Eating with a Conscious

In the week that the government went against the millions of us who voted to #SaveOurStandards, it’s official, our agriculture trade bill for any future trade deals has been amended, allowing for lower quality food to be imported and sold on our supermarket shelves.

All of this happening during a time when we’re quite possibly in the middle of the biggest health intervention of all time, with the government imposing legal restrictions to control the rapid spread of Covid 19 whilst investing billions to save homegrown businesses. Have we not learnt anything?

When I think back to those lockdown times, many of us spent hours reconnecting with nature, growing our own, a lot of us took our hands to baking bread and banana bread baked 101 different ways became an insta trend. We understood the need to eat good food and this was beginning to seem so much more achievable. 

We were beginning to treat food with more respect, we became more curious, and took our time preparing our meals. We began to shop locally a lot more, supporting and respecting the businesses that were making it safe and simple for us to gather our supplies. We stopped to chat not only because we had the time, but because we understood the importance of nurturing our community, and we grew stronger and more respecting of each other. Food became much more than just sustenance, it was the centre of our lives. We became more intuitive with meals we were throwing together and less reliant on reaching for a recipe book. We were eating together and enjoying as families more so than ever before.

But rather than harnessing the nations interest and investing wisely to protect the health of our nation our governments answer is to ignore our own farming industry and traditions by lowering our food standards even more. On the other hand, South Korea’s government government have done an amazing job protecting the health of their people and their own industries, investing in cooking lessons and adverts to retain traditional foods like kimchi. Whilst hyper processed foods are commonly available, this counter measure has improved the overall health of the South Korean nation whilst preserving local trade and traditions.

I can’t help but think of the irony around the Save Our NHS slogan we’ve all become accustomed to over the past six months because, let’s face, our precious NHS serrvice will be in even more turmoil dealing with the continued rise in lifestyle diseases that already accounts for over half of our NHS budget.

But in the words of @jamieoliver, all is not lost, we can combat the poor standards imposed on us by the 332 MP voters and show our support to our homegrown local farming network who believe we have the right to better quality whole foods on our plates.

The farmers growing this produce care 

Anyone with connections in the farming world will know its a tough gig, hard work and not necessarily the most profitable of careers out there – they grow seasonal produce, then pick it when it’s at it’s best, providing far more nutritionally dense food than something force grown, or picked prematurely. I won’t go in to the science of why eating large amounts of prematurely picked foods is bad for our bodies, but if you think about the complex chemical make up of any plant, picking it before it’s able to mature fully can only mean a chemical imbalance in the food itself, which ends up in our bodies too. 

And behind each farmer and their farm, there’s a narrative, a reason for why. For some, it’s a career and land that’s been handed down and evolved generation after generation, for others, it’s a lifestyle choice where independence and a desire to eat good food weighs heavily. Every person has a narrative, and simply knowing the narrative behind how our food is grown simply shows how much care is taken. And let’s face it, how epic is it know the true story of the food we consume when it forms such a massive part of our lives from the minute we’re conceived.

Locally grown produce reduces food miles

During lockdown, the rise in air quality was a major discussion point. Nature was seemingly coming to life, inhabiting silenced concrete cities, positively thriving. We took to walking more, cycling rather than driving, considering exercise as a daily habit rather than a needed ritual. And it was widely agreed that this reduction of mass fumes and change in human approach was having a resound affect on us as humans as well as the wider environment. Slowly things have crept back to where it used to be.It was bound to happen, life has got busier. And that’s okay, however we can make a conscious difference to the way we shop, simply by removing the need for mass imports of either unripe, out of season products or products grown from around the country on forced farms with substandard nutritional value.

Locally grown produce doesn’t need to cost the earth

Does good food cost a lot of money, or have our expectations of what food should cost been skewed by supermarkets selling lower quality cut price food? It’s truly fascinating that as our nation becomes richer, our household spend for food becomes less. Apparently there’s an actual term for it, something called Engel’s law whereby the more we earn, the more we want to spend our money on; new cars, holidays, eating out, gadgets. So rather than increasing our food budget, it actually lessens leaving us with more cash to spend on luxury items. Compared with the average household in Nigeria who spends a whopping 59% of outgoings on food consumed in the home, we spend a mere 8%. The economics make no sense, but more so, it’s clear we don’t place enough importance on the food we buy, or consider the financial reward to the producer.

When I think back to my Nanna and the way she ran her kitchen, she shopped in the local fish mongers for fish, the butchers for meat, the greengrocer for her veg, she favoured quality not quantity and she cooked using whole foods. There was an immense amount of pride that went in to everything that came out of her kitchen, and I can’t help but think this is somewhat tied in to her experience living through the prolonged, 14 year rationing period during World War Two. Having experience just a tiny period of time during COVID whereby items such as toilet paper and tinned tomatoes had temporarily gone in to extinction, I can see how her positive behaviours around buying good food and shopping locally had been engrained.

If we take the time to consider the actual cost of growing a simple cabbage, in the supermarket we might be lucky enough to get our hands on a special variety for £1.50, it may well be British grown, but it would have travelled the length of Britain to get to us and cost a fair bit in food miles and pollution. Then let’s take in to consideration the actual production costs, the profit the supermarket makes, there really isn’t a lot of money going back to the producer. Yet a locally grown, freshly picked cabbage from a local producer may cost around £2.50, but it’s double the size so lasts a lot longer, it’s environmental cost is a lot less and the producer is quite clearly being rewarded for producing something nutrient dense, delicious and with a lot of love.

And our guts will thank us too 

Or at least the little community of microbes working hard to keep our minds and bodies healthy will. These trillions of gut bacteria all host different functions around our bodies, they feed off of each food type we put in to our body and play a critical role in regulating our digestive & immune systems and weight. The vast variety of what we choose to eat therefore has a massive impact on the healthy state of our microbiota. If we over feed our microbes with one particular type of food – let’s take wheat as an example, easily consumed multiple times a day by eating pasta, bread and cereals – by encouraging a community of wheat heavy microbes, these powerful bacterias become little bullies who attack the other microbes and in effect reduce the amount of good bacteria needed to keep us nicely balanced. The more diverse variety of whole foods we get in to our diets, the happier our guts and minds become. 

5 Simple tips to eating better without breaking the bank

Cost plays a huge impact on our decision making when we’re faced with a sea of produce in the supermarket at varying price levels. but decent food shouldn’t be considered a luxury and eating a good whole food diet is achievable with a few little tweaks to the way we shop – whilst keeping those all important links within our local communities that warmed our hearts during lockdown.

Here are a 5 quick and simple ways to buying better food.

Eat seasonally

Seasonal food is not only kinder to the planet, it tastes better, and supports our bodies season-specific needs. Buying produce from a local farmers market or a small local grocers who are supplied direct from a farm is a sure way to know the food is fresh, high quality and at it’s very best nutritionally. Don’t be scared of the price, often it works out far cheaper, so it’s worth comparing prices before assuming the big chains are cheaper. And let’s face it, I couldn’t think of a better way to support our local community.

Choose whole foods and a diverse mix of grains and pulses

Diversity is just what we need to keep our gut bacteria happy, so the more varied the plant sources we consume in a week, the better. Switching to a diet filled with grains and pulses is the perfect way to keep costs down, and nowadays are simple to buy plastic free from refillable stores. I like to keep jars filled with red rice, black rice and brown rice, quinoa, beluga lentils and french green lentils, they’re simple to prepare in advance and taste delicious. I often batch cook a few different grains and pulses at the beginning of the week and store in the fridge to make mid week meals quick and simple. And if time is an issue, and tinned or pre-prepared produce works better for you, be sure to read labels to check what other ingredients are added. 

Use the whole vegetable

Often the most nutrients are found in the parts of vegetable we don’t enjoy quite so much. Try eating vegetables with their skins on, after lightly scrubbing them free of dirt, or roasting parts of vegetables your family don’t enjoy – the stem of a broccoli is often rejected and chucked away, but it’s delicious roasted whole or sliced like chips. Or keep stems of herbs, inedible tops of vegetables in the freezer until you have enough to make a vegetable stock, it takes no time and will taste far nicer than a shop bought stock. To keep veggies fresh for longer, I like to keep them in washed and stored in plastic boxes in the vegetable drawer of my fridge.

Get in to the habit of batch cooking

Whether it be a day a month, or a regular weekly slot, preparing a few fridge and freezer ready dishes is the simplest way to keep on top of things in the kitchen. Work out the time of the day you enjoy to cook. Some people love cooking in the evening, it acts as a natural break from work to home life. Others would rather spend time cooking at the weekend but grab something a little simpler mid week. Try cooking double of the same dish, one for now, one for the freezer. I like to make 3-4 different dressings on a Sunday – a pesto, a tomato sauce and a few asian inspired dressings, often the things I can’t be bothered to make midweek but crave a lot!

Buy fish and meat sustainably and less often

It’s something we’ve been told over and over but it’s all too easy to stick with what we know, and let’s be honest the meat on offer in large chain stores is convenient but oh so ridiculously cheap. I mean, how much of the £3 from the sale of one chicken is going to the producer? Subconsciously we know this isn’t good enough. And when it comes to buying fish, we all know our seas are being overfished, so again, slowing down our consumption will help. And at the same time, buying locally caught fish will keep our fish in our country, not sent abroad whilst we gorge on fish shipped in from other countries. All this without taking in to consideration the unadvertised growth hormones and antibiotics meats are being stuffed full of, which inevitably ends up in our bodies. 

If we buy more responsibly, get to know and trust our producers and cut back on fish and meat, whether it be removing it from our breakfast and lunch time meals on a daily basis, or going meat free one day a week, not only will we reduce the amount of CO2 as released in to our atmosphere hugely, but we’ll be buying a far superior quality product whilst supporting local producers. 

Let’s face it, the government aren’t there yet, but we have the power of choice and the ability to lead the way and show our children a better, healthier way. Together we can make a difference and show those politicians making all these dreadful decisions around our public health that there is a better, kinder way.

** In conjunction with The Sussex Peasant, a community of local enterprising Sussex farmers selling delicious seasonal produce, all from the back of their beautifully rustic converted truck.

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