How the eat local revolution is gripping Scotland

Source  so.lo.cal

Volunteers and community activists are joining with businesses to put local food back on Scotland's menu 

27th March 2018 by Robert Armour 1 Comment

Beatrice Hental’s pigs are a Hereford breed which are well suited to Scotland’s climate. They’re big lumps, meaty and a wee bit aggressive if you get too near, “so perfectly adapted to Scotland”, jokes the 34 year old former bookkeeper from Essex. Beatrice and her partner Jude now make breeding these pigs their life after selling their modest semi in Essex and using the proceeds to purchase a smallholding near Perth.

Yet despite initially setting out to become private sector entrepreneurs – and hoping to become rich in the process - they were so taken by their local Perthshire community they decided instead to create a community interest company – a CIC - and plough the profits back into the area.

They didn’t stop there however. Being enthusiastic entrepreneurs, they have gone one further and decided to create a whole new food movement called So.Lo.Cal, a campaign to encourage consumers to source their produce locally, ethically and for all meals (whether homemade or in a restaurant) to be produced – and eaten – within a 50 mile radius of its origin.

“It’s not naïve to think you can source food locally and eat it within the confines of your own local authority area,” says Beatrice. “Farms have faced huge struggles being undermined by the big supermarkets. Now we are taking control and taking charge of our communities. We don’t want profits to go to faceless investors. We want the community to flourish, to benefit from the food chain.”

Here’s how it works. Producers, who must meet strict criteria to become part of So.Lo.Cal,  offer their food products which are certified to be produced within a 50 mile radius of where they are to be sold. The producers must also pledge to pay the Living Wage, to publish the gender balance of their workforce, to employ people who are either disabled or long-term unemployed and also pledge to a value statement affecting all employees. The food itself should be healthy. That doesn’t mean producers of confectionary and bakery can’t take part but they must reveal full details of their ingredients up front – with no hidden surprises - broken down into salt, sugar and fat content.

Bruce McInness, who is the development officer for So.Lo.Cal, believes Scotland is on the cusp of a food revolution ansd consumers are driving the change.

“There is nothing more satisfying to a restaurateur in being able to tell a customer all the produce they are eating is sourced locally,” he says. “More customers are demanding it anyway.”

More than that, the eateries, retail outlets and wholesalers who sign up to So.Lo.Cal are pitching the whole package. That means they are able to tell consumers a short pitch on the provenance of the company they are buying from, its ethical credentials and how it is investing in its local community.

“It’s good food but socially good food,” says McIness. “And it’s how it should be. Customers love the pitch. Feedback from retailers say customers want to find out more about the companies. It means consumers become loyal for all the right reasons – not just convenience. They want to support their communities too. There’s no better way than this.”

In Galloway, in the Scottish borders, the So.Lo.Cal. food revolution is even having an impact on the way dairy cattle are treated. David and Wilma Finlay, of Cream O'Galloway's Rainton Farm at Gatehouse of Fleet (pictured below), believe they are leading the way with "ethical" cheese. The couple use milk from cows whose calves are allowed to stay with them to suckle in - differing from traditional methods where calves are taken away at birth allowing farmers to take two or three daily milkings from the cow.

Part of the motivation behind the move, they say, has been to answer increasing criticisms from the public by "de-intensifying" dairy farming.

That is why they have decided to head in a direction that is “almost the opposite” of the rest of the industry.

“Our goal was to farm in a way that is resilient, ecologically sound and less stressful for the animals and the people working with them,” says David.

“So we're leaving the calves with their mothers to suckle.

“It means we take less milk from each cow but we're seeing real benefits from this approach - longer living, healthier cows, less antibiotic use, faster-growing calves and less purchased feed."

Wilma says she had never been happy with seeing calves removed from their mothers within a few hours of birth.

“Having married into farming rather than grown up with it, the stress this places on the cow was always very obvious to me and I was never comfortable with it,” she said.

“So we wanted to find a way to keep calves with the cows and still have a financially-viable farm.

“We don't want to have to choose between doing what's right and staying in business.”

It's a novel approach but it is actually how things were done years ago. Unfortunately fast food consumption and the availability of processed meals are driving intensive farming and disconnecting doesn't come easy or cheap. 

Gillian Rodger is attempting to change all that. She’s coordinator of the Slow Food Network Scotland, a national charity that’s part of a movement spanning 150 countries. It campaigns for a food system that is good, clean and fair believing everyone has the right to enjoy the pleasure of food that is good for them.

As such it promotes the rarest of pleasures: conviviality and the act of bringing not just food to the table but conversation and society too.  

“We’ve lost the art of food being a unifying factor between families and friends,” she tells me. “It’s not just about eating; it’s about getting together with those with whom you are closest, an excuse to just get together at the end of a day.

“Conversation and enjoyment of food is part of the whole healthy eating experience,” adds Rodger. “Food isn’t all about eating. It’s the preparation, the event, the company.”

For Rodger, fast food is akin to the antichrist, something that is not only killing ourselves but also our social interaction with one another. 

However in an attempt to reconnect Scotland with its natural larder, part of the the network's role is promoting our food heritage –  the forgotten staples that have long disappeared from our food chain such as the Shetland black potato, the Musselburgh leek and honey from the black bee.

“We want to draw attention to the products and the history behind them, inspiring people to take action to protect them and, of course, eat them,” says Rodger. “And by promoting this heritage we want to reconnect areas with their food sources, encouraging people to see what local produce in in their backyard.”  

For Perth restauranteur Jane Scholes, the pleasure of food and the act of eating is everything. Her eatery opens a pop-up restaurant once a month encouraging strangers to dine together, eating whatever is put down to them over a four hour period from 6pm-10pm. All produce is locally sourced, sustainable and the £20 entrance fee for the three course meal – with a glass of locally made bubbly – is donated to a different local charity each month.

“It’s my way of helping the community, promoting local food and promoting my own restaurant too,” she says. “It’s no crime in taking a bit of a kick-back from the good you’re doing. There has to be something in it for everyone. To me that’s what altruism is really about.”

We ate local and ethical for a year and it changed our lives

How the eat local revolution is gripping Scotland

Food fans Joe Mcdiarmid and Kelly Cannerson from Longniddry spent 2017 committed to an ethical eating seasonal challenge. It meant they would source locally, ethically and seasonally for the duration of the year.

With two young children they both initially balked at the challenge; that all changed even before January was over. “We bought into the whole concept, seeing it as a way to make ourselves healthy and more sustainable in our food intake,” says Kelly. “We expected it to cost more but it didn’t because we lowered our meat consumption as well as dairy. We no longer eat cheese or chicken and have totally outlawed processed foods. The challenge was a boon.”

Sourcing local meant getting in touch with local food charity Lochnivore and receiving fruit and vegetable boxes each week. Often they’d not know the contents but rarely did they go to waste.

It resulted in a series of firsts: first ever spiced pumpkin soup (now a firm family favourite); braised free range duck eggs in tomato and paprika; avocado cheesecake (“delicious” according to kids Jenna and Hanna); and piece de la resistance, oatmeal blueberry muffins with the fruits sourced from a grower in Glasgow’s Govan, of all places.    

Joe, who is the self-appointed cook of the house, says the challenge meant preparing more meals from scratch. But as a homeworker that’s something that can be done when he takes his lunchbreak.

“If I was to give any advice to others it would be to prepare thoroughly. You’ll quarter the amount of time at night it takes to feed the family. Get your mains cooked and frozen if need be then you just have to prep your vegetables each mealtime.”

So not only can the local challenge be achieved, it can also cut down your meat intake, make you more adventurous in the kitchen and bring families together.

“My advice is give it a go,” says Joe. “There’s a lot of satisfaction gained from knowing you’re eating proper food for all the right reasons.”

30th March 2018 by Gillian Rodger

Just a few corrections to the above -I coordinate Slow Food Youth Network Scotland, it is the Scottish group (soon to be a CIC) of the youth wing of Slow Food International and is not a charity - however Slow Food Scotland (for whom I am a trustee) is a charity.If you're interested in hearing more about Slow Food and the Ark of Taste (which is a Noah's Ark for food being lost from cultural memory) - please visit http://slowfoodscotland.com/