Meals are delivered in our schools and hospitals very cheaply, but often at the expense of local sourcing and quality. UNISON Scotland's Food for Good Charter points to a better way.
BBC Scotland has been running a series of stories about the cost of food in public sector meal delivery. Using FoI requests they headlined 94p for a meal in NHS Grampian. The figures also found that some hospitals were sourcing 50% of their food from abroad. Waste levels were generally below 10%.
The most recent Scottish Care Experience Survey said: "Food is an area where a substantial percentage of people reported a negative experience, however they were more positive about the drinks they had received." It said 18% were not happy with the food they had received and 7% were not happy with the drinks.
The BBC also investigated school meals. They found that school children are eating chicken produced 6,000 miles away in Thailand. Scottish government ministers have repeatedly called for supermarkets and shops to buy local, while Scottish councils are spending millions importing food which could be sourced in Scotland. Glasgow alone spends £1.3m a year on imports.
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: "I think we are doing quite well but we could do better. Almost half of the £150m spent on procuring food in the public sector is sourced locally. 48% is Scottish food and the amount sourced in Scotland had increased by 41% over the past seven years since Recipe for Success."
So, probably the best we can say is that we are doing better, but still have some way to go.
In 2013 UNISON Scotland did a similar survey to the BBC and updated our Food for Good Charter. It sets out key ways in which food in schools and hospitals, nurseries, care homes, prisons and other public services should be fresh, local, healthy and sustainable, taking account of local and global social justice factors.
We also asked the staff who make the meals what they thought. They said food quality has gone down due to cost-cutting and that pressures on staff have inevitable consequences. One member said: “Food budget is cut and we don’t provide a good enough portion and the quality of food has been downgraded for price.”
If we want to get serious about improving the quality of food served in our schools and hospitals, we have to invest in the kitchens, the food and the staff who make the meals.