“Is it possible to make a pizza with only ingredients sourced from around Portlaoise town?”
This was the question artist Lisa Fingleton asked herself when she was invited to participate in the Laois County Council, Local Live Performance Scheme by producer Vincent O Shea. The scheme supports artists and musicians to film outdoor live performances ‘animating places of heritage and natural beauty’ in Laois.
Lisa is an eco-social artist, writer and grower. Originally from Stradbally, Co. Laois, she maintains strong connections with the county.
She has spent many years cultivating deep-rooted connections between art, food and farming and co-ordinates a 30 Day Local Food Challenge every September. Her book The Local Food Project explores the power of growing and eating local food. Lisa is concerned about the fact that “we are importing so much of our food and losing the capacity to be self-sufficient, despite what we know about climate change and carbon footprint”.
As an artist she feels it is important that artists and society engage with the big ecological issues of our time such as climate change, biodiversity loss and unsustainable food sytems. Through her work she asks a series of challenging questions: “Why are we importing so much of our food when we have the soil and conditions to grow our own? Why are we so disconnected from the food growing in the fields? Why does our labelling system make it so difficult to understand where the food is actually from? Why are only 1% of our farms in Ireland growing vegetables, the lowest in Europe?”
Lisa says “I was delighted to be involved in the performance scheme as I love Laois and the rolling landscape is where I grew up. I wanted to use the opportunity to make a short film about local food. Food is embedded in our heritage and landscape. The ditches and rolling fields of Laois have evolved over millenia to reflect the vernacular diet. Small plots around houses and the kitchen gardens have been replaced with lawns and huge fields that now feed into an agricultural model of mass production”.
Lisa is interested it the globalised food system an how diets in Ireland have become so cosmopolitan, that the next generation will be more familiar with pizza that potatoes. According to Lisa ‘Pizza is the new potato and cabbage is replaced by the cherry tomato’.
As part of The Portlaoise Pizza project she dismantled the pizza into its component parts and set herself the challenge to cook a unique pizza by sourcing all the ingredients locally from around Portlaoise town. “Some people might not realise what a challenge this was especially since I am no expert in baking”, says Lisa.
“Even though we grow a huge amount of cereal in Ireland, we import almost all of our wheat for bread and pizza making. For this project I used organic, gluten free oats grown from Vicarstown grown by Kevin Scully from the Merry Mill. Kevin showed me how to grind down the wheat using a quern stone. Because it contained no gluten I had to bind it together with eggs and rapeseed oil- not a very conventional pizza base!”.
Rapeseed Oil used to be produced in Stradbally but for this project Lisa had to source it from the Laois/Tipperary border (35 miles away). All the other ingredients were sourced within 15 miles of Portlaoise. For the sauce Lisa picked all the tomatoes, basil and oregano in her dad’s polytunnel.
Cheese proved to the be the biggest challenge but thankfully she was rescued by Collette Duff who lives just outside Portlaoise town in Ballyfin. Collette showed Lisa how to milk her beautiful goat Malika and together they made a goats cheese for the pizza.
The cheese really highlighted the preciousness of our food resources as Collette had to save milk for a few days in order to make 300g of cheese.
On Sunday 3rd October Lisa cooked the first ever ‘Portlaoise Pizza’ at the Abbeyleix Community Garden before the Applefest event and served it to the people attending. Arts Officer Muireann Ni Chonaill and Consultant Vincent O Shea also spoke at the event, giving the wider context to the project. The whole process was filmed by Louis Deacy and will be available online over the coming weeks.
For more information go to: www.lisafingleton.com
The Portlaoise Pizza was performed by Lisa Fingleton. Vincent O Shea was the producer of the Portlaoise Municipal District, Local Live Performance Programming Scheme (LLPPS). It was funded by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. Filming by Louis Deacy.
Images © Lisa Fingleton 2021 (Photos by Vincent O Shea / Donna Mc Greevy)