July Debate: Should I Buy Local Produce?

Cirencester farmers' marketRob Rees tells us his reasons for ‘buying local’.

The Cotswold food revolution has been under way for way over a decade now. “Local Food” has been a phrase hot on our lips for about the same amount of time. Our cultural desire to get back to our roots as well as embrace the allotment is something that I know my grandparents, uncles and aunties always used to indulge in when I was a child in the 70s. It was because of the growth in the supermarket sector in the mid 70s, the indulgent boom of the 80s, and the demise of our food industry with mad cow disease amongst other things in the 90s that a great many consumers said – that’s enough we cant eat this rubbish anymore. This, when mixed with new standards of food production from farm to fork and the cooperation of the farmers, meant the journey had started.

I fell in love with local when I had the restaurant and the first county market opened up. Since then local has had a major journey with new producers coming on stream with products from beers and wines to doughnuts and scotch eggs. Virtually every week I stumble across new producers. I bought some guinea fowl for a dinner party last week, sourced from only 12 miles from home – delicious! And I chose them from the ones running in front of me just the week before.  What is for certain is that Gloucestershire has one of the most diverse, tasty and thriving natural kitchens in the UK. From its land, rivers, lakes and skies it is one of the best.

There are so many reasons why buying local can be great. I will leave it to the bloggers to say why or why not. It is I think fair to say that just because it’s local doesn’t mean it’s any good. However the poor stuff is in small supply and nature seems to take care of whether or not people choose it for long. What local and, normally hand in hand, seasonal bring is freshness, value for money and taste. For me though after 10 years of sourcing as much as possible within a 30-mile radius of our kitchen I have seen great produce and like everywhere some that doesn’t have the same appeal. We now tell people to buy local for 3 simple reasons, and try to take out the politics – and there really are a lot of politics.

My reasons are:

1. You like it – otherwise you may as well throw your money away. 
2. You can afford it – whether that be a great value Osso Bucco or a fillet steak
3. You can cook it – gastro or simple cheese on toast.

Oh and by the way, the best tips on how to cook and use the local products don’t come from me but from the producers themselves – they grow, nurture and live their culture and know the products like the back of their hands. Only at a market can you have such engaging conversations with the producers.

There is no legal definition of local. The Farmers Markets tend to use a 30 mile radius for its production with strict rules for guest producers. I will let TSO colleagues blog the site with some of the further rules and regulations but I think there are a number of things that leave consumers confused. Add into the mix farm shops, local butchers and greengrocers and delicatessens and we have so many places to buy our “local” food.

What really is local? Should there be criteria in law? Is my local supermarket local?  Is buying local more expensive? How do I know that a butchers shop is really selling me locally sourced meat? How do I complain if it’s no good? Does all local have to be organic?

I know that many people have argued that Farmers Markets are just for the niche and the middle classes. What I have seen at markets are people from all backgrounds and cultures and of all ages purchasing food because they value it as one of the most important choices in their life and of the future.


Can we get Gloucestershire cooking before Jamie Oliver does?

Get Gloucestershire CookingRob Rees says…

Readers may know that Jamie Oliver is developing his ‘Ministry of Food’ project with the City of Rotherham. The ultimate goal is to set up a city that cooks and grows and values good food more. The ambition is to make it the first city that does so.

Well I think that the whole of county of Gloucestershire has already done it.

We have a ‘Get Gloucestershire Cooking’ project that has been going here for the last 2 years and I also know that there are numerous groups doing there best at inspiring people to grow their own food, support quality markets and farm shops and also ultimately to get people cooking nutritous food – fresh, frozen, tinned or dried – it all counts towards the better diet.

I think this blog needs you to share your cooking project – let us know what you like cooking. Did you know that every child has the right at secondary school from September to take part in practical cooking – at last! Go on encourage your child, nephew, niece, grandchild to take up the cooking challenge at school next year.

For those that don’t like cooking – which I think is fine – I don’t like gardening that much but have given it a go. What do you think of being told that it’s the way to make us healthier?

Indeed we ate far more calories during the 60s but our lifestyle was different then – have things changed that much and if so what do you think we should do?

Should all school meals be FREE?

From Rob Rees…

I have been on my travels recently discovering school meal systems around the world and speaking to lots of different people. Did you know that in India they feed 150 Million School Meals every day and for FREE! They make sure they are seasonal and enjoy regional differences. I have to say they just look divine.

Australia has no school meals at all just packed lunches for primary schools and poor quality “tuck” for secondary schools full of processed meat pies and deep fried fatty foods. Australia has the fastest growing obesity crisis in the world!

In Japan people still pay for their school meals at a similar price to here in the UK. There is a big cultural difference there though that the Japanese Government at the beginning of each school year sends a cheque to families from more deprived communities who then spend it wisely on developing their child’s future with a hope that they can pull themselves out of the baseline of poverty – amazing! Do you think every parent would spend it as wisely here? In Hull for sometime all school meals were provided for free but interestingly it still didn’t increase the uptake.

What do you think? Should school meals be FREE?

Vegetarians and Burgers

In this burger debate it would be too easy to let the voice of Vegetarians go unheard. We weren’t prepared to let that happen. We spoke with Su Taylor of the UK’s Vegetarian Society. The Vegetarian Society is the oldest vegetarian society in the world and committed to promoting vegetarian choices and lifestyles.

Su was keen to answer our questions and discuss the Vegetarian’s take on the burger. First, we tackled moral implications concerning Vegetarians and eating meat burgers (or any meat for that matter). Su explained:

In a survery conducted on behalf of The Vegetarian Society, the majority of people said that  they gave up meat and fish because they did not morally approve of killing animals, or  because they objected to the ways in which animals were kept, treated and killed for food.  But there are as many reasons for becoming vegetarian as there are vegetarians.”

Su also pointed out the health angle provoking many people to become vegetarians:

 “Many  people are becoming vegetarian because it matches the kind of low fat, high fibre diet  recommended by dietitians and doctors. The environment is another contributing factor as  people become more aware of the environmental effect of raising animals for meat. Some  might also be concerned about wasting world food resources by using land to raise animals  for meat instead of growing crops that can feed more people directly”.

To vegetarians, eating a meat burger is environmentally unfriendly and unhelpful in the current food crisis climate. However, Su didn’t neglect burgers entirely. Instead she pointed us towards the Vegetarian Society’s approved range of veggie burgers. But are these any good?

Yes! But there are lots to choose from so it’s worth looking around the supermarket and your local wholefood shop” Su also notes the healthy aspect of these burgers. “It depends what it’s mae with and the way it’s cooked, but they can be much healthier. Veggie burgers come in all shapes and sizes nad are made from a variety of ingredients like pulses (Beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas), nutes, seeds, soya, Quron and wheat proteins“.

What do you think? Do you agree that vegetarian burgers might be healthier and more environmentally free than meat burgers? Is it ethically better to eat a Veggie burger than a meaty burger?


June Debate: So what’s wrong if I have a burger?

Eat me!Rob Rees says…

I expect you imagine me to be all evangelical on this one and that I shall chastise anyone who happens to put a huge chunk of meat slapped between two baps anywhere near their mouth. Well actually you would be wrong.

I happen to enjoy a burger as much as the next person. However as is always the phrase these days is “its about the balance”.

I don’t recall my Mum ever giving me processed food as a child. The old fashioned values of cooking from scratch ran deep in our household – even on a tight budget. That meant I wasn’t part of the generation fearful to the onslaught of Mad Cow Disease.

The 1990s saw the John Gummer debacle feeding his child a burger and the proclamation at the time that it’s perfectly safe to eat. What folly! Thanks to the Food Standards Agency, Trading Standards Officers, Meat Hygiene Service and the majority of meat producers we now have a regained confidence in the meat entering the food chain.

Lets also not forget that burgers can be healthy. Imagine quality meat mixed with finely chopped shallots and aromatic spices all bound with free range egg and breadcrumbs and grilled with a drizzle of olive oil. Yummy. Reality says that doesn’t exist. There are tough minimum requirements for meat content for such mass produced items and definitions around natural and homemade that you can read about further on the site. This should make things more nutritious for us and certainly easier for us to make the right choice.

School Food has moved away as much as possible from shaped products in recent years so that we can get young people recognising what real food looks like. In an environment where up to last year children had the chance to eat a burger or processed item every day with very little true meat content it is absolutely right to say you cant have it anymore.  

As for the rest of us… some of the fast food outlets create items that give us a quick shot of energy and very little. Once in a while to indulge is your choice. For those that do it more regularly you become other peoples problem as the obesity crisis deepens and challenges our economy. There will always be those that buck the trend. I had an Auntie who smoked 40 a day and lived till she was 80 but that doesn’t make it right.