Guestpost from Mike Small: Bad Food Overdose

I’m delighted to welcome a guest post from Mike Small replying to my piece on food in schools. Mike is one of the founding members (if not the founder?) of the Fife Diet, a consumer network of people passionate about local food, although many of you might know him through his having fingers in other blogging and campaigning pies!

Kate’s post last week ‘Less than glorious food in Scotland’s schools‘ touched on a subject I’ve been exploring for some years: why do we feed ourselves (not just our children) such dreadful food?

Martha’s Never Seconds blog kicked off the most recent discussion about the health of the nation (dire) and once again we have a round of media chatter and very little action.  This issue – broadly speaking we’re killing ourselves with eating too much – too much bad meat – too much sugar and doing too little exercise – has been spinning round and round the plate of public debate like an overcooked Turkey Twizzler.

At the recent Food and Drink conference in Perth there was an almost choking contradiction between the conference slogan ‘Celebrating Our Success’ and the reality displayed by guest speaker ‘Dr João Breda, Programme Manager in Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the World Health Organization’.  You can see his presentation here, but I know most of you don’t have to. Yup, we’re still heading up those Sick Man of Europe charts in most areas.

At the Fife Diet, we’ve recently launched a New Food Manifesto to try and respond to the various and connected crises of our food culture. We’ve cherry-picked the best social policies and innovation from round Europe, drawing on the best ideas from Denmark, Hungary and France amongst others.

The aims of the new food manifesto are to:

1) connect the way we grow, produce, distribute and consume our food with our climate change targets

2) connect the environmental policy framework to our health and well-being initiatives

3) look afresh at the values that underpin how we organise our food economy

We have a food market monopolised by a handful of companies and health and nutrition targets that we’re struggling to meet. These ideas are all about creating more joined up thinking in how we grow, consume and distribute our food and a more diverse economic model. It’s also about creating some real urgency about the real problems we face in our health and in our environmental challenges in Scotland.

At the moment there are some great things happening in the sustainable food movement, in community development and in environmental protection. But we suffer from operating in a society of silos: where the crops in our fields and the food on our plates are completely disconnected.

The purpose of the manifesto is to try and help build a food culture in which communities can begin to be part of a restorative practice for a better food system. We propose ‘food sovereignty replacing ‘food security’ as the guiding principle of our policy, and explore the opportunities for collaborative gains between the agendas of community food and health, affordability and sustainability.  We are looking at four themes: low carbon communities, culture & education, health & wellbeing and innovation & enterprise.

Here’s our 20 ideas to change the way we eat…

1. Soup Test – no child to leave school without knowing how to make a pot of soup [CULTURE & EDUCATION].

2. Right to Grow – opportunity from the Enabling Communities legislation and the Land Fund [LOW CARBON COMMUNITIES]

3. A Seasonal 5 A Day – a joint national environmental and health campaign through schools, blogs and GPs / health centres / cafes exploring what a Scottish 5 a day would look like. [HEALTH & WELL-BEING]

4. Sugar Drink Tax – a small tax on the most unhealthy fizzy drinks as has been applied successfully in France [HEALTH & WELL-BEING]

5. Elevate Food to the Climate Change Agenda – develop specific Food Emissions targets. see also Waste & Composting – see the Zero Waste Plan for Scotland] [LOW CARBON COMMUNITIES]

6. Moratorium on Supermarket Expansion (focusing instead on CSA, urban agriculture and food co-ops) [INNOVATION & ENTERPRISE]

7. Decentralise our Food Infrastructure – encourage and enable development of differing scales of mills and abattoirs [INNOVATION & ENTERPRISE]

8. Blasda – a Terre Madre for Scotland – exploring the vision of food sovereignty [CULTURE & EDUCATION]

9. A Food Leadership Team – to draw together the strands of food policy, make sure it works and drive it forward. It would also look at wider policy and develop strategies for international issues like palm oil, and bigger challenges like refrigeration. [LOW CARBON COMMUNITIES]

10. Public Procurement – build on East Ayrshire model, making sustainable public procurement ta key corporate objective for LS’s, schools and hospitals. [INNOVATION & ENTERPRISE]

11. Plastic Bag Tax – hypothecated tax going back in to community food initiatives [INNOVATION & ENTERPRISE]

12. Regional Food Mapping – building on the work already being led by SOAS

13. New Food Indicators – what indicators other than export-growth should we be using to chart ‘success’ in food policy? How many new farmers we attract into the sector? Vitamin intake, soil quality, expansion of organics, food mile reduction, resilience in local economies? [CULTURE & EDUCATION]

14. Farm Apprenticeships – building on work being led by Nourish at Elmwood College [INNOVATION & ENTERPRISE]

15. School Farms – part of the curriculum for excellence [CULTURE & EDUCATION]

16. Farm Corps, Garden Corps – a chance for gap-year, NEET and young people to get work experience [INNOVATION & ENTERPRISE]

17. GM Free Scotland – we should maintain and champion Scotland’s GM-free status [INNOVATION & ENTERPRISE]

18. Queen of the Sea – celebrate and foster our fishing heritage – research project and publication to celebrate our seafood culture.[CULTURE & EDUCATION]

19. Scottish Orchard/Fruit – large-scale co-ordinated re-planting and boost of plant diversity [INNOVATION & ENTERPRISE]

20. A New Food Economy – connecting people with the potential of a food economy (social enterprise in food, sustainable catering and cafes) [INNOVATION & ENTERPRISE]

You can download the manifesto in full at the Fife Diet website.

Some of this is tricky and will take years, some of it could be done tomorrow with the political will.

Since launching it we’ve had a wave of good feedback and the feeling is that we need to change things and transform our expectation of ill health. We’d like to create a food culture where Martha was coming back for more and growing some of the food she and her friends ate at school.

We think this is possible.

6 thoughts on “Guestpost from Mike Small: Bad Food Overdose

  1. Pertaining to the idea of “Elevate Food to the Climate Change Agenda”, If we couldn’t control ourselves to not to eat healthy and nutritious foods we just cannot defeat climate change, with the exponentially rising mouths to feed, everyone should do everything in their power to help, quoted from certain food blog, “these simple facts tell us that not only that we must redouble our efforts to increase our overall food production, but that we must do this with a smaller impact on the climate while promoting sustainable diets and uncovering new methods for efficient distribution and waste prevention.”

  2. Like the idea of school farms. The cost would be minimal and be of greater benefit than some sponsorship by burger chains.

  3. It says something about our priorities in life that one of our most fundamental needs for survival – food – is one of the things we seem to care least about. Most people at my work seem content to make do with a sandwich bought from a shop for their lunch, but it takes just ten minutes the night before to make my chicken, bacon, cheese, onion and rocket sandwich – and not only is it far better, but it’s far cheaper in the long run as well.

    I remember in HE at school, classmates surveying each other, asking what their favourite fast food was. I was the only one who said Wimpy, which in those days was more like a restaurant and the burgers at least had a taste. Burger King and McDonalds burgers are putrid and always have been. I never understood how people could bear to eat them. Similarly, the last time I tried to eat a KFC, I felt sick because it was so disgusting. Perhaps I’m fortunate for having a mum that is a culinary genius, so I grew up being fed “proper” food, although I can cook and that was down to me taking it upon myself to learn.

    People have learned to accept rubbish. I went to someone’s house for a barbecue a while back, and while everyone else tucked into horrible sausages from the supermarket, I’d taken along some proper butchers sausages. They were no more expensive either, because local butchers tend to give you brilliant deals – buy a few things and they tend to chuck a freebie in as well. They just like seeing people enjoying decent food.

    So out of all Mike’s excellent points, I’m most firmly in favour of “6. Moratorium on Supermarket Expansion”. Imagine if supermarkets, instead of being massive corporate beasts raking in billions of profits for poor quality food, were instead just a collection of independent butchers, fishmongers etc under one roof for our convenience. That’s the real problem here – not enough time to make a proper job of it. Who has time to pop to the shops in the daytime to get messages? Indeed, who is even able to, since they’re at work all day and the shops are shut when they get home?

    Our whole perspective on life is skewed. Technological advancements are always supposed to give us more free time, but instead they just allow our bosses to give us more work to do in the same time. We should be working shorter hours where possible, and then maybe people could spend more time shopping in local butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers, who would still exist because they wouldn’t have been driven out by the supermarkets. In the meantime, people should really try to go out at the weekend, get some decent local produce, and then maybe make yourself a big pot of something that can be frozen so you can at least heat up proper food after work, rather than ready meals with all sorts of artificial flavourings in them!

    (End food snobbery rant)

  4. I remember school meals in the 70s & 80s – vile doesn’t even begin to cover it. Cabbage boiled to the point were it resembeled a grey slop. Soya mince loaded with onion salt. Mash potatos that were so under cooked you could stick a fork in one end and use it to hammer nails in.
    Square sausage that was boiled and loaded with sage & onion. Watery soup that tasted of hot water. Custard that looked like yellow milk that had been heated up. Fish cakes that had bones in them & looked sort of “furry”. Pizza – oh gods! the Pizza! It had peas in it…PEAS!
    Lettuce that had wilted, grey boiled eggs, a curious block of clear jelly with grated carrot through it, that to this day my dad (a chef) has no bloody idea what it was. Most of the time I would go in, see the delights on offer then leave. The only time we got something decent to eat was when the people responsible for cooking these heavenly delights went on strike and the school ordered in stuff from local bakeries.
    Proper chips instead of the carbonised bodkin points that was passed off as chips. The reason kids would rather munch down on a burger is that school food was and I suspect still is utterly vile. In the end my dad made up packed lunches for me.

    So instead of getting kids learning to cook, which they should be doing. We should be ensuring that the people we hire to do the cooking are up to a certain standard and that the kitchens have realistic budgets.

  5. I get so annoyed about the slagging off of Scottish food we have a great variance of foods here in Scotland but a lot of lazy people,who wont cook for their children.We get only the negative reporting,never the truth.OK last time I had a school dinner was 1966,and it was good and wholesome,the great magic account books is used to deny children a good school meal.We have plenty great cooks/chefs in Scotland,who can make nutritious meals at a reasonable price.The unfortunate part of this is the overpaid bookkeepers cut the allowance for food to balance the books or perhaps get them a longer holiday.Oh I was a chef for over 36 years,I might know a wee bit about it.

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