Reflections from an organiser

By Maggie Gill |

Having attended all the ‘Ardtornish weekends’, volunteering to organise one on my favourite topic – the impact of the food we consume – seemed like a natural thing to do, especially when a former colleague (Sally Thomas from the Scottish Government) was also keen.

The first challenge though came early – everyone is an ‘expert’ on food! We all consume it we all read about it we all have favourite angles on what should be included! Hence there were MANY suggestions on what should be included! In the end we managed to narrow down the scope to 4 ‘areas’ of impact of food consumption: culture, the environment, our health and production systems.

That was the first challenge overcome. The next was to identify speakers and tempt them to give up a weekend of their free time, albeit in the wonderful setting of the Morvern Peninsula. That challenge (for a variety of reason) was not overcome until quite close to the actual date and despite not wanting to both organise and speak I had to step in to fill a gap.

The other main challenge is always to select invitees. How do you decide in advance which 35 people will get on with each other, contribute to the discussion and find the weekend rewarding? Again we were inundated with names suggested by fellow Trustees and as a result of doing some research on the web. As always we wanted a mix of people from the science and the arts worlds, from government and non-government, from rural communities and especially those who make a living from the land.

And so to the weekend itself. It has never been the intention of the ‘Ardtornish weekends’ to reach a consensus view, make recommendations or ‘change the world’: success is viewed as participants ending up willing to think about the topic from a new perspective, having learnt a little more about how the world functions and what it means for rural communities in Scotland.

Did we achieve that? I believe so – the discussions were animated, some talks took listeners out of their comfort zone (for me that is part of reminding us that others see the world as a different place from ourselves) and we received a lot of positive feedback. We also have blogs which summarise participants’ thoughts on each area of impact. My role now is to summarise participants’ comments on how the 4 areas connect.

Firstly, there was healthy support for the fact that our areas DO connect and that society needs to move on from thinking in ‘silos’ of specific impacts. There was enthusiasm for thinking that a ‘system change’ is needed (the ‘system’ referring to the global food system of production and distribution). A plea to think of ‘ecology not the economy’ and a recognition that the new ‘steady-state’ is a dynamic one, in other words the environment, the economy, culture and attitudes to health will keep changing and that should be seen as a positive.

And so another ‘Ardtornish weekend’ is over, except that we still have the film to look forward to! We were fortunate this year to have 2 professional film makers recording their perceptions of the impact of food – having seen a trailer it is a very different take from my scientific viewpoint, but that is what the weekends are about!

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