Footprint Blog

“If it is local, it must taste better”. A balanced response to an over indulged belief


Foodservice Footprint recently ran a competition in schools concerning awareness of locally sourced food. One young A-Level student, Archie Cosby, from Sherborne in Dorset emerged trumps, not only in his environmental opinions but also as a budding journalist.

“Oh but these potatoes are delicious. They come from just down the road you see”. This angle on local food is far too widespread. Why, just because it has been locally sourced, should it taste any better? I think that like organic food, the nation has overdone the whole idea that ‘local food’ is far better. It may create a community within local regions, and it may at times have less negative environmental impact, but it does not mean that it tastes better. It is an ill perceived belief that this is the case and it is something that too many chefs have become overindulged in, printing it all over menus as if it will earn them a Michelin star. This over obsession reminds me of a similar misjudgement of ingredient like that of the overly heavy use of truffle oil which they think adds to a “locally sourced” wild mushroom risotto for instance, the nutty and fragrant flavour and aroma exclusive only to an actual truffle when what it really does is just inject a vulgar, sickening taste. Anyway, why not enjoy the fruits of our labour. We spent rather a long time exploring the world, and wasteful of this hard work it would be if we weren’t to take full advantage of the pleasure existing in foods from around the world which we cannot get hold of in Britain. I do, however, concede that, opposing this view on local produce is an argument of much strength, and one that is supported by an impressive number of people. Lending their services to what has almost become a ‘movement’ in its sweeping attitudes and at times strong political arguments, is an army of – yes, I’m afraid I’m going to be highly controversial and say it – confused and aggressively passionate terriers who have become tied up in a gastronomic world of fantasy where they hope to better their own health and to establish themselves an image of supporting the local community. They have spun together this world in which they live like menacing spiders, their legs moving furiously in a motion to create their web, one which merely represents a frantic mess of false delusions. I myself realize that I too, while writing this, am weaving my own little web, one in which I am weary of becoming tired and getting stuck, except I fear not being disembodied by my hungry female counterpart. Instead, I am worried that I may find myself lying under a thick bush of nettles, with rather a hard pillow of gravel and tarmac, not thinking about making nettle soup for supper, but instead worrying more about the tire marks running across my stomach. Of course, I am eager to avoid being brutally disposed of by an over sized 4×4 on its way to the local farm shop, but I do also, to an extent, sympathise with these ‘terriers’. While I do argue that, just because it’s a potato that was grown 5 miles away, it doesn’t mean that it is any tastier, I do think it is crucial that we support our country’s agriculture. We do, after all, owe a lot to our fields. We are all familiar with that famous slogan, “Dig for Victory”, and, although we had little other choice but to grow our own vegetables in such a way during the Second World War, it was the importance of growing our own produce which was so enthusiastically embraced that was, many argue, a decisive factor in the Allies’ victory in 1945. So if not just as a patriotic salute to those wartime veg growers but also to our own farmers of today, I suppose we ought to at least consider the impact that food sourced from distant locations has on the environment. We are a country gripped by the issue of global warming, and, unlike organic food, and to a degree, ‘local food’, this is not just a chic fashion. Instead, unfortunately, it is rather more serious than such. Tony Blair was, it is only fair to say, speaking some sense when, in 2008 he encouraged the nation to “Just Ask” where the food that they were buying at supermarkets came from. Backed by Britain’s Country Land and Business Association, this campaign endorsed by Mr Blair aimed to heighten the amount of British produce being purchased by the public. For this to work, the hope was subsequently that the public would opt more regularly for the cut of gammon steak produced by British farmers, their pigs reared on the grassy moors of Gloucester. The man who introduced this scheme was, however, also the same man who planned to have all British soldiers out of Iraq by 2007. We are also, after all, British and however proud we are of our own produce, we are a nation who have been described on more than one occasion it has to be said, be it by our Gallic enemies from across the channel, as one that doesn’t ‘do’ food. This mockery is beginning to cease, and so it should be what with the outstanding advances which food has experienced in this country. The last 20 years has seen something of a revolution in Britain’s restaurants and we are now beginning to establish ourselves as a country that would confidently challenge any other in the kitchen. And, with gastronought Heston Blumenthal, whose restaurant, The Fat Duck was named the Best Restaurant in the World as ranked by an international panel of 500 culinary experts, why on earth should we not strive to compete for the culinary crown so arrogantly assumed ownership of by the French. Fine, they may have produced the likes of Herve This, August Escoffier- ‘the king of chefs and the chef of kings’, and Joel Robuchon – widely considered as the greatest of all French chefs, but we in England, in a small village called Bray have taken their prized snail and have converted it into a snail porridge. The magnificence of this dish is in its deliberately bizarre and unappealing name as it becomes triumphed and conquered by the experience of eating it. I am aware that I’m ranting. I am only an Englishmen who is eager to boast about, and to support, the food of this country. So too are nearly all of us. But it is just more costly to do so as we now find ourselves swamped by the collapse of our economy. As much as we would like to buy that cut of Gammon reared in the English midlands, our wallets simply point us instead, as shameful as it is, to that lump of ‘meat’, the label which says ‘Gammon’ merely disguising the contents of China’s bins in its clear up of Beijing in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, bins from which barks could not too long ago be heard and paws seen poking out of the top. The point is, therefore, that it is just too expensive for many to support locally sourced food even if they would ideally like to.

Archie’s article will also be published in the up and coming edition of the Foodservice Footprint journal. Well done Archie, box of organic vegetable sourced from North Dorset coming your way. We look forward to hearing more from you!

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