This morning brings a new layer of chaos as we approach Christmas. What will historians write in years to come? What will I be writing in weeks to come? I am going to stick with food systems and families today.
Don’t get me wrong: I am delighted to buy an Amalfi lemon or Västerbotten cheese, Norwegian dried reindeer or Swedish knäckebröd but look around our kitchen on any day and I challenge you to find a dozen ingredients that are imported! We support and celebrate friends and family who connect with their roots and import foods from family olive groves or vineyards, their friend’s cheese or source from a small producer they admire. We relish the international exchange of knowledge and flavours from our Slow Food kinfolk.
But we deplore the mass industrialisation of our food system, as I think most of you do too if you are still reading this. Fuel guzzling flights filled with soft fruits that taste better grown in Scotland; shiploads of one species of banana with genetics that may crash at any moment and cheap chicken abhorrently produced with lower welfare standards on the far side of the world – that was because some scientists in the 80’s told us white meat was the way to go and so the intensively reared poultry market exploded! At that time animal fats in red meats and dairy produce were being besmirched as the root of all evil. White meats would be our saviour and meanwhile sucrose slipped in the back door as a flavour enhancer, preservative and overall cheap ingredient…look over here and you won’t see the sugar in our diet over there. Big business strategy in a nutshell.
Now we are about to embark on Veganuary again with headliners extolling an ultra-processed diet of fake food! I can be creative with a carrot or lavish with leeks but any vegan dish we eat will be local and seasonal, with every ingredient recognisable by my grandmother! What will it take for some to see sense: that imported ‘developed’ legume, nut and oil based products from deforested lands or vast monocultures are just wrong? That more species are destroyed by such practises than by traditional mixed farming and that the strongest force for good for Mother Earth is farming with nature and with ruminants. Not feedlots but pasture grazing.
Covid has exposed many dysfunctional aspects of our food system – and not just the 3-t’s of toilet rolls, teabags and tins! Thankfully Scotland’s cheesemakers, grocers, butchers, bakers, fishmongers and farmshops have been there for us and must continue to be supported, always… but many Scots still rely too heavily on supermarkets and whilst they may create jobs, they are largely in the business of profit for their shareholders whilst money spent in local independent businesses goes direct to your community and will in turn bring about more local employment. You’ve heard it all before but we need to keep shouting it!
And now we have our Scottish shellfish rotting near Dover, trapped in a maelstrom of food systems, Brexit and Covid! What a mess and I feel for them. Many years ago I went on a family holiday to a beautiful wee fishing village in Portugal. We stayed in rooms above a rustic seafood bistro and ate shellfish every night, Scottish shellfish in the main we were told! Consumed with a mix of national pride and confusion at the surrealism of it all, we tucked in. On a visit more recently to Pittenweem, we watched divers landing spoots, all destined for the continent. They kindly gave us a few and refused payment, saying they were pleased a Scot was interested and prepared to eat them. We had a super meal that night! So I wonder where his spoots are today? We Scots need to appreciate our native land and sea, enjoy more of our own produce, teach young ones to cook them in schools, pass on our knowledge and support our food producers.
Today, Dec 22nd we see a huge ro-ro ferry arriving at Rosyth from Southamption. This may be a positive sign of action for our exports? Ferries from Scotland to the continent would certainly get our vote.
No man is an island and whether we are a small family unit or a large diaspora, families come in different shapes and forms. Some are creating ‘family’ bubbles with neighbours or communities with common bonds, there for the lonely, feeding those that are struggling. Many of you reading this, I know, have gone that extra mile for those in your community at your own expense. Covid has shown the goodness in many, and shame on those who take unfair opportunities to score points on social media and the like when so many are fighting for their lives and/or their livelihoods. Like us, many of you will not be with your families this Christmas and thanks to the internet we can at least see each other but that same system that brings us contact with loved ones should not be over-relied upon to bring food around the planet. We need plans B, C & D based on local food production for food security – on real farms not those fake ones on supermarket packets – grown, fished, cooked with passion and savoured convivially round a table. Eat well, eat sustainably, stay safe x
Festive greetings from Wendy & Bosse