Uist food project could be just for starters...

​Two highly regarded Uist institutions have come together to launch an innovative project which will provide ready made meals using local ingredients to elderly people in their own homes.
Iain, John and Donald with Tasga Adult Support Worker Deborah MacVicarIain, John and Donald with Tasga Adult Support Worker Deborah MacVicar
Iain, John and Donald with Tasga Adult Support Worker Deborah MacVicar

Tagsa Uibhist and Maclean’s Bakery this week launched ‘Biadh Blasta Uibhist’ which will supply and deliver meals, initially to 23 clients who are being cared for at home this winter, using all local produce.

It is part of a wider drive to encourage more use of local produce on economic as well as nutritional grounds.

Research earlier this year suggested islanders on Uist and Barra are paying a 28 per cent “food premium” compared to mainland shoppers with access to on-line deliveries.

By highlighting the ‘eat local’ potential, it is hoped that the use of local produce rather than relying so heavily on ferry “imports” will become more widely discussed and acted upon. This week’s extreme ferry disruption has again highlighted vulnerability to dependence on a long supply chain

The ‘Biadh Blasta Uibhist’ meals have been made with local Uist lamb, venison, salmon, and vegetables and will be delivered using zero- emission vehicles.

The project aims to meet the nutritional needs of vulnerable community members while also assisting carers by providing high quality ready-made meals to their clients.

Tagsa’s Local Food Development Manager, Alex MacKenzie told the Gazette: “The ready meals service which Macleans already operates is very popular with the elderly population while our mission is to get local produce out to local people.

“There is such an abundance of high quality local produce and it seems a crying shame that it is not more widely available. Initially, we are testing out this service over two months but there is the potential to continue and expand it”.

She added: “This is a free service which showcases the possibility of what can happen. Thereafter we will look at how we can scale it up. Within the context of a cost of living crisis, it isn’t something that would cost the earth”.

The Tagsa team and volunteers have been working with crofters, North Uist Estate and local salmon companies and have grown huge amounts of potatoes, carrots, onions, and rhubarb.

The meals are traditional and nutritious havingbeen prepared, packaged and blast frozen by Macleans Bakery, meeting all required food safety standards.

Tagsa’s care manager, Sarah MacLachlan said: “We know that, due to rising bills, surging inflation, and increased costs of living, many of our older community members in Uist are at risk of being pushed into poverty, poorer health and financial insecurity. We hope these tasty, nutritious meals will make a positive difference.

“It has been great working in partnership with Macleans who we can rely on to make delicious meals with our local meat, fish and vegetables”.

Maclean’s Bakery director, Allan Maclean, commented: “We were delighted to be asked to help our friends at Tagsa Uibhist with their project as we share a passion for local produce and community gardens.

"We are lucky in Uist that there are so many excellent food producers, and we are strongly supportive of any project that highlights their good work”.

Tagsa Uibhist has been going for almost 25 years and is an undoubted success story. It was initially established by a group of friends who wanted to help elderly people in need of support and access to transport. It was formally constituted in 1999 as a charity and in 2020 adopted the simple mission statement Slàinte agus Sunnd (Health and Wellbeing).

Over the years, it has greatly expanded the range of activities including the Community Gardens project at the East Camp in Balivanich. Earlier this year, Tagsa Uibhist, in partnership with Nourish Scotland, published a comprehensive study into the affordability and accessibility of basic fruit and vegetable items in Uist and Barra, compared to that available on the mainland.

The research findings showed that fewer half of the shopping list items were easily accessible while the total basket cost was 28 per cent more expensive than a Tesco Online delivery on the mainland. Alex Mackenzie said: “These findings evidenced worrying trends on the dietary inequalities for islanders who rely heavily on long food supply chains”.

Examples quoted by the research included: “Rather than paying £1.10 for a 1kg bag of mixed vegetables (Tesco Online) islanders were on average paying £2.87 and sometimes paying out £4.67 for frozen mixed vegetables.

“This same trend was found against other food items with pasta sauce equating to 233 per cent more than a Tesco equivalent; paying £2.83 for a 500g jar of pasta sauce compared with £0.85 for a Tesco product… If a shopping item was unavailable the cost implication for taking the ‘close alternative’ product was huge”.

It was pointed out that expensive food has a “greater impact on families on low budgets or without transport” since, while many islanders on Uist and Barra “have adapted to these challenges by ordering in bulk (online or by travelling to the mainland), this is only feasible if you have the financial means and storage to accommodate these larger orders”.

The researchers acknowledged: “All our island shop staff are trying to ease the burden of the cost of living crisis but in some cases are restricted to centralised ordering and buying systems which don’t make any concessions for island communities who have limited shopping options”.