THE JOY OF FARMING IN FRANCE

I was surprisingly happy to return to France once we arrived.

We had enjoyed our international scholars conference in Reims earlier in the year in France however of the 5 groups travelling around the world as part of the Global Focus tour, we were the only ones to be returning to France and a few of us had initially commented that it was a shame we weren’t going somewhere new. However, immediately after arriving into the sunshine of a French summer and the warmth of French hospitality on the Saturday afternoon after flying in from Turkey and a 3 hour train ride from Paris, we were happy to be back!

All of us were first timers to the Brittany region and I’m embarrassed to admit I really hadn’t researched it before arriving so turned up to the region without expectation (perhaps a good thing) and without a clear understanding of what was around us. Including Frances’ second most visited tourist attraction, St. Mont Michel.

I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard of this absolutely incredible mountainous town when we arrived there on the Sunday. It popped out of the landscape like one of those kids pop up books as we drove there. Given its surrounded by sandy wetland (for kilometers) around it, the contrast of this incredible town built into and around the small mountainous rock is just amazing.

We spent the morning here looking around and given it was Sunday also joined the Sunday service right on the top which had a very special feeling to it. Our French host was 2015 France Scholar Guillam (Pronounced William or Gi-yam) who has visited it numerous times and shared some great pieces of information as we walked around as well as some interesting stories or urban legends which you can also see here if you like (Rather than me going on about it here!)

The afternoon pace picked up quite a bit as we came across some strange looking contraptions zooming along the beach at low tide on one of the coastal towns in Normandy. Part Windsurfer, part go kart and part sailing boat we were able to hire these for half an hour to race each other (yes we’re competitive so turned it into a race). Being so low to the ground and racing along in these strange contraptions which rely 100% on the wind was ridiculously fun!

It was so nice to have a ‘tourist’ day in France broken up with the mandatory food stops where we indulged in crepes, tartar, oysters (they’re everywhere in this region) and mussels (also everywhere!)

It was then back into the the real reason we were in France and back into our farm visits.

Coming from Tasmania I draw many similarities with the French nature of farming each time I visit. With limited land size, similar to Tasmania, the French are also focusing on niche high value production. With my own personal study topic being on provenance marketing and the opportunities it can provide to deliver higher returns for farmers, France is one hell of a case study for me! Speaking with one of our hosts who spoke so passionately about the French attitude towards their own food was a real highlight. He surmised that the French will choose French every time, even when quality is not the best because of the trust they have in their farmers and the over all French Factor. (A stark contrast to India where they will choose anything but Indian when given a choice).

It’s French. It’s good.

Although no one else can be France the provenance factor is more than just place nowadays and even the French acknowledge this. It’s trust in the place and as traceability and food safety grow in the psyche of our consumers, places like Tasmania have a huge opportunity to capitalise on the fact their already doing ‘best practice’ and have consumer trust which is also expanding to an emotional connection with consumers as tourist numbers visit to the state and people connect physically with the ‘place’ itself.

I’ll be back again next year to focus on my study topic but as this particular visit formed part of our group trip, our farm visits across the Brittany region were varied across agriculture production from bull studs to small organic farming to potatoes and ducks! I had the benefit however of our French host lining me up to spend a day in Seafood with an old school friend of his who has started an Oyster production just outside of Brest.

It was fantastic to get back into the world of seafood for a day after spending the last month on land based farming operations! Even better was spending it with someone who shares the same passion for not just high quality production but also the promotion of seafood sustainability for both wild and farmed. Oh and being able to eat oysters at 9am in the morning was also nice!

It’s important to understand when speaking about farming in France that it is made up of small to medium size acreage across the countryside where a village based farming lifestyle still holds favour with large thanks to the Coop system still in place.

Coops have been around in France for hundreds of years and represent  nearly 75% of all farmers in France. In the last thirty years French cooperatives have steadily modified their organizational structures in response to changes in the economic environment and whereas most cooperatives started out as simple collectors of agricultural raw materials, they have moved progressively into the agro-transformation business and became corporate groups shaped by a head group and subsidiaries such as other cooperatives or commercial companies

 You don’t ‘do’ farming. You are a farmer

One of the key things about farming in France that comes across is that no one considers it a ‘job’. It’s a lifestyle. And being able to join farmers in a village at lunch time as they all walk off their plots to come together at a long table to feast on fresh crudities, meat and cheese with an apple cider or two was an absolute pleasure for myself and the group, even despite a strong language barrier (there is only so far Bonjour and Comme Seva can take you!)

Next year when I head to France It’s unlikely that I’ll be returning to the Brittany region but I’m so glad that I had this opportunity to see what I consider a very different side to France than I’d seen before. Being away from the big cities, the popular south coast or the well-known tourist wine regions where the locals are so used to seeing foreigners come in that you’re almost ignored or the interactions seem very transnational, we were able to enjoy meetings with farmers in some cases who had never met anyone from Australia or locals in small villages who don’t get a chance to practice their English very often and delighted in being able to also help us practice our French in return.

These beautiful small farming villages of France are somewhere I could imagine letting myself happily lose months if not years one day. I’ll finish this entry with one of my favourite French sayings that I think as someone with a busy mind and who is always trying to capture a moment and thinking about the best way to share it with others there is something to be said for just allowing yourself to be in, and enjoy the moments that life gives us. As farmers, I think those moments come more often than for those who are not!

Joie De Vivre – The joy of living

DIGITAL TURKEY

We visited Dairy farms, Turkey’s largest tomato operation, the fruit and vegetable wholesale markets of Bursa and more. We shopped at Istanbul’s famous Bazaar, dined on rooftops overlooking the city and bathed in Turkish Baths. We visited historical sights such as Gallipoli and Troy and spent the week exploring the country speaking with people from farmers to High commissioners and seeing as much as we could possibly fit into 7 days! Like all of the countries we’ve visited so far it’s been a photo lovers paradise with images and moments you want to capture around every corner!

Turkey is definitely on the ‘return one day’ list!

THE IMPORTANCE OF IMPORTS IN QATAR

I had no expectations whatsoever flying into Qatar apart from really brief research that kept going back to their concerns on food security so I was pretty sure it would get a few mentions in our meetings here.

I really wasn’t ready for the feeling of flying into the pure Middle-Eastern desert where the lightly colored sand stretches as far as the eye can see. Stepping out of the airport you’re greeted by the driest of heats imaginable that feels like its drying your eyeballs out. The only time I’ve felt anything even close to this was a few summers ago when it resulted in horrible fires just north of Hobart but even then you knew that it was just a passing little heatwave. The feeling that this is just how it is day in day out is hard to digest coming from Tasmania where our annual average temperature would be less than 20 degrees!

Pronounced Kuh-ter, it has just one city, Doha. The city of Doha pops out of the desert countryside like a bright shiny metallic oasis. A country with only 2 million people that has been built off the back of one of the worlds biggest oil deposits and expats from around the world come in their thousands all hoping to get cut of the huge revenue entering the country’s economy on a daily basis!

Oil generates over $1b of revenue every 3 days.

They’re numbers that I find hard to compute, even harder when you learn that Qatar is basically privately owned!

During our time here we spent time meeting with major food importers who don’t just import food but are also involved with guaranteeing supply by buying up land around the world, including Australia, to grow it themselves or in JV’s. The theme of supply consistency and balancing your risk by ensuring you have a variety of supplier relationships came through in each and every meeting.

The ports of Doha are quite shallow and the small piece of land that connects them to the mainland is through Saudi Arabia making Qatar’s reliance on others to ensure food continues to make its way into the country quite high and risky. Commodity traders we met with said at the moment they’re stockpiling major items like grains for 6 months but looking to increase capacity to as long as 12 months to protect the country.

Walking around the supermarket was like taking a global food tour around the world!

For me looking at how food products are branded and tell their place of origin story it was fascinating. In Australia we’re constantly trying to encourage retailers to share country of origin information with consumers yet here absolutely everything from the crackers to milk to apples to olive oil is all clearly labelled in terms of country of origin on the price tags.

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9 months supply of flour at the Doha ports

Even more astounding for a country that is faced with the huge task of importing not just its food but all its drinking water too as well (the household water comes from desalination), is that they are looking to nearly double their population to 4 million in 5 years when World expo is hosted here and then further by the time the FIFA world cup hits town.

I was just blindsided by the feeling of being in a country that relies so much on others yet has this nest egg of oil that the rest of the world in return rely on so heavily. My husband and i often talk about how close we are to being self-sufficient on our own small plot of land in Tasmania with our hothouse, vegie gardens, fruit trees and supply of fish and meat. Even though we choose to purchase from other producers, it’s a nice feeling knowing that we (or pretty much anyone in Australia) has the choice of grow you’re own or buy it in!

In a country with the highest GDP per capita in the world and fastest growing wealth, there was absolutely no shortage of money to spend but unfortunately, as we learnt from a few site visits, that money doesn’t’ guarantee success  such as the sheep dairy we visited that currently has 45,000 sheep and is losing money daily but looking to grow the numbers to 150,000 sheep over the next 12 months without a market (or business strategy) for the meat or the cheese!

While only a few days in the city and i’m sure only a surface level glimpse at what lies underneath, it was a huge contrast in wealth, culture and food challenges. Before dinner on the Thursday night we also visited the Museum of Islamic art which for myself was a highlight as prior to this i had felt like Qatar was quite a new country (which it kind of is) but we were able to view some of the oldest artifacts I’ve ever seen including the first page of the Holy Qur’an. The artifacts were displayed absolutely beautiful and it was quite dark as we walked around with our guide.  The Museum visit really gave Qatar a lot more depth for me and I felt like i was able to connect and understand not just the country but also more about the Islamic faith which is discussed quite widely in Australia but not always in the nicest way unfortunately.

We also had the unique experience of being in Qatar for the first night of Ramadan which is a religious period of fasting for  30 days with food and drink only able to pass the lips before 5 am or after 6.30pm. Even for us it meant not being able to consume anything in public. Even driving in cars we weren’t able to drink water which when its 45 degrees and on the first day of Ramadan all our visits were outside with livestock, it was challenging to say the least. I can honestly say its the closest I’ve come to testing my tolerance to dry heat. At one stage while checking out the live Aussie sheep imports I could have just laid down anywhere and gone to sleep, the dry desert heat when you’re fasting tests the body that’s for sure. Its easy to see why, during Ramadan, the working day is shortened by a few hours.

The two country visits in succession provided a great example as to why this global focus program is an important part of our scholarship journey. For me looking into provenance food marketing, its beginning to demonstrate that the needs of a consumer are so varied around the world in terms of what they want from their producers story. In India it was trace ability and food safety and here in Qatar it is without a doubt around food security and consistency of supply. Neither country talking about the producers story in terms of environment, husbandry, ethics or quality as being at the top of their requirements. It will be interesting to see where the Turkish consumers interests and priorities lay!

I made a video of our time in Qatar which also included our first R&R afternoon in three weeks so we took the opportunity to head out to the desert on a 4WD safari which was absolutely incredible, even getting to swim in the gulf with Saudi Arabia just behind us! I must admit it’s given me a bit of a taste to visit more of the Gulf region – which i never thought i’d say!

SLUMMING IT IN DELHI

I’ve spoken on this blog about the importance we’ve found in trying to understand (while never fully) the culture and values of this country there is one place that is spoken about by foreigners almost as much as the Taj Mahal that we were yet to visit. The famous slums of India.

In a massive contrast of activities to do in one day in India, our visit to the slums came straight after a morning spent with the High commission talking trade challenges and opportunities in and for India and making sense of a lot of what we’d had seen over the last couple of weeks. Visiting the Asha Centre who are working with the slum communities provided such a different glimpse into India its really hard to put it into words.

There are 60 recognised slums throughout Delhi itself and makeup 10% of the cities 22 million population. Unfortunately we were told this is a number that is growing with increased urbanisation as farmers leave debt and lack of family succession options behind for opportunity they believe will be in the city.

The Asha Organisation at it’s core stands for hope.

The Asha centre was founded to protect the people of India’s slums from exploitation as well as implement major health changes after the 1988 disease epidemic that swept through the slums killing thousands of children and leaving many with a lifelong reminder of the affects of polio and other diseases such as cholera. A major disease in the late 80’s and early 90’s were water born diseases.

Asha have been a major player In providing safe water and sanitation to the slums while also empowering people to something with their lives and understand their rights.

Women have been a huge recipient of the work of Asha as they are taught empowerment and capacity is built for women to transform their communities while also improving their own safety.

Asha has turned 22 of the slums they work with into positive healthy communities by focusing on 5 principles.

  1. Healthcare
  2. Women’s empowerment
  3. Financial inclusion
  4. Higher education
  5. Environmental structure development

1. Healthcare

The center relies on support from MNC’s, government organisation and gets some support from the growing social conscience among its own middle class as their own wealth grows. This funding supplies things such as basic medication and vaccinations as well as buses to transport some of the community to school or medical attention.

The kids here are also empowered with knowledge of healthcare and the benefits of learning. The kids actually report each week at their own kids only meeting on children they identify that should be in school or haven’t yet been vaccinated.

Later when we met with the children’s group of the slums they showed us how they teach other kids about the importance of vaccinations as well as how they identify serious disease in adults such as Tuberculosis (smoking is considered the most dangerous drug in the slums).

  1. Women’s empowerment

Women are considered to now be ‘running the show’ in the slums.

– The cultural stigma is being broken down here and women are being given a voice. When we met with the women’s group they passionately told of the day that they took the face veils off for the first time to step outside their houses and let the sun shine on their faces. I had goosebumps hearing that some women are still doing this every day as they free themselves of cultural shackles that have kept them quiet and hidden for so long.

Women seeing the strength in other women has been the guiding light here in the slums to inspire and continue to inspire each other.

Women here now have more awareness of their cooperative power and now they too want to empower others . This is also drastically reducing the extent of the Caste system here in the slum and initiatives run by Asha such as weekly ‘pot luck’ lunches where women eat cuisine from a range of different Caste levels and variations of religion is opening minds and hearts amongst the group.

  1. Financial inclusion

I was less surprised to learn that slum dwellers were until recently unable to get loans as I was to learn they couldn’t even legally open a basic bank account.

However now, with the help of Asha, they are learning their financial and country rights and are opening accounts and in some cases even getting small business loans to run shops or sell services within the slums and on the outside.

  1. Higher Education

Slum kids are now empowered to think bigger and louder. 1200 slum kids are currently enrolled in university and last year there were 3 Engineering graduates who have all gone on to successfully get graduate roles in good companies.

I was happy to hear that there are a number of MNC’s who are also supporting the program by offering internships where students can learn basic business skills such as answering a telephone, shaking hands and speaking in professional tone of voice as well as honing their English skills with native speakers.

When we spoke with the younger kids the number one thing they said they want to learn and in terms of how foreigners can help was simply to teach them English. The kids sitting in front of us were so excited to meet with us and tell us all about their lives and to practice their English. There was some time for them to also ask us questions and i think it was a surprise to many of them to learn that a lot of us had completed university degrees but still returned to work on farms in Australia. In India if you go to University returning to the land is almost unheard of!

For the kids here, education is such a privilege and the hunger to learn was evident in the way they look at life and are guided by clear principles which they are all able to not just recite, but provide examples of also.

5. Environmental Structure Development

Slum dwellers work in maids in nearby affluent areas which instills some financial confidence and freedom in them. Asha have also used monetary aid to have drainage and toilet complex’s installed in the communities.

Asha Goals

  • 100% Children educated
  • 100% access to vaccinations
  • Land ownership opportunities

Its also important to note that Asha always pulls out of communities when they feel they are self-sustainable. Asha is always about building capacity not managing.

There is no present like the time

This has stuck with me as the farmers we met were also frequently quoting this saying. In Australia we frequently say “there’s no time like the present” and so it pricked my ears to hear a similar saying here in Asha used often also which is in reverse to what we say in Australia and changes the meaning quite significantly i think.

As someone who has not yet been blessed with my own child, i had braced myself for a tough afternoon in the slums, expecting tears and a tough experience but i was pleasantly surprised to see so much hope in such a tough environment. The only time i really felt i would lose it was with one comment made by the women who said;

Help our children. We have lived our life and we want our children to live a better life.

Also having one of the children grab my hand as our cars picked us up and say please come back one day. I can’t imagine not going back. I would encourage everyone reading this who has felt anything and would like to help to look into Asha. There is unfortunately such a high level of distrust globally of many NGO’s thanks to so many fraudulent ones and stories of high levels of funds going towards administration costs but having now seen first hand where the money is being spent here and seeing the positive results of change to these people lives I will be doing what I can to support Asha.

THE ISLAND OF IRELAND

Ireland, Like Tasmania, are making the most of their island status and celebrating geographic isolation as well as cementing their focus on sustainability  and ensuring from an international point of view this focus is highlighted as a key value point of difference.

The framework is called Origin Green and i was fortunate enough to spend time with Bord Bia (bia means food in Gaelic and Bord is Gaelic for Board – surprise surprise!) and discuss their auditing framework to get a better understanding. Dairy is unsurprisingly one of the biggest agricultural sectors in Ireland and was the initial driver behind origin green however many other sectors are now also part of the scheme including both wild fisheries and aquaculture in Ireland. In fact my first light bulb moment happened while visiting with the aquaculture and fisheries board in Dublin on the last day of my week in Ireland. Coincidentally Donal Macguire who i met with is also a Nuffield alumni. Class of ’89!

I also got to do some sight seeing around the area of Cork and am fortunate that the salmon smoke houses i visited are often in remote locations, meaning i was able to also explore some of the most stunning landscapes I’ve ever seen from Cork up the west coast of Ireland and across the centre enroute to Northern Ireland.

 

I had an afternoon free on my final day in Dublin and used the time to visit the Guinness Factory which is easily the best company visitor centre i’ve ever been to. For someone who isn’t a fan of their actual product, even i couldn’t resist a Guinness at the end of the tour! Probably the most interesting part of the tour for me was the Guinness advertising archives which showed not just the TVC’s they have put together in the past but also demonstrated the move over time from the print to now digital age of advertising and it was interesting to see how the change in mediums available to use has also grown the consumer demographics Guinness now appeals to.

 

 

NO APOLOGIES FOR SUGAR HERE

Windows adorned with the most magnificent displays of fruit, vegetables, macarons, chocolates, pastries and bread. France and Italy are all for the enjoyment of food and make no apologies for encouraging you to do so while there!

Heaven help the person who raises the notion of a sugar tax in France.

As a topic it can go round and round and i apologise in advance as I’ve been giving this topic more and more thought over the last few days in Ireland since leaving France so this blog post is a slight brain dump on the topic!

Reducing or even removing artificial sugar from our diets is a hot topic in Australia and has gained extra momentum since Jamie Oliver raised the idea of a sugar tax in the UK. Cook books highlighting sugar free recipes, gluten free recipes and raw recipes etc. have been steadily growing in popularity in Australia over the last few years. Perhaps with good reason as researchers report that globally it’s the first time since studies began that there are now more obese than underweight people in our population.

In Australia the suggestion that we have got to a point where we feel the need to introduce yet another tax that highlights the fact we’re apparently unable to make correct decisions for ourselves and therefore need to be charged for making what the country has decided is a bad one, is sad. The fact that in a population like Australia’s where the vast majority can afford to make good food choices and yet given the statistics seem to be continuing to make poor ones says more about the culture we’ve created than just the individuals.

Having now spent time in Italy and France where people rarely eat alone. Rarely (if ever) walk and eat at the same time and if they sit to eat, they sit to actually digest, I can see how the Australian way of eating has been so easily taken up by convenience which is often tied to fast (bad food).

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I’ll admit while i generally eat pretty healthily (I’m someone that literally lives my brand as i eat one of our Huon salmon products at least once a day at one meal or another) that I’m guilty of walking while smashing down a quick sushi roll on my way back to the office or in between meetings, of barely stopping to take my eyes off the computer while eating something that can be eaten with one hand so I can still operate the mouse with the other.

In Italy I was told it was actually illegal for employees to not stop to eat lunch for at least one hour. Try going to a store between 12.30-3.30 in Italy and you’ll realise the whole country seems to have stopped to ‘digest their food’. And it seems to be a similar story in France.

Even drinks are consumed in much the same manner. In Italy locals will stand at a coffee bar to sip their short or long black espressos and the French will take a moment to enjoy theirs from the front facing gorgeous rattan chairs in front of the local café or brasseries.

My point in this is the enjoyment and value of food is high in both countries. From the way it’s consumed, as discussed above to even the way it’s presented. Treats (yes, the sugary kind) are wrapped in beautiful boxes with ribbons and colour and then packaged into yet another beautifully presented gift bag for you to take home. Not something you’re going to rip off quickly and just throw back in a hurry while you guiltily leave the service station, later on thinking “did i even taste that”?

There is no talk of bad or good fats, of sugar contents but rather talk of taste and of quality. If it’s of high quality then it’s as close to its natural form as possible.  If it’s a sweet then a smaller size is purchased or less of something are purchased and are sold beautifully wrapped and adorned almost to further highlight the fact that it’s something to be savoured…all the way from unwrapping it to consuming it.

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In food marketing and in food in general we’ve become so caught up in the health factor and various certifications (production, process, delivery etc etc etc) that i think we’ve forgot to a certain degree the two most important things.

1. We need to eat food .Yes of course its ideal if its healthy but really that should be standard, not a decision you ‘consider’ when you look at essentially fueling your body.

2. Food tastes good.

While in Bra in Italy I happened to be there the week of the first asparagus harvest. One of my favourite dishes I was served was a simple small plate of beautiful fresh (in season) asparagus with a butter cream. It was delicious.

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In the same meal sitting I also had the best vanilla panna cotta I’ve ever eaten. It was a small serve. It was full of sugar and fat and now i think back to that moment of eating it, actually close to the best thing I’ve ever eaten full stop. I actually looked up after eating my first mouthful to see the chef had popped his head out the door to my left side to watch my reaction. I’ll admit I had a minor Meg Ryan moment as I couldn’t contain the pure pleasure this dish provided, so i’m sure i gave him the reaction he was looking for!

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I don’t remember the last time I sat and talked about, and savored a dish quite like this.

Looking at our lives in Australia many of us move at such a fast paced and include food in our lives as almost a necessary evil rather than a pleasurable fuel.

I think this type of mentality is largely behind why as a nation we have such a poor culture when it comes to food and why there was room for a trend  on farm food (shouldn’t it all be farm food)  and why the term ‘real food’ is on the rise. The fact that the term ‘real food’ even exists is a concern. Shouldn’t it just be food? Anything else that is manufactured etc. becomes the other stuff?

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THE SHOW MUST GO ON, BRUSSELS

Brussels was on my travel itinerary plans since first applying for my Nuffield scholarship in 2014. It’s the annual host to the world’s largest seafood expo and would also provide an opportunity for me to make more contacts to coordinate visits with during my travels post-show.

However in light of last month’s terror attacks I had however taken Brussels off and on and off and on my travel plans.  I won’t give anymore airtime here to what the country has had to endure in this post apart from to say that where possible I will never let the actions of others prevent me from moving forward and continuing to live my life because to not do so, is giving into the very purpose of their actions.

Brussels was a full on week and reminded me of our schedule last year during our global focus program which was a great example of fitting 48 hours into a 24 hour day when you want to get the most out of visiting a country! We had a great mix of meetings, presentations, lunches and dinners on the agenda as well as the all-important expo itself which consists of 11 arena size halls to get through during the three days.

The expo is an international showcase of seafood from both aquaculture and wild catch and is attended by both producers, fishermen (fisherpeople?), processors, marketers, industry stakeholders, NGO’s, the European Commission and more.

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I was particularly interested in product innovation being shown at the show both from a product and packaging format point of view and wasn’t disappointed.

I had a great three days making some great new contacts and have subsequently arranged additional meetings for my time in Ireland next week, Scotland and England.

During the week I was also fortunate to join 2 other visiting Nuffield scholars from the 2016 alumni group and attend some meetings with the European Commission which had been organised for us. We met with various representatives of both wild catch and aquaculture sectors and spent an interesting couple of hours learning about the complexities of managing multiple member states (countries) across Europe and the difficulty in achieving a management policies that meet the needs and wants of everyone and of every environment.

 

Our last event for the week was pretty special. We were invited to the European Parliament to hear an address from Ray Hilborn. Now I must admit I was not familiar with Ray prior to the address however I’m told by my Nuffield colleagues that he is somewhat of a celebrity across the wild catch sector globally. Ray is a scientist based in Washington (Seattle) in the US who is working in collaboration globally to collect fisheries management information to collate an international data file on the state of fish resources. Ray presented the case that globally the fish stocks are not being depleted and that myths such as fish stocks being completely gone by 2048 are complete fallacy.

As you can imagine certain NGO groups dispute his claims and his science quite heavily and we saw this in action during the question time after his address.

It was quite an experience in itself sitting in European parliament and having to take the headphones on and off to be able to hear the French to English translation as required. I have to say, I felt quite important for a moment and for anyone who has seen Nicole Kidman’s movie The Translator, it was exactly the same as in the movie 😉 .

LOST IN TRANSLATION

Without bombarding you with the millions of product, presentation, packaging photos i thought i would just highlight the importance of checking translations before you take your company message or in this case, company name abroad. This was one of about twenty (sometimes hilarious cases) of confused translations i came across during the show, most were more grammatical or spelling errors that resulted in inappropriate translations or unfortunate double meanings however one stood out for me.

In seafood, as with much of farming, we’re often faced with negative views from those who usually haven’t taken the time to find out all the information or just prefer to jump on a particular side of the fence. However, with a name like this, this Indian company is not really not giving themselves much of a chance in a new market are they…

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THE UNIVERSITY OF FOOD!

Ok, it’s not really called that but as a basic description that’s what it is. Oh, and wine!

The University of Gastronomic Sciences is relatively young having only been founded in 2004 by Slow Food founder Carolo Petroni and is a privately funded university.

The university offers both undergraduate, and Masters courses in a mixture of specialties however what they are known best for is producing students who have a well rounded knowledge and appreciation for the end to end world of food. From farming to production to taste to distribution and marketing. Every step is covered and the university prides itself on offering one of the highest numbers of field trips for such a degree/course in the world.

As you can imagine, it’s not a cheap university to attend however a number of university supporters offer a range of scholarships to make the university accessible to a wide range of people from all sorts of countries around the world. The diversity this brings in skill sets, cultures and personalities only adds to the universities appeal.

Unlike Slow Food HQ, the university offers a slightly different outlook when it comes to the topic of food scale of production and takes what i would consider a more realistic approach to the worlds need of food production. The university seeks to work with and engage with large food producer partners and doesn’t believe a move to entirely small scale production is realistic.

I think there can be a sustainable approach to both large and small scale production but neither should always be assumed to be good or bad.

So why did i want to visit the University?

The university has huge appeal to students wanting to both broaden and deepen their knowledge of food production and communications thereof, globally and i’m told students often end up being thought leaders within their companies as they leave with a more than basic understanding of almost every aspect of all food and wine production (end to end).

The university advocates a central theme of sustainability which goes beyond just topics in classes they cover. The furniture the classes are taken on  are upcycled or recycled material and the consumables in the canteen and bathrooms are all purchased from sustainable sources and are eco/biodegradable.

Communications forms the focus of much of the coursework at the university and after only a day on campus it was easy to see why so many passionate food advocates seek out it out. Offering sometimes what would be considered provocative lines of thinking the university is also seen as a significant change leader.

One of many examples provided to me was the Autogrill project. Autogrill are the restaurants within the roadside petrol stations here and the university was behind a project to reshape the food offering within them to a healthier and locally sourced model. Even with the higher cost to Autogrill management, they have witnessed an average increase of 25%  in food sales at all participating stations. Projects have since been also undertaken in London and Paris with ex-University students taking on the project management. I should mention that as with all projects, there is still a major focus on taste. Demonstrating the fact that taste shouldn’t be compromised for health and sustainability is another of the Universities key philosophies.

More information on the projects can be viewed here.

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WINE BANK

One of the interesting sections of the university i was shown was an area under the University’s foundations called the Wine Bank. I was told that because there are so many small producers in Italy and all are able to easily sell their wine each harvest for a good return, very few hold onto vintages.. The university not only holds onto and stores certain vintages from clearly showcased regions but also stores soil from the specific vineyard to create a future reference point and be able to see how the soil changes over the year impact the quality of wine, either for the better or worse.

The University holds classes on classes on production, processing and of course tasting in the Wine Bank whilst also aging and safeguarding certain vintage.

THE SENSORY LAB

Probably one of the most interesting rooms for me was the sensory lab. Whilst largely utilised for students to learn how to correctly identify various marks of quality (both taste and visual elements), the sensory lab is more often than not also providing a service to some of the university’s commercial food partners. Often when they are introducing a new ingredient to an existing product recipe or for new product development.

Special lights at each station also allow visual elements to be taken away from food and wine samples so as not to dilute perceptions of taste. There were a number of pretty cool trials that the university conducts that I’ve noted to take back to my company with me 🙂

UNIVERSITY CANTEEN….LIKE NOTHING I’VE EVER EXPERIENCED

Attracting some of the best Michelin star chefs from around the world. the University has approximately 4 difference guest chefs cooking in the canteen each month. 

Only accessible to staff and students or invited guests (like yours truly), the appeal for chefs is in the challenge to create a meal at a cost of no more than $5 Euro to the consumer and using only seasonal and local ingredients. Their menu must be small and have almost zero food waste…both in terms of preparation and from the animal, vegetable or dairy ingredients used.

I was lucky to be cooked for by Michelin star chef Marc Lanteri but the list of all chefs each month is incredibly impressive! Take a look at the impressive calendar of guest chefs here.

CINQUE TERRE

Understandably I decided to take the coast road to Florence when I learned that it meant being able to visit the colorful mountain side villages that make up the Cinque Terre coast line! It also provided the perfect spot to take some time to go over my notes from the weeks meetings and continue to plan and adjust plans for the upcoming country visits!

The very nature of the land has forced farmers to adopt an architectural kind of order;

It’s narrowness has begotten quite a formal harmony.

This is how things stand in the Cinque Terre.

Different wines are produced there.

A famous one is Siacchetra, a name that is straight as a die;

It stands out among all others as does the area’s vine.

– Corrado Albero (XX Secolo)

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SLOW FOOD HQ, BRA ITALY

Over a year ago now when I started doing some online research for my topic of regional food branding, articles from an organisation called Slow Food kept creeping into my search results.  While we do have a chapter (or Convivium as they like to call them) in Hobart, I wasn’t too familiar with their work. The more articles I read however, the more I realised the similarities between some of their projects around the world and my topic.

At its core, the Slow Food network has an aim to see the everyone in the world have access to good, clean, fair food.

By good, they mean taste, health and quality.

By clean, they mean produced in the safest, most natural, unadulterated manner and does not harm the environment.

And by fair, produced in an ethically morally responsible way. I.e. Sold for a fair price to consumers and returning a fair value to the producers.

I learned that the name itself of Slow Food was in the beginning, to make an obvious stance against ‘fast food’ after it was announced the first McDonalds would be opening in Milan in the 1980’s. As Francesco from Slow Food correctly pointed out, it showed a lot of foresight and for its time was quite a revolutionary stand for founder Carlo Petrini to be making against what is essentially unhealthy food given what we know today.

I had reached out to the University of Gastronomic Sciences which is also in Bra and my contact there had kindly connected me with one of the international relations coordinators, Elena who was beyond hospitable in sharing time and information with me during my stay in Bra also arranged for me to spend time with representatives from their Presidia, Youth network and Slow Fish departments.

Having spent a couple of days with various employees of Slow Food HQ, what impressed me the most was the open dialogue we were able to share even though there is a bold and public disagreement from Slow Food with regards to aquaculture and in particular salmon farming. There is a clear preference from Slow Food on smaller scale production.

My time with the Slow Food team was really beneficial in learning more about how a cultural sense of what is right and wrong or what should and should not be when it comes to our food has had the power to expand across the world. Now Slow Food has over 100,000 members in about 155 countries.

Through the power of food I heard about some of the projects they have and are implementing around the world which are bringing together, in some cases saving and restoring, communities in both developing and developed countries around the world. An important focus of Slow Food is to not provide handouts to communities but rather provide tool kits to empower and build capacity within. Many Pacific Island nations see NGO’s as purely a source of money and Slow Food is very conscious to bring something more sustainable and long wearing to the table.

There is so much power in the value of food that moves beyond just monetary form and the more i look into the topic of food provenance, the more I realise the social and cultural elements that are at play and the power of the effect they have on the future of our communities through food which is at the core of our lives, no matter your social class.

I have a ridiculous amount of notes and about 5 hours of audio to get through from my couple of days but I think at this stage Slow Food and specifically their presedia projects will be a full chapter of my final report!

THANKYOU WILL NEVER SEEM ENOUGH

Tasmanian’s supporting Tasmanian’s. Thankyou.

As I make plans to head off on my last overseas trip as a #nuffield15 scholar I wanted to again give thanks to the Nuffield Scholarship organisation but also my sponsors who without their support this adventure and the opportunities that I’ve been given over the last 18 months wouldn’t be possible!

  • Roberts Rural Co
  • Blundstone Australia
  • William Gattenby Memorial farming trust
  • Tasmanian Alkaloids

 

I’d also like to say a BIG thankyou to my employer, and second family, Huon Aquaculture who have encouraged and supported every step of the way!

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*Photo above is looking down to our house at Roaring Beach in Tasmania’s far Southwest with some of Huon Aquaculture’s salmon pens and the Great Southern Ocean in the background.