Storm Emma cast a cold eye on our changed eating habits

In 2007, breakfast bars were a popular product, as were chilled ready-to-eat meals. In 2012, we started buying more gluten-free foods as well as berries.

Then by last year, sweet potatoes, melons and avocados were all heavily purchased items. Fish made a come-back, but it was through fish-based ready meals.

While Storm Emma may have shone an anecdotal and often comedic light on our shopping and eating habits, suggesting that sliced pans and ready meals were heavily purchased items, looking at various sources from Kantar to Bord Bia and the CSO, our move from home cooking in 1927 to convenience foods in 2018 is backed up by hard, cold data too.

However, there are already people working to turn this around through community-supported agriculture, which operate as small farms that provide towns and villages with fresh food on a weekly basis, depending on what is in season.

While there are several thousand of these farms in the rest of Europe, there are about 10 in Ireland. Cloughjordan in Co Tipperary is probably Ireland’s most well-known farm and it delivers fresh food to its members up to three times a week.

Another one is Moyhill Farm in Lahinch, Co Clare, which feeds 50 families a week. Its co-founder, Fergal Smith, is hoping to scale this to 150 families, providing for them year-round.

He believes that is possible to have up to five community farms in every county in Ireland.

What the foodies think 

MORE ADVENTUROUS

Neven Maguire, who has been cooking since he was 12 and has worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants, believes we are far more adventurous with food than we used to be, based on what his customers at MacNean House and Restaurant choose to eat.

“If we are what we eat then we are definitely more adventurous than we were. While beef is still our biggest seller, it is far less common for a customer to ask for a steak well done. People are out for a ‘wow’ night and they do not want to eat what they can cook at home. Starters are particularly where people will try something new.

“On our menu we have an oriental marinated salmon starter, and a rabbit starter, and they are popular,” he told the Irish Examiner.

The chef said while people would have rejected rabbit several years ago, the tide has turned with curiosity.

“A few years back people would have said, ‘not rabbit, I was reared on rabbit’, but today they are keen to see what we have done with it. We have three tasting menus, one meat-based, one fish, and one vegetarian, and people are now much more inclined to pick and mix rather than choose one option,” he said.

However, adventure aside, the most noted departure in people’s eating habits isdirected by the dietary requirements.

“Perhaps the biggest change we see is in the number of people with dietary requirements. I see this with people who come to our cookery school also. This has more than doubled in the last few years and we have changed how we manage our kitchen.

“Every night we will have people who cannot eat shellfish, or gluten, or perhaps they are diabetic, or vegan. Wealways ask when people book. We have changed our procedures and kitchen arrangements so that everyone can have a great night out and we will have interesting food to suit their needs,” said Neven.

One other change he has noted is our knowledge around food. Customers regularly ask where their produce comes from and they like when it has been sourced here.

DIET DETERIORATION 

Darina Allen, whose cookbooks have sat on kitchen shelves the length and breadth of the country for decades, is worried by the “deterioration” in our diet.

“I hope Storm Emma serves as a wake-up call to howde-skilled we have become. Why weren’t people buying flour to make their own bread? I am panicked by the deterioration in the Irish diet.

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