PANCAKETUESDAYAND NATIONALFOODDAYS This coming Tuesday is annual Pancake Tuesday. Some say the origins of this celebration has its roots in pagan tradition, adopted by Christianity and given the name Shrove Tuesday, from the word shrive which means “absolve”.
The basic principles of Pancake Tuesday were to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk and sugar before the fasting season of Lent, in a sort of dairy-based last hurrah before a post-Easter binge.
Many other food rituals are steeped in religious symbolism, such as the Passover seder feast or the suhoor and the iftar of Ramadan. But few share the same secular appropriation as Pancake Tuesday. Well, apart from perhaps the Easter Egg. Though the date of Pancake Tuesday is still tied to Easter, falling the day before Ash Wednesday, it’s fair to say that many of us who celebrate Pancake Tuesday have jumped on a delicious bandwagon without much spiritual awareness. I don’t mean that in a judgmental way. I love Pancake Tuesday as much as the next non-church goer.
Not far behind folks who just like pancakes are PR companies. Pancake Tuesday is up for grabs by egg, milk, flour, sugar and even frying-pan companies as a sweet little marketing opportunity. “Whenever you’re celebrating a food holiday, you’re celebrating a great marketer,” wrote food writer Michael Y Park in a 2014 article in Bon Appétit magazine .
Park isn’t really referring to Pancake Tuesday, but rather to the abundance of national food days that have sprung up particularly in the United States in the last century.
I bet you didn’t know that tomorrow is “Ice Cream for Breakfast Day”, an event that is celebrated on the first Saturday of February and reportedly invented in the 1960s by a New York housewife to cheer up her kids. In the United States, almost every single day of the year is some sort of National Food Day. These days are authorised at various different levels of government, from town mayors right up to the President of the United States.
Park’s article explains the bureaucratic process of having a day recognised as a National Food Day in the US, and highlights the mostly nonsensical nature of this practice, and how it can result in multiple days celebrating the same food.
Alongside the traditional Pancake Tuesday, September 26th is a widely recognised though unofficial National Pancake Day in the US, and the International House of Pancakes launched their own National Pancake Day that has been celebrated in March since 2006.
As Park suggests, you can scratch the surface and the majority of these days are thinly veiled marketing vehicles. In the case of the International House of Pancakes initiative, its dual purpose is to raise funds for charity.
Others are more blatant, such as International Chocolate Day, celebrated by the US National Confectioners Association on morning and you just need a caffeine hit, stat, a five-minute artisanally brewed coffee is enough to make you lose your mind. But when you have the time, why not indulge in the art of a carefully poured hot drink?
It’s this I’m thinking of as I take in the décor of Belfast’s Established Coffee, while waiting on my coffee. Opened in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter of in 2014 by coffee enthusiast Mark Ashbridge, its polished concrete floor reminds me of the Fumbally in Dublin 8, while its minimalist furnishings evoke the Kinfolk style of their brethren in beans, Dublin’s 3FE. Established stock coffee beans from 3FE alongside London roasters The Workshop, with special guest bags popping up from the likes of Heart Coffee in Portland, Oregon.
In Established, I have a choice of two daily coffee beans or a decaf made however I like, or the Barista Surprise, wherein September 13th, which also happens to be Milton S Hershey’s birthday. Hershey was the founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company in the late 1800s. There’s nothing ethically awry with these days but, you have to ask yourself, is there any point to them beyond consumer awareness?
Of course, buried among opportunistic national and international food days are admirable stories. National Doughnut Day, which sounds very silly, was actually set up by the Salvation Army to remember their volunteers who handed out doughnuts to soldiers in France during thre first World War .
Since 1945, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations aims to raise one of the Established crew picks a bean they’re excited about and makes a filter cup of it. Sure, I wait longer for the filtered Barista Suprise but think about what is going into this cup of coffee. The barista chooses which bean; they grind and weigh out the beans; and then filter at their Aeropress station, a process that takes at least two minutes alone.
Good things come to those who wait. My coffee (£2.90) is served, delectably cloudy, in a little glass jug. The barista spills the beans on the coffee as he delivers it to my table; it is a Rwandan Workshop specialty, and the barista felt its fruity flavour shone through in a filter cup. I had to agree as I sipped it, black and sugarless.
Coffee is king here but there’s no messing around in the kitchen either. I love how the sweetness of the roasted sweet potato in my vegetarian sandwich (£4.80) is balanced by awareness internationally around the issues of poverty and hunger through World Food Day on October 14th. Another United Nations initiative is World Water Day, which takes place on March 22nd with the aim of highlighting the improvements necessary for water sanitation and hygiene in developing countries.
In Ireland, the trend for national food days is catching on. In 2011, Keogh’s Family Farm celebrated the first National Potato Day. Bord Bia and the Irish Potato Federation have since taken on the event, with the day promoted in the More Than Just A Bit On The Side campaign last year on October 2nd. A reported ¤1 million has been invested in the campaign, co-funded by the Government, the EU and Ireland’s potato industry, to be rolled out over three years, with an ultimate goal of supporting the Irish potato industry. Find out more on potato.ie.
Also spud-related is the Irish Traditional Italian Chippers Association’s annual National Fish & Chips Day in May, an idea imported from the UK. Incidentally, ITICA have my favourite website in Ireland, perhaps the world. Visit them on itica.ie. Just make sure you have your volume turned up.
The UK based Tripe Marketing Board (tripemarketingboard.co.uk), which refers to themselves on their website as “the voice of tripe”, are behind the most unlikely of all campaigns around food.
They launched the inaugural World Tripe Day on October 24th 2013. I’m pretty sure the whole thing is just a big joke but, at any rate, a World Tripe Day is just never going to catch on, is it?
I’ll take pancakes over tripe, any day.