Fish Fight

If your favourite fish is salmon, tuna or cod (yes, sushi-eaters, I’m looking at you), you’re part of the problem.

It’s not so much of an over-fishing problem anymore, since fishers in most countries adhere to strict quotas. The problem is more that the quota system doesn’t really work.

Trawlers go out onto the ocean, drop net and scoop up everything that gets caught in that net. But they can only bring ashore anything that is within their quota. If they’ve already met their quota of cod, and there’s cod in that net, what happens to it? It gets dumped, usually dead, back into the sea. So besides doing absolutely nothing to stop the “overfishing” of cod, it wastes a lot of otherwise edible fish that could be going to feed people. In most cases, UK fishers are having to dump 50% of their catch because they are not legally allowed to bring it onto land. They can still *catch* it, they just can’t sell it.

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Buried Treasure – The Hidden Gems of the Food Network and Why You Can’t Find Them

It’s no secret that I would rather watch UK food shows than anything made in Canada or the US. Chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver, Valentine Warner and even Gordon Ramsay do a lot of good work for Channel 4 and the BBC when it comes to promoting seasonal, local, sustainable foodways. For years, Greg and I have had no choice but to download these from online file-sharing sites (shhh!!) because they seldom get shown here and there’s few, if any, domestic equivalents.

Except, bit by bit, Food Network Canada has been picking these shows up. Heston Blumenthal’s Big Chef Takes on Little Chef series that ran last year recently got aired here. Likewise his feasts series in which he recreates (with his own twists, of course) historic meals. Jamie Oliver is a big commodity on this side of the pond, so most of his stuff eventually shows up, but sometimes up to a year after its original air date.

This delay is annoying enough, but makes sense – Channel 4 wants to rerun these shows before selling the rights to anyone else. My frustration is that when Food Network Canada finally gets them, they do very little to promote them.

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Where Are the Chefs?

foodfight

Today marks the beginning of two weeks of fantastic food-oriented television programming. Gordon Ramsay expands his Kitchen Nightmares series to try and get people to eat at local restaurants; Jamie Oliver takes on the pork industry in an effort to get producers to improve their husbandry standards; Heston Blumenthal has a 3-part series on his reinvention of the UK Little Chef chain of roadside diners; and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall revisits last year’s Chicken Out campaign to see if his efforts really did encourage people to choose free-range chicken and think about where their food comes from.

Too bad you don’t get to see any of it.

The Great British Food Fight series is an annual event on Channel 4 in Britain, and generally deals with politically-charged issues having to do with food production – this year’s series also includes a show called The True Cost of Cheap Food hosted by Jay Rayner of the Guardian.

Enterprising Canadians who want to see these shows will likely have no trouble finding them available for download online, but everyone else will have to miss out. Which is too bad because many of these shows are dealing with important issues that should be at the forefront of any conversation about where our food comes from, yet those discussions still aren’t really happening here in North America.

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Gardens and Jealousy – Both Green

Most readers may not be familiar with the rapier pen of one A A Gill, a restaurant and television critic for the UK Times. Gill has recently had it in for the various UK chefs working to promote healthy, local, seasonal eating in Britain, and appears to take special exception to food journalist-turned-farmer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Hugh F-W runs a farm, shop and restaurant operation called River Cottage in the Dorset area, and currently has a series on the air in the UK called River Cottage Autumn, in which he delves into the seasonal delights of local UK food, from the garden harvest, to fish in season to the fine art of foraging.

Gill reviews an episode of River Cottage Autumn in a recent television column, ostensibly killing two birds with one stone. But he’s not especially nice – to Hugh F-W, or to the millions of people who happen to revel in the joy of a home-grown tomato.

Why should poor, fearful folk have to put up with a bucketful of organic new-age anxiety to go with the anxiety their imperfect lives manufacture all on their own, especially when it’s created by a home-made television presenter in a Beatrix Potter set? The idea that ideal people should strive to live like 18th-century crofters is intellectual silage. The enthusiasm may be charming, but this fetishising of food is part of the problem, not the solution. Shirley Conran once said that life was too short to stuff a mushroom. She was wrong. But you’d have to live an awfully long time to make making your own baked beans on toast worthwhile. Self-sufficiency is not an admirable goal, it’s small-minded, selfish, mean, mistrustful and ultimately fascist. It ends up with people waving shotguns at strangers over their garden gates. We live in a complex, mutually reliant society, and the answer to our problems is not each to his own cabbage patch.

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I’ll See Your Organic Free-Range Chicken and Raise You a Tin of Lamb Mince

While the name Delia Smith is familiar to me, I’ll have to admit that I’m not especially familiar with her cookbooks. Given the recent fuss about her newest cookbook How To Cheat at Cooking, I sort of assumed she was one of those slack-assed Rachel Ray types with the canned goods and bagged greens, teaching fans how to spread salmonella in three easy steps.

But it turns out that Smith is more well-known for being the UK’s answer to Martha Stewart. She spent years teaching Britons how to cook real food, teaching them basic cookery techniques and classical dishes. How to Cheat at Cooking is apparently a rewrite of her first book published in 1971, but from there, her work was all about cooking with real, fresh ingredients.

Any new book sells better with a wave of press, and there is some speculation that Smith’s recent public comments about Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign against battery chickens might simply be desperate publicity spin. Smith claims that her recipes are designed to feed the poor, especially the chyllldrunnn (who will think of them?), but even poor kids are likely to turn up their noses at some of the stuff in her new book.

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Playing Chicken – The Chicken Out Campaign

As a huge fan of British TV, and an openly honest stealer of television shows on the Internets, I was likely one of a small number of North Americans to view the series on Britain’s Channel 4 called Hugh’s Chicken Run in which food journalist and farmer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall tries to get his entire town of Axminster to switch from intensively-farmed (and cheap) chicken to slightly more spendy free-range chicken.

In a three-part series, HFW sets up a chicken farm in which he raises half a barn of chickens as they would be in an intensive farming operation (no poultry operation would give him permission to film on their premises, so he was forced to create his own), and the other half as free-range, with more space, access to the outdoors, toys and activities, etc. He also trolls the aisles of his local supermarket to try and convince customers to purchase the free-range birds.

This is the point where Greg and I looked at each other and went “Waitaminute!!! Whaaaa???”

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