Food will Set us Free Sustainable Development

It is still Groundhog Day here in Scotland. Whilst the music and events industry are off the map Husband is gainfully employed with domestic engineering / Head of Home-Schooling in between waiting for next furlough payments to appear. I’m foutering around with thoughts in the attic office trying to drum up funding for new start-ups and, as always, I’m easily distracted.

I’m thinking about all the wonderful technologies and ideas that currently exist that could make our lives better, and by better, I mean happier, healthier and less stressful. The past year of almost continuous lockdown has been hard for everyone, each in their own ways. Introverts like the ones in my family have found release in not having to engage cheerily with groups of people on a regular basis, ability to get on with work without the background din of the madding crowd has been a welcome change. Extroverts have adapted to the lack of social contact as best they can and entertained us all with various sea-shanty stunts.

It is certainly a place we never thought we would be in, but I think it is giving us a chance to reconsider what direction we are all headed to and check on our values. I was only little, but I remember when it only took a single salary to run a household. I applauded when it became acceptable for married women to work as well as raise a family – but when did it have to become compulsory to have both parents working?? When did we allow society to change so much?? It takes 2 decent full-time salaries to pay a mortgage and the childcare (so you can both get to your jobs) and the two cars that it takes to get you there, not to mention the 2 weeks in an all-inclusive hot spot each year so that you can unwind and remind yourself who you live with and actually find time to talk to one another. Is this life?

Working from home is showing that we do not need the stress or expense of the commute, companies don’t need the fancy city centre location for their brass-plated HQ and that we are more productive for it. Not every job is possible to do remotely, and we are being shown more clearly what those “essential” services are – those that are absolutely necessary to keep us moving on public transport, our streets clean, our communities healthy. We are seeing the lowest numbers of hospitalisations of seasonal flu as well. Silver linings and all that.

But what does the future hold? Could we create a truly sustainable future in Scotland and where would we start?

This is the first of three articles that address the opportunities to create a Scotland that benefits its population, look at how we could create infrastructure, make communities more connected, and also more prepared for the future.

Sustainable Development isn’t about building businesses that make money for the long-term, it’s about closing the equality gap locally and internationally, removing poverty everywhere and making sure that none of us, businesses or individuals, wreck the planet for now or for future generations.

Let us start with food, a fundamental for human survival and a right for children (if we can get the recent bill through the royal assent procedure).  Scotland is a land of food and drink. Revenue of £15bn exports to rUK and international exports (pre-Brexit) of £5bn including Seafood exports of just shy of £1bn with salmon acknowledged as the UK top food export. We can celebrate our success with a pint of locally renowned beer, a gin (fastest growing sector), or a wee dram.

Yes, Scotland is a successful food creator. So why are there over 20,000 people supported by Food Banks and why are people starving??  (RIP Mercy Baguma)

And if we cannot change the policies immediately to stop these atrocities then what can we as individuals and communities, small business owners, etc do to change things quickly?

We are a green land, we produce more than our population share of most of the foods of the UK, but we are not sharing that produce fairly to provide even a basic level of nutrition for some of our people.

What is it we need to enable all 5.4 million of us to be able to eat 3 square meals of healthy nutritious food each day?

Easy: Access to good food, access to knowledge of what to do with that food and the tastebuds/palate that wants to eat it.

I’m going to get on my soapbox here. Forced daily commutes, chasing after kids’ activity timetables, mobile phone interruptions from work into the evening all takes away from the time and pleasure of putting a meal together. It is easy to grab something from the freezer or phone for a delivery and not have to go through the stress of further decision making and balancing the multiple feeding options for the nightly zoo carnage. But those foods – processed and provided to you with delicious smells and little kitchen destruction, are destroying our ability to enjoy flavours.

I can hear it now, the retaliation of we didn’t used to have the same range of herbs and spices, or access to cuisines from around the world! But just think about it…an ever-increasing range of opportunities served up on a bed of sugar and sweet. We don’t do a full range of flavours anymore. Our savoury foods are becoming sweet. The new sugar tax has just meant that “normal” sugar has been replaced by more potent sweeteners, some of which have been linked to disruption of human gut health and because they aren’t removed by wastewater processing also linked to disruption of plant and environmental health.

I can also hear the additional arguments about living on a strict budget, often juggling costs of heating and food and needing to buy what you can, for the least you can spend, and focus on filling stomachs.

But by sticking sweet stuff into our food at every opportunity the food industry is making us addicted to carbs, to sugars, assisting the population towards obesity and risk of diabetes – not to mention cancers, IBS and the like as well – in short, ill-health at a chronic level which costs us a fortune in drugs, treatments and need for later life care. But these are industries (Food, Pharma, supported living, care-homes etc) that are large and powerful and can lobby the government, flood us with adverts and pay for some studies that at least muddy the waters about how bad their products are affecting us.

What can we do about it? Get away from processed food and cook from scratch, put more emphasis on understanding what we need to be able to provide to everyone to make that happen.

Starting with supplies. Reconnect all of us with where our food comes from. Get more veg and fruit growing visibly to our urban dwellers and doing this in a way that we can all get involved with. 

Fresh food campaigns like Incredible Edible are taking root. Seven areas now in Scotland, up from 3 last year. Incredible Edible started in Todmorden in Yorkshire, a grassroots activist group that took over every green space they could get their gardening gloves on and filled them with vegetables, herbs, and fruits for all in the area to be able to enjoy and harvest. Window boxes, municipal planters, the space outside the Doctors surgery - everywhere. And alongside that they have built a community handing down information about what is good to eat when, how to cook it. Sharing seeds and recipes. Building community. Encouraging local food exchange and economy as now local restaurants can get local eggs, can access seasonal on the doorstep produce.

The locavore movement began on World Environment Day in 2005 in San Francisco. Locavore means eating from the local area. It is something that in years past we all had to do as transportation of fresh food meant a limited “foodshed” (similar concept of watershed). Bringing this back is not something that has to be about individuals. It can be business. It does not have to be urban focussed. It can be rural.

Glasgow has a great Locavore store, (glasgowlocavore.org/) , they run some local farms and also a café and provide Veg boxes. They have just announced plans to expand to 8 locations across Scotland and they truly embrace the full ethos of sustainability – living wages, carbon negative, working with and within local communities.

On Skye they have a food van that links local producers with local restaurants. Combining the delivery costs into one vehicle makes it possible for the local area to easily eat produce created and grown on their own doorstop. Going further west ‘Eat Drink Hebrides’ has brought together producers of fine wonderful, mouth-watering produce from along the Western Isles into one website.  (eatdrinkhebrides.org.uk) - I would love it if these ideas could become mainstream across the whole of Scotland and I’d really like to see it all encompassed in a web-shop that allows small local shops and the public to be able to order from Scottish producers more easily.

Urban areas need to produce more of their own food, to help to reduce the impact of transportation on the environment and because we need to stop deforestation and degradation of soils across the world. We could use more vertical farming tech and be like The Netherlands, they exported $7.4 bn of vegetables in 2017, so Scotland surely could grow enough to feed our own folk and reduce the carbon footprint of fresh foods!

Scotland has been trying to do this.  There have been efforts to re-vitalise the Clyde Valley, an area which 100 years ago provided most of the tomatoes grown in Scotland along with cucumbers, lettuce, mushrooms, leeks and cut flowers. ‘ClydeValleyTomatoes’ tried from 2012-2015 to create a new sustainable business selling through Farmers Markets and the like, but perhaps they were just too early. Now there is an urban orchard project (clydevalleyorchardscoop.org.uk) bringing back native trees and engaging the local community to support and help expand.

But we need to and can do more.

With a vision of what is needed to break the sugar addiction and a rough plan of how we can get fresh food distributed to us all, the next step is to try and get more people more interested and confident about putting it all together and serving up meals.

What we need are communities which support that confidence gap. We generally all have access to internet, libraries or someone who knows, to get recipe ideas and even cooking tips, but really, it’s a case of jump in and try it, every day is a learning day, some are better tasting than others.

And to be properly Scottish about it, we need as a national community to be more observant and lend a hand where folk are struggling. We can’t have another unnecessary death like Mercy Baguma.

Imagine it, it’s all there for us.

Rural areas with food vans, collecting and dropping off delicious produce from small scale producers, who are getting paid properly and growing stuff sustainably looking after their waterways and soils.

Towns and Cities filled with greenery that we all can grab and benefit from.

Website directories detailing all the wonderful bounty of Scotland and where to get hold of it. Everyone being able to supplement that with freshly picked herbs, fruits and veg from the abundant kerbside community gardens.

No need for anyone to go hungry again. All held together in a national community where we talk, learn from each other, respect each other, and make sure that no-one is living below the poverty line.

 

First published in iScot Magazine Issue #72 published March 2021 www.iscot.scot