Food in the north – not all curry and chicken parmos

Here in the north we spend less on food and drink than the English average as well as less on eating out, according to the latest Family Food Survey.

And while people in the north east, north west, Yorkshire and the Humber might eat less Indian, Chinese and Thai meals than other areas, consumption of alcohol is generally higher.

I’ve written more about this survey over at The Northerner today and the full document is also below.
Family Food 2011

The hunt to find the north’s best food and drink blog is on

The Blog North Awards opened for nominations earlier this week giving readers the chance to mark their appreciation for the hours of dedicated blogging going on across our vast region.

It’s an expansion of what was previously the Manchester Blog Awards (I’ve blogged more on that here) and there’s a dedicated food and drink section.

I’ve already singled out a few of the food blogs I enjoy following and given them a nomination – have you? The entries remain open until September 7.

If you’re not yet a signed up food blog subscriber, you can browse the ones I know about via the map here, I hope that leads to a journey of discovery. The nomination form for the awards is here.

Good luck to all nominees and, should any of my regular readers fancy giving this blog a mention, then I’d be most honoured too!

Mapping the Food Standards Agency reports

The latest updates to the map of food premises rated zero for hygiene standards are updated today at The Northerner blog.

I’ve started this process with five northern cities in order to reveal what lies behind those ‘scores on the doors’ as the detail isn’t revealed as a matter of course and people interested in what’s happening in the places they visit to buy take-aways, groceries etc. have to put in Freedom of Information requests if they want to find out more.

The map can be seen and interacted with here plus, if anyone wants to use it on their own website or blog, this is the code to embed it. (Simply enclose the start and end with < and > respectively) A link back so that I can track where it goes would be handy.

iframe width=”640″ height=”480″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” marginheight=”0″ marginwidth=”0″ src=”;source=s_q&amp;hl=en&amp;geocode=&amp;;aq=&amp;sll=37.0625,-95.677068&amp;sspn=53.212719,77.958984&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;t=m&amp;ll=54.905041,-2.139587&amp;spn=0.757974,1.757813&amp;z=9&amp;output=embed“></iframe><br /><small><a href=”;source=embed&amp;hl=en&amp;geocode=&amp;;aq=&amp;sll=37.0625,-95.677068&amp;sspn=53.212719,77.958984&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;t=m&amp;ll=54.905041,-2.139587&amp;spn=0.757974,1.757813&amp;z=9” style=”color:#0000FF;text-align:left”>View Larger Map

I’d welcome some help to open files in other council areas if anyone wants to join in (it doesn’t have to be in the north) so have made a template of the FOI request and instructions on how to do this here.

My interest in this is to open up some information which I believe the public has a right to know while exploring the capabilities of this type of mapping projects using the open journalism toolkit I’m involved in developing at

So please feel free to join in, use the code for your own projects or create your own crowdmapping initiative and let me know how you get on. Instructions on how to create and customise a map can be found here on the site.

Join the take-away inspection investigation

Over on The Northerner blog today I launched the start of an investigation to reveal the full findings of the food premises rated zero duirng inspections over the past year.

You can read the findings from the first two councils to release the information (Sunderland and Carlisle) and more are on their way in the next few weeks – they are Leeds, Manchester, and Middlesbrough.

If you’d like to join in with the investigation by filing your own Freedom of Information request to your local council here’s how:

Making the Freedom of Information request

1. Go to the site (you’ll need to sign up) and click on ‘make a request’.

2. You’ll be asked to ‘select an authority’ – that’s your local council.

3. After doing a search just to double check that the information isn’t already public, click on the tab to ‘make a request’.

4. Here is a template request using the form of words I’ve already used:

Dear [name of council],

Please treat the following questions as a Freedom of Information

I would like any response to be made electronically wherever
possible in spreadsheet form.

This request aims to establish details about the food hygiene
ratings in your area.

Please could you provide the full inspection reports for those
business premises given a food hygiene rating of zero in the last

Along with the inspectors full findings, please can you detail the
date of inspection, the date of the premises’ next inspection,
name, address and action required or undertaken.

Is there any additional information held about enforcement action
or improvements undertaken?

If you are only able to release some of the information I would ask
that you release this data rather than withhold the entire set.

If you would like more clarification on this issue do not hesitate
to contact me using this site – as I would expect to be contacted
should you need any clarification.

Please can you confirm that you have received this request and I’d
like to remind you that under the freedom of information act 2000
you are bound to respond in 20 days.

Yours faithfully,

5. The whatdo theyknow website will lead you through the process and give you the date when the information has to, by law, be released to you. Please just drop me a line via the comments below or by email ( to let me know you’ve requested it.

Posting your inspection report to The Guardian’s map

– The map is generated via so, if this is your first visit you’ll need to sign-up. You can do this via your existing Facebook or Twitter accounts or by creating a user name and entering your email address.
– once logged in, go to and click on ‘post a new report’
– you will be presented with a simple form asking for the information mentioned above.

M6 service station food praise

I accept that very few people ever travel to a service station to experience the food. Aside from Heston’s Little Chef experiment, our roadside eateries are, on the whole, places known only for over-priced stodge, unclean toilet facilities and burger chains.

So it was interesting to see the excellent Travels with my baby blog single out Tebay as “probably the best service station in the world“.

She says: “Inside, a family-run farm shop is stocked with local cheese, meat, homemade pies and hampers. The cooked food is all sustainable this and Fairtrade that. The kiddies menu is a revelation – not a chicken nugget in sight. And there is a children’s play area and ‘family lounge’ that isn’t just a bunch of tired-looking plastic toys but is decked out with a farmland-themed climbing frame, tunnel and slide.”

Not having children to worry about, I’ve never been in this strange world of its family lounge but have memories of getting a proper meal in the restaurant there – sushi and roast quail if I remember rightly.

Having been the butt of many family jokes for taking Himself to this service station for a birthday meal, it was good to see that I’m not the only one who found the place worth a visit.

It seems Tebay is still the exception that proves the nasty road stop rule.