Arran Eco Savvy + Vegan Spiced Choc Snickerdoodles
For Many Voices Many Kitchens, I’ve been contacting Food-in-Community groups and social enterprises across Scotland in order to find out more about their work and their reactions to the pandemic, as well as to ask them for recipes of their own. For this first instalment, I talked to Jess at Arran Eco Savvy about island life, saving food waste and chocolate snickerdoodles.
SWK: In your own words, what is Arran Eco Savvy?
AES: We’re an environmental organisation on Arran around since 2013. We’re working on the Sustainable Island Life Project where we encourage people to adopt low-carbon behaviours through three different strands – food, transport and energy. For sustainable food, we look at ways to help people adopt low-carbon food attitudes as well as setting up a food-share scheme in conjunction with the local Co-Op supermarket. We’ve also been looking at ways to reduce domestic food waste. It’s all part of a two year project ending in March next year so we’re trying to get to grips with having to make so many adjustments recently with lockdown.
SWK: How much of the work you do is in conjunction with other local organisations and how much is solo?
AES: The food-share was set up in November 2018 and that looked at diverting food from landfills. In Arran it’s pretty unique in that we really only have the Co-Op supermarket here so we work in conjunction with them to set up a scheme where volunteers collect short life food and then take it to distribute within the villages around the island. Originally that was a once per week happening and then just before lockdown it had grown to seven food-shares happening on five nights per week. We were diverting huge amounts of orange label short-life food from ending up in the bin! On Boxing Day last year one of our volunteers had to distribute over 200kilos of food on her own, which was about £1,000 worth!
That collect-and-distribute model works well for our food-shares because it means there has to be a real community buy-in, and also it helps people feel empowered. They became really social events, where people would have tea and coffee before the food arrived. We worked hard to distinguish it from a food bank as well because while it does have some effects in terms of alleviating food poverty it’s much more about the food waste side of things and trying to make people see what they can do on an individual level to help stop it.
Obviously then in March it all had to change! Kindly, the shop managers at the Co-Op on the island helped us to move the food-share in-store so it meant that every day their staff would actually be putting the food out on a table in the shop themselves for people to collect. And just recently we’ve managed to hit our £100,000 milestone which means that we’ve diverted over £100,000 of food! That’s over 15tonnes!
SWK: Amazing! You must feel so proud!?
AES: It’s so great! We have a network of over 40 volunteers who do the collections and distributions on a weekly business and then the Co-Op staff have been so engaged too! It does take a lot of time to process and do it all but I’m just so grateful to everyone involved!
SWK: Has it been hard over the COVID19 period to keep up that level of community engagement?
AES: I do worry that it hasn’t been easy for people who don’t have access to transport, as they would normally have been able to walk to their local community halls whereas now they can’t. Which means we’ve not been able to have the same sort of reach as previously. At the same time, being able to have something happening in the Co-Op means there there is still an every-day presence and that we have still been able to divert food from the landfill.
We actually bought a freezer as well, which we turned into a community freezer where we would keep some of the food that wouldn’t go to a home during the food-share. This food was then made available to the public to collect from our offices. Since the food-share moved in store we’ve donated that freezer to the Co-Op so that they can use it to store left-overs themselves and then people can collect it at any time during the day. So we’ve been trying to mitigate the negatives!
Also, eventually, once things ease off a little bit and people can safely volunteer again we would really like to go back into the collect-and-distribute model because we do think the social benefits of that were great.
SWK: Could you tell me more about the community freezer?
AES: We were researching into food surplus schemes and we saw a lot about the benefits of community fridges to local areas and while we did decide not to go directly for a community fridge in one location, mainly due to the fact that Arran is so widely spread and wider access issues, which meant that the collect-and-distribute model was just better for us, we did see that there was still food that wasn’t being redistributed. So we decided to buy a freezer for storage of that surplus. We bought it just before lockdown too, which meant that while we didn’t have much of a chance to make full use of it beforehand, we were able to do things like keep the freezer in our office for community access before we donated it to the Co-Op for them to use. In the future we would love to be able to set it up somewhere it could be more in a community hub as well, but that’s going to have to be a future project!
SWK: On the social side of things, then, how has the lockdown changed your approach to engagement?
AES: For us, during the first year of the project a big part of the focus was on cooking classes and workshops and really getting folk together over food, which I think is a really great way to then encourage discussion around further topics such as the carbon costs of eating meat or other focuses of the project, so that was really nice, to be able to have conversations with people in a relaxed and informal setting.
For example, we had a couple of cooking classes last year about pumpkins, where we got together to carve pumpkins and then explored what we could do with the hollowed out parts, which was really fun! We discussed how over 8 million pumpkins are thrown away ever halloween, which is over 18,000 tonnes of food waste. And it had a lasting effect I think, even this year I’ve been hearing people discussing what they’re going to do with their leftover pumpkin bits!
Since March, the focus has had to change since we just weren’t able to do things like that, and a lot of people already very rightly had a lot of anxiety around the climate crisis, so then the added stress of COVID meant that we also had to shift and start talking about that as well. So we tried to have some conversations around what we could still do, and we realised that a lot of people on Arran were starting to grow their own food, so we decided to promote more materials which helped people to do that for themselves. Of course, we always did try to encourage people to eat locally, but there was so much extra anxiety around topics like the food-chain because of the pandemic that we felt it was important to continue to push that message even further as a way to stay connected, especially the different varieties of food that can be grown during different seasons and actions you can still take that do help to reduce your carbon foodprint.
We also started to do things like a weekly film-club, which worked really nicely. Each of the Eco Savvy strands presented films, including food-films, and then we used that as a way to engage people in the topics around those films. We’ve screened Local Food Roots, for example, and In Our Hands by the UK-based Landworkers Alliance.
SWK: How did you organise those film clubs?
AES: So at 7pm every Tuesday we had a Facebook event and invited people to watch the film through that. We would work with the distributors to allow people to watch for free and afterwards we would then encourage everyone to go back to the Facebook page and have a bigger discussion on how we could maybe apply certain aspects of the films to life here on Arran. It was really fun and relaxed while also engaging on the Eco Savvy topics, which I think is one of the advantages of having a format like a film club, where it doesn’t have to be too serious all the time. I think [at the time of writing] we’ve screened something like twenty-four films so it has all been really varied and some amazing discussions have come out of it as well!
SWK: How have you found the education side of foodie social engagement?
AES: I think when you’re learning around food it’s always quite messy! There’s so much conflicting advice out there and that makes it hard to know exactly what is the best thing to do, especially with things like low-carbon diets, and to then convey those messages without threatening the emotional bonds that people already have with their food. It can be really difficult to say something that another person may not agree with in a way that’s still engaging, for instance there can be people who may be staunchly vegan and others who are staunchly meat-eaters and we’ve had to try to find a middle-point where we can work with everyone without coming across as preachy. We work to educate people on the environmental benefits of a predominantly plant based, local, seasonal diet which avoids food waste as much as possible. We also always try to equate it back into monetary terms, so we work with organisations like Love Food Hate Waste to help people see how changes to their dietary behaviours can be beneficial both in terms of their health and their wallets.
One of the things we did as well was to go into local schools and challenge kids to weigh their food waste at home, then go back a week later and have a workshop with them about that food waste and how they and their families could reduce it. 60% of food waste is stuff that could have been eaten, so we would go through those figures with them and try to get them engaged so that they could go home and become Waste Ambassadors within their own families.
SWK: The parents must have loved that!
AES: Yes I can imagine! Having to keep all the bags of food waste for a week! I don’t think all of them loved me!
SWK: From your own perspective have you noticed a difference in engagement over the years?
AES: I think people have always engaged with the project and especially things like the cooking workshops, which were a lot of fun. We had one in February which was a Ready Steady Cook workshop, where we took food-share food and gave people ingredients that were about to go in the bin and they had to make their own meals! A local chef came down to judge it and talk about things like fermenting, so yeah, things like that really helped us to gain a lot of traction locally. Similarly, the film clubs now have been popular even despite the circumstances. We always survey people to see if they found it beneficial and if they took anything from the session that they think would apply to their lives and we always get really positive responses through that.
SWK: I want to do a Ready Steady Cook Workshop!
AES: It was so much fun! People had forty-five minutes to make one or two courses and they got so into it!
SWK: This all sounds like so much work! What keeps you motivated through it all?
AES: I’m just really passionate about food and eating better and educating myself about different ways to do things, which has always been a big part for me in terms of my involvement in the project. Learning about how to reduce my own carbon foodprint inspires me to want to share that knowledge and vice-versa. We’re also really inspired by other food and eco projects across Scotland, we’re funded by the Climate Challenge Fund which also works with other projects similar to us. I think in Scotland, and the rest of the UK too, things like obesity, dietary health issues, poverty and access to healthy food are on the rise. We are always looking at ways to address these issues while also having a beneficial environmental impact. Also, there are so many terrible food and farming practices out there and so just by seeing what we can do locally it does feel like we are making some sort of change, even if it’s just on a small level.
Also, everyone who works at Eco Savvy is so inspiring as well, they’re all so climate-conscious and we just find ourselves bouncing off each other all the time! It’s another weird part of lockdown where I haven’t been able to do that!
SWK: From my outsider perspective Arran seems like a real foodie location. Has COVID changed that in any way?
AES: I think a lot more people have had to cook from home, so we’ve tried to get on board with that by providing healthy recipe ideas to help people think about different ways to cook. Overall, I think lockdown changed peoples food attitudes and everyone realised how much they were spending on things like eating out, and yeah I think people started to become more conscious of their own food waste and wanting to really use everything they can before going back to the supermarket. That’s kept going even now I think as well, our statistics from the food-share are showing that we’re starting to receive a bit more food than we would expect and that’s possibly because people are realising that they have things at home they just won’t be able to use before the expiry date, or that the supermarket is over-compensating and expecting people to buy a lot more food than they actually are.
I’ve also spoken to other groups in Scotland and we’re really trying to keep that momentum going and to keep people engaged and to slowly re-introduce things like community cooking or eating as they really are the best ways to bring people together. So right now we’re looking into the possibility of running Zoom cooking classes, for instance.
SWK: And how have you found the process of engaging with different villages and communities on the island through this year?
AES: It’s been difficult at times because we only really have the ability to connect with people online during lockdown, so there’s a demographic of people I feel like we’re having to miss. But we’re looking at ways to connect further, including things like utilising the local newspapers to keep engaging with folk and to keep our services as accessible as possible. But it is a difficulty! Back when we did workshops part of the reason we loved it was because it was a way to tackle social isolation and we also did things like transport schemes, which including free trials on e-bikes and things like that, but it’s a continuing process trying to work out how to keep that engagement going through the pandemic.
SWK: And you mentioned earlier about the three different Eco Savvy strands – how much crossover do you have between the food side of things and transport/energy?
AES: We always try to maintain some degree of cross-promotion, so the e-bike scheme interacts with the food-share activities for instance and we’ll spread information about both together, or offer an e-bike to a volunteer if they may require one, that sort of thing. We’d also do things like offer out free energy audits for households so then that ties in again with the collect-and-distribute model of the food-share. We also had planned on doing a huge sustainable life festival this year, which of course unfortunately couldn’t happen, but it would have included things like a big food market and local producers and e-bike trials, which would’ve been lovely!
In general, we also provide people with a Sustainable Island Life Toolkit and a Sustainable Island Life Booklet as well, both of which give people information on all the changes they can make at home to have a positive environmental impact, so we’re trying to get that out there more often as well!
SWK: Would you say there was a heritage aspect to what you do? Or do you feel more inspired by looking at what’s happening around Scotland and the rest of the world?
AES: Going back to the food market we were going to try to put on, that’s something I’m really keen on as Arran doesn’t really have a weekly food market any more so I think working with local producers to revive that tradition would be really beneficial to the local community. Saying that, I think a big part of both our project and others like us is always going to be looking at what has been engaging elsewhere and seeing if that can be applied to our local areas as well. And it goes both ways, so our film club structure is now being adopted by other organisations.
In terms of other heritage aspects, we’ve been careful to always engage with people on the island, including individuals, businesses and schools, in order to keep talking about Arran’s rich food story. I think that really helps encourage people to buy locally. Recently we’ve also had a regional food group being set up which is looking specifically at the Arran food narrative and encouraging people to feel that local pride and passion in what’s available locally. Scotland sometimes gets a bit of a bad rep for not having such a defined cuisine, and so a lot of every food project in the country is going to be fighting against that in some way.
Last Christmas we also made a small cookbook which collected local recipes and I think that helped people engage in the heritage of the island as well. So while we may not work directly with heritage I think it just naturally comes through in what we do and how we do it. There’s a holistic empowerment that comes from encouraging people to grow and cook their own food and that’s really important for what we do.
SWK: Perfect scenario then, what would you like to see happen with the Arran Eco Savvy?
AES: Perfect scenario, I would love to see a huge eco hub next year where we could host our festival and organise more cooking workshops and offer out a really comfortable space for people to come and share food and have discussions around whatever is giving them anxiety or even just what they’ve been eating or making. Then we’d also have the community freezer all set up properly along with a community pantry and just have loads of people engaged and involved. That’s the dream!
SWK: Is there anything else on Arran you would like to highlight while I have you here?
AES: So there’s a community food growing initiative that has been set up during lockdown called the Arran Pioneer Project which is amazing – they take disused tracts of land and turn them into community possession places to grow food. And they’re doing that in many different villages all around the island, which is amazing as the unique geography here means that it can be hard to have things going on in every place. Then there’s also Woodside Arran, who are a community-supported agriculture scheme. Arran Community Land Initiative are also amazing educators, as are Coast of Arran, who are a marine charity organisation, honestly there’s just so many great things happening here and we’re all trying our best to collaborate!
Each week I’m also asking the people I talk to if they have a particular recipe they’d like to share with me, which I then go off and try to cook myself! Jess kindly provided the following:
VEGAN SPICED CHOCOLATE SNICKERDOODLES
(Adapted from ‘Vegan Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles’ recipe from The Veggie Logues)
210g plain flour
65g cocoa powder
½ tsp cayenne
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
60ml maple syrup
125g granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp soy or almond milk
For the sugar dusting:
40g granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 175degrees c
In a large bowl, sift flour, cocoa, cayenne, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. In a separate medium bowl, whisk oil, maple syrup, vanilla, milk and sugar until fully incorporated.
Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wets, mixing continuously. The batter will be stiff.
Using the palm of your hands, roll about 3 tbsps worth of batter into a small ball. Shape into pancake-like disks and cover one side with the sugar-cinnamon dusting.
On a sheet of parchment paper, place each disk about 1 inch apart, sugar side up. Bake for about 12 minutes.
Makes 15-20 cookies, depending how big you want them.