Denise, with Mike Small of the Fife Diet was invited to set-the-scene for the public lecture delivered by Carlo Petrini Founder of Slow Food International, ‘Thought for Food: Carlo Petrini on Cultivating a Positive Food Culture in Scotland’ yesterday evening in the Hawthornden Lecture Theatre at the Scottish National Gallery. She was asked to offer insights into the Scottish Food Scene and where she thought we have the best chance of making progress. Here is the essence of her delivery extracted from her rough notes !
“We took the decision very early on to diversify our organic farm business at Peelham into added value on-farm food production from our livestock and to become price-makers not price-takers. Farming is a price-taking industry which puts it in a vulnerable position in terms of its market. For the last 15 years we have been working to avoid this vulnerability and to gaining greater control of our market through Farmers Markets, working closely with chefs and more latterly on-line. As farmer – food producers we engage directly with our customers. We are directly accountable back to the animal for every piece of meat or charcuterie which leaves the farm for a market stall or restaurant kitchen and to the end-user. I am directly communicating with hundreds of individuals each week over our market stall and over the phone. There has been a definate broadening in the demographic of those attending famers markets in the last 15 years to a more diverse customer base. Though this will be a very small sector of the public, I would like to offer some ‘grass-roots whisperings’ of what I have observed and witnessed in this time.
I have three broad customer types: those who know what they want, those who are simply curios, and those who just dont know but have come because they feel the need either for health, environmental or moral reasons. In the last 3 years there has been a very definate growth to our stalls in the number of people who have come for health reasons, mostly gluten intolerances. Every market I will have 5 – 6 new individuals who have an intolerance or who know of some with an intolerance. The descriptions of their relationship with food is of a battleground. What an utter travesty, that food which should be sustaining us has become so allergenic that it hurts us. What these customers are seeking more and more is organic gluten and additive free sausages, grass-fed red meat (particularly beef), beef bones, beef broth and pork lard. Chefs are also reflecting these changes.
Travelling the food landscape now is more ‘flowing’, and less ‘resisting’; The possibilities are huge. So what can we do about it ? What can you do about it ? You can make choices. Every week I see people making choices sometimes for the first time to buy meat direct and to buy responsibly. Make the choice to get behind what Carlo referred to earlier today as “The slow, sweet, Scottish food revolution” to make food more believable. Bring food back into the family and in from the cold….keep talking about the food revolution, engage with it, enjoy it, share it !
This is how we begin to make the change. And this is not being naive about the incredible challenge of moving away from our reputation as ‘A Bad Food Nation’ on the journey to becoming a ‘Good Food Nation’. 80% of Scotlands Gross Value Added in Food and Drink Manufacturing are beverages and bakery… 80% !! Only 1% are vegetables and 5% are meat. This is gallons of Iron Bru, hard liquer and beer and tons of shortbread, Tunnocks and pastries. What we are doing right here right now in this lecture theatre is Good Food Nation ‘stuff’; What the economy of our country is doing is Bad Food Nation ‘stuff’. The journey is to reconcile this difference.
And en route, we absolutely have to make good, nutritious and enjoyable food accessible to where it is desperately needed; in low income families whose lives are dominated by deprivation, hopelessness and helplessness …. no rose tinted glasses here. This is the sector of society which is most resistant to change. And while there is a disconnect between people, food and land – so there is disconnect with our bodies. Our bodies are crying out with the levels of obesity, diabetes and malnourishment. Why aren’t we hearing ? The first Slow Food is breast milk. In Scotland we dont do breast feeding ! We have one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. This is depriving our babies and children of the optimum nutrition and self-regulation of appetite important in the prevention of obesity. As livestock farmers we spend many patient hours making sure our calves and lambs get their mothers milk and colostrum so crucial to ongoing health ! It is no irony that formula feeding of babies increases sharply with levels of deprivation.
If any movement can nurture the change to a Good Food Nation it is Slow Food with its rallying cry of ‘Good, Clean and Fair’ “.