Stephen Jardine: A fortnight to feast on the best of Scottish

Today marks the start of Scotland Food & Drink Fortnight.
The rise in fruit and vegetable sales in recent years shows we do care about what we eatThe rise in fruit and vegetable sales in recent years shows we do care about what we eat
The rise in fruit and vegetable sales in recent years shows we do care about what we eat

The annual industry celebration was launched back in 2003 to raise awareness of the quality of food and drink and to promote the benefits of seasonal local produce.

Last year it didn’t happen. Instead we had 12 full months devoted to food and drink under the Scottish Government’s themed year programme. This year Fortnight is back under the auspices of the industry body Scotland Food & Drink with hundreds of events scheduled. But do we still need it?

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Looking back 13 years, the food and drink landscape was very different. Our national diet was still a joke and food and drink exports meant the Irn Bru and square sausage smuggled abroad in case holiday catering wasn’t up to scratch.

We’ve come so far since then. Food and drink is now the fastest growing sector of the Scottish economy with exports set to reach more than £7 billion next year. Employing 360,000 people food and drink tourism alone contributes £2.5m a day to the Scottish economy.

The eating out experience has been transformed. There are now more than 20,000 places serving food here and the demand continues to grow. Research shows visitors to Scotland are prepared to pay a premium of up to 15% for locally sourced food.

Visitors aside, thanks to the boom in farm shops and farmers markets and the resurgence of independent butchers and fishmongers, it is easier to eat well here than it has ever been.

But still something isn’t right. Where is the country-wide enthusiasm to celebrate this amazing turnaround? Based on the jobs created, economic impact and the simple fact that you can now expect a hotel meal after 8pm in rural places, Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight should be a proper celebration.

Community halls should have communal suppers celebrating the last of summer produce, chefs should be out on the streets offering tastings and demonstrations and farmers should be marching through the streets urging us to buy Scottish produce.

Imagine what French Food and Drink Fortnight would look like and the passions it would arouse? Needless to say they don’t have such a thing because they are too busy celebrating French food and drink all year round.

In July alone, Livarot has a Cheese Fair, Cavaillot has a Melon Festival, Gujan Mestras has an Oyster Festival and in Conceze they celebrate all the benefits all local raspberry growing has brought to the town.

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Visiting France a couple of years ago, I ended up in a village square where everyone had gathered to celebrate mushroom season with delicious dishes using cepes and girolles, all washed down with that season’s local rough red wine. It was a happy occasion with everyone young and old, rich and poor brought together by a shared love for good food.

Over the next fortnight we will have some food celebrations in Scotland but often they are spectacles to be watched rather than passionate events staged by locals to be embraced and enjoyed.

Cynics might point to last week’s survey claiming healthy eating is not important to nine out of ten Scots. However I just don’t believe that.

For a start the survey only questioned 1,000 people across the UK, so probably less than 100 Scots. That’s hardly the mood of the nation. It also failed to explain just what is a healthy diet. One person’s healthy is another person’s not.

Thirteen years after the first Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight, everything from the rise in fruit and vegetable sales to the increase in fish consumption suggests we do care about what we eat.

Compared to so many others, we are lucky to live in a country blessed with plentiful produce from the fields and the sea and that alone is something we should celebrate loudly and proudly over the next two weeks.