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Behind the scenes of 'The Secrets of Your Food' with James Wong

Updated Thursday, 23rd February 2017

James talks to us about his experience working on the programme, extreme temperatures in Peru and why rice is so important in the Philippines.

How did you feel about working on this BBC/OU co-production?



How did you feel about working on this BBC/OU co-production?

Television is such an interesting industry to me because I think it's such a fundamental way of being able to tell stories well, to be able to communicate ideas. I'm a story teller. What I find fascinating is like digging through these tables of kind of dusty facts and figures.

Of what might not be exciting to people. I love, I love a good graph. And being able to take that and translate it into engaging stories that really make someone, maybe like a 13 year old who's sitting at home, that's never thoughts plants are interesting, and maybe thinks they're like the filler of a hanging basket. And then realises it's the miracle of life unfolding in front of you. I think no one does that better than BBC. And out of all of the factual stuff that BBC generates, the OU stuff has always, you know, since I was that 13 year old, been the stuff that I get most excited about.

I've wanted to work with them for like a decade, really, and this is my first opportunity. It's so exciting.

How important did you find rice is to people in the Philippines, when you filmed there?



How important did you find rice is to people in the Philippines, when you filmed there?

What I think, the thing that really stood out to me in the Philippines is, you know, I talk about how much they eat rice, but they really do. Three times a day. We had breakfast lunch and dinner, I was staying in Juliette's house, she made some amazing food. But you know 95% of your plate is probably rice. And the remaining proportion of that is a little bit, a nominal bit of vegetables. She makes fantastic roast pork, so I was asking her about it.

They killed a pig because we'd arrived, because we were sort of esteemed guests. And they are so hospitable that they did that for us. That's a very rare occurrence. So when we talk about going to a culture where, you know, rice is important, it's not just in how they harvest the rice or what they're chemically doing to it, rice is part of the DNA of what you do every day. It is so intimately part of these people's lives that they have rice gods. They have people's names have the word rice in it.

It shows you really do have to go to places like that to film the story of rice, to really make that come across on camera.

What was your most interesting experience while shooting this series?



What was your most interesting experience while shooting this series?

We were so lucky on this series to be able to travel all over the world to find the best locations to tell narratives about these different types of foods. But one of the things you may not appreciate as a viewer is, you know, things like temperature. In Peru, we were looking at potatoes. We were staying in tents. You might imagine we stayed in a hotel down the road, but there was… the location was so remote there wasn't one.

We were in tents in minus 10 degrees at night that would skyrocket to, you know, plus 20, maybe even 30 degrees in the day. We'd be standing out, and you could actually see the, the shadow of the mountain pass over the surface. And as the edge of that shadow hit you, you suddenly sort of thawed out in the middle of it. And what I found fascinating is, you know, we'd be putting on maybe five or six layers in between those two takes. But the people who live there every day, indigenous people, they wear the same clothes day in and day out, no matter what time it is.

They, the amount of thought and the amount of preparation that must go into like everything, you know, things that you wear every day, to how you live your life, they, they don't have electricity. They don't have uh internal heating. The ingenious ways they've managed to survive. Well, not only just survive but thrive in that environment is, it's just incredible. And a lot of that is down to simple things like the potato.

What does science education mean to you?



What does science education mean to you?

We live in a time where I believe that science education has never really been more important. We live in a time where mistruths and dogma can really be propagated in a way that's never happened before. So anyone with access to a smartphone or an internet connection can feel that they're educating themselves and learning about the world through a quick search on a search engine. But so much of what they find that can look really genuine and can look really legit, in many ways, is entire a fabrication.

And it's times like this where science broadcasting and science education is fundamental. Being able to give people the, the intellectual tools to be able to tell and sift the difference between fact and fiction. And I think in nutritional science and food science, if you look at the blogs out there, there are so many areas where people will be using, you know, terminology that might sound scientific to back up ideas that are entirely mysticism.

That are entirely kind of romantic fluffy ideas. That have very little basis in evidence. Um, and it's such a privilege to be able to be part of a movement that's really opening people's eyes to what is actually accurate.

And I think that when it comes to mistruths and how often you see this, this is nowhere more true than in the area of food science. You know, in other areas, if people are happy to read and believe things that are not supported by science, it's kind of inconsequential to their life. But food is the fuel that drives you. It's what your body is made out of. And understanding the difference between fact and fiction when it comes to something that's so essential to your health, is absolutely essential.

These interviews with James Wong relate to the OU/BBC co-production The Secrets of Your Food.



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