What is the Good Food Nation Bill?

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on the good food nation bill introduced in the Scottish Parliament last year in a two-part series.

Last Sunday I was invited to be part of the BBC Radio 4 “The Food Programme”. You Can Cook along with Locavore; Edinburgh’s new organic and ethical supermarket. Our organisations were the only two social enterprises that took part in this programme that assess the country’s health and food system, and looked at what opportunities and hurdles lie ahead as the Good Food Nation Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament last year by MSP Mairi Gougeon for Angus North and Mearns and Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands.

So, what is the Good Food Nation Bill? The Bill requires the Scottish Ministers and certain public bodies to create Good Food Nation Plans. The relevant bodies identified in the Bill are health boards and local authorities (or councils). Other public bodies may be required to produce plans in the future. The Scottish Ministers and relevant authorities need to have regard to these plans when carrying out certain functions. These functions will be set out by the Scottish Ministers in secondary legislation that will be considered by the Parliament. The Bill was created to support the ambition of the Scottish Government that Scotland becomes a ‘Good Food Nation’. In 2014, the Scottish Government published a discussion document titled ‘Recipe for Success: Scotland’s National Food and Drink Policy – Becoming a Good Food Nation’ which made a commitment that by 2025, Scotland will be “a Good Food Nation, where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day”.

The Bill encompasses the following key concepts:

1. the people of Scotland taking a keen interest in their food;
2. the people who serve and sell food ensuring that it is good quality food;
3. everyone in Scotland having easy access to the healthy and nutritious food that they need;
4. dietary related diseases declining;
5. the environmental impact of food consumption decreasing; and
6. Scottish producers ensuring that what they produce is increasingly healthy and environmentally sound.

Children in Scotland have responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the Good Food Nation Bill, calling for the right to food to be incorporated into Scots law. Some readers may be aware that the ‘right to food’ Scotland bill covers very different aspects of food and was proposed by Labour MSP Rhona Grant and the intention is to incorporate the bill in Scots law. In the final part of my column, I will look at what the Good Food Nation Bill actually does in practice and the importance of linking it with the Right to Food Scotland Bill in order to have a positive and long-term impact on Scotland’s population and environment.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 4th March 2022

Is Being Vegan the Future?

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on veganism in a two-part series.

Its 2022 and here is hoping this year gets better than the previous two years! The first part of this two-part column will focus on what is veganism and why it’s becoming a lifestyle choice for many citizens around the planet. Climate change has not only made us aware of the dangers of pollution and life on this planet via extraction and burning of fossil fuels; but also put our food choices right in the mix too. Since the industrialisation of our food began in true earnest in the 60’s, humankind has been pushing life on earth to its extremes.

So, what is veganism? In a nutshell, a vegan is someone who restricts themselves to a plant-based diet and has no animal ingredients directly or indirectly in their diet. A vegan also makes choices that don’t support the exploitation and cruelty to animals for clothing, cosmetic research or any other purpose and by doing so promotes the development and use of animal free alternatives. Veganism as a term came into existence in 1944 when some members of the British Vegetarian Society wanted a space in their regular newsletter specifically for people who avoided all animal products in diet including eggs and all dairy products. When the request was rejected by the Vegetarian Society, a gentleman named Donald Watson coined the term “Vegan” and created a new quarterly publication whose subscribers included the legendary George Bernard Shaw. Veganism took a long time to grow and become popular and from being a fad and celebrity endorsed diet it is now becoming mainstream and very popular among environmentalist and the health-conscious younger generation who are more in tune with the climate challenges facing the planet.

Readers may also know that a vegetarian is different from a vegan; while a vegetarian will consume milk and milk related products, eggs, honey to name a few but a vegan will not. Latest poll figures show that a third of the UK are interested in becoming vegans! Going vegan will also likely increase your education and your awareness regarding your diet and what’s good for you and what’s not. By learning about proper nutrition, you may be able to increase your health level, which may give you all kinds of advantages in your life and will also likely increase your life expectancy. In our current technological state, it is also rather easy to go vegan compared to centuries ago. Through the internet, you can get plenty of delicious recipes and also some tips on how to avoid mistakes related to veganism. We recently launched our YouTube Recipe channel and every Friday new and exciting recipes will be uploaded which include a good selection of vegan dishes.

Veganism and the related vegan diet have become quite popular over the past decade. People become more aware of their health and many of us also want to avoid supporting the factory farming industry. Going vegan has many important advantages, however, it also implies serious downsides. It is on you to decide whether a vegan diet is the right way to go or not. Before making this decision, make sure to check out all the pros and cons of veganism in order to make a profound decision since it could heavily influence your quality of life as well as your health.

Thus, going vegan is a great way to save our animals, to increase our health levels and to slow down global warming at the same time. Veganism involves the openness to change in order to prevent suffering, the willingness to be creative and to cook healthy tasteful meals. Next month we will look at the pros and cons of being a vegan.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 7th January 2022

Universal Credit – A Conservative & Unionist Policy to Eradicate the Working Poor!

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week it’s the Tories toxic Universal Credit system which is disproportionately affecting the disabled, working poor and low-income families.

A very long time ago I had written about the shambles that would be Universal Credit, a policy introduced by Tory MP Ian Duncan Smith to make poverty disappear and work pay. All very good, since he had this epiphany while touring Easterhouse a council estate in Glasgow in 2002. This tour was carried out for his Think Tank Centre for Social Justice which was set up to find solutions to poverty in modern Britain.

Public memory is short-lived and our MPs know this, as even though they are responsible for the worst atrocities (benefit cuts) committed during peacetime on the British public, the Tories have managed to consolidate their power and even influence the working class to vote for them in the last general elections by blaming the ‘other’, in this case European citizens living and working in the UK. Brexit and Covid have decimated the livelihoods of millions of citizens and their families with many losing their jobs overnight and many having to resort to food banks to make ends meet and provide food for their children. The £20 top-up that was provided to every single claimant of universal credit last year has now been withdrawn, leaving many to fall back on food banks, loan sharks and if living in private rented accommodation at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords who are waiting to evict tenants who cannot pay their rent. I have said this before, in principle I do agree with the concept of Universal Credit as it was designed to incorporate six benefits into one. But in practice it was a disaster as the founders of this system; The Centre for Social Justice, were clueless about the complexities of the previous benefit system. There is still no evidence that Universal Credit is getting people into work compared to the previous system by the Labour government in 1999, while the costs of implementing it has risen to over £1.4 billion.

The National Audit Office said that the controversial five week wait for a first universal credit payment continued to exacerbate many claimants’ debt problems and push them into hardship. Vulnerable claimants – including those with physical, mental or learning disabilities, people with few digital skills, or with chaotic lives – were more likely to struggle with their claim, the NAO said, with the complicated process of moving onto the benefit causing payment delays and financial problems for these claimants.

On a final note, the £20 top-up was actually what amount claimants would have been receiving today if taking inflation into account and had the Tories not cut the benefit amount and thresholds of Housing, Working Tax and Child Tax Credits. The rich have got richer and the poor are made to fight among themselves. Divide and rule, the classic British policy is now being used on its own citizens for keeping the status quo.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 8th October 2021

 

COP26 Glasgow 2021 – Scotland’s Time to Shine on the World Stage – Part II

 

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, continues in this second and final part of his two-part column to share his thoughts on the real reasons behind the apathy from pursuing urgent climate policies, the current status-quo’s main benefactors along with possible ideas and solutions to empower citizens of the world to help save our planet.

Why this apathy from governments and corporations across the globe in rejecting fossil fuels and fully embracing renewables?  The answer is our insatiable thirst for cheap oil and the powerful lobby that controls all aspects of the economy. Since the 1960’s there has been a growing movement by environmentalist in the West to raise awareness and educate its citizens on the devastating impact of oil on the planet since the industrial revolution. The eco-system, indigenous cultures and people have faced the brunt of big corporations and countries like the US and UK bulldozing their way through developing and third world countries in search of oil and other resources to feed their ever-growing consumerism.

China was chosen by Western corporations to become the intensive factory producing country of all its goods to be then transported all across the globe. The narrative globally is that China is one of the main polluters of the world. Of course, it is, what were you expecting when your own country closes most of its manufacturing industries and transfers all production to China because of its lax labour laws, non-existing human rights and the fear of a communist state to force its people to work in sometimes hostile and unsafe conditions. The world has bankrolled the communist state of China and turned a blind eye to all atrocities committed by the Chinese state in exchange for cheap goods and low environmental standards. Scotland like the rest of the UK, Europe, Japan and the US are all poised to meet their carbon emissions target. But this is a lie and misleading. So long as China keeps producing over 70% of the world’s goods, it will also be responsible for high carbon emissions.

The main beneficiaries of this one-sided trade arrangements are the biggest oil corporations like BP, Shell, etc. the list goes on. Shareholders and CEOs are making a killing in profits and will continue to do so if we don’t take action now. I sometimes feel we have already crossed the line of no return and we all are heading towards the cliff.

On a positive note, we had some good news last weekend, were members of the Green Party and the SNP voted to sign a deal making it a coalition government in the Scottish parliament. This gave the Scottish Greens its first attempt at being in government anywhere in the whole of the UK. Members from both political parties voted overwhelmingly in support of the agreement. Since the COP26 climate conference is to be held soon in Glasgow, this will give the ruling coalition plenty of time to formulate a green message to be delivered by Scotland in Scotland to the rest of the world.

Citizens from across the globe should work together in not supporting heavy fossil fuel industries by delinking from any financial gains currently being received in the forms of investments, shares and pensions. By switching to alternate providers that are ethical and support the environment, this will starve these industries of much needed cash to keep drilling for more oil. Politicians and civil servants should have in their contracts a clause forbidding them to be in a position to gain financially from the oil industry. Fossil fuel lobbyists should be banned from meeting any government officials elected or otherwise and all policies relating to fossil fuels should be made available to the general public for scrutiny before passing into law. Heavy fines should be imposed depending on company or individuals’ income as sometimes a few millions worth of fines is a drop in the ocean for oil corporations.

Here is hoping the human race stands together to fight greed and corruption and put mother nature first.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 3rd September 2021.

Triple Blow to UK Citizens by Tory Government Policies

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week it’s higher energy bills, the end of furlough and removal of the £20 top-up to Universal Credit, a triple whammy, as millions of families will struggle financially this winter having to choose between feeding themselves or keeping warm!

From 1st October over 15 million people could be waking up to a massive increase in their energy bills with the announcement that the energy cap on some deals will be increasing by £139 per year. This is happening due to a combination of factors including Brexit and a rise in wholesale gas prices by more than 50% since the beginning of the year. Cheap energy deals are disappearing and becoming a rarity in the open market putting huge financial strains on low-income families and pensioners. The good news is that we can still reduce our bills as the price cap applies to certain energy deals like standard, default and out-of-contract tariff. Basically, they all mean the same thing i.e., if you have haven’t switched your energy supplier in a while or took no action when your last fixed deal ended, then you will be one of those that will be impacted by the price rise. Global prices of fossil fuels are rising, especially gas due to Covid-19 and a longer winter last year also meant that refiling of gas stores was delayed. Since some of our electricity is generated from gas, this means electricity prices are affected too. Energy companies are not obliged to increase their prices to match the new cap but big energy firms will do so in order to keep shareholders happy.

Add the removal of the £20 per week top-up to Universal Credit and the end of furlough and we are heading into a perfect storm brought about by polices of the Westminster (Tory) government which the Scottish government (SNP & Greens) have no control over. The worst hit will be those on prepayment meters. These are like pay as you go i.e., top up as you go along and are mostly used by low-income groups. Prepayment customers are charged more for each unit of energy than people on standard credit meters. In fact, the cheapest prepaid tariffs (£1,052, according to Ofgem) was found to be over £200 more expensive than the cheapest direct debit tariff (£846) in August 2019. Prepayment meter tariffs are also covered by the price cap. These are set to rise by even more. If you’ve chosen a fixed deal (one that has a set contract length) then you won’t be affected by the price cap changes. Housing charity Shelter estimates that nearly half a million private tenants are in arrears and this figure has doubled since the pandemic. Private renters spend more of their income on housing than any other housing tenure. Social housing is scarce and not readily available to fill the gap. The outdated Local Housing Allowance Rates needs a major overhaul as is not fit for purpose e.g., Scottish Borders is allocated a maximum of £74.79 per week rent (£324.09 per month). This is fine if you live in some remote parts of the Borders and in social housing but not in Peebles or the surrounding areas including Innerleithen. A private one-bedroom flat for rent in Peebles is around £450+. Which planet do these politicians live on, definitely not the same as us mere mortals?

We are going to witness a winter of discontent across the country if the Westminster Tory government does not get its act together and remove policy’s that impact the majority of the citizens of this country. Here is hoping that the four nations can keep themselves warm and well fed this coming winter.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 20th August 2021.

UK Government to phase out £20 per week extra support to Universal Credit Claimants!

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week it’s the Tories announcement to phase out the £20 a week increase to Universal Credit introduced last year during lockdown to help individuals and families struggling financially due to the pandemic.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey told MPs last week that the £20 boost – introduced in April last year to Universal Credit to help deal with the economic effects of Covid – would be phased out by end of September. Devastating news for people on low income who rely on the state to top-up their meagre wages. We are now at the mercy of the Tories who have an overwhelming majority at Westminster thanks to English voters. Six former work and pensions secretaries have urged ministers to keep the £20 top up until the economy stabilises and claimants don’t suffer financially in the short term. Ms Coffey said the change had been a “collective decision” by ministers. The prime minister said the government is focusing on a “jobs-led” recovery from the pandemic, and was keen to “get people into work”. What planet do these Tories live on? Tory MP and their family, friends and donors have hugely benefitted financially from the pandemic. In my previous columns I have named and shamed these individuals and their companies and the billions lost due to tax payer funded schemes like furlough, contracts, etc. Tens of thousands of people did not claim universal credit during the early part of the pandemic because they felt too ashamed to sign on benefits, often despite struggling to pay rent and bills, a study has found.

Universal credit is claimed by almost 6 million households in the UK and was introduced by Tory Ian Duncan Smith in the early years of the Tories winning the election in 2010 but with Liberal Democrats as their coalition partners to replace six benefits and merge them into one benefit payment for working-age people. Many sane and educated people voted for the Tories in order to get rid of the so called “benefit scroungers”. Little did voters realise that the Tories in fact were taking apart a generous, fair and equitable welfare state to line their pockets instead. Karma is a universal concept well known in the east as a way of reminding people that what goes around come around. Strange that the very people who fell for the demonisation of the working class and people claiming benefits found themselves in dire straits financially last year during the pandemic as the state did not provide them with the safety net that this country built for its citizens exactly for such a scenario. This country is part of the G7 club, i.e., the seven richest countries on this planet! The question we citizens need to ask is where is all this money? And who is reaping the financial benefits? Tory MP’s and their families and friends have been directly or indirectly linked to companies that have financially gained from this arrangement from the Corporation that have contracts to deliver the various benefit systems, NHS contracts in England and Wales and major public service contracts like the BBC’s licensing fees!

Poverty campaigners have spoken out against removing this £20 per week top-up and have asked the government to make this permanent keeping in mind inflation and also the steep rise in food and other essentials since Brexit this year. This top-up amounts to a measly £1000 a year per household, but this has made the difference for some families between getting by and falling further into poverty. Overall, about 500,000 people in the UK chose not to claim universal credit, even though they most likely would have been entitled to it, the study found.  The perceived stigma around benefits – with some people feeling, they were for “dole scroungers” and “freeloaders” – meant many refused state help, or put off making a claim until they ran into serious difficulty.

We are no longer living in a humane society, and we treat animals better than our fellow human beings. Something has gone terribly wrong in Great Britain! It’s no longer great.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 16 July 2021.

Scottish Democracy Prevails in 2021

SNP win 4th term at Holyrood

What a milestone for the SNP to be elected for a fourth consecutive term despite the negative and scare mongering tactics used by the Unionist parties and media. Scotland is truly ready to go it alone with its own written constitution, that is not ambiguous and vague and will stand up for the most vulnerable and weak in society. Boris Johnson has no reason or excuse anymore to deny the rights of the Scottish electorate. Democratic voting is not once in a lifetime exercise and England has this opportunity to switch back to being part of Europe if it wishes too and nobody can stop or stand in its way if it changes its mind tomorrow. The Scots will stand and support the English in exercising their democratic right to change their mind. For those you are spinning the results to suit their agenda and undermine democracy, here are some basic facts;

1-  If Scotland had a first past the post system like Westminster, then the SNP would have won between 108 and 110 seats in a 129-seat parliament. But instead, they won 62 out of 73 constituencies and only picked up 2 seats on the regional lists even though they had the highest number of votes.

2 – David Cameron fought the 2015 general elections on holding a referendum on Brexit and won by a 37% vote share, while the SNP has won 48% of the votes share. No argument here for a second Independence Referendum as the above stats don’t lie. The democratic will of the people has to be respected.

3 – The third most important point to make is that the voting system imposed by Westminster on the Scottish electorate is proportional representation i.e. The D’Hondt system. This is designed specifically not to give any single party an outright majority, which is why its technically wrong to say that the SNP have not won a majority!

This system is definitely much fairer than the one used at Westminster elections and should be replaced too as that will make English voters not lose their votes in the current first past the post system.

And finally, to sum up the negative campaign run by the Unionists parties who only focused on stopping IndyRef 2! You had plenty of time to make the case for an equal Union but instead you tried to ram your elitist ideology down people’s throats and introduced degrading policies and economic decisions that hurt the common people the most. The canny Scots once again saw through this hollow Unionism and here is hoping that in an independent Scotland, Unionists will focus on real needs of real people and not just the financial needs of their family and friends.

Please remember you can stop voting for the SNP in an Independent Scotland as other parties will be formed to keep the SNP on track in delivering a better Scotland for all.

Letter to the Editor published in the Peeblesshire News on 14th May 2021

Reduce meat and dairy consumption to reverse the impact of climate change

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on how we can live on a less meat diet that does not have a devastating impact on our planet.

When we talk about climate change, it mostly refers to reducing our air or food miles and moving from oil/coal to an environmentally friendly renewable option. One big factor is most often missed out in discussions and legislations at government or international levels; meat and dairy farming. Western meat and dairy diet are a big contributory factor to carbon emissions since the 80’s and has gotten worse with many poor and developing nations like China increasing meat in their diets from occasionally to every day! It’s not rocket science to understand the damage this will do to reduce our carbon footprint globally even if we make massive changes to other aspects of our lifestyle. Current data shows that meat and dairy farming is responsible for around 14% of greenhouse gasses.

Research shows that vegetarian and vegan diets are much more sustainable and climate friendly than meat consumption. So how do we go about achieving a reduction in meat and dairy in our diets? Simple solution is to reduce and ultimately stop importing these foods from other countries were its cheaper to produce them but as a consequence have a detrimental impact on the local ecosystems and people. For example, cattle raised on UK lands get access to greener pastures than those reared in South America where deforestation is creating a huge problem to local indigenous populations, their livelihoods and contributes to soil erosion due to pesticides and fertilisers used to generate single type of crops for Western consumption.

Unfortunately, subsequent studies have also shown that even if all Western countries shift to home produced meat solely fed on grass, then that too is not the solution as the already high consumption by countries and individuals will not make a dent in the carbon emissions. The only way forward is producing meat and dairy sustainably, locally and using organic farming methods.

Supermarkets sell milk and some meat products at cost or even at a loss in order to keep their customers coming through the doors. This practice alone not only distorts prices and the perception that meat is affordable but also creates huge amounts of food wastes that goes to landfill and money down the drain from the point of view of the customer. In the UK 4.5 million tons of edible food is thrown away by households and this also contributes to our carbon footprint.

A few years ago, food policy experts concluded that Western countries like the UK should adopt a radical method of eating, whereby they ate meat once a week and reduce milk to a maximum of one glass a day. If you convert to being a vegan and vegetarian than the impact improves dramatically. Growing up in India my family could only afford to buy meat once a week or on special occasions like birthdays. We had a very varied diet with fish, vegetables and pulses and food was cooked from fresh produce and ingredients bought on the day from the market. Only a radical change will stop the planet from tipping over. Tinkering at the edges and shifting the blame on countries like China where the local population want the lifestyle of the West will not help solve the issue. It’s time to act globally but we as citizens of Scotland need to act locally too as any small changes we make will collectively have an impact on polices that will help reduce our carbon footprint.

 Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 5th March 2021.

Brexit Saga Ends -Breakup of UK Begins

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week it’s the beginning of the end of the Tory party because of its decade long austerity, divisions on class, extreme poverty, hungry children and the final nail in the coffin of the breakup of the United Kingdom, a Brexit Deal!

2020 will go down in history as the year the elected majority Conservative party and the political system at Westminster struck the final blow to democracy, decency, equality and social justice in this country. The Brexit saga continues as I write this column even though a deal has been reached by both sides. Boris’s oven baked deal last year had got burnt and was no longer edible, even to himself as he then chose to break International law by trying to push the Internal Market Bill through parliament. Analysts, journalists and economists are pouring over the finer details of the 1246 pages trade agreement. So, chaos will reign in her Majesty’s Kingdoms with England finally getting a deal, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are left feeling frustrated and bewildered by English attitudes towards the European Union and the cost to its young citizens that will be left feeling isolated and insecure with a United Europe.

Covid-19 has mutated into a new strain and Dover was shut due to France opting to protect its citizens and its Borders. 7-mile queues of trucks were common sight for a few days with drivers feeling frustrated and angry and the army had to be put on standby for any eventuality that may arise. Lucky for us France opened its Borders to allow freight and other essential trucks to move thereby reducing the traffic jam and backlog near Kent. We are in Lockdown once again and no end in sight to our situation changing soon in the new year. Unemployment has risen exponentially and the benefit system that the Tories and Lib-Dems coalition put in place since 2010 has been proven to be ineffective and driven many of its claimants to poverty, homelessness, suicides and Foodbanks! Benefit sanctions were imposed on nearly a quarter of a million residents last year from April 2019 until March 2020 according to research by the House of Commons Library. These include people seeking Universal Credit, Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance. This was temporarily suspended at the beginning of Covid-19 but reinstated in July. Unemployment has reached record levels and we now know that sanctions only push people and families into financial hardship and foodbanks. Yes! The Furlough scheme was great and it kept certain people in their jobs but no pay rises and money for the self-employed, key workers and individuals on zero-hour contracts who are working on poverty wages.

Hoping that 2021 brings in positive change and social justice for all, especially key workers, some of whom who have lost their lives while making sure the economy and food supply chains stay open while we can feed our families and loved ones. We will never forget the ones who are benefiting from the misery of others, its time for change and Scotland finally becoming an Independent nation. Just like England, we need to take control over our borders, immigration and laws and make Scotland a Republic!

Stay safe and Good Luck to all in 2021!

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 8th January 2021.