A better way to encourage sinners like me to eat veg

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Aesop’s fable about the wind and the sun is a useful reminder that working with people is a better way of encouraging them to do the right thing. A bit like the wind’s relentless battering, we’ve gone on and on about five a day and as far as anyone can tell it’s not made a blind bit of difference for the last ten years. The Mrs Doyle messaging gets through – five a day is one of the most recognised public health campaigns in the world – but it doesn’t change what people eat.

Nourish Scotland is part of an Industry Leadership Group to grow potato, fruit and vegetable consumption in Scotland through promoting health, taste and sustainability benefits. Now we and our partners at Peas Please in England and Wales are trying another tack. Sure, we are still on a health mission: eating too little veg is one of the main risk factors for cancer, and like the recent research on potatoes, we keep finding out new reasons why vegetables are good for us. They help the bacteria in our guts, they make us feel fuller so we cut back on the calories, and they’re full of hundreds of nutrients we’re still discovering, as well as the vitamins and minerals we need. They’ve also got a low carbon footprint and loads of them can be grown in Scotland.

Potatoes are a great source of energy and an incredibly versatile ingredient. They are also one of Scotland’s great staple crops. This research shows potatoes have all sorts of other health benefits too. Nourish Scotland wouldn’t include them in five a day as there’s good evidence we need five a day as well as potatoes, but we’d encourage people to see them as an important part of a healthy varied diet – especially organic Scottish potatoes.

But so what? That’s all fine for the saints – the diligent allotment growers, the rapidly growing band of vegans celebrating Veganuary, the wholesome home-cookers. We salute you, we welcome your support – but our campaign with Peas Please is not for you.

It’s is for sinners like me, and for the rest of us Scots who are eating on average about half the veg we should – and especially for the one in seven men who confess to eating none at all. It’s for people who want their veg to be tasty, convenient, and normal. I want the world to make it easy for me to eat my five a day.

So here’s what the campaign is doing for me. It’s roped in more than half the UK’s high street retailers – including Tesco, Sainsbury, Lidl and the Co-op – who have all made practical pledges making it easier to get veg in our shopping baskets. Simple stuff, like more veg in meal deals, more promotions, a higher profile online. Big manufacturers like Mars prompting people to mix up a cooking sauce with veg instead of meat. Greggs the baker signing up to more veg in its food to go. Big caterers like Sodexo and Baxter Storey cranking up the veg in their menus for workplaces and schools. And as from this week, a big collective push on a national ad fund for veg, to start balancing up the money spent selling us veg with the huge sums spent selling us high fat and sugar foods.

On top of this, Peas Please is signing up “veg cities” – encouraging councils to put more veg on the public plate and do what they can to help people grow more veg themselves. We’re talking to producers large and small about what they need to grow more veg sustainably and supply those extra portions. We’re talking to people in the catering sector about making sure that cooks and chefs are “clever with veg”. And we’re looking at ways to make it easier for people on really tight budgets to afford veg, especially families with children.

More sunshine, not so much huffing and puffing.

Pete Ritchie is executive director at Nourish Scotland