18th September 2021, Saturday Kitchen Live, BBC1.
An edited exchange:
SKL presenter Matt Tebbutt: “There’s a little bit of toast here … but Sharleen you avoid this, don’t you?“
SKL guest, musician Sharleen Spiteri: “Yeah … I love bread … I just can’t eat bread because it doesn’t like me, I’ve got coeliac disease“
MT: “Yeah well let’s not bring that on“
SS: “I won’t pass out or anything, so I have the odd time where I – “
MT: “So long as you’re fine till 11.30 [the end of the show] … then you’re back on Bryn’s watch [SS’s husband and a chef]”
SS: ” … Sometimes I go for it … “
MT later serves SS cheese on toast. She eats some; it’s not clear whether just the cheese (likely to be cross-contaminated) or both bread and cheese.
You can view the segment on iPlayer here (at 30 minutes, then 40 minutes).
This came a decade after a very similar debacle on Saturday Kitchen, involving then presenter James Martin and chef Antony Demetre.
It is not OK for a chef to serve a person with coeliac disease gluten-containing bread. Period. That should not have been broadcast, let alone been so lightly addressed and potential subsequent symptoms joked about. It undermines health messaging, undoes work by Coeliac UK, adds credence to the notion that ‘just a little bit won’t hurt’, that people on medically restrictive diets are fussy eaters, out for attention.
The BBC’s remit is to inform, educate and entertain. It failed on two. Surely it would put things right?
We complained, expecting as much. Over 200 of us, according to The Sun, and still counting if my Twitter feed is anything to go by. Coeliac UK submitted an open letter, asking for “an apology on the show itself, or direct from the BBC, to people with coeliac disease”.
2nd October 2021
The BBC response came in two weeks on, just after the second follow-up episode of SKL aired, which like the first on the 25th September, failed to acknowledge errors or apologise.
You can read mine (identical to other complainants’) on my Instagram page. Edited lowlights, followed by my comments:
We understand coeliac disease is a serious condition and would like to assure you that Saturday Kitchen Live guests are always briefed on the dishes in advance and then again when they arrive on the day. We are aware that aspects of this episode have been misrepresented online.
This misrepresentation, I assume, is MT being misquoted by some as saying “Yeah well let’s not bring that UP” — he clearly said ON, and besides it was he who prompted Spiteri to confirm her avoidance of bread.
Nonetheless, although the guest was sharing the dish with her husband who doesn’t have coeliac disease, we acknowledge that the bread shouldn’t have been served on the same plate once she stated she had coeliac live on air.
An acknowledgment, but not an apology, and no admission of responsibility to correct this or counteract the damage that will have been caused. There seems to be a suggestion here that Spiteri ‘surprised’ the producers with her announcement — but Tebbutt’s prompting and reaction suggested he knew already. Surely this would have been covered in rehearsals. It does not wash.
Some viewers also feel that this episode could have been used as an opportunity to discuss coeliac disease more broadly. Saturday Kitchen Live is primarily a food entertainment show, which combines cooking with a range of chefs and celebrity guests; it isn’t appropriate for the presenter to press the guests on private medical matters.
You don’t need to talk villous atrophy to discuss gluten free — nor, for that matter, do you need to discuss anaphylaxis to talk nut-free, nor alcoholism or religious sensibilities to discuss 0.0% drinks, and nor climate change to talk about vegan foods. They can be separated if you don’t want to touch delicate or fraught subjects on an ‘entertainment’ show.
We hope this goes some way in addressing your concerns.
It increases my concerns.
I find the response cowardly and dismissive. Using the excuse of ‘we don’t do medical matters’ to avoid a subject which impacts hundreds of thousands of people is a depressing and craven attitude. There are plenty of advocates, cooks and chefs who could be invited onto the show to talk about foods for special diets and to do so in an ‘entertaining’ way.
I don’t have much time for the views of those blaming Spiteri in all this, by the way. I don’t know her diagnosis story, and she may have been poorly advised. Her job is to sing and to manage her condition as she sees fit. It is chefs’ jobs to feed appropriate meals to diners and guests, and the BBC’s job to ‘educate’. They failed; they misled. Tebbutt’s responses on Instagram — where he has been rude and notably ignorant about coeliac disease, including bizarrely claiming that “undiagnosed coeliac disease is not a thing” — further the impression that those involved have an unclear idea of what they did wrong, and don’t care sufficiently either.
Awareness of restricted diets is no longer optional; inclusivity must be incorporated wherever there is food. Chefs should be better informed; food consultants behind the scenes, likewise. And if hundreds of people tell you that you are ill-informed, you should have the courage, integrity and self-awareness to own up and address it, and not assume, as I imagine is now happening, that it will all go away following a hollow round-robin letter of acknowledgment.
They are chickens.
A good response to the BBC’s pathetic reply to our complaints. One thing I believe should be added is the fact that it clearly highlights the complete lack of car and attention paid to guests dietary requirements. You’d think they would enquire, research and prepare for a guest including their allergies. Imagine if they had done this to someone with an anaphylactic allergy? They could have had a death on their hands! Even if they were taken by surprise by the guest bit declaring the condition the chef should have been adequately trained to know to prepare the dish differently off the cuff? Maybe prepare as planned for other guests and a small bowl of the non gluten part of the dish for the gluten free guest to try and then not to mix the two.
Thanks for comment, Jamie. Anyone severely allergic would surely make that clear so I can’t imagine such an awful scenario ever happening but as I said it was clear from the dialogue that the chef knew, if not that Spiteri had coeliac disease, at least that she avoided bread / was wheat or gluten intolerant in some shape or form, so shouldn’t have been preparing the dish anyway.
I agree treating an anaphylactic allergy like this would be unlikely but their treatment and response belies an underlying lack of seriousness in how they treat allergies in general – and done in the same week as Natasha’s Law came in as well!! I think the BBC and SKL can, should and must do better. Below is my response to their response:
“Your response to SKL Coeliac Complaint
Your response to my complaint regarding SKL’s lack of care for a guest requiring a gluten free diet was unsatisfactory. In your response you chose to focus on misrepresentation of the presenter’s comments on social media and the privacy of the guest. In doing so you failed to address the core parts of my complaint. The BBC charter is to inform, educate and entertain, in addition SKL has a duty of care to it’s guests to ensure dietary requirements are met. I believe you have both failed on these counts and should issue an apology and an admission of your responsibility to correct this for future showings. Whilst SKL is primarily an entertainment show it is dealing with food and has a duty of care to cater to allergies – if this incident had involved an anaphylactic allergy this could have been much more serious involving serious imminent harm to the guest (instead of long term damage to health). SKL should and must do better in the way their professionals deal with allergies especially under the remit of “inform and educate”. I get the impression the show had been surprised by the guests dietary requirements, which implies that the professionals supporting the show did not do sufficient preparation for the guest, or the guest did not feel safe or comfortable to share their dietary requirements. However, once aware of the allergy the presenter and other professionals on the show should have immediately made accommodation of the allergy by ensuring risk of cross contamination was minimized and the guest with the allergy was served the non-allergenic component in a separate dish. Unfortunately SKL’s approach simply reinforced a myth that a little bit of gluten won’t hurt – this is uninformed/unprofessional and is not the standard I would expect from a BBC production. With correct preparation SKL could have entertained and informed the audience of gluten free diets (without getting medical) and made this a positive instead they let us down in the way this was handled.”
In complete agreement that they must do much better – and well done for following up with a further response, which I didn’t do, thought might still. Some have followed up with Ofcom …