?’ and he just went, ‘Broad beans are doing well’.
“First of all he knew what a broad bean plant was, and secondly, he remembered that last year we harvested them, ate them in the garden and they were gorgeous. The penny dropped and I thought, ‘This is really important’.”
While Wallace is all for promoting British produce, he’s realistic about the pressures families are under.
“I come from a council estate in Peckham, south London, and I’m acutely aware that not everyone has access and knowledge about seasonal food,” he says.
He’s determined that his two teenage children, Tom and Libby, from his second marriage, know how to whip up a meal for themselves before they fly the nest - but this TV star has conditions that his offspring have to abide by.
“Me and my kids always cook together but we have one rule – that we only play music by dead people,” he says, laughing. “So you don’t get all those videos of girls shaking their bottoms, because that’s not comforting at all.”
Clearly, he’s not a fan of ogling the female form...
EXTRA TIME – SUPPORTING BRITISH FARMERS
*Phil Bicknell, Chief Economist for National Farmers’ Union (NFU) recommends looking for the Red Tractor label on products, which will indicate that it comes from a British farm.
*Alternatively, some British products will have the Union Jack on their label.
*If no British products are available in your local supermarket, the NFU suggests writing to the shop’s manager to find out why.
*A good way to support homegrown food is to buy when things are in season.
*For more information on the NFU’s Back British Farming campaign, visit www.nfuonline.com/home
*Harvest airs over three consecutive nights on BBC Two starting on Wednesday, September 11