Friday 24 July 2009, 19:05
Lunch yesterday at one of London's poshest restaurants - not, as many people think, what I normally spend my life doing, but a chance for me to eavesdrop on a meeting about the future of Slow Food UK. In Italy Slow Food is a powerful political force, in the UK it's been a lot less than that which has greatly aggravated SF's founder Carlo Petrini. The result is UK Slow Food has a new chief exec, American-Italian dynamo Catherine Gazzoli, hot from the UN, ready to do some shaking up and convince us class-ridden, good-food-wary Brits that food matters. I think Catherine could easily outperform Tony Blair in the Middle East, but changing the food culture of the British Isles is an altogether harder task.
Lots of compliments at the meeting about our Food & Film programme two Sundays ago. The food world is a bit like the entertainment industry - you were wonderful darling - so I don't take compliments too seriously, but that was a programme I'm particularly proud to have presented. One of the Food Programme's brilliant producers understood that it would cast a new light on our food system if we looked at it just through the eyes of film makers, both here and abroad. We're living through a golden age of documentary making - documentaries that are being watched in cinemas, village and church halls all over the world (while fewer and fewer are appearing on our television screens. Something wrong somewhere).
Making the programme I interviewed Nick Francis, who with his brother Marc directed Black Gold, a documentary about the coffee business. I met them first with producer Rebecca Moore when The Food Programme went to Cancun to cover the World Trade Organisation meeting. Nick and Marc were there following the coffee story, documenting the relationship between developing countries and global decision-making on "free trade". The Cancun scenes in Black Gold are some of the most powerful in the whole film. Since the film was released in 2007 the issues it highlighted have taken over the brothers' lives.
And the film has been screened all over Africa and the Americas, spelling out for all to see a world where a cappuccino costs around £2.50 but the Ethiopian farmer who produced the beans - generally agreed to be the finest on the planet - will get perhaps 5p a kilo. And as the film tells us one kilo of coffee beans makes about 80 cups of coffee. The arithmetic isn't difficult. This is one of the reasons Ethiopian farmers and their families are going hungry, need food aid and are getting out of coffee growing. Insane? As we say at the Food Programme - understand food and you're a long way on the road to understanding the way the world works.
Meanwhile we're gearing up in this little corner of the open plan on the 6th floor at Broadcasting House for this year's Radio 4 Food & Farming Awards - the 10th. A decade since Prince Charles handed out the first gongs.
Gearing up seems the right expression... adjusting the criteria for each award, appointing the judging panel (Chair, Raymond Blanc, plus Alex James, Rose Prince, Mark Hix, Simon Parkes, Lord Haskins, for starters), constructing the trails for Radio 4, setting up the website to take in nominations, starting a filing system for each of the nine categories, getting the help of a smart young intern for a couple of weeks. And then wondering how the hell the producers are going to cope with organising the judging, and recording, with at least one judge, at each place, on each short-list - 24 sites in all and if other years are a guide they'll be scattered from the Orkneys to the Scillies--all the while continuing to turn out The Food Programme every week. Every year it seems overwhelming, every year it's exhaustingly fascinating.
Sheila Dillon is presenter of The Food Programme
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