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Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Farmers, Fibre and Macaroni

This week, since Rory's Reivers hit the stage, a certain JFDI fibre video has been doing the rounds. The credit, whilst due entirely to Chris @cyberdoyle Conder, needs to also go to a wider group - farmers. And just before you flame me, she isn't called Mum2 for nothing in my house.....we are very proud of having had the privilege to know her, and listen to her village wisdom, for so long. She will dispute whether or not we have been listening, of course....;o)

This blog post can be read at

I'm going to start with this sentence:

Macaroni was not invented in some posh, city centre restaurant. It was invented by poor, rural farmers who needed to eat.

Out in rural areas, it is essential to look to our own resources to find solutions. Such has been the case for many, many centuries, and it has been made worse, not better, since someone decided centralising governmental decisions might be a good idea.

It is not just in the UK that the results of that have borne unexpected fruit, which few acknowledge. Today, I caught a programme on Pasta on the Radio 4 Food Programme.

(Sadly, on my connection, I get the message "This content doesn't seem to be working. Try again later." Oh, the joys of Listen Again! Please forgive me any misinterpretations of the content without a second chance to listen.)

Now, you know me....few could join macaroni and FTTH together in a simple step, but I could and did within a mile on the road! (However, Chris and I invented a game years ago which does more than that and it is for sale. If you care to contact either of us - we are VERY proud of it, and my kids helped Chris and I bring it into existence. It's also top secret still so, shhhhh....!)

Back to pasta. This humble carbohydrate has held economies almost to ransom since its 'discovery/invention' in Roman times. Yet, it had truly humble beginnings. It was the food source for the impoverished in Southern Italy and Mediterranean, where the durum wheat crop could flourish due to long, hot growing seasons. Originally, it was a substantial part of the poor man's daily diet, just as gofio is and was. (An as yet undiscovered delight from the Canary Islands). The durum wheat was ground and made into 'pasta shapes' - not quite as we know them now - and eaten hard, uncooked.

And then, it seems, there was a bit of a fibrevolution, and the peasants started to eat the pasta in the street, in order to show the hoi polloi that they were perfectly capable of fending for themselves thank you, and actually were less of a "to be ignored, not economically viable" resource but that they were self-sufficient. Ring any bells yet?!

In the 1920s, as many made their way to the Promised Land of America, in or about 1929 (as I recall from the programme), marketers discovered pasta and invented a story about Marco Polo discovering it in China. Which on the grand scale of things, almost equals the infamous BBC April Fool's joke about the spagetti harvest.

Durum wheat became not just a tradeable commodity, which affects economies massively in bad harvest years such as 2010, but it also gave certain nations a boon, an advantage. What must not be forgotten here (even with stories of x billion bowls of pasta currently being manufactured) is that it is all down to FARMERS.

Farmers researched what to do with this wheat that had no seeming current market price, and came up with a commodity that now, in this day and age, is in huge demand (although the story about the rise of the Atkins Diet and its economic impact was telling). Britain currently, and probably unsurprisingly, has not a single pasta manufacturer left - well, we've destroyed everything else in our manufacturing base - yet, we were a pasta making nation with market share until recently.

When you listen to the figures, not just for pasta consumption, but also from pasta manufacture, you begin to realise that it is all too often the innovation at the edge - a spare product - and NECESSITY or poverty, that creates the ideal situation(s) for commercial success.

As I was driving along, it was difficult not to compare spagetti to fibre optics as a practical, physical product i.e. it looks sorta similar! But, more telling was the need to push the following message, even at the end of a blog post:

For 10 years I have been shouting that the low hanging fruit, the popular commercial choices, which will make the money in the long term, are NOT in the urban areas. One day, someone is going to hear me.

Macaroni was not invented in some posh, city centre restaurant. It was invented by poor, rural farmers who needed to eat.


Cybersavvy UK said...

Oh, and replace macaroni with 100 (listen again!) different dies that are used to cut curls and whirls and spaghetti and ravioli and canneloni sheets etc.

All of us eat more pasta than just mac and cheese!

chris said...

just been reading a post on think broadband, where someone had put a link to a video. It reminded me of this blogspot, and so I couldn't resist putting the link here, enjoy...

GuyJ said...

Great analogy - its the General People factor, whether food or fibre, at work.

As you rightly note, it is so often at the edges, at the limits, where innovation often driven by necessity flourishes.

FttH UK, the advent of the Fibrevolution is being pioneered in those obscure rural places where conventional teleconomics fail to deliver.

All that is required is for local communities to JFDI