Stephen Jardine: Ingliston shows some bite at last

The Royal Highland Show 2013 in Ingliston. Picture: Jane Barlow
The Royal Highland Show 2013 in Ingliston. Picture: Jane Barlow
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GROWING up in Dumfries and Galloway, tractors were hardly a novelty.

Yet, for some reason lost in the mists of time, my school decided the Royal Highland Show demanded a two-hour journey in a minibus just to admire agricultural machinery in the east rather than the south of Scotland.

The highlight of the day was a bag of Moffat toffee bought during a pit stop while someone dashed to the nearest public conveniences.

That was the big food treat. It certainly wasn’t the greasy burgers or the shortbread that could rot teeth at 20 paces at Ingliston.

Back then food at the Royal Highland Show seemed very much an afterthought. It was fuel for hungry farmers or ammunition for competitions, but not much more. You certainly had no sense that the whole point of farming was to produce the food we eat.

How times change. Nowadays food is at the centre of Scotland’s largest outdoors event – and quite right too.

For a start there are 170,000 hungry mouths to feed, and, given the occasion, they need to be fed well.

This year, visitors face a dazzling range of options, including a new street food option in the countryside area, drawing on the hottest food trend of the moment.

But more than that, food and drink is currently Scotland’s great economic success story so the sector deserves a stage on which to celebrate. With the Taste of Edinburgh Festival abandoned after last year’s washout, Ingliston is the best chance we have.

This year there is special emphasis at the show on the north Highlands of Scotland. After the horsemeat scandal, consumers are looking for reassurance and without doubt the best place to offer that is our most pristine and unspoilt natural environment.

Unlike years ago, food and drink at the Royal Highland Show is never predictable. Turn left and there is Jo MacSween and her cast of cuddly haggis mascots, turn right and Graham’s The Family Dairy are launching new cheese products.

In economic terms, the Royal Highland Show is a litmus test for the state of the nation. This year definitely feels more buoyant and that is clearly the case in the food and drink areas with a record number of exhibitors.

At last, the Royal Highland Show seems to be getting to where it needs to be in terms of the food and drink sector.

Agriculture without food consumers is pointless. Scotland’s biggest public event needs to present food you can use as most of the visiting public relate to farming as end users.

Every year people seem to ask the same question, in an increasingly urban Scotland, what is the future for the Royal Highland Show ? If food and drink is at the heart of things, the prospects are brighter than ever.