This was an extremely enlightening show for me because, like many of us, and especially like the six teenagers in last night’s show, I never gave much thought to where my food comes from – well, that’s not entirely true; I do give thought to which supermarket I’m going to buy it from, but its origins? Nope, I have to say, I’d never really thought about it overly much.
So the raison d’etre for last night’s show had the desired effect on me anyway as it graphically showed how one of Britain’s best-selling foods is produced, that food being tuna. And what it showed was far more important than the experiences of the six moody teenagers the BBC had sent packing to Indonesia to do the equivalent of work experience in a factory producing said tuna…
What it showed was that in this particular factory, the workers are paid just £3 a day and work non-stop for unspecified hours. As the boss of the factory said, “We finish when the fish is finished” whatever time that may be.
And with the newly arrived newbie teenagers doing a pretty abysmal job of gutting, skinning and doing all the other gross things required of them to produce tins of tuna, I would’ve understood if the regular factory workers had got a tad pee’d off with them holding them up, but in a factory where talking is forbidden and a fast pace must be maintained, perhaps they were just too busy keeping their jobs and therefore keeping their children alive to be bothered about the sensitivities of British teenagers who punctuated pretty much every sentence uttered with the words, “innit’ or “I was like…”
It showed the six teenagers – and us viewers – that the conditions under which the locals work for a pittance are pretty hideous and that their ‘rights’ as workers are practically non-existent. It was and is a far cry from any comparable factory in the Western world, as Stacey, Manos, Olu, Lauren, Josh and Jess found out for themselves.
Their remit was to catch, harvest and process food products that are eaten every day in the UK. They also had to eat, sleep and live with the food workers and see how they fare living on the same wage.
The factory they were sent to is in Bitung on the island of Sulawesi which is one of the factories that provides a hefty amount of the billion tins of tuna that are consumed each year in the UK.
Living with the workers in their basic conditions meant that the six had to endure hardships which the actual workers take for granted and just get on with, such as the 90° heat of the tuna canneries and the harsh realities of life on a traditional wooden tuna boat in the Western Pacific.
The extreme conditions affected them all but Olu didn’t get to experience a great deal of it as he was sent back to the UK following a confrontation early on in the programme with Manos. Without doubt, Manos is an irritating little git I have to admit, and he did a good dramatic ‘gag’ when shown the toilets, but when his glib attitude annoyed Olu enough, he shoved him through a glass window at the factory. Nice. Perhaps someone will get Olu a few anger management classes or something, but with him gone and the remaining two lads unsurprisingly deemed unwelcome at the factory, they were sent off on a 24 hour fishing trip instead while the girls struggled to keep up on the production line.
And they proved to be pretty pants at the job really, with the exception of Stacey who just got her head down and got on with it. Lauren fainted while Jess – despite having protested “I worked my arse off for these f***ing fish” – was demoted to the gutting section when she just wasn’t fast or good enough on the main production line.
The lads on the boat meanwhile were whining about feeling seasick and not having enough room to sleep and generally feeling very sorry for themselves while all around them, the somewhat bemused fishermen got on with making a living.
Somewhat inevitably, as their week in Indonesia drew to a close, the remaining five were humbled by their experiences, and rightly so. Even the irritating Manos seemed suitably repentant for his previously unthinking food consumption…
At the beginning of the programme, he’d announced “I’m an anarchist! Abolish poverty!” which was something of a joke given that his following sentence put him firmly in the camp of your average capitalist; on the subject of the ethics of providing cheap food at the expense of workers rights, he said, “If that importer or exporter is exploiting another person so that my price is cheap, then so be it. It’s a dog eat dog world. It’s inevitable.” Perhaps the politics course he’s on is giving him mixed messages, or perhaps he’s just a pri*k. I’m going with the latter…
But to be fair, when reminded of his statements about not giving a stuff how his food gets to him cheaply, he was repentant and said, “It makes me look like an idiot saying things like that” and he apologised to the fishermen he’d spent the full day with, who again, weren’t overly bothered by Manos or his opinion and continued to get on with earning a living.
The teenagers gave their host families a ‘thank you’ by way of using their pitiful wage for the week to buy them treats like chocolate, although, whilst no doubt a well meant gesture, it would probably have been more useful to these impoverished folk to have given them the actual cash…
Overall, this show for me was more about the Indonesians than it was about the Brits sent over there to live their lives for a week, and I’ll never feel quite the same about opening a tin of tuna again. In fact, this show could easily have had the same – if not a bigger – impact by not having the Brits on it, but it did show them at least that their lives aren’t so bad after all…
Next week, the journey continues and the Brits get to live and work alongside workers in the prawn industry. I wonder how many of them are going to gag and faint then?? I’ll be watching to find out but only as an aside to making me personally more aware of the ethics of hunting for the cheapest food I can as opposed to buying that which is of the ‘fairtrade’ ilk.