Sustainable Food Cities

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Was on holiday for this event but a nice round -up for me here.
Also see this link to the storify of the social media activity during the day – https://storify.com/SoilAssocScot/sustainable-food-cities-and-food-for-life-scotland

Tuggy Tucks In

Seasonal produce table dressings

On Friday 6th November I was fortunate enough to be invited to Edinburgh’s sustainable food cities event which brought together policy makers, councillors, representatives from local authorities, the public, private and third sector from all over the UK, all with a vested interest in making food sustainable.

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Fair Food in Scotland by Nourish Scotland

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See here – http://fairer.scot/2015/09/11/fair-food-in-scotland/Scottish produce.

Scotland creates and exports some of the finest produce in the world.

Food in Scotland is often described as a paradox.We produce some of the finest produce in the world, and our grain, fish and dairy products are exported across the globe.

The industry is often cited as a success story, yet despite producing this bounty, many people in Scotland are unable to access sufficient food to feed themselves and their families.

In addition, our levels of diet-related ill health and obesity continue to rise.

Time for fairness with food
While the industry secures many vital jobs, especially in our remote rural areas, many farmers are struggling financially. And many people employed in agriculture, manufacturing and hospitality work long hours and are poorly paid.

Scottish produce on a table.
The industry is often cited as a success story, yet despite producing this bounty, many people in Scotland are unable to access sufficient food.

In addition, current agricultural practices contribute to our carbon emissions and can threaten our biodiversity.This doesn’t seem very fair. Nourish wants to see:

  • more fairness in our food system: for our families, our farmers, our workers and our planet
  • a transformation in how we grow, make, eat and access our food
  • Scotland produce more of what we eat and eat more of what we produce.

We believe that everyone has the right to sufficient, safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food.

Food is more than calories, profit margins and quotas: our food system and our food culture surrounding it could, and should, enhance our environment and people’s lives.

We believe that our farmers, producers and people who work with food have a right to a fair wage and to be treated with dignity and respect.

And we believe that it is possible to produce our food while looking after our environment and promoting animal welfare.

Ending hunger and achieving ‘food security’
The Scottish Government has become an early signatory to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 2 commits the Scottish Government to taking action to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. We fully support this goal.

But how can we make sure this commitment will become a reality and not remain an empty promise?

Food stall in market.
We believe that our farmers, producers and people who work with food have a right to a fair wage and to be treated with dignity and respect.
  • We need a meaningful national minimum wage, which reflects the true cost of living, so we can all afford to pay the bills and to feed ourselves. This should be underpinned by a benefit system that provides an adequate safety net, linked with advice services that can address specific needs.
  • We want to see continued investment in the grass-roots projects that help people grow, access, and cook food.
  • We want to see more development of our community food sector; perhaps by creating community food hubs that can join up food related work in an area and provide these services.
  • We want to increase our skill levels, providing training and development for people working with food and stimulating new food based start-ups, especially ones that deliver sustainably produced, healthy food.
  • We need to invest in – and reward – greener agriculture, reducing nitrate use and lowering carbon emissions.
  • Finally we need to invest in our supply chains, connecting producers with consumers, giving them the ability to develop local markets, and allowing consumers to buy locally and support their local businesses and local economy.
Nourish social media details.
Support good, clean, fair food – get involved on the Nourish website.

Producing our food is not just about inputs and outputs, it impacts on all of us.It can help deliver stronger communities, increased economic growth, environmental protection and a healthier diet – elements vital to any vision of a Fairer Scotland.

But it will only happen if our policy makers join the dots.

Tracey Reilly (Policy Manager, Nourish Scotland)

GM Ban: Both sides of the argument

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From The National – 19th August

Pete Ritchie: Empowering farmers rather than GM is best way to feed the world

THERE’S been a predictable chorus of protest from pro-GM scientists in Scotland and beyond at the Scottish Government’s decision to convert the moratorium on growing GM crops into a ban.

Nourish Scotland supports the ban, and here’s why. GM technology, and the way it has been applied over the last few decades, has over-promised.

It has over-promised in the claims it has made about how this technology will ‘feed the world’ or ‘reduce pesticide use’.

There are still 800 million people going hungry in the world, because they cannot afford to buy food, not because there isn’t enough food to go round.

Most of the world’s cereal crop goes to feed animals or make biofuel rather than feed people directly.

The best way to feed the world is to empower small farmers, especially women, with credit, storage, diverse local seeds, routes to market and techniques for working with nature and looking after the soil.

Small farms are more productive per acre than large ones, just as a well-kept garden or allotment is more productive per acre than a farm.

Of course it has delivered revenue and profits to agribusiness – bundling seeds up in a package with glyphosate has led to a four-fold increase in glyphosate use in the last 20 years. About 45 per cent of this is on GM crops, which are grown on about 12 per cent of the world’s cropland.

We now use 100g per person each year – and it doesn’t just vanish like fairy dust – it’s detectable in our food and our bodies. The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently categorised glyphosate as ‘probably carcinogenic’.

We are used to regular announcements about the next GM breakthrough providing the technical solution to a perceived food problem. This week, we’ve heard about inserting genes from algae into camellina plants so they produce more fatty acids to feed farmed fish.

Given Scotland’s superabundance of water, we could instead grow the algae (which is where fish naturally get their fatty acids from in the first place).

And we’ve heard about the GM blight-resistant potato: but it’s unlikely to get shelf space in the supermarket among the dozens of blight resistant potatoes already on the market.

WE’VE heard less about the GM wheat which failed to repel aphids, while the conventionally bred superwheat from the National Institute of Agricultural Botany could significantly increase yields.

But the Scottish Government decision is scientific in a much broader sense than “does this particular technology work within a limited frame of reference”.

Instead, it takes a much broader look at the evidence. Does the Scottish and UK public want to eat GM food? No, by a majority of 4:1 – so there’s no local market. Do our export markets want GM whisky, GM seed potatoes or GM salmon? No. Is there a competitive advantage to marketing Scottish produce worldwide as GM-free? Yes. Could Scottish farmers adapt in 10 or 20 years’ time to growing GM crops if the technology was open source and there were universally accepted environmental and commercial benefits? Yes. For now, is GM in Scotland a hammer in want of a nail?

Pete Ritchie is Director of Nourish Scotland


Colin McInnes: ‘We should embrace key new technologies not prohibit them’ 

EXACTLY 250 years ago James Watt invented the separate steam condenser while ambling through Glasgow Green. His quite brilliant insight led to a three-fold improvement in the efficiency of steam power, arguably pushing industrialising Britain 60 years into the future.

But in contrast to Watt’s free-thinking inventiveness, we now seem to have lost our way. Scotland has a de facto ban on new nuclear power, a moratorium on shale gas extraction and now a clear prohibition on the planting of GM crops. For a nation that was at the forefront of the 18th century rationalist enlightenment, we now seem curiously unable to grapple with some key technologies for the 21st century.

While technologies such as nuclear power, shale gas extraction and genetic modification exist, it does not of course mean that we need to use them. However, we do need to conduct public debate based on that rationalist world-view which Scotland was so instrumental in creating.

For example, as an argument against nuclear power in Scotland it’s claimed that nuclear is not low carbon and is no cleaner than gas. Not the case; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who we apparently trust on climate agree that it’s a key technology for de-carbonisation.

Similarly, anti-fracking campaign posters invariably show drilling just below a shallow water table rather than in deep shale bedrock; the intent is clearly to spread fear and doubt. And on GM it’s interesting to note that the scientific consensus on safety is apparently stronger than that on human-driven climate change, yet we deny the former and accept the latter.

Instead of prohibiting key technologies, with vision Scotland could embrace

and re-shape them for the future; inventiveness with Scottish characteristics if you will. Here’s some idle speculation.

As an alternative to the huge new nuclear plants planned in the south we could be pioneers of small, modular plants using so-called 4th generation technologies. For example, the PRISM reactor consumes rather than produces waste and could have been a bold solution to utilise the spent fuel left over from Dounreay’s closure, generating low carbon electricity for years to come.

SIMILARLY, rather than railing against shale gas extraction, we could be pioneers of novel, emerging technologies such as water-less fracking and pulse plasma methods which dispense entirely with the need for chemical agents.

We also need to be honest with ourselves that natural gas will be needed for years to come, including as an industrial feedstock for plastics production at Grangemouth, if not to fuel gas power plants which are essential to load-balance intermittent wind power.

Lastly, rather than simply prohibiting GM agriculture, with vision we could invest heavily in GM research but open-source the results of field trials in Scotland. We could be leaders in the development of a global GM Wikipedia that puts new technology into public rather than private hands. This should be one for enthusiasts of a networked post-capitalist society.

In Gulliver’s Travels the satirist Jonathan Swift writes: “Whosoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.” Following the recent GM ban Swift’s words are perhaps even more relevant today than when he put pen to paper in 1726.

Rather than recoiling from key technologies, we need bold ideas to re-shape them for the future; a future imprinted with a progressive, enlightened world view.

Colin McInnes is James Watt Chair, Professor of Engineering Science at the  University of Glasgow

Public food: are you a valued guest in the kitchen of the state?

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My reflections on public food after attending the Nourish Food Leadership Programme, part of a series of blogs my participants – see more here.

In July I took part in the inaugural Food Leadership Programme run by Nourish. It was a fascinating, invigorating and exhausting week, during which we analysed many facets of our complex food system, digging deeper than I ever have before into the barriers and solutions that we are presented with in regard to food in our modern world.

Throughout the week we were presented with two different worldviews; one which is currently dominating the food system – ‘food as a commodity’ and one which is beginning to emerge and that we hope to champion – ‘food for people (and planet)’.

Probably partly due to my work with Soil Association Scotland on the Catering Mark[1], myself, and others on the course, began to think about these two worldviews in terms of public food. Having begun working with public sector organisations through the Catering Mark only recently, the programme provided a timely exploration of the current system of food provision in the public realm.

One of the many activities during the course was a skype session with food innovators from across the globe. One of these innovators was Anya Hultberg of the House of Food[2] in Copenhagen. This is a really exciting example of a city-led initiative to improve public food that was spearheaded by the City of Copenhagen itself. Started in 2007, it aims to improve the quality of meals offered by the City of Copenhagen to its citizens and to create a healthy, happy and sustainable public food culture.

The House of Food has become a vehicle for change, facilitating projects, providing consultancy, courses, training and communicating – all in the area of public meals. They have many years of experience in organic conversion of public kitchens, and in facilitating the process towards better public food, acting as agents of change on the kitchen floors of public kitchens across Denmark.

However, this isn’t something that happened overnight and Anya’s description of the House of Food and of the challenges they faced and the way they work, provided an inspiring example of change in public food. Anya described regular suggestions that their work be cut back to save money and consequently focussed a lot of energy into bringing politicians into kitchens to show them the unquestionable value of the work. She described difficulties in overcoming the automatic stigma and defensiveness encountered when suggesting a need for training, and emphasised the importance of allowing for peoples’ different interests and skills to be kindled. Local sourcing was mentioned as a continuing difficulty due to EU procurement regulations and Anya called for greater collaboration across Europe on this issue. Whilst challenges such as these of course exist, the House of Food gave us a flavour of the vision we have for food in the public realm in Scotland.

Perhaps partly as a consequence of this conversation, we collectively identified ‘public food’ as an area of strategic importance, and something we all, in our different ways and sectors of the food system, should focus our efforts on as ‘food leaders’.

Towards the end of the week, we began to prepare for a presentation that would sum up (if possible!) our learning from the course, covering all major areas we had identified to focus on, including public food. In order to represent the current state of some areas of public food provision, we researched and came up with statements relevant to four different areas of the human life course where public food is currently provided. These statements were designed to be shocking and to make people think, but that doesn’t make them any less true.

The statements are listed below.

Schools

24 – 35% of school lunches are thrown in the bin

Why is adult onset diabetes rising in children?

Teaching shouldn’t be about managing the effects of sugar consumption

Workplaces

Food is seen only as a means to greater productivity

When is an hour not an hour? When it’s your lunch hour

When was the last time you ate with a colleague?

Hospitals

How is it possible for people to leave hospital sicker than when they were admitted?

Poor diet is related to 30% of life years lost in early death and disability

Hospitals don’t see food as medicine

Care homes

1000s of people in care homes are at nutritional risk

Malnutrition is estimated to cost the UK £7.3 billion per year

Are we giving enough consideration to the nutritional needs of the elderly?

FLP blog

Public food in Scotland should be explicitly for the people. It should be fairer, healthier and better quality. We shouldn’t be faced with these questions and facts.

There is an ever increasing urgency to enact change in all areas of public food – across the life course – ensuring public food represents public values and existing only to benefit people, rather than pockets.

All too often, however, procurement and financial barriers are cited by way of explanation of the current system of public food provision – and certainly they are very real barriers – but is this the reason we would give our children for the obesity crisis? Is our health worth so little to our government? Shouldn’t food nourish people in the long term and not just fuel them in the short term? Steps need to be taken (and it is possible to do so) to generate a new outlook on public food. New forms of hospitality need to be developed at all levels of society and our governments, the public food provider, should be leading the way.

There is growing public awareness of the food we eat and more people want reassurance that their food is healthy (i.e. not containing probable carcinogens like glyphosate[3]), that their food is good for the environment (i.e. not flown for miles around the world), that their food comes from happy animals[4]. Government, local government and health boards need to prioritise food as a key area in budget decisions – food is essential not marginal. Food should have strategic importance due to its wider impact on society so schools and hospitals shouldn’t be forced to operate on budgets which don’t take into account the true cost of food. Food provision should be given the same precedence as medicinal provision – in budgetary and procurement terms – why not?

The idyll of a local farm supplying a local school is admittedly hugely complex, but surely that is no reason not to work towards a better system of public food provision. A system that allows for farm-school interaction and supply should be championed and facilitated.

Throughout the Food Leadership Programme we explored food as a vehicle for social change. Within this, public food is just one avenue of endeavour – but what an impact it could have.

The definition of the adjective ‘public’ is “of or concerning the people as a whole” – and that is our mantra – food for people. Food as a commodity no longer has a place in our public sector food. As in Copenhagen, we would like to be welcomed and valued guests in the kitchen of the state.

[1] http://www.sacert.org/catering

[2] http://en.kbhmadhus.dk/

[3] http://www.soilassociation.org/notinourbread

[4] The Grocer article

Catering & organics – learning from Denmark

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Would love to write this up into a fuller blog post soon but for now a collection of useful and interesting links to refer back to, regarding Denmark’s approach to organics in/and the catering sector.

Organic labelling for catering

Towards 100% organic

Organic Action Plan for Denmark

Organic Denmark – NGO

Copenhagen House of Food  (interview with Anya Hultberg by Lesley Riddoch here)

Danish organic chicken

Soil Association case study – Organic policy – learning from Denmark