Food fit for a kingdom: Mike Small, pioneer of the Fife Diet, reflects on his year of eating locally
In the mad world we live in, an idea such as eating food from near where you come from is groundbreaking and extraordinary. Bizarrely, it was regarded as a big news story. I was one of hundreds of people who chose to eat this way for a year and have decided to continue doing so, mostly out of a real sense that climate change and peak oil were converging along with all of the other multiple dysfunctionalities of our food system. Many of us feel that eating locally is a change that will be coming anyway. As the saying goes: ‘If you want things to stay the way they are, things will have to change.’
With the Fife Diet, the idea was never to try and eat 100 per cent regionally. That would be very hard and I’m not quite sure what it would represent. The idea was to get to know your food region (what the French call the terroir) to celebrate what already grows and is reared and landed there, and explore what your place could produce.
So, what did we eat and what did we miss?
We ate seasonally and we ate what could be easily produced here without great artificial heating and for the most part without pesticides. At the end of the year we polled participants for a summary of their year. Sam from Rosyth ate ‘potatoes, carrots, onions, pork, beef, venison, beans, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, pumpkin, ice cream, butter, oats’. Wendy from Dunshelt wrote: ‘We found meat the easiest with Fletcher’s venison, Jamesfield beef and pork from a small holding near Kinghorn, also pheasant and rabbit when available. Vegetables from Bellfield supplemented by the Pillars [of Hercules] and what we grew ourselves. Fruit locally when in season and often foraged. Eggs from our own chickens.’ Another participant wrote of eating: ‘Meat: beef, buffalo, chicken, lamb, pork, venison from the farmers’ market. Fish: various fresh from Inverkeithing, and St Monans kippers. Veg from the veg box. Fruit from the farmers’ market. Also eggs, honey, cheese.’
Inevitably it was traditional dishes we cooked: pies, soups, casseroles, stews.
So it’s a diet that is made up of unprocessed foods – with few exceptions. We ate probably double the recommended five a day of fruit and veg, though admittedly fruit of a more limited range than the standard supermarket shopper has available. We ate a low (but high quality) meat diet, sourced from farms we knew well and trusted.
What did we miss? The ease of ripping open the pizza and ten minutes later chowing down on some rubbery hydrogenated tomato product was something we yearned for. But the ‘convenience’ of food is predicated on a lifestyle lashed to the job and the hectic whirlwind of the treadmill. Fast foods can be replaced: omelettes and frittata appeared instead of pizza. We allowed ourselves coffee and tea and sugar and debated about vegetable oils. It was easy enough to source the vast bulk of our food from the region of Fife. Beer from Clackmannanshire and fruit wine from Perthshire constituted welcome ‘contraband’ goods.
Fife is blessed, but not super-blessed. Lots of people I’ve spoken to said a variation on ‘Of course you can do this in Fife but you couldn’t do this where I live’. It’s a bit of a cop-out. Of course Argyll and the Highlands and the North-East has fishing that Fife would be jealous of. Many cities have better bakeries than we could dream of and surrounding regions that could easily provide wheat. Ayrshire boasts better dairy produce than Fife and Perthshire has some of the best soft fruit in Europe.
We’ve conned ourselves that we’re the poor man of Europe when we have a fantastic range of food here in Scotland. We’ve told (and taken) too many gags about deep-fried Mars bars, and it’s probably time we owned up to some of the food we have around. It’s funny that some of the best of it gets exported (seafood particularly) directly to our Celtic neighbours in France, Spain and Portugal.
We just need to learn our regions and what they can produce, re-learn how to cook and grow together, how to pickle and bottle, then how to exchange the things we long for, but can’t grow here – for some of our own delicacies. The truth is we can’t achieve a low or zero carbon society by transporting food about the world as if nature, the changing seasons, or ‘place’ doesn’t exist at all.
The idea is not self-sufficiency, but sufficiency. Living within limits is liberating. Try it.
Inspired by local eating projects such as Vancouver’s 100-mile diet, Mike and Karen Small initiated the Fife Diet in 2007. By the end of their first year in November 2008, over 600 people were involved in the project. These are some of the local food outlets Mike Small turned to (and has stayed with) while eating his Fife Diet:
‘Some of the best suppliers of fresh food in Fife include Pillars of Hercules (organic veg box delivery), Puddledub Pork at Auchtertool, Ardross Farm Shop (by Elie) and, not forgetting the need for ice cream and beer, Lucky Ales (by Cupar) and GG Ice Cream (Leven).