One of the great things about Abergavenny, and something that sets it apart from other food festivals is the discussion that takes place throughout the weekend. Luckily this year I managed to get to two discussion sessions. One formal, the other decidedly not!
The formal session came at the end of Saturday in the Market Hall and was chaired by Sheila Dillon of Radio 4’s The Food Programme (Sunday 12:30) and was on Fear of Food. Why are we now so frightened of food? Why do we throw so much away because it has passed its ‘best before’ date? Are fats actually bad for you? Why can’t we get Raw Milk in shops?
The panel was Stephen Hook (organic Farmer and Raw Milk supplier) Roger Mortlock (Deputy Director of the Soil Association) Zoe Harcombe (writer) and Dr Victor Kurl (lecturer in food quality) who made opening speeches before the floor was opened to comment and question.
Apart from the interesting subject matter and contributions two things made this a must for me, firstly the opportunity to sit down for a while and secondly the free beer provided by Otley Brewers, which was refreshed regularly.
Some of the exhibitors were in the audience and asking pertinent questions such as “why are naturally fermented products seen as dangerous when they have been the traditional means of preserving for hundreds of years?” “Will a ban on Raw Milk mean the end of some cheese production?” Interestingly though the Irish Government intends banning sales of Raw Milk they have said that Raw Milk Cheese production will be safe!
My own minor contribution was a question about falling quality of food due to the dislocation of food production from locality as agro-business and multi-national retailing demanded bland product of uniform size and shape with a lengthy shelf life. This rated a “Good Question” from Shelia Dillon and some impassioned responses from the panel.
Only one audience contribution failed to get support from the panel, the suggestion that we should all adopt a vegan lifestyle to reduce carbon emissions and maximise efficiency of production.
The second session that I attended was one of the Rude Health Rants.
These are informal sessions in the grounds of the Castle where exhibitors and journalists, bloggers and food professionals are able to rant for five minutes on a subject of their choice.
Usually these are highly entertaining as well as having a serious core. Though I could not make the Saturday Session the one on Sunday lived up to its billing as great entertainment.
From the Director of Abergavenny Food Festival ranting about Food Festivals that are actually just big Markets to Why you should only use quality Gin when making Sloe Gin the combatants were opinionated and witty.
I am sorry that I missed Richard Berthinet on bread on Saturday but, having attended his bread making classes, I can imagine his Gallic rant about supermarket bread and the British obsession with freezing everything including bread.
Three of my favourite rants were by Arun Kapil on Spices, Cyrus Todiwallah on Curry and Niamh Shields (but more of her in another blog post).
Unintentional entertainment was provided by several “mature” men who lost their footing on a 60 degree slope leading to the bar and the audience was warmed by free samples of Sloe Gin.
Finally a rant that attacked everything, mums who have “never taken young Tristan to McDonalds” restaurants that apply a 10% service charge to large parties when they should offer a discount for bringing so many customers and er… foodies.
The serious and light hearted sides of the food world in one place, and one of the things that sets Abergavenny apart from the other food festivals.