Darina Allen On Litfest Part 2

Ahead of the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Litfest of Food & Wine, Darina Allen chats to Ciara McDonnell in part two of a conversation about what to expect this year, and why she is thrilled that the war on fat is finally over.

“The whole low fat thing is a total con, and a whole industry of course, has been built on the back of that.” Darina Allen and I are discussing Irish food, something she, as an impassioned supporter of food that is produced in accordance with traditional artisan principles, is extremely enthusiastic about. I suggest that the common belief that we are eating too much dairy and in particular, butter, has had a devastating effect on our world-class dairy farmers.

“The problem is that so many people are brainwashed into thinking that fat is public enemy number one that they can hardly bear to eat fat or butter,” she exclaims. “You probably know that I use only butter ever – I never use any low fat products or anything like that. When I was doing my television programmes I got several letters from people saying that “do you have no sense of responsibility? Don’t you realise you should be recommending low fat to your viewers?” I replied that I didn’t think so and it took a long time for the truth to out.”

Allen is clear on the benefits of fat, and believes they are essential to our well-being. “Let’s be clear about this,” she says. “Only two vitamins are water soluble: B and C. The rest are fat soluble. So what does that mean? It means that unless you have a little butter or olive oil with your food, you can’t absorb the nutrients from the rest of the food. So it’s desperately serious in food terms.”

The solution, she says, is through education. “The problem is that so many people are brainwashed into thinking that fat is public enemy number one that they can hardly bear to eat fat or butter”. This is a huge problem, according to Allen, and it comes down to understanding what you are eating. “There are fats and there are fats,” she explains.  “You have to be very careful what kind of fat you eat. When eating animal fat, you have to be careful that the fat you are eating comes from well-reared animals, whether from chicken or pork or whatever. Lard and beef dripping are really having their moment again – but it was always good for us here.”

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Fashion, food fashion in particular, is aiding the recovery of old school techniques like utilising lard in cooking. Pat Whelan’s beef dripping has been hugely successful in Ireland and abroad, pointing to a new wave demand for nose-to-tail eating, and an acceptance that not all fat is created equally. Allen agrees. “Lard in particular is really growing in popularity, I’ve been to restaurants in New York recently where they have lard from heritage pigs on the table instead of butter.”

This movement within the food industry feeds extremely well into this year’s Kerrygold Ballymaloe Litfest of Food & Wine, whose theme this year is Our Food – What’s The Story? Over the weekend a plethora of speakers from across the globe will gather to demonstrate, talk and give their take on what it means to eat well. The Grainstore will be transformed into an auditorium where guests can come and be inspired by people who are working to actively change the way food is perceived. Katie Sanderson and Shantanu Starick will talk about their work with the Dilisk Project, while Dr Alessandro Demaio will explain how Local Change for International Effect works on a grassroots level. Ari Weinzweig, CEO and co- founder of Zingerman’s Deli and Zingerman’s community of businesses, will tell audiences how to create a successful business and a happy work force and culinary icon Prue Leith will chat to Nick Lander about her life in food.

Whatever your foodie passion; whether it’s to see your heroes up close and personal or a hope to start a conversation about how best to approach food production in our ever changing economy, you will find it at this year’s Kerrygold Ballymaloe Litfest of Food & Wine. It takes place this year from 20th -22nd of May and a full programme of speakers and details of its Fringe Festival can be found at www.litfest.ie

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