Without meaning to sound like a London cab driver, I had that Jonathon Porritt in the restaurant some time ago. For the uninitiated, he’s a well known environmental campaigner, a previous chairman of the UK Ecology Party (now known as the Green Party) and senior advisor to governments on all things green – in an environmental sense rather than vegetables and the Irish.
He was dining with members of the Slow Food UK who, amongst other things, are on a mission to encourage us to respect the environment, human health and animal welfare. Good, because regular readers of this column will recognise those as some of our main objectives at Oldfields and therefore, I think, we support the Slow Food.
However, I say “I think” because the name itself threw me for some time. As a result, I initially found the aims and objectives of the Slow Food movement difficult to grasp and I got the impression that everyone involved with it was very serious and worthy and almost too intellectual. And if others felt the same, it’d undoubtedly put some of them off. Not being that educated or clever, I saw food and its eating to be something that brought people together and was fun and encouraged laughter. And while it’s important we have a nice planet to live on, without good company and humour, it wouldn’t be worth living so we might as well stop trying. So what was this Slow Food thing all about?
To my mind, the Slow Food movement suffers from the same problem being experienced by David Cameron’s Big Society. They’re possibly both very clever and extremely good ideas, but have got names that don’t immediately say what they mean.
I think, maybe, I rather like the Big Society idea – if I have begun to understand it correctly. Despite what many have said, to my mind it’s nothing to do with politics. It could be suggested by Genghis Khan or Stalin for all I care. But it seems there’s some common sense in it because, these days, we seem to expect everything to be done by government, local or central, instead of switching off the TV, getting our over-sized backsides off the sofa and taking many initiatives into our own hands.
I’ve previously written about a local produce initiative with which I’m involved called Love Food. It’s designed to encourage and educate people in the west side of County Durham to produce and use real local food. It’s championed and overseen by a group of volunteers who went and found the grant funding and employed the relevant people. It’s now one year into its three year programme and, I believe, doing a very good job.
And I was involved with another initiative to set up a farmers’ market in Barnard Castle. That was about 12 years ago and it’s still running. Many other farmers’ markets have been set up by local authorities but I think ours has been better and more successful because of the way it was formed and grew out of the private community.
Those are two examples of what, I reckon, Cameron means by Big Society: people in the community actually doing things rather than waiting for the council to do it or bleating “somebody must do something”. I think.
And it’s the same with Slow Food. I think I support it because it wishes us to care for the world around us, the animals that we rear and eat as well as encouraging us to think about the whole eating process thus enjoying something that we have to do every day of our lives.
But if I hadn’t done a little research, I might have assumed that because Mr Porritt, the environmentalist, was dining with Slow Food members, they’d all be eating very slowly thus, like driving a car gently, conserving energy and needing less food. And the planet would be well on the way to being saved. But I’d have been wrong. I think.