Throughout history, food has fundamentally defined our way of life. From hunter-gatherers to industrial farming, famines, ethnic culinary influences and veganism, food has the power to transform entire landscapes and societies.
Scotland has a strong reputation and diversity in terms of food and hospitality. Food and drink is one of the biggest sectors of the economy.
Over the past decade food exports have more than doubled. It’s Scotland biggest employer and the industry is worth around £15 billion, according to Scotland Food and Drink.
But there’s another side to the story. In an era of food insecurity, food can also be used to build strong local communities and drive powerful social impacts.
There are food social enterprises, of all shapes and sizes, in most parts of Scotland. This includes running cafés and providing catering, as well as promoting healthy eating to improve physical and mental health.
Community-run food gardens, hospitality spaces and cookery classes for social connection are other activities, as well as promoting food justice and running food banks, and social enterprises like Soulfood Sisters, a group of migrant women from all over the world, based in the east end of Glasgow.
They swap food knowledge and skills, ending social isolation and empowering women to develop their talents in the kitchen and beyond. We also have You Can Cook in the Scottish Borders, organising engaging cookery classes, demonstrations and workshops on nutrition and food issues all over Scotland, promoting “food as medicine”.
There are high profile food enterprises like Social Bite plus long-established The Bread Maker, providing training, education and social activities to adults with learning disabilities.
According to the Social Enterprise Census 2019, there are almost 140 food, catering and hospitality social enterprises. That’s up by a big 77 per cent, though this does come from a small starting point.
Scotland’s newer and younger social enterprises are disproportionately operating in fields such as food. The collective economic contribution (GVA) was £17.9m in 2019 – an 83 per cent increase since 2017.
There are many more brilliant examples. The strength of our food social enterprises is really in their diversity and breadth of activities.
Innovative enterprises like Locavore aim to build a more sustainable local food system, with an ethical grocery store, café, catering and more, educating people about the sources and impact of food.
CFINE supports disadvantaged people in north east Scotland. It sells fruit, vegetables and healthy snacks and runs a pop-up café and cookery school. It is currently expanding FareShare, diverting quality food from the food industry to good causes.
Then there’s Sikh Sanjog working to empower marginalised women and boost their confidence and skills. Founded 30 years ago in the kitchen of an office block in Edinburgh, its brand, Punjabi Junction, runs catering, food stalls, classes and events.
The Scottish Food Coalition and Nourish Scotland are campaigning for “the right to food” and a Good Food Nation Bill. This could mean lots of new opportunities for social enterprises and the people they serve.
This emerging food policy agenda will help social enterprises continue to drive food forward for powerful social impact.
Duncan Thorp, Social Enterprise Scotland