A YouTube star, famous for his reviews of chicken shops, has criticised the government’s decision to feature knife crime warnings on takeaway boxes.
Elijah Quashie – better known as the Chicken Connoisseur – told BBC’s Wake Up to Money that the approach was too simplistic to solve a complex problem.
“I can see the racist connotation. I’m not sure if I’d say racist, or stereotype but it’s in that bracket.”
The government said its chicken shop adverts were part of a wider campaign.
Earlier this month, the government said more than 321,000 takeway chicken boxes printed with anti-knife slogans would replace standard packaging as part of its #KnifeFree campaign.
It said it chose chicken shops because research by the agency that produced the campaign showed 70% of their customers were aged 16 to 24, an age group it wanted to target.
But Mr Quashie said the approach didn’t make sense: “There should be someone who has a deeper train of thought than: ‘Black people, they eat chicken we can intersect the black people who kill each other at a chicken shop, with the chicken boxes.”
“I don’t know what they think that’s really going to do.”
Mr Quashie rose to fame through his YouTube series the Pengest Munch, which has had 50 million views. Started in 2015, it features reviews of chicken shops in London assessing every detail from the seating, to the chips and how the burger is put together.
In each episode, he visits a different restaurant but always orders exactly the same thing: a chicken strip burger, wings and a portion of chips.
He now has more than half a million followers on YouTube and is the star of Channel 4’s new show Peng Life.
“There’s no particular diplomacy. If it’s good, it’s good if it’s not – I make sure people know,” the 26-year-old says.
‘Bossman doesn’t need to do anything’
He is just as direct in his assessment of the businesses behind the anti-knife crime campaign. Three of the UK’s biggest chicken chains are involved – Morleys, Dixy Chicken and Chicken Cottage.
“For a chicken shop to be recognised by a government body like the Home Office. They’re in the newspapers now. Maybe they weren’t before. The more marketing the merrier.”
“From their perspective it’s very easy. Just switch a box that’s it. Bossman doesn’t need to do anything different,” he said.
The agency behind the campaign, All City Media Solutions, said the chicken box campaign intended to resonate with “young people of all races and religions”.
“Making the presumption that any one strategy alone, however big or small can tackle an endemic problem such as knife crime is naive at best, and politicising an issue that’s ripping the heart out of this country is misplaced and counterproductive,” it said in a statement.
“If even one young vulnerable person is helped by this campaign, this would’ve all been worth it.”
‘It’s just a chicken box’
But Mr Quashie believes the government could do more.
“If something real happens, the chicken box unfortunately is not really going to weigh up.
“They would have at least thought maybe there’s a reason why people are doing it. Let’s look into the reason why.
“Or the circumstances people who commit knife crime are in and maybe we can do something to stop it at its infancy. It’s not really treating the symptoms either.
“It’s just a chicken box.”
Earlier this month, the government announced an extra 10,000 prison places would be created with stop-and-search powers expanded as well. It said the £2.5bn programme showed it was “serious about fighting crime”.
So where does the Chicken Connoisseur see #KnifeFree chicken boxes fitting in.
“If it was a PR stunt that would work because the conversation begins. Or the conversation gets louder,” he says. “That is working.”
“But the aim was not the conversation. It seems like the aim was for the chicken boxes to make a difference in the streets.”
He shakes his head and laughs at the thought of it.