Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Inside the Factory

I’ve always enjoyed Gregg Wallace as a presenter of Professional Masterchef, since I like his rhetorical stance as the ‘ordinary bloke’ (former Covent Garden grocer, as it happens) in this world of high-end dining, Michelin stars, genuine culinary expertise and fabulous social snobbery.  So it’s been interesting to watch him on the BBC2 series Inside the Factory, which has been running since 2015 and in which he goes into giant food factories of various kinds and investigates their physical processes.  We saw him enthusing over cherry bakewell production the other week, and tonight it was croissants in a French factory.  What issues will the ‘ordinary bloke’ raise here?

This TV genre might well be described as ‘factory-porn’, since it’s the erotics of mechanical process that so excites Gregg Wallace.  The speed of the machines, the huge quantities of ingredients, the complexity of manoeuvres entailed, the staggering number of final units produced – all have our man in raptures as, donning a white overall and with his bald head oddly wrapped up in a hair net, he gets stuck in with the workers and is allowed to pull levers, check gauges and taste samples.  These vast edifices seem to operate with extraordinarily few human beings, from what we are allowed to see.

What dear old Gregg never poses are any of the questions William Morris floats in his ‘A Factory as It Is and as It Might Be’.  How long is your working day?  (It shouldn’t be more than four hours, in Morris’s view).  What is the balance between sensuously-creative and necessary-mechanical elements in the work you do?  What are the environmental consequences of this production process?  Whose economic interests does it serve?  In what ways does the immediate environment of the factory itself enhance human well-being and dignity through – in Morris’s examples – gardens, libraries, social spaces, and so on?  Gregg Wallace’s food factories might offer their skilled technicians rather more than an Amazon warehouse does its zero-hours contract workers, but all the big Morris questions about large-scale social production are sedulously avoided.

No comments: