Respect For Our Food
This article is based on my recent meeting with Allan Jenkins, Editor of the Observer Food Monthly, for my Big Table podcast which you can download here.
It was at my last festival speaking engagement of the year – Abergavenny Food Festival – where I met Allan Jenkins. Esteemed editor of the Observer Food Monthly, former editor of the Observer Magazine and food and drink editor on the Independent newspaper.
He is also acclaimed author of Plot 29, a diary on the therapeutic role of gardening in his London allotment and a new book, Morning: How to make time: A Manifesto the story of other well-known early risers and about why they all treasure dawn and early mornings.
As a wildlife enthusiast, I’m an early riser myself and Allan and I share stories of early morning wildlife and birdsong.
We were both in Abergavenny to speak at the town’s well known food festival. I was particularly interested in the role Allan played in developing modern food culture, a narrative that has made issues of compassion in farming, sustainability and our connection to earth, integral to our overall appreciation of food.
Alan shares his concern about the current food system, saying ‘I think we’re living in a time of the most mechanised food structure we’ve ever had. We have some extremely highly-sophisticated, very unhealthy food. We’re living in a global food system that I think is problematic. I’m deeply aware of the lack of choice for a lot of people’.
I share with him my belief that it’s unacceptable to have a narrative that goes: ‘we need factory farming so that poor people can feed their children on poor quality factory-farmed food’. Because, essentially, that’s what factory farming does: it delivers poor quality food in terms of higher saturated fats, lower omega-3s and other health-giving nutrients.
Allan agrees and tells me that everyone should expect good quality, ethical food ‘I think even the school systems forgot that that was one of their obligations. One of the extraordinary things Jamie Oliver did, was make people think about what their children are eating’.
We discuss Brexit, with Alan expressing his concerns about the possibility of meat imports from Australia and the USA, saying: ‘Currently we have – for all its faults – some understanding of what goes into food and how you treat food and how you treat animals but it’s a fairly low thing, for example, people applaud the Red Tractor scheme, but I think less than 1% of farms on the Red Tractor have an unknown visit. But what does concern me is the idea that we’re actually going back from even where we are now’.
We discuss the plight of UK farmers: ‘they’ve already stopped investing in the way that they would do things like sustainability‘ says Allan ‘because they might suddenly be competing with a billion really badly farmed chickens. I’ve yet to think of any government that I feel has really supported farming and I think animal farming is still primitive beyond belief’.
Both of us agree on the importance of everyone learning to appreciate their food. ‘I grew up at a time when chicken was eaten once a week, and it’s now an everyday food, how can it possibly be an everyday food? When I hear that swine flu comes out of a farm that holds six million pigs and it’s an American-owned farm in Mexico – that cannot be good’ adds Allan, ‘I so hope that people will find a way of being able to appreciate things a little more. I don’t know that it’s going to be around the corner but I would like to think so’.
As ever, thank you.