Thursday, August 13, 2009

Changing Times by Sally Barnes

As promised in yesterdays post, below the speech given by Sally Barnes at the launch of the Skibbereen Food Festival. Enspiring and well worth the read.

Changing times?

It gave me great joy to be asked to be the ambassadress for the Taste of West Cork Festival this year., possibly even more than winning the Supreme Champion Award in London in 2006,because this was in my own little ‘foodie’ world, and this event is on my home patch. I am immensely proud of having spent the last 34 years of my life in this area, which has educated and sustained me on so many levels. I think that for a lot of us, this was the Great Escape from the cold hard world of consumerism and capitalism, every man/woman for himself and hang the consequences……coming into these quiet communities was comforting to the soul.
When I first came to live in West Cork all those years ago, it was a very different place. I moved into a very close community, where it seemed that everybody was connected in some way to everybody else. The people we met were incredibly friendly and wanted to hear our stories. Across the water, you could live and die in the same place and still not know who your neighbours were. There was very little money but a wealth of wonderful raw materials available from the land and seas around us. Many of us who came here in the 1970s had high ideals about living off the land, close to nature, and self-sufficiency was the order of the day. We endeavoured to feed ourselves and our families from what we could catch in the sea, by foraging in the hedgerows and woods; some of us kept milking animals and poultry and pigs. We started to experiment with preserving some of the wealth of raw materials available to us. I remember the calvita cheese…… I came from a different culture, where we had access to amazing French cheeses, and organised distribution…..there were agencies in place to help support and fund enterprises, to encourage entrepreneurs, to improve the lot for whole communities. This was not the case here at that time. We were isolated within the community which existed here without the aid of a safety-net and worked hard to maintain ourselves. This is not to say that we were not cared for by our neighbours, who were in the same position. I regularly ‘traded’ fish for potatoes and turnips. The economy was very localised. But the population became very cosmopolitan quickly, as more people sought the beauty and peace of this magical place. This influx helped us to market our products and to gain international recognition for them.

With the accession to the European Union in 1973 we started to benefit from external income from that source, enabling the development of modern processing facilities, and the experimentation of earlier years blossomed into the creation of a real food culture here, which is still the envy of many less-favoured areas.

With the support of a variety of localised agencies and the energies of the small, artisan producers, who had the courage to take their products out into the bigger world, and the skills to make wonderful foods from our available resources, we carved ourselves a unique niche in international markets. The thrill of seeing a Durrus, Milleens, Gubbeen, or Desmond and Gabriel cheese in shops and markets in London or Turin, Paris or Milan, makes me so proud to be part of this movement. All of these products are renowned across the globe. Their producers adhere to the old sustainable ways of creating good, clean, and honest food, which is why they are renowned and so respected internationally. And there are now many more of us creating exciting new products for these markets. The opportunities now are fantastic for any small enterprises, as we now have well-established Farmer’s Markets throughout the country, where new products can be tested on consumers on a small scale, to determine if there is potential to develop them further, to the benefit of socio-economic cohesion in our localised areas …….what goes around, comes around, and this rising tide does indeed carry all boats…

In more recent times, there was a dissipation of community spirit due in part to the Celtic Tiger, certainly caused by external influences. The bubble has burst, due to circumstances beyond our control . Now we are all survivors of this crash, and we must look inwards again to begin the process of change, to be self-sufficient and localised in our production of food. ‘Global change has local roots’ says Carlo Petrini.
I think we all feel that it is time for that change now, we can become the isolated creators again, within our communities, by encouraging more young people to come into food production, and by using those of us who have the experiences and skills gained over the years to help pass on those traditions to a new generation who have not known what it is to struggle. In this particular year, when we have so recently commemorated those who perished here during the Great Famine , maybe we could learn something for today from the survivors of that horror. Those that lived through it showed such tenacity and resilience, such strength of spirit, which is still an intrinsic part of the Irish psyche, that as tribute to them , surely we have so many more opportunities to survive and even thrive in a locally-based economy sourcing our raw materials from our neighbours . The benefits of low food miles, freshness, and low carbon footprint are immense health-wise, and even more so from an economic perspective. The heart and soul of local community is still here despite external disasters. We have in West Cork the international reputation for producing world-class foods. Let’s capitalise on this to sustain ourselves and our children, teach them how to eat, and what to eat, to maintain best physical and mental health , and help us support the best economic health in our local communities. We are rich in ways that our ancestors would scarcely believe. We have warm dry beds, a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and safe water to drink. We have companionship .We have food security. These are our riches .We can face the trials and tribulations of all of us by working together confidently during the changes ahead.

‘Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful, it is threatening because it means things may get worse. To the hopeful, it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident, it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better’ Dr.King/ Whitney Young Jr.
Let’s be confident .
‘Change your thoughts and you change your world’ Norman Vincent peale (1898 –1993) Author of ‘The power of Positive Thinking’. 1952
Let’s be positive.
‘The Universe is change ;our life is what our thoughts make it’ Marcus Aurelius Antoninus ,121 –180 AD.

Let’s embrace the changes.

And from my old neighbour, Jack O’Neill, God Rest His Soul :

‘Never despair while there’s meat on the shins of the wren’. A true philosopher and wonderful neighbour.

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