The River Cottage Treatment, Channel 4,

by | Nov 2, 2006 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

Of course. We never tire of the super-likeable Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. This series is about where food comes from, adding fascinating commentary on the food we buy as well as how to cook it.

What was good about it?

• The central idea this week was to take five town-dwellers obsessed by cheap chicken meals and convert them to organic or free range chickens in one week. This could have ended up feeling a little gimmicky, perilously close to a ‘reality’ show, but with the excellent, understated production values and Hugh’s earnest yet genial personality, it was a fascinating hour of ‘infotainment’, as Homer might say.

• There was no ducking of this emotive issue. Hugh threw his city people in at the deep end by forcing them to prepare a roast chicken from scratch, feather-plucking and all (although we suspect the five must’ve been given some guidance when it came to the gutting).

• Hugh’s little foibles are always enjoyable. This week, he nibbled on some of the chicken feed and musied over how nutritious maize is while his guests looked on in something approaching horror.

• Freda expressing her doubts as she thought about chickens being killed, “for the Food Factor.” What a shame the new series of Harry Hill’s TV Burp hasn’t started yet; if ever there was a line that begged for a an X-Factor parody involving singing chickens, that was it.

• Hugh asked his guests to buy their favourite ready-made meals at the supermarket, then they made the same meals from scratch. This was a good idea in two ways – it allowed them to see how fun cooking can be as well as showing how much tastier real home-cooked food is. It worked, too.

• The show did not shirk from the big issues surrounding chicken farming. The group were taken to a farm where chickens are intensely bred, which shocked many of the group, but even the free range farm did not look like the most comfortable of surroundings. Later they were shown a video of battery-farmed chickens that upset most of the group, and finally Hugh and the team did not shy away from showing the slaughter of one of his own chickens.

• Hugh was not too moralising and he acknowledged that the price of organic chickens does drive away many consumers. However, he then proceeded to show how real value could be taken from a more expensive bird by ensuring none of the meat is wasted.

• Hugh describing organic farmer Pam as ‘The Chicken Whisperer’.

• The excellent argument between Hugh and Lisa as Hugh was taking the chicken to be slaughtered. Hugh was riled because Lisa dared to ask him whether he was comfortable with killing the chicken, hinting that she was not. This was despite the fact that she regularly bought battery-farmed chickens, Indignant, Hugh reminded her that she was responsible for the lives of all of those chickens.

• The lovely animated titles.

What was bad about it?

• Lisa explaining how wonderful takeaway chicken and chips is, because “it’s so convenient” and “there’s no washing up”. Not a single mention about the damage it would be doing to her family – has she not watched Jamie’s School Dinners?

• Amazingly, even after seeing first hand chickens being intensively farmed, four out of five of the group were still happy to eat chickens that evening that had come from such a source.

• Fast food shop manager Tony showed embarrassing ignorance at times. After Hugh proved that buying organic chicken could be economical, Tony dismissed his chicken broth as ‘something people did in the stone age.’ Although by the end of the programme he had improved dramatically, at times he was worse than some of Jamie Oliver’s most stubborn kids in his series, refusing at one point to eat even a tiny sprig of parsley.

• The case of Lisa was most interesting. Throughout the show she was resolute that intensive farming did not bother her and that she had to think of the money she was spending. Finally, though, she admitted that her stubborness was down to a dislike of chickens themselves, and confided that her family often spent upwards of £15 on an organic duck, because she thought ducks were cute. Her whole attitude and argument crumbled in seconds, much to the shock of Hugh.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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