‘Kids these days’ want to cook, so let’s give them the chance – Steve Brown
We need to teach young people about seasonal, nutritious, local food, says Steve Brown
‘Things aren’t what they used to be’ is an oft-heard phrase when discussing many of the issues that Edinburgh Food Social deals with on a daily basis. How do we change our food culture for the better? It’s a complicated and common debate. Scotland is renowned for having some of the best food in the world, but why is it then that we struggle so much with the question of what the right things are for us to eat? We are in the worst food-related health crisis the country has ever seen with the NHS spending roughly £6 billion per year on food-related health issues. There are positive changes being made but we need to place more focus on engaging young people in learning about our food history and how what we eat impacts our daily lives.
I know for certain that ‘kids these days’ don’t have it as easy as people think. As schools struggle with resourcing issues and young people battle with the pressures of social media, cooking isn’t always at the top of the agenda – especially when ultra-processed fast food, full of front-loaded flavour, high returns and low nutritional value is so easily available, including delivery to wherever you are at the time. Given our supermarkets lack any real sense of seasonality and more homogenous, investor-backed chains pop-up in our cities and towns, it is more important than ever to teach our young people about local, seasonal, nutritious food.
Edinburgh Food Social works with communities and young people across the city, sharing stories of wonky vegetables, fabulous fruit, happy meat and sustainable fish; stories of Cullen and the traditional Scots soup that bears it’s name, stories of Bryce Cunningham and ‘the ladies’ at Mossgeil Farm and the stories of self-propelling scallops and their adventures off Scotland’s coast. Our aim is to fill young people with wonder and to get them tasting things that they’ve never tried before. Sometimes the wonder is hidden behind teenage complexity and struggles away from the classroom but results are incredible – whether it’s 100 per cent of young people telling us that our work will encourage them to cook more often or in the wonderful feedback such as ‘vegetables are nice’ and ‘now I know more about where food comes from’.
As chefs and restaurateurs ourselves, our natural ambition is for some of these young people to explore a career in food after school. There’s no shying away from the fact that this industry has gained a reputation for itself with long hours and hotheaded bosses. However, chipping away at this are hospitality’s real heroes; those who treat their teams with respect and care, creating long-term plans and investing in training, inspirational trips to suppliers and helping young chefs forge a career path that is truly sustainable. When I trained to be a chef, it was a different world – a world of long days, physical and mental abuse and no real love for the food, just for the act of cooking. So, in this case, if things aren’t as they used to be, then the industry is all the better for it.
The young people that we put through our Good Food Apprenticeship programme will share our love for food and will go on to be the next generation of cooks and chefs putting local, seasonal food at the heart of their cooking- and I for one am excited for how things are today and what the future holds.
You can find out more about what we do at edinburghfoodsocial.org or visit us at Foodies Festival this weekend at the EICC, where we will be doing a cooking demonstration and chatting to visitors from the Edinburgh Food Social stand.
Steve Brown is the food and drink officer at Edinburgh Food Social