The First Real Food Festival

Posted on: 01 May 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Michael Wale liked what he saw and tasted during a visit to the first Real Food Festival.

Renowned Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli made a very good point when at the debate that ended the first day of this new food festival he remarked, "The curriculum of the schools has nothing about food. They learn maths but only use 2 per cent of it during their lifetime. Food is part of their life every day."

That said it all, really, for the purpose of this giant new four day food show at London's Earls Court. Wide aisles spread with sawdust, a pair of pigs in their pen as you entered, and a sheep show further on - this definitely had the feel of the country come to town.

To be critical, the end of day debate, with seven on the panel, was not a success. It was poorly chaired by Richard Johnson, and lacked shape and purpose. Yet some good things came out of it, like the view expressed by Locatelli. And Zac Goldsmith, environmentalist turned Tory politician, had views that I hope he will retain if he wins the Richmond upon Thames seat he is contesting at the next General Election.

Among them, "A lot of what we call cheap food isn’t cheap. It is directly subsidised with £250 million of the Government's money to keep pesticides out of our water." He also pointed out some of the lunacies encouraged by the European Union's common agricultural policy including, "We sell as much poultry meat to the Netherlands as we buy from the Netherlands. We even import liquid milk.”

Real Food Festival Debate - Mark Price, Tim Lang, Trudie StylerHe was backed up in his cheap food arguments by Mark Price, the managing director of Waitrose who said, "I don't feel I should be here defending the supermarkets. 54 per cent of the food we consume in the UK is produced in the UK. Why is the rest coming in? Because people want cheap food."

Delia Smith's latest cookery 'cheating' book and TV programme came in for merciless attack from both the panel, backed up by loud applause from the audience.

Full marks to organiser Philip Lowery who invented a subsidy for small producers so that they could afford to have a stand. The normal stand for the four days would have cost them £1,500, but producers who had a turnover less than three quarters of a million pounds got the stand for £600.

Touring these smaller producers it was amazing to find how many of them had started their businesses in their kitchens!

Lowery told me, "I've had the idea for a show like this in my head for one and half years, and it is wonderful to see it happen. I've been a member of Slow Food for a number of years and I felt the small producers needed an outlet."

Typical of these smaller producers were a Carribean couple Sophie and Ian Jennings, who were brought up in London's Lewisham but now live in Kenley, Surrey. They had a small stand showing their collection of home made chutneys and spices. I particularly liked their apple and mint jelly, which would taste just right with roast lamb.

Ian had worked as a chef for 20 years and finally got fed up with the long hours, so with Sophie he started to make home made chutneys and other delicacies in his kitchen. They used farmers markets to sell them at first, before they got their produce into smaller shops.

Penny Samocicvk offered me a very nice taste of the beer that she and her husband started making in the kitchen of their Pen Lon farm, at Llanarth, near Aberystwith.

She explained, "My husband Stefan, whose parents came here after the war made his own beer. Then he entered it at a local show and it won a prize, over all these professionally made beers. So he thought he would start us a business on our farm. We don't use any chemicals in the processing, and we grow our own hops, which we got from America."

One of the most popular attractions was the Sheep Show where Richard Savory, a New Zealander, who now owns a farm in North Norfolk, not only explained the different breeds of sheep as they came before him, but also sheared one with electric clippers in an impressive two minutes - the fleece coming off all in one piece!

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