The perfect public service website – which sadly doesn’t exist

Published on 14 September 2009 in , , , , ,

About six months ago there was a letter in the Radio Times lambasting the return of Masterchef whilst the country was in recession. Whilst the country was suffering, people shouldn’t be shown cooking nice food was the implication. Presumably if they’d been showing contestants heating up Tesco Value pies instead, that would be better.

"You're Not Allowed To Take Photos In Whole Foods"

Photo by sea turtle. Creative Commons licensed.

One cookery programme firmly with the recession in mind however was the recent Economy Gastronomy. Every week, the presenters would pop over to someone’s house, try to get them to plan their meals and eat more sensibly.

It was an interesting programme because it dealt with spending less AND eating better food. Given something like 30% of food is thrown away, simple planning will solve a lot of problems. Decide what you’re going to cook; make your shopping list; stick to your shopping list. And if you do, you’ll save thousands.

Simple, obvious and it works.

The show has other concepts too. One is to invest in what chefs Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett call a “bedrock recipe”. It’s a recipe you make once and can be used to create three meals over the week. Examples included a simple tomato sauce or a braised mince recipe which would work for bolognaise, chilli or cottage pie.

All good stuff.

And not a bad show either.

But it’s a show with one fundamental problem. It’s website.

When it comes to food programmes, what you generally need from a website is a list of recipes. Be it Rick Stein off in the far east or Levi Root making Carribean, you just want to pop to the website, print off the recipe and go shopping. And it works. The BBC Food website has an excellent database of recipes, and individual programme sites just link through to them.

And unfortunately they’ve gone down the same route with Economy Gastronomy too.

It’s unfortunate because it lets down the whole concept of Economy Gastronomy, because the programme is more than just the food. It’s the principles; it’s the planning; and importantly it’s how the bedrock recipes link to the so-called “tumbledown” recipes.

Suddenly there’s a relationship between recipes that the website just can’t cope with. Instead of telling you to make a basic tomato sauce then telling you what you can do with it, it just lists the recipes. Each one then has you making the tomato sauce from scratch, telling you just to freeze what you don’t use.

Importantly the website it doesn’t tell you how much of the tomato sauce you should be using, and how much you should be freezing. That in itself causes problems as you’ll then end up either using too much, or maybe even all of it, thus costing you more money!

This is a show that could have made real use from a small amount of money being spent on its website. A small amount of work to show how the recipes all link together would have made a big difference. Add to that some simple text content re-iterating the principles of the programme, and showing some of the various tips on how to save even more money that featured on the show, and you’d have a wonderful example of a simple public service website, helping people save as much money as possible in this difficult climate.

Instead the only option is to buy the book. And whilst I’m sure the book’s great, things would be even greater if those wanting to save some cash during a recession, didn’t have to spend money to save money.