Discussion and debate has always been at the heart of the festival and this year we decided to try and link some of the issues that will be under discussion around the festival.
The question posed in this year’s Festival Debate is whether we have become too frightened about food and whether we are relying too heavily on ‘experts’ to tell us what to eat and to police the food that is put in front of us.
First the visit of the nutritionist and obesity researcher, Zoe Harcombe.
Zoe is a graduate of Cambridge University whose own experience of eating disorders led her into a study of obesity, dieting and weight loss. And eventually to conclude that current dietary advice ‘a) doesn’t work and b) worse – that it is actually the cause of the obesity epidemic that it is supposed to cure.’
In her talk Make Friends with Fats Zoe will argue that the U-turn in dietary advice in the 1980’s – which urged people to reduce fats, especially saturated fats, and eat more starchy foods – has been a major cause of the present epidemic.
Second is the visit of Stephen Hook and David Paull, both dairy farmers who sell ‘green-top’ milk. Raw milk is banned in Scotland and Public Health scientists have lobbied hard for a similar course of action in England and Wales. Yet raw milk sales are enjoying an unprecedented boom among consumers.
Green-top supporters argue that unpasteurised milk is better for you, containing enzymes and vitamins which are lost in pasteurisation, and that the hygiene conditions in modern dairies have laid to rest the old fears of TB and bacterial contamination.
Stephen and David are taking part in our tutored tasting Real Milk – which will give you the opportunity to try raw milk, cream and butter alongside their pasteurised counterparts.
The speakers in both these sessions will be advocating courses of action that run directly counter to ‘official’ advice. Who is right?
The third factor in choosing this year’s topic is a bit of historical context. We are about twenty years on from the first great ‘food scare’ – salmonella-in-eggs – which was soon followed by the even bigger scandal of BSE.
These events attracted massive public discussion and legitimised the introduction of new laws not just in Britain but across the world. Food safety was suddenly at the top of the agenda.
Two organisations who saw their status significantly enhanced during this period were the organic movement and local authority environmental health-officers; and representatives of these two bodies make up the last two members of the panel.
Roger Mortlock is Deputy Director of the Soil Association, the lead UK organisation for organic food and farming. The Soil Association’s stock rose greatly during the BSE epidemic when they were able to point out that no organic cow had succumbed to the disease. Organics appeared to offer a safe haven in the storm.
Food safety legislation introduced in the wake of the salmonella crisis placed a new duty on food businesses to demonstrate ‘due diligence’; to be able to show that they had taken all reasonable steps to avoid food contamination.
Environmental Health Officers, as the arbiters of due diligence, found themselves with an important new role. Dr Victor Kuri,is a Lecturer in Food Science and Quality, a microbiologist, and a trainer of Environmen tal Health Officers.
Although neither salmonella nor BSE produced quite the apocalyptic outcomes that were predicted at the time, they produced far-reaching changes in our attitude to food risk and safety.
The question we ask is: have those changes been for the better?
This year’s festival debate will be chaired by Radio 4 Food Programme presenter, Sheila Dillon. It takes place on Saturday 17 September in the Market Hall (6.00 – 7.00pm). If you have a 5-venue Stroller Ticket then you automatically get in for free. Add this exciting event to your weekend itinerary. View 5-venue Stroller Tickets benefits and online now. Everyone who attends this event will be offered a free glass of beer courtesy of the Otley Brewing Company – official beer sponsor of the festival!