Protecting Traditional Dishes

Oct 15, 2007

By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network

At the same time we are all celebrating how globalization continues to impact our food (tastes and availability) with ever-increasing multiculturalism, there is a simultaneous need to celebrate and perpetuate regional and national specialties.

part of British Food Fortnight (September 22 – October 7), more than 9,000
volunteer chefs were sent into schools to reconnect children to British culinary
cuisine. Research conducted for The Year of Food and Farming revealed a considerable
gap in children’s grasp of regional classics even when they lived in the areas
where the dishes originated. For instance, more than half (54 percent) were
unaware that pasties are from Cornwall, or that haggis are from Scotland (57
percent), while a whopping 80 percent did not know that hotpot hails from Lancashire.

As part of the program, schools have also been invited to enter a ‘Cook for
Life’ challenge, sponsored by kitchen appliance manufacturer, Kenwood, to identify
those incorporating cookery in their curriculum in the most imaginative and
innovative way.

“British Food Fortnight is an annual mass movement to excite and educate young
people about British food,” Alexia Robinson, organizer of British Food Fortnight,
said in a statement. “It’s encouraging that the whole food and farming industry
has come together to help educate children about British food.” These include
linked projects from big retailers like Sainsbury’s and the Co-operative Group
as well as industry sector groups.

Photo: Courtesy of The Year of Food and Farming

The Year of Food and Farming, a food-industry
led initiative supported by three government departments that launched this
September, focuses on giving children memorable learning experiences ranging
from farm and rural visits to cooking, growing and work-related activities
across the country. Organizers hope to improve children’s ‘agricultural literacy’
and transform the way the countryside is viewed, in and out of the classroom.

Tony Cooke, program director for the Year of Food and Farming, said, “We need to take urgent action to educate children about the food chain to preserve the future health of our nation and the rural economy itself. We are hoping that impactful initiatives throughout the year will help excite and inspire children about their food.”

On the retail front, consumers are becoming more aware of logos highlighting
PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), PGI (Protected Geographical Indication)
and TSG (Traditional Speciality Guaranteed). These strictly controlled categorizations
are being used throughout the European Union.

Discussion questions: How important are efforts to protect tradition and heritage for food retailing? Is teaching children about where food comes from and understanding supply chains a good way to start? What can retailers do to promote and preserve regional dishes and foods?

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6 Comments on "Protecting Traditional Dishes"

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Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
14 years 7 months ago

Renewing knowledge of eating histories and traditions might seem like eating wax since knowing that hotpot hails from Lancashire and pasties from Cornwall may be a modern conundrum. Folks eat what they find likable today and the variety of new tastes appearing on the menu seems almost infinite. That tends to render history a culinary mystery.

I am reminded of how Odgen Nash flavored food from parsley (it’s gharsley) to haggis with his saucy rhymes. If people don’t like haggis once they’ve tasted it, it will not return to their plate, history notwithstanding. Same is true with other traditional favorites such as the Sweetbread. To wit:

“The sweetbread gazing up at me

Is not what it purports to be.

Says Webster in one paragraph,

It is the pancreas of a calf.

Since it’s neither sweet nor bread,

I think I’ll take a bun instead.”

So as I eat my sweet caramel rolls

Do I care for where the bell tolls?

Len Lewis
Len Lewis
14 years 7 months ago

This is a great program. I’ve long held the view that children know very little about food and preparation. They often see meals as something that comes out of a takeout bag or simple finger food.

I’ve often said that two of the most valuable lessons I learned from my mother was how to shop and how to cook–life lessons and skills that children are all too rarely being taught. I don’t think there is any empirical evidence on this, but there has been a general decline in cooking skills in this country for many years. To many people in their 20s and 30s, the supermarket and the kitchen are unfamiliar territories. Time to remedy that and catching them while they’re young will go a long way toward instilling a real love of food into kids–not just fast food cravings.

I realize it’s traditional, Bernice. But I’ve smelled Haggis cooking. No offense. Maybe I’ve been in the wrong kitchens…. πŸ™‚

Mark Lilien
14 years 7 months ago

Teaching children that haggis are from Scotland isn’t likely to improve retailing profits. People eat what they like, and retailers can sell anything. Which is easier: selling pizza, hamburgers, and donuts or selling haggis? And what might have the best margins? When it comes to British foods, it might be more profitable think about the saying, “When you can’t beat them, join them.”

Doron Levy
Doron Levy
14 years 7 months ago

This program will go a long way in educating youth in healthy eating habits. The US and Canada should develop similar programs to improve children’s eating habits.

Tom McGoldrick
Tom McGoldrick
14 years 7 months ago

It would be difficult to build much of a business around heavily promoting local and traditional foods. People eat what they like and know how to make.

However, traditional and local does sell well at specific times of the year. Pumpkin and apple pies at Thanksgiving are a good example. In Minnesota, Lutefisk appears every holiday season even though almost no one will admit to liking the taste.

(Lutefisk is dried cod that has been soaked in a lye solution for several days to rehydrate it. It is then boiled or baked and served with butter, salt, and pepper. The finished lutefisk usually is the consistency of Jello.)

Seasonal promotions that involve lessons for preparing local and traditional foods paired with the sale of local ingredients are probably the best option.

Jeff Weitzman
Jeff Weitzman
14 years 7 months ago

I lived in Scotland during college and learned that haggis live on hillsides in the Highlands. The wee beasties have long legs on one side and short legs on the other, so they can stand upright on the slopes, but alas, they can only ever go ’round in the one direction. πŸ™‚

Bernice, your article brought back fond memories, but I’m not sure they were culinary dreams! A penchant for organ meats may keep British regional cuisine out of the “heart healthy” cookbooks for a bit longer. That said, I think it is somewhat futile to promote the foods without the culture. Traditional foods are usually deeply connected with culture, and they survive because of that connection. Teaching kids that haggis is Scottish probably won’t mean much to them unless haggis represents a connection to other Scottish traditions, and completes the experience for them.


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