A FEAST OF DEBATE | JESSICA SEATON

A FEAST OF DEBATE | JESSICA SEATON

The village of Hay-on-Wye hunkers under the steep slopes of Hay bluff, and for a short while the hugger-mugger tents of the festival gather around the southern skirts of the town, fields co-opted for car parks, helpful yellow-jacketed volunteers at hand to point you in the right direction. On the days I visited the weather was soft, a diffuse ceiling of low cloud obscuring the tops of the hills. You feel the presence of the land. Big land & sheltered people.
I came to Hay on Monday to speak about my new book, and there isn’t a better place to do that, given that it’s a cook book called Gather Cook Feast, Recipes from Land & Water, and it takes the theme of food and landscape. It’s about how our foods can communicate a sense of place and how we can relish the connections made. We make our food and our food makes us. And what foods come from this area and this landscape – orchard fruits and ciders; asparagus and heritage vegetables; mutton and rare breed pork; and wild leaves and mushrooms to forage. The river Wye slides past almost silently.
The audiences at Hay are generous, proud, educated and curious. As I walked, listened and watched, all the talk was of books, of debating points made by speakers, of which bits were favoured and which less so. Deck chairs were full of readers of all ages, engrossed. The book shop surged with an almost tidal rhythm, queue after queue of keen enthusiasts waiting for a brief audience with their favourite authors.
Kevin N Laland spoke in his talk about how humans are uniquely privileged to learn, teach and conduct their lives in a rich cultural mix, and how this ferment has driven our development. It struck me that Hay is a perfect example of this phenomenon in action. We learn, we talk, we share, we debate. How can we despair of our world when such exists?
Hay is a very special place.