Masterchef and the problem of GDP figures

So Masterchef has finished up for another year – excluding  ‘the professionals’, and ‘the celebrities’ of course – and having avoided most episodes I happened on the quarter finals and was gripped for the remainder.It’s entertaining viewing, no doubt about it, but something niggles me about the format, and it happens to be the same thing that bugs me about the economy.

Imagine for a moment that an alien arrives on earth and to learn about food and decides to watch every episode of Masterchef ever made. Days (weeks? Years?!) later the alien emerges from a darkened room and reports back to her superiors. She tells them of the cookery techniques and processes she has learned, how to balance flavours and ingredients to achieve the right flavour, how to present the food on the plate to achieve maximum impact, and so on and so forth…

But were the alient to return back after her visit, she would have a rather skewed interpretation of the human relationship with food. Food, for most cultures and at most points in human history, has been about sharing; with family, friends, even breaking bread with enemies. People bringing a dish to a feast to celebrate, or preparing food to welcome a stranger couldn’t be further from cooks competing to lay dishes in front of dour food critics who pick apart the food with distaste (metaphorically and literally).

Masterchef abstracts the science of cooking but misses everything that makes food important in our lives. The same could be said of the way GDP figures are calculated. The figures tell governments of the processesses and techniques at work in the country, which elements of the economy are out of kilter and need balancing, what works well together to achieve growth, but nothing of the rich tapestry of social life that exists around the abstracted figures.

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