Thursday, December 5, 2013

Irish food´s Riverdance moment

After a Summer and Autumn of hard work and a lot of travel I´ve been so busy with my journalism that I´ve realised I need to post some new stuff here and let those outside Irish media to see what´s going on in Irish food and farming. Happily the big story of this year - our horsemeat scandal ended up being something postive for our food sector. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland who was first to spot the problem earned a lot of credit for lifting the lid on the murky world of "meat agents" and a European trade involving many countries and players and in some cases criminal activity in the food chain.

The truth is that aside from a very small number of rogue players, Irish beef is a fantastic food, extensively farmed, grass fed and fully traceable. In fact since the story broke Ireland has gained new markets for our beef exports and just this week we´ve seen Japan lift a ban on imports of Irish beef since the BSE scandal. Confidence is high in the food we are producing here. In many ways I´m busier than ever in a work sense because the message of our book from 2009 - that food is important, that the economic boom in Ireland ignored the farming and food sector, that the farming sector is one of this country´s selling points is now hugely recognised.

Ireland has more food festivals than ever. More food entrepreneurs than ever. But today I again visited a small food producer - a free range poultry grower whose livelihood is threatened by regulations which he feels are designed for big multinational food businesses and not the small scale individual. This is something I hear a lot on my travels around the country. But despite challenges to small or artisan producers, overall the local food culture here is growing apace. In 2009 when we penned the book there was no such pride in Irish food, and farming was a dirty word. Now there is truly a food to fork culture where many consumers, not just foodies are engaged with trying to buy local food and good quality food. Yes there are still difficulties in the sector and in these times us consumers also have less money to spend. But with less money there is also awareness of Irish food´s huge value to the local economy.

Recently the Dublin Web Summit took place in Ballsbridge Dublin - it´s a giant tech festival if you like, bringing together 10,000 tech start ups, venture capitalists, international brands and 400 international media. For the first time at the web summit not only Irish tech but Irish food was put centre stage. Good Food Ireland - an organisation of food producers and restaurants simply took over the catering. Instead of the usual mass-produced conference food, the delegates dined on venison sausage, Birgitta Curtin´s smoked salmon, relishes and Irish cheeses in a menu designed by Ballymaloe cookery school´s Rory O´Connell.

Watching the delegates taste the food in the beautiful tented setting in Herbert Park Dublin (photographed above) made me realise this really was a special event, a special moment. Finally Irish food was getting the attention it deserved. It was Irish food´s Riverdance moment - an instance where something essential to us and taken for granted is pulled into the limelight and lauded. There is no going back.

Here´s my report from the day on RTE radio´s Drivetime programme


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