I did a quick survey of 10 friends recently – none of whom has any involvement with the agri food sectors – and not one of them knew a thing about the Year of Food and Drink celebrations, planned for Northern Ireland in 2016.
The initiative has everything going for it, from a conceptual point of view, yet the energy that was associated with the project at its launch seems to have completely fizzled out.
I know that the initiative has been structured so as to have each month of 2016 dedicated to a specific food sector, or theme. Prior to writing this piece, I could not remember what the organisers had planned for the month of April: so I checked it out on line. The answer is brewing and distilling. And to Food NI’s credit, an extensive list of relevant activities and events is featured on its nigoodfood.com website.
But this is not the issue. What has gotten under my skin is the fact that I am not seeing any general publicity about this much needed campaign – anywhere.
The fundamental fact remains that Northern Ireland’s food sector is worth almost £4 billion to our economy. And if an industry this big cannot come up with a plan to really grip the imagination of the general public, then something is fundamentally wrong.
I felt from day one that the celebrations lacked a clear focus. Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember the Year of Farming and Food campaign that was organised throughout the UK back in 1989. Its focal point was a week-long festival dedicated to the farming, food and associated industries, held in London’s Hyde Park.
So why can’t our food industry take over a venue in central Belfast, the grounds of the City Hall perhaps, and put on a festival of farming, food and drink that would really catch the imagination of the general public? Surely, there is at least one weekend during the late summer or early autumn when an event of this type could be hosted.
Over the past 12 months, the viewing and listening public in Northern Ireland have been fed a continuing diet of just how bad things are within the farming and food sectors. Isn’t it time that they received a more upbeat message about the innovation and new ideas that are actually helping to secure a long term future for these industries?