Star of the week
A new television series is asking pertinent questions about what goes into Kiwi foods, writes Kim Thomas.
Television personality Petra Bagust truly puts her body on the line in her newest television series What's Really In Our Food.
In one episode of the series (Tuesdays at 8pm on TV3), the trendy mother-of-three swallows a vitamin pill-sized camera, which travels through her body, showing us her insides and the effects of different sorts of foods.
"I'm up for a bit of adventure," Bagust says.
"I used to jump out of planes and hang off things for television but now I'm swallowing gut cams. Pretty crazy.
"The only thing I definitely wouldn't let them film was when the camera came out."
What's Really In Our Food looks at what the food we eat contains, including where it comes from, what chemicals, hormones or additives certain foods contain, and debunks some myths about popular foods.
The series offers eaters a guide on what to eat to improve physical and mental performance and nasties to avoid, ranging from pesticides, superbugs and plastic residues.
There is a real appetite for this kind of series as a TV3 documentary last year of the same name was the station's highest rating documentary of 2007. Bagust reckons the series is timely because people are starting to become more concerned about what they are putting in their families' mouths.
"We're all going `Hang on, I'm looking at the back of the box at the ingredients and I still don't know what I'm eating'," she says.
"People are confused and they're starting to ask questions about things like farming practises and with food prices so high they want to know they are getting the best food for their money."
Bagust says: "There's lots of confusing information around about food. The series shows mothers feeding our children, and people feeding themselves and their partners and friends how to offer a better diet."
One of the most disturbing things about filming the series, Bagust says, was coming to the realisation that while we might be starting to ask questions about food, there is also a huge amount we take for granted.
"We don't think it's freaky that our carrots and our apples are all pretty much the same size and the same shape. We don't think there might be something more natural about food having inconsistencies because that's just the way it grows," she says.
"We have got to the stage where we think bread lasting seven days is good, instead of asking why is it lasting so long, is it all the additives and what effect is this having on me?"
In the first episode about chicken, Bagust visited both free range and barn-reared chicken farms to give people a rare insight into how their chooks grow plump.
She talked to experts about concerns over the presence of hormones and antibiotics in chicken and gets the public, including primary school students and some burly body builders, to taste test different products such as corn-reared chicken compared with KFC.
The series also includes episodes on fruit and vegetables, fish, breakfast foods (in which we get the inside view of Bagust), packaging of foods, processed meat , bread and butter.
In each of the programmes real people are used to test theories, such as the courier drivers who eat fish for three meals a day to test whether it improves brain function.
Bagust describes the show as a bit of "pop science", expert advice, public participation and a hearty serving of food reality.
"It's not supposed to be `preachery' and `teachery' or the `food police' but it does contain a lot of really good information about the food we eat and what we feed our families."
Bagust says she has her own family food dilemmas involving what to feed her three young children.
"My son always wants to drink fruit juice while I think water is the most delicious and healthy drink in the world so that battle is always going on," she says.
"Then there's all those mini packs of highly processed foods at home which are handy where you are out and about. But you find you are eating them at home instead of things like fruit and you have to stop and think.
"The other dilemma in our house is how easy it is to feed your kids highly processed stuff in their lunch boxes."
Bagust's style is down-to-earth and upbeat and she asks the experts simple questions that we would if we got the chance. While the show may not be everyone's cup of tea, it kept my easily distracted brain engaged for an hour.
I was particularly interested to see what a chicken's life involves and expect following episodes may also contain a few pearls of wisdom which could change the way we look at the contents of our fridges.