Food Festivals - Cooking Up A Storm or A Recipe For Disaster
The food festival has become a ubiquitous feature of popular food appreciation. Each state in Australia seems to be competing to show off their local produce, restaurants and food celebrities. The proliferating nature of food festivals act as an indicatior that we now have a population who wants to eat well in addition to the great producers, shops and restaurants to supply that demand. Visits to some of these larger festivals, however, can be dispiriting affairs.
It is hard to determine whether people enjoy mooching on Sundays or being carried along on a human tide. Festivals are essentially glorified markets, only with the irritation of having to pay to get in, stallholders who insist on giving you their life story, and having to rub shoulders with too many food-obsessed folk who no longer have the manners they were born with. You know, the sort of people who would use their trolleys to trample over anyone to get to that last piece of aged cheddar.
While the food is all right at food festivals, the commercial nature of these big city festivals often attract people who are less than savoury. I have been cautioned, or rather, dared to play food festival ‘I spy’ with my not-so-little eye. There is always some organisation pushing healthy eating initiatives, who have been assured by the organisers that they will find a receptive audience. Really? Healthy eating at a food festival? Keep an eye out for a bored sales girl rearranging a stack of leaflets for the eighteenth time that day, all the time wondering if she packs up early whether can she still make it into town before Zara closes?
You often find the unreasonably and almost unnaturally jolly middle-aged man who goes around hoovering free samples like there is a war going on.
And then there is long-faced Lorna who is, quite frankly, bloody sick of schlepping across the nation to sell preserves to ungrateful idiots who begrudge paying five dollars a jar. Do you know what it costs to make this? I was in Stephanie Alexander’s Food Heroes, you know!
My personal favourite: the half-sloshed lush who thinks she recognises you from some TV show and starts congratulating you for winning and producing a cook book. Comical, incoherent remarks hurled at you while her lips and alcoholic breath attempts to plant a wet one your cheeks - ‘You rock, man’ and ‘Congrats for winning’. My reply was a less comical and more direct ‘I’m not Adam’. The reply floored me: ‘Who’s Adam?’
I am painting a deliberately bleak picture to make a point, of course. There are some excellent food and drink festivals in Australia. The wine regions like Barossa and Hunter Valleys do great jobs with their festivals. These are the sort of festivals we should be supporting if we really want to persuade ourselves that Australia’s food culture is on the up. While there is a place for large commercial gatherings, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that they are no more than a marketing exercise and an extension of our obsession with culinary fashion which do little or nothing to contribute to our development as a real nation of food lovers.
Am I being unfair? What are your favourite food festivals in Australia?
Alvin Quah for Citysearch, July 2011