Three days of thought for food at Ballymaloe

Organisers estimate crowds were up marginally on last year’s 8,000 visitors

The Gubeen stand at the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Lit Fest. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney

The Gubeen stand at the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Lit Fest. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney


Large scale agriculture is not the only way to feed a growing world population, US food activist Sandor Katz told a panel at the Ballymaloe Litfest yesterday.

“Less than one per cent of the US population is involved in the direct production of food,” he said. And this was a direct result of labour-saving large scale agriculture.

People have been sold the seductive idea that there is “no need to toil in the soil” he said. Instead we are “encouraged to think of ourselves primarily as consumers, which is an infantalising role”.

The panel included broadcaster Ella McSweeney, journalist Joanna Blythman, wine writer Tomás Clancy and Green Party local election candidate Seamus Sheridan. They talked about a strong “bottom-up” movement to reclaim the skills of food production and cooking.

Healthy food
A Cork teacher who runs a school garden asked if everyone could have access to healthy food or was it just for the middle classes.

The discussion on the politics of food was one of the last events in three days of workshops, panels and demonstrations. The organisers estimated crowds were up marginally on last year’s 8,000 visitors, helped by great weather on Saturday.

One of the visitors, Australian Wendy Fogarty, said she met Darina Allen years ago through Slow Food Ireland. “Being Australian and living in the UK, I get the impression that there’s much more grassroot support in Ireland for people doing a good thing.”

On Saturday, Danish chef Rene Redzepi and Guardian gardening writer Alys Fowler led a forage for wild food around the gardens. Fowler pointed out plants that were delicious and ones that were “entirely poisonous”.

Redzepi talked about the preparation of seeds, leaves, stems and roots at his Noma restaurant, such as wild garlic seeds that are salted for a month and pickled in apple balsamic to make them taste like garlic-flavoured capers.

At a discussion on forgotten skills, chef Ben Reade of the Nordic Food Lab said one of the most important things about tradition was that “culture is evolving . . . To keep traditions alive the best thing to do might be to play with that tradition.” Reade said manufacturers could legally describe a substance metabolised from crude oil as a “natural flavouring”. But he said biotech could be put to good use in the kitchen.