Food & Drink: Gastropod

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Indy Lifestyle Online
FEW PEOPLE think of popping into their local Oxfam for a tub of peanut butter. But alongside the ethnic artefacts and secondhand clothes, pride of place in Oxfam shops over the next fortnight will be given to a range of exotic foodstuffs: Bolivian cocoa powder, Tanzanian teabags and guava jam from Burkina Faso.

This is the latest development in Oxfam's policy of selling fairly traded goods, whereby products are bought direct from growers and manufacturers in the developing world, bypassing unstable commodity markets and unscrupulous middle men. Organisations such as Ucobam, the federation of farmers' co-operatives in the central African state of Burkina Faso, can thus be sure of getting a decent price for the jam made by its members. As well as the fruity and fragrant guava variety, Ucobam markets a marvellous mango jam, which is becoming scarce in Oxfam shops as the season has ended.

Oxfam is also part of a consortium of development agencies behind the Fairtrade Foundation, which aims to expand the concept of fairly traded foodstuffs by setting standards and awarding its Fairtrade Mark to the products that meet them.

The first product to bear the symbol of interlocking Fs, plus the slogan, 'Guarantees a better deal for Third World producers', is Green & Black's Maya Gold chocolate. This tastes like an extremely superior dark chocolate orange and is made from cocoa beans organically grown by Maya Indians in Belize.

The latest Fairtrade Mark product, launched on Monday, is Cafedirect, the politically correct coffee from Central America.

OXFAM'S food promotion is endorsed by Rose Elliot, the queen of vegetarian cookery writers, whose latest book, published on 12 May by Dorling Kindersley, is The Classic Vegetarian Cookbook. This came as bad news to Bantam Press, which was to publish a new book by Annie Bell on 31 March called The Classic Vegetarian. If Ms Elliot is the veggie queen, Ms Bell is the heir apparent. Her first book, A Feast of Flavours, was promoted by the Independent's Emily Green, among others, and secured for its author the job of chief cookery writer for Vogue magazine.

Ms Bell is evidently not quite ready to compete for Ms Elliot's crown, however. Publication of her second book has been delayed until the end of May and its title changed to Evergreen.

DESPITE Sir Terence Conran's Butler's Wharf Chop House, and the best efforts of Gary Rhodes of the Greenhouse, British food has yet to achieve the popularity that was widely forecast a couple of years ago. Undeterred, the latest London restaurant to champion the cause of great British grub opens in Bloomsbury next month.

Its name, Alfred, is a reference not to the king who burnt the cakes but to Fred Taylor, the young man-about-town who can take much of the credit (or blame) for starting the boom in Soho drinking clubs by setting up a salubrious dive called Fred's. Now he has turned his attention to sprucing up the image of faggots, fish pie and toad-in-the-hole.

Alfred will comprise an all-day cafe with outdoor tables, a bar serving British beers in the basement, and a smart restaurant where Robert Gutteridge will cook a menu sourced from small regional suppliers.

NO DOUBT Fred Taylor will be hightailing it down to Exeter on Thursday to check out the third annual Festival of West Country Food and Drink. About 90 independent speciality producers who are members of the regional marketing body, A Taste of the West, will be exhibiting their wares at Exeter's Livestock Centre, a newfangled cattle market on the outskirts of town. Admission is free.

THE Gastropod fell upon the first issue of Ribena Reports, a must for those who want to keep up with the world of soft drinks. Its shock-horror revelation (the familiar old tale about Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, appearing in early television adverts for Ribena) proved a disappointment, but it did set the Gastropod pondering about which other senior Tories might endorse soft drinks. One could imagine Douglas Hurd as the butler in TV ads for Robertson's Barley Water, Virginia Bottomley representing the spirit of Aqua Libra, and Michael Heseltine as a spokesman for Tango.

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