Everything starts in the cities. They’re a bit like the CERN super-collider: with so many people whirling round each other, the logic goes, the collisions are bound to throw up something of interest. A zoology student from the wilds of cajun Louisiana bangs into a pool-playing entrepreneurial Glaswegian and lo, the next taste phenomenon – ‘You’re Snookered’ Gumbo In A CupTM – is sold off the back of a swamp-splashed Chevy until Kate Moss is seen clutching one at Glasto, at which point the cult becomes a staple and the men in black polo-necks move on.
Such encounters just aren’t as likely in Little Nethers. They probably don’t happen much even in Ludlow, despite there being plenty of Ludlowers longing to ingest swampwater gumbo.
Oddly, however, the cities don’t seem to have the edge on emerging food cultures. Food festivals, for example, are simmering pots of invention, opportunity, and sticking it to The Man, enabling small producers to sell their dreams to the public in increasingly delicious and planet-friendly forms. One might expect these cornucopia of food and consumers to be especially concentrated in the capital; but no. London certainly does hold more food festivals per head of population than the rest of England, but it holds fractionally fewer than Scotland, and just one-third as many as the (clearly obsessed) Welsh.*
The exciting new trend in London, if I’m channeling Twitter correctly, is street- and river-food. Fair enough. But my bit of countryside can boast an ‘ethical venture’ trying to create a new kind of community farm; a collective that wants to use a bit of our field for
allotments; and a weekly jive class where, between throwing a few shapes on the dancefloor, a local small farmer does a brisk sideline in handgrown produce. (He doesn’t do bags, so you have to take one yourself or look a bit odd in the pub afterwards, clutching bunches of carrots and celery. Come on now, keep up; you don’t expect bags in the country, do you? Honestly, city folk, tsk, etc.)
In addition, the local eateries seem just as keen on breaking food barriers as those in Fulham. Last week I went to one Cider & Food Matching and one Vegetarian Taster Event (you don’t get Dinner any more, they’re all Events) — would I have gone to more, had I still lived in the big city? Doubtful.
It almost seems a shame. You’d think out here you could get away from the mad hubbub of sliders, fennel pollen and blondies, but no. Maybe it’s social media — or maybe new food cultures spring into being simultaneously at every point in the culinary universe. Perhaps we should ask CERN.
Footnote: *From The Taster’s calendar (p33-35), which lists all the food festivals his slaves could find: 3 million Welsh—19 festivals. 5m Scots—9 festivals. 8m Londoners—14 festivals. 45m English— 45 festivals.