Page last updated at 23:27 GMT, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 00:27 UK

50 food mile diary: Battle begins

Gemmell family
The Gemmell family from the Borders is taking part in the 50:50 food challenge

An unusual food experiment is under way in the Scottish Borders.

A total of 50 people hope to survive a month eating only produce from within a 50-mile radius of their homes.

The event has been organised by the voluntary group Tweedgreen which hopes to promote local food and cut energy waste.

One family taking part, the Gemmells from Peebles, are keeping a diary of their experiences for the BBC Scotland news website.


The group has spent the past few weeks in preparation for the challenge; a directory of local produce and retailers has been compiled, along with a growing list of recipe ideas.

In addition, there will be a Saturday stall in Peebles to promote the 50:50 challenge and offer support to the volunteers.

Subscribers are allowed three indulgences in order to make the experiment more achievable, and enjoyable.

We, the Gemmells are a Peebles family of six who have signed up and are both excited and anxious about what the coming month will bring.

Loaf of bread
I have been trying to master my sugar free bread (sugar not being a local product), and hope to have cracked it by Friday
Patsy Gemmell

Mum Patsy works part time as design manager at the local weaving mill while Dad has recently completed a two-year masters in social work.

Rachael is 10 and Alasdair seven and both attend Priorsford Primary, while four-year-old Michael and Fraser aged three go to Priorsford Nursery.

Our family eating habits are based around three fish-eating vegetarians, and three carnivores.

We consider ourselves to have a healthy diet given the restrictions placed upon us by picky kids, some of whom are decidedly more adventurous than others.

On trips to the supermarket, Michael will frequently demand blue cheese, squid, muscles, and black olives, while Rachael will turn her nose up at anything outside her comfort zone of fish fingers, pasta, and bread.

We have always had concerns with regards to intensively-farmed food production and animal husbandry, though not always acted upon them.

Increasingly, however, we have become more conscious of where our food comes from and how it is produced.

So what do we hope to achieve from the challenge? First, we aim to demonstrate that it is possible for us, an average family to live successfully on good locally-grown food and to dispel the myth that good food is elitist and only affordable by the wealthy.

'Carbon footprint'

Having had a full-time student in the family for the past two years, purse strings are consequently tight.

Cost will perhaps be a major issue, and if initiatives like the 50:50 challenge are to have any long-term impact, we believe they must be viable for the wider community.

We also aim to reduce our carbon footprint and improve our current eating habits.

We hope to educate the children to view food as a precious resource and not a disposable commodity.

For us, the 50:50 challenge will be more doable due to our small allotment.

It has yielded a supporting stock of potatoes, beans, beetroot, and winter salad, knowing the local gamekeeper also helps, and we look forward to developing a taste for rabbit and pigeon!

Tomato sauce
Red wine
Pork pies

The children are possibly too young to appreciate what the next month will hold.

Rachael is already getting bored with the mention of the 50:50.

She says she understands the whys and hows but, food-wise, is not very keen on anything out of the ordinary.

We can anticipate some heavy-duty bartering to keep her sweet and on board, although the prospect of more hands-on baking does seem to grab her attention.

Alasdair is deeper and much healthier in his tastes, so the prospect of a non-processed home-made diet is not a problem for him.

He loves growing things and is saving his two pumpkins for a yet to be decided local 50:50 dish. Michael and Fraser will hopefully not be a problem as they generally eat anything given to them.

Agreed kiddies 50:50 exemptions are pasta, bananas, and tomato sauce for Rachael, Ali and Fraser with mayonnaise (of course) for Michael.

Mum's allowed coffee, red wine and another item to be decided. Dad cannot do without coffee, local beer and the local butchers' pork pies.

So we are not landed in at the deep end on Friday, we have been using our local food directory to buy in local items.

I have been trying to master my sugar free bread (sugar not being a local product), and hope to have cracked it by Friday.

We have perfected the Gemmell veggie sausage and managed a totally local pizza.

Rachael has always been a bit unsure at first but admits that our new substitutes are tastier.

It has been fun so far and we hope this will continue.

We would also like to add, no children or animals will be harmed during this exercise - with the exception of the odd pigeon or rabbit.

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