Matthew Rymer recounts his first few days of Living Happerley as he strives to inspire a new food movement.
Last week I could eat anything and everything. This week was my first week of Living Happerley - only eating and drinking food and beverages for which I know the origins of all the ingredients. In summary? Fascinating, rewarding and challenging. I have become more conscious than ever over how large parts of the food industry try to blindside you at every point of purchase.
The more the journey of our food is hidden from us, the less we enjoy our food.
The week before I was on my first and only all inclusive holiday. I looked at fellow diners loading their main plates with food of every variety next to side plates stacked with food favourites. I noticed something quite fundamental: no one appeared to be enjoying their food. And yet, it was nothing less than a feast.
It was in that moment I realised that if I walk the walk on demanding provenance across everything I eat, then not only might many others follow, I might enjoy food more.
Up until then I would not eat meat unless I knew its provenance, nor eat anywhere I felt was being disingenuous with provenance to attain fraudulent premium at the expense of producers. But in that moment I could see the 'Less is More' equation being proved: the more convenient, plentiful and anonymous food is, the less we enjoy it. The more the journey of our food is hidden from us, the less we enjoy our food.
I was tickled on reading someone's review on their holiday at the same place, bemoaning the lack of menu change. This, I thought, might be because they offer meal variety for a month at every sitting and the reviewer has been piling their plate for a week! Why is it when a struggling restaurant is given a televised makeover, the first step is to rip pages from the menu and focus on the quality of a few dishes?
In retrospect, I have to admit that holidaying all inclusive defeats everything I stand for.
It also became absolutely clear to me that the more food and drink is dumbed down the less anyone savours it. It was evident from watching those drinking the vodka, whiskey and other spirits - all at 30% proof, to see that quantity had overtaken quality as the means of gaining appreciation. Anyone who knows what William Chase is doing in championing the provenance of spirits knows that these spirit names are catchalls for a multiple of different ingredients and production techniques (we are delighted Chase Distillery
are coming on board Happerley as a Provenance Champion).
In retrospect, I have to admit that holidaying all inclusive defeats everything I stand for. Provenance replaced by gluttony but more than that. A sustainable tourism industry of many parts left broken by a corporate sucking out the profits overseas and reducing the local population to employees.
Stack it high and cheap, substitute quality for quantity, sweeten the experience and detach your offering from the local communities and environment.
The cost efficiences of a vertically integrated combine provide a value holiday have their place in the mass holiday market. However, they are multiplying and with them otherwise sustainable communities are lost and ultimately - through acquisition and merger - one corporate can monopolise a destination. The consumer ulimately loses the characters, experiences and choice because the independent providers, whether it be of entertainment, watersports or local dining, cannot compete.
And so I saw the parallel. The biggest inclusive holiday operators are commoditising holidays like the biggest food processors and retailers are with food. Stack it high and cheap, substitute quality for quantity, sweeten the experience and detach your offering from the local communities and environment.
I am no saint. I smoke (yes, and trying to stop), I drink and crave caffeine fixes. So, resolved to land in UK to pioneer Happerley Living, coffee that could #namethefarm needed to be an advance purchase. I discovered Ethical Addictions
and organised for a bag to be waiting for me.
Bread is a difficult one. Many additives are used in commercial breads: antioxidants prevent spoiling and extend shelf life; dough conditioners to achieve a desired texture; sweeteners for flavour enhancement and to retain moisture. I don't have time to bake and so bread has been largely absent from my diet. I need to visit Hobbs Bakery
who bake some of the most genuine bread I have tasted and I am sure will be able to name their ingredient suppliers. Now knowing Shipton Mill
are set to become Happerley Provenance Champions, I am confident of some great home baking.
My dining out choices are very limited.
I have yet to find rice with a named origin (although I have not tried hard). I can see myself having to make my own pasta, and have been eating a lot of potatoes. My dining out choices are very limited. I had Cotswold Chicken from a named farm at 131 in Cheltenham
for a lunch meet on Friday. It wasn't cheap as I had stepped up the venue to be confident I could choose a dish with provenance. I am sure it was the first time the chef had been asked what farm the potatoes were from when I enquired for fries. Of course I went without.
You are cutting the costs of convenience foods, snacks, sauces and - let's be honest - greed. Most of us eat too much
The waitress told me 'They come in boxes - that is all he knows.' But the lovely sauce and garnish the chicken was presented in was, I admit, a necessary compromise. The cost escalated, but so did the pleasure - and don't we all eat out rather average food rather too often? I think so, anyway.
My vision is that we will all know the journey of any food we buy. It is not too big an ask, is it?
However, season and situation are on my side. There is so much fresh and local produce out there. I am one of the lucky few who, early this morning, could snack on blackcurrants in the garden, and can look forward to eating our own beef, and count the days until our orchard bears fruit. We also have some great local farm shops, and have been visiting Sam at Coombe Hill Farm Shop
and Over Farm Market.
However, my vision is that we will all know the journey of any food we buy. It is not too big an ask, is it? What you spend on better food that is local, that has provenance, is often so much more than what you spend on anonymous food in large part beause it is so scarce. However, you are cutting the costs of convenience foods, snacks, sauces and - let's be honest - greed. Most of us eat too much.
The freezer will come to its own this winter. I don't hold much hope for finding tinned tomatoes that tell you the farm they were from, or fresh tropical fruit like oranges, lemons and so on. It will get ever more challenging. However, an immediate upside is that my diet is now devoid of processed sugar. We had a farm meeting yesterday and my Mother brought over some of my favourite snacks - Jaffa cakes. I was not tempted.
Next week will be interesting. I am meeting Ian Bell from Addington Fund
at The Farmers Club
in Whitehall for dinner on Wednesday evening between several days of London meets. I am hoping that will be an oasis of provenance but how will I fare otherwise?