Listen to an interview with Claire Hartten and Alex Laird on their project 'the Dirt Café' where sharing a meal is used to prompt discussion and debate about the connection of sustainability, regeneration, the soil and earth and alternative approaches to global issues.
Claire Hartten and Alex Laird interview:
Claire Hartten: The project, the Dirt Café, started last September, well the first round of it was five debates over the course of a week for, as part of a London Design Festival, and so this is the second manifestation of it at the invitation of the New Economics Foundation and Open University.
The Dirt Café took the idea of what is a debate, and a debate usually, in its most predictable form, has a group of people at a table with their glasses of water, their microphones, in front of a large, passive audience for most of the time, and we thought about what happens if we actually did something inspired in certain ways by the Slow Food movement, and a lot of us are involved with the Slow Food movement and Slow Food London in particular, and actually removed the audience and let what happens that’s magic and wonderful at the table, you know, around the table, wonderful food at the table and thematic in our case, and let people actually who have expertise and knowledge sort of connect to each other over the meal as a way to feed them, feed their minds, help them connect to each other and see what different alternative ways of thinking and doing things can be generated by the debate.
The Dirt Café first came from William Knight, who’s the Director of the London Design Festival, had asked me if I would do a further exploration of the relationship between food and design, as it related to sustainability, pleasure, all sorts of things, again relating to work I’ve done as a designer but work I do with slow food. And we were out for some drinks afterwards, after an event that I had helped organise for the Design Council, and kicked around some ideas and eventually thought well it needs to go not about predictable models but how do you kind of well get down and dirty on one level but also dirt just seemed like you need to re-find where things grow and then dirt being something that’s also kind of connected to grime and ideas like that, but where is that part of our lives, both good dirt, soil, earth, as well as the stuff that we’re avoiding and sanitising out of our lives.
Alex Laird: Food is a great unifier, and it loosens tongues, and so we had great conversation, lots of ideas on lots of levels were discussed, and people were excited. You know, the people that were debating were excited and thinking laterally, and not just laterally but above and below, and that’s the idea, that’s what the slow, more the slow approach of taking more care, I suppose, and using the senses. It’s stimulating the senses that will in turn also stimulate thinking.
Claire Hartten: When we kind of chatted with them at the end they were remarking on the fact that they were happily distracted a lot of times, and what was that about, and actually the debate could have gone on hours longer, which was also nice to hear. Again this is sort of a living laboratory project. We pull it together with various chefs, food producers, Patricia Michelson who owns and founded La Fromagerie is a key person in it, and we all pull together, and we put together this special menu, this special debate for these six guests that are chosen thematically; this time being on the regeneration debate, looking at the interconnections between sustainability, regeneration, generation of wealth and wellbeing. And one of the things that just is really obvious to the guests, as it was the first time we did it, is that you can’t just be rational about the subject, you have to also use both right and left sides of the brain because there’s food and all your senses are in activity too, and everything, all the tableware, everything was an act of aesthetic provocation on that level.
But it’s not a trick on them. We’re not tricking the guests. It’s actually to show them encouraging forms, again, alternative ways of thinking and doing things that maybe could stimulate new thinking and new doing. This project, as we evolve it step by step, is about an alternative way of generating knowledge and generating discussions, and enables us to see sustainability and issues like that that are very large and sort of cloudlike because they don’t have any firm edges, allow people to still with enthusiasm and hopefully pleasure engage with it. It seems like a lot of times it can be mired in a lot of depressing facts, which are there too, but if we can find a more pleasurable way to connect gatekeepers and people who really can make a difference in the decisions they make, policymakers, etc.
Dirt Café discussion:
This conversation was recorded around a dinner table, and inevitably there are times when there's background noise, people are talking over each other, leaving sentences unfinished, or not talking directly into a microphone. The unclear sections are marked ‘…’
Female host: Well it’s lovely to be here with you all and isn’t it fantastic, it’s great. It’s like a sea – hello.
Sarah Benton: Hi, I’m Sarah Benton and I’m the chef for today and .... We’d like you to take part in the meal, and you can pop a few in your mouth if want, they’re really lovely, but you’re going to see them a little bit later in a different form. So if you wouldn’t mind sort of breaking the ice so to speak and get to work as there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Female participant: Sarah, what are these bean-like objects?
Sarah Benton: Now Maria will have to tell you about those.
Female participant: Okay so later, do we get to know that later?
Sarah Benton: That’s all something you can take home.
Female participant: Okay.
Male participant: Oh right.
Female participant: Well bon appetit everybody.
Male participant: Caroline, what interests me about this actually is of course the history. Street food in the Middle Ages, they used to sell these hot, just briefly boiled, and you used to eat them by scooping the pea out, dragging it out.
Female participant: Are you going to give us a demonstration?
Male participant: Well you can’t do it when it’s raw so much I don’t think, but try. And there was, but - and that street food went on until the 19th Century. So very basic English food, it’s …
Female participant: Absolutely.
Male participant: It’s interesting because I was just reading about, something Peter Ackroyd wrote in his history of London saying that in the Middle Ages people used to get roasted larks and sort of eat them and then sort of discard them as they went along, and he was saying well this kind of shows that the history of fast food, eating on the run is kind of deeply entrenched in British culture.
Male participant: Oh yes, absolutely, in all cultures, street food.
Female participant: I mean in any city.
Female participant: Well it was oysters wasn’t it, that was the ultimate fast food, oysters and mead.
Male participant: Yes.
Male participant: Absolutely, and again that’s really interesting isn’t it because of the way that that sort of view of oysters has changed, because originally it was very much sort of working class, and now it’s so much associated with oysters and champagne, you know, it’s changed so much.
Male participant: The quality of the product as well.
Male participant: Yeah, although not everywhere, in France it was so much the same.
Male participant: Has anybody had oysters in steak and kidney pud, which is the old Victorian …
Female participant: Read about it.
Female participant: Is it good?
Male participant: Well I haven’t tried it but I think it would be amazing.
Male participant: It would be.
Female participant: I've had sort of oyster stew in Canada actually, which was amazing. And the funny thing as well about oysters I guess is that they created this huge waste problem that I suppose is the equivalent of McDonald’s waste now, you know, it was piled oyster shells then which …
Male participant: Rather more aesthetic.
Female participant: Yes, didn’t have quite the same implications.
Female participant: But I mean Monte Testino in Rome is basically a rubbish tip isn’t it? I mean it’s a mountain made of the rubbish from all the food they eat and discarded. And all the amphori that used to bring all the oil and wine into the city so you know, Rome remade seems to be going for a long time.
Male participant: That’s interesting too isn’t it because that’s kind of like, well it’s sustainable isn’t it. I mean there you’ve got your, you can’t quite imagine that with sort of cardboard boxes from McDonalds or something.
Female participant: No, no, exactly.
Female participant: Yeah.
Female participant: But should we just, do you think we should just all talk about who we are?
Male participant: Why not.
Female participant: As a way of introducing ourselves.
Female participant: Marianne, would you like to kick off?
Marianne: Shall I go first? Yeah, sure. My background is in health, I’m going to carry on doing my peas, just because I’ll fall behind. And I spent the majority of my career in medicine and working in international reflective health and population. And that was really a way of merging my training in health with my interest in environmental issues. And whilst I was doing that I also became very interested in positive ways of influencing behaviour change, and that was specifically through HIV AIDS issues obviously that I was dealing with a lot then. So I co-founded an organisation called the Pleasure Project which was to try and get people to adopt, take a sex behaviour from positive messaging rather than doom and gloom. So what I’m focusing on now is applying that sort of approach to environmental messaging and trying to get people to adopt more of a reuse behaviour as an antidote to a disposable behaviour through the creation of gorgeous desirable must have reusable items that entrain a sort of must do behaviour, you know. So that’s what I’m doing currently as well as a business called Conscious Lifestyle Consulting, which is doing lifestyle audits for people and to try and identify ways that they can adapt their behaviours to more healthy patterns for them, but also more healthy patterns for the planet. So that’s me.
Female participant: So is that things like sort of fit a rainwater adapter to your roof plus go for a jog every morning?
Marianne: Yeah. Well it’s primarily, because people are much more motivated by the personal, you know, what’s their, what the benefits are to them personally. I focus initially on things like toxicity exposures within the home. So for example looking at their cosmetics or their bathroom products or the stuff they use in the kitchen like cling film or non stick Teflon, and the health implications of that. And then suggest adaptations that are much more healthy and also bring with them an environmental benefit. So for example detergents, if you use an environmental detergent it’s much more healthy for you as well as being more environmentally friendly.
Female participant: And that’s great because that brings in the issue of wellbeing, which I think is one of the themes that we’re going to sort of keep coming back on today. I mean at some point I’d love to ask everybody what they think will be it, but I’m not going to hit you with that quite yet. That’s great, thank you for that, and Marcus?
Marcus: Well my background, my professional background is a chef. I've been working as a chef for 13 years. I've enjoyed some classical training in Germany before going on abroad and I had a brief stint in the Bahamas, which was a very interesting experience on a number of levels including actually working with food being flown in from Mexico instead of fresh food that was actually sourced on the island. So that was a bit of an eye opener there really, there’s a sort of disconnect with people given the opportunities in what’s happening on the ground. I then came to London and carried on working as a chef, really enjoyed the multicultural opportunities that London really provides. And one of my next key moments really was when I actually worked for an outside catering company and we had an event in Central London for 300 people, and we prepared this wonderful food, quails and buffalo mozzarella on huge platters and put that out. And the original plan for the event was for the delegates to come out and basically have lunch for an hour or so and then go back to their meetings. And in fact there was a misunderstanding between the organisers and the catering company, and in fact the 300 people only had 10 minutes to eat. And so literally people came, picked up a little bit and left, and all that food essentially was - well it was sent to landfill. So I was sitting, I found myself sitting next to a vat of freshly prepared buffalo mozzarella, avocado, tricolore, you name it, it was there. And that was quite a shocking experience. I think sort of combined with my continuous interest in environmental issues per se, I then decided to do something about it. And I started to, because I was also interested in crafts and so I set up a small project called Urban Driftwood which was based on the idea of actually using what’s around me - and London clearly is a huge and fantastic hunting ground for all kinds of materials - and turn them into something useable. So basically we’d present materials that were discarded somewhere by society, and so we’d present them and say look actually this is not waste, this is just the wrong material in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can do something with it. And then I decided to sort of get a bit more of a grounding in my knowledge around environmental issues, and studied environmental management.
Female participant: I think we might have to interrupt you, and actually start eating something.
Marcus: Quite a nice reason for an interruption.
Female participant: I just think we should, we’ve just got given these amazing looking glasses of something. I wonder if we should just - which looks like it’s got dill in it or something, I don’t know.
Female participant: … a toast to ...
Female participant: A toast absolutely. Dirt Café.
Female participant: For the project, indeed.
Male participant: That’s quite nice.
Male participant: Very nice.
Sarah Benton: Now we have a selection of English sushi. We were trying to bring sort of two paradigms together really. We wanted to bring in what’s sort of commonly known as a fast food, but it’s fast food and it’s healthy food. But we kind of wanted to do it in our own way, and so we’ve used only the ingredients and … line caught mackerel that’s been sort of pickled in vinegar with a little white wine, and we’ve got ... on top, and there’s chillies, a little hot, not too hot, so if anyone wants to be brave and try those that’s …
Female participant: English chillies?
Sarah Benton: … sort of holding on there, and then you have actually an Italian rice that we’ve sort of done in the traditional sushi style.
Female participant: Fantastic.
Sarah Benton: … sticky, and then we’ve also used Dijon mustard instead of Wasabi with a red wine and port reduction.
Female participant: How wonderful.
Female participant: And then you have a lovely blue cheese from La Fromagerie and I will let Patricia describe that one.
Female participant: Lovely, thank you.
Patricia Michelson: It’s from Totnes in Devon, it’s a Harborne Blue, which is a goat’s milk from ....
Female participant: Lovely, thank you.
Female participant: And then this fruit is from Alex next door …
Male participant: This is wonderful.
Female participant: And it’s really lovely.
Male participant: It’s very aromatic.
Female participant: … and then she was going to put in some dill and I don’t know if they had …
Male participant: Fennel I think.
Female participant: But it could be fennel leaves actually because …
Male participant: Yes, yes, I think it’s fennel.
Female participant: … they look and taste a bit like …
Female participant: Fabulous.
Female participant: But enjoy.
Female participant: Thank you very much.
Female participant: And in a recycled bowl …
Female participant: And I've got a yin and yang sign as a result of the bottom of the glass on the tablecloth which is rather good.
Female participant: It should by rights have been a recycled sign, make it real.
Female participant: Fantastic.
Male participant: Smells beautiful.
Female participant: So Marcus, I’m sorry, and now you’ve got to talk and eat at the same time, so I mean yours is the challenge.
Marcus: Well I've actually come to the end of my introduction so I might just wait ....
Female participant: Okay fair enough, well maybe we should just all sample.
Male participant: With a very provocative plastic …
Female participant: Do we need the provocative plastic? Are they provocative plastic or are they the kind of plastic that dissolves in soup?
Male participant: I’m afraid I think they’re all provocative actually.
Female participant: The fork looks different than the knife does it?
Male participant: It is, and the sauce is very good.
Female participant: And it’s good for you. Mackerel is actually healthy and delicious so there must be something wrong.
Male participant: Or they’re .... [Laughter] But it’s actually very, very …
Female participant: Hmm. This tastes fantastically fresh, where’s Sarah? The mackerel is absolutely fantastic, when did it stop swimming?
Sarah Benton: Oh well apparently it was Thursday, so I went by Friday morning to my fishmonger and bought it. And they’re quite good, they only … fish.
Female participant: Hmm, beautiful.
Sarah Benton: And you can definitely tell because when you sort of, you sell something … cook it in that little bit of vinegar and wine, you can definitely tell how fresh a fish is in terms of how it holds together once it’s been cooked.
Male participant: Yes.
Female participant: Hmm.
Sarah Benton: And some of them are, you know, quite firm, and I actually took them back yesterday afternoon and I said you can have this …
Male participant: The explanation was really interesting too that Sarah gave about the food, because it was such a mixture of like mixing kind of traditional purchase but also incredibly innovative and creative, and bringing in all sorts of different ideas and then sort of changing it round.
Female participant: so London is the place for new fusion food isn’t it. I mean it’s been going on for a while.
Male participant: That’s right, but it’s so totally different than the way that you often experience even reading about food, which is somehow a recipe in itself. I've got this recipe ... to follow it, but this is actually more creative.
Female participant: Yeah.
Marcus: Well this is a slightly European answer to Japanese sushi isn’t it, because we use rice. I think the sushi rice and we use mustard, not Wasabi, mustard ....
Female participant: I’m enjoying it.
Marcus: Even your plate.
Female participant: Yeah, absolutely.
Female participant: It is interesting that whole thing about fish though and how much many more people are starting to eat the oily fish because they’re either wanting to eat more Omega 3 or .... And I was reading something recently about it how if everybody starting doing this that there’s only about 10 years of fish stock left until it was completely depleted, even the relatively abundant stocks of mackerel and … that we have now.
Female participant: And the irony is actually a lot of fish that you eat hasn’t got any Omega 3 in it. The fish have been eating cornmeal so actually you’re eating ...
Female participant: Yeah, I mean a piece of salmon is not a piece of salmon these days. Which brings me onto something else I’d like to talk about later which is the invisibility of the problems that we’re facing. And I know, I mean I trust everything you eat today to be absolutely beautifully sourced and beautifully produced, but very often now you see a piece of food and you just don’t know what it is. You don’t actually, you can’t tell because what’s gone into making it has changed it fundamentally in a way that you don’t understand. So I think that’s a ...
Male participant: You can generally taste immediately that something is wrong with it.
Female participant: Well you can if you know what it ought to taste like.
Male participant: Yes.
Female participant: But that’s the problem.
Male participant: It relates to kind of trust issues doesn’t it?
Female participant: Yeah, it does.
Male participant: Because there are some relationships to food.
Female participant: Just to interject slightly, yes, you can trust everything you eat today but even when you go shopping and buy organics they can react in a plastic container and it’s not. And it’s the tainting of the food touching plastic, and then being gassed. If it’s a vacuum packed it can alter it completely. So what you’re eating on today as well are all bio-plastics, though you have a potato container.
Female participant: Oh this is made of potato is it?
Female participant: Yes, and the cutlery is also bio plastics as well.
Male participant: So Caroline can fry her container afterwards.
Female participant: She’ll be able to put a baked potato in it. I did it once and it fell to pieces, but at least you know it’s not going to get ...
Female participant: Fantastic.
Female participant: But there are issues, very serious issues about packaging as well, which you will bring up I’m sure.
Female participant: And how much do these cost relative to the sort of expanded polystyrene, usual ...
Female participant: They’re getting cheaper and cheaper, but the whole point is to get people more aware of them so that they can actually access them. And that’s the whole point.
Sarah Benton: These actually, the ones you have today aren’t from Potato Pack or ... potato. These ones are from Green Pack that’s an exploratory … that is developing, these are all things coming out of research and development laboratories that actually aren’t on the market yet. So we wanted to pull things that potentially could be used on the marketplace but aren’t there yet, and so we just took a few examples that are - the box I think you have Caroline was made from 100% certified palm oil waste fibre.
Female participant: Right, because palm oil in itself is problematic so it’s …
Male participant: Well exactly.
Sarah Benton: And Sonya, yours is made out of the bark from a soya bean plant.
Female participant: But soya in itself is problematic, so. [Laughter]
Sarah Benton: I mean all of these …[Talking together]. All of these have huge complexities to them, not least what Marianne has explained. Yours is made out of polylactic acid, a vegetable starch based plastic, bio plastic, and yours is the foamed version of the same. Yours is baked starch ...
Male participant: And mine?
Sarah Benton: And yours is also baked starch. And so they’re all forms that they’re trying to find, the most problematic part of it is that from my point of view as the designer is that we’re really just replacing take away society and throwaways with more throwaways. But in an incremental view of improvements it’s a huge leap to replace something that, there’s another way of going about this which is more about Michael Brownguard, who’s an eco-scientist. His approach would be to turn these into technical nutrients so that actually they would have something to add back to soil because of what would be built in them.
Male participant: Right. Yes.
Sarah Benton: But as Marianne can explain, the biggest problem is that once they go into the current waste system there’s no aerating composting so these things actually right now wouldn’t break down very easily.
Female participant: None of them would. So I mean this is the trouble isn’t it because we want packaging to - it’s almost like you want one of those mission impossible self destructing tapes that sort of works for one, just goes psssht. I mean that technological edge of something, because I mean if you have food in food, which effectively is what this packaging is, then at what point does, you know, where’s the barrier, and is it a time barrier and can we design a time barrier? But I mean I do think it’s interesting isn’t it because I think we all more or less just focused in on the food and kind of accepted what the thing came in, and that does look like a sort of quite familiar packaging box. So it’s interesting that actually this is cutting edge technology we’re eating out of.
Male participant: It’s showing the difference as well. I know it’s something I noticed was that we all got different, there is an extent to which that influences your eating experience is what you eat out of.
Female participant: I’m quite liking this by the way. I mean if they need feedback on the experiential side of it, it’s good.
Sarah Benton: The cutlery is made out of corn based bioplastics coming from Mexico, and again a problematic situation there is that genetically modified corn will start to become major agriculture monolithic practice and it’s just, all these things set up their own problems and their own solutions simultaneously. The shells you’re having are sourced out of, actually are from Shellseekers at Borough Market. They dive on a Jurassic reef off the coast of Devon, and the pictures of how they maintain sustainable divers and so that actually the wildlife that grows there is incredible, and now trawlers are coming through and he has pictures of that, and they just come through and they rip the whole thing out. And he’s having a whole war with the trawlers down there being let loose. So he cleans these shells and uses them also to sell the food at Borough Market when he grills scallops there sometimes. The trawlers have a much bigger legal practice behind them, and they’re actually trying to take him to court and from what I understand take other divers to court, to not allow them to have the licenses to dive, to get them out of the way. It’s kind of like getting a squatter out of the way if someone want to actually bulldoze or something. So anyway.
Female participant: But I mean that is the classic problem isn’t it, the scale at which we produce things. I know this has been going on as well for thousands of years, and the drive to monoculturalism because basically you have economies of scale. I feel that you ought to be sitting and talking to us. But I mean that’s interesting as well Sonya isn’t it?
Female participant: The packing, … packing is something that really annoys me in the daily life, because I come from a country where packing is only when it’s really necessary. You go to an open market and you buy bunches of things and for example vegetables, there’s no need to have them packaged.
Female participant: No.
Female participant: There is a lot of cultural thing as well. Nowadays in the offices for example, you have this policy which is quite working, you have your knife and you use it for your tea and for your water. Why you don’t do the same with food? You have your Tupperware and you go to the shop because also we have this buy by kilo for restaurant, you go there and you choose on the counter that is there, whatever you want, you weigh it and you pay and you take it away. You can have your … it’s a cultural thing I think, it’s cultural, you have to have things in packets.
Female participant: Packets, yeah.
Female participant: But then that brings up this other issue that we were talking about earlier around, you know, it kind of lulls us into a false sense of security that if we’ve got something that we can recycle, biodegrade, that we can still exist in this kind of disposable, almost disposable mentality in itself, how it cleanses us of any responsibility not to use those sorts of things. And as much as these are really important in the transition phase I still think it’s, we mustn’t let that obscure the fact that ideally, as you say, we should simply be moving away from all this disposability as an essential part of our culture.
Male participant: I think the interesting thing around this for me is that that represents cutting edge, and actually this is the way technology is going and where it’s kind of taking us if we want it or not. [Recording paused]
Female participant: I am … and my background is journalist and public relations back there. I worked a lot in the beginning with rock and pop for training the 80s movement, but had a lot of influence from England. But I think while doing that I always had this ideology try to make a better world. And then by working with rock and pop I tried to portray the emerging bands, the ones that were starting rather than intervening the pop stars. I was always interested in the underdogs or in the underground bit of society and trying to bring these things up. Came to London 1999 …, and I started this project ... craft and art from communities and artists from around the world. But my main interest I’m bringing is to discuss a bit this concept, this fair trade part of the thing, and also the patronising way of sometimes people behave how its community is or poor countries say oh let’s, the help side, you know, let’s help, which I know they don’t need help, they are quite capable to sort themselves out. It’s basically what ..., and fair trade for example … food is why you say fair trade, this should be the normal way of trading. We shouldn’t have to highlight fair trade, so all the other bits are not fairly traded? So yeah, that’s what I’m bringing to the …
Female participant: Fantastic, well I think it’s great that somebody’s round the table who’s actually producing stuff because a lot of us sort of talk about what people should do and it’s all slightly theoretical. I mean you’re actually working with people who are making things, and I know that the necklace you’ve got on is part of the ...
Female participant: Yes, it’s one by prisoners. The designer goes every day to the prison, spends a whole day there, doing that with the women in prison in the capital of Brazil, Brasilia. And all the things I do has kind of history behind, and it’s not mass produced. And I want to keep it small, I want to carry on with small.
Female participant: And I think that’s another issue that I hope we’re going to have time to come back to, but the issue of scale. And we were talking about it earlier on with monolithic sort of agricultural production, but I think it comes into a you know, even the way we think now, there’s a sort of, well I think Schumacher called it the sort of obsession with almost sort of worshipping giganticism, and bigness is good in Western culture very often, and I think that was a sort of, you know, small and big and, you know, what an appropriate size for lots of things are is great. So I hope we get a chance to come back to that when we’ve been round the table a bit more.
Male participant: Hmm. Yes, well I’m a writer and I started off as a novelist and then became a playwright, and then I became a journalist on The Guardian writing on food issues and now I’m thought of as a food historian, and the last book was a history of good food, which was the last thousand years. And now I’m working on another book which is really the last ten thousand years, because our pre-history fascinates me because this was a time when we became an island, it was a time of rapid climatic change. The sea rose 30 metres in something like 200 years. There was a very, very small population. There was an incredibly rich range of food in the forests, and much of which we’ve now sadly tragically lost. And I want this book to then end with a really very analytic scrutiny into the future of the next 50 years. And so our concerns of sustainability is very much what I am now presently obsessed with. And whether we can, we know that once the oil comes to a stop that the food supply and our food is going to radically change. And I mean there are some experts who believe we will be back in the stone age where my book begins, but there are others who disagree. But there is something that I think, that I hope we will discuss, which is that I feel that Government should be starting to organise think tanks along these lines with various schemes that can be put into action now. So that’s where I’m coming from.
Female participant: Well I think that sounds really pertinent to everything I think we’re sort of talking about today, and that’s why we have somebody from a thinktank right next to me, so it will be very interesting to sort of almost get your response to that Guy.
Guy Rubin: Yeah, I mean I think you’re right that we’re in a very transitional stage in those sort of things, and whether it’s Government or whether it needs to be kind of whole society approach, I’m slightly sceptical about whether in a way we should sort of just say well Government you’ve got to do that. I think kind of almost the first stage is we’ve got to kind of embrace the need to do it and start public discussion and debate and then let’s get Government to kind of work out what their role is. But you’re absolutely right that we need to start focusing on it.
Male participant: There’s one good example though which is before the Second World War, Government did prepare detailed plans of rationing which were put into effect at once. And we would be getting back to rationing of food … And that worked and everybody now agrees it was the best diet we’ve ever had.
Guy: Yes, that’s right.
Male participant: So I agree it would be perfect if there was organisation from society itself, but I think it also needs to come from the top.
Female participant: I’m very interested in this business of, you know, to what extent Government can intervene and should intervene. I think one of the things as well I’d be very keen to talk about is the way food supply particularly has been taken over by corporate interests basically.
Male participant: Yes.
Female participant: And I think the history, if you look at the history of the way Britain has been fed, it’s always been very open to, as it were, relinquishing control and importing food when it had to. And then of course there’s the interesting hiccup of the Second World War and suddenly you couldn’t do that any more. And that’s 50 years ago, and in 50 years we’ve basically forgotten all the lessons we supposedly learned then, declarations that we will never be non-sufficient in food again completely out the window.
Guy: I agree with all that. I just think that that was 50 years ago and unfortunately I think the role of Government has changed so radically. And I’m not necessarily saying this is a good thing but I think the whole sort of paradigm about the role of Government and our trust in Government, I mean look at the extent to which people are completely cynical. If the Government was to say you should do that, I mean a lot of people’s reaction would be to do the opposite or to ignore it. I’m not even sure whether we’ve got in Government the kind of role models who would enable people to do it, and it’s kind of interesting … Jamie Oliver was able to do much more in terms of smashing a whole approach, and a very corporate approach back to food.
Male participant: Plus schools.
Male participant: Television …
Male participant: Exactly.
Female participant: Absolutely.
Male participant: Jamie Oliver without television would be nothing.
Guy: But it wasn’t Government, I think there are different forces and maybe we need a different approach 50 years later.
Female participant: Can I just ask you to say who you are so that it’ll be a complete sample, and then I’ll tell you briefly who I am.
Guy: Sure, my name’s Guy Rubin and I work at the New Economics Foundation which is a thinktank which aims to try to engage with some of these issues, and particularly to look at how we can integrate issues of sustainability and social justice. And also how wealth creation can actually benefit local people, ordinary people, how we can move away from this idea that growth in itself is an end, and how we can kind of look at issues about how we move to a society where wellbeing we were talking about earlier is actually more central to what we’re about. And just a bit of background in terms of discussion about food. I was born in South Africa, and I've lived for some time in France, and I suppose that’s given me a very sort of practical opportunity to kind of look at different cultures of food. And I think I’m extremely conscious of the different culture of food in this country and in other countries, and how that then plays into all these issues about how society looks at food. And also I think it’s made me quite attuned to some of the very real class issues around food, and I’m kind of conscious here that a lot of the time we’re talking in quite a rarified way about food, and to what extent does this actually relate to the experience of people who do shop in supermarkets, who don’t have very much money to do it, who don’t know very much about food, and all those sort of issues are also quite important to me. And just to finish off, one of the projects I've been involved in most recently was looking at a street market in East London which is under threat of being replaced with a big shopping mall, and looking at just what social and economic and environmental impacts that market has, and it’s tremendously valuable.
Male participant: Definitely.
Guy: And shouldn’t we really be looking at sustaining that market rather than replacing it with just another shopping mall?
Female participant: Yeah, no, I absolutely agree. I mean briefly I’m conscious that I've got a great sort of ugly pile of notes on the table with all this beautiful food around. I’m an architect and I taught urban design for many years, and I became very suspicious, shall we say, of a sort of discourse about urban design that tends to take place in architecture schools. Because it was very focused on the physical buildings and the fabric, and I kept thinking yeah but, you know, where do people kind of have breakfast and how does this sort of perfect edifice get lived in, and where’s the mess, where’s the sort of backside of all of this? Architects tend to think very much in terms of what’s going to look good in a magazine photograph but where’s the rubbish going? And food really has been a way for me to sort of try and address how we live and what a city is in a way that brings all the mess if you like, what I call necessary chaos of human life, into the discussion. So I've really come to food from that point of view. But I've arrived at a very similar point to you and Colin as well, in fact I think everybody round this table is basically, yes it’s not going to be a very controversial afternoon is it, unless somebody starts chucking in bombs.
Female participant: One of the things that I really … what you just said Guy was this issue of the inequity that exists between the people who can go and buy wonderful stuff at relatively expensive specialist stores or at fancy food markets and what have you. And I was listening to a woman in the States who came from a very poor part of Chicago, and her son basically developed multiple allergy disorder to the point where pretty much any food he ate he would go into anaphylactic shock and have to be hospitalised. So she had to find a form of food that would be safe for her young child to eat, and this got her interested in organic food and in sustainable agriculture and so forth. But she came from a very poor neighbourhood, and so when she would go to sustainable agriculture meetings and she describes this thing of how people would look at her and suggest she addressed her problem by getting food stamps or this kind of thing, that there very much this them and us. And she talked about how in her neighbourhood she could get any kind of liquor she wanted, she could get designer jeans, she could get the latest kind of TV, she could get even an AK47 if she really wanted, but she could not get an organic tomato, and this was a really prominent problem for her own neighbourhood. So within her community they got together and decided that that was going to change and developed community projects around urban agriculture, and creating stores that would supply affordable organic produce. So I think it can, it’s not forcibly only an issue for the wealthy, it’s just.
Male participant: Absolutely not no, I agree, and I think that’s interesting in terms of what you were saying about how it’s got to be about communities’ self help and empowerment, and also challenging some of these ideas that it just has to be that way. Because I mean this market in East London is fantastic because the food there is really affordable, we found it was half the price of supermarkets.
Male participant: Which bit of East London?
Male participant: It’s Queen’s Market in Newham, and we found that a) the food was half the price of supermarket food, and better in terms of quality. But also in terms of range, organic and otherwise, there were all sorts of things that no supermarket would ever have.
Female participant: But again it’s to do with scale, and I really think scale is a key issue in so many things we’re talking about. I mean what’s happened with supermarket delivery of food is that it’s swamped 80% of grocery delivery in Britain, and the result is that only certain kinds of foods can actually figure on that map. And I went to Brogdale recently, the National Food Collections and there are 5,000 kinds of indigenous apple variety in this country, well actually there are 2,500 but they have 5,000 apple trees because they have two of every kind of apple. I just thought it’s just so bizarre, why is it that you go to every supermarket and all you get offered is Golden Delicious or Granny Smiths or something from South Africa. And of course the answer is that they’re gassed and they have to crop predictably and they have to be shipped in huge quantities and blah, blah. And indigenous food or local food just is completely below that radar, it never even manifests itself at all. And once they’ve got monopoly of food supply, then I mean yes, basically we’re victims if you like of a food supply that we have no control over.
Male participant: That’s right.
Male participant: But do we? Do we not have some control in the sense that it’s still a market run and the customer calls the tune. If you can mobilise the customer you’re beginning to get control.
Male participant: You can, I agree, I don’t think we have to be so pessimistic because I think - and what’s fantastic about markets … is that you have that relationship with the customer that actually enables you to change that. So I went down to the market and essentially what’s great about markets, and the first thing this guy said to me is well if I go to the market and they don’t have a particular type of fish or a particular type of fruit, if I tell the guy at the stallholder he’ll get it to me the next day because he wants my custom.
Female participant: Yeah.
Male participant: Now imagine the same experience, you go into Asda and you try and find something, first of all you wouldn’t find something, and you’d say oh well I’d like this particular kind of thing, and he’ll say well you know send an email to our headquarters and maybe in six months you wouldn’t get a reply. But I think there are ways that you can intervene, and some of the places where you …
Female participant: No I should say I do agree, I mean I obviously wouldn’t be sitting here if I thought oh well, that’s it, it’s all over, finished. But I do think we’ve come to a really quite extreme point, and I thought what you said earlier on about we’ve got to start acting now and not just talk about it for another 20 years is absolutely right.
Male participant: You see I think the missing link there actually is skill and knowledge.
Female participant: Yeah.
Marcus: Because you have to, as a consumer or as a citizen you need to be able to actually go into one of these markets and say yes, this is a potato, this is a tomato or whatever, and this is a herb. And all this together I can turn into something really delicious, and I can use the same ingredients actually five days in a row and I will make something completely different.
Male participant: Absolutely.
Marcus: Whereas supermarket is just basically clearly in the business of selling, and that’s why they’re actually selling more and more things that are already prepared.
Female participant: They’re infantalising aren’t they?
Male participant: Yes, that’s right, they’re not interested in educating people and getting them to use those things that they sell in an imaginative way, they want to do the work for you because it’s value added.
Female participant: Absolutely, and there’s no money in food any more, there’s absolutely no money in producing food, there’s only money in fiddling with it and sort of putting it in a package called cook and sort of presenting it as if it saves you time and thought, which is just bonkers.
Male participant: But again I think it’s interesting that that food education role can be played in your small grocery stores and at the markets so much better. I mean people go in and they don’t necessarily know. I saw people pointing at various vegetables saying well what’s that and what do I do with that? And then the stallholders would go you do this and you do that. And there’s that kind of interaction, there’s that kind of human social glue that I think, and it’s important in this context I think also to think about the role that food plays in society and the way that it links to some issues of wellbeing and so on. Because I think that kind interaction between say a stallholder and a customer actually gives tremendous value to both sides and you just don’t have that in a kind of alienated culture of a supermarket.
Female participant: I mean talking about food and society, we actually have some in front of us that we’ve been ignoring for about 20 minutes. I think we should just have a pause and contemplate what we’ve just been given.
Male participant: Can I also ask …
Female participant: ….
Male participant: Ah, good.
Female participant: Sorry, that could be another hour and a half. Well, right at the beginning you know you’ve been drinking Melissa tea or lemon balm tea with ginger, this actually came out of the Fulham garden this morning, slightly at the end of its life because it’s the end of the summer … But very stimulate, very sort of relaxing kind of quite freeing sort of because of all those volatile elements in it, and the ginger at the same time very stimulating. Then we brought along with the delicious fish which Sarah will talk about, pressed fennel, fresh fennel juice.
Male participant: Delicious.
Female participant: Just wonderful.
Female participant: And quite warm and it was just pressed, and it wasn’t long before.
Male participant: Did that have any of the herb fennel in it at all?
Female participant: It had some of the top on it, and it also had a dash of lime juice, fresh lime juice.
Female participant: Delicious.
Female participant: Just to give it a bit of a nudge, and that went with the fish, so.
Female participant: And now we’re drinking something else.
Male participant: No, this is apple isn’t it?
Female participant: Now you’re drinking apple juice, which is from Castle Farm in Sevenoaks, and it’s pressed, what are they called, we had the bottle there, Royal Oak I think it is.
Female participant: Royal Norfolk?
Female participant: Norfolk, Royal Norfolk.
Male participant: It’s beautiful.
Female participant: Yes, because it’s slightly sweet …
Male participant: I don’t know why I drink alcohol when …[Talking together].
Female participant: I can’t possibly think, you and 95% of the rest of the population.
Male participant: So hopefully that’s one of your apple varieties there.
Female participant: Hopefully so, absolutely.
Female participant: It’s a hop farm in fact but also has apples.
Male participant: Right.
Female participant: It’s ... Lavender Farm, and last week we were down there.
Male participant: Near Sevenoaks.
Female participant: Watching them pick the lavender and it was an Indian family wearing their saris picking the lavender in Kent.
Male participant: Right, lovely yes.
Female participant: So it’s somewhere that people don’t even know exists.
Female participant: No, I mean if you think lavender, you think Provence, well I do.
Male participant: Actually the railway line I take goes through some lavender fields so it could be that one.
Female participant: This is what we’ve got to get people to realise, that our regions do have these identities that are very specific.
Female participant: Yeah. So there’s lavender been grown there for centuries.
Female participant: Yes.
Female participant: Yeah.
Female participant: And it’s this time of year when it looks its most beautiful, the farm’s also, they grow hops, hop vines, and also the apples, and the orchards have the apple trees that are very low so you can go and picnic in the orchards and literally turn up and take your apples. It’s a lovely working family farm but it’s beautiful, and it’s open to the public and it should be celebrated. And there’s lots like it that are slowly coming back to life again.
Female participant: The Norfolk apple is quite special, and it’s not particularly cost effective to grow but it is a very sort of traditional.
Female participant: It’s traditional but it’s sturdy, and this is the one that is more disease free.
Female participant: It only keeps for a couple of days or something so these men started bottling it and selling it just in any way, just to keep this variety …
Female participant: They do use a particular variety and it’s so English in the way it looks as well.
Female participant: Hmm. And tastes.
Female participant: Yes, it has that rosy look. But we want you to eat.
Female participant: Thank you.
Female participant: Please do. And this is, just quickly it’s a little bit of melon done in a very medieval way with sort of honey and lavender from the farm in Kent. And then you have a little bit of salsify and lentils. Because … were talking, and the principle behind the food was sort of super foods and nutraceuticals and food that gives you benefits beyond the basic nutrients that it’s composed of. And we found everything that we were incorporating into this meal had wonderful benefits to the human body apart from obviously just eating lots of vegetables and lots of beans.
Female participant: So for example with fennel, the ginger is an antispasmodic and it helps to get things moving, you know, get people going in the absence of caffeine. Whereas the fennel, the fennel is another antispasmodic, it helps with digestion and if you’re having something that’s slightly rich like the fattiness of the fish, that will help to cut it along with the lime which is bit of a stimulant to the liver. So it’s all digestive stimulants, digestive relaxants.
Female participant: It’s working. [Laughter]
Female participant: And you can press your own apples and you can make your own medicine if you grow it.
Female participant: Great, thank you.
Female participant: Fantastic, thank you very much.
Male participant: Very pretty, yes, hand carved.
Male participant: I have to say they are much nicer …
Female participant: They are aren’t they?
Female participant: And they feel a lot sturdier don’t they?
Female participant: Sustainable forestry, I mean Fresh and Wild is, it’s under their label, it does come from sustainable forestry....
Male participant: Okay, thank you.
Female participant: Fantastic.
Male participant: I love it so much so.
Female participant: Sonya, what you’re having is a ricotta made of sheep’s milk from Piedmonte, so it’s very very light and very very fresh, and we’ve just dressed it very simply with a little vinaigrette dressing but with lots of fragrant herbs, soft herbs and a little lemon.
Female participant: Bon appetit. Which of course is French.
Male participant: That’s wow.
Female participant: Good eating, which is probably Anglo Saxon …
Female participant: Just finishing up about Queen’s Market, on a note of optimism that they actually won recently didn’t they, the community group won against Asda and by default also Wal-Mart essentially.
Male participant: That’s right, yeah, you’re absolutely right.
Female participant: So it just goes to show what you’re talking about, the power of the consumer is actually an evolving movement and is actually now described as the next super power.
Male participant: Yes.
Female participant: This movement that has no name, has no leader, that has no, anything.
Female participant: No government.
Female participant: Exactly, and is actually …
Male participant: Society is changing, and we should take a modicum of comfort I think in the sense that the food scene has improved in the last 10 years.
Male participant: I agree with that, that was a major victory actually. I was particularly amused by a report I saw in the Daily Telegraph about it which quoted all the shopkeepers rightly saying how wonderful it was. And then at the end of the article, the developers are called St Modwen. At the end of the article it said St Modwen shares fell 13½p and I thought that’s real power when there’s an article in the business pages of the Daily Telegraph actually linking what a local community has done and its impact on that kind of big box, bog standard retail approach, fantastic. And we found through our Claim Time Campaign that we’ve been running a tremendous response from the public and we now have 10,000 people who get our newsletter through the tescopology.org which is a website set up around these issues. There’s 200 different groups that campaign around the country, and it’s tapped into a very real sense, and I think there is, you’re right, things are changing, people are seeing that some of the unintended consequences of the kind of supermarkets and the way they dominate our high streets, they’re really coming home and people are very concerned about them.
Female participant: I mean I agree that there’s definitely been a complete sea change in the last 10 years in terms of, I mean I don’t think anybody thought twice about Tesco. I mean Tesco have been building out of town supermarkets in this country since 1970 and it fascinates me that it’s only within the last few years that suddenly the scale of their dominance has become headline news basically. When they hit, I mean really they hit their sort of two billion profit level a couple of years ago, and I’m not unoptimistic but I do worry that sometimes one can live in a bubble of optimism.
Female participant: Yes.
Female participant: And we’re all meeting each other and we’re all saying the same things and we’re eating incredible food. And I mean just to give you one example on, I mean on the 19th December last year there were two television programmes that went out simultaneously, I mean literally at the same time. One was on BBC2 and it was Rick Stein’s Christmas Dinner, and it was Elgar and it was kind of rolling hills and it was kind of, if you like, hand-reared turkeys called Jemima which was interesting. And it was a lovely programme, it made you feel good and just all the things we’ve been talking about that are positive. And then some perverse person like myself sort of notices another programme on Channel 4 at the same time with Jane Moore campaigning, some journalist about what really goes into your Christmas dinner. And of course she spent an hour sort of showing you where most of our turkeys come from, and it was absolutely horrific. And the thing that amused me is that they went to the same Brussels sprout producer and that was the only time that they both sort of, their parallel universes connected. But I just thought it’s just so schizophrenic, if you live in this country now you sort of, depending on which channel you happen to have flicked onto, you would have had a completely different vision.
Male participant: Yeah.
Female participant: Of how food’s produced and how it goes on, how normal people - I mean you say you have 200 groups campaigning which is fantastic but I mean there’s this sort of unseen sort of majority that are still buying, you know, I mean it is the case that the supermarkets are still supplying 80% of our groceries, so will the trickle down happen, will the tipping point occur and/or are we sort of in danger of just living in a sort of bubble of complacency while the rest goes on invisibly anyway, I mean that’s what worries me.
Female participant: It depends on how you look at it because if you look at some of the Soil Association statistics about people who buy organic, and they’re divided into groups, the people who buy organic exclusively and constantly, the people who buy organic occasionally, the people who would like to buy organic but don’t really, and the people who are not interested. And the biggest group is actually the intentional group, and that can be interpreted as oh well look, there’s hardly any people actually buying it, they talk about it but they don’t do it. Or you could interpret that as well look at this, we are on a tipping point, there’s this huge group who are about to turn. To me that’s enormously encouraging, that even though they’re not doing it yet, they’re about to.
Female participant: Hmm, yeah.
Male participant: Yeah, and the other thing I think is that some of this pressure is really beginning to have an impact. I mean to give you a very concrete example, the Office of Fair Trading have now launched a big enquiry into the power of the supermarkets. Now five or six years ago they basically absolved the supermarkets saying oh they’re not really part of the problem and they said, when they were asked whether supermarkets should be allowed to go in and take over convenience stores they said oh absolutely, they’re two different markets, you’ve got your out of town you’ve got your in town, of course they can. And so of course what happens they did and 2,000 small shops are now closing every year. But they have launched this enquiry, they’ve basically implicitly said they made a mistake about that, and they’re looking at the power of the supermarkets and how they impact on the rest of the grocery market. And it is about those 200 local campaigns putting pressure on people, so I think there are some quite positive signs. And the other thing that I think is fantastically exciting, and I’m sorry, I've mentioned it already, but Jamie Oliver and what he did around the school food, it’s actually materially changed the food that kids are eating. My son a couple of years ago would have been eating turkey twizzlers and all that sort of stuff, the reality is that maybe in a year or two he won’t be. So you can make change, and I think we need to celebrate and empower where we have succeeded, while actually staying very clear sighted about the limitations of it and not over-hyping it.
Female participant: I mean I agree with that, and I don’t want to be the sort of, you know, the kind of misery guts at the table, but I mean I read that take up of school meals has actually gone down in the schools where Jamie Oliver food is being served. And I think that comes back to what Marcus says, you know, I think there’s a sort of education gap, that it’s all very well having all this kind of healthy food but if the kids aren’t eating it, and I mean I actually spoke to somebody that had been working at Greenwich school food before Jamie Oliver came along and she basically said well the trouble is the kids don’t like the new food, the parents are sort of panicking and they’re sort of actually giving them, the kids were eating the turkey twizzlers which even though they were evil there was some nutrition in them. And now the parents are sort of basically putting Mars bars in their lunch boxes and that’s what they’re eating instead. So there really is sort of again it’s sort of ...
Female participant: But isn’t that because the uptake of school dinners was actually dropping anyway, that that’s, it’s actually not necessarily absolutely related to the fact that they don’t enjoy the new food.
Female participant: Possibly yes, possibly.
Female participant: It’s more that it’s a cultural thing within teenagers that right now it’s not cool to have school dinners, it’s cool to go out and get chips so that’s what they’re doing, rather than it being anything to do with the food that’s served.
Male participant: I mean I wonder, the question is what are the long term objectives of that change? Just because I mean quite clearly if kids have kind of grown up in the last 10 years on a diet of chips and processed deep fried foods they’re not going to jump at the chance of biting into a raw carrot.
Female participant: No.
Male participant: It doesn’t mean that the raw carrot is the wrong thing to eat, probably not, so it is a transitional stage and I think we have had this fantastic opportunity now to sort of turn this around in schools, it’d be a great shame if we were to, sort of just because there is a statistical drop that picks up on these ... responses.
Female participant: I mean I’m not saying the statistical drop means it’s all been a waste of time, I think what Jamie Oliver did is absolutely fantastic and, as I said, I don’t want to come across as negative. But what I am saying is that we’ve got to make sure, it’s no good just saying oh that’s great, it’s all happening. But it’s how to manage the change, it’s how to sort of make sure, you know, and it’s so easy in sound byte world to kind of say that’s been a result, go away. I mean I know he’s making a follow up programme …
Male participant: We should not ignore the parents’ influence.
Female participant: Yeah absolutely.
Male participant: Because there is the kind of Zeitgeist of our age is to indulge children. Parents give in, parents ask children what they want to eat. [Laughter]. I mean when I was young you ate what you were given.
Female participant: Yeah.
Male participant: And in France and other European countries that’s what you do. Here, and I’m not sure why, there is this incredible business of the child comes first in these and you have to listen. But they don’t know what they really like, what they want is cheap sugary stuff.
Female participant: But it’s interesting that actually what’s been found is that children have more influence on parents, on changing parental behaviour than parents have on influencing children’s behaviour.
Female participant: That’s because they can work the computers. Power.
Female participant: Yeah, so actually you get better results targeting the kids than you do targeting the parents, but you still obviously get results targeting the parents.
Female participant: But you get more change for your dollar, as it were, if you target the kids.
Male participant: Yes.
Female participant: Which of course is what McDonalds worked out 50 years ago.
Male participant: Maybe that’s a big generational thing, that it’s just a generation of parents now might have fallen somewhat between the grid between knowledge and convenience and that … growing up.
Female participant: But 3 out of 10, only 3 out of 10 families will have one meal per week, one meal per week sitting around a table.
Male participant: Yeah.
Female participant: So of course there’s not going to be much parental influence on the kids’ eating habits.
Female participant: That’s very true.
Female participant: I mean as it is kids are born with a taste mechanism that evolves primarily in the sweet world so if there’s nobody to counterbalance that then, and then nobody present at the table to influence it.
Male participant: That’s right.
Female participant: So there’s a knowledge gap now isn’t there because, as Marcus says, it’s all very well saying parents have got to educate the kids but this is the first generation of parents who have not really known about food. I mean my parents know each lump of cow, what it’s called when it’s on an animal, what you do with it to make it edible, and they just have this knowledge. And even I don’t, I mean even though I’m interested in food I don’t have this intuitive sort of awareness.
Male participant: But that’s why you have to take your opportunities to intervene, and I think these links between education and health promotion is so important. I was very struck by this idea of sort of introducing breakfast clubs into school. A huge proportion of kids who are just going to school who haven’t eaten anything, and the impact that that was then having on their performance at school and all the sort of cultural problems, problems about behaviour. Again I don’t want to seem wide-eyed about it, but quite a practical intervention there can actually make a real difference, and then deliver this sort of agenda about wellbeing. Food again is a way into a whole set of problems.
Female participant: But I think it has to be sort of a holistic concept of food, which is why the campaign that the Soil Association have evolved following on from Jamie Oliver’s work on Food for Life campaign has focused not only on bringing organic and natural food into school meals, but insisting that every school that joins the Food for Life campaign takes all its kids once a year to visit a farm, a non-industrial farm.
Male participant: Yeah.
Female participant: And I think that, and actually the feedback from the Soil Association is that that one thing is more of an influence in those kids’ lives than anything else around food that they actually eat and touch and smell and enjoy at the table. And I think it’s connecting, again going back to the invisibility, a lot of kids who don’t have the culture of food at home now exist with this kind of invisible attitude of where does this food come from? You know, they don’t know that milk comes from a cow.
Female participant: I mean I’d be very provocative and say let’s not take them to a nice Soil Association farm, let’s take them to a 300 million chickens an hour factory. And this is what worries me. I mean I think it’s fantastic that kids are going to farms - I’m being provocative, I am being provocative, but I actually ...[Talking together]. I mean I’m writing a book about how we feed cities at the moment, and I know that I really ought to go to an abattoir as a result of my research.
Male participant: Yes, you should ....
Female participant: Yeah, I mean I was born and bred in central London, I mean I didn’t quite think that milk came from a carton, which apparently kids these days do, I did know theoretically that it came from cows but I didn’t see one. And the thing is I do think it’s incredibly important to make this reconnection, but it does worry me if the reconnection is made with Jessie the cow on a happy farm because that still not dealing with the problem.
Male participant: No, it’s not, but they really should see the almost barbaric way we keep animals, and especially chickens, it’s just horrifying.
Female participant: I agree, but I feel strongly about that because especially in my experience around behaviour change, there’s a … scaring people does not work as well as influencing them in a positive way.
Male participant: I see.
Female participant: It just does not, and there’s endless research on this. And yes, it’s a shock, short sharp shock treatment, but in the long term if you want to.
Male participant: Scares me.
Female participant: Yeah, if you want to influence what they do back at home on a day to day basis get them to a farm where they have the best day of their lives.
Male participant: Yes.
Female participant: And they’ll remember that for ever.
Male participant: Yes.
Male participant: How about if it was sort of a combination, not a combination but a balance between the two? Perhaps not the wonderful Soil Association top of the range farm, neither a … but actually just a normal farm that actually sells to supermarkets for example. Because sort of pick out these things, you walk down the aisles and all you see is this meat, it’s all clean, it’s just there. And what you said earlier Sonya around, you know, people eating meat three times a day every day of the week, it just kind of complete disconnectedness from what it actually is. Because for a generation now certainly, certainly in urban areas, where people have grown up sourcing their foods primarily from supermarkets, so readymade and prepared and beautifully packaged and so forth, there is no connection whatsoever with where it’s come from. And I remember this moment actually where they, it came from an outside catering company, we were cooking for a wedding with 100 guests and we had chicken breasts. But actually no-one thinks of that any more that we actually just slaughtered 50 chickens for that party, and you just call up and say I need 100 chicken breasts, thank you. And that is it, so even on a professional level there is a complete disconnect from where it’s come from, so it’s much deeper than just the non-professionals not making the link, it is quite intrinsic.
Male participant: I’d also say take kids to a market and show them that it doesn’t have to be, supermarkets aren’t the only way of consuming food, that you can engage in a conversation, you can buy 10 pounds of onions for a £1, you don’t have to, each three pack doesn’t have to be individually wrapped in cellophane, and you can also learn a lot about food. It might be difficult to take your kids to farms and things, but you can take people to a market fairly easily, and let’s build this whole food education role.
But I must say it was really interesting what you were saying about almost a lost generation, that’s very very interesting I think, what do we do about people your age and my age who are kind of exactly in that kind of disconnect. And in a way children are actually quite powerful in terms of changing our behaviour, and have the ability to say look, you shouldn’t continue eating like that, you shouldn’t disregard what you’re putting into your mouth and ...
Female participant: I mean domestic science used to be part of the curriculum didn’t it? I saw my grandmother’s domestic science notebooks, they’re absolutely fascinating. These sort of recipes, I mean the food looked disgusting but I mean it was kind of basic, you know, it was Victorian Mrs Beeton how to make a really sort of under flavoured steak and kidney pie. But she did know how to do it.
Male participant: Well Mrs Thatcher got rid of all that in those late 70s.
Female participant: That woman again, that woman again.
Male participant: Yes, and they tore out all the kitchens from schools, so … Now that they want to try and tentatively start again, the kitchens aren’t there.
Female participant: Yeah, this is why at school the playing fields aren’t there either.
Male participant: No.
Female participant: It’s the whole issue of the loss of skills across now pretty much two, three generations, not only food but also nanny culture. The average age of the farmer in Europe and just as a guess, what do you think it is?
Male participant: 60, well it’s 56 yeah, going up.
Female participant: Yeah it’s 59, so you know I mean in ten years where are the farmers going to be?
And the majority of the agricultural colleges in the UK have closed, and so in an age where the price of oil is going up, we are not going to be able to keep on bringing our food in from wherever it is.
Female participant: And this is why, this is my problem with, I mean this is why I think kids need to be shown the reality and not a sort of, I mean show them the beautiful thing as well but I mean I think it’s.
Female participant: You know, not all Soil Association farms are happy clappy land, I mean these are functioning farms that supply supermarkets as well.
Female participant: No sure, but I mean I think it’s the scale of, I mean if we’re going to educate kids let’s educate them about the real scale of what goes on. I’d like to see these places. It’s very difficult to get into them by the way.
People are very oh no, sorry, we’re busy or it’s, yeah, you have to pretend you’re a chicken plucker.
Male participant: There are farm labourers around guarding them. I mean part of their charm is the fact that you can get rid of all your staff because they didn’t need any.
Female participant: Yeah.
Male participant: So once you know ...
Female participant: You have to dress up as a chicken to get in.
Male participant: Well I got into a pig housing unit once somewhere down in Hampshire, and …
Female participant: And how do you this Guy?
Male participant: Well I kind of ...
Female participant: What was the outfit?
Male participant: ... parked and walked through the, there was nobody there and oh it was - I've never forgotten it. Because directly I kind of opened the door which made a terrible noise, I mean they’d set up such a shriek, such a noise and they were all chained in these tiny little stalls. And the smell and the darkness, I mean it was all just so horrible. And I did the same with chicken sheds which would have 5,000 chickens in. And again I just got in by going there, and that was it. And then I wrote about it in the Guardian and put a lot of people off eating chicken for life I think, eating that kind of.
Male participant: Just before you raised the point about domestic science, I mean I think it’s interesting too, what do they call it now, they call it food technology. I mean what sort of wording is that?
Male participant: Oh it’s very clever, it’s Orwellian speak isn’t it.
Male participant: It is yes.
Female participant: But it’s an interesting reflection of our society isn’t it.
Male participant: Yeah, it’s a sort of applied science.
Female participant: That is not ... the last 30 years perhaps is much regarding meat, the meat thing, is much less people, much more people are eating much less red meat. It looks like this propaganda against the excessive consuming of meat and also the unhealthy side of you eating too much meat and too much protein. It worked well with red meat, or is working. So I think it’s a factor that can be taken, because going back to the old times and you were talking about the pasty, remember Cornish pasties, and what she was explaining about the drinks here is basically ordinary people hold the knowledge that has been again brought in. But it’s that kind of thing, in the old times people wouldn’t eat that much meat, meat was a special thing, would be once or twice a week. And now it’s just, you know, I think this is the balance you were talking about, we have to really bring this issue in the education field that it’s not healthy to eat that much meat and eating that much meat brings a lot of problems that is very bad indeed problem with environment, soya thing.
Male participant: And methane.
Male participant: Methane and cows farting in the atmosphere.
Female participant: Exactly. Exactly.
Female participant: But that brings up another interesting issue actually about raising public health awareness that we talked about with the mackerel, how as people get more aware of Omega 3s they’re starting to eat more mackerel and that’s causing a problem for the mackerel and causing a problem for the environment. And it’s the same with red meat actually, so I think you have to be really careful about this issue of oh great, people are eating less meat and eating more white meat, actually environmentally that’s a disaster because the environmental impacts of white meat are far more significant than eating organic red meat, not using industrial red meat of course. The reason being that organic red meat is fed on grass which is environmentally sustainable and not a problem, whereas white meat can only be fed on grain.
And so you initially ramp up environmental demand.
Male participant: Protein pellets.
Female participant: Exactly, and so because we’re touting the health benefits of white meat over red meat we’re actually bringing with that a huge environmental impact.
Female participant: Yes, because meat is all meat looking into …[Talking together].
Female participant: And in fact it’s the reverse of the health message we’re getting.
Female participant: And this is the understanding how the meat’s actually reared thing again, and I completely agree with Marcus, I think it’s a question of a balance. You don’t want to scare people, but on the other hand you do. And actually interestingly I mean here, Guy was talking about having lived in France but I mean kids in France are exposed to the realities of food naturally, and many other countries as well but actually animals are still sold live in some markets in France and they’re killed visibly.
Female participant: It’s also this issue isn’t it of linking food with agriculture. I mean what you’re saying is that then kids might not only get to eat great food but they have a sense of getting closer to the way things.
Female participant: And also in a way, I mean I’m not saying we should all be forced to watch a pig being slaughtered, I’m not saying that but I am saying just an understanding that it’s a process, and that actually ...
Male participant: Again I think it comes down to what Sonya says about expectations again and this would you slaughter a chicken every day if it’s your own chickens? No you wouldn’t, it’s simply because you …
Male participant: Because you’d need the eggs.
Male participant: Exactly, just buy a little bit of chicken and the chickens you think is still alive in your head isn’t it because, like you borrowed it.
Yeah, so any sort of change is probably not change from one kind of meat to another but it would involve change of expectation, that it becomes, you kind of reconnect with it, it becomes something more special again and perhaps there is a way where you come back to okay, meat on a Sunday.
And fish on a Friday.
Female participant: And then the menu through the week that …
Female participant: But there’s an interesting organisation actually in the States called Meat Just Mondays, which is trying to get Americans, your average normal Americans to not eat meat one day a week. And you sign up to this web address and every Monday you get a newsletter giving you a recipe, a meatless recipe, and the health benefits of not eating meat.
Female participant: It’s the wrong day though, it should be Friday because you know basically the weekend is when you’re off and you’re barbecuing and stuff, so Monday should be when you’re eating up the scraps.
Female participant: Yeah.
Female participant: But I mean MM is good …[Talking together].
Male participant: Also it would link well to fish on Friday, if you had it on the Friday. But I think again at the risk of being slightly controversial, I think that’s right. I think the focus has to be I’m afraid largely on consumption. While I would love every person to go and see something slaughtered and sort of understand the whole concept of the cycle of food, that’s vital and there are things we can do. But we also have to fundamentally tackle the whole sort of culture of consumption in supermarkets. This idea, this whole sort of promotion of you buy one get one free, which just promotes a completely unsustainable approach.
Female participant: Yes, crazy.
Male participant: I’d love to know how many of those buy one get one free things actually get eaten up and not just completely thrown away.
Female participant: Buy one, throw one.
Male participant: Exactly.
Male participant: That’s right, and we’ve got to actually tackle that whole sort of consumerist approach that there’s no value to promoting sustainable lifestyles or eating in a sustainable way.
Female participant: Absolutely.
Male participant: That has to be worked out.
Female participant: But I think that’s going to come automatically because the same issue is going to be forced on us with energy, and we’re going to have to address our energy consumption because pretty soon we’re not going to have the energy available, and so that is going to have a trickledown effect to consumption at all levels.
Male participant: Well in the end we’ll all have to be on a vegan diet. That’s the only one would be able to survive.
Male participant: I hope you’re right, I mean I am slightly more pessimistic on that side because there are always people here who will tell you there’s a solution to the energy crisis, now it’s nuclear and people will - I’m not sure, I think people are very good at finding things to avoid having to actually tackle the problems at a fundamental level.
Female participant: Because they’re thinking technology will solve everything in the future.
Male participant: Exactly.
Female participant: As yet unknown.
Male participant: And food will have the same thing, so I think we have to still continue to struggle to deal with that because otherwise people will just give you a series of technical fixes to deal with it.
Female participant: I wonder whether it’s worth because I, before today I was thinking, I mean this is Interdependence Day that we’re sort of celebrating here. And the NES done a lot of writing about interdependence and what it means, and also a lot of writing about wellbeing and we’ve all been talking about wellbeing today, but I just wanted to read you what actually the Dirt Café, the providers of the meal, wrote about this because it brings all those sorts of issues together, the sort of, if you like, the global scale of the problem. And what they wrote was; “Regeneration can be positive or negative, organic or prescriptive. Finding ways to integrate objectives of regeneration and sustainability and wellbeing into commercial enterprises has suddenly become key and pressing strategic priority of global corporations, small businesses, governmental policy specialists and entrepreneurs. It was articulated by the Skoll World Forum in social entrepreneurship. If the last century was one of economic growth, the 21st century has the prospect of coupling wealth with wellbeing. Understanding how this can happen more effectively is crucial and is the theme of this debate.” And I think we’ve been naturally talking about wellbeing because we’ve been provided with quite a lot of it. And it’s interesting, I mean we’ve talked a little bit about wealth and the way, if you like, it manifests itself in a sort of economic way, it’s just consumerism, ever increasing growth, and I think I’d just like to sort of throw that open really as the sort of relationship between wealth and wellbeing and how one makes that connection.
Male participant: Effectively I've read this before I came here and I found it actually quite a, the last bit, provocative because for me I think if wealth and wellbeing are separate then maybe we need to almost like redefine what wealth actually is.
Male participant: Because clearly purely monetary wealth will probably not get you anywhere if you’re not well at the same time. So the idea that it has been separated and now there’s an opportunity to bring it together, so I find it quite troubling.
Male participant: Does it monetary wealth?
Female participant: I think it does, I think I would make that assumption, I would make that assumption.
Male participant: But I think Marcus is right that it is about kind of unpacking what world leaders are trying to reconstitute it in a way that actually relates to you. One classic thing that ... cites is the fact that you know, at a time when material wealth was at its height which was some time in the 70s and wellbeing, people’s sense of how satisfied they felt with their lives was plummeting. And it is that disconnect that I think people have suddenly kind of latched onto. But I think the challenge is how do you actually make that happen in terms of regeneration and are there things that you can do that actually practically enable you to make that reconnection. And I think that’s where a lot of this debate about food comes in because I think there are opportunities around more organic approaches to regeneration which focus on some of the kind of distinctiveness which we’ve been talking about. Can you kind of pick up on the fact that like market towns for example, their very existence was, as the name suggests, was around the fact that the market was there once a week. Now they might have out of town supermarkets, are there opportunities to kind of recreate what that town is about, put the market in there, to pick up on the sense of life and vitality and buzz and sort of come in on a particular day the farmer’s coming to produce their wares, people come in to buy it. Are there other approaches that we can do to actually reconnect and start to enable communities to work together in that way, rather than the traditional consumerist approach which has I think created that disconnect between wealth and wellbeing.
Female participant: I think there’s also the issue of making sure that as wellbeing does grow in popularity, becoming more mainstream, you become more focused on it, that you make sure that it doesn’t couple with consumerism so you get this sort of neo-wellbeing which is actually consumer-based. So if you look at how yoga has taken off in the last ten years for example, yoga and meditation, and now it’s a whole consumerist world around yoga and meditation, you know, as to the outfits, the mats and this and that, and so it is focusing on the aspects of wellbeing that are healthier for society.
Male participant: But can one have wellbeing when one is aware of malnutrition and poverty?
Female participant: I really want to go into that because for all my life there is one thing that I did believe, and this is my anarchy side probably, is that why do we keep these huge gaps, these huge fortunes, this huge greediness, we are not going to get anywhere. And I have, I don’t know … I don’t like to put my hands ….
Female participant: What she did is giving out her curtain let’s say. I’m not saying about the society where you are not going to have rich people, you are not going to have, but has to have a threshold because we are not going to get anywhere if we carry on begetting all this money. One person having so so much money, like that woman that just divorced, she might get 300 million, I said what is somebody going to do with 300 million, there’s no. I am fascinated by ordinary people, by their culture, I always was, I always will be, and I always will try to bring them, and they are not interested in these things, they don’t want to be rich and wealthy, this is urban.
Female participant: It’s a sickness.
Female participant: It’s a sickness, it’s actually an illness.
Female participant: It’s an illness, exactly.
Female participant: It is interesting isn’t it about, but if you’re relating it to food, what actually goes in to make taste. What makes something taste absolutely wonderful when you have your food? And it’s not only the food itself, it’s also the knowing, as we’re experiencing today, the farm that it came from or the fact that it was reared lovingly or that it was tendered lovingly. And I think we underestimate the impact that that has on the taste, our experiences of food and how that food feeds us not only nutritionally, not only physically, but the whole spiritual feeling that we get.
Female participant: They know this all along, they don’t have to go through all this.
Female participant: The food that may be organic but yet has employed ...
Male participant: But the practical point, Maria, about that is that food tastes great, the ingredients taste great, when they come out of a complicated earth structure which is full of trace minerals, and the more minerals in the earth the better, and with sunshine and that photosynthesis and all the lot, you’ll get good tasting food whatever you do with it. We all know what it’s like picking a tomato that you’ve grown yourself.
Female participant: But I guess I’m trying to put across the idea of our experience of enjoying the taste of food is not only that stimulation on the tongue, it’s also the psychological tasting that you get.
Male participant: Absolutely, quite clear, and I appreciate it, yes, yes.
Male participant: I agree with this, I just think that actually we’ve, we’re at a very strange point now I think in the UK in terms of food and how it’s developed from a non-topic to actually being on the television and the media all the time. And if you, I’m a big fan of the Food Monthly magazine from the Guardian, but just sometimes you read these articles or these recipes and it just gives you that sense that this chicken was smiling before it lost its head and that’s why it tastes so wonderful.
Male participant:How interesting that magazine is, the prevalence, I don’t know I believe …
Female participant: It did some very good stuff, you do see some good stuff.
Female participant: … a lot of happy smiley chickens and stuff as well.
Male participant: Yes, and I just think that is where we come back to actually what is the reality? And this ties up with what Sonya was saying as well around that there’s got to be a pragmatic understanding of food as well.
Female participant: And also not to sentimentalise it. I mean you can have the sort of sensible informed attitude without going down kind of bizarre fluffy bunny route. And I mean I do think that one of the problems is that in all the things we’ve been talking about, the distancing from the process, the invisibility of the process, the fact that actually we do live in a bubble, you know, if you live in the city you don’t often get to eat some food. And those tomatoes by the way that we just ate were the best tomatoes I've eaten for I don’t know how long. I cannot find a tomato that tastes of something, but all I would say is that I’m grateful that for some reason I’m a freak of nature, I've lived in the city all my life and yet I can still tell the difference between a tasty tomato and an untasty one. And what I think that, I just want to sort of, because I want to get back to what Sonya was saying and I’m trying to do it quickly and failing, but I think it’s this issue of simplicity, and what you’re talking about is people that don’t need 300 million quid and eight sort of jets and limos to get them from A to B for happiness. Because actually the simple things, if you can strip all the rubbish away, I mean I very often get my greatest pleasure, my sense of being most alive when there’s a beautiful day and I go outside and there’s a tree in blossom and I just look at the sky through the blossom and think I am just grateful to be on this planet.
Now it’s lucky that I’m able to just you know.
Male participant: We do have moments like that, yes.
Female participant: Just to have moments like that. And what I think we miss, and this comes back to what you were saying about consumerism, is that when you get this sickness which is acquisition and sort of just having material possessions is the only route you can see to happiness, you actually get blinded, you get numbed to the simple pleasure of looking at the sky through a blossom.
Male participant: May I just flag up actually that we’ve got this dinner here as well, we’ve just actually had the most fantastic main course, and we’ve managed to kind of get through an entire debate on a kind of a, we just left the food a bit behind.
Female participant: It was delicious, they were the tastiest tomatoes I've had in a very long time.
Male participant: I just want to pick up … I mean another thing about those kind of magazines and the whole approach here which troubles me somewhat is that there’s almost a sense in which it’s quite disempowering because it’s almost as though, and it relates very well to what Sonya was saying, you kind of need to have all this knowledge and you need to have all this understanding in order to eat well. And we’ve got to kind of get away from that, got to get together.
And you can actually eat well without being an expert on food and knowing everything about where the tomatoes came from or whatever. You can do it because you just want to eat a good meal. And we’ve got to try and sort of not allow the kind of bubble that we live in to disempower other people who want to actually …
Female participant: And it really doesn’t have to be about being a master chef … But I think people can get a sense of connection to their food simply by knowing their local butcher.
Male participant: Exactly, that’s right.
Female participant: Or by going to their preferred stallholder at Queen’s Market.
Female participant: If they’re lucky enough to have either.
Female participant: And effectively that’s why Queen’s Market won their campaign against Asda was because in that area there’s a strong ethnic community who have a culture of cooking and the women there demand produce that’s not available in the supermarket and so they supported their market to the hilt. And it was a simple connection really.
Male participant: That’s right …[Talking together].
Female participant: … like the tomatoes.
Female participant: Delicious, are they yours, what you grew them?
Female participant: No, no, no, I bring in produce, from Britain obviously but also from Italy and they’re Italian tomatoes but we bring them in ourselves twice a week.
Female participant: Tomatoes do like proper sun don’t they?
Male participant: Would they be Sardinian?
Female participant: No, they’re not Sardinian yet. Sardinian come a little bit later. These are actually from the north of Italy and in the middle. It’s that time of year where that part of Italy actually produces really great tomatoes and …
But Colin, you were saying that you couldn’t understand why people drank ...
Male participant: I've just discovered why.
Female participant: I must say I just hope that you haven’t given up completely. The cheese course, I just want to give you just a little bit of information about it. I wanted to serve it with wine because I just think that the marriage of the cheese and the wine and how wine gets made is very similar to how cheese develops as well. Small farms are still in existence and also young families are making cheese now. You’ll see it in England, all over Europe now. I’ve just been to three locations; to the Pyrenees, to Switzerland and then down to Naples, and at each location I saw young people making cheese in a very traditional way, rolling up their sleeves and getting into that vat.
This is what I want to see more of, and I want governments also to recognise the worth of traditional methods and respecting them, not only traditions but also the place where it comes from.
Male participant: Absolutely.
Female participant: … of its place. And that’s what you’re going to eat today. These straw mats, I purposely put things on the straw mats. We mature our cheeses on straw mats, it’s again an EHO nightmare, I am a nightmare for all these people but it is the most natural way to keep and mature and develop raw milk cheeses. Raw milk by which no bugs are taken out, the bugs fight each other and the good ones win. Once the cheese has been pasteurised it’s effectively stopped, you can’t mature them and if you do try to mature them off flavours come through. By having raw milk it’s not only healthier for you because you are ingesting bugs that are then going into your whole digestive system and are working there for you to be healthier. We are seeing more and more cheese that is mass produced from milk all collected from hundreds of farms where we have no way of finding out how pure it is because it’s all collected together. With these cheeses it comes from single farms where they’re getting milk from within their, if not from their own farm from next door, and you have traceability, one. Two, you’re having a slower way of producing food, same with wine. Slow way of producing food means that it’s a natural progression, you’re not accelerating, you’re not reducing, you’re not taking away. So today you’re eating Appleby’s Cheshire. Now it’s a very ancient cheese and although it’s extremely British, it’s the little pink one. It’s a sort of cheese that you could actually see in France, Cantal in France, it’s very similar to Appleby Cheshire. In fact through war, in fact through wars, you get a mixing of dietary tastes because as they are conquered they bring in their own way of eating. In the western coast of France the Arabs infiltrated in medieval times and brought with them their goats, and that’s how goats milk got to be a tradition of cheese making in that part of France. So you’ve got the Appleby’s Cheshire still made by the same family, the Appleby family, and Mrs Appleby made it for many, many years and has now passed it down to the rest of the family. Next to it you’ve got a Corsican cheese, a goats’ cheese, Casinca. Corsican cheeses are by their very nature quite rustic in flavour so you will taste the animal. And that’s not a bad thing, we want to taste the actual goats’ milk. A lot of supermarkets will give you goats’ milk and you wouldn’t ever know it was, this one you will. It’s from a part of Corsica that’s quite barren, goats like to forage so you will pick up tastes, all kinds of flavours coming through.
Male participant: Lovely.
Female participant: The next one along is a smoked cheese,Idiazábal, from Spain. Spanish cheeses for many years under the dictatorship of Franco were stopped. He made the farms in fact give all their milk to cooperatives and controlled the whole production.
Male participant: And the smoked is the fourth one?
Female participant: Yeah. Oh, did I mix them up, sorry.
Female participant: I think, did you miss out …
Male participant: You missed the Pyrenees.
Female participant: It should be the smoked one should be the third one. With Franco ceasing power at last meant that small farms could again make cheese, and these are the sort of cheeses that are now traditional ones but updated slightly in their flavour and are stunning. They give you a true sense of the place, the heat, of the, not only the heat but the fruit and the spice of the country. Then the Pyrenees one, I was up the mountain making this cheese a few weeks ago so an Ossau. Again it’s made by small communities, and in the summer all the animals go to the top of the mountain and are happy little fellows eating away on pastures. So they’re milked at the top, they make the cheese there and then the cheese is brought down to the caves in which they’re then matured. They’re rubbed in salt, they’re salt rubbed rather than brine rubbed and they’re left in the caves to mature for however long. This is a spring, this is a spring one so it’s quite young, but because we’re tasting a rose wine I didn’t want it to be too strong. But I wanted you to taste the spring one, the first of the spring one. And then the last one is a Gorgonzola Dolce. Dolce Latte is a name which doesn’t mean absolutely anything to me because it’s a name that was a brand by the Galvani family who have made an absolute fortune out of pretending that that was a cheese but it’s a brand. And that’s something else that I’m very conscious of is that businesses use brands in which to sell produce, and we forget who actually made them. And that’s why we use the contact with the food because we look at it as a brand rather than food, that’s another thing for us to think about. And we’ve made some biscuits which are supposed to be … of countries.
Female participant: That looks like North America?
Male participant: I can see England.
Female participant: Well you will get a prize if you can recognise …[Talking together].
Male participant: Oh that’s amazing, exactly where I come from.
Female participant: But in case we’re getting too confused there’s some lovely Scottish oat cakes from the McGregor family which is a small family concern making really traditional oat cakes. And the wine, a Greek wine, why not? Greek wines are fantastic, smell the roses and smell the strawberries, it’s pure summer in a glass.
Female participant: Cheers.
Female participant: To have with your little cheesecakes.
Female participant: Thank you very much.
Male participant: Thank you.
Female participant: Thank you very much.
Female participant: Carry on talking, thank you.
Female participant: Cheers.
Female participant: Cheers to all of you.
Male participant: Just picking up on what has been said there, I had an interesting experience with my dad and I gave him hell because he went to the supermarket and bought something in France called Petit Filous which he thought was a nice raw milk cheese. And of course it wasn’t, it was a branded cheese, and it was a classic example of the sort of marketisation. All the producers who are prominent on the cheese counters in supermarkets, a lot of them just pay, and they pay for that providence. And I sent him straight off to the market to buy some proper … cheeses because he’d fallen for a classic bit of marketing and they’re clever about it.
Male participant: It’s very easy to do.
Male participant: Absolutely, they’re very clever in the way they do it.
Male participant: Yes, they love hoodwinking you.
Male participant: Can I pick up on something else actually which links up to something Maria was saying earlier around sort of the, perhaps what we could call a status of people working within the food production, if you want to call it that, sector, particularly farmers, those making cheeses, making food, and I just wonder with the average age of the farmer being 59, clearly there is an issue around that.
And I for one, I certainly don’t know anybody anywhere around me actually who’s sort of perhaps considering going into that sector. I mean maybe in the past it was more handed down to the sons and so forth. But that’s not happening any more I guess.
Female participant: I think there’s less than 1% of the population is employed in agriculture currently in the UK. The potential in the UK, we could if we wanted to produce about 63% of our own food. We don’t but we could, we have that capability. In order to achieve that we would actually need to employ 20% of the current population in agriculture in order to do that. So it kind of gives you an idea of the huge gap between our current agricultural capability and what we’re going to need to ramp up on if we really want to relocalise agriculture.
Male participant: Is that a kind of state of technology in the way it’s been used?
Female participant: Yeah.
Female participant: It’s lots of things, and I mean I think that’s interesting because it brings us right to the whole issue of what today is, what interdependence is, and that’s really the question. And also what Colin was talking about earlier on, about the fact that historically there’s been incredible awareness in this country of the need to be self-sustaining in food. The situation we’re in now is that farming has mechanised, we’ve basically leased out the responsibility of feeding ourselves abroad, it’s going on right now. I mean the interesting thing is I was talking to a - well he’s one of the two biggest meat producers in the country, a few months ago, and he supplies all the big supermarkets and he has these things called integrated chicken units which are 300 million chickens a year. And he says chicken production even at that scale is not economic in this country any more, and within a few years he will be out sourcing all his chicken to Brazil, which believe it or not comes from halfway up the Amazon and it’s processed there and then is shipped out to the coast and then brought across in tankers in Thailand. And this is what concerns me, is that I think we’re in danger of living our sort of, it reminds me of the picture of Dorian Gray, I mean everything’s lovely and on the surface we have all this incredible bounteousness of food, and yet somewhere else unseen this hideous portrait is kind of reflecting a real lifestyle that we lead.
Male participant: Well the battery chicken is one of the most unhealthy things people can eat, and of course it’s one of the most major staples of Western society. I mean not only is it packed with hormones and antibiotics to keep it going, I mean the birds would die long before their five weeks if they weren’t, didn’t have the antibiotics. But there’s also now the problem of avian flu which is floating round in these big housing units in the third world developing countries.
Male participant: The other thing that I think shouldn’t be ignored is a lot of it does come down to what civil society want and what sort of context we want.
Male participant: That’s right.
Female participant: Yeah.
Male participant: Don’t worry, I’m not going to go into domestic policy, but I mean what I’m concerned about. … it is and it isn’t but the common agricultural policy, at the end of the day a lot of this comes down to whether we’re prepared to actually engage with some of these global issues which relate to patterns of land development.
Male participant: Inevitably, we have to.
Male participant: And we’ve got to. And what worries me in our culture is, though I accept the critique of the CAP causes disaster, what I don’t accept and which I think is unfortunate about our kind of slightly insular way of the world is the kind of whole critique of France and Germany and so on because they support their farmers. And the two things are conflated, so you can’t be against the CAP without it also seeming that oh we don’t like the way that the French seem to subsidise their farmers. But I think the point that you made, rightly, is that if we actually want a will the means to kind of more sustainable society well then we’ve got to possibly embrace actually having some sort of planned, more planned economy, which may involve not exactly a common agricultural policy as we have it now, but some sort of approach that deals with the trends that you’re talking about, and does something to actually change them. And that needs a political approach.
Female participant: Having said that as well though, we’d like to imagine that the common agricultural policy and its subsidies supports this sort of farmer, knowing that it’s the small farmers right now in Europe that are suffering so much. And yet for example in the UK, if you look at who are the 10 biggest recipients of CAP subsidies it’s 10 big multinational corporations. Of which two are Nestlé and Tate & Lyle.
Male participant: Yeah, but that’s my point. I agree with that completely, but what I’m saying is that because there’s a critique of the CAP, which is very well grounded and you’ve expressed it very articulately, it then kind of means there’s a kind of political vacuum about what we ought to be doing and how we …
Female participant: I agree, I completely agree.
Male participant: How we can have an agriculture policy that isn’t just complacent, oh it’s the small agricultural sector, it’s actually about what kind of society we want.
Female participant: This is the problem. I mean abandoning the CAP, I mean nobody has anything good to say about it and it’s been managed ...
Male participant: No, and I’m not planning to.
Female participant: No, exactly. However, I mean simply abandoning it and saying okay we’re going to open up to global markets doesn’t get you good world either.
Male participant: Exactly.
Female participant: What it breeds is hundreds of millions of chicken farms in Brazil and oil being burned up with them being, you know, brown meat being flown out and white meat being flown in and it’s this crazy scene. And I’m very exercised about this, and I do think there’s a sort of laissez faire attitude to food production in this country which I think is partly historic, and I think the Second World War was a hiccup but I mean historically we did have a very sort of laissez faire attitude to food. And I think now we’re in danger of …
Male participant: Well only people would have had enough food.
Female participant: Well exactly, but I mean the trouble is …
Male participant: 98% of humankind were hungry.
Female participant: Exactly, but unfortunately it’s the people with the food that tend to have the power that tend to make the decisions and so on. Well, it still is.
Male participant: Yes.
Female participant: But I do think it’s very interesting, and this brings me back to the NEF work on wellbeing again, you know, what can Government do? It is political.
Male participant: Can I just interject one thing, I want to share wellbeing. Corsican goat, heaven.
Female participant: Yes, hear-hear.
Male participant: It has just, as we’ve heard, it’s got all the myriad different flavours and complexities, and it’s essentially goat. [Laughter]
Female participant: Thank you for that, absolutely.
Male participant: You’d never get it in England, you’d never get it at all.
Female participant: You’re halfway up a craggy mountainside aren’t you?
Male participant: They’re frightened of it.
Female participant: There’s that sound of the cicadas.
Male participant: They’re frightened of hormonal smells.
Female participant: You’ve got it, but the thing is that it’s all made with one thing, milk, and out of that one source, primary source product you get so many different flavours, and isn’t that the most wonderful? That’s why we love wine because wine gives us that same sensation of wonderment. But just remember that these sort of cheeses are made in very very small communities in a certain way. Governments want to stop this all the time, what you’re eating now might not be here in ten years’ time. What you lot have to figure out is a way to keep it going.
Male participant: That’s right.
Female participant: And to figure out how to deal with governments to tell them for instance, just very quickly; America a few years ago were in Rome trying to standardise food production especially with a view to cheese. And I was absolutely incensed, I was afraid, I was very afraid, but there again the Americans are an amazing nation, farmers there are in big trouble but they gather together and there’s an American Cheese Society which heralds farmhouse or farmstead cheeses. Their awards are next week and I think there’s 700 farmhouse cheeses, real farmhouse cheeses, mostly made with raw milk. Suddenly the Government has recognised that this is quite an interesting export because they know how much money they can make out of this. And there is a slow about turn, and I think it’s the exclusivity of it and farmers, producers have to recognise their worth and know their strength and that they can actually fight governments, and they can actually make a difference, that they can’t work alone, they have to work and get to know each other. And they’ve got to figure out ways of getting, grouping en masse to make this happen.
Female participant: I've actually spoken to some independent producers who, I mean thank you for that, I mean actually say that the internet is proving very, is actually having a real effect because they’re able to contact one another and they’re able to contact potential customers through the internet. And I do think it is this business of critical mass, if you’re going to sort of try to say no to the megalithic, monolithic, monocultural world there’s no-one in Government to do it. I mean it suits the Government very well indeed to have food prices dropping because it keeps inflation low, because the food basket is part of annual inflation. And frankly they don’t care, in fact the head of DEFRA was quoted two years ago saying self-sufficiency is a thing of the past, it’s irrelevant and so on. So I mean it’s completely laissez faire at the moment. What’s interesting is that there are, I mean obviously there are sort of groundswells of alternative ways of doing things, they are small scale. I do think that the huge issue, and I mean I've just been read Schumacher’s thoughts, small is beautiful, and I don’t know, everybody else that I meet seems to have read it at birth, I didn’t. But I mean it’s absolutely critical it seems to me because it talks about this business of the smallness of things actually being a way, people actually really like to relate and they feel engaged in what they’re doing. When he talks about engagement with work, good work, as opposed to sort of mechanised large scale work. And it’s how, I mean the thing is governments are hammers that crack nuts, and it’s how one actually takes these good things and turns them into groundswell, and is it a plus, isn’t it, at what point can it be dealt with by Government? And clearly Government could be doing some things, I mean just take supermarkets, governments in Europe put laws in place that restricted out of town development but protected, I mean there’s a law in place in Paris now that protects I think 7,000 local shops, so basically if the owner dies then that shop will have to stay as a fishmonger or a butcher whatever when the next person takes it over, this kind of thing. There are things.
Male participant: Government’s main tool of food control is always taxation. What you do is you tax for instance all foods that contain a large amount of refined flour and sugar, salt and additives, so that gets rid of most junk food, but you put a big tax on it. That steers people into the other foods which haven’t got it. You can do it overnight, but well they don’t want to because they will be in a great battle with the great ...
Female participant: Is there not a … the politics as they, because I think the society is, it’s much, ours is much ahead than the politics. And the companies, if the society change, the companies are going to change because they have to sell their product, it’s very straightforward. And then in Brazil there is interesting example, just quickly saying. A lot of companies are investing in NGOs, sponsoring NGOs because, and therefore being a very corrupted country and politics they say oh yeah, power of the government because they are slow, they don’t, it’s the same thing as I talked about the wealthy, it’s in the same level. It’s untouchable, you say no to them they carry on doing. It’s another illness, how you get rid of this illness on the thing itself.
Male participant: I just felt that maybe it’s a good point to sort of think about okay, we’ve discussed quite a few of the problems and the issues and so forth but maybe that’s a good point to say well what would we like to see to be in place? I mean just coming back to Patricia’s beautiful explanation of what’s there, this is clearly very, very nice food. I’m slightly conscious of a recent experience at Borough Market, which is actually a market so we are in favour of that. But I was standing at a stall looking at a small pot of honey that was basically, as the stallholder explained, was made by his own sister in Sardinia and basically was £6 for a very small pot of honey. So there’s so many different things going on in terms of food, the quality of the food, the type of food it is, where it’s come from, but also in terms of what role can that play if we are saying that what’s going on at the moment, ie supermarkets dominating food provision needs to change, how far can we kind of go in that direction, what role can they play in this and do we have the infrastructure actually in terms of actually our farmers dying out basically, to really go to where we want to go? So what is the reality of it?
Male participant: Can I just very briefly, because it just directly links to what you’re saying. I mean there’s a very interesting report published this week by the Council of Protection of Rural England where they looked at a village in Sussex, which had refused a Tesco eight years ago.
Male participant: Saxmunden in Suffolk?
Male participant: That’s right, exactly, and they looked at the number of food producers and shops and so on, they surveyed them eight years ago. And then they looked at them today and they found that because of the fact that there wasn’t a Tesco there actually destroying the local shops and the local food community, that they’ve actually created a much more sustainable food culture, that the number of local shops had stayed at the same number, there were new shops. Interestingly and relating to the two points that you made, they’ve created a whole sort of better food supply system by turning out more food supplies, there’s a better link into farms, and the whole sort of town had become a hub by which the whole food production process had been altered. And that was achieved through strong planning policy, strong local action generated by local people. And I think that’s part of the story, is local people making it very clear about what they want and starting small is beautiful. And also focusing in on what is distinctive and local identity which relates to the stories that you’re hearing about the food, and that’s the way you can do it. Because people understand that kind of local agenda.
Female participant: That’s right. The critical thing that’s missing it seems to me is the value, people putting value on food. And actually we’re talking about food a lot, not surprisingly, it’s Dirt Café but I mean food, if you like it’s a metaphor for other things as well. I mean it stands for other things, and it’s valuing things. And I mean Saxmunden, let’s face it, is a pretty extraordinary place.
Male participant: But Queen’s Market too, I mean I give that as one example, Queen’s Market is another, the third most deprived area in London.
Female participant: But then you go up the road and you’ve got Broadway Market which the council has been cynically selling off despite huge local opposition, and I think there is a sort of, it’s tragic if we have to rely on local sort of action groups to kind of make a stand. Because well it needs to bounce further up the decision making process.
Male participant: That’s the way you do it though is build from the local, I’m sorry I’m conscious that …
Female participant: Yeah, but I think what we also need to remember is that there’s never going to be one solution, it’s a combination of many different approaches, whether it is local activity and whether it is Government policy, or whether it is actually business. And going back to what you were saying about what are the solutions, and I think big business is already at the forefront of coming up with solutions in terms of some of these things, because they have already, way ahead of Government, anticipated attacks. For example, if you try and send a DHL or a Fedex package right now you are paying an additional fuel surplus of 3.5% on every package that you send. If you book a ...
Male participant: Not enough.
Female participant: But if you book an airline ticket with certain companies you’re paying a fuel supplement and so on. And so you could call that an environmental tax.
Male participant: Yes.
Female participant: And so business again is kind of setting the way ahead of Government.
Female participant: But business works on the basis of making money and this is the trouble.
Female participant: Absolutely.
Female participant: And this is what I’m, I’m trying to sort of get at something because I think Marcus is absolutely right, I think it’s cutting underneath this logic of working with business. And if one can actually revalue certain things in society, I mean NEF have just written a report on this by the way, that if one can actually start to value non-material things, and that is about education, then you’re really starting to get somewhere. Because why, I mean everyone round this table would probably buy that £6 pot of honey, we’ve got the money to do it and we value food enough that we would do it. And it’s how you sort of spread that attitude wider, and that is really going to be bottom up. I mean the thing that worries me about relying on business is they’re very good at, there’s a lot of tokenism going on at the moment. I mean I spent a day recently at the IGD, the Institute of Grocery Distribution, reading their bizarre reports actually because they’re written by the supermarkets for the supermarkets. And they cost about 600 quid for these reports so normal people can’t get their hands on them, but they’re fascinating. And you’re right, the industry is absolutely obsessed at the moment with what they’re going to get hit with next by those trouble makers out there, and they’re trying to anticipate them. So they’re trying to “deal with food miles”, and I put that in inverted commas because it’s be seen to deal with food miles, it’s be seen to deal with green, it’s green washing.
Male participant: Yes it is.
Female participant: And here a Tesco’s shop put a couple of windmills on their roof and suddenly it’s all okay. And it’s how you get beyond that, because trusting business to sort of respond to groundswell, it’s where the groundswell comes from.
Female participant: But whether you agree with their motivation or not, it’s … effectively seeing things actually being done in an immediate sense. But I also wanted to mention something about this idea of cheapness and how we’re not prepared to pay that £6 for the pot of honey and yet we are prepared to go to a Wal-Mart instead of our local store in order to save £2 on a hairdryer irrespective of the fact that that £2 comes at the cost of slave labour essentially. But - I've lost my train of thought. Too much wine already, or not enough as the case may be. [Laughter]
Male participant: While you’re thinking can I just add there, I mean sometimes it isn’t even that, it’s the fact that people think that it’s cheaper at the Wal-Mart and the Asda and the Tesco but actually it’s cheaper down at your local market or elsewhere. And there’s this whole sort of culture around the fact that we’re almost brainwashed that if you go to a supermarket it will actually be cheaper that we actually have to attack. But I think that, just very briefly, that it is about sort of acting at various different levels. I mean government is also about local government and it’s about that sort of pressure coming from below, it’s also about the Government responding to the Office of Fair Trading report and doing something on a legislative basis. So it’s kind of trying to get that sort of critical mass who are attacking these things from all these different levels and not relying on either business or small communities or … to do that. It’s got to be that holistic approach.
Male participant: Just sort of picking up on the cheapness bit as well in supermarkets, I think as long as there is an expectation from the consumer side to be able to walk into a market or any other source, a supermarket, and pay £3 for a whole chicken and that that is okay.
Male participant: Until we stop that we’re fighting a losing battle because again this disconnection is far wider than …
Female participant: Exactly, it’s just a disconnect isn’t it? Some instinct should just go no, this is wrong.
Female participant: It’s highlighted by the fact that for example in the 1970s people were spending 30% of their income on food. Now we spend under 10% of our income on food, and that’s deemed acceptable. And yet we are wealthier, it’s just that we’re choosing to spend, it’s not that we’re poorer it’s just that we’re choosing to spend on other things. So when we make that decision about that pot of honey as a proportion of our income, it’s probably equivalent to what people have been paying all along in the past. But we’re just now not prepared to spend more on our food and less on our cheap weekend holidays.
Female participant: And it’s not just money we’re not prepared to spend on food, it’s time as well. And it’s thinking and it’s …
Male participant: Yes, what is this I never have time to cook, what else would they do?
Female participant: Yes, exactly.
Male participant: Watching television.
Female participant: It’s a value judgement, exactly.
Female participant: Sitting around the table. This is from the … I came from a Italian background. This is from the beginning of the discussion about kids’ education, that’s where you educate the kids, that’s where you have the chat of the day, that’s where you talk of how our day was. Where they educate you, pass instructions, there is no other time, I mean in a modern society. So I think it’s important to bring back this sitting round the table and talking, and then you can say about the eating because it’s the place you are.
Female participant: Exactly. I think that’s really interesting and I mean if you look historically in this country, I mean teaching round the table is fundamental at the family level but I mean also at other institutional level as well. I mean if you look at the law courts, the way that Inns of Court were set up was basically monastic and you shared a table, and there was a sort of hierarchy of who spoke and you actually got taught at table. And I think that’s really fundamental, because I mean NEF have written this report about re-evaluating work and leisure balance if you like, and I think one of the things that we don’t value is time, slow time I suppose you would say, but it is time where you’re not kind of playing a computer game, you’re not sort of absorbing vast amounts of information, you’re actually digesting the information that you have, and the experience you have, and sharing it. And I think that’s very interesting.
Male participant: All you say is absolutely right, again at the risk of being difficult, the social trends are all the other way. I mean the number of people who live in single parent homes, they don’t have anybody to actually socialise with, to sit round and have a delightful middle class tea and talk, they are going to slump in front of the TV, they are going to get their dinner from Iceland and we have to engage with those people as well. You know, if we don’t we have problems.
Female participant: But if those people came from a family, I mean we all come from families, we all have, well not all of us, I mean some of us sort of get abandoned or whatever or our parents died but I mean the majority of us at some stage are brought up by a parent, that’s already you as a two, that’s already people that can sit round a table and eat. And interestingly …[Talking together].
Female participant: I agree with you.
Male participant: I’m just saying, I think there’s a danger of us being slightly in a bubble.
Female participant: It’s an approach that has to have…
Female participant: Different levels as we’ve been saying about many different things. But you know, it’s shocking that actually the sort of, I mean you talk about the food desert issue, and I mean it is shocking. And we are talking about different levels obviously, and we’ve said that a number of times today. But it all comes down to the same, that’s what’s interesting it trickles down to the same fundamental problems, however you go in.
Female participant: But just to mention a really great solution that I heard about recently, again in the States, was in really underprivileged areas where there simply were not any food stores at all, the only place that you could get food was at the gas station or a vague selection in liquor stores. And so again it was community organised at grass roots level, people got together and with their liquor stores, which is a booming growth business in underprivileged areas, they agreed that liquor stores would start holding fresh veg. And so they used that already established infrastructure as a way to bring fresh food into food deserts.
Male participant: Yeah, that’s a brilliant example.
Female participant: So people are being extremely creative.
Male participant: And that’s what you need, and what worries me is that at a Governmental level you’ve got approaches that are trying to say well the only way to deal with what they call underserved market, which is … itself is to bring in big retail.
Female participant: Meals on wheels, yeah.
Male participant: Well either with meals on wheels so you have the sort of deserving and undeserving poor, and the deserving poor get their frozen meals on wheels and the people who can afford it go to the big box retail which then destroys the 2,000 independent convenience stores that are closing, and you replicate the problem. That’s really, really you know, it’s really fundamentally challenging.
Female participant: But I think the point that Sonya was making and that I was amplifying is, yes, not everybody can do it and it may be middle class and blah blah, but it’s about again valuing food. And I think there are people who are struggling even to keep two ends together absolutely, and that’s the whole issue about the sort of appropriation of food delivery by big business as well, which does need to be addressed, and I think can be addressed by legislation. But the fact that, you know, I mean we don’t value food to the extent that, with the time that we do have, we all do have leisure time and the fact that it’s such a fundamentally rewarding thing, food, and a civilising thing and a socialising thing, and I do think the fact that we don’t see it as that and people will, as you say, flop in front of the sofa, shovel pot of noodle into their face while watching Big Brother, which is bizarre because Big Brother is about sort of as it were a false intimacy with people that you would never normally meet and so on. There’s a sort of perversion really of values, and it does go through everything, but I think food is just a very useful place to start because we all have to eat three times a day or if we’re lucky twice a day, or in our case about eight times a day. And it’s just this, it’s this resource at all levels isn’t it, socially and in terms of understanding what’s gone wrong on the bigger ...
Male participant: I just wonder perhaps specifically in the UK now, I’m not so sure about other European communities or internationally, in terms of how, you know, what role food plays, and that’s sort of, you know, not handing down of recipes but food as something fundamental, not something where you’re basically almost probably intimidated now as a mother, you’re sort of challenged with these Michelin star chefs who kind of are on the telly and tell you that you should be able to do that, or give you your chocolate tart recipes that fails to do what it’s meant to do as per the book. And so actually I think what’s unfortunately happened in the UK is that there is this huge leap from a complete lack of awareness I guess of food and what’s around and what role it could play, to this extreme of every family sitting around about a five course first class meal. And so I think somehow what we’ve missed there is this sort of.
Female participant: Middle ground, yeah.
Male participant: The middle ground, the real stuff.
Female participant: Completely agree with you.
Female participant: The Jamie Olivers and the Nigella Lawsons are about the middle ground. Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson are probably the most popular TV chefs right now.
Male participant: Delia Smith as well.
Female participant: Yeah, exactly, and those three actually were all targeting easy to cook at home, unfancy good food.
Male participant: I agree on Delia Smith’s side.
Female participant: Have you thought about free food?
Female participant: As in?
Female participant: Hedgerows or what about planting apple trees in parks and letting people …
Female participant: And allotments.
Female participant: Oh absolutely, yeah.
Female participant: Have a seat on there, you know, I live in Highbury and there’s a fantastic allotment there, nobody seems to know about it but there’s a lot of … actually in there. And actually young people too. And there is high rise blocks and we lose touch again and we’ve got to get the communities back into a common space where they can grow easily and very economically.
Female participant: Because schools should all have allotments definitely, mind you have they got any outside space?
Female participant: Why not use public spaces like parklands to cultivate something like that.
Female participant: There is a lot going already on that. I mean it’s normal you see allotments, and this is a way of doing it. And in your garden I do, now I don’t buy as much salad as I used to buy in supermarkets, honestly, I take from my own garden which is ... ... nothing much, just a little thing.
Male participant: Slugs is the main reason.
Female participant: We’ve left earned enough for them to eat and we eat as well. And because my husband is, he loves the little creatures and I love the big creatures, so always survive in …
Female participant: Sounds ideal.
Male participant: And responsible markets we’re saying, and I think the other thing is in school domestic science, that’s always kind of reached a middle ground, that doesn’t need to be very elaborate.
Male participant: Well I think also they could start educating them in growing vegetables. There are some schools actually that have a plot of land that get the kids interested, and nothing is better than that. Because I see a time coming when my grandchildren in their 30s when that would be a major part of their diet will be the food they’re producing themselves.
Male participant: Which comes back to the point you were making right at the beginning about we need to start thinking about the next 50 years and what we do. Maybe that’s not … about getting people to think about growing and reconnecting people to that whole cycle, rather than just …
Male participant: Because I think once you grow your own food, you have a much greater respect for it, and you cook it with more interest and time and trouble.
Female participant: Absolutely, but I mean you’re right, if you look at all the projections of fossil fuels and oil and so on, they’re all about to run out. And it’s just human nature that nobody will stop doing something that’s essentially easy until they absolutely have to.
Male participant: Until they’re forced to, right.
Female participant: Until they’re forced to, but if we wait until we’re forced to ...
Male participant: It’ll be too late.
Female participant: It’ll be too late. And this is again, this is the problem isn’t it, and I mean I think what Marianne’s talking about of taking kids to farms, what you’re talking about in encouraging kids to grow stuff, I mean it all comes down to the same thing, it’s learning that this thing is precious. And I think one of the terrible illusions, I mean Schumacher’s obsessed with at the moment, I mean he begins in his book Small is Beautiful, the first thing he says is one of the greatest illusions of our time is that we believe we have solved the problem of production, which I just think says it all basically. And it’s an illusion, and it’s based on treating - I’m sorry we’ve been sort of yapping and the food’s fantastic, absolutely fantastic. In fact I think we should clap the chefs. [Applause].
Female participant: Thank you so much.
Female participant: … pudding.
Female participant: Okay, pudding, well sort of an interstitial clap, it’s clapping sorbet.
Female participant: We had a delicious …
Female participant: Exactly.
Female participant: But no, he basically talks about the illusion of treating natural goods that are effectively capital, fossil fuel reserves and so on, as if they were income, and this underlies the whole way we go about doing things, he’s absolutely right. And I think, I mean what’s fascinating again and that’s what Marianne was saying earlier about the fact that we need to spend a lot more on food, it’s simply because it costs a lot to produce and we’ve found ways of disguising the cost of production. I actually believe, I mean yes, we have reduced cost to an extent, but the other kinds of costs that go into producing food cheaply are not being counted.
Male participant: Illusions in the environment.
Female participant: Subsidise.
Female participant: Thank you, the big guys but they don’t make small ...
Female participant: Costs to the environment, costs to the National Health Service because we’re eating rubbish or getting heart attacks, you know, it goes on and on and on.
Female participant: But this is where the lack of planning is highlighted because we have an agricultural infrastructure that is absolutely dependent on fossil fuels. Whether that is in pesticide and fertiliser production, to mechanisation of the fields, to the transportation of the food on huge scale farms, it is utterly reliant on cheaper … And yet there’s no planning at this point to start slowly but surely adapting. And yet we know that we are approaching pretty much around about now, somewhere between 2008, 2010, people as a huge …
Female participant: The trouble is peal oil happens about 40 years before the oil really runs out, and this is the trouble.
Female participant: Well it’s not actually, it’s the trouble but it’s not ...
Female participant: It’s a trouble. It’s troubling.
Female participant: Yes, because though we may think that yes we have actually almost 100 years of oil left possibly, that oil is not going to be accessible nor is it going to be economical to extract. So in actual fact we have a lot less time available of oil at the kind of prices that we’ve enjoyed up to now, which is around …
Male participant: Peak oil now, which it could be there’s a kind of plateau where prices go up and down, exactly what they’ve been doing, it’s estimated that it will be about 2013 they’re going to, start to bite.
Female participant: Which is too late.
Male participant: No, no, no, when the oil begins really radically to stop. But I mean …
Female participant: It’s when it starts to cost too much isn’t it that people will start to respond and – wow, isn’t that fantastic.
Male participant: I mean again I’d like to be slightly challenging, I’m beginning to enjoy doing this.
Female participant: Be really challenging.
Male participant: I mean you say food is too cheap and there’s a problem about that. I mean what always strikes me, both going to South Africa and also again France, is how much incredibly cheaper food is in those countries. That actually strikes me when I go to Cape Town that there is really good fish, there’s really good fruit available, and on a lowish income, I’m talking about relative clearly here, a relatively low income in South Africa compared with a relatively low income here, you can eat a damn site better and in that sense …
Female participant: Because they still have indigenous food cultures.
Male participant: Yes, but I think …
Female participant: Well also because of the cost of labour in South Africa is a lot less. I mean I know it’s difficult to compare.
Male participant: Yeah, but it isn’t in France, it isn’t in France and you see I think, and I think it underlines something about what people think about food and the role, what we’re saying is which is that food is fundamental and essential and that it shouldn’t be regarded as a luxury. And we’ve got to a stage somehow in this country where basic food is actually very expensive, it’s very difficult on a low income to eat well, and that’s really problematic. And I suppose the point, again coming back to the CAP, though the CAP may be rubbish and awful, the idea that you actually subsidise and value agriculture, food production, because it’s based on an essential human right which is that people should eat well is not fundamentally about doing that.
Female participant: I agree.
Male participant: On a low income you can eat well, but you have to know something about food and what to select.
Male participant: And unfortunately most people don’t.
Female participant: And it has to be available.
Male participant: You have to have a certain amount of education in order to do that.
Female participant: But it is possible to eat well and organically …
Male participant: It is, but it’s difficult.
Male participant: It takes more skill to do that and knowledge. I mean I've got a cookbook from my grandparents going back to 1900s, and there must be 20 recipes what to do with old bread.
Male participant: You don’t have to go all that way back.
Male participant: And wonderful soup recipes in Northern Italy made with old bread.
Male participant: Yes, it’s wonderful, and there’s a bread salad in Northern Italy.
Female participant: This reminds me that in Brazil they have all these popular problems in the morning and they are now working on this because who wants to be these ordinary people, and they … they are telling recipes of what to do with cheap ingredients and very healthy and very tasteful.
Female participant: That sounds great.
Female participant: It just reminded me.
Female participant: There’s actually a programme in the States I was seeing recently where two school kids have got on some local network, and they’re basically doing, these eight year olds are basically doing recipes for other kids to cook, which I think is fantastic. But you know. We’ve just had this incredible arrival. [Laughter]
Female participant: In the spirit of sort of interdependence ... but we’re hoping that Caroline will take up the reins here and serve everyone a piece of this. And we wanted to sort of show you something wonderful and big that sort of represents all of Western Europe and the UK. So every little fruit is from sort of multiple countries, and I think the … tomatoes are the only ones from the UK. But it’s kind of nice because it sort of brings together elements of this conversation.
Female participant: Beautiful. And this lavender is incredible as well.
Female participant: It was just picked last week, and so you can, from that farm visit Clare and Tracey, through La Fromagerie and it’s completely different. You were just saying how you, well I normally pick something up and sort of jam my nose into it to get a good smell of it and often you’re let down.
Female participant: Absolutely.
Female participant: With this it’s exquisite and it has a lovely, and it sort of lingers around the room, kind of a heady …
Female participant: It’s fantastic, I mean it’s just wellbeing on a stalk isn’t it?
Male participant: And the tea?
Female participant: And the tea is, really I’d love you to sort of taste it and see if you can work out what’s in it.
Male participant: Well the smell is lovely.
Female participant: Let’s do that, let’s do that, let’s put us on the spot.
Female participant: There are three ingredients, one is on the plate so you’re not … and you can squeeze …, the geranium which is on your plate and you’ll squeeze it, it’s a rose geranium … which is the one that’s made for essential oils, used to distil oils. And rose petals, and roses were mostly used really up until ...
Male participant: Which rose?
Female participant: This one is probably, well most of it is Rosa Damascena and it’s from Bulgaria, and that’s a dried rose … I had dried some for my garden.
Male participant: De La Hay has got to be worth trying. Rose of de la Hay.
Female participant: No, you can use any really old rose from your garden and make tea.
Male participant: Hundreds of herb teas, very good.
Female participant: And it’s probably …
Male participant: We put it in rhubarb crumble.
Female participant: But pick your own roses …
Female participant: When you say old roses, you mean roses that actually haven’t had all the smell bred out of them don’t you?
Female participant: That sort of thing, exactly.
Female participant: Because this really upsets me, because I stick my nose in every flower I see basically, which can be a problem, but it’s incredible how tragically few roses, you know, they look incredible, you stick your schnoz up, nothing comes off them at all. And it’s so fantastic when something does come off them isn’t it, it’s just…
Female participant: This is great for … it’s a great one for love, for the heart and all the medicinal aspects to it which have really fallen out of favour and not been so well researched and probably will come back into that.
Male participant: What has fallen out of favour?
Female participant: The roses and medicinal powers. It’s incredibly important, the apothecary’s rose which you’re not ...
Male participant: Yes, the first one …
Female participant: Rose Garllica is another, but the cardamom will help indigestion as well … all very lovely antiseptic, help the gut flora and get everything really done that’s ...
Female participant: Is that with geranium as well, have you had a sort of essence of lime ...[Talking together]
Female participant: … yeah.
Female participant: Sweetness in the sort of face of the lime, and also there’s a bit of sort of rose water in the meringues that sort of echo …
Male participant: Right.
Female participant: ….
Male participant: Rosewater’s wonderful to use in cooking.
Female participant: It really uplifts the spirit.
Female participant: Fantastic, thank you.
Female participant: I hope you enjoy it.
Female participant: Thank you very much, I’m sure we will. Well as I’m going to have to be mummy now, going back to the conversation we just had. So right, actually so it’s quite – I’m going to be daddy in fact, I’m going to have to carve, what’s happening here?
Female participant: I know what, I’ve eaten both just in case…
Female participant: Well I’m sure you’re meringue’s so deliciously light …. It’s actually quite an onerous responsibility. Well I mean if you wanted to be accepted into a guild a few hundred years ago, you basically had to consume this sort of.
Male participant: You are cutting it into five pieces. [Laughter]
Female participant: Because it’s all there really.
Female participant: Oh it’s just, I can tell you the texture is fantastic.
Female participant: It’s interesting what you were saying when you were saying about breeding horticultural roses or cultivating, that they lose their smell and all that, and how the same thing has happened in food and how carrot varieties have been manipulated for longevity and shelf life and all of that over taste. Their uniformity and all the rest of it.
Male participant: And I’m sorry to sort of jump in here as a former chef, it’s really interesting how food in its raw state, when you see a chicken and so forth, how you see that it’s just something not quite right with this. With normal chicken, this is not bad chicken or something, it’s just about there’s such a significant difference in texture when it’s raw between a…
Female participant: I was doing ladies first because somehow that’s how I was brought up …[Talking together].
Female participant: Coming back to this idea of how technology has actually taken over the sort of artistic and aesthetic experience of food. For example if you look at the majority of cows, dairy cows now in the UK, they’re all Holstein cows, and that’s because they can product twice the amount of milk per year than an Ayrshire cow can for example. So all the Ayrshires have gone and all the Holsteins have come in. And they’ve super-bred them to such an extent that most of them don’t survive more than two lactation cycles, they succumb to things like diseases and so forth, so they’ve bred these super monstrosities whether it’s in cows or it’s in carrots, whether it’s in chickens that break their own legs because their breasts are so hyper developed that they can’t support the weight of their own body.
Male participant: I mean it’s interesting, clearly there’s always been modification done by humans to kind of, I mean the carrot would have never looked the way a carrot looks now.
Male participant: The carrot is very recent. I mean from the 17th century before the commercial carrot, they were yellow carrots and they just mixed the two.
Male participant: So it’s not about sort of almost like stepping back and let’s let nature do it, but it’s that balance again to okay, well what’s ...
Female participant: I really think that’s a key word, and thank you for keeping bringing it up because it’s my obsession as well, is balance. And I think that’s why I was telling you earlier about the two programmes that were on 19th December, because there’s no balance in that, and if that’s what people are being given, it is, it’s sort of electric shock treatment followed by sort of soothing balm. And none of it’s real, if you like, and we need to start focusing on that. I think the sort of food we get to eat is a reflection of society really, and these days if all we can get is antibiotic pumped chickens with bandy legs, then that’s a reflection of the way we’re living, that is the Dorian Gray portrait in the attic if you like. And if we don’t like it we need to change things at sort of the point of entry.
Male participant: … this talk about chickens and so on is that the extent to which some things just kind of are unacceptable and other things to my mind might be nearly as bad, they don’t trigger the same reaction. And what I’m thinking of here is reaction to GM foods where people got tremendously excited and there was a massive backlash and actually quite a lot was done. I’m not saying the war was won but there was quite a lot of, there was a huge backlash and I think it surprised both governments and big business to an extent. And yet other things, like the sort of things you’re talking about have kind of gone on and are kind of almost accepted that chickens are going to be like that and that breeds of cow …
Female participant: There are blind spots.
Male participant: Well the people behind Monsanto and GM … considered the public were hugely more naïve and unintelligent than they were. They asked us to believe in the first place that GM seeds would not pollute anything else around them, and this ridiculous yard they said which would be between that and an organic field say. I mean and we just roared with laughter at the idea. How can you expect us, and they argued implacably that that was perfectly safe. And then year after year this space got big, wider and wider and wider until news came through that of course maize, corn, whatever the GM was had already polluted the weeds and crops, fertilised and ...
Female participant: Because actually seeds fly in the wind because that’s what ... for millions of years.
Male participant: People were taking it on the wheels of their tractor, on the boots of their wellingtons, I mean and we knew that this was impossible.
Female participant: But I mean that should also reflect the power of big business and Government. So when you look at the head of the Environmental Protection Agency in the States was led for a while by Michael Taylor who used to be the Senior Counsel for Monsanto. So how on earth can you have an appropriate judgement coming out of the Environmental Protection Agency on GM foods. It’s just not possible.
Female participant: Well food is very involved with Government, I mean high level people in the food industry, I mean Lord Sainsbury onwards are very involved because it’s a very powerful thing, control is food is a very you know, it is power basically.
Female participant: This Government has a lot of clout, I think that’s one of the main problems … We give them, no not we give them, they build up a lot of power, it’s a huge.
Male participant: They do but they, well it’s big business which underpins all governments.
Female participant: Only the society really can change that in a way that I truly believe is perhaps a good topic, but is again going back to small. You grow smaller because of course you can speak better with your neighbour and with the guy the other road than with the untouchable. If you make this stronger and stronger and stronger, you are going to somehow is related to this very wealthy thing and Labour government and then they are going to have to change. And what I was saying about well why this wealth, all this money to one person, they have to think okay if it’s not in the person where it’s going to go? Again then I think it’s where we were talking about, education, science, technology, to develop things for us to sort out the problems that we are going to face in the future, like climate change. The earth as a … will cope with it, they are going to change. But we are going to have to face it and we are going to have to survive. There are some things that we cannot, or even if we do everything that has to be done some things are already in place and we can’t do anything, we are going to have to leave, and we are going to have to have a lot of knowledge in technology, and some money has to be put into it, into education; take the kids to fields to plant, but you need fields. To have fields you have to go down …
Female participant: That’s right, we’re running out of earth pretty fast.
Female participant: Then you have, you know, and so anyway.
Female participant: I think that’s right, and it is education again. But I think the, I mean I’m very exercised by this issue of how people do get together and how those networks do form. And I think one of the interesting things about food, and this is something Guy has said a number of times today, but I mean food used to bring people together, not just in the middle class dining table scenario, but you had to go out every day to buy food. Before fridges existed, the market would be the place you’d have to go, and it brought people together. And it is a network of trust, as you say, because you get to know the market, who the trustworthy guys are and who you wouldn’t buy a fish off for love nor money. You get chatting to them, they get to know what you like, and also other people, your neighbours are there at the same time. Now the trouble is in the absence of that, because let’s face it yes there’s Queen’s Market and there’s a few markets that exist, but the majority of us don’t have access to those. Easy access shall I say. And would that we did and this is maybe one thing we should talk about, alternative food supplies. But I think it’s just one of those things that’s gone if you like, and it’s these little networks and these webs of small things that build up over time that really do start to sort of - I mean you mentioned the word society just now, which of course famously is something Mrs Thatcher claimed didn’t exist and then did her best to eradicate.
Male participant: Mrs Thatcher again.
Female participant: I know, that woman again. But I do think it’s interesting, I mean I completely agree with what you’re saying, and I’m very exercised by how one makes it happen. Because the old social glues if you like that used to bring people together don’t exist. I mean now you can live your entire life in your house, you don’t have to go out, you order your food over the internet, you work over the internet, you entertain yourself over the internet so what is this thing that’s going to bring people together? I mean I know NEF talked about Government sort of, if you like, bringing policies about to attempt to sort of shift our sort of value systems away from materialism towards something else. They talked about for instance someone saying that you talked about advertising being one obvious area where a message is being drummed into people that possession of a Game Boy is all life’s worth. What if you got rid of that and what if you built sort of local community centres and parks and invested in public, it’s the public realm isn’t it? It’s what the public realm is and what you have that’s the public realm, that’s really where we need to sort of be speaking as an architect now. I really believe that’s the key, is what is public man in 21st century and how does public man relate to his fellow public man or woman?
Male participant: Yeah, now you raised some big issues and some important issues there, and I think part of it is kind of trying to address some of the quite narrow profit driven motives of some regeneration development is done, but to demonstrate how you can address it much better through these other institutions and forums just because I’m obsessed with markets. I mean markets are ...
Female participant: They are an obsessive thing.
Male participant: They are obsessive things, but they are actually there and governments are meant to encourage, you know, it actually says in their planning policy you’re meant to encourage them. But the great thing about our studies about markets have shown is that they generate and allow more money to flow into the local economy. They employ, more people are employed ... and because those employees then spend their money in the local area you generate a lot more money. So kind of our advocacy case is to kind of say to big development people and regenerators look, you will actually get a better result for local people if you go down this route whereas if you continue to build big box supermarkets actually most of the money flows out of your local community and you’re going to disempower it and … growing what we want and it’s kind of putting those quite hard headed arguments … very boring and very practical, but that’s part of the answer. And then linking it to some of the things that we also said, the bit about what are cities for? And this goes back to some of the stuff about … probably 50 years ago that the cities are about people, they’re not just about …, they’re not just about, like you were saying at the beginning, they’re not just about … might look nice from a design .... What they are about is about having space and people can have it and move around and socialise and create social glue, and if you don’t do that then we all will have …. But people actually respond to that .... So I think part of it is about ….
Male participant: May I also say that we shouldn’t forget the past, history.
Female participant: Absolutely.
Male participant: …. And I’m thinking actually today that ... we could right from the beginning use trenches …. … seemed to me a marvellous economic way of ...
Female participant: Using old bread.
Male participant: Yes, that’s right.
Female participant: Yeah, absolutely. No, I think that’s right. I mean I think Jane Jacobs is a really key writer. I mean she died recently actually, I didn’t even know she was still alive oddly because she seemed to be around for ever. But her analysis of the street, and I really believe, I mean we’ve been talking about food all day but for me it’s a continuum. Food is a sort of, as I say, it’s just at the heart of everything. But if you talk about the things we’ve been talking about spatially, to me the street is the answer you come up with. And more and more of us are living in cities, I mean cities are the future, so I really do think we need to ask what are cities for, as you say, and the sort of glue we’ve been talking about. If you have a street especially with food shops on it, I mean I really think that’s the blueprint if you like.
Male participant: That’s right, food shops and small businesses.
Sarah Benton: At that point we’re going to wind down the meal, but that doesn’t mean to say that you have to stop talking. You go out into the street now and look around you and see what people are doing to change or to innovate. And we want to thank you on behalf of Sarah who I think was the chef of the year.
Female participant: Fantastic, can we applaud Sarah again now? [Applause].
Sarah Benton: And I want you to continue this discussion and it’s been a pleasure to have you here and listen to you all so superbly, and it’s been quite inspiring.
Female participant: Thank you so much. This food’s been inspiring.
Sarah Benton: And Dirt Café will go on discussing making waves and making changes as well, thank you so much.
Female participant: Thank you too. [Applause].