The Scottish government has recently unveiled new updates to Scotland’s National Food and Drink Policy. The new aims are for Scotland to become a “Good Food Nation,” changing stereotypes of a cuisine of orange-coloured sugary drinks and deep fried candy bars. The policy is not limited to changing ideas of what we eat, but also addresses how we source our food. Themes of food security and food sustainability made themselves known at recent festival events in Edinburgh. Creative Carbon Scotland was able to attend multiple events, all contextualising the topic of food within Scotland’s past, present and future.
On 6 August 2014, I attended the “PhD in an Hour” event hosted by Stacia Stetkiewicz and Just Festival. Stetkiewicz’s PhD topic is “Opportunities for Environmental Improvements on Scottish Arable Farms,” arable meaning farms used to grow crops and not livestock. Ideally hoping to engender a top-down approach, she hopes that after completing her research she will be able to influence government policy makers and farmers into making more informed decisions about their growing practices. Stetkiewicz’s research specifically targets the amount of green house gas emissions from the agricultural industry and suggests ways to reduce emissions while also increasing ecosystems services provided by the cropland. Examples of this include planting wildflower margins at the edge of crop rows, which provide habitat for birds and other pollinators. Stetkiewicz does not fail to address practicalities however, and plans to use modelling software to support her ideas for improvements to the agricultural systems so that farmers and policy makers can see which changes may make the most impact, while also taking into account economic and social factors.
Authors Mike Small and Andrew Whitley presented their thoughts on food sustainability and food equity to an active and captive audience at the Edinburgh International Book Festival‘s “Good Low-Cost Food” event on 13 August 2014. Small is the co-founder of the Fife Diet and author of Scotland’s Local Food Revolution, and shared just a few of his provoking ideas at the event. The Fife Diet, one of Europe’s largest local food projects, has revolutionised cycles of production and consumption in Fife. Small asserted that there is a “large scale understanding that there is something fundamentally wrong with how we eat” which is the problem that the Fife Diet addresses. He contrasted Tesco’s recent appointment to head a “Farm to Fork” programme for schools with their evident uncertainty of where Tesco products really come from after last year’s horsemeat scandal. Small also mentioned this year’s great food trend- food banks, the grim reality of a public health emergency.
Andrew Whitley, author of Bread Matters and co-founder of the Real Bread Campaign, brought interesting thoughts to an often-overlooked matter of food sovereignty. Whitley advocates for food justice and equitable access by everybody to good healthy food. Whitley addresses our “terrible confusion” about basic foods, or more specifically, bread. The author traced the emergence of bread as a convenience item, a characteristic of the food system that emerged in the development of urban tenements. The downside to this newfound convenience was the element of social control that this gave to bread manufacturers and markets. Whitley’s solution to this is enabling people to bake their own sourdough, bread that has a higher nutritional quality due to its fermenting process. He warns of “pseudough,” referring to partially baked or quick sourdough often sold at markets as a more traditional and wholesome version of the typical sliced loaf. Whitley’s book DO Sourdough enables readers to bake their own bread, encouraging those with a busy life that baking bread doesn’t actually take much time.
After taking questions from the audience, Whitley and Small left the audience with some inspiring calls for action. Small asserted “reclaiming thrift and simplicity, for me, is the key,” explaining that food doesn’t have to cost a lot of money in order to be good. For supermarkets and producers, the profit is in the process, which is why processed foods always seem to be on offer. Whitley affirmed the “cost of food as the only metric of quality” is an assumption that needs to be discontinued, and that consumers can rebuild Scotland’s food system one loaf of bread at a time.
Later in the evening, the Edinburgh International Book Festival hosted their third Dialogue event, featuring Alex Renton (food writer and journalist) and Annie Anderson (professor of public health nutrition at Dundee University), and centred around the question “Can Scotland Kick its Sugar Habit?” The Dialogue events are debate-style discussions about relevant topics to today’s political, environmental and social climates. Dialogue 3: Health brought into question notions of government regulations, as Renton probed the evidence of the correlation between sugary drinks and sweets and decreasing health. Renton warned that sugar is becoming the new obsession of government regulation falling after tobacco and alcohol, which are already heavily regulated. Anderson rebutted that the correlation between consumption of sugar and decline in health has firm evidence, and that the government’s involvement in promoting a change of behaviour is a step in the right direction. The audience in the Guardian Spiegeltent was most interested in immediate action and clarity of information for consumers.
To complete my food-themed experience at the festivals this past month, I attended “Food Security”, a talk included in the Festival of Politics’ programme. Dr Alan Rowe (Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen) chaired the event, which included panel participants Mr Scott Walker (National Farmers Union Scotland), Dr Alex Johnstone (University of Aberdeen), Professor Elizabeth Baggs (University of Aberdeen) and Dr Flora Douglas (University of Aberdeen). The panel shared their own thoughts on the future of food in Scotland, with the consensus being that food security is possible but changes to the current production and consumption system need to be made. Professor Liz Baggs, whose research involves the analysis of green house gas emissions produced from agriculture, explained- “the search for solutions leads to exciting opportunities such as organic composting” amongst other ideas that can lessen the environmental impact of agricultural production. The fragility of our food production system was discussed by Mr Scott Walker, as he explained that food supply is dependent on weather, which in recent years has proven to cause some problems, and food distribution is dependent on oil to fuel transportation. Public health experts Dr Alex Johnstone and Dr Flora Douglas both described their research, which has often unearthed food inequalities or barriers to buying healthy food. Individuals don’t always feel that they have enough information to make good food choices, and this is just another barrier in addition to food cost, availability, cultural beliefs and lack of food skills. The discussion opened to audience members, and much of the discussion was centred on the tension between what the consumers want and what policy makers and supermarkets provide.
Dr Alex Johnstone provided an excellent idea of how to adapt global cuisine to local ingredients; reformulation produces meals similar to what we eat now, but adds healthier local ingredients. The example of reformulation that was given was adding locally grown peas or lentils to a chicken curry. The discussion involved similar points as to what Mike Small mentioned at “Good Low-Cost Food”- processed foods are usually eaten more than primary products, but reducing the amount of processed foods we eat and returning to simpler foods would make a significant impact.
Through the questions and comments posed by those in attendance at “Food Security”, it became clear that a fifth panel participant should have been added, particularly someone of influence from a major supermarket chain. In fact, it seems the presence of major food distributors was lacking entirely at all the aforementioned events. Though many opinions and options were discussed at these gatherings, one idea remains clear- the people of Scotland are craving food justice. Hopefully it will only be a matter of time before they receive it.
Have your own thoughts on the future of food in Scotland? Feel free to share them with us on Twitter @CCScotland using #GreenFests.
“PhD in an Hour” with Stacia Stetkiewicz was part of Just Festival and took place 6 August 2014. “Good Low-Cost Food” and “Dialogue 3: Health” were part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and took place 13 August 2014. The Festival of Politics “Food Security” event took place 15 August 2014.
Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.
In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.
We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.
Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:
Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.
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