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Scottish Food Systems and Sustainability – LfSS Youth Network Project Update

Mon 27th August 2018 - LfS Scotland Updates

The Learning for Sustainability Scotland (LfSS) Youth Network recently supported the Royal Highland Education Trust to give a fantastic opportunity to five young people aged 20-30, to discover more about sustainability and the Scottish food system, and then to share that learning with people of all ages at the Royal Highland Show. In this blog the group – Freya, Gillian, Laura, Michael and Sam – share the story of the whole process, some of the key things they learned, and what they have taken away from the project.

Back on a rainy spring evening, a group of people met to talk about food. We were invited along by Sara Smith from the Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET) to take part in a Discover Food group as part of Young Scot’s Year of Young People 2018. We were from a range of backgrounds but all interested in learning more about food, particularly sustainable food production and what this currently looks like in Scotland. The aim of the group was to learn about a specific area of food production through presentations, workshops and farm visits, and then present this information at the Royal Highland Show at our very own stall in the RHET Discovery tent.

Food and sustainability

Food production is one of the world’s largest industries, with over 1 billion people working each day to engineer, grow, process, transport, market, cook, pack, sell or deliver food. The resources required to sustain this are vast: 50% of the planet’s habitable land and 70% of freshwater demand is taken up by agriculture.

The global food system is highly complex and interlinked; this is something that we continuously reflected on throughout the project. These interlinkages reach far beyond the food system itself, directly impacting many other important physical and social systems including climate, energy and water, as well as land use, biodiversity and culture. This interconnectivity means that potential multiplying effects are wide-ranging and inevitably compounding.

Focusing our project

In order to decide on a specific food topic that we wanted to learn more about, Sara presented us with a variety of food-related issues including food waste, nutrition and social justice. However, we choose to focus on exploring where are our food in Scotland really comes from. As the world’s population continues to grow, it’s increasingly important that we can provide enough healthy and delicious food without adversely impacting the environment and society. During this session, Sara presented us with lots of interesting food facts and we were certainly surprised by some of them, for example, Scotland is almost 200% self-sufficient in lamb but still we import 76% of this meat from New Zealand! We also began to realise that Scotland’s food system is inherently intertwined with many other countries’ systems; for example, cows may be reared in Scotland but they are fed on a finely-tuned diet of products from around the world. We thought this was interesting because it highlighted that although a product may appear sustainable, the process behind its production might actually be very unsustainable!

We also learnt that advertising can sometimes be misleading when it comes to food. For example, ‘Scotch Beef’ means that the cows were reared and slaughtered in Scotland whereas ‘Scottish Beef’ means that the cows were only slaughtered in Scotland. None of us were aware of this fact, and raised the question of how easy is it to buy local food, and how this is communicated to the general public? Most may not be fully aware of the terminology used in the advertising of products.

Visiting Scottish food producers 

Once we had decided on our group focus, Sara very kindly organised a series of local farm visits so we could talk directly with farmers about their practices and industry.

  • Firstly, we visited Milk 2 Go Dairy Farm to learn about the process used in dairy farming and the requirements of keeping a large herd of cows. We heard from farmer Ronald Pollock about the extensive milking schedule of the cows, their specific diet required to keep them in prime, milk-producing condition, and the issues around the supermarket supply and pricing.
  • We then visited Karen Campbell at Glenrath Eggs, which is one of the UK’s leading egg production and marketing companies, producing over a million eggs a day. The farm produces free range, organic, barn and enriched colony eggs, all of which are compliant with UK and EU assurance schemes including Lion Quality, British Retail Consortium and RSPCA Assured.
  • Finally, we went to Mungoswells Malt & Milling, where we met Angus McDowall and Alison Campbell. The mill grows its own barley and wheat in order to convert it to malt ready for brewers and distillers to make beer and whisky, as well as mill the wheat to produce flour. Overall, they produce 14 types of flour, made entirely from wheat grown in East Lothian.

The farm visits enabled us to hear from the industry professionals directly about their individual sectors and some of the concerns they have about our food system. It also became clear that producing local and sustainable food on a large-scale profitably is a difficult task. These visits highlighted to us that the demand on food producers is huge and ever-increasing. In order to make sustainable food available and accessible to all, our food system needs to change. This is highly relevant as the Scottish Government plans to consult on the Good Food Nation Bill, hopefully sometime in the next year. This legislation has the potential to be make a significant impact across multiple work areas, such as the environment, health and agriculture.

Tasty tatty techniques

Finally, Sara organised a practical cooking session at the Kilted Lobster in Stockbridge to learn about all the different ways you can use potatoes. This is a product that is widely grown in Scotland so we thought it would be useful to be able to show people at the Royal Highland Show what you can do with just a simple ingredient. Colin from the Kilted Lobster taught us about different methods for cooking potatoes including gnocchi, potato rostis and purple mash. It was great to learn about the exciting and nutritious ways you can prepare a simple ingredient. We also heard about how the projects they are involved with benefit the local community.

Engaging others at the Royal Highland Show

Following on from these sessions, the five of us created a stall for the Royal Highland Show to engage people with the things we had learnt about our food system and highlight the need for change. We wanted it to be fun for all ages, but also educational with people taking away some new facts just like we had from the project.

There were different elements to our stall including:

  • Make-your-own tattie pop (potato twist on a stick)
  • Taste test between shop-bought and home-made bread
  • Information stand with fun facts, quotes and pictures from the field trips
  • Guess the biggest world producer of milk, beef and eggs in a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey style activity

Overall, the stall was a great success and we engaged with a huge number of school groups and families across the four days of the Royal Highland Show.

It was a great experience from creating the stall, to meeting so many people interested in our work, as well as all our ‘problem solving’ during the Highland Show with the collapse of our home-made loaves, and some interesting questions from visitors!

Project reflections

We all really enjoyed taking part in the Discover Food group, and appreciate all the help and support from Sara, the RHET volunteers, Colin from the Kilted Lobster and who hosted our visits.

The whole team now consciously consumes the food they eat, and will continue to educate themselves and others on the extensive and complex systems behind the food production process.

The Discover Food Team