Nikki Welch: 'It's been really interesting to explore how food and words are both ways that people come together'

Nikki Welch: 'It's been really interesting to explore how food and words are both ways that people come together'

Giles Yeo

Food entrepreneur and writer discusses Edinburgh International Book Festival's new programme strand for 2019

When food entrepreneur Nikki Welch appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last year to discuss her own book The Pocket Guide to Beer (the follow-up to a similar previous title on whisky), she began to wonder if a trick might not be missed in the way the festival covers the booming business of food titles. Discussing this with some Book Festival programmers, she found herself organising The World on a Plate, this year's brand new strand dedicated to the discussion and celebration of food.

'For me there's something really interesting about talking about food,' says Welch. 'It brings together a lot of different elements - not only is there a big trend for cookery programmes that lots of people are interested in, and consuming food books based upon them, but for me the Book Festival is also a place where we can explore social and world trends through the lens of food; so why don't we turn that lens on books about food?'

The programme moves between celebrity chefs discussing the flavours they create, and scientists and industry insiders dissecting the social and cultural issues surrounding arguably the most important business in the world. The former category includes the headline appearance of celebrated journalist, writer, novelist and Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith (10 Aug), whose talk is unsurprisingly already sold out, as is the Shetland foodie travelogue by broadcaster Tom Morton and his Bake Off finalist son James Morton (25 Aug).

Nikki Welch: 'It's been really interesting to explore how food and words are both ways that people come together'

Jack Monroe

Elsewhere, the 'Afternoon Tea with...' series-within-a-series focuses on individual food writers bringing their specialisms to the floor, among them Alissa Timoshkina (11 Aug) discussing Russian fine dining; Caroline Eden (12 Aug) relaying her culinary journey on the shores of the Black Sea, from Russia to Turkey; Palestinian food writer Joudie Kalla (14 Aug) exploring the taste of her homeland; sommelier Davy Zyw (15 Aug) popping the cork on champagne and sparkling wine; and international explorations in Persia with Sabrina Ghayour (23 Aug) and Eastern Asia with Eleanor Ford (24 Aug).

With a foot in both sides of the discussion, Jack Monroe (16 Aug) has made her name for recipe-writing for those who want to enjoy food but can't necessarily afford to in this age of austerity, while food historian and futurist Robyn Metcalfe (19 Aug) looks at the global food supply chain, and geneticist and television presenter Giles Yeo (Mon 12 Aug) discusses the science of dieting.

'Food means different things to different people,' says Welch. 'Not just in terms of our shared need to eat, but also the connection to home it has for a lot of people, the way it brings them together. The Book Festival have been out working with community centres in Edinburgh and lots of those centres have community kitchens, and the people working in them told the festival about how important those kitchens are.

'These are places where people come together, a lot of whom feel isolated and now have a way of connecting with other people,' she continues. 'The World on a Plate just grew from there, it's been really interesting to explore how food and words are both ways that people come together and share their experiences.'

All shows are at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Charlotte Square Gardens, 10–26 Aug. For more information, go to edbookfest.co.uk.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

The world’s largest public celebration of the written word takes place in the first UNESCO City of Literature in the beautiful Charlotte Square Gardens. As well as leading Scottish and international authors, the varied programme always manages to cover poets, politicians, historians, journalists and children's authors…

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