Irish Food Nationalism

The Great Famine of the nineteenth century killed one million Irish citizens, and forced as many to emigrate. Its legacy continues to be felt today as many continue to leave the country in the wake of the 2008 economic recession. But emerging locavore, organic, and slow food movements are helping the nation renew its farming past and invest in economic recovery for the future.

Since banking and construction went bust in the late 2000s, pride in the “homegrown” has swelled, evidenced by food blogs, food tourism, and organizations such as Good Food Ireland. Geography helps. Ireland is small—approximately the size of South Carolina—making it relatively easy to disseminate successful local food practices nationally. Farmers, market operators, shop owners, and restaurateurs share promotional and production schemes. Food trails and other “gastro tourism” opportunities, artisanal restaurants, family farms, festivals, and regional food specialties—such as Ard Cairn Russet apples, Burren honey, Clare Island salmon, Kerry lamb, or Knockdrinna Farmhouse cheese—reinforce Ireland’s food identity at home and abroad. There is also growing interest in health and sustainability, and in knowing the origin of the food one eats.

Bord Bia, Ireland’s national food board, along with the Department of Food, Agriculture, and the Marine (DAFM), help promote local offerings, providing information on producers, products, markets, and farm shops while raising awareness about the quality and cultural, economic, and nutritional significance of local food. As promoting local food becomes national policy, farmers’ markets, fishing villages, and neighborhood butchers are taking on a “food nationalism” identity—promoting the relatively recession-proof agricultural and food sectors. Agricultural output and food and drink exports have expanded since the 2008 economic collapse, and government agencies expect local networks, sourcing, and employment, coupled with the growing cultural importance of food in Ireland, to fuel continued economic growth. As Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, valued at over $30 billion, the food sector and growth in agri-food exports are key factors enabling Ireland to move beyond austerity measures imposed by the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund.

Players in the global food system—such as German grocery chain ALDI, British grocery and retail chain Tesco, and U.S. fast food giant McDonald’s—have identified the potential of “Irish food” and food nationalism, and are staking their claims. While some warn that such efforts could co-opt the “Irishness” and threaten authenticity in the homegrown food movement and what constitutes “local,” making local agriculture national has benefited the economy, and helped alleviate pain from the recession—which is good for both economic growth and national pride.

Recommended Reading

Online Resources

Articles and Books

  • Boucher-Hayes, Philip and Suzanne Campbell. 2009. Basket Case: What’s Happening to Ireland’s Food? Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.
  • Roos, Gun, Laura Terragni, and Hanne Torjusen. 2007. The Local in the Global: Creating Ethical Relations between Producers and Consumers. Anthropology of Food S2.
  • Tovey, Hilary. 1997. “Food, Environmentalism and Rural Sociology: On the Organic Farming Movement in Ireland.” Sociologia Ruralis Volume 37: 21-37.