Monday 16th October
Scotland’s Food Culture
Does Scotland’s food culture consist simply of whisky, salmon and haggis? Or is there a lot more to it than that? Scotland doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to cuisine. Associations with deep-fried Mars bars, Irn-Bru and Tunnock’s tea cakes, along with the enormous rise in obesity, have not led to Scotland being viewed as having a healthy diet or a ‘good’ food culture.
When we, as a class, were asked to think of countries with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food cultures, we took very little time to choose places such as Italy and Japan as having a ‘good’ food culture and for all of us to decide that America has a ‘bad’ food culture. Despite America being an awfully large country (and us being a group of intelligent gastronomes who should, by now, know better than to make assumptions about the eating habits of an entire country) we still associate its food culture as comprising burgers, fries and anything deep fried. These stereotypes, often due to media representations of food culture, can be damaging to the image of a nation and aren’t helpful in encouraging people to improve their diet.
Scotland produces a wealth of incredible foods, yet so many are exported that the Scots themselves have little access to these ingredients. The Scottish government now aspire to make Scotland a ‘Good Food Nation’, where people take pride in and benefit from the food they produce, buy and consume every day. There is a focus on encouraging people in Scotland to take an interest in where their food comes from, improving access to fresh and healthy food, and ensuring that impacts from the food industry on diet and the environment are at a minimum.
In the afternoon, we were joined by Pete Ritchie, who runs Whitmuir Organics and is Executive Director of Nourish Scotland, and Robin Gourlay, who works with the Scottish Government, Scotland Food and Drink and leads on Public Sector Food and Drink Policy.
Pete spoke to us about his work with Nourish Scotland and their aim to help in making changes to the food system. The previous government food and drink strategy in 2009 had a focus on ‘food as money’, however Nourish were keen to try to help with a shift to thinking of food as nutrition, environment and culture. Nourish do a lot of work at grassroots level and are involved in many community projects. As Pete said to us, “The people who least need a choice of good food have more and more, and people who most need a choice of good food have less and less.” He spoke about hunting and fishing as expensive hobbies, and foraging as something you pay to do a course in, where previously they were just ways of accessing food. This all adds to a disconnect from the land.
Education of course is a big factor in improving the way that a food culture develops. Pete spoke about adults being the vanguard in changing perceptions of food, and said that if teachers and parents don’t have a ‘good’ food culture, they can’t then be expected to pass on a ‘good’ food culture to children. Developing people’s confidence in cooking and eating better is hugely important. For him, it is also essential to teach people about the side of the food industry that no one wants to know about, not just about artisan food. Our current food system is having an effect on our environment and it is only through understanding this that we can make dramatic changes.
Robin spoke to us about the importance of public sector policies on food, and how he believes that “Public Food and in particular school food should be the exemplar for a Good Food Nation”. He said that Food Provision within the public sector should be given the same priority as areas such as Health and Safety, Equalities and Employment Rights. However, despite the focus on improving school food, it was surprising to hear that of a turnover in the food and drink industry in 2013 of £14.3 billion, only £4 million was spent on food education between 2010-2016. It will be interesting to see if this changes with the introduction of the Good Food Nation Bill.
For more information, here is a link to the discussion document about becoming a Good Food Nation.
If you’re in Edinburgh, the Scottish Food Coalition are organising an event in November to discuss the Good Food Nation Bill.
And if you want to support Nourish with their Good Food Nation Bill campaign work, they are running a crowdfunder.
Although it’s a shorter post this week as we only had a class on Monday, I will be more than making up for it next week after our field trip to the Isle of Mull!