As Development Officer – Food and Health at City of Edinburgh Council, alumna Laura Nisbet (PhD 2009) puts food supply theories into practice in schools.

Laura has been working with Business School faculty on their research to provide insight into how sustainable food supply works on a practical level.

Laura has been in post since 2009 and in that time, she’s seen a distinct shift in attitudes and focus. “There’s been lots of changes in terms of sustainability and food,” she says. “There’s definitely a priority of having more locally sourced food.

"For me, it’s better for the local economy, it’s better for business. It’s got to be fresh: if it’s locally sourced it tastes better. As a Council that’s definitely our direction of travel and as a department that’s where our priority lies.

“People want to know more about the provenance of their food and us having that information, having shorter supply chains and having more meat, in particular chicken, from the UK gives me much more confidence in the service we’re providing.”

Food buying for the Council is managed by the centralised procurement service Scotland Excel, a service shared and funded by the 32 local authorities across Scotland. The Council in turn then works with a range of food distributors to deliver the food needed for the thousands of school meals.

Of the 18,500 school meals served daily in Edinburgh, all the meat is ‘farm assured’ by Quality Meat Scotland, fish is sustainably sourced and eggs are all free range. These conditions are built into the contracts which the Council has with its distributors.

“Our supply chain has been quite receptive to changes that we’ve wanted to make and has worked really hard with us in order to make those changes,” Laura says. “Producers and supply chains are keen to adapt to differing priorities.”

Should we buy organic from Holland or non- organic from East Lothian? For me, I would rather have local.

Difficult decisions have to be made. For example, which is preferable, local or organic? “There’s always that debate,” she says. “But sometimes organic is less local. Should we buy organic from Holland or non- organic from East Lothian? For me, I would rather have local.”

There have been calls for local authorities to support small-scale local farmers but this isn’t as simple as it sounds. The makeup of the Council’s school food production (kitchens based in schools) means that a certain degree of preparation of the food has to be done before it reaches the kitchens. So, buying produce directly from farms would have its problems.

“A small producer isn’t able to supply every school, nor do we want them to,” she explains. “We can’t manage that many deliveries into a school. So, by working in partnership with our existing distribution team or looking at ways that can be expanded, then more local producers might be able to get their goods to market, but in a way that is manageable for them but also manageable for us.”

She sees the relationship that the Council has with distributors as a long-term collaboration, working together to go in the same direction. “We’ve come quite far working with them. We’re different to business. We’re in a contract for two or three years and we can’t just decide to get up and leave and go somewhere else.”

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