Your Future, Your Food

We need to talk. I haven’t been blogging much in recent weeks. I feel I need to explain.

You might think it’s because I’ve been busy off living my life, not giving you a second thought. But quite the contrary. It’s not me I’ve been thinking about, it’s you. Or to be more precise, your food.

Yes, the future of your food has been quite the recurring theme in my offline life of late.

What got me thinking about you in the first place was the excellent exhibition in Dublin’s Science Gallery which runs until April 5th, titled EDIBLE and offering a taste of the future. It’s well worth checking out, though be sure to hang about and get chatting to the mediators who can help you tease out the backstories behind the eclectic and often interactive exhibits. Favourites include insect powder 3D-printed into edible intricacies, and an orchestra of fermentation vats cooking up some fruit-based hooch and making a racket while they’re at it. There’s also regular feeding times and curated dinners, and lots of questions raised about how the choices made today will affect the food of tomorrow.

Which brings me back to you. And your food. We (being the team behind For Food’s Sake) took it upon ourselves to ask you ‘What Will Your Future Taste Like?‘ at last Thursday’s FFS event in the Science Gallery.

The answer included flavours as diverse as devilish smoked Bloody Marys and wholesomely moreish kelp crackers dipped in sprouted hummus with cumin and coriander. We had wonderful dried biltong from Caveman Super Snacks, inspired by South Africa and made in Wicklow. And we had the most incredible raw milk and butter from Ballymore Farm, so new to the market that the labels weren’t yet back from the printers.

There was lots of activity, with Oisin Davis demonstrating the wonders of spherification and molecular mixology (he made a fancy cosmo), Ed Hick showing us how to skin a wild rabbit and Shaun Hanna of The Oarsman demonstrating some creative uses for dehydration in the kitchen.

And, as anyone familiar with previous For Food’s Sake events would expect, there was lots of talk, mostly about food. We talked about the rise of interest in growing your own veg, and other ways you can get more involved in the production of the food you eat, including through GIY Ireland (Grow It Yourself, with 150 local groups throughout the country), OOOBY initiatives (Out Of Our Own Backyard groups, such as the one in Newbridge) and CSA schemes (Community Supported Agriculture, such as the one in Cloughjordan).

We talked CIY too, or Cook It Yourself, exploring different ways you could think about how you cook your food, including choosing not to cook it at all, as preferred by advocates of ‘raw food’ such as Natasha of Natasha’s Living Foods (she of the incredible kelp crackers and glowing skin). Or how you could use a hair-dryer in a wooden box combined with a sieveful of star anise and a blow torch to table-smoke some lamb carpaccio, before serving it on a skewer wrapped with rosemary-flavoured candyfloss, as Tom Lynn of the Sett Food Club did at their most recent supper club night in Dublin’s Supafast building. Or whether you might be tempted to try out some of the textural techniques pioneered by chefs such Ferran Adria, and dabbled with by chefs such as Shaun Hanna.

We looked back to the future when butcher Ed Hick shared his passion for foraging, in our FIY session on Finding It Yourself. And then we strapped ourselves in with bio-hacker Cathal Garvey as our captain and guide, and fast forwarded ourselves into a brave new MIY (Make It Yourself) world where bio-technology might be taken out of the hands of powerful multinationals for whom patenting living things is a matter of logic, and returned to the people to use in a myriad of mind-bending ways.

Well, as you can imagine, that was a lot to prepare never mind to digest, so after Thursday I took a few days break from thinking all about you and your future food. I knew you’d understand.

Anyway, I bounced back and this morning was back on the subject as part of my regular TV3 ‘Food for Thought’ slot on The Morning Show with Sybil and Martin. You can have a watch of it here if you like (18 minutes in). We chat about how you can centrifuge foods to make things like peas taste even sweeter, not by adding anything but by extracting something. And we talk about eating insects, and whether you might like to. We discuss the £200,000 test-tube burger, and whether you’ll get a chance to taste it anytime soon. And finally we talk about the current debate over bringing calorie counting onto all Irish menus.

If you haven’t heard, the FSAI have been welcoming submissions from people on the topic – and today is your last chance to have your say. You may well think it’s a great idea. In the US and Australia, it is already mandatory for all large fast food companies to inform customers of the calorie content of menu items. The FSAI argue that there is evidence that access to this information is effective in curbing the public’s calorie intake. You can read their press release here.

But others have concerns. Imagine if everytime you wanted to cook dinner for your family or friends, you had to provide them with an accurate breakdown of calorie content. It might stop you picking something delicious looking up at your local market, because although you can gaurantee it is fresh and seasonal, you may have no way of testing its calorie content.

For many food outlets who like to have flexibility in their menus, whether they be small cafes or fine-dining restaurants, mandatory testing would present serious challenges. Under any new legislation, they clearly need to be treated differently to large-scale food outlets such as fast food chains where all the food is streamlined and pre-prepared and easy to measure. If not, we could effectively be discouraging food outlets away from transforming fresh, natural ingredients into fresh, natural food, and encouraging them to buy in pre-processed but more easily measured food.

There are other issues too, including the narrowly reductive nature of defining food by its calorie content regardless of its broader nutritional benefits, the environment from which it came, the care with which it was prepared or indeed the appetite with which we approach it. A healthy relationship with food does not necessarily begin with a fixation on calories, as many survivors of eating disorders know only too well.

Anyway, I’ve probably done more than enough talking on the matter at this stage. If you want to have your own say, leave a comment here on the blog – or even better, leave a comment at the FSAI website today, while you still can.

After all, it’s your future, and your food.

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