Shopping: A Breath of Fresh Air & the Whiff of the Food!

basket of brassicas

We grow vegetables in our little kitchen garden but we are also most definitely thankful for our local farm shops! Currently our lives consist of collecting a dairy order and vegetables, our freezer keeping our spirits up with a good supply of meats direct from farms. Chatting over the brassicas, as you do, it was interesting to hear that those who frequent farm shops often also grow their own and appreciate carrots tasting like they did in granny’s day! Thoughts then turned to those who are not used to cooking 365 days a year – and let’s face it we are almost at the year mark now. I know my non-cook friends are itching to get out so when the time eventually comes, restaurants should be popular…but surviving in the meantime is a nightmare for them so let’s keep supporting their food-to-go. In doing so we are also supporting their suppliers, oftimes family farms and small-scale producers, so vital to our Scottish economy.

Meanwhile supermarkets are posting increased profits, still gaining much of the market share, yet reports of inconsistent standards of social distancing and mask-wearing are met with very little action. On the other hand, farmers’ markets, out in fresh air, spaced widely apart and selling unprocessed healthy food, are getting it in the neck!! 

Markets are the soul of a nation, the produce of a place, the growers and the cooks – healthy food at its best with short supply chains and no pesticides or airmiles. Like us, many wish to avoid supermarkets and their options are being limited further by a vocal minority. Granted a car is frequently involved in a trip to market but that is an unremitting aspect of modern rural life, a necessity whether it is to a supermarket or a super farmers’ market. Neighbourfood and farm shops are also doing sterling work looking after their customers, be it click&collect or local deliveries Chefs too are pulling out the stops in their neighbourhood.

Look out for our fabulous new Scottish Farm Shop window stickers

Meanwhile Defra and Wrap are launching a campaign on food waste – “Look, Smell, Taste, Don’t Waste.”  My immediate thought was ‘what a minefield that will be!’ In this topsy turvy world of dysfunctional food messages are we now to sniff a yoghurt, assess the hairy bread and taste the liver pate?  To make such judgements, consumers need more knowledge at a time when less is being taught in schools.

Every day’s a school day! [all graphics by my dad]

Pathogenic bacteria are generally invisible and do not smell when creating havoc. Food spoilage bacteria are the visible ones that, depending on the food, can sometimes be scraped away. Trimming a hard cheese is one thing but food-borne pathogens need very few bacteria to contaminate a moist product. No offence to our wonderful homes but, unlike commercial kitchens and food production units (all regularly inspected), which of us has a totally clear conscience at home where there may be pets and children running to and fro, back doors ajar, remote controls or other stray items of domestic bliss lying on kitchen counters capable of causing cross contamination? Does everyone have a temperature probe to check their reheated food has reached 82°C or label and date everything in their freezer?

I am not against reducing food waste – far from it, as it is a disgrace on so many levels. Living in the country, the bin lorry collects our landfill from the end of the lane, up a steep hill but we dispatch no food waste. It goes in the compost and it takes a year to fill – even when busy unlike now. Like most cooks who shop local, our wrapping is reduced and food waste is peelings and bones, not ‘wasted food.’ But this requires knowledge and planning – when to make that heel of loaf into crumbs; when to grate that hard wedge of cheese and make sauce; when to cook off tired vegetables in readiness for a good meal tomorrow. These skills aren’t rocket science but are essential, giving health to body and bank account. Cheap food from supermarkets, promoting multi-packs and bogof’s, is the main culprit behind these food waste statistics.

Best Before has always been about the condition of food – soft biscuits, wizened apples, stale dried goods – and can be seen as a flexible date, a time to ‘use it up’ and no harm done if it lies longer, suitably stored. Use By on the other hand is there for a reason for highly perishable foods. Granted there is a tolerance on all dates by law but how has it been stored? When was your fridge temperature last checked? Is the food lid still sealed or is air getting in? That is why they build in these tolerances.

I am taking random culinary calls from friends with successful careers in highly skilled jobs, now home-schooling and remote-working, asking ‘can I freeze chicken?’ ‘do I wash turkey?’ ‘how do I cook fish?’ I am only too delighted to help but we have become so distanced from our food production I am desperate for this know-how to be taught again in schools.

freshly caught mackerel

These same conglomerates that wish us to take responsibility, to sniff mass-produced quiche and chicken, would, in the next breath, no doubt question the fabulously fragrant artisan cheese we adore or the deeply gamey mutton we demolish with such satisfaction. These have aromas we applaud and are safe food choices we thrive on. I am all for NO FOOD WASTE but it has to be with knowledge, planning, proportionality and common sense – and I think, with respect, some have a way to go and may digest the cavalier statements of this initiative with unintentional consequences.

Last but by no means least, if you would like to read about the origins of the haggis, Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin Race do read on here… The Haggis

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