Scotland’s Food Programme

What does everyone know about Scottish food?

It’s the haggis. And the whisky. And the deep fried Mars bars.

Scots eat unhealthy food, get drunk, and our iconic national dish is made of the bits of the sheep that you’d have needed to be drunk and hungry to think worth eating.

So one of the Scottish finalists in the BBC Food Programme is almost too ideally Scottish: the Kilchoman Distillery, Isle of Islay:

a company that has taken distilling back to its roots by setting up on a farm, growing its own barley, malting it and producing the whiskey all on-site. The nomination said. “This whisky has already gathered a keen following worldwide and it’s a family business likely to be handed down for generations.”

Sunset at Saligo Bay, Isle of Islay

In the Guild of Food WritersDerek Cooper Award for Campaigning and Investigative Food Writing and Broadcasting, the three finalists are the entirely necessary Real Bread Campaign and hero of the NHS Mike Duckett.

Real Bread

But the third finalist is Martha Payne: the schoolgirl from Argyll who’s raised £115,642.70 for Mary’s Meals with her blog Never Seconds, and got people talking all over the world about school dinners – partly assisted by the dog’s breakfast the local council made of it.

Mary's Meals - a school in Malawi

(If you’re in Edinburgh, on 10th OctoberWorld Porridge Day – the Edinburgh Festival of Spirituality and Peace is celebrating with a World Porridge Day Stall for Mary’s Meals under the mural at St Johns on Princes Street, from 8am til 1pm (or whenever the porridge runs out): for peace, wisdom, and respect in diverse community, with free porridge and inspirational messages of hope for all.)

The third Scottish finalist is one I had a share in nominating: Edinburgh Farmers’ Market. This is from 9am to 2pm every Saturday on Castle Terrace: good Torchwood coffee, bread, croissants, cheese, fresh vegetables and fruit in season, free-range eggs warm from a happy chicken’s bottom, meat, honey, wine, and cream.

Edinburgh Farmer's Market July 2009

More expensive than shopping in a supermarket, but the food is better quality and more than that: shopping at the market reminds me, a habitual non-gardener, of the connection between the food I eat and the farms that grow it.

I planned my garden by planting sturdy shrubs and other plants that would require no expertise and little attention from me – rosemary, sage, lemon verbena, and other herbs that thrive in Scottish summers and survive Scottish winters.

I have a post lurking on my list of half-written drafts that considers global warming/climate change in more detail than there’s room for here. We have, perhaps, as little as four years to reverse the policies that profit some of the richest people in the world – before something irreversible happens to our climate.

The above picture is of the market in July 2009. This is the market in July 2012:

Farmer's Market in the rain - July 2012

The rosemary bush in my garden is dying. It was “overwatered” – not by me: we had the wettest summer this year since records began. For two years we had the coldest snowiest winters in years. The same cause: there is more moisture in the air. This is climate change. My rosemary is dying of it. And we are seeing discussion on a level of this by David Mitchell:

If global warming exists, how come Balmoral is so draughty? – “We could do with a bit of global warming up here, I tell you!” the Queen repeatedly jokes. “Talk to me about global warming when the Land Rover is stuck in six feet of snow.” It’s believed that Prince Charles did just that for several hours last January.

Farmer's Market in the rain - July 2012

Professor Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean Physics, Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge, predicts that the sea ice of the Arctic will melt completely by summer 2015-2016 if we continue to go on as we are doing.

The melting of the Arctic sea ice will directly affect the Greenland icecap, which was three kilometers thick and already melting each summer at an unprecedented rate. If all the Greenland ice melts, the sea level round the world will rise by seven metres – you can see what that will look like in your part of the world on this zoomable map. Even a lesser proportion of the Greenland ice melt will cause the climates we are used to to change forever.

Stefan Rahmstorf, Professor of Physics of the Oceans at Potsdam University and Department Head at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, writes:

Greenland’s meltwater accounts for one-fifth of the global sea-level rise over the last decade. If its ice sheet melted completely, sea levels would rise by seven metres — meaning that we cannot afford to lose even a small fraction of the ice sheet. Meanwhile, satellite data show that Antarctica’s ice sheet, which is ten times larger than Greenland’s, is losing ice as well.

The vanishing Arctic sea ice also affects the atmosphere. Less ice reflects less sunlight, and more open ocean absorbs more heat, which is then released into the atmosphere, affecting wind and pressure patterns throughout the northern hemisphere.

In a recent study, Jennifer Francis and Stephen Vavrus showed that the northern hemisphere polar jet stream, an air current that flows over the middle to northern latitudes of North America, Europe, and Asia, has begun to show larger and more persistent meanders. This increases the likelihood of extreme weather events, like Russia’s heatwave and Pakistan’s floods in 2010, which affected millions of people.

The rainy summers, the snowy winters, the hurricane-force winds – these aren’t just unusual unrelated events, these are precursors of irreversible changes.

Standing in a supermarket deciding between two bags of washed vegetables, buying a loaf of sliced foam called bread, you can forget (I know I do) that every root, every grain we eat is fundamentally dependent on earth and weather: that the supermarket chain of supply is a leech of oil to ferry food across the world and up and down the country regardless of seasons or local producers.

But this matters. It matters quite literally more than anything else we’ll ever do. Why are we not talking about it? Why are we not insisting our MPs and MSPs talk about it?

That should be our food programme.


Sea ice in the Arctic melting

Save the Arctic – Petition
Support Solar Energy – Petition

2 Comments

Filed under About Food, Bread, Grains, of Edinburgh, Oil, Photographs, Politics, Supermarkets, Sustainable Politics

2 responses to “Scotland’s Food Programme

  1. juliusbeezer

    You are quite wrong about haggis you know. The minced heart, lung and liver that constitutes the meat of the recipe is highly nutritious and delicious. The recipe is thought to be of Viking origin: a hunter’s trick for consuming the parts of the beast that would perish most quickly. Venison haggis is said to be the finest of them all, though it would presumably be quite enormous (a regular haggis packed into a sheep’s stomach serves a dozen people). It’s nice to make your own, because you can add less salt and fat than the commercial makers do.
    I’m sorry to hear about your rosemary bush, but it is a native Mediterreanean plant after all, growing scrubby in poor soil and cracks among the rocks; happiest of all in a scorching sun that will vapourise a little of its essential oils, to waft across the road and enchant the nose of the passing cyclist…

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