Earlier this month, I had the pleasure to visit the Cyrenians Fair Share food depot in Leith. There. The charity is doing brilliant with their cooking classes, where people learn new skills, build confidence and get together to share and enjoy food.
The Cyrenians are just one of the many organisations around Scotland who are working to try and give people access to better, more nutritious food. I believe we need a radical rethink of Scotland’s food system to make sure quality food is available to all of us.
Last week, I led a debate on the right to food in Scotland in the parliament. You can read my full speech below.
Meeting of the Parliament 17 March 2016
I welcome the opportunity to debate in Parliament Scotland’s food future, and I thank colleagues who have made that possible by supporting my motion.
My motion highlights the work of the Scottish food coalition and its report “PLENTY: Food, Farming and Health in a New Scotland”. The coalition is made up of several organisations whose contribution to improving the health and wellbeing of people in Scotland is widely recognised, and deservedly so. The report is a landmark report that should be discussed far and wide, and steps should be taken to implement it. It begins with the statement:
“We have plenty of land in Scotland, and plenty of sea, and plenty of skilled people, scientists and innovators. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have plenty of good food for everyone.”
It is absolutely the case that, as the report states,
“At the moment, our food system is characterised by inequalities and exploitation.”
Given the importance of food—it really is one of the few things that we cannot live without—our food system should be founded on the principles of social and environmental justice. A food system that is founded on those principles would enable us to address inequality, climate change, declining wildlife, animal welfare and poor health.
Some people may be of the view that business as usual is “Just grand, thank you very much”, but if we are what we eat, many people in Scotland are clearly not eating well. In a country with
“plenty of land … and … sea”,
why is that the case? Why are 65 per cent of people in Scotland overweight or obese, and why is it that in 2014-15 almost 120,000 people required emergency food aid and almost a third of those were children? That reliance on food aid exists in a country that rightly celebrates its food and drink sector. However, the focus is very much export based, with much ado about whisky and salmon—despite the environmental damage that fish farms create in Scotland—to boost the profits of companies, many of which are based outside Scotland. I would like to see more focus on an agroecology approach and more investment in growing our organic sector.
Fifteen per cent of Scottish households do not own cutlery. Such is the concern about our food culture, which is impacting terribly on our health, that leading consultants have coined the new term “diabesity”, which reflects the relationship between obesity and diabetes. That epidemic, which has a global reach and impact, also has a very local one. It costs health and happiness and, like demographic change and population increase, puts our national health service budget under increasing pressure.
Corporations can and do make huge profits from dominating the food market, often with unhealthy food and unsustainable ways of growing and producing the food that we eat. However, the public purse pays for the pollution and ill health. Lobbying at the highest levels of Government has created the perverse logic that is needed for our leaders to think that international deals such as the transatlantic trade and investment partnership deal are a good idea for our food system.
It does not have to be that way. We are all aware of amazing projects in our communities; there is in the Lothians region a fantastic collection of those projects and community energy, which connect people to Scotland’s true food future. Community gardeners are taking over Granton’s street corners to create mini gardens, vegetable plots and communal meals. The Broomhouse Health Strategy Group and the Pilton Community Health Project work with people on budgeting, cooking skills, getting them more active in their daily lives and much more. Leith Community Crops in Pots is building a more rural feeling from concrete patches in Leith. We can grow almost anywhere. The Cyrenians at the Royal Edinburgh hospital and its Leith FareShare depot and kitchen are doing an excellent job helping people to learn to cook, enjoy food together and appreciate all the wondrous things that food can do.
Musselburgh Transition Toun is another example. It is working wonders with a wee community garden by the river. Edinburgh Community Food is building a network across the city, and many other groups are doing fantastic jobs providing emergency food relief. I want to mention two of them: Transition Edinburgh South and the wonderful walled garden at Gracemount. There are undoubtedly many more that I have failed to mention, and they are all working wonders.
Food should help us to grow and to get well when we are not well; it should make us feel good. Really nutritious food helps us to keep well and gives us the ability to deal with busy lives, no matter how old we are. It gives us personal resilience. Local food networks are vital to the development of resilience at community level. We need to think about the future and about our ability to produce the food that we need closer to home.
In yesterday’s stage 3 proceedings on the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, I spoke about the situation of the smallholder Jim Telfer, who is a tenant farmer who fears losing both the land that he rents and his livelihood, because his land is where the film studio that was discussed at First Minister’s question time, which is the subject of a speculative proposal, would be located. Is his farm on poor-quality land? No—it is on prime agricultural land. I hope that that will be recognised and valued, and that the film studio will be built elsewhere. Cumbernauld has been discussed as a possible location, but Shawfair, which is nearby, has excellent transport links and a school that focuses on the creative industries. Members of the local Damhead community have rallied round Jim and have campaigned hard. The vision that they have for the land where they live is for it to be formally recognised as Edinburgh’s food belt. We need to think about the idea of urban crofts. Green-belt land has never faced such development pressures, but we need to think about where the food that citizens within and outwith Edinburgh’s green belt eat comes from.
The food belt is a compelling idea—it represents a much better way of thinking about the value of our green belt and its benefits. Land in the food belt is a way of connecting us to our food. Land here could have many more local businesses providing employment to people in cities and in more rural areas. For too many people, the green belt is a patch of land that they commute through without giving it much thought. We can rethink that land.
I hope that the minister understands not just the power of ideas, but the power of money. Yesterday, I learned that the funding that allowed the Scottish food coalition to form has been cut—in fact, it has been completely removed: Nourish Scotland’s funding has gone from £90,000 to nothing.
Nourish Scotland would like to tender for work, but it turns out that the only tender that is available to it is one that wraps up a massive amount of work on local food in a £3 million contract, which is inappropriate for small and medium-sized enterprise bidders.
I congratulate and thank all those who are working to make us a better food nation, from our school dinner ladies to the Soil Association. Let us make sure that we are not just a well fed but a properly nourished population.
I would be grateful if the cabinet secretary could address the funding situation that I outlined when he closes the debate.