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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Dining out on conference cuisine
By Jackie Storer
BBC News politics reporter

While Ruth Kelly is busy banning junk food from school menus, Labour delegates in Brighton have been testing the delights - or otherwise - of conference cuisine.

Conference food
Healthy options are available for delegates

Be it to chase away a hangover, an excuse to meet up with mates, or simply just to fill a hole - "what's on the menu?" is as regular a mantra at conference as "when is Tony going to step down?".

So what is on offer for a hungry Labour delegate rushing between debates?

Could it be described as healthy, balanced fare; full of vitamins and fresh ingredients? Or should it be subject to a "Kelly crackdown" for being too loaded with salt, sugar and fat?

Thankfully there is food provided at most fringe meetings and that is quite good
Naheed Arshad-Mather

Take a stroll around the Brighton Centre and it is amazing how many food outlets there are.

On Wednesday morning the East Foyer Bar is doing a roaring trade in hot sausage or bacon baguettes and rolls. The fridge nearby is stocked with tuna mayonnaise, cheese ploughman's, coronation chicken and prawn marie rose sandwiches.

There are yoghurts, muffins, crisps, chocolate bars and mints. Beside the till there is also a bowl of fruit.

In the Link Room exhibition hall the chef begins preparations for lunch. He proudly lists the salads he plans to display later - and most of these are home-made.

There will be cous cous, coleslaw, potato and bacon, cherry tomatoes, chicken and lettuce, he says. This can be eaten as a main meal or accompaniment to a meat lasagne or wild mushroom and tarragon bake, he assures me.

Bread products

But there are no chips - apparently they do not keep very well.

Bringing fresh supplies...
Bringing fresh supplies...

At the Harlequin Cafe, punters can find goats cheese and roasted veg take away salads, a variety of sandwiches, pistachio nut bars, fizzy drinks and ice cream.

Head downstairs, and there are more butties, yoghurts, crisps and fruit on offer.

The tea is not the best, but I have sandwiches because it is something reasonably quick and not too heavy
Terry Davies

But what do the Labour delegates and members think of the grub?

Naheed Arshad-Mather, from Huddersfield CLP, says she is not a fan. "I don't like sandwiches, so the choice is not that great," she says.

"It is also quite expensive - a bottle of water costs 1.30. The only other thing I have been buying is a latte from the coffee stand.

"You just have to make do because everyone is in a hurry, but the food here isn't healthy. I would prefer a salad, pasta, something wholesome.

"Thankfully there is food provided at most fringe meetings and that is quite good. There is usually a finger buffet or something grilled."

Expensive?

But Terry Davies, 73, a retired school administrator from the Vale of Glamorgan, said he was more than happy with the fare.

Conference food
Beans are always a popular choice

"What I like about it is there is plenty of food. The tea is not the best, but I have sandwiches because it is something reasonably quick and not too heavy," he said.

But Retired social worker Bob Lewis, from Erith and Thamesmead CLP, said he thought it was a bit expensive.

"I wouldn't say it is a really healthy diet - it's not the sort of food I would normally eat," he said.

"I have been having sweet stuff like cakes and biscuits - there doesn't seem to be much fresh fruit," he said.

Chocolate fix

"The drinks are always sweet, although there is also bottled water. You have just got to put up with it."

Jo McDonald, 70, a retired hospital domestic help from Manchester, said she was more than happy with the food.

"I have had a brown baguette with tuna mayonnaise, a cup of tea and a bar of chocolate," she said.

"I think the food is healthy enough here, although perhaps not the Mars bar."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See what schoolchildren think of the junk food ban



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