Review: The Politics and Pleasures of Food, The Observer Food Monthly Debate, The Corn Exchange, Brighton, Wednesday May 11

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The next big thing in the food world is sustainability - apparently.

Well at least that’s the word from the Observer Food Monthly Debate.

The panel was chaired by fiery OFM columnist Jay Rayner and included top chef and Guardian new vegetarian columnist Yotam Ottolenghi, OFM editor Allan Jenkins, author of Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China Fuchsia Dunlop and writer and owner of Wahaca restaurants Tomasina Miers.

The general consensus seemed to be that a lot of people had lost the skills of cooking, that these skills had not been handed down through the generations as they once were, so we were now a nation reliant on processed food and held to ransom by supermarkets’ increasingly high prices.

On the other hand panel members also said that people did not always have the time to go food shopping three times a week in local food markets or to spend hours baking their own bread.

There was also some discussion about how people living on the poverty line in countries like China were still buying their food fresh from the market and as a result enjoying a healthier diet.

The food had been grown locally and they were eating enough to get by, as opposed to gorging themselves like some of us do in the West.

Jay Rayner said the most important thing when he reviewed a a restaurant was whether the food tasted good, not whether it was sustainable. Quite right.

Depending on what definition of sustainable food you subscribe to, it might include locally sourced ingredients, farming systems with minimal harm to the environment and limiting foods of animal origin as they are a significant contributor to climate change.

Whatever your politics on food, the message was clear that very often your local market can be the best place to get cheap but good quality food, if you’re lucky enough to have one that is.

Growing your own was also one of the ideas for ensuring quality - but then we can’t all have an allotment either can we?

But it was an interesting and thought provoking debate overall, which made you evaluate the balancing act of how far you want to take making ethical choices and what you can afford. Definitely food for thought.