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My journey to work this morning was considerably enriched by Sinead O’Connor’s beautifully direct and unadorned rendition of Dear Old Skibbereen. I had been trying to gather my thoughts on the town’s upcoming A Taste of West Cork festival and the hopelessness of the famine time as captured in the song really struck home how appropriate it is that now each year the people of Skibbereen put their hearts and hands into celebrating their food. The famine will never be forgotten but I feel that from a culinary point of view West Cork can now rightly be claimed “a pleasant place wherein a prince might dwell”, as the reminiscing father in the song recalls.

The Skibbereen festival is one of a number happening around the country at this harvest time, Mallow Food Festival which took place last week being the newest on the calendar. When they maintain a core value of celebrating food, festivals can be a great contributor to building a positive food culture. And goodness knows this is needed – the latest issue to emerge in a UK report out today, has warned that school children are becoming addicted to and over consuming caffeine in energy drinks. School teachers are reporting dramatic effects on their concentration and behaviour. When we have celebrity endorsements for energy drinks from Ireland’s top sport stars, it will be a real battle to get this message across to teenagers. So it’s great to see that there is a strong focus on young people in this year’s programme. I spoke with Claire Gallagher at the Plaza, one of the chefs that will be visiting local schools as part of a series of healthy eating workshops. “Our main theme will be how to get your five-a-day of fruit and vegetables without making it a chore. Smaller children often act like they’re allergic to fruit and vegetables, but if we can make it a bit of fun preparing things like smoothies and banana muffins, then it can seem more like a treat. Hopefully, they will go home and encourage their parents. I see it everyday in our restaurant, parents want to encourage healthy eating but they need a bit of help with the options available. It’s important also that we are making the connection with local chefs. Our children and their friends get to see what we do and understand the job of food preparation.”

The workshops are followed on Wednesday by the final of the Schools Cookery competition. It was a real coup this year for the committee to get celebrity chef Neven Maguire down to judge the event. Neven has generously come on board this year to offer the winning team of chefs and their teacher two days in his restaurant, MacNean House & Restaurant, Blacklion, Co. Cavan. The standards of presentation, creativity and taste achieved in the competition each year are truly astounding and it if you are looking for encouragement about young people and food then get along for a look. The strong focus on involving young people continues over the weekend with story telling sessions in the library and youth café and also a food craft workshop, where kids get to play creatively with food. A novel event at the open air market in the Fairfield on Sunday, will be the Children’s Teddy Bear Party which will be hosted by local artist Sonia Caldwell. The picnic is free with admission to the market and children are encouraged to bring their tea sets and teddy bears. There will be prizes for the best dressed teddies.

Of course there will be plenty at the festival for adults too and it should kick off with a good laugh at the Food Quiz on Wednesday. “We want local people to come along and have a bit of fun at the quiz,” says Claire, “It’s not about being a gourmet expert and there’ll be a strong emphasis on local knowledge. We’re doing more in the festival this year than ever before, and have a lot more people involved.” To get the full picture on the festival you can view the programme at www.atasteofwestcork.com or give us a call and we’ll pop one in the post (023-34035).

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