Sustainable food news: A quick post about Slow Food

A great slow food barley risotto.
A demo of cooking great barley risotto.
A passion about good food that is responsibly produced and sourced.  This is what has inspired me to write about the quality ingredients I buy, cook and eat. I am not alone in this dedication, I know.  Yet sometimes it can be tricky to engage with others who share a similar passion. Accosting  fellow shoppers at a farmers' market to congratulate them on their purchases of organic rhubarb, or a sour dough bloomer risks offending middle-class sensibilities, after all. Of course, I'm parodying the image of those of us with an interest in sustainable food. However, there is definitely a need for a forum that easily allows people to exchange ideas and exuberance about the things they are growing, cooking and eating.

Yesterday I had the pleasure to participate in a great event marking the end of Slow Food Week 2013. For anyone not familiar with the slow food movement, please do have a look at their website. Fundamentally, their ethos is all about food being “good, clean and fair”. It’s an approach that encompasses care and, dare I say, passion – whether this comes from those producing the raw ingredients, or those serving the delicious dishes that are composed from these. What’s more, slow food is also about knowing the exact background of what is being served and eaten.

Let's be honest, anonymous shopping is so easy these days. Swipe, beep, swipe, beep, goes the routine. And off home we go with our bags full of Chilean asparagus, Kenyan beans, and New Zealand hoki (it’s a fish, the stocks of which look increasingly threatened). There is usually no discussion in the generic environment of the supermarket as to the provenance or sustainability of the food we buy – bar the marketing blurb that “reassures” us that produce is “Scottish”, or “English”, or “British” - apart, of course, from when it frequently isn’t any of these things. There’s no real explanation about what’s on offer, other than a passing indication of country of origin, and maybe – if we are lucky – a diminutive name check for the producer. There certainly seems to be little genuine passion from big retailers about the produce filling the supermarkets’ aisles.  But it doesn't have to be like this.

Mull cheese and smoked trout from Belhaven.
Cheese from Mull, smoked trout from Belhaven.
Yesterday, at Edinburgh's Summerhall, knowledge and passion were in abundance. The event featured producers, suppliers and restaurateurs from across Scotland, each with stalls packed with (mostly) locally sourced ingredients and produce. All supporters of the slow food ethos, everyone had a story to tell, and every stall was a bit different. To be honest, such was the enthusiasm of all those involved for what they were doing, there was a danger of being slightly overwhelming - but not in a bad way. To taste such quality produce and hear about the connection those serving it had with what they were offering was inspirational. It was great to experience so much of that genuine buzz in one place, at one time.


I asked Neil Forbes – Chef/Proprietor of Edinburgh brasserie, Café St Honore – why he was at the event. “My gran’s soup”, he replied, somewhat enigmatically. He went on to explain that she used the best, freshest – and often home-grown – ingredients when she cooked it. That has influenced Neil’s take on food ever since. What’s not inspirational about those values?

Equally, chatting to Sascha Grierson about the organic meat company she, and her husband Hugh, run provided me with an interesting insight. “Sometimes, people ask about our marketing 'department'" she laughingly said. "That would be me. And the accounts department, and I'm often the person on the stall at the farmers’ markets, too” Sascha explained. This emphasised that more often than not the organisations involved in the slow food movement are comparatively modest in size, and operate without the resources and infrastructure available to the large-scale food conglomerates. But speak to anyone involved in slow food and it’s apparent that they are people with a real devotion to what they produce and sell, and a genuine interest in the people they sell it to.  This is what drives their success.

Scottish Café & Restaurant produce & sustainability award.
Scottish Café & Restaurant produce & sustainability award.
I’d like to add how great it was to also speak to proprietors and staff from: Centotre, and the Scottish Café & Restaurant ; the Stockbridge Restaurant; the Cumberland Bar; the Edinburgh Larder; Mara Seaweed; 63 Tay Street Restaurant; The Monachyle Mhor Hotel; and the Roost; as well as representatives from Slow Food UK. Thank you all for putting on a truly inspirational event. It’s a pleasure to write about it and, in doing so, to try and inspire others to think about how and where the food they eat is produced and prepared. 
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