Must cooking become anethical assault course, Gordon?
Chef Gordon Ramsay insists that restaurants should be fined for using out-of-season fruit and veg. Is he making sense, asks Environment Correspondent Linda McKee
It's spring, the swallows are back and the butterflies are on the wing. So it must be time for a fresh broadside from celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay as he prepares for the fourth series of his Channel 4 show The F Word.
And the irascible TV star doesn't disappoint. Parents are in the firing line for letting their kids pile on the pounds, plastic bags are in his sights and Ramsay can't resist joining the queue to lambast Delia for advocating ready-made ingredients to whip up easy dishes.
"I would expect students struggling on £15 a week to survive eating from a can, but the nation's favourite all-time icon reducing us down to using frozen, canned food. It's an insult," he told the BBC.
But the one that really grabbed the headlines was his suggestion that British restaurants be fined if they use fruit and vegetables that are not in season. Ramsay said he had already spoken to Prime Minister Gordon Brown about outlawing out-of-season produce, arguing that it would cut carbon emissions as less food would be imported — and also result in better cooking standards as chefs are unable to rely on 'frills'.
And the notion has gone down well, even with the restaurateurs that might have been expected to demur. Northern Ireland's farmers are delighted as they have been battling for compulsory 'Country of Origin' labelling for quite some time. Seasonal produce is a Good Thing, like motherhood and apple pie, and everyone is singing to the same tune of 'Food Glorious Food'.
Probe deeper though and the 'but' appears within seconds. It's all very well BUT Ramsay is working in England, which is coming down with the likes of twice-weekly farmers markets, organic box schemes and horticultural experts pushing the climatic boundaries by planting figs and kumquats in a region that is getting hotter and drier.
Northern Ireland is known for its meat and dairy produce, but when it comes to fresh fruit and veg, we're not big producers of anything much except cooking apples and strawberries, which enjoy a short sweet season. Even potato-growing is on the wane as the economics don't add up.
It's a lovely idea, but how on earth do you get your five a day in the middle of winter when there's nothing but carrots and turnips and the only way to get oranges and bananas at any time of year is to import them?
In an ideal world, yes, but you do know there are trade rules about banning the flow of goods and services from other parts of the European Union and do you know just how much red tape there already is?
Even green group WWF is wary about going this far — it advises its members to choose local onions and carrots instead of those imported from Holland, but it's not telling people to cut out pineapples and satsumas because of the five-a-day healthy eating message.
Spokesperson Sara McClintock does point out that instead of importing green beans from Kenya when the season here is over, we should try to source more local produce.
"I think Gordon Ramsay has a point in what he says, in that restaurants should be leading the way. If they are seen to be providing very good local produce and sustainable local fish, that's great," she said. "It also helps to guarantee quality. The less the fruit has to travel, the quicker restaurants can get it on the plate and the fresher it is.But people in our local groups come in saying where do you find local food — it's not always easy to find and sometimes it can be quite expensive."
Check Gordon Ramsay's website and there are plenty of mouth-watering ingredients that could have been grown in England — coriander, artichokes, spinach and even figs.
But there are still plenty of ingredients that have most certainly clocked up the food miles, including the banana in his roasted banana tarte tatin with banana and walnut ice cream and the fruit in his Gianduja chocolate parfait with passion fruit and guava coulis. It can't be any coincidence that Ramsay's comments come in spring when the baby salads are bursting from the soil and the strawberries are in full blossom — and that they're targeted at businesses rather than hard-pressed mothers of young families, like the ones who proved most resistant to the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall free range chicken campaign. Ramsay would have received short shrift if he'd been advocating these fines in the dead of winter when people were faced with a diet of turnip surprise for months on end. So thanks for the noble sentiments Gordon — but is there any chance of some practical realistic suggestions that don't make cooking into an ethical assault course?