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Dublin: 11°C Tuesday 19 January 2021

What's in your food and where does it come from?

Do you check? Do you care?

THERE’S A LOT of talk and concern these days about food – what’s in it, where it comes from, how healthy is it?

Whether you’re a total health nut or slightly more laissez-faire about what you put in your mouth on a daily basis, it’s no secret that our food isn’t always what we think it is.

Source: suzettesuzette via Flickr/CC

From the addition of unpronounceable chemicals (for reasons we’re not totally sure of) to the use of genetic modification and the unknown effects that will have on our health and planet further down the line, knowing where your food comes from, and what’s in it, is a topic of great importance – and one that’s more and more in the public eye.

Source: Wild About

One person who cares very much about what goes into not only her own food but the food she sells to the public is Fiona Falconer of Wild About, an organic, award-winning seasonal range of chutneys, relishes and pestos.

We spoke to her about her products, poly tunnels and permaculture.

How did it all begin?

Fiona, her husband Malcolm and three children (now four) moved from London a few years ago, and bought a smallholding in Wexford. Malcolm had been raised on a small farm in Wales himself and with Fiona set up the permaculture gardens. Both keen ecologists, they wanted to create something that was sustainable and seasonable while supporting both the environment and the local economy.”

How is Wild About different? 

“What stands us out from the rest of the crowd is we grow the produce ourselves on our permaculture farm – we have a five-acre small holding. We don’t import. What we don’t grow, we source locally. We look out the window and see what’s out there, and that’s what we make.

“My husband’s the chef – he has an amazing palate. He keeps an eye on what the Michelin chefs are doing and gets his ideas for combinations from them.

“We believe passionately that Ireland has the best ground source on the planet. We really do. We’ve such good soil, the right climate, we can’t compete with the ‘pile it high and sell it fast’, so we really should make quality, high-end food that we can sell  to the rest of the world with pride.”

What is permaculture?

“Permaculture is like organics but it’s a step further – I actually have a problem with organics because you can fly organic mint in from Israel. Permaculture is about heritage, environment, your immediate local economy. That’s our ground base ethos – local, seasonal and wild. We grow most of our own produce. Everything’s made by hand. We don’t take in any pre-prepared vegetables or anything like that. It literally goes from ground to pot to shelf.

“Because of the way we work, we don’t import, we work seasonally so our range actually changes in line with the season. So you don’t get the same product on the shelf 365 days a year, and that’s part of our ethos also, to bring seasonality back to the forefront and get people to understand it a bit more.

“We don’t use any chemicals in our land, and in our kitchen we just use sugar and vinegar. So we strip the ingredients back and just let the produce sing their own song.”

What’s your most interesting find? 

“Nettles are incredible – they help lower blood pressure, they clear the uric acid from your kidneys, they’re used to treat gout, arthritis, prostate, psoriasis, they lower the glycaemic index, they lower cholesterol, they’re packed with iron, they’re packed with polyphenols, which are antioxidants, packed with Vit A, B1, B2. They grow in every hedge in the country and they’re free, it’s crazy that people don’t use them.”

IMG_0318 Nettles Source: Wild About

“Last year we started growing nettles from seed in a polytunnel – my neighbours think I’m absolutely nuts.

“Our bestseller is  a raw nettle pesto – it’s absolutely unique in the market. It’s really great with fish (hake/haddock/cod – baked in the oven), chicken and pork. It’s great dolloped on to a salad.”

Source: Ed Scannell via Wild About

You started off your range with chutneys and relishes, so tell us – What is the difference between a chutney and a relish?

“You could dine out for years on ‘what is the difference between chutney and relish’ – there’s no defined distinction between them. I would call a chutney something that’s gloopy and condensed, whereas a relish is lighter. That’s my own understanding.”

Why are people so into knowing about where their food comes from now?

“I think there is a tangible need to reclaim our food for ourselves. In the ’70s, all our neighbours had little areas in the back garden where they’d grow lettuce, cucumbers, courgettes, stuff like that. In the North Strand they even had pigs in the back garden. And then the supermarkets came in and taught us how to eat and we went like lambs up and down the aisles.

“The whole interest (in food and cooking) has changed – since the boom, there’s no housing shows any more, it’s all chef shows. I love it when people come up and ask me, at the stall, ‘where do you get your veg from?’ It shows their interest in what they’re eating.

“The only way we can change the quality of our food is knowledge.”

Do you notice what’s in your food? Do you grow your own? Let us know in the comments below.

About the author:

Edel Corrigan

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