The Five Mile Rule

I’m a member of a group called ToastMasters where members take turns to practice public speaking with a different technical focus on each assignment. Last night I gave a talk in Kildare town on the importance of good eating and good shopping. Full text below.

Farmers Market

We all know the importance of food – our bodies remind us daily. But do we eat to live or do we live to eat? The balance must be somewhere in between. But I truly believe a life of ready meals and routine dinners to be a life less lived.

We are all aware now of the nutritional deficit of such products – but there is also the dearth of character, of experience, of enjoyment, of simple living to be lost in the consumption of such fare.

The slow food movement was founded in protest at the emergence of convenience eating. It promotes slow, careful cultivation of meals to share with best of local produce and ideally home sourced ingredients. But fast food can be equally wholesome – how long does it take to grill a chop with a sprinkle of sage? Or a pan of mushrooms and garlic on a slice of wholemeal toast?

I put it to you this evening that the creation and consumption of good food, cooked simply and with local ingredients can enrich the fullest of lives and yield dividends in mental, physical and social well being.

For a time in the modern age there was a tendency to scoff at bygone ways. But that wheel appears to have gone full circle as the fast pace of modern living brings a renaissance of traditional ways. We realise some of what has been lost is worth bringing back.

A lesson in what may be the dying days of the Celtic Tiger, many of our older recipes were derived on the basis of simple thrift –a desire/need to maximise the yield from each purchase and to ensure waste was minimal. Aside from economy in our environmental age we have a lot to learn from such ways as the old jingle “Vicarage Mutton” based on a novel by Somerset Maugham reminds us how far the weekly roast would stretch:

“Hot on Sunday, cold on Monday, hashed on Tuesday, Minced on Wednesday, curried on Thursday, Broth on Friday, cottage pie on Saturday”

Many of our traditions as to recipe combinations or condiments derive from simple necessity and good housekeeping by previous generations.

The famous Cornish Pasties are shaped so that the miner can consume the mass without spreading his coal covered hands over the food..

Apple goes with pork as fallen orchard became a feeding ground for the pigs each Autumn.. And tastes change over time – remember oysters were once the rubbish of the sea..

Many of the finest cuts are today considered unclean – such as offal or trotters – but these simple pleasures were prized by latter generations – there is much to be gained in their return…

Local Produce / Authentic Tastes
Of course the best place to source our ingredients remains our own locality. What better dish than one that has been raised/grown/cultivated in the land around us? The 5 mile rule of good environment maintains that we should fill our plate from produce at most 5 miles from our door.

Whilst this may be impractical at times it is a worthy aspiration and I believe we should strive to support local business in this regard. Better for us better for our community better for everyone.

The advent of supermarkets and mass transit of goods has had many benefits removing exotic ingredients as the preserve of the rich – we can all now enjoy such treats. But something has been lost as well – not just the environmental undesirability of transporting a crate of veg 10,000 miles to your plate but also the excitement of fresh ingredients and the idea of seasonality has been undermined. How often does a child or an adult say they don’t like a vegetable or they find a fruit bland when the reality is they have never to taste that product in the flower of its freshness, bursting forth with original flavour. Supermarket attendants are perplexed when one asks what is in season – everything is in season all the time, with GM and air miles from any part of the world there is no such thing as an unavailable item. But at what cost? Fresh tomatoes, purple sprouting broccoli, lamb in spring, root veg in Winter, mackerel in august etc etc

Another example for an island nation we have a shockingly low consumption of fish – scallops, mussels, wing of ray, skate, haddock, crab, cod, bass, sardines, mackerel, whitbait.

We can however create this excitement for ourself – farmers’ markets now occur in most localities, our own Naas one is every Saturday morning. And what about the excitement in the random selection from week to week as each harvest brings a fresh crop of often forgotten vegetables – celeriac, scots ??, leeks, mushrooms fás aon hoiche…grown in the night

Your local butcher or vegmonger is a good place to go also – not only can you access good food at reasonable prices but expert knowledge on the different cuts or herbs and advice on treatments.

Nolans on the main street – Swans on the Green – Morans in Sallins and Prosperous – and many more

But support them now before it is too late

Good Food Cooked Simply
Lastly some simple recipes for living. Good food, cooked simply, right combinations. Keep it simple. Extract natural flavours – cook slowly with a tough joint, barely sear a fillet steak. Use the juice for gravy, drop of wine in the roasting pan and whip up a sauce from all the goodness. Veg water for soup. Stock from first principles. Make a batch and freeze. Build up a storecupboard. Use herbs. Thyme, basil, rosemary, sage – plucked from your own garden at best but any fresh will do. Use interesting veg – fennel, celeriac. Lets enjoy the life we have. And a good glass of wine to wash it all down.

Experiment, improvise. Educate your palate.

Good food can lift the spirits – elevate the senses – enrich the palate and awaken the soul

Anyone can cook – Keep it simple – but keep it interesting – Anyone can cook – you could – and you should!”

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