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What do we mean by good food?

This opinion piece is over 5 years old

Beth Webb of Soil Association Scotland argues that a definition of good food must be at the heart of the Good Food Nation consultation

Soil Association Scotland has long supported the Scottish Government’s ambition to become a Good Food Nation. As Scotland’s largest sustainable food and farming charity, our vision is good food for all produced with care for the natural world. But what do we mean by good food? The answer to that question is key to what we are asking of Scottish Government in the current Good Food Nation consultation.

From our experience of engaging with over two-thirds of Scottish local authorities through our Food for Life Scotland programme, we know that clear and concise information is crucial to giving individuals and organisations a framework for decision making. That’s why we need an agreed definition of ‘good food’, written into law.

But food is about more than calories on a plate. Diets are inextricably linked to both human health and the climate. The food system can nurture human health and support environmental sustainability; it is currently threatening both.

We believe that the foundation of the proposed legislation should be an agreed definition of good food that is based on the sustainable diets approach. Sustainable diets demonstrate a way of eating that tackles the cross-cutting challenges of our food and farming system, simultaneously delivering on quality, social values, environmental sustainability, health, an inclusive economy, and democratic and transparent governance.

Beth Webb
Beth Webb

Through Soil Association Scotland’s work, we have developed a definition of good food to deliver sustainable diets. By good food we mean:

Food that’s good for health: lots of fruit and vegetables, fish and wholegrains, less but better quality meat, and a lot less processed food. Good food is even better when shared.
Food that’s good for the environment: in season, sustainably produced, low-climate impact, and the highest animal welfare standards.
Food that’s good for the economy: grown by local producers, prepared by skilled and knowledgeable people paid a fair wage, and supporting a thriving economy.

Once we have an agreed definition, that can and should be used to compel all public bodies to consider the vital role that good food can play in delivering on their social, economic, and environmental priorities.

Over 688,000 pupils attend public sector Scottish schools. One in five Scottish adults works in the public sector, and one in eight of us will be admitted to hospital this year. The public sector is uniquely positioned to tackle health inequalities by normalising good food, and creating environments where it is easy and enjoyable for everyone to eat well. Furthermore, public procurement of sustainable food is one of the most effective mechanisms at our disposal to drive transformation in food production and supply.

Our Scottish Government funded Food for Life programme is showing how local authorities across Scotland can serve good food in schools using the Food for Life Served Here award. Through this programme we are building relationships with local authority elected members and chief executives so that they recognise the benefits of serving up fresh, healthy and sustainable school meals. We work directly with procurement teams to help them overcome the challenges to serving good food through smart spending and menu design. And we work with caterers – the unsung heroes of children’s nutrition. We support and enable them to find ways to incorporate local and seasonal produce in their menus, and to ensure that young people are involved and knowledgeable too.

Sustainable diets are one side of the coin; the other is agricultural policy. We cannot achieve sustainable diets without addressing the farming system. Therefore, post-Brexit agricultural policy must be in pursuit of a vision to make sustainable farming the norm.

Joined up thinking is the key to the success of Scotland’s food and farming. And it all starts with a definition of what our ambition to become a good food nation really means.

Beth Webb is policy manager at Soil Association Scotland



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