Climate change group urge Government to do more to eradicate food poverty

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Highland Council has laid down a challenge to the Scottish Government to go further in its efforts to support local food initiatives.

Speaking at last week’s climate change working group meeting Councillor Trish Robertson, chairwoman of  the working group and economy and infrastructure committee said that she believes that while the national and local government visions are an important marker, radical action should follow in terms of land reform, affordability and education.

‘I don’t think we can ever do enough really, but this is a step in the right direction,’ she added.

The Scottish Government’s definition of ‘local food’ is food that is produced locally, sustainably and with a short supply chain.

It also places emphasis on the relationship between the producer and the consumer – a relationship based on trust, information sharing, fairness and support.

There are three key pillars to the Local Food Strategy: connecting people with food, connecting Scottish produce with buyers, and harnessing public sector procurement.

The strategy is out to consultation.

Councillors attending last week’s meeting agreed a formal response from the local authority broadly supportive of the strategy but challenging the Scottish Government to reduce barriers for people on low incomes or those experiencing food insecurity.

In its detailed response to the Scottish Government, the council has offered up a number of areas where more action could be taken.

The report calls for food education to be embedded in the school curriculum and for school meals to feature local ingredients.

To her surprise, chairwoman Mrs Robertson discovered that much of the school menu is governed by centralised rules. For instance, school dinners must feature ‘fresh salad vegetables’ which often means that imported tomatoes are served up in canteens.

‘There are also still too many children who believe food comes from supermarkets,’ said Mrs Robertson. ‘However, it’s not just children who need to adjust their viewpoint a little.

‘Perception of food has changed even over my lifetime. I always budgeted carefully and most of my money went on fuel, then food, with the rest as luxuries. Food was expensive then.

‘Now, we expect food to be cheap. We expect to eat meat every day, and we have much bigger portions.’

Mrs Robertson added that while a lot of emphasis is placed on growing vegetables, meat and fish such as mutton and mackerel used to be common local foods that have fallen largely out of fashion.

Her own grandfather was a butcher in Beauly in the 60s at a time when butchers bought their meat at the local mart and butchered it themselves, locally. This began to decline in the 80s and 90s.

The number of abattoirs in Highland has reduced from 11 in 2006 to just one, today.

‘Today’s debate was a really interesting one, and members were generally very supportive of the Scottish Government’s strategy and our own initiatives,’ said Mrs Robertson.

‘However we can certainly do more. What is needed is both a behaviour and a mindset change.

‘This is the start of a long process to change perceptions.’