THIS WEEK has been a turning point for Scottish food and drink, writes Stephen Jardine
For the past five years, the focus has been on growing the industry and building export success. The result has been unprecedented growth and a sector worth £13 billion to the Scottish economy. But what good is that if we still eat badly and die too early? On Thursday, the government set out to tackle that dichotomy, launching the next phase of its national food and drink policy. It sets out a vision of Scotland as a “Good Food Nation” and challenges all of us to get involved.
The call to arms is perfectly timed. Our food and drink is admired and demanded around the world, but here at home we cling to bad habits that mean our nation has one of the poorest diet-related health records in the world.
For some, things are actually getting worse.
Government figures show consumption of fruit and vegetables among the poorest 20 per cent of Scots has fallen by a fifth since the recession. If trends continue, obesity alone is set to cost Scotland £3bn by 2030.
So what’s the solution? Central to the plan is the creation of a Scottish Food Commission to champion the importance of food to the nation’s health, environment, economy and quality of life.
The public sector will be expected to lead by example, with the NHS, local authorities and Scottish Government signing up to offer fresh, seasonal, local and sustainable produce. Retailers will also be encouraged to sell more local food and to emphasise why it is good for the nation.
This is a huge step forward. Ten years ago, food and drink wasn’t a priority for government; now it is the biggest source of growth in the economy.
Almost lost in the announcement was a change to Richard Lochhead’s job title. As Cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and the environment, Scotland now has for the first time a government minister responsible not just for what we grow but also for what we eat.
The Moray MSP has proved to be the best political champion we’ve ever had for food in Scotland, but responsibility for change doesn’t rest with him or even his civil service team.
If Scotland is to become a Good Food Nation, it’s going to be down to every single one of us.
We have to stop putting up with bad food when it’s put before us. We need to ask where the meat on the menu comes from, and if the answer is Thailand, we need to ask why.
When offered a children’s menu with no fruit or veg, we need to kick up a fuss. And we need to create systems that reward children for trying healthy food and make it harder for companies who produce food that is unhealthy.
But all journeys have to start somewhere, and for all of us the road to becoming a Good Food Nation starts here. Can we get there? We have to.