Due to the holidays I am combining my posts for July and August into one.
And what months they are!
For food lovers in Scotland, this time of year represents “peak possibility”.
Delicious, local food creeps into menus, even in surprising places – due to its mass availability.
Scotland’s larder is bulging. We can take our pick from ripe, sweet berries; vibrant vegetables; fresh fish and much more besides.
It really is a good time for good food – the land is awake and things are growing, even in spite of the sometimes wet and cooler weather.
And yet, in writing this piece I have been drawn into a comparison which has clouded my ability to wax lyrical about Scotland’s harvest.
This is because I spent much of July in a very sunny Italy.
During my time there something became inescapably apparent – Italy does food well.
Very well indeed.
Having lived in Scotland for 16 years, raising my family here and working in the food and drink sector in one form or another for most of that time, I have come to believe that Scottish food is the best in the world.
The best! Bar none! It is for precisely this reason that I spend my time writing things like this.
It’s why I’m active on social media posting photos of great Scottish produce and why I work for a Scottish charity that places good food at the heart of its activities.
I’m passionate about sharing the benefits of Scottish produce so more of us choose it when out and about or cooking at home.
In Italy my work would already be done.
There would be hardly anything to persuade people to do. Italians don’t need convincing to buy fantastic local produce.
Even in a rural campsite the menus were covered with symbols showing the provenance of the ingredients.
One was a “0km” symbol, indicating produce that was sourced within 1km from where we were eating. I found the mark on the olive oil, garlic and many of the vegetables. On a campsite.
All around the towns and cities, from small fruit and veg shops to supermarkets, local was everywhere.
Not just local but good quality local – often organic, unusual varieties - things to excite food shoppers, including me.
As I looked on with a degree of awe at some of the finest looking and smelling tomatoes I have ever seen, I thought sadly of the “seasonal aisle” in many Scottish supermarkets piled high with tins of shortbread and stacks of Irn Bru.
Who’s going to get excited about that!?
Italians are quite simply and quite rightly proud of their food heritage. Whether young or old, people get food.
They almost instinctively understand its impact and connection with culture and health.
So as you can probably tell I was impressed by Italian food and the way Italians think about food.
And yes, that did make me think unkindly about some aspects of Scottish food culture.
I feel we have been driven down a road where the most widely available food does us no good.
It takes a significant amount of effort to eat well and to feed our families well.
Of course there are parts of Scotland where great things are being done.
It’s just that they are in small pockets, rather than across the board.
If we want to experience unusual, delicious varieties of tomatoes
we can, but we’ll most likely have to brave a farmers market and pay through the nose for the pleasure.
We have to actively hunt out great food, which means it is only available to die hard “foodies” like myself who think of great food as worth the effort.
I don’t believe it should take a round trip of 200 miles to find a nice piece of seafood. It should be available for everyone.
Why? Food makes us who we are, and right now too many of us are physically and mentally under-par as a direct result of a poor diet.
As a country that’s costing us financially with payments to the NHS rising to treat conditions like type 2 diabetes but we also suffer socially as communities weaken in the hands of fast food outlets and families weaken without the focal point of a dinner table daubed with fresh food.
There is plenty of evidence showing that a Mediterranean style diet is best so we might be forgiven for accepting our lot as a Northern outcrop with no hope of achieving the pleasurable and healthy utopia of an Italian trattoria in the Tuscan hills.
But… if we were able to rise above Scotland, Game of Thrones
style, and hover for a while over our countryside and coastline we would see loads of beautiful food, most of which would fit very neatly into a Mediterranean diet: amazing root vegetables; soft fruits in the summer; salad veg, cauliflowers, broccoli and beans; pasture reared beef and lamb; fresh oily fish; organic pork, chickens and eggs; creamy milk; a massive range of cheeses; breads and oats.
So why aren’t our shops bulging with this stuff? Why are shelves instead more often filled with ambient or processed nonsense that was made in a factory?
The answer is frustratingly complicated. And obviously it takes time to put it right. But, given that time with a bit more investment combined with a few policy and infrastructural changes, maybe with a tweak to the regulations governing our food shops and a lot more support for children and families I truly believe we can get there.
Thanks for reading and hope to see you again next month.
• Connect with Joe on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @joesfoodpics