By Mags Hall
I’m sure you don’t need any reminding that it’s just over a week to go! And whilst seasonal eating can be heaven for us foodies, it can turn into a minefield when it comes to eating locally, ethically and green. The Soil Association estimates that a typical Christmas dinner can rack up a staggering 49,000 food miles in imported ingredients – equivalent to two journeys around the word! – so it just goes to show that whilst we should be able to relax and enjoy our food at Christmas, it’s important that we don’t forget our commitment to local eating entirely. Here’s some tips on how to approach the festive kitchen with confidence, and a clean conscience!
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
Preparation really is key to your local Christmas dinner, on so many levels. If we’re going to avoid one massive shop from the behemoth out-of-town supermarket, we’ll have to make a few trips to our local producers, farm shops and markets, or place our order on line in plenty of time. Get a pen and paper out and plan your meals, not only for Christmas dinner itself, but Christmas Eve and boxing day too. More about where to source your Xmas dinner below, but why not get together with some friends, family or neighbours this weekend, and pay a visit to some of the sites on our producers map, picking up your ingredients on the way – much more fun than pushing your way through the crowds on Princes Street!
In planning your shopping, also have a serious think about quantities – on average people eat 6,000 calories on Christmas day, three times the RDI for a woman, and twice that of a man! And yet we still manage to throw away 230,000 tonnes of food during the festive season here in the UK. Making realistic estimates on portion sizes will help you save money (and calories!) and avoid adding to the piles of Christmas waste. Love Food Hate Waste have some good advice on both portion sizes and how to use up those valuable leftovers. Avoiding a supermarket shop will also mean you’re not exposed to all those tempting ‘special offers’ that turn out to not be so special after all.
The Main Event
For most of us, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a spectacular roast bird at the center of the table, and we’re lucky enough to have Gartmorn Farm nearby producing delicious free range Turkey, Geese and Ducks. Order on line and collect from their farm near Alloa the weekend before Christmas – I can recommend a brisk winter walk with the family around Gartmorn Dam whilst you’re there! – or if that’s a bit far for you to go, some local farm shops are supplying their birds, including The Buffalo Farm and Ardross Farm Shop.
Remember though, we have loads of amazing local meat here in Fife, and if you’ve got relatives visiting from further afield, Christmas could be a great opportunity to showcase just how amazing following the Fife Diet can be! Personally I can’t think of anything more mouthwatering than a slowly roasted haunch of venison from Seriously Good Venison (their website has good cooking advice and recipes too) with mounds of braised red cabbage and beetroot, my absolute favourite veg for this time of year. Don’t just stick with tradition for the sake of it – pick your favourite Fife produce that’s in season and create your own family Christmas traditions!
A quick word on fish, an area where the Fife Diet promotes sustainability over locality; at some point over recent years, it seems to have become traditional to serve smoked salmon as a starter on Christmas day. Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly complicated to assess the environmental and ethical impact of this product. Wild Atlantic salmon scores a 5 (the worst possible rating) on the Marine Conservation Society’s rating system, due to severe stock depletion through overfishing in recent years. For a time, farmed salmon seemed to offer an ethical solution, yet recent studies have strongly suggested fish farms in Scotland are causing huge environmental damage, polluting our native waters with parasites, pesticides and other chemicals, and threatening the gene pool of the endangered wild stock. Whilst the artisan fish smokers that have sprung up rapidly in recent years are keen to inform you about the authenticity of their methods and traditional techniques, establishing the provenance of their produce can often be more difficult.
I’d recommend skipping the smoked salmon all together. Break with tradition and serve up Scottish mussels instead -rope-grown mussel farming is arguably the most sustainable form of aquaculture out there, involving no feed inputs or chemicals, but still providing valuable employment to remote and rural Scottish communities. You could also turn to the trusty mackerel for your smoked fish fix – cheap, tasty and sustainable, a smoked mackerel pate with home made bread would make an honest but worthy opener to your Christmas feast
The hidden extras…
Whilst exerting huge amounts of human energy on our feasting, it can be easy to forget the environmental (and financial!) cost of all the energy we use around the home over Christmas. And whilst I won’t go as far as this Danish website and suggest you cook your Xmas tea in the middle of the middle of the night to use up surplus energy, being energy-savvy in the kitchen is important if we’re going to keep our carbon foodprints as low as possible. If you’re steaming a pudding or cloutie dumpling on the hob, steam your veg in a big metal colander or bamboo steamer over the same pot. If you have a grill space above your oven, remember that it gets really quite warm too, when the oven’s on, and is invaluable for warming plates and bread up, without having to resort to the microwave or the hot tap. Also, my Dad has finally been vindicated on our family’s age old battle over where to keep the drinks – turns out leaving the beers and wine on the back doorstep isn’t just an eccentricity, but an important way to relieve pressure on your over-stuffed fridge, which has to work extra hard every time you open the door for a top up!
And lastly, once it’s all over for another year, be kind to your bin and don’t forget that you’re recycling collections might have changed – check out Fife Council‘s website for details. They’ll even take the Christmas tree too – although it’s down to you to hoover up all the needles.