Monday, February 21, 2011

Supersize Me--British Style

My friend John Desmond recently pointed me to a British TV series called "The Supersizers" which was, believe it or not, about British historic food.

It's a reality TV show of sorts. Here's the basic concept: a good-looking, slender man (who happens to be a writer and restaurant critic) and an equally slender, good-looking woman (a producer and sometime-vegetarian) spend a week attempting to eat the food, and generally live the lifestyle, of  their forebears from a particular historic period. Before and after the week, they are given a thorough medical exam, to determine what effect, if any, the historic culinary adventure has had on their physiques and health.  (They were given a week off between each week-long adventure.)

Because this is a British series, the costumes are quite good (except for the medieval ones), and so far as I'm aware the foods and food customs depicted in the snippets I've looked at so far are fairly accurate.  The periods involved include the Elizabethan, Restoration, Victorian, Regency, and Edwardian eras, as well as the 1920s, 1950s, 1970s and World War II, to name a few of the more interesting ones.  In light of the "Supersize" concept, our heroes opt to eat the food and live the lifestyle of financially well-off denizens of the period.

It is well known that some of these eras in British cooking involve the consumption of prodigious amounts of sugar, meat, and fat, and the Edwardian era, at least, involved the consumption of huge meals, period.  Yet Giles Coren, the male half of the Supersizers duo, claimed, in an article he wrote after the series was over, that he came out of this incredible series of binges healthier than he had started.  He wrote:
Every single period I ate in made me healthier. Sure, these were always the diets of the relatively wealthy, and, yes, I would probably have been stricken down young with some sort of terrible disease long ago. But as long as I did live, and had money to feed myself, I think I would have been healthier and fitter at any time in the past than I am now. We all would.
Coren's article about his experience ran in the London Times and can be found here.

I suspect the real moral of "The Supersizers" is that, in the long run, getting enough physical activity and enjoying what you eat matters a lot more to your health and your physique than the details of your diet, but the bits of the series I've been able to glimpse on YouTube so far have been amusing.  Just type "Supersizers" into the text search box on YouTube and check it out.

EDIT:  I've now watched all of the Supersizers episodes on YouTube, and Coren appears to be suffering from selective memory.  Several of the diets (e.g.  Regency and Edwardian) left him with much higher cholesterol and uric acid readings than he had had beforehand, and most of the diets led to both him and Sue Perkins gaining at least two or three pounds (sometimes more) during the week.  Only the World War II regime of restricted diet and significant exercise left them a bit leaner and with no change in their various readings.  Food for thought.


  1. I was able to find this show on YouTube and I spent quite a lot of time watching and looking and well having a blast! I really enjoyed the Elizabethan series. I still can't find a recipe for Spanish Pap but I am still looking for it!

  2. If you do find a recipe for Spanish Pap, let me know! I'd be curious to see what it's like.

  3. ["Because this is a British series, the costumes are quite good (except for the medieval ones), and so far as I'm aware the foods and food customs depicted in the snippets I've looked at so far are fairly accurate."]

    I never understood why many people assume that only the British film and television industries can create excellent costumes for period pieces.

    Also, I'm a major fan of the SUPERSIZERS series.

  4. Yes, other countries can make good historical costumes, but, in my opinion, they're less likely to do so on a regular basis than the British.