The food festival fail

Here a food festival, there a food festival

These days it’s not hard to find a food festival on pretty much every weekend. If you google food festivals, there are more results than you can poke a stick at, and if you look on Twitter, you’ll find just as many.

As a lover of food, I think it’s great! Many of these small food festivals are about showcasing local producers and chefs, and often there are a few celebrities thrown into the mix – usually, they’re the ones passionate about eating local and pushing the seasonal food philosophy, and they very well should be!

However, I have a problem.

Some of these events just seem like excuses for making a bit of cash for the organiser/s.

There are about 10 stalls selling fudge, 5 selling beer, another 10 selling liqueurs or gins, and another 5 selling jam. The rest of the stalls are people selling handcrafted furniture or jewellery.

And that’s fine. For a market.

Not an event claiming to be a food festival.

The Great British Food Festival

Today, I went to the Great British Food Festival at Bowood House in Wiltshire. The premise seemed fine – some demonstrations from local chefs, plenty of food to eat, loads of independent food producers, a few things for the kids.

When we arrived at 11:30am, we wondered why so many people were already leaving, considering the event had only opened at 10am. To be honest, the only reason we stuck around was to see a chef I like do a demonstration at 2pm.

We walked into the shopping tent to find the handmade jewellery, soaps and pyramid schemes. That was two minutes of my time I’ll never get back.

Then we checked out the two artisan tents. As I mentioned, it was essentially mostly liqueurs, gins, beers and fudge, and many of the traders are ones I’ve seen at events far from Wiltshire. There was even a stall selling Turkish delight that I’d seen in London a few weeks ago (not locally made is what I’m getting at). Pretty uninspiring to be honest.

Mostly people are walking around trying things they have no intention of buying (and look, we’re all guilty of it), but this is people’s livelihoods.

What I was expecting: local makers of breads, cheeses, and oils. A range of cakes and pastries. Locally farmed produce. Meat sourced from British farmers.

After that, we wandered the food stalls for some lunch and, again, it wasn’t very exciting. If I was going to an event called the ‘Great British Food Festival’, I’d be expecting some amazing options from the local area. While I can’t claim each stall wasn’t offering that, there were definitely some stalls who weren’t – in fact, one was offering “100% greek meat”. Let me remind you that we were at the Great BRITISH Food Festival.

What I wanted: people to be proud of their British or local produce. Doesn’t ‘our chicken comes from 2 miles up the road and we want to share it with you’, sound more exciting?

We sat under a tree for the next hour because the event organisers were woefully unprepared for the sun, which was intense, to say the least. More importantly, I wondered what would have happened if it was raining (because let’s be honest, that would have been more likely!).

The entertainment was OK, I guess. Small producers talked about their wares at one tent; at another two there were kids activities; at another, there was the ‘man versus food’ eating events and the bake off – don’t get me started on that! There was also some music, but that’s not why I’m here.

In short, I felt like I’d wasted my day. If I wasn’t hanging out with a friend and waiting for a demonstration (which was the only good bit by the way!), I’d have been there for just 30 minutes.

I get that I’m probably not the target market. But who actually is? Because you could find the stalls at a market and not have to pay an entry fee, and the cooking demonstrations were very short and there weren’t many of them.

Even when you go to the Great British Food Festival website, you can’t find any information about the people who run the event. Where’s the ‘I’m passionate about local food’, ‘I wanted to support local producers’? It’s a lifeless event that could be so much better.

I’d honestly love to chat to some of the traders who go to these events. I hope for their sake they do get something out of attending them.

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