The Great Food Transformation


It’s Professor Tim Lang’s phrase, but it sums up what needs to happen if we’re to avoid what George Monbiot is so gloomy about in today’s Guardian. This is the consistent story coming from every food expert I talk to for Stop the Machine or the delicious. podcast – Jamie included – although some say we’ve got 20 years left of healthy soil and others say 40. I’ll stick with the 60 years claimed by the UN, George and Philip Lymbery of Compassion in World Farming whose conference in October had the great and the good from all over the world debating these issues and coming up with a variety of solutions.

It’s not all doom and gloom though; the overwhelming feeling is positive – there’s plenty to eat if we choose a more plant-based diet and wake up to the impact of factory farming on the decimation of wildlife. As most of us can – and plenty already do – we need to buy from markers to avoid plastics and chat about our food, buy from high welfare farm shops or reputable butchers/ fishmongers and eat meat less often.

And the easiest message is everywhere – cook more lovely stuff – it’s an activist thing to do. It’s rubbish attitudes to food and eating socially that’s our problem in the faster West. That’s what all that posting of our dinners on instagram is about for me. There’s a food revolution going on right now, and cooking consciously is the way to save the world.

A new series of Stop The Machine with Philip Lymbery starts in January to explore the impact of food production of life on Earth. Do subscribe.

Fork to Field

With all the work that I’m doing at delicious, Compassion in World Farming and Borough Market, it seemed the right time to bring it all together in a new blog. Pop over to the Fork to Field tab above to join me on a journey from some of the most interesting restaurants I can find to the farms, rivers and seas which produce their food. 

A Lesson in Podcasting

I’m a member of lots of those support groups and visit almost none. But the Podcasters Support group is different; perhaps it’s because podcasting is a bit of dark art and no-one quite knows what they’re doing, there’s lots of chat and sharing, and even the odd occasion to appear on another potter’s show.

And so it came to pass that I ended up in Alaska as the guest of Ritual Misery’s Undaunted podcast to talk about… podcasting. As we chatted, I realised that this was the first real life (via Skype) conversation I’d actually had with a real life podcaster, and particularly one who had done his research and heard the shows I make. The feedback was amazing. Have a listen if you want to hear a rookie talk to a pro.

http://ritualmisery.com/podcasts/und/gilly-smith-is-undaunted-w-gillysmith/

Telling Tales

This week, I’m cutting two stories for the delicious. magazine July podcast, and pondering on the nature of journalism in 2017. In many ways, it’s the same as it ever was; you find a story, and record the people with the tale to tell. Recording might be short hand (never did that), a camera or recording device of some sort, or notes in scrawly hand that you can barely read when you get home. You listen/read back and revisit your experience, painting pictures with words, sounds, images until you’ve reconstructed what you saw. Of course you go for balance, audience relevance and ethics, but basically that’s it. That’s how storytelling works.

Castellucio after the earthquakes. Photo by Tamsen Courtenay

So yesterday, I was editing the story of Sara, a Italian lentil producer from Castellucio, whose family survived the three enormous earthquakes this year and last which reduced her agriturismo and farming business to rubble. She told me, through a local English interpreter, a once tough journalist called Tam whose nerves were also shattered by her own experience of the quakes, how terrified she had been. Not just for her 12 and 15 year old children, her sheep in the fields, the farm that had been in the family for generations, but by the terror of the tremors that her eight and eleven year selves have never forgotten. And as I tried to keep the feel of the shot nerves in Tam’s calm and measured translation and Sara’s relentless optimism (‘there is no option’), I cut and cut away to try to fit it all into the five minutes I can give to the piece.

Now, I’m lucky.  I’ve got a fabulous editorial and digital team at delicious. with old school ethics and big heart, and listeners who care enough to listen, and in the brave new world of podcasts, I can give people like Sara and Tam a further 15 minutes in Extra Portion which follows the monthly magazine podcast. But can 15 minutes to tell the story of a woman with ‘the heart of a lion’ as Tam calls her, ever be enough? Perhaps, if the rubble is cleared and the roads are opened as result of someone hearing the podcast.

This week, Extra Portion gave extra space to debate whether the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association should create a market for pony meat to add value to animals who are mostly culled at under a year. Charlotte from the DHPA tells me that the podcast has done more in a week to get people interested in the meat than they’ve been able to do in months.  The Telegraph, The Mail and Horse and Hounds have all been in touch as a result, and want to give the story more space. Which is probably a good thing. 

As I leave Sara’s story, I begin to edit the next for the July pod, a heart warming story about San Patrignano, the world’s most successful rehabilitation community whose secret can be found in the work ethic behind its award winning cheeses. I listen to Anna, Sasha and Daniel tell me their survival stories and I hear the back stories that they only half-told me.  I look at the timeline on my laptop and begin to cut.

And here’s the final cut:

https://aca.st/42f1f1

 

The Power of the Podcast

It’s been a while, I know. I blame WordPress for locking me out, but really it’s just that I’ve been busy. Since my last post in July when I was knee-deep in my next book, ‘Taste and the TV Chef’ (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), I’ve become a full time podcast producer, with the most glorious portfolio a food journalist and food media academic could wish for.

It started with an interview for the book with former BBC Worldwide man, Seamus Geoghegan who is now boss at EyetoEye Media which publishes, among other food titles, the UK’s biggest food magazine, delicious. I’d subscribed my parents to the magazine for years as a regular Christmas present and have loved watching it develop its amazing recipes, articles by some of the best food writers in the UK and its passion for produce, waste, sustainability and conservation issues into a tasty, relevant and important read. In a world in which magazines need to think beyond the book shelves, delicious. was already producing a monthly podcast as well as a world online for the discerning food lover. With a gap opening for a new podcast producer, Seamus spotted my broadcast quality mic on my iPhone, asked me if I could edit, and whether I could be tempted away from pure academia back into the warm embrace of food journalism. Well, after spending my ‘mothering years’ teaching students how to change the world through the power of audio (and TV) and in my final 20,000 words on how Food TV had taught us to eat,  I bit off his hand and joined the message makers again.

Eight months later, I’ve interviewed Raymond Blanc on sustainability, Philip Lymbery of Compassion in World Farming on ending factory farming and Michel Roux Junior, Peter Gordon, Rick Stein, Ken Hom and Marco Pierre White on how modern food culture was created in the UK.  I’m currently cutting a story on the lentil producer whose world was rocked, quite literally, by the earthquakes in le Marche region of Italy, and am taking the temperature of the delicious. community on the place of Dartmoor Hill pony meat on the dinner plate.  And the food, food, FOOD! I’ve interviewed cooks and chefs from all over the UK – and the world – who are some of the most creative people I’ve ever met. My hope is that you can smell it through your ears as you sit back and relax on your way to work or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

And if I wasn’t enjoying myself enough, the podcast was even nominated for the Fortnum and Mason Food Award for Best Food Programme against BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme, The Kitchen Cabinet and BBC Ulster’s The Foodie! Of course we didn’t win; how could a woman and laptop who records her links under a duvet win against the might of the BBC?  But how thrilling to be nominated! You can hear the entire back catalogue here

And then.. and THEN… I suggested to Borough Market, where lots of the delicious. stories begin and end, that they produce a podcast. And they said yes!  So I began to tell the stories behind the stalls of London’s most famous market, as well as capture the fabulous Borough Talks, a series of panel discussions about all aspects of food from food media to cook books. You can hear the back catalogue here

And as my mantra has always been ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’, I suggested to CEO of Compassion in World Farming, Philip Lymbery when I interviewed him about his book ‘Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were’ that I produce a podcast for them too. Check out Stop the Machine, a podcast dedicated to Philip’s promotional tour for his book this month and the CIWF and WWF conference in October.