Scottish food enthusiast Joe Hind has taken up a challenge to only eat and drink Scottish produce for four weeks, each week Joe will give us an insight into how his challenge is going

Three weeks in and something has clicked. I suddenly feel so much more connected to my food. I realise now that this challenge has allowed me to achieve something I’ve been searching for for years – a way to get closer to my food.

It’s not been easy though. I may be better connected with my food but I have had to bend the admittedly strict rules I set myself all those months ago.

Never has this been more necessary than when eating out. Last week I ate at a popular pizzeria and ended up with a salad of mushrooms and oak smoked salmon whilst all around me my family was eating pizza. It felt strange, like I was on a special diet.

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Not what I would usually order at a pizza restaurant. Picture: JH

As well as the near impossibility of eating entirely Scottish when out and about, it’s been hard to source certain products for what I’ve made at home. Things like vinegar or barley, which would have made a big difference to my meals. To an extent this limitation has been positive, forcing me to try other ways to inject flavour into foods or to achieve the desired texture. More often it’s been a hindrance to eating well, forcing me back into a pattern of meat-and-two-veg type meals, especially during the week when my cooking time is so limited.

Meat (or fish) and two veg isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I could probably survive on meat and to veg from now on if I had to. There’s such huge potential for variation within the simple combination of protein and vegetables. Especially the vegetables. I’ve been enjoying some of the finest produce you’ll eat anywhere in the world in the form of delicious organic tomatoes, beans, leafy greens and courgettes. Don’t forget potatoes. I’ve eaten more potatoes this last month than any other month in my entire life. Surprisingly, I’ve not grown bored of them. But I have craved alternatives like rice and pasta.

Luckily the potato is a versatile vegetable, capable of being transformed into creamy, chewy or crunchy deliciousness very quickly.

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Potatoes work with almost anything. Picture: JH

So, yes, this challenge has reconnected me to my food, and for that reason alone it has been absolutely worthwhile on a personal level. On a wider scale of course, I will have achieved precisely nothing if I haven’t also influenced others to seek out more local food. I know that’s a grand ambition – changing peoples’ behaviour through a blog – but it is what I hope to achieve. It’s not enough for me, with a reasonably decent knowledge of where to source great Scottish food, to just get it for myself. That would be akin to discovering that aspirin cures headaches and keeping it to myself whilst the rest of the world sits on a sofa with a wet flannel on their head.

I want to share this experience to encourage other people (that means you) to think a bit more about where our food comes from. Unfortunately in Scotland we have issues with our food. We have levels of obesity to rival Mexico and the US. On top of this, the sad fact remains that most of the world thinks of Scotland as a cold, windswept land where the population keeps warm in the grip of deep fried mars bars.

Somehow, the fact that we have some of the best food in the world has remained a closely guarded secret, known only to a few. Well no more! Let’s spread the word: at its best, Scottish food is unbeatable, no matter what food in the world you compare it with. It cannot be beaten. You cannot beat Scottish salmon, or venison, or beef, or lamb, or cheese, or grains, or vegetables, or berries, or orchard fruits. Of course it depends how it is produced. It isn’t amazing food just by virtue of being Scottish. It must also be produced in tune with nature’s rhythm. But luckily we have plenty of that kind of food too.

Today I visited a place that exemplifies this – Whitmuir Organics.

I’m going to ask you a question now. How far would you be prepared to travel to experience the best food in the world? It’s a serious question. How much time would you be prepared to spend traveling to a place that holds the secret to how our entire planet could eat well, eat sustainably and eat the best tasting produce possible?

1000 miles? 2000? If you live near Edinburgh, then the answer need only be 15.

I always find it slightly astounding that I can arrive at Whitmuir and drive right up to the front entrance. I can’t do that at Sainsbury’s. Yet, just 11 miles further along the road, a total of 20 minutes journey time through very pleasant, rural Scottish countryside, is a place that sells food where it is possible to witness its entire journey from farm to fork with just a glance across the undulating hills. It’s a proper farm shop. Not just a barn selling a few root vegetables but a purpose-built, modern building with a dedicated vegetable room cleverly designed to allow fresh air to circulate among its wooden shelves laden with home-grown organic vegetables. It has three meat counters full of Scottish, organic beef, lamb, pork and game. Today, for example, I was able to boost the final leg of my challenge with some lovely meat alongside a plethora of beautiful looking broad beans, runner beans, French beans, courgettes, cucumber, salad leaves and flowers, potatoes literally brought in to the shop from the fields as I shopped, onions and more.

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It is surprisingly difficult to find Scottish onions. Picture: JH

Whitmuir, just like Pillars of Hercules last week, must be truly commended for their efforts to find and present such a beautiful range of produce. They are clearly not doing it just for the money. I bet it would be more profitable to run the place as a country pub. Whitmuir is almost the polar opposite of that (although you can buy a very decent beer there) – it’s a labour of love, and principles, and beliefs. And it’s wonderful. The world would be a much poorer place without Whitmuir and its ilk.

I think we have forgotten that every single thing we put in our mouths has a story to tell. It started life as a seed, or an embryo. Yet when we eat it, we most likely don’t think much about its beginnings, or its journey to our plate. Yet imagine if we knew the full story. Imagine if, every time we put something in our mouths, we were transported to the start of its life, and our mind travelled through its life until its demise, and its ultimate journey to our plate. Imagine that. How much of what you eat would you want to see its journey? How pleased would you be with yourself for eating what you eat, day in and day out? For today at least, I felt proud.

I was proud to buy eggs from Whitmuir and then see the chickens who laid them. I have never seen happier looking chickens. They were entirely free to roam the fields of Whitmuir. They had accommodation that I would have happily lived in as a student. They had access to drinking water, food, dust, sunlight. Heck these little guys could have spent their days nibbling berries and salad if they wanted. They were free range in the truest sense of the word. I was slightly worried for their safety. They were so free range, a wily fox could have snuck up through the undergrowth and nabbed one for dinner without the others even noticing…

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This is one happy chicken. Picture: JH

Because of my experience at Pillars and Whitmuir, I’m thinking that, beyond my challenge, I should commit one day a week to spending a little bit more time and a little bit more money to eat locally and organically. I’m thinking that every week we could have a “Scottish Sunday”, like a mini-Christmas, where we cook from scratch the kind of food that makes everybody feel a bit better. Food that has a story. Why can’t we?

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to an old friend’s house for dinner. He and his partner had gone to such efforts to allow me to continue my challenge that I felt truly humbled. We tried a selection of Scottish ales so vast it would drown a horse…

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Scottish ales to be proud of. Picture: JH

We also enjoyed Scottish salmon with ribbons of seasonal vegetables and a tangy gravlax style sauce made with Scottish vinegar (I know!), roast shoulder of lamb with potatoes, carrots and courgettes cooked simply but incredibly well, with simple flavours of butter, cream and salt. This was all topped off with a cranachan to end all cranachans. A deep, whisky-enhanced cream, with fresh raspberries and toasted chewy oats. All Scottish. All absolutely amazing…

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Is there a better dessert for Scotland? Picture: JH

With a week to go I know that I will go back to eating other, non-Scottish food soon. I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand I definitely want to eat food that we have imported for centuries because we cannot grow it here. I’m thinking citrus fruits, spices, sugar and the like. One the other hand, I see no reason why I shouldn’t keep eating Scottish whenever I can. Why should I accept New Zealand lamb? Why should I buy chicken from the continent? Why should I eat Kenyan green beans? Why? As a country we could be practically self-sufficient. So I will continue to try to practice what I preach.

For next week’s blog, I will try to sum up the 10 things I’ve learned from eating Scottish for a month.

As always, thank you for your interest.

About The Author

Joe Hind

Joe lives in Edinburgh with his wife and two young daughters. He works for a Scottish food and farming charity and is passionate about good food. He’s on a constant search for interesting Scottish food and drink experiences. Contact him: joehind@gmail.com

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