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Julia Skinner, Root: Making Something out of Nothing: Sowans and other ‘Scrappy’ Fermented Foods

This talk with discuss the historical use of food scraps in fermented products to guard against hunger. Of course the title ‘something out of nothing’ implies that the scraps are simply that: Waste and nothing worth bothering with. But as our ancestors knew, this ‘nothing’ actually had incredible value and just required a bit of ingenuity to uncover. The talk will center on sowans (sometimes called sowens, sughan, or suans) a traditional Scottish food made from soaking and fermenting oat hulls after threshing. Rather than winnowing the hulls away in the wind, millers would sift the “sids” (or hulls, today we would call this oat bran) from the oats while grinding and reserve them to make a nutritious porridge (sowans) and beverage (sometimes called swats). Unlike the modern flakes of oat bran you can buy, the hulls milled by crofters would have some of the oat still stuck to them, which meant starches for hungry microbes to consume. This is an excellent example of using our food “waste” to create another edible product to build food stores and guard against hunger. The first written record of sowans comes from the 1690s, though they likely had been around for much longer, and they largely fell out of use in the 20th century. From this starting point, we will look at how and why our ancestors took their scraps, from stems and ends to grain hulls to meat scraps, and used them to guard against hunger. As well, we’ll discuss how these ‘scrappy’ foods go from being simply being a way to use up what is there, to foods seen as nourishing and comforting, and indeed a part of the fabric of a culture’s food identity.

Cesar Revoredo-Giha, SRUC: An evolution of the consumption of sweet discretionary products in Scotland

Having a poor diet and being overweight can have a negative impact on health and wellbeing. To address this public health concern, the Scottish Government published its Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan in July 2018, which included a number of actions focusing on children, the food environment, weight management services and leadership to promote healthy weight and diet. Key on the Plan was to reduce the consumption of the so-called discretionary foods, which are those foods high in fat, sugar and/or salt, that are high in calories and low in nutritional value. According to FSS (2018) discretionary food purchased on price promotion contribute a total of 10.3 per cent of the total consumed kilocalories in Scotland. More specifically the discretionary foods categories include confectionery, sweet biscuits, crisps and savoury snacks, cakes and pastries, puddings and desserts and non-alcoholic soft drinks containing added sugar. Interestingly, in 1953 the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF, 1955) published a comparison of food consumption between Scotland and the rest of Great Britain based on 28 food groups. Of these, nine groups showed differences in consumption of 30 per cent or more between the average for Scotland and that for Great Britain; at the top of the list being sweet discretionary products. The purpose of this article is to use recently disclosed historical data from the Family Food survey collection to provide an analysis of the evolution of sweet discretionary products in Scotland to highlight the presence of cultural factors.

All welcome - This event is free, but booking is required.