Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Opinion: Convenience is everything in our brave new world of food

Barack Obama Plaza in Moneygall. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Barack Obama Plaza in Moneygall. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Farmers provided most of the heartening moments in last week's RTÉ documentary How Ireland Eats, a fascinating but ultimately chilling snapshot of our current relationship with food, from the stance of a primary producer and a parent of young children.

The standing of farmers has been fading in the eyes of the consumer, but this programme showed what is still at the heart of most of us - passion for what we do and love for our stock.

We first saw Conor O'Malley out at the crack of dawn checking if a field of potatoes were warm enough to lift.

Then Peter Whelan got emotional talking about slaughtering his obviously well-cared-for pigs, while his comment about how different they would look in a few days, when they've "had a haircut and are in two halves", just added to his authenticity.

We also saw army sergeant Stevie Lafferty prepare a fresh (and probably healthy, nutritious and tasty) meal for 150 cadets on a diesel oven in a field in Cork. We even saw them baking brown soda bread, as his "mammy made".

But after that, I felt myself repeatedly saying a phrase my own mother used to use, "God be with the days when …."

My jaw first dropped when the chef in a 4-star hotel with, presumably, access to the best of equipment, told us that vegetables for a wedding had been prepared the day before. They were "blast chilled down" then "regenerated" for 12-15 minutes in an oven.

Is this replicated at big events in hotels across the country?

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Then there was the story told by Ennis fast-food delivery guy, Mike, of a man opening his front door to receive his takeaway dressed only in his jocks. What a long way from, "dressing for dinner".

Mike also told us that they couldn't understand their spike in business on the first Tuesday of the month, until they realised it was Children's Allowance day. There was a time when this money was used to buy shoes.

We also heard that there are people who are eating the same takeaway five to six days a week.

To take the old maxim, 'you are what you eat', no wonder we, as a nation, are lumbering into an epidemic of not just obesity and diabetes, but also autoimmune diseases.

I am not immune (sorry, terrible pun) to eating a bag of chips myself and recently visited Supermacs in the Obama Plaza for that very purpose.

There was also a whole palaver about revamping the Freshways chicken stuffing sandwich.

This involved changing the stuffing and the bread. I would be interested to know where the chicken was from.

A few of the facts and figures in the programme jumped out at me.

One is that there are 600 pickers in Tesco's mega warehouse (the size of five Croke Parks) while there are just six traders left in Dublin's Victorian fruit and veg market.

This storyline was the scariest from a farmer's point of view.

Ciaran Butler is a trader who has worked at the market for 30 years. The biggest change he has witnessed is the move away from seasonal food to buying from the supermarket, with the top five now accounting for 90pc of the markets, who are only interested in working with large-scale producers.

In today's food purchase and consumption regimes, convenience reigns supreme.

Now there are plans to redevelop the market, which Ciaran believes will mean, "end of story". He was not being maudlin, just honest. It is not being swept away by a tsunami, rather declining day by day, right in front of our eyes, slowly into oblivion.

More of that kind of programming, please, RTÉ.

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