Updated: Dec 16, 2021
Continuous evolution is the key to a vibrant food culture
You only have to look - and listen - around you to know that despite the recent twin challenges of the Covid19 pandemic and Brexit, the Scottish food and drink scene has emerged alive and cooking.
In recent times eating and drinking has morphed from minimal to mainstream in what can really only be described as the Great Scottish Food Revolution. Witness the news stories, features, analysis, opinion columns and political discourse we read about or watch every day in mainstream and social media. Food and drink has truly become part of the national conversation.
And, interestingly, it’s not only women who are participating. It’s evident that men across the country are just as interested in what they eat, where their food comes from, how it’s made and who makes it as women are. This used to be more noticeable in European countries, and shows just how far our participation and interest in food has come.
Scotland was the first country in the UK to launch a national food strategy back in 2009, and it has enabled ambition within the industry. New products using local ingredients and local talent are being launched almost every day.
Now in supermarkets and corner shops you can buy big-brand and artisanal Scottish products plus a wide range of fresh Scottish produce sourced from all parts of the country. Rapeseed oil, culinary salt, artisan cheeses, breads using flour from Scottish-grown heritage wheat, butters, beers, spirits are widely available. Consumer demand for these products has soared.
The food and drink sector in Scotland is made up of more than 17,000 businesses which employ around 122,000 people, many in remote and economically fragile rural and island communities. It's evident that almost all parts of the country have become food- producing clusters with their own characteristics.
The great Scottish food revival has brought to the fore its people, produce and provenance of a quality that can easily match, if not better, that of other European countries. Who, even as recently as the 1980s, could have dreamed that it would be so easy to buy – at retail and farm shops or online - Scottish charcuterie, artisan chocolate, locally-roasted coffees, potato and vegetable crisps and dairy ice-cream, craft sodas using local soft fruits and craft beers, to name but a few, or to consume creatively via restaurant menus and home delivery? Or that locally-grown meal box deliveries would be at the all-time high they are (with waiting lists in some areas)?
New products using locally-sourced ingredients, often developed with government funding, are being launched almost every day. Interest in home-cooking from scratch is growing.
It’s no exaggeration to say there’s a national pride in Scottish produce, producers, farmers, fishers, butchers, growers and chefs that didn’t exist so widely before, and their reputation extends worldwide. This surely is reflected in the number of new Scottish food and cookbooks that are being published every year.
The number of independent butchers’ and fishmongers’, grocers, gastropubs, delis and coffee houses are also on the rise.
Clear provenance, traceability, high welfare, low waste, low food miles, sustainability and seasonality are now all by-words for Scottish food and drink.
The eating-out scene has also been transformed by a new generation of progressive Scots who continue to develop dishes using foraged plants and herbs, offal and forgotten cuts of Scotch meat, sous-vide local hare and game birds, fermented mooli, confit egg yolks, bright green spruce oils, fresh herb butters, artisan chocolate with foraged sea buckthorn and blow-torched heritage apples, seaweed crisps, and spelt sourdoughs made with heritage flour grown in Scotland. Seasonality has become key. Shellfish and seafood from our coastal waters, grass-fed native breeds and “nose-to-tail” eating is all the rage here – as it is in Scandi and modern European cuisine.
Fresh produce comes in a wide range of varieties from the burgeoning number of kitchen and market gardens, farmers’ markets and community growing spaces all over the country. Retail outlets are responding. Aldi Scotland, for example, recently scooped 15 awards for its Scottish own-label products and its stated ambition is to expand its work with Scottish suppliers.
Farm shops, delis, coffee houses, craft breweries, distillery visitor centres, bakeries, butchers and fishmongers are thriving in all parts of the country. They could not do so if there wasn’t the consumer demand and the government start-up support.
Continuous evolution is the key to a vibrant food culture, and among recent influences have been South-east Asian flavours and ingredients – with Scottish-grown seaweeds, plants, spices and grains meeting this rising demand. Plant-forward products and native breeds such as Boreray mutton from Orkney and Native Angus beef are sought-after.
Tackling diet-related poor health issues and food poverty is ongoing. The recently-introduced Good Food Nation Bill is aimed at helping ensure good quality, nutritious, healthy and locally sourced and produced food is accessible for people from all walks of life on a daily basis. This includes business, hospitals, schools – anywhere that serves food to the public.
Hand in hand with all of this is the climate change crisis and the need to cut carbon emissions. Scotland is already ahead of the game, having already halved its greenhouse gas emissions over the last 30 years but the aim is to get food and drink businesses to net zero by 2045 at the latest. The Net Zero Commitment, launched during COP26, includes tougher challenges on transport, heating systems, land use and waste reduction.
The Circular Economy embraced by Scotland will help dramatically reduce the amount of food waste generated in Scotland.
And in its ambitions to be a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture, there has also been significant investment in the manufacturing of a new feed additive in Dalry, Ayrshire, aimed at reducing methane emissions from cattle and sheep by 30%.
These are significant steps in a giant leap forward into the future of Scotland’s ongoing food and drink revolution.