Scots should eat home-grown vegetables as they come into season, writes Stephen Jardine
If the darker autumn nights aren’t quite gloomy enough for you, Scotland’s first Veg Summit this week was the place to be. The backdrop to the event could not have been more stark and depressing.
Despite being in place for years, the Scottish Government’s targets for vegetable consumption remain distant aspirations for most. To meet them, about 20 per cent of our shopping basket would have to consist of vegetables. Across the UK the actual figure is 7.2 per cent and here in Scotland it is just 6.6 per cent.
Perhaps we’ve been expecting too much. The former president of the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society, Pam Whittle, told the gathering the origins of her organisation lay in a desire to get more Scots eating vegetables 200 years ago.
The problem is, instead of improving, consumption in Scotland is actually falling, according to the latest Scottish Healthy Survey, so the time for action is now. With simultaneous events in Cardiff and London, the Veg Summit in Edinburgh looked for solutions. With such an ingrained problem, it is hardly surprising that this is going to involve a range of strategies.
Anti-poverty campaigners talked about how hard it can be to access fresh vegetables in disadvantaged communities and the knowledge deficit when it comes to what to do with some of them. Hospitality businesses laid
out their attempts to encourage vegetable consumption, but they can only provide what market forces want.
We can usually rely on the next generation to learn from our mistakes and do things better, but not when it comes to vegetables. Eighty per cent of five to ten-year-olds are not eating enough vegetables and when they become cool teenagers, the situation gets even worse, with 95 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds missing Government targets.
In the run-up to Hallowe’en, our attitude to vegetables is scary. We’re happy to hollow them out to make lanterns but less keen to eat the flesh. Thankfully the Veg Summit offered some cause for optimism. The scale of the problem has now been recognised and everyone agrees doing nothing is simply not an option. And that includes the major retailers and commercial caterers.
Food producers are also on board and are looking at ways of supporting change because they see the potential opportunities ahead. Veg production has increased 25 per cent in Scotland in the past 10 years and if each of us consumed an extra portion a day, the veg market would grow by a further 60 per cent. At the conference, former NFU Scotland President Allan Bowie said the key to that was consumers taking pride in Scottish vegetable produce and being prepared to adjust what they consume to fit the seasons. Broccoli is a popular vegetable at the moment but in Scotland we can only grow it for a few months of the year then we have to look abroad for supplies. How much better it would be if we ate what was actually in season here.
The Veg Summit was organised by the food campaign group Nourish and its executive director, Pete Ritchie, says one solution underpins everything.
“We have to normalise vegetables,” he said. “We need to stop seeing them as something weird or odd to be left at the side of the plate. If you don’t eat vegetables you are more likely to die early. The solution is simple and available to all of us, just choose veg.”
Over the next year, Nourish will monitor all the pledges made by companies and others to see if they have an impact on consumption.