In one image, the clash of the conferences and perhaps a metaphor for why food systems will struggle for connection and cohesion: raw oysters available to taste at the Food on the Edge (FOTE) conference in Galway, where the quality and diversity of food available in Ireland is celebrated by chefs and food enthusiasts alike. In contrast, you would never find a raw oyster at a food safety conference (in fact, raw oysters have the dubious honour of making food safety stalwart Bill Marler’s list of foods to never eat).
This article is not about dietary preferences but, rather, about the concern that, while there is great appetite for change to improve food systems, there appears to be passionate, yet disparate, parties advocating for different approaches. It could be argued that each has an important role to play, however, the counter perspective is that while each argues their corner, there is duplication of effort and waste of resources. Food safety advocates are largely positioned from a ‘doing public good’ perspective - saving consumers from food that is substandard or dangerous. Chefs see themselves as educators, providing consumers with a perspective on food that opens the diner’s eyes to the possibility of taste and experience. Producers fall loosely into two groups - purely commercial - delivering food to consumers predominantly from an economic imperative; while the other group are artisan producers who could be considered as the bridge between sustainability and obscurity for a food product. Then, there are the philanthropists and NGOs who work tirelessly to address issues under the mantle of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Of course, the group that regularly has no voice is the consumer. Successive generations of dumbing down food education has meant that the consumer has little power in the conversation about what we should be able to eat and how it should be produced.
Each of these groups has a vested interest. It is hard not to be cynical, but, to be fair, I am yet to sit in a darkened conference auditorium to hear the speaker saying that they were no longer required because the system was ‘fixed’. Also, rather cynically, it is hard to imagine these groups working together, because the reason the system is broken is the lack of trust between players in the supply chain. These food events are just reflective of links in the chain - where each party thinks their role may be most important and there is a general lack of trust between parties.
Back to the oysters. The conversation among the chefs is about the provenance of the product, the quality and freshness of the oyster, the quality and health of the water in which they grow. If I was sitting in a food safety conference, the conversation would almost certainly be limited to words such as ‘raw’ and ‘vibriosis’. Neither party’s perspective is more important than the other; but, as a consumer, I want to know all of this. I don’t really care about the name of the pathogen, I want to know whether it is safe to consume; and, then I want to know the story behind the product. I want to be given enough information so that I can make a judgement about whether I want to consume, or not.
The oysters were delicious.