Blog by Cristina Romero Rios, Fanni Barocsi and Georgina Hill, University of Edinburgh students

Robin Gourlay is a food advisor to the Scottish Government who is working to make Scotland’s food more sustainable.

We met Robin on a rainy afternoon at the Government offices in Saughton House. Any thought that meeting a Government policymaker might be daunting was quickly dispelled, and his kindness made us feel very welcome. He is an adviser to the Scottish Government on Food and Drink policy especially food in the public sector and he works to improve the many systems that involve food, from how food is produced, where it is sourced, how it is procured, delivered, cooked and served in Scotland’s schools and hospitals.

When he began a career in hotel management, he did not envision that a determination to strive for excellence, would lead him to serve today, as a Scottish Government adviser. He produced the report, Walking the Talk – Getting Government Right in which the adoption of sustainable food and drink by the public sector was introduced as one of the key priorities for Scotland’s first National Food and Drink Policy. He subsequently consulted widely with industry and public bodies, commissioned new research and produced a range of guidance and policy for industry and the public sector which has seen an increase of over 40% in Scottish local produce being used.

He says an important aspect is increasing understanding among caterers, procurement and consumers of the reasons why factoring in sustainability is important for Scotland’s future resilience. He strongly believes in an ethos of public service. It is this that brought him to work as a head of service, catering for universities, schools, care homes, public and staff restaurants and then with the Scottish Government working on hospitals and prisons too. In each situation he focussed on providing value for money in the quality of food and menus, but in delivering a catering service he is also interested in the ‘values in food’, and says:

it presents an opportunity for everyone to have access to great food and nutrition – addressing inequalities in schools for example – and along with this there are clear benefits for health, the economy, and the environment.

He tries to disseminate knowledge and believes investing in food education is a way to create ‘knowledgeable consumers’. A strategic vision of holistically engaging the public has been the key to successful campaigns such as Better eating, better learning- a new context for school food and Beyond the school gates. He promotes Government Food and Drink policy by talking to individuals, writing, speaking at events, in communities and across industry.

In his current work on Scottish Food and Drink Policy, he emphasizes that it addresses food security from a variety of angles: health, education, social inequality and the environment, paying special attention to Climate Change where 31% of the greenhouse gases in Europe come from the food industry. The system must change. He suggests that working together and with communities, we can adapt to the global challenges of the future.

When we asked him what he enjoyed the most about his work, his expression lit up. He said:

working in this area of public service with the Scottish Government is a great opportunity to improving the wellbeing of people, the greatest in my career. Scotland produces fantastic food, and people should enjoy it.

So he will continue to research, fund, and work with communities to fulfil the vision of leading Scotland, and the world, to be a better place for humanity.