Thursday 16 March 2017

Why We Should Eat Less Meat

Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, really put the ‘cat among the pigeons’ recently when she called on people from developed nations to consider eating “less meat or no meat at all”, due to the toll its production takes on the environment.  Her address to 1,300 current and future young world leaders from 196 nations at the One Young World Summit in Ottawa caused quite a stir around the world but particularly here in Ireland.

Mary Robinson's address at One Young Word (Image credit: One Young World)
The remarks drew a tirade of condemnation from several farming organisations and rural TDs, who seemed to assume this statement was aimed directly at them.
Irish beef farmers are understandably particularly sensitive having been directly affected by the fall in the value of sterling as a result of Brexit.
Because of the quantity of methane and slurry produced by animals, livestock rearing is seen as a major contribution to greenhouse gases. However, here in Ireland our dairy and beef animals are primarily, though not completely, grass fed so consequently they produce much less gas than grain fed animals reared in intensive feed lot systems. A fact that needs to be repeated loud and clear… We are not comparing like with like, it’s simply not the same thing.

The cows at Ballymaloe Cookery School
Ireland can grow grass like virtually nowhere else in the world so surely it makes sense for our farmers to produce good beef for export to areas that are not so favoured by nature. The quality of Irish beef is highly esteemed. It was served recently at the Breeder’s Cup in California on the invitation of the organisers. Good Food Ireland was partnered by Dawn Meats and Bord Bia to showcase Irish beef at this super high profile event considered to be the ‘richest two days in sport’
However, back to Mary Robinson, we must be careful not to ‘shoot the messenger’. There’s no doubt that many people nowadays eat far more meat than is beneficial for their health.
Much of that meat is produced in extremely intensive units which raise both animal welfare and chemical input concerns.

Our farm shop full of fresh veg from our organic farm
Although I eat mostly plants, copious amounts of vegetables, fresh herbs and wild foods, I’m certainly not a vegetarian. I love good meat but increasingly find myself eating less meat but better quality totally free range and organic. I am happy to pay more to those who are rearing animals and poultry in a more extensive way.
We urgently need a system where food producers can be identified and rewarded for producing a superior product. We also need to create a new paradigm where the contribution of organic and chemical free farmers to the environment is acknowledged in tax breaks.
So Mary Robinson would like us to consider a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle for the sake of the planet and future generations. Scientists have confirmed that a widespread change in our eating habits would cut food related emissions by two thirds. However many are reluctant to forego meat altogether.

Nonetheless, we can’t ignore the validity of the arguments so why not seek out an organic chicken. It will cost you €18-€22 as opposed to €3.50 – Ouch… and that’s if you can even find one.  That is the real price of rearing and feeding a chicken with organic GM free feed for approximately three times the length of the bargain chicken without antibiotics, hormones, growth promoters or anti-depressants. Organic always means free range but free range certainly does not mean organic. Free range is a very ‘elastic term’, so ask some questions…
So back to the days when chicken was a ‘once a week’ or even once a month treat and every single scrap was used, liver for pâté, giblets, carcass and feet for a fine pot of stock soup or broth – there’s nothing more nourishing or restorative particularly if you are feeling slightly poorly – it’s not called ‘Jewish penicillin’ for nothing.
Pork, too needs careful sourcing to find organic or chemical free.  Close to us here in East Cork, we have Woodside Farm where Martin and Noreen Conroy and their family work hard to provide us with beautiful heritage breed Saddleback pork and bacon, only problem they simply can’t keep up with demand – catch up with them in County Cork at Midleton and Douglas on Saturday, Mahon on Thursday and Wilton Farmers Markets on Tuesday. 
In Curraghchase in County Limerick, Caroline Rigney and her husband Joe also produce exceptional pork at Rigney's Farm.
Mary’s right in many ways. We have to change; we simply cannot go on with ‘business as usual’. For the sake of our children, great grandchildren and the planet, we all need to commit to the Paris Agreement. Each and every one of us needs to think about our carbon footprint – we can each make a vital difference.

This is one of the reasons that we have chosen to focus on "Responsibility" as our Symposium theme at LitFest this year. We have gathered a tremendous range of journalists, chefs and food producers to discuss all aspects of the topic from 19th-21st May, see my last post for a round up of some of the exciting speakers we have in store for you. Visit the LitFest website to book.

Friday 10 March 2017

A Taste of Our Responsibility Symposium at LitFest 2017

Food issues regularly dominate headlines in the mainstream media. What we eat, its impact on our bodies and our environment and the global policies that dictate food production and trade are all hot topics. 

As you may remember, I shared a couple of months ago that we have shifted the focus of our annual Litfest from food literature to food literacyThere are many different definitions for food literacy. We define it as the following:

Food Literacy is about understanding where the food you eat comes from, who produces it and if it is good for you. Essentially it is about understanding the impact of your food choices on your health, the environment, and our economy.

At Litfest we aim to help everyone to have a greater understanding of our food and hope that we can empower people to make more well-informed food choices.

This year's topic for the Litfest symposium is Responsibility. We have spent the past year planning an open, frank discussion about how we can take responsibility for every part of the food cycle - from how we care for the soil, the culture of the kitchens its cooked it and caring for our health.

On 20-21st May, the Grainstore at Ballymaloe will be transformed into an exciting auditorium staging a thought-provoking and inspiring series of short talks and presentations from a dynamic pool of activists, chefs, farmers, experts and authorities from home and abroad.

The symposium is aimed at those who would like to know more - who may be feeling overwhelmed by the amount of contradictory information from so many sources. We want the good news stories to be told, hard questions to be asked and experiences shared... so that we all leave empowered and more well-informed to take responsible action in our lives, businesses and communities.

I wanted to take the opportunity to tell you a little more about some of the speakers we have lined up for this year's symposium.

Our opening session on Saturday morning - Farm of Ideas - is presented by Christian Puglisi and Kim Rossen from Denmark. They are co-owners of the Michelin-starred Relae, which is in the top 50 restaurants in the world and received a Sustainable Restaurant award in 2015 and 2016. Christian was a speaker at LitFest a couple of years back and was blown away by our farm and gardens here at Ballymaloe Cookery School and our farm to fork approach. This inspired him to rethink his restaurants and planted the seed of the Farm of Ideas: a farm where chefs can work, learn and develop new recipes. 
Next up we have a number of young farmers talking about getting the approach to food production right for all parties. I first met Severine von Tscharner Fleming when she did the 12 week cookery course here about 10 years ago. Since then she has become the executive director of Green Horns, co-founder of National Young Farmers coalition, FarmHack and Agrarian Trust and a part-time farmer. We met her again at the Terra Madre conference in Italy last year and just knew we had to have her come and speak at LitFest - she is so passionate about food and production. 

As is one of her co-speakers, Alice Holden - daughter of Patrick Holden - founder of Soil Association who will share her experience of urban farming, having taken on a plot of land in Dagenham London from which she runs a popular veg box scheme.
They will be joined by Irish farmers who focus on biodiversity and feeding the soil.

Ellie Kisyombe will be talking about her experience as a refugee in Direct Provision and the cultural power of food. She speaks movingly about the importance of the right for displaced people to be able to cook and eat familiar food, both in terms of building strong family and community ties, but also as a way of sustaining links to the culture you have been pulled from. If you didn't get a chance to hear her speak at our recent Slow Food event, now's your chance to be inspired by her.

After lunch, journalist and food activist, Joanna Blythman, author of Swallow This: serving up the food industry's darkest secrets will be exploring how overwhelmed and bombarded we all are with the diversity of food labelling, and how supermarkets have cottoned on to clean eating - using buzz words on the front of the packaging - but packing it full of rubbish. 

Professor Ted Dinan from UCC will be giving a presentation on Diet, Stress and Mental Health. Ted is one of the leading voices and professionals studying the human micro-biome. His talk at last year's LitFest was electric and hugely well received, so we are delighted to welcome him back. 

And they're just some of Saturday's speakers - we also have celebrated cookery writer, Claudia Roden and David Prior international editor of Conde Naste Traveller magazine.

There will be scheduled question and answer sessions throughout the day, as well as short films, happenings and readings which connect into the speakers' presentations. Morning coffee break and afternoon tea are included in the ticket price. 

On Sunday we have Karen Leibowitz - co-owner of Mission Chinese in San Francisco, who after having her first child reassessed the cycle of commercialism and waste that she found herself a part of... and decided to lead by example to do something about it. Along with her partner she opened The Perennial, a completely self-sustaining restaurant, which has since won Best New Restaurant awards from Bon Appetit and GQ. At The Perennial they don't just compost and recycle their waste but use aquaponics for their fish and salad production and grow their own produce, championing Kernza, a new perennial grain far more sustainable than wheat. Karen talks about how restaurateurs should think about their food waste, energy use, and ingredients beyond simply seasonality.

Next are Ben Reade and Sashana Souza Zanella. Ben was previously head of the NOMA research lab, he has recently returned to his native Scotland where he founded the Edinburgh Food Studio, a restaurant and research hub, where he is exploring new ways to use indigenous ingredients. 

Michael Kelly, founder of GIY - Grow it Yourself - is a Litfest regular. You will get a chance to hear him speak about his experience of Building a Growing Food Movement.

After lunch Brian McGinn, executive producer and director of the Netflix hit, Chef's Table, will speak about on how and why he picks his subjects and his responsibility as a member of the media to tell the right stories.

Robin Gill from The Dairy, an Irish chef based in London, will speak about his personal experience of being bullied in professional kitchens, and questions the brutal alpha-male culture which dominates restaurant kitchens. Leading by example he runs his kitchens in a different way and speaks to us about the responsibility of chef, owner and boss to create a healthy emotional climate in which food is produced.

Our final presentation - To Eat is a Political Statement - is sure to fire you up and leave Litfest buzzing with motivation. It will address the idea that the food choices you make actually tells a lot about where your values lie. 

What an incredible weekend it will be - I do hope you'll join us.

How do tickets work at Litfest?

There's no such thing as a general entry ticket to all Litfest events because of the varying capacities of the multiple venues. Instead we have individually priced all main programme tickets so attendees can build their own festival weekend package. Tickets range from €5 - €97.

The symposium presentations in the Grainstore, at Ballymaloe will be broken into four sessions over the weekend - Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon. Tickets for the half-day sessions are €50 each or €90 for a full-day. A two-day weekend ticket is €170. 

Buy tickets now on the Litfest website.

There are dozens of other events including foraging walks with Alys Fowler, readings, panel discussions on all aspects of food and wine, book signings and cooking demonstrations with many renowned chefs. 

In addition to this we host a Fringe Festival with over 60 free events taking place within the grounds of the festival. The Fringe Festival gives you access to the fringe programme of free events that take place in The Big Shed, The Garden Tent, The Cully & Sully and GIY Veg About Area and The Book Shop. The entry fee is €5 each day for adults and children under 12 go free. The fringe programme will be released a little closer to the festival weekend.

Attendees who purchase any main programme event ticket or a symposium ticket will gain automatic access to the The Fringe Festival.

Do join us for the Welcome Party in The Big Shed which begins at 7pm on Friday 19th May. There is a €5 entry fee on arrival for this.