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Eat it or Lose it: promoting and preserving real British food

by Cat Gazzoli

As Slow Food Week gets underway Slow Food UK tells the Ecologist why they are attempting to protect Britains edible Biodiversity and the artisan producers behind it.....

those artisan producers who opt to swim against the tide of Fast Life need our help

In 1986 Slow Food was founded in the little Northern Italian town of Bra. Its initial aim was to support and defend good food, the enjoyment of eating and a slow pace of life. It has since broadened its scope to issues of biodiversity, sustainability and animal welfare. Today this non-profit organisation has over 100,000 supporting members in 150 countries worldwide.

In our modern, fast paced world, dominated by fast foods, Slow Food is the voice of calm and reason, questioning how food is produced and consumed. Instead of a Fast food and Fast life, Slow Food promotes food that is good, clean and fair. But what do these three little words really mean?

For Slow Food it is the great taste and the pleasure that we experience whilst eating which makes a food a good one. The word clean refers to the way in which a food is produced, ideally respecting the environment, animal welfare as well our health. This also includes factors such as sustainability and preservation of biodiversity. Finally there is the word fair. Slow Food believes that food producers should receive appropriate payment and recognition for their work. The Slow Food focus lies on supporting local and small-scale producers in order to strengthen local communities and economies.

Slow Food UK

From the London head office, Slow Food UK endeavours to spread the good, clean and fair food message as widely as possible through its 30 local groups across the UK.

Our work is aimed to discourage people from consuming fast food. There are direct correlations between consumption of fast foods and non-communicable diseases such as cardio vascular disease, diabetes and obesity. These are issues affecting every age group from infants to older adults, putting huge financial strain on the NHS. With our various projects we try to spread the message of eating well in an effort to try and reduce or even prevent these issues before they start.

For example we run two programs aimed at preserving our food heritage; the "Forgotten Foods Project (UK Ark of Taste)" and the "Chef Alliance" project.

These projects serve to prevent the loss of our traditional foods, which have almost been rendered extinct due to intensive agricultural practices, environmental degradation and excessive legislation. Many endangered foods and breeds fall out of favour because they do not fit into the modern industrial food system. With their disappearance we also lose centuries of expert knowledge, cultural traditions, choice, flavour and the varied landscape and wildlife associated with traditional farming. In short we lose biodiversity. We feel that those artisan producers who opt to swim against the tide of Fast Life need our help in explaining to the public why their products are special and, usually, cost more to make than mass-produced counterparts.

The British have often been flagged as too eager to embrace other food cultures. It is often easier to look to other nations for culinary inspiration and source food from half way around the world rather than using the produce on our doorstep. We have lost the connection with our food, the land, and the people who produce it. However, a growing awareness of the environmental implications of this has led to a renewed interest in our own food culture, and a fascinating journey of discovery awaits us as we re-learn to connect with the soil.

With our Forgotten Foods Project (UK Ark of Taste) which currently lists 55 products, we try to preserve Britain's edible bio-diversity one product at a time, trying to raise awareness via various channels so that they may be rediscovered and returned to menus, markets and supermarket shelves across the country. It's as simple as eat it or lose it - and we've already lost an awful lot.

The Chef Alliance plays a vital role in spreading awareness of unique and seasonal ingredients. It encourages chefs to support small producers involved in our Forgotten Foods project who in turn, defend our edible biodiversity. We encourage our chefs to not only use seasonal Forgotten Foods in their menus but to also get involved with their local Slow Food UK group and to organize events that spread the overall Slow Food UK message, most notably about our Educational work.

But restaurants and chefs are only part of the equation, as Slow Food UK also work with partners like Booths Supermarket and Restaurant Associates. Slow Food's ongoing partnership with Booths Supermarkets aims to spread the Forgotten Foods message to a wider audience and make artisan produce more widely accessible.

Booths and Slow Food UK joined forces to preserve and return forgotten specialities to their rightful place: on the shelves. The directors of Booths were keen to take the Slow Food UK message and philosophy to a wider audience and foster real change in how we cook, shop, and eat. So now you'll find Formby Asparagus, Lyth Valley Damsons and a wealth of Forgotten Foods - not forgotten at all, but cherished, celebrated and readily available in their stores.

In October 2012 Slow Food UK also entered an exciting co-operation with its new partner Restaurant Associates, as part of which their Culinary Director and his team will be introducing wonderful new dishes created to showcase some of Britain's ‘Forgotten Foods,' helping Restaurant Associate's diners rediscover British culinary traditions. Given that Restaurant Associates plays an important role in influencing food choice, Slow Food UK is very pleased that their new menus will help to promote artisanal and traditional foods, ensuring that some of our greatest foods do not become completely forgotten.

Slow Food UK has seen tangible results for the small-scale producers working with us to revive these foods and retain and sustain local jobs surrounding these economies. By keeping these foods alive and well, creating a market, and retaining them as part of the landscape, our further long term objective is preserving the edible biodiversity of the UK, and in a small but not insignificant way, its food security.

The Forgotten Foods project (UK Ark of Taste) is part of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity global Ark of Taste. This expansive catalogue includes over 1070 products from over 70 countries. With the continued work of researchers and the small producers who make these products available, the international Ark of Taste aims to preserve biodiversity around the world.

Finally, we would like to encourage you to consider which foods you chose to eat, to appreciate where they come from and to spend time preparing and enjoying them. As many people are already realising not only is this conscientiousness a treat for our taste buds but benefits health, the environment and the local community.

Cat Gazzoli

Catherine Gazzoli is an internationally minded woman with a UK focused mission. With her Italian heritage, a passion for food runs through her veins. A keen cook herself and with an international background, Catherine is well placed to lead the UK Slow Food movement which is making headway in 150 countries around the world.

Catherine re-launched Slow Food UK at Highgrove with HRH The Prince of Wales and has since been named by Channel 4's 4Food as one of "Britain's most inspiring foodie ladies." She has an enviable network of some of Britain's best chefs behind her, supporting Slow Food's ethos. With her limitless energy and determination to improve attitude and awareness of good food in the UK, watch this space as Slow Food is just around the corner.

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