The Vegetable Summit
24th October 2017
Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh
The Vegetable Summit was an event representing ‘Peas Please’, an initiative led by Nourish Scotland, The Food Foundation, WWF-UK and Food Cardiff. Three simultaneous events (Edinburgh, Cardiff & London) brought together stakeholders from over 90 organisations across the food system to look for, and agree on, practical solutions to increase vegetable consumption in the UK as well as pledging how they aim to help.
The Edinburgh event, hosted by Stephen Jardine, included a number of panel-based discussions with individuals representing public health, catering, growers, researchers and retail representatives with the audience made up of guests from all sectors including private companies, government and the third sector.
The day was opened by Pete Ritchie of Nourish Scotland, who briefly outlined the day before passing over to Cllr. Adam McVey, leader of Edinburgh City Council who led with his vegetarian stance (albeit mostly pizza, he admitted!) before welcoming those from farther afield to the city. Adam pledged his support for the findings of the summit, as well as challenging the issues of holiday hunger and praising the efforts of schemes such as Edible Edinburgh.
“A friend of mine recently shared the fact that pigs eat what’s put in front of them, whilst cows seem to be rather more selective. It seems that we are more like pigs”- Pete Ritchie, Nourish Scotland
A thought provoking opener that was soon backed up with the fact that, although people are aware of the 5 a day campaign, it simply hasn’t worked. With 86% of adults in Scotland not getting enough veg in their diet, not only are we not eating any more veggies, but consumption is falling.
With a possible 20,000 lives being saved by eating one more portion of fruit and veg a day, the question is, what can we do to make it more convenient, more affordable and more normal to buy and consume vegetables? With a quarter of Scotland’s teenagers eating less than one portion of fruit and veg a day, it’s clear that we need to make some changes if we are to improve the future health of our nation.
95.5% of children aged 11-16 years old aren’t eating enough veg
The average family member is eating 800g of fruit and veggies a week, which should be upped to nearer 2kg in order to live well, the equivalent of just less than 150g per meal, which, I have to admit, could be tricky! Restaurants are not always offering this much on their plates, neither are takeaways and one of the early points that was addressed was the simple issue of access- a basic human right.
Families generating >£32k of household income see an increase of 0.7 portions of fruit and veg per day per person
Caroline Mockford is a community activist from Govan and represented those facing food poverty on a daily basis, speaking of the difficulties that many families face getting their hands on the food that they know is better for them- there’s simply little or no availability of fresh, nourishing food in deprived areas event though the availability of such food stuffs is a basic human right. In fact, we’ve seen this first hand in the Gracemount area of Edinburgh, where Tesco has a token gesture of fresh fruit and veg on its shelves, in comparison with the shelves and shelves full of sugar and salt laden convenience foods available.
Healthy food from shops in deprived areas of Greenwich costs twice as much as in supermarkets in other parts of the city. Whilst the supermarkets argue that demand leads supply, surely it is the responsibility of major retailers to ensure that they are doing everything in their power to support and better public health?
The Scottish Government is currently reviewing a pilot scheme that has seen the introduction of vouchers (£3-10 per child per week) to help support those who most need it, however, dignity and profiling issues were raised in answer to the scheme’s lack of The point was also raised that, although food banks are a valuable part of many communities, they are not receiving sufficient amounts of fresh food.
Conversation turned to community food groups on more than one occasion over the course of the day, whether it’s community kitchens, growing schemes or food education. As is often the case, Scandinavia leads the way with its public health, delivering loads of community-spirited cooking opportunities but it seems that Scotland is not too far behind, repping strongly with Urban Roots, Dig-In, and The Croft all providing opportunities for food growing and education. With £145k being invested by Aberdeenshire Council alone into community growing schemes, there’s clearly a lot going on.
As much as these are a valuable resource, should it fall to community projects to pick up the slack in food education when it should surely be the role of the conventional education system?
Also are we, as Scotland’s employers, doing enough to nourish our employees with brilliant, veg-packed staff meals leading to a healthier, happier workforce?
Both interesting and informative, the first panel provided solid statistical analysis as well as raising some interesting questions and making us think about our responsibilities and what we can do to make things better.
The Food Industry
Catering was represented by Carina Contini, Elaine Mason (Union of Genius), Paul Mitchell from Sodexho at RBGE and Keith Breasley from Assist FM who represent and support facilities management staff in 30 of Scotland’s local authorities.
This was the most animated of the panels, with Carina and Elaine both talking passionately about the role that they play in getting people to eat more veg. Union of Genius not only supplies over 100 wholesale customers but also some of Edinburgh’s nurseries. A large portion of their soup counts for a massive 3.4 portions of your 5 a day. Consider this versus the total average 1/2 portion of veg that you can count on eating out across 3 meals in Scotland’s restaurants and caterers.
Carina spoke about her families love for different vegetables, together with the varied methods of achieving enjoyment; from dipping broccoli in butter to celery in salt and olive oil. Carina’s restaurants have seen a recent overhaul, reducing carbs across the board as well as ensuring all of the restaurant’s vegetables come from Scotland, many of them from their own kitchen garden- typical of the lengths that Carina and the Contini team go to in order to lead the way when it comes to customer experience and sustainability.
All these anecdotes reminded me of how important it is to normalise vegetable consumption- as soon as we demonise good fats and salt leading to fibrous, bland vegetables, it’s no wonder that we’re eating less. Whether it’s slaws, braises or in pies and stews, it all counts.
Carina also called for an overhaul of restaurant labeling, with ‘real restaurants’ being given the credit that they deserve, cooking real food from real ingredients our of respect for the environment and for the good health of their clientele. Food Made Good and Slow Food have both done a good job of leading the way on this but, naturally, there’s a lot more than can be done in terms of nationwide profiling of those who are going out of their way to follow the ‘right’ path.
Paul spoke of the kitchen garden that has seen a positive increase in the amounts of fruit and vegetables making their way into Sodexho’s food operation in the last 18 months, since the garden’s establishment, together with some of the challenges presented by this by Food Standards.
Sodexho pledge to increase its spend on fruit and vegetables by 10% by 2020
Growers & Researchers
The Rowett Institute, James Hutton Institute, Kettle Produce (Scotland’s largest fruit and vegetable grower with farms in the UK & Spain) were all vocal as part of the growing panel, together with Allan Bowie of the Fruit & Vegetable Industry Leadership Group and Pam Whittle, former Director of Health Improvement at the Scottish Government and former President of the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society.
Pam opened with fact that the RCHS initially convened in 1809 with its aim to encourage people to eat more fruit and veg- are we 200 years on and no farther forward?
Allan Bowie drove this panel in my mind, full of energy and passion, encouraging less exporting and more valuing of fruits and vegetables grown in Scotland and the wider UK.
There was a great demo highlighting the real amount of the world’s landmass available for growing, and how imperative it is for us to protect the soil in which our food grows to ensure its longevity and ability to feed us for generations to come.
Questions from the floor included the question of organics; given that organic counts for more, should more emphasis not be put on it to nourish our country. However, it was made clear across the panel that, as much as many organic principles have been adopted by the wider farming community, there are simply too many threats to crops from disease and insects to not use the preventative measures that are available to farmers and growers at this scale.
It was made clear by Wendy Russell of the Rowett Institute that, not only are fruit and vegetables crucial sources of micronutrients and phytochemicals but are also a valuable source of protein, increasingly important as we look to reduce meat consumption due to its connection with degradation to both the environment and health.
Tesco were the highlight here, giver their profile within the sector- they came under significant fire during questions, although their answers seemed to stand up to scrutiny. Essentially, Tesco spoke of their many outreach projects as well as their dedication to pushing fruit and veg- however, the real question is whether it’s working? Clearly not, given the stats. A comeback of the fact that they only supply demand seemed quite poor- for us surely the country’s largest grocer should have a responsibility to its residents to keep on pushing until the stats change, as well as a responsibility to its growers to refrain from forcing them into wasting perfectly good food for the sake of aesthetic standards and price wars. Stephen Jardine was quick to comment that, although all of the multiples were invited, only Tesco attended, which is fair.
Additionally, Isla McCulloch spoke of ‘Dig-In’- Bruntsfield’s community owned greengrocer. As well as sharing some of the benefits and highs of the project, she also spoke of the significant work that it took to set the project up and the hope that more communities would take on the responsibility of doing so.
All in all, the inaugural Vegetable Summit has served to strengthen Pop’s resolve to educate children and adults of all ages to the beauty and deliciousness of the vast amount of fruit and vegetables available to us as a nation. The conference pointed out the depth of the issues within our society, as well as outlining many of the complex issues associated with culture, education and accessibility to vegetables across the country.
What remains to be answered is how we can actually make a change, how we can influence the figures and how we, as a collective, can work together to support the health and nutrition of our food nation.
As always, your views are crucial in this so please share any thoughts with us via email or on the various social media platforms.
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