Another week, another Spud Sunday…
If you’ve ever wondered why I do what I do – and I have, occasionally, wondered about it myself – you might like to have a listen to a real, live interview with yours truly, as conducted recently by Bridget Nicholas, in association with Radio Kerry Training. Fancy or what?
As I got home, I pulled a Tesco receipt from my wallet.
All I could do was laugh. A kind of resigned, shake of the head laugh, as opposed to the belly kind of laugh, though, in point of fact, it was bellies and the filling thereof that had me shaking my head in the first place.
I was just back from the inaugural For Food’s Sake event which took place earlier this month in Dublin’s Sugar Club. Organised by, among others, Aoife Carrigy, late of Food and Wine magazine, it was a panel discussion on the future of our indigenous Irish food industry, with Pat Smith, General Secretary of the Irish Farmer’s Association, Una Fitzgibbon, Director of Marketing Services with Bord Bia, journalist Suzanne Campbell and Graham Roberts of Connemera Smokehouse all participating. To remind us of what it was all really about, samples of Graham’s fine smoked fish were available for sampling, along with excellent relishes and sauces from Janet’s Country Fayre, beautiful cheeses from Mary and Gerry Kelly of Moonshine Organic Dairy and lovely breads from Le Levain bakery.
Mostly, though, there was talk. The dominant and domineering position in the food industry of supermarkets, such as the aforementioned Tesco, was a recurring theme on the night, as was the merit of supporting small, local producers through more direct routes. Pat Smith related the story of a potato grower who was offered, by a supermarket buyer, €150/tonne for potatoes which cost him €250/tonne to grow. These would be sold by the supermarket (and perhaps bought by you or me) for the equivalent of €725/tonne. The problem, as Pat saw it, was that the supermarket, in offering such a low rate to the grower, had respect for neither him nor his product.
The system works, though, because so many of us buy our food in supermarkets on the basis of convenience and price. It often takes a conscious, concerted effort to do otherwise. The question was asked, though perhaps not answered in any kind of definitive way, as to how we could change consumer habits. The truth is that no one thing or person is going to change the system that leads consumers to buy where and what they buy, though perhaps a raising of awareness as to the implications of those choices is a start. And that, I suppose, is what events like this may achieve, but only if talking leads to doing.
And so I got to doing a little something by finally planting this year’s potato crop and perhaps redeeming, in some small way, my many supermarket spud purchases. My future crop, comprising a (modest for me) 10 varieties this year, have been committed to bags in my small backyard. And knowing what goes into growing my own brings with it a healthy reminder of the thought and respect that I should try to apply when buying foods carefully cultivated and created by others.