Over caviar and sea urchin, G8 leaders mull food crisis

World leaders are not renowned for their modest wine selections or reticence at the G8 summit's cheese board. True to form, discussing the global food crisis – spiralling grocery prices in the developed world and starvation in Africa – was clearly hungry work that left their stomachs rumbling.

Shortly after calling for us all to waste less food, and for an end to three-for-two deals in British supermarkets, Gordon Brown joined his fellow G8 premiers and their wives for an eight-course Marie Antoinette-style "Blessings of the Earth and the Sea Social Dinner", courtesy of the Japanese government.

The global food shortage was not evident. As the champagne flowed, the couples enjoyed 18 "higher-quality ingredients", beginning with amuse-bouche of corn stuffed with caviar, smoked salmon and sea urchin pain-surprise-style, hot onion tart and winter lily bulbs.

With translations helpfully provided by the hosts, the starter menu (second course) read like a meal in itself. A folding fan-modelled tray decorated with bamboo grasses carried eight delicacies: kelp-flavoured cold Kyoto beef shabu-shabu, with asparagus dressed with sesame cream; diced fatty flesh of tuna fish, with avocado and jellied soy sauce and the Japanese herb shiso; boiled clam, tomato and shiso in jellied clear soup of clam; water shield and pink conger dressed with a vinegary soy sauce; boiled prawn with jellied tosazu-vinegar; grilled eel rolled around burdock strip; sweet potato; and fried and seasoned goby with soy sauce and sugar.

That was followed by a hairy crab kegani bisque-style soup and salt-grilled bighand thornyhead with a vinegary water pepper sauce. The main course brought the "meat sweats" – poele of milk-fed lamb flavoured with aromatic herbs and mustard, as well as roasted lamb with black truffle and pine seed oil sauce. For the cheese course, the Japanese offered a special selection with lavender honey and caramelised nuts. It was followed by a "G8 fantasy dessert" and coffee served with candied fruits and vegetables.

This was washed down with Le Reve grand cru/La Seule Gloire champagne; a sake wine, Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Nakadori; Corton-Charlemagne 2005 (France); Ridge California Monte Bello 1997 and Tokaji Esszencia 1999 (Hungary).

The G8 leaders had earlier made do with a "working lunch" of white asparagus and truffle soup; kegani crab; supreme of chicken; and cheese and coffee with petit fours. The lubrication of choice, for those drinking, was Chateau Grillet 2005.

The TV cameras were sadly not allowed to loiter long enough to discover whether Mr Brown practised what he preaches by not wasting any of his food. The Prime Minister has been shocked by the finding that an average British household could save about £420 a year by not throwing away edible food.

It is a fair bet that much more than that was wasted last night at the opulent Windsor Hotel in Toya, 30 miles from the general public and with 20,000 special police officers for security. Sixty chefs were flown in for the occasion, foremost among them the Michelin-starred Katsuhiro Nakamura.

The total cost of staging the event on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido is estimated at £285m, enough to buy 100 million mosquito nets, and dwarfing the £85m Britain spent on the Gleneagles summit three years ago.

"If it costs this much for them to meet, they had better make some serious decisions to increase aid to poor countries," said Max Lawson, senior policy officer at Oxfam. "If they are just going to sit around and eat, while millions of people face starvation, that is not good enough. They must act– not eat."

While the dinner went on, officials from the G8 nations haggled late into the night over the summit declaration on aid to the poorest nations. Pressure groups fear the G8 is trying to water down the commitment it made at Gleneagles to double aid to poor countries to $50bn by 2010. They want the figure included in this week's statement, rather than a restatement that Africa will receive $25bn by then, and single out France and Italy for criticism. "It's 50-50," one aid campaigner said.

Andrew Mitchell, the Conservatives' international development spokesman, said: "Surely it is not unreasonable for each leader to give a guarantee that they will stand by their solemn pledges of three years ago at Gleneagles to help the world's poor. All of us are watching, waiting and listening."

Bush's prayer for end to tyranny

"I wish for a world free from tyranny: the tyranny of hunger, disease and free from tyrannical governments," was George Bush's wish, handwritten on a piece of parchment and tied to a bamboo tree as part of the Japanese Tanabata festival.

The annual ceremony, which this year coincided with Japan's hosting of the G8 summit, is based on the myth of two star-crossed lovers condemned to meet only once a year in the Milky Way on 7 July. Every summer Japanese people write prayers on thin strips of paper and hang them in bamboo branches in the hope their wishes will be granted.

"I wish for a world in which the universal desire for liberty is realised. I wish for the advance of new technologies that will improve the human condition and protect our environment. I wish God's blessings on all," Mr Bush concluded.

Gordon Brown, mindful of the third anniversary of the London bombings, sought an end to terrorism as well as to poverty.

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