Re-localising food within the context of our climate and cultures
An interview with Fife Diet, Scotland.
Fife Diet is a network of people in the Fife area of Scotland focused on re-localising their food system in response to climate change. With over 1600 members, this organisation engages consumers in food and climate issues, using some innovative approaches and creating useful outcomes. Fife Diet carries out research and community based action on climate change and is a mainly consumer driven organisation which includes some producers as members.
What are the aims of Fife Diet?
Working on the assumptions that there is something fundamentally wrong with the food system, the aim is to transform our food system by collective and community action. We believe it is time to move beyond the framework of individual and household scale action to networked or collective action.
We aim to help people do this by inviting them to follow the Fife Diet and sign up to 5 key pledges:
- eat local
- eat less meat and chose better quality meat
- grow your own
- eat more organic
- create less food waste
Tell us about some of the community action work you are doing?
The key to our work is through the Fife Diet lunches which we help people to host in and around the Fife area.
A Fife Diet lunch
These community events bring people together to enjoy sharing food, stimulating discussion and build connections and trust. The lunches are free and open to anyone to attend and the food is prepared by local volunteers with help from Fife Diet members. The ingredients are provided by local producers at discounted rates or for free.
Children are welcome at the lunches and to ensure that the children were happy and entertained, Fife Diet employs nursery nurses to provide a crèche facility at each lunch. This has the added benefit of providing time for parents to engage fully in the lively discussions over lunch. The lunch is often followed by a speech or film which relates to topics of interest to the local community. The process of the Fife Diet lunches introduces local food and climate change issues in a fun and very practical way, naturalising the transition to local foods.
Are you asking people to eat exclusively local foods?
It’s a mixture; we propose that people eat mostly local foods and for the Fife region means food from within 30 to 40 miles. We also support international food production which focuses on social justice. To fulfil this, we are currently working on a campaign called ‘80:20’ which encourages people to source 80% of their food locally and 20% from carefully sourced overseas producers. For example, most foods can be sourced locally but there are some commodities which people still wish to consume which are from overseas, such as coffee, tea, chocolate, red wine and olive oil. Fife Diet provides advice and links to sources of these foods and drinks which are produced with ethical and environmental principles.
Where do people grow their own food?
We are just about to open our first 'food garden' – an organic allotment and community garden site based in Burntisland. The town is a post-industrial port on the Firth of Forth with the remnants of a shipbuilding industry and the town is scarred by the withdrawal of an aluminium plant. The site has twelve allotment plots and large communal growing areas. It was developed in collaboration with local residents and will be tended and harvest by the local residents. It is also linked to a local school and children will come on site to get involved.
What is your research showing about Fife Diet carbon footprints?
To test whether there are measurable benefits of following the Fife Diet, we have undertaken an analysis of the carbon ‘foodprints’ of 100 surveyed members. This work has been a collaboration between these survey volunteers, the Fife Diet team and Climate Futures (http://www.climatefutures.co.uk/index.htm), an Edinburgh based consultancy and is published in our first carbon report. (Link = http://www.fifediet.co.uk/reading/)
The study shows that, through following the Fife Diet, our surveyed members are reducing their food related greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 40-50% below the UK average.
Although it proves that significant gains can be made within the current food system, it is clear that the sort of substantive changes that are required will need additional systemic and structural change, as full de-carbonisation is not possible through individual/community level changes.
Through this work, we discovered, from work done by the Scottish Agricultural College that the concepts of 'local food' and 'food miles' are key to engaging the interest of the consumer. Although these labels are inadequate as indicators of wider sustainability, they act as an effective 'gateway'. Food marked as 'local food' is a much more attractive entrance to the wider debate on sustainable food systems than, say food marked 'organic'.
Where would you like to take your work next?
We are keen to develop our communications portfolio and are about to publish a seasonal food recipe book with recipes for great foods to eat in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. The Fife Diet team is also developing its current series of briefing papers; new topics will include sustainable fishing, budget eating and the concept of a seasonal five a day for Scotland. The briefing papers will focus on the Fife area, but have elements which are broadly relevant in most areas and will be available on our website in 2011.
How was Fife Diet set up, and how is it run?
A small team of people with interests in food and social ecology set up the Fife Diet 3 years ago and secured funding from the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund. We are run as a voluntary association with a volunteer management committee and a small team of part-time, paid staff. These include, Adam Day, Elly Kinross, Karen Small, Mike Small. We also hold regular public meetings and invite anyone to become a member. Members of the network communicate through our website and directly through local activities.
The website also offers additional support and inspiration to help people to:
- find local foods, through a map of the area with the details of local producers.
- cook seasonal foods, with our series of seasonal recipe books and our recipe section.
- read useful reports and research results on our website.
What are the big questions you feel you are exploring at the moment?
We are grappling with some of the complex issues around meat emissions and animal welfare. We are also trying to get a clearer picture of ways to measure the local economic impact of our project and looking at partnerships to develop analysis of health and wellbeing benefits of eating and growing fresh, seasonal unprocessed food.
Is there any expertise you feel you lack and would you welcome help/collaboration with others?
We are keen to have help with health and nutrition issues relating to food choices and also on the benefits of local economic development. We welcome new members continuously.
What do you see as the big questions for the food climate research community at the moment?
I think there are three issues:
- How to avoid being immersed in technical data and lose sight of the societal and cultural issues.
- How to identify ourselves as part of a change movement.
- How to make fundamental shifts in food behaviour attractive and also part of the systemic and institutional shifts required, not focused at an individual level.
It might be interesting too, to consider, how we in the food and climate research communities can be bold and ambitious. Also, it is interesting to know how to build movements rather than passing on facts.