With sustainability becoming more and more important, not only in Scotland, but around the world, Scots chefs, diners, shoppers, and supermarkets are looking closer to home to source fresh, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients. This means cutting imports, air miles and transportation costs, and supporting local growers and producers.

Today, eating and drinking sustainably in Scotland – without breaking the budget - no longer just means keeping a lookout for organic and vegan options in shops or on the menu. 

Throughout the country, whether you need to stockpile the kitchen cupboards, pick up a local delicacy to take home, or are simply after something to eat on the go; there is an ever-growing number of options that allow you to do so sustainably.

Old methods - new ideas

Historically, Scots ate a simple, healthy, and seasonal diet – low in red meat, high in carbohydrates, oily fish, vegetables, pulses, and grains. Most people knew where their food came from. As the country grew wealthier and our lives became time-poor, our consumption of red meat and processed food grew, resulting in a range of easily avoidable health problems.

Today, that idea of seasonal and local sourcing is making a comeback, with even the big market players realising that consumers want to play their part in making sure Scotland eats a healthy and sustainable diet.

Shelf the supermarket

In Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, the sustainability charge is being led by Locavore, a social enterprise that offers a fully sustainable and organic alternative to the big supermarkets. Locavore (glasgowlocavore.org)

It has its own farm, spread across three sites, which supplies its café and shops with organic meals and produce. Not only a living-wage employer, a large portion of its profits fund charitable initiatives to help tackle food poverty and support other local growers. 

From locally grown, and packed, veg boxes, to sustainably grown and sourced vegetables and pulses, to freshly baked bread, and their own outside catering arm, that ‘from field to fork’ ethos is central to Locavore’s mission.

In a further bid to champion sustainability, and cut down on packaging, and food waste, their Govanhill shop, housed in a converted pub, also offers a refill service for everyday goods, such as spices, dried pulses, and pasta, meaning you can buy just what you need.

Their mission statement is simple; to create short, fair, and sustainable supply chains that benefit producers while helping to give independent businesses the edge to compete with supermarkets and big businesses.

Red leaf spells danger

While Locavore is leading the local food sustainability charge, some of the big High Street players are upping their game when it comes to putting power and decision-making in the hands of consumers. 

Budget supermarket Lidl is set to introduce a new, sustainability traffic light system in all of its Scottish stores ahead of COP26, which comes to Glasgow in November.

The Eco-Score system (Eco-Score - www.lidl.co.uk) independently assesses various factors including production methods, impact on biodiversity, packaging, and carbon footprint, with products receiving better scores if they are certified to third-party schemes such as Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance. More sustainable products receive a green rating, while less sustainable ones might receive an amber or red score. 

Commenting on the initiative, Amali Bunter, Head of Responsible Sourcing and Ethical Trade at Lidl, said: “Rolling out the Eco-Score trial in Scotland is a huge milestone for Lidl, one we’re extremely proud of.

We know that shoppers want more support in understanding the environmental impact of the products they buy day-to-day and Eco-Score will do just that.

“The trial will help customers in our 105 Scottish stores road test the new traffic light system and ultimately make greener shopping choices in the process.”

'Shroom for improvement

Eating sustainably needn’t mean giving up on life’s little luxuries. In Forres, in the north of Scotland, business partners Isabella Guerrini de Claire and Iain Findlay are growing exotic mushrooms, with a no-waste policy. Green Grow Foods, Home delivery | Green Grow Food | Scotland

Their award-winning company, Green Grow, an offshoot of Aurora Sustainability, grows its oyster mushrooms in redundant shipping containers, using discarded coffee grounds, and spent grains from the brewing and whisky industry as the growth medium. The containers are warmed using spare heat from a local distillery.

From luxury mushroom meal boxes to mushroom-based vegan haggis, and functional, fungi-based protein foods, they literally grow taste with zero-waste.

They’re also developing new, fungi-based eco-packaging material for their products with Aberdeen University and Belgian Company, Glimps. This research and development project will see them going plastic-free, and use mycelium, the roots of the mushrooms they’re growing, to package their products.

The proof is on the plate

Ahead of the COP26 gathering in Glasgow, which will see tens of thousands of delegates gather in the city, local restaurants and chefs are also playing their part in the sustainability crusade, by trying to eradicate food waste.

Plate up for Glasgow is a hospitality industry-led campaign scheduled to coincide with COP26. Piloted through the Circular Glasgow initiative and funded by Experience Glasgow Food and Drink Regional Group, the campaign aims to highlight and encourage hospitality businesses to act upon the global issue of food waste and its impact on climate change by offering zero-waste dining options throughout the month-long event.

Appetite for change

The campaign’s ambition is to challenge traditional and wasteful dining and takeaway business models with the goal of sending as little organic waste as possible to landfills. It is hoped that businesses can rebuild the local economy while collaborating on how to become more sustainable and profitable.

Jonathan MacDonald, Chef Patron of the city’s award-winning Ox and Finch restaurant, says: “It offers a real opportunity to showcase our city’s culinary innovations to visitors from all over the world."

Moving to more modern and sustainable methods within our cooking, service, manufacturing and supply chains is the next logical step as we look to reduce our carbon footprint.

Alison McRae, Senior Director, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, adds: “If we all adopted just one small change, we’d dramatically reduce the amount of food waste ending up in landfills, making a significant difference with minimum effort."

Dram fine show

It’s not only Scotland’s food producers, shops, and chefs who are championing sustainability, our distillers and brewers are also on board, producing a range of award-winning and sustainable whiskies, gins, vodkas, and beers.

In rural Angus, on the east coast, the family behind the Arbikie Highland Distillery use a ‘farm to bottle’ ethos to produce their award-winning spirit range; growing the potatoes, peas, and rye that go into making their gin, vodka, and whisky.

Brothers John, Iain and David Stirling are the visionaries and driving force behind Arbikie. 

The distillery is a genuinely single-site, field-to-bottle operation – the ingredients for all their spirits are sown, grown, and harvested from their own fields. The mountain-filtered water is drawn directly from the farm’s own underground aquifer.

Bigger ambitions

Elsewhere, on the famed Hebridean whisky island of Islay – home to 9 distilleries – the Bruichladdich Distillery is leading the race to sustainable, net-zero production by pioneering the use of an innovative type of green hydrogen production using green electricity and water electrolysis.

Douglas Taylor, Bruichladdich’s chief executive, believes that if successful the technique could help power Islay’s other distilleries, businesses, and homes. That could help transform the island, which is also the site of experimental tidal energy pilot projects, from fossil fuel dependency into renewables self-sufficiency.

And that’s something worth raising a glass to!