|Today's dogmas are just another form of MacDonaldisation or MacDonalds du nos jours!|
Good architecture and good food are a majestic combination. To get both, take a short break in Barcelona and go on a hunt for the Gaudi architecture of the Modernisme, and relish the tapas and paella in the bars and restaurants. Gaudi designed with the natural world as a strong influence. Cathedral columns take on the form of branched tree trunks; pillars supporting roofs look like giant mushrooms (hence their description as fungiform); spires and exaggerated chimneys end in clusters of boldly coloured baubles looking like bowls of fruit; and dramatic figured reliefs spring out of building elevations as though the whole is a living, growing beast.
I guess it sounds like you can eat the architecture, but the food is just as good. Barcelona has that magical Catalan unison of mountain and sea - meat and its products from the mountains, fish and shellfish from the sea. Add rice and you have the characteristic paella of Barcelona. Squeeze the ink out of a few squid and you have the signature black-rice of Catalonia. Make a variety of sausages and serve them the Catalan way with a plate of beans or cure them and eat them fried as tapas or sliced into stews.
Tapas are the greatest grazing opportunity for the undecided eater. Each small plate contains bursts of flavour when choosing from the fried squid, spicy potatoes, fresh little pilchards cooked whole, wedges of potato and onion omelette, griddled peppers, the spicy lamb kebabs, the excellent mature Manchegan cheeses and the paper thin slices of air-cured ham from the hills. Mop up the juices on the plate with coarse, white bread and wash the whole down with a cheap (simple) beer or wine.
There is no anonymity about the food in Barcelona. The incredible Boqueria market just off the Rambla says it all with its displays of magnificence. Everything is there - the mountain and the sea - and the fresh and the cured or preserved gathered from wherever the best can be found. Look around and you also see the benefits of facing out onto the Mediterranean, bringing in the best that those other maritime countries can provide. But you also see those foods prized in Barcelona that are firmly wedded to their regional origin in Spain. The cheeses from La Mancha, that hinterland SE of Madrid and between the mountain ranges. Then the paella rice grown in the Erbe Delta much further down the Mediterranean coast from Barcelona. And the king of them all - jamon serrano, the air-dried ham made in the mountains of the Teruel Province from the hind legs of large white pigs. How confident it is to know what you like, to bring it in from the many regions and countries, and to marry it with the best that you can provide yourself. This is the love of good food.
A day back from Barcelona and I am sat talking to Eddie in his parlour, hearing of his 48 years in breeding pigs. Eddie talks with pride of the quality of his animals and the demand that has seen his breeding stock exported to many countries around the world. We have to talk about the rural economy as that is the reason for my visit. Foot and mouth restrictions collapsed his breeding business last year, surviving (but losing money) on the income from bacon pigs alone. But it is when Eddie mentions his last export order that was cancelled by FMD that I realise how this cold, windswept day in the wilds of our District is linked with the February warmth that I felt in Barcelona. The order was for the export of 12 of Eddie's large white breeding boars to Spain, no doubt as the usual means periodically to reinvigorate their own breeding stock of these animals. And thus I realised that I could have been eating air-cured ham in Barcelona that owed some of its greatness to the efforts of this modest man before me.
I have to ask Eddie about farm diversification and he gives me a ruefull grin before we both break out laughing at the absurdity of the question. Eddie is 75 (the average age of farmers is 58) and the walking sticks he uses make him more agile than his infirmity should allow. Would things have been any different if he was 20 years younger? He says that 20 years ago, breeding pigs was a very good business and so why would he have wanted to change?
Eddie knows what I am talking about, as do all the farmers I have interviewed in the District. They feel the pressure of having to respond to the modern day dogmas of what they should be doing to change the way they work, when they know from experience that it has little chance of working for them and will just separate out winners and losers. Eddie knows a pig farmer in Devon who makes the same income from a reduced production because he has an accessible location with many passing people who will drop in and buy direct. Eddie thinks it is unlikely that many people will come out from Bradford to his isolated farm. And Eddie has worked in a breeders co-operative before, but it had no stability when members found it difficult to forgo their speciality so that they ended up not producing enough variety.
It's the same message with other farmers - a local farmers market offers nothing to the milk producer who has product every day that has to be distributed. One dairy farmer who distributes his own milk, has looked into further processing to make yoghurt, but he already feels he has enough work to do without taking on more. Nor does a farmers market offer anything to the beef farmer who may have 50 animals finished at one time, or the sheep farmer that has eight most weeks, and both farmers have no choice but to move them on through the system.
Recently, Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State at DEFRA, addressed the NFU AGM where she reviewed the impact of these modern day dogmas, ending on the conclusion that "None of the routes I have referred to provide a magic wand". She might also have concluded that the endless promotion of these modern day dogmas has much in common with the philosophy of Macdonalds in pursuing a uniform approach irrespective of the location (local fries and a local burger anyone?). I think I'd rather listen to our farmers in the District and work out what we are good at and, while we can certainly sell it to ourselves, we should also make sure that they want it in Barcelona because then we would know it was good.
Mark Fisher, 28 February 2002