Sunday, 15 July 2012

More Oxford

There was a sort of panel discussion on the stage between four people called "Stuffing, Unstuffing, Wrapping and Rapping" - the title eventually became clear as the discussion progressed.

The first speaker was called Harry West, he is a professor at London University but since he is American I am not sure if he was using the term "professor" in the British or the American sense.  He is a bit of an authority on cheese and showed a few pictures of a French affineur removing paper wrappings put on by the actual cheese producers and then allowing a mould to form on the rind over the maturation period.  This mould was then in turn brushed away before the cheese was rewrapped in paper using the affineur's logo.  The title of his presentation was "The Audacity of Wrapping and Unwrapping Cheese" and since I could see nothing at all audacious I decided that we are definitely two nations divided by a common language. 

The second panellist was called Ben Coles. also American, but from the University of Leicester.  He 
gave quite an entertaining talk on Chicken Kiev and the magical process by which the stuffing (the garlic butter) becomes a sauce when the wrapper (the chicken) is cooked.  He also got quite heavy about the ethics of a product placed in a tray, wrapped in film and then placed in a box.  At least Marks now charge 5p for a carrier bag.  He also debated (with himself) the likelihood of free range chicken being used in the production of Chicken Kiev and decided it was unlikely.

The third speaker was the only female and the only Brit.  Her name is Emma Jane Abbots and she is a doctoral student studying nutrition.  She made some very interesting points which will have me reading food labels with even more vigilance than presently - and I am pretty vigilant since I buy very little processed food.  Apparently corn syrup is the baddie in 21st century food production, it  affects the human liver in the same way that force feeding acts on geese to produce foie gras.  A lot of prepared ready meals name corn syrup in their ingredients and in some products they are alarmingly early on the list, since ingredients are listed in order of quantity as a percentage - the highest coming first - this is truly frightening.  She made the point that feeding can be used as a form of power as well as nourishment and care and the refusal of food can mean a rejection of the provider.  She talked about the marathon eating competitions which are really obscene.  The link to the theme of the Symposium was that stuffing oneself is abuse of the very worst kind.

The final speaker was Michael Goodman, also American, who talked about how food is central to relationships and that eating together is an intimate thing.  Food can mean pleasure, we use the expression "I am stuffed" when feeling pleasurably full.  The anorexic feels pleasure when totally empty and disgust if full and can then turn bulimic.

The panel then generally discussed other things that their individual offerings had provoked in the audience.  Some of the points I noted was that food can travel, there is very little food not available in major cities due to the demographics of shifting world populations.  The enormous power wielded by supermarkets who get 75% of the total food shopping market in the UK.  The ethical stances taken by some celebrities, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver particularly got mention.  Food is safer today than it has been at any time in history.  Certification of food can imply ethical or moral stances being taken but the point was made that Lochmuir does not exist as a loch in Scotland and the name was chosen by Marks & Spencer marketing team to imply that the salmon was swimming around a loch happily without actually claiming that.   Supermarkets are about selling food and food products.  They invest huge amounts in development of value added food.

To be continued.

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