The word sustainable is quite the buzzword nowadays, endlessly bandied about in conversations about climate change, food security, the state of the oceans, farming and food but what exactly do we mean by sustainable food….and where can we source it?
Food is unquestionably the crucial issue of our time. Some forms of food production are a major contributor to climate change, responsible for 1/5 of all global carbon emissions.
It’s a key driver of resource depletion, species and bio diversity loss. Food production slurps up 70% of all fresh water.
At present, the priority in agribusiness is rarely to produce healthy wholesome food to nourish the nation, more often the primary focus is to produce the maximum amount of food at the minimum cost with maximum profit to the processor and retailer but rarely the primary producer.
Consequently, one in nine go hungry at a time in history when over 2 billion people are obese and half of all the food produced is wasted – an estimated 10 million tons….
Almost 2 million tons never even make it to the market as a result of the demands of supermarkets for uniformity and cheap food. That’s bad enough but it’s even more shocking to learn that 7 million tons are wasted in our homes. We appear to have far less regard or respect for food when it’s cheap. Easy come easy go in the rich world….whereas the poor count every grain of rice….
There are many reasons for these statistics, industrialisation has resulted in cheap food – ultra processed, convenient, time saving….but at considerable cost in health, socio economic and environmental terms.
The reality is that unless we are engaged in farming or food production, we have little understanding of the work that goes into growing or producing food. To many, it comes as quite a shock to realise that it takes at least three months to grow carrots, beets, or broccoli. Ask yourself, how can they possibly be sold for less than €1.00 a bunch? The answer is, it’s not possible to produce nourishing, wholesome, chemical free food for the price the farmers are being paid at present, We now imagine that cheap food is our right… a major problem, unrealistic and totally unsustainable yet everyone needs and deserves healthy wholesome food….
Perhaps it’s wishful thinking but I really feel there’s a shift in consciousness. Could it be that we are on the cusp of change ? Some millennials, at least seem more interested and prepared to spend a greater proportion of their income on healthy produce and are beginning to grow some of their own food….
But, how to create a sustainable food system….,it’s abundantly clear that business as usual is no longer an option….. Farmers are doing their best to respond and move to sustainable farming systems but a paradigm shift in thinking and methodology is required. They urgently need both financial support and knowledgeable advice…… Brussels and DAF urgently need to dramatically increase independent research into organic food production and regenerative farming methods which already tick all the boxes for both sustainable and healthy food production.
The current debate on what we should and should not eat and the trend towards veganism has further added to the confusion. Neither the FAO or Lancet Reports differentiated between organic, free range and intensively managed livestock and poultry which needs to be phased out. It is clear that we urgently need to replace farming systems that have destroyed the fertility of the soil since the post war period, rebuild biodiversity and create conditions to bring nature in the form of birds, wild life and pollinating insects back onto farms. We need to re-embrace mixed farming systems…..ruminants are the only animals that can turn cellulose into something we can eat and are essential for fertility building and a healthy diet.
Farmers, who want to move towards sustainable food production systems, will produce healthy, free range chicken, juicy and flavourful and free of chemical residues. These chickens will cost considerably more to produce so inevitably chicken will become an occasional treat rather than the cheap commodity it is today…. Pork too will need to come from pigs that root outdoors and are fed on whey and antibiotic free food, delicious, tasty meat that we can, once again consume with a clear conscience, without worrying about animal welfare issues.
In the UK, 50% of pigs are reared outdoors compared with 1% over here.
The reality is, if we don’t change our food production system we won’t have a planet that’s fit for our children and grandchildren to live on.
Education is a crucial part of the solution. Practical cooking must be a CORE subject in the national curriculum – it’s an essential life skill which no child should be allowed to leave school without being proficient in. At present our educational system is failing our young people in this area, it is not enabling our kids to make sense of the world they find themselves in or equipping them with the information – they need to know what to do about it. Education can change habits and attitude to food… It’s an uphill battle now but an urgent and essential consideration for the survival of the planet.
Everyone agrees we are in the midst of a crisis, so how can we be part of the solution? Each and every one of us can make a difference depending on how we decide to spend out food euros. Shop mindfully – seek out and buy food from farmers and food producers who are farming sustainably in a way that enriches rather than diminishes the fertility of the soil. Grow some of your own food and pass on your growing skills to your children and their friends.
Buy seasonal food directly from the producers at Farmers Markets. Join an organic vegetable box scheme.
Buy meat and poultry direct from the growing number of small farmers who are selling boxes of well hung, heritage breed beef, lamb and poultry. For contacts http://www.irishorganicassociation.ie/www.organictrust.iewww.neighbourfood.ie
It doesn’t occur to most people to use the inexpensive humble cabbage for soup, yet of all the soups we make, the flavour of cabbage soup surprises many – it is unexpectedly delicious. We use Greyhound or Hispi cabbage but crinkly Savoy cabbage works brilliantly later in the year.
Spring Cabbage Soup
115g onions, chopped
130g potatoes, peeled and diced
250g spring cabbage leaves, shredded and chopped (stalks removed, grate stalks for coleslaw)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
850ml light chicken stock
50-125ml cream or creamy milk
Chorizo crumbs or Gremolata (optional for serving)
First prepare all the vegetables, then melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions, toss them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a cartouche and the lid of the saucepan, sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes until soft but not coloured.. Add the hot stock and boil until the potatoes are tender. Add the cabbage and cook uncovered until the cabbage is just cooked – a matter of 4 or 5 minutes. Keep the lid off to preserve the bright green colour. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose both their fresh flavour and colour.
Puree the soup in a liquidiser or blender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add the cream or creamy milk before serving. Serve alone or with sprinkling of chorizo crumbs or gremolata over the top (optionl).
If this soup is to be reheated, just bring it to the boil and serve. Prolonged boiling will spoil the colour and flavour.
Here again, one has the option of serving a chunky version of the Spring Cabbage Soup.
Freezes perfectly for 2-3 months, but use sooner rather than later.
Wild Garlic Tortillitas à la Patata
Sam and Jeannie Chesterton of Finca Buenvino in Andalucia, introduced me to this little gem. I keep wondering why it never occurred to me before, they are so easy to make and completely addictive – kids also love them and they make perfect little starter snack or bites to nibble with a drink. If you don’t have wild garlic, a mixture of chives and parsley is also delicious.
Makes 26 (Serves 5 – 6)
4 eggs, free range and organic
225g cooked potatoes in 5mm dice
3 tablespoons finely chopped wild garlic
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Aoili (see recipe)
Extra virgin olive oil for frying, you will need about 5mm in the frying pan.
Maldon Sea salt for sprinkling.
Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the potato dice, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add the freshly chopped wild garlic.
Heat about 5mm extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan on a high heat, cook a teaspoonful of mixture and taste for seasoning.
Correct if necessary.
Continue to cook the mini tortillas as needed, using a scant dessertspoon of the mixture. Allow to cook on one side for about seconds, flip over and continue to cook on the other side for a similar length of time, or until slightly golden.
Drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and wild garlic flowers if you have them.
Serve hot, or at room temperature with a blob of Aioli.
Wild Garlic Aoili
2 egg yolks, preferably free range
1-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard
1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar
8 fl ozs (225ml) oil (sunflower, arachide or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 6 fl ozs (175ml) arachide oil and 2 fl ozs (50ml) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1
2 tablespoons of freshly chopped wild garlic leaves Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the mustard, garlic salt and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil