Why pancakes should give us food for thought – Anna Brand

With Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday next week, our thoughts turn towards food. It’s a day for a pancake feast, and of course it has religious significance for many, but what other meaning can we take from Pancake Day?

Sisters Emma left, and Joanne Russell, get some pancake-tossing practice in for Shrove Tuesday next week. Picture: Toby Williams
Sisters Emma left, and Joanne Russell, get some pancake-tossing practice in for Shrove Tuesday next week. Picture: Toby Williams

Firstly, take the pancake itself. The milk, the wheat flour, the eggs – how were they produced? Is the milk from a nature-friendly dairy farm? Did the wheat field leave space for nesting and feeding birds? Are the hens happy and well looked-after? Were producers at home and overseas treated fairly? And what about the shop assistants and the restaurant staff– are they paid a living wage and given fair conditions?

And what about those who can’t afford pancakes at all? The contrast between the traditional excess of Pancake Day and the meagreness of Lent is perhaps also significant, with overconsumption contributing to our ill-health, but with a large number of Scots who struggle to afford food.

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Ultimately, what Pancake Day can teach us is that the way we grow, process, distribute and consume food should be of concern to all of us. Our food system is broken and needs fixing. We need to reduce the environmental impact of food, tackle diet-related poor health, create fairer conditions for workers and everyone in the food system, improve animal welfare, create more opportunities for people to grow their own food, and ensure the right to food for every person in Scotland.

Anna Brand, Land Use Policy Officer, RSPB Scotland

A better food system in Scotland could be a reality. The Scottish Government have published a consultation on becoming a Good Food Nation, proposing some changes that would help consider the food system in the round – from farm to fork to waste. This is certainly welcome, but the proposals don’t go far enough.

Though it helpfully recognises the need to have regard to human rights and act on our other responsibilities, the consultation does too little to acknowledge the systemic problems we need to solve, or outline how the proposals would get us to where we need to be.

Last year, the Scottish Government published a ‘Good Food Nation Programme of Measures’, detailing what initiatives and actions are going on in different parts of the food system. While the programme details undoubtedly good things, this misses out the quite fundamental and ambitious changes that need to happen to become a Good Food Nation.

We need to stop tying ourselves in knots with contradicting food policies. We need to guarantee the right to food for all. We need to make sure that everyone who works in the food system is fairly treated. We need to better support farmers and crofters who already go above and beyond for wildlife, and support and encourage all food producers to produce nature-friendly, environmentally sustainable food for all, that contributes to healthy, well-nourished societies.

This is a big ask, and for that we need big solutions. This is why the Scottish Food Coalition – a network of organisations working together on food – are urging the government to introduce a Good Food Nation Bill to the Scottish Parliament, and create a new, ambitious law on food. This would set strong targets and require a robust and practical National Food Plan to set out how we improve our food system, with duties on public bodies to lead the way.

The Scottish Government have made some welcome progress in thinking about this already, but we need to move further and faster and keep things on track. For this we need a statutory food commission with the power to oversee the whole food system, and put their foot down when we take backward steps from achieving our goals. And we need to put the right to food in Scots law, because the most basic requirement is that everyone should have access to affordable, appropriate, healthy and sustainable food.

Done well, a Good Food Nation law should set the agenda for all things food. It would guide our future rural and agricultural policies, affect health and social care, education, social security, planning, and justice.

This new law would benefit us all. So the Scottish Food Coalition is urging everyone to make their views heard during the consultation process. The consultation can be found at: https://consult.gov.scot/food-and-drink/good-food-nation/ , and a simple e-action can be found at: https://e-activist.com/page/36245/action/1.

The Scottish Food Coalition is a network of organisations working on food, including major trade unions, health charities, environmental charities such as ourselves at RSPB Scotland, and groups representing animal welfare, community growing, crofters, and more.

Anna Brand, land use policy officer, RSPB Scotland