Monday 14 May 2012

The case for organic food

Why I love Organic kicked off its Organic – Naturally Different campaign with a debate and dinner at the Toynbee Hall in London, attended by a number of leading voices in the organic field, including Craig Sams and Jo Fairley, the founders of Green & Blacks, Helen Browning, the CEO of the Soil Association, and Jeanette Longfield, co-ordinator of Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming.  John Craven of Countryfile (although he’ll always be synonymous with Newsround to me) chaired the meeting ably and genially.

On the pro-organic side of the debate, Mercury Prizewinning rapper Speech Debelle was an engaging champion for home-growing and local shopping. Craig Sams’ impressive command of detail, particularly over global land loss after years of intensive farming and the comparative sustainability of organic practice, met with an appreciative audience in a room that broadly agreed with him.
Dissent of a rather half-hearted nature was provided by the so-called 'sceptics': food writer James Ramsden and The Guardian's Oliver Thring. Neither of them appeared to be much against organic food – that would be a fairly difficult stand to take – so were reduced to objecting that it was expensive. 

Although billed as a debate, there was no robust ‘This House Believes That …’ to be contested. Unsurprisingly perhaps, there was no-one to speak up for the use of artificial pesticides and fertilisers, and no-one to champion genetic modification. Beyond essaying that there wasn’t enough food to go round and that more people needed to be working the land whether organically or not, the ‘debate’ about organic food appears to be won; what remains is how best to  make organic food the norm and affordable.

The discussion from the floor shifted, perhaps inevitably, to the need for a change in food culture (and observations that the French food culture so often held up by the Brits as a model is now in serious decline), to rely less on meat, and the proposal, which had some support from the floor and from the panel, that food labelling for non-organic food should be as stringent as that for organic. That it should say exactly what the food had been sprayed or treated with and how many times. I reckon you could watch sales of organic food rocket after that.
Following the formal debate, discussion spilled over into dinner, a sumptuous organic feast designed and cooked byMsMarmiteLover:

Salmagundi of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers
Hand made Burrata with tarragon salad and pomegranate seeds.
Asparagus mimosa with pansies
Dover Sole en papillote with home-grown kumquats and samphire
Ginger and mint new potatoes
British cheese selection with biscuits, organic walnuts and almonds, chutneys
British iced 'fancies':
Chocolate and beetroot cake topped with candied beetroot
Courgette and poppy seed cake topped with candied courgette
Carrot cake topped with candied carrot
Left, hand-made burrata; right, salmagundi
British iced fancies

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