Time to dish up a Yorkshire food strategy

Shouting about Yorkshire’s fabulous food and drink from the dales, vales, moors and coastline that makes up this wonderful county of ours is what we do. It’s the Scarborough running through our stick of rock, the DNA of what Yorkshire Food Finder is all about. But when we started asking why there is no cohesive strategy that allows all those wonderful people rearing, growing, creating, baking cooking, distilling and brewing our incredible food and drink to speak with one voice about how wonderful Yorkshire’s produce really is, it looks like we might just have eased off the metaphoric lid of an exceedingly lively bottle of artisan beer.

For people have been telling us they agree there is no unifying approach that we can all get behind to put Yorkshire at the forefront of the nation’s – indeed, the international – culinary map. And yes, there might be a variety of organisations brimming with dedicated people doing admirable stuff for their members but we don’t speak as one or work together towards a common goal. Which surely is this: The food of Yorkshire is the food of Britain. God’s own bounty in God’s own county is a microcosm of all that is great about British food and drink.

As such, Yorkshire-produced food and drink needs to be at the forefront of thinking, not just for those living in the county, but those attracted to visit it from the UK and beyond and, more widely in international markets. Agriculture, food and hospitality – all of which are clearly inextricably entwined – are vital to the Yorkshire economy. We might make up only 10 per cent of the country’s population but we produce 20 per cent of the nation’s food, proof if any were needed how important food and drink is to our white rose balance of payments.

So what should we do and who needs to be involved? The likes of Welcome to Yorkshire has a vital role to play given its heavyweight presence on the world stage, knack of tapping into national and international funding streams and its perspicacious self-belief in achieving the impossible. Attracting the Tour de France when everyone said it couldn’t be done is surely testament to that.

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Deliciouslyorkshire seeks to promote Yorkshire food and drink by marketing its members’ activities, primarily through the press and social media and branded events at festivals and agricultural shows. And while it does offer help in finding technical services relating to new product development, accreditation and research, we reckon there should be scope to enhance this potentially influential role as well as it becoming an informed lobbyist on the food scene.

As an example, we should be addressing the iniquitous differences in the approach of environmental health services to the same food production risks. For why should a use-by date of just 15 days for smoked – and therefore preserved – food apply in one jurisdiction and 21 days apply elsewhere in Yorkshire when the risk is no different?

We need to acknowledge the role of agriculture on Yorkshire’s landscape and promote and support food production systems that conserve and enhance the environment. Centuries of sheep rearing in the Yorkshire Dales have created the beautiful panorama we see today that is loved and admired the world over.

Take a drive over the North York Moors and you can see quite clearly how management of the landscape has contributed to Yorkshire’s multi-million pound game industry – it’s not just a sport but also a significant contributor to the local food scene. Some calculate it’s worth up to £120 million a year if you take into account the jobs it provides and the knock-on benefits for hotels and restaurants, local retailers and businesses.

So the National Farmers’ Union, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and our national parks need to be part of the food strategy debate too. We also need to build a tangible shift in attitude towards local good quality food where it’s not seen as a niche but as the norm. There were those who said Meadowhall shopping centre’s decision to hold an artisan food market in one of its main malls this Easter was so off the wall as to be unworkable.

We know of one producer – out of the county, it has to be said – who refused to take part because they didn’t want to be associated with an event in a shopping centre because their customers were too discerning to be attracted by it. The footfall over the three-day event was some 230,000. Producers who did attend – many of them selling out – are clamouring for more of the same. And if that isn’t a way of bringing the message of local good quality food to a much wider audience and therefore creating it as the norm, then I don’t know what is.

So we need Yorkshire’s big businesses involved in the food strategy debate too, whether on the food manufacturing front or as a conduit for widening the impact of the quality food message. Add to that today’s desire for healthy living through a better understanding of the connections between food and health, and there’s a place at the debating table for our primary care trusts as well.

There’s also room at the table for our educators, for the food and drink industry is rich in a diverse range of skills that can and do provide a platform for training and development. The importance of food and its interconnectivity with other areas is a golden thread that should be running through all national and local government policies, so we need to be creating dialogue and raising awareness among policy makers of the inter-dependence of food, the economy, health and the environment.

We should ensure that our public sector policies are ‘food proofed’ – in other words that their impact on food production and consumption are considered, and that we actively identify and incorporate relevant food-related measures into national and local authority plans, policies and strategies. To put it bluntly and somewhat obviously, without food and drink we die. We also like it, derive enormous pleasure and social interaction because of it, and define our rich cultural diversity through it.

But how we operate our global and national food chains means that many communities are now distanced from the source of their food. The connection between a carton of milk or a plastic tray of mince on a supermarket shelf and the beasts that produced it is gossamer-like when it comes to awareness, acknowledgement or even understanding. While Yorkshire undoubtedly has a thriving, vibrant and quality food and drink scene we still don’t view it as the golden thread that’s woven into the fabric of all that we offer to make this county so great.

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