Knowledge, moderation and interdependency — the three pillars of pleasure in food, according to Ed Hick at his talk at this past weekend’s Inishfood festival in County Donegal. He could well have been talking about the foundations of the success of the festival itself.
Knowledge means knowing the name of the person you’re buying your food from or talking about your food with. It’s tied into the idea of provenance, which we’re valuing more and more these days. At Inishfood, the knowledge of who provided every bite of your food — from the beef, beer and bread, to the seafood and salad, to Darren’s pizzas and Sally’s sea grass and lemon butter, even down to who roasted the coffee beans just the week before — is central to the pleasure taken in it.
Moderation is the opposite of gluttony, which actually lessens flavour and pleasure. Think about how much more you enjoy your first bite of a rich dessert compared to your last. In unromantic economic terms, it’s called utility and refers to the threshold of satisfaction. Less really is more — the less of something you have, the more you enjoy it. It’s why seasonal food is special and pleasurable — food that’s available year round becomes debased and unremarkable. At Inishfood, the tasting menu on Saturday night was ten courses, but each course was only a few bites, meant to be mindfully savoured and lingered over.
Interdependency refers to the social aspect of eating. Food, conversation, music and ambiance are all shared, and it’s that interdependent act of sharing that makes an experience special. Or to put it another way, think of it as having the craic — that unique aspect of Irish culture that means a lively atmosphere and good conversation. At Inishfood, all the tables in the restaurant are pushed together for people to be seated in big groups and food is brought out on platters to be passed around and served family style, which means you can’t help but engage with the people around you. At Inishfood, the craic is mighty.
Sharing was another word that was used a lot at Inishfood — sharing skills, knowledge, recipes or even the wheel of three-year-old Coolea cheese that Seamus Sheridan brought down to the beach for Sunday’s foraging talk and impromptu picnic. At the end of the day, food is most meaningful when it’s shared, which is what Inishfood is all about.