September 20, 2009

Kiss Me, I'm Made In Ireland

I heard Colin Gordon of food producer, Glanbia, talking about the recently-launched Love Irish Food campaign and was prompted again to wonder about the nature of Irishness.

According to the campaign Chairman, Jim Power, the vision of Love Irish Food is "to help you make informed choices about buying Irish manufactured food and drinks brands and to alleviate any confusion as to what constitutes an Irish brand".

But apparently, we're not supposed to love all Irish food, just food that's been made in the Republic of Ireland. Food made north of the border doesn't qualify, presumably because the prime movers behind the initiative (the larger food companies) don't profit from foods made in the six counties.

Thanks Jim, for alleviating my confusion about what constitutes an Irish brand.

Why can't Love Irish Food demonstrate a little neighbourliness? Surely this initiative could extend across national (and economic) borders to match what the average customer would understand in terms of an Irish brand? Those in Irish tourism (with a little nudge from a certain agreement) have recently extended the idea of Ireland as a tourist destination to include both north and south. Meanwhile, Irish rugby, athletics and boxing teams have been loved without qualification for quite some time.

So why not Irish food?

This food island-within-an-island mentality does us little credit, even if it helps save a number of Irish jobs and our capacity to continue producing foods in this country.

There is anyway something quite calculating (if not downright misleading) about a campaign for Irish food that includes brands with no association with Ireland beyond localised production (e.g. Cadbury's Flake, Yoplait). Whilst I appreciate that a 'Choose Food That's Made In The Republic Of Ireland' campaign would lack a certain bite, isn't this more about self-interest than it is about a love of food?

The invitation to share 'your Irish food stories' on the website just adds to the misleading impression created by the initiative. Somehow, this appeal to nostalgia which has been used very effectively by a range of brands that are widely understood to be Irish, just doesn't work here:

'Ah, I remember of an evening, as the glimmer-man went about the streets of me jewel-an'-darling Dublin, me auld fella would bring home the locally-produced global brands from the factory at the end of the street. But hold your horses there, Joxer, didn't those lads also have a manufacturing plant up in Belfast? Maybe those chocolate bars weren't made here after all...Ah, even Irish food isn't what it used to be...I should have checked the label."

I love Irish food and agree that we should support local jobs where we can but somehow this campaign leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

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