Let's promote our lamb by choosing it for dinner

Twice this past month, I have been out for a meal with friends. The first time, four of us met in an Indian restaurant and then a fortnight later a different quartet met for a Chinese meal.

Lamb needs support from the farmers who produce it. Picture: Johnston Press
Lamb needs support from the farmers who produce it. Picture: Johnston Press

In total, eight main courses were served and six of those were chicken based. At the first eatery, the non chook choice was a Kashmiri lamb dish. On the next outing one of the company opted for lamb cooked with black beans.

I mention this only because my companions were all in the farming industry – two being sheep farmers – and yet they preferred eating meat from another species of animal.

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We talked about it because I did not want to jump to a faulty conclusion where they, like some Aussie graziers, might have already been served up lamb six times that week.

But no, the answer was simpler. They did not eat lamb. One admitted he did not like lamb after being brought up in an environment where the smell of mutton being cooked often pervaded the kitchen.

Another, who thankfully held back until we had finished eating, said that after helping to pull a dead lamb from a pregnant ewe, he could not forget the smell and that put him off eating lamb for life.

There were no chicken farmers in the company and this article is neither pro nor anti them or the white meat they produce. It is more a farmer’s variation on the teacher’s “Don’t do as I do. Do as I say,” comment, except this time it is: “Don’t eat what I eat but eat what I produce.”

The problem is far from being universal. There are wonderful examples of farmers supporting the food they produce. George Milne, of the National Sheep Association (NSA), is forever extolling the merits of sheep meat and a recent NSA dinner saw some wonderfully succulent lamb on the menu.

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From a previous era, David Sinclair, of the long-gone Potato Marketing Board, would promote tatties by saying there was only one thing better than a potato on your plate and that was two potatoes.

But, there are opportunities to further promote the food produced in this country. Farmers and those who work in agriculture and allied industries can and should do more.

That is why there should be a big farming welcome for initiatives such as Perthshire’s Food Charter, launched last month. The charter states: “Wherever possible, suppliers to the public catering and hospitality at events will be required to serve only locally produced food.”

Doing this, Perth Show in early August will host Perthshire on a Plate, which aims to showcase quality produce from the area, as a celebration of food and farming.

How many other agricultural shows will follow remains to be seen; remember these events are seen as the annual occasion where the town meets the country.

The likelihood is 99 per cent will leave the traditional mobile vans to do the catering. Almost the same percentage of show organisers will not impose any sourcing requirement on those supplying the food. This has to be seen as a missed opportunity.

With other local food initiatives and a range of farm shops and farmers’ markets, the Charter is another push along the road of promoting home produce; an issue that will become more and more important in ensuring the future viability of Scottish farming. It is also an initiative promoted by Quality Meat Scotland, which punches above its budget in pushing sales of Scotch beef, lamb and pork.

We are witnessing the erosion of financial subsidies for farming and this declining source of income will not be reversed whether we are in, out or round about Europe.

One of the previous Scottish Government’s bold initiatives was promoting Scotland’s food and drinks industries. The manifesto for the incoming Government continues that theme.

As farm subsidies dry up, the promotion of both home and export markets will play a larger part in profitability or otherwise in agriculture.

That is why NFU Scotland demanded support in promoting food as well as a fairer share of the food chain.

And that is also why all farmers should help themselves by supporting the food they produce, at the same time underscoring the benefits of home production and its distinctive provenance, character and hinterland. Even in a global market there is room for food from our own resources.