Scotland, I think it is fair to say, is not known for healthy living, most often hitting the headlines for deep fried mars bars and shocking levels of obesity. So when Mike and Karen Small launched The Fife Diet they were met with more than a little skepticism. In October 2007, from their base in a quiet town on the Fife coast, Mike and Karen asked people to eat mainly local food for a year, monitor their progress and share their experience.
As the web site says:
The project aims to bring people together who are into preparing for a low-carbon future and to:
* Bring people together to eat good local food
* Boost the local economy
* Make fresh organic produce more widely available
* Help each other re-learn how to eat seasonally
* Challenge the insanity of food miles.
Now doesn’t that sound interesting and worthwhile?
Almost immediately TV crews and reporters arrived on their doorstep expecting some kind of hippy cult. In fact one newspaper columnist branded the project “flakier than a vol- au-vent”. Detractors insisted that basing your diet on local Scottish food would be tedious and impractical, nutritionally irresponsible and might even impair the health of children. Not much enthusiasm from the press then! But from small acorns mighty oaks do grow and the from the 14 people that originally signed up to the project there are now over 800 people, including me, signed up to the project and making the commitment to think globally and eat locally. Even Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond made the commitment to eat Scottish for a week.
The word “diet” with its suggestion of self-denial is misleading. Fife, indeed Scotland as a whole, is well served with local foods, producing some of the best meat, game, fish and cereals that money can buy. And neither is the project proscriptive. The idea is that you eat as much as you can from local sources but there is still room for things like coffee, tea and chocolate which have no seasonal local equivalent. And the food does not have to be organic since the goal is to support local food production, organic or otherwise, which makes sticking to the diet even more achievable.
So isn’t it really expensive?
Speaking personally, the financial savings are there, even for me as a flat-dweller without a grow-your-own option! Consider what would be a typical weeks shopping experience for most people; a drive to an out of town supermarket filling the shopping trolley with most of the week’s food, maybe one or two top up trips to the local supermarket with a farmers market thrown in if there happens to be one on while we wander round town at the weekend. Sound familiar? It was certainly the way I used to shop, starting with a 35 mile round trip to Tesco in Perth. With no extra effort, just a little forward planning, I now shop locally and probably just as importantly, seasonally, and taking the petrol costs into account the savings have been some £25 a week. Not a massive amount in monetary terms perhaps but this does represent about 25% of the original food bill and it shows what can be done!
And what about the suggestion that the diet would be boring?
As the Fife Diet website puts it, “putting a constraint on what you eat is a shock at first, but quickly overcome by the benefits of eating regionally and seasonally”. It is just a case of taking that little bit of extra time and thinking what you want to eat rather than rushing about and grabbing a tin from the cupboard or a ready meal from the freezer. It forces you to be more creative as a cook at first and actually leads to far more variety in the diet than you would have from the grab-a-packet alternative.
And eating locally has global benefits.
Here in Scotland food, including food miles, nitrous oxide from fertiliser, methane from grazing, disposal of waste food and energy used in processing, accounts for around 25% of greenhouse gas emissions. Speaking ahead of a recent meeting ioseanna Cunningham, Scottish environment Minister said that the scheme “… has positive environmental benefits, with the overall project making an estimated saving of 1,737 tonnes of CO2 by reducing food miles.” Scotland is now leading the world in climate change legislation , aiming for a 42 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020. Encouraging people to eat locally really help in this process. One concern raised in the early stages of the project was that it was protectionist, that it discriminated against third-world food producers. But choosing to eat locally and seasonally isn’t anti trade, just anti needless air-miles. And after all, many developing countries are affected by the realities of global warming now. Where there isn’t a locally produced alternative the Fife Diet are keen to develop partnerships with food producing communities worldwide.
And the project has gained recognition beyond Fife.
The project was described as ‘Inspiring’ by Sir Crispin Tickell in the two part Food Programme (Radio 4, October 2008) dedicated to local eating and the Fife Diet.
Professor Tim Lang said of it: “I’m a fan of the sheer daring, the wonderful experimentation of it.”
Satish Kumar, Editor of Resurgence and Programme Director at Schumacher College called the Fife Diet: “An inspiring sign of the coming movement for real change and resilient communities.”
And when Scotlands top top ten green champions were unveiled in April this year, Mike and Karen Small came top of the list!