I’ve lost count of the number of FreeFrom Food Awards I’ve now ‘live tweeted’ – four, five? – but it seems to get busier and more frenetic year after year!
We always ask that attendees and other interested parties use the hashtag – this year it was #FFFA16 – and most participants obligingly do – but add to that our handle (@FFFoodAwards) and a number of other related accounts (@FoodsMatter @FreeFromFood) which many use, and it adds up to a sequence of fast-moving streams with dozens upon dozens of notifications a minute that, while satisfying to witness, can be almost comically unmanageable during moments where bursts of activity take place. Apologies if I missed your witty comment or keen observation …
As always, it was great fun being online last night at the Royal College of Physicians for the presentation of these, now the 9th awards – and every year people too far to travel or not lucky enough to be attending tell me how entertaining they find the live Twitter feed. So it’s always worth the inevitable RSI hangover next day …
Reflecting on the notifications now, it strikes me that we had more non-obviously-free from folk taking part or following with interest – general foodies, and some media folk, and health bloggers seemed to figure among the RTers and new followers. That’s a good thing, right? Something the Awards’ constant supporter over the years – Antony Worrall Thompson – said after he had presented deserved winners Nutribix’s two Richards with Marble Mo (left) was that “free from people should not be seen as niche people but normal people” – and we need “normal” people to take more of an interest in these “niche” foods to understand that, yes, free from is normal – and often delicious, innovative and versatile too.
Regular readers will know I’m not a fan of selling ‘free from’ as healthier on false or unproven grounds – for instance, that gluten is ‘toxic’ to all, or that milk is ‘unnecessary’ (is soya milk ‘necessary’?) but I am keen on the word spreading to non food-sensitives that there are new tastes to be enjoyed in free from, and that you can bring variety into your diet by embracing it a little – without going to the extreme of eliminating a food when you don’t need to. I’m one who can eat anything, and I have oat milk and cow milk in the fridge. I have cashew cheese from the Natural and Organic Products Show Europe and I have some regular Dutch cheese too. I have barley and quinoa in my store cupboard. This is ‘normal’.
Anyway, my vantage point on the balcony, where I was located with my laptop, offered a bird’s eye of all the leading lights in ‘free from’ catching up on the floor below – manufacturers, bloggers, judges, journalists, nutritionists and dietitians. The Italian in me likes to people-watch, and it’s easy to forget how many friendships have been forged at these events over the years; the more sprawling and less structured but equally essential Allergy Show aside, there really is no gathering like it for networking in free from. So I was lucky to get to see bloggers and judges who have become firm friends, and meet others I’ve only ever ‘chatted’ with online. And to those who very politely admired my waistcoat (right), all I can say is a/ 20p from a jumble sale and b/ witness White Rabbit Pizza’s Nick’s (above left – winner in the Pasta and Pizza category), who outwaistcoated me good and proper. I’ll be back next year ….
A shout out to my mate and fellow finalist judge Simon Wright for ensuring that my beer levels did not drop below critical during the live tweet – and for keeping me good company for a portion of it – and to colleagues Michelle, Cressida and Hannah – who ran the show with aplomb, and from whom I have learned an invaluable amount since I’ve known them and befriended them.
And finally, although there are no losers here – just being shortlisted is an achievement – and Awards like this only tend to be remembered for its notable winners, I’ll leave you with this, perhaps my favourite tweet from the last 24 hours. Not everyone can win an award, of course, but everyone who doesn’t make the podium, can do so with some grace in ‘defeat’. ‘Free from’ supporting ‘free from’ is the way ‘free from’ will get stronger, don’t you think?