The Terra Madre Food Festival in Waterford was a great success. It brought hundreds of visitors to the city on All Ireland weekend and they all left with positive views the city except perhaps for the inclement weather encountered on the Friday in particular.

The visit of President Mary McAleese also added great dignity to the occasion. She confirmed her enthusiastic support for the venture in Waterford Institute of Technology. The President, who comes from a farming background,

is a keen gardener when she has time.

There was a great attendance at the workshops on very varied topics ranging from food production to regulation, the need to focus on local produce and the marketing of same in the region and nationwide. The issue of food miles and the transport of food over long distances was addressed.

Carly Petrini, the Italian founder of the Slow Food Movement, attended the event which was Ireland’s first slow food festival. The Italians see Ireland as an ideal country to adopt slow food because, as an agricultural nation, we are close to farmers, indeed many of us have relations who are farmers. Many of us are just one generation or two from the land, hence our strong connection.

Obesity is becoming a problem in the country and the need is there for food education. Over eating is a problem, according to Darina Allen, who says we should spend more on food out, rather than throw out surplus food, we should re-evaluate what we buy. We should buy less but purchase more quality food that is fully eaten. Shop for local produce whether it be dairy or meat products.

Here in the South East we have a strong food industry including Glanbia, Dawn Meats and Flahavans. Of course, Wexford and South Kilkenny are famous for their fruits. Add in vegetable producers, sheep farmers, fishermen from Ring and Helvick to Dunmore East, and it is evident that we are an area that could be very self sufficient in food.

We should build on our strengths. Our local hotels and restaurants can promote local food on their menus. We can claim to be one of Ireland’s best areas for food and the location for the first slow food festival in Ireland. We have great restaurants here in Waterford that need to be promoted more in Dublin and across the country as great places to eat and enjoy. An opportunity has been put our way, it needs to be grasped.

Full marks to all the major sponsors, Failte Ireland, to Waterford Institute of Technology, Dawn Meats, Glanbia, Flahavans, Tower Hotel, Dooleys and other hotel operators. Teagasc were also very helpful in the festival organisation, where we understand that there is a move back to farming after the decline in the building industry. Food production is a noble profession and farmers should be getting more recognition for their work, say the organisers. The role of chefs at home and in the hospitality sector, who make dishes of quality, were also singled out for higher praise. The Italians are a great example for their admiration of those involved in food. This has in turn helped greatly their tourist industry.

Well done to Waterford City Council who also contributed and for showing such foresight and getting the various partners involved. It took over 6 months in planning and more support will be needed for the coming year to hold it here. If everything was costed fully, the festival would cost hundreds of thousands of euro to run. We should make sure that this will happen again next year in Waterford making it the Irish home of the Slow food movement. It was very beneficial for WIT in making a mark in the hospitality industry and we look forward to hearing more positive ideas for next year’s festival. More local support from the hospitality sector also please.