Wicked Leeks - A force for change - Issue 5

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Power of positive Why visualising a better world can turn it into a reality.

Green jobs for the future From mushroom growing to community business how you can find the next generation of green jobs.

A FORCE FOR CHANGE Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s secrets to a successful campaign, how to inspire change and what healthy eating really means.

Plus Mya-Rose Craig on biodiversity How to spot greenwash Reset and renew your meals in 2021

Cover image credit Simon Wheeler


CONTRIBUTORS Youth conservationist Mya Rose-Craig asks why no one is talking about the biodiversity crisis. Page 8. Environmentalist Judy Ling Wong CBE on the need for social inclusion in sustainable food. Page 9.

Founder of Transition Network, Rob Hopkins, explains the power of visualising a green transition. Page 6.


Wicked Leeks magazine is published by Riverford Organic Farmers.


t might seem odd to talk about optimism while the UK is deep within a third national lockdown. But that is what this issue has set out to do: to bring a bit of hope and a visual picture of the positive trajectory the world could take post-pandemic. As Rob Hopkins, founder of Transition Network, writes in his column (page 6), the power of filling in the sentence ‘what if?’ with a vision of a cleaner, greener world, with fewer cars, better food, more renewables, and less stress, gives people something tangible to latch on to. In a similar vein, our piece on ‘Green jobs for the future’ (pages 16-17) hears from five trailblazers and how you could join them. And it’s not just individuals but companies, too, that are seeing the potential in a greener world, not all of them as robust as they sound. Our investigation into the rising tide of greenwash (pages 20-21) points out some of the pitfalls around new trends like carbon labelling or net zero targets. In food and farming, there is cause for even more tangible positivity – a new report (page 4) has found that it is quantifiably possible to feed ourselves under a low intensive system, with no chemicals or soya imports for animal feed, while cutting carbon and restoring nature, with the caveat that we need to accept significant dietary change. Change is a familiar concept to our cover star, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who has dedicated his career to TV shows and campaigns to change the world for the better, and in his latest venture, turns his hand to a lifelong guide to healthy eating (pages 10-13). Elsewhere, in lifestyle, ease yourself into the new year by finding new joy in food and mealtimes (pages 26-27). It may be a little longer before we can re-join friends and family, but for now, a sense of positive change can begin in the home.

Nina Pullman, Editor, Wicked Leeks @nina_pullman


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‘Regenuary’ opens debate on ethical diets By Nina Pullman


he environmental impact of diets has once again sparked debate after a new campaign launched to counter Veganuary and suggest that simply cutting out animal products ignores other issues. ‘Regenuary’ was created by online butchery The Ethical Butcher and began as a social media post to challenge the environmental claims made by the Veganuary campaign and promote regenerative farming. Regenerative agriculture is a grassroots term used by farmers, both organic and non organic, who focus on improving the natural world while farming, rather than having a neutral or degenerative impact. They use livestock rather than chemicals to fertilise soil, and feed grass over imported soya. The global Veganuary campaign encourages people to try a vegan diet throughout January, and on its website states: “We want a world without animal farms…where food production does not decimate forests, pollute rivers and oceans, exacerbate climate change and drive wild animal populations to extinction.” In response, the Regenuary post pointed out the lack of transparency and energy used in ingredients in some processed vegan food, as well as the carbon footprint of some imported plants, such as avocados. The campaign poses the challenge: “For a month, consider the impact of everything you eat and try to source as much as possible from regenerative agriculture, this works for a vegan or omnivorous diet.” Its first post reached almost a million people online and faced criticism of ‘vegan bashing’, prompting a followup post explaining the concept in more detail, including that the

use of avocados was “illustrative”. “Technically it is possible to partake in Veganuary while consuming Brazilian soy but this is not regenerative and therefore not Regenuary approved. We consider regeneration to be more important than simply avoiding a food group,” the campaign said, adding that it was “possible but not easy” to eat a regenerative vegan diet and would involve careful sourcing of seasonal ingredients. It is the second attempt to counter Veganuary this year, with an industry campaign from the dairy and meat sectors targeting consumers with messages to ‘eat balanced’, focused on the nutritional content of red meat and dairy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that, globally, reducing red meat and dairy production and consumption is one of the top ways to cap greenhouse gas emissions and keep warming rates below two degrees. “You just can’t push for better meat without accepting the less,” said Simon Billing, executive director of the Eating Better alliance. “The meat industry campaign has no reference to less, anywhere. Those championing regen meat should get behind less but better. “What we see is generally people want to eat less and better but looking for support to do it. My New Year’s resolution would be more inspiration and support as we’re all a little tired on the home cooking front. Everything from ready meals and recipe ideas, using all the tools at hand to help us eat better,” he added. The Regenuary campaign said: “Many people have questioned our motivation for writing what could be seen as a provocative post, our motivation is very simple, we want people to think.”

Sustainable meat producers have begun to challenge claims that plant-based is always best.



News by Numbers

Ecological farming can feed UK if diets change

21 tonnes

By Nina Pullman Nuts could play a big part in sustainable farming.


t is possible to farm sustainably without harmful chemicals and while producing enough food to feed the UK if significant dietary change takes place, a new report has found. Cutting intensive pig, poultry and dairy production by around half, cutting cereal crops by 20 per cent, while increasing tree crops like fruit and nuts by almost 500 per cent, would enable the UK to cut greenhouse gas emissions from land use and farming by 38 per cent, with a total elimination of artificial chemicals and soya imports, with the latter also cutting indirect emissions from UK food. The transformation should be underpinned by a major shift in diets, including moving away from ultraprocessed foods and sugars, while animal products produced on low intensive systems should make up one of the recommended three protein sources a day. Ruminant livestock is only marginally reduced under the model, due to its key role in natural fertilisation and replacing chemicals. Legumes and pulses would triple in production, while significant growth in agroforestry will contribute to an increase in fruit and nuts, while storing and offsetting carbon. Commissioned by the Food and Farming Commission (FFC), the report builds on a landmark study by French think tank IDDRI called Ten Years to Agroecology, hailed as the first quantifiable evidence that an alternative and non-intensive farming system is viable, and would produce enough food. Sue Pritchard, FFC chief executive, told Wicked Leeks: “This report really answers the question: is it possible to feed the UK through agroecological farming practices? The short answer is yes.” The report covers five ‘questions’ around diet, carbon, ruminants, productivity and nature, and tackling all five is the most significant aspect,


said Pritchard. “It helps us think about dietary change, restoring biodiversity, tackling net zero and creating viable farm businesses,” she said. While organisations like the NFU are plotting a route to net zero in farming, the FFC report models how a reduction of 38 per cent is achievable while also tackling declines in nature, for example. “Current evidence seems to suggest that the nature crisis is going to kill us before the climate crisis does, from soil health right through to the loss of whole ecosystems,” said Pritchard, who said that the biggest trade-off will not be between carbon and nature, but in what we eat. “What this report is telling us is the tradeoffs we need to make are around the extent to which we are prepared to move into a major dietary shift.” The UK would increase self-sufficiency in some areas under the model, but would also trade with close neighbours to maximise what is best suited to each area. Cutting intensive pork and poultry would reduce the need for soya-based animal feed, while ruminant livestock are primarily fed on grass. “Some people want to take land out of production for rewilding and intensify elsewhere, but these leave questions around the rural economies living there, or how intensification of any kind tends to increase the control of the food system in fewer hands,” said Pritchard. Although yields would reduce “in line with that under an organic system”, Pritchard said “we shouldn’t underestimate the scope for innovation and farmer-led research”, such as companion planting and robotics. She said the study has further raised questions, but added: “I am incredibly excited about it. This study is a body of evidence that is helping to shape a global movement as other countries pick up on the promise of agroecology.”

The amount of plastic organic veg box company Riverford will save every year by switching to home compostable packaging, the equivalent of three tractors.

75 The number of countries where small-scale farmers attended the first global and virtual Oxford Real Farming Conference this month, to share climate-friendly and regenerative farming practices.

78% The government’s Committee on Climate Change has said the UK should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 78 per cent by 2035, to pave the way for net zero by 2050.

48% Almost half of all fruit and veg tested by the government during 2019 contained a mixture of pesticides, according to PAN UK’s annual ‘Dirty Dozen’ list, with strawberries topping the ranking.

MOST READ ON WICKEDLEEKS.COM 1. Strawberries top Dirty Dozen 2. Food brands linked to Brazil deforestation 3. A crisp packet revolution 4. Veganuary swaps and staples


Brexit creeps over the line as UK enters new era of farming A

nticipated disruption and food shortages caused by a last-minute Brexit did not appear as the UK and EU agreed an 11th hour deal just before the end of 2020 deadline. Four years of Brexit uncertainty finally came to an end on 1 January as the UK officially left the union. A late-stage trade deal means the UK will not face tariffs on goods, but the possibility of food prices increasing remains as suppliers face masses of new paperwork at a huge cost in time and money. Smaller businesses, like European fruit growing cooperatives, are particularly vulnerable. “The biggest challenge has been helping our smaller grower partners in Europe prepare for new and complex

paperwork, which they are not set up for,” said Dale Robinson, head of procurement at organic veg box company Riverford. “Some of them even needed it translating into their own language. We could work with larger suppliers or wholesalers who are already set up for complex exporting, but we have long-term relationships with these family-run small farmers,” he said. Meanwhile, the new Agriculture Act, passed by MPs in November, marks a ground-breaking new era for British farming. In a phased departure from EU-style subsidies, paid according to size of farm, farmers will now begin to be paid for the ‘public goods’ they produce, including environmental benefits like soil health and trees, as well as food. Farmers are

New food brand gives power to consumer E

thical consumers can vote for and then order the exact food they want to buy according to how it is produced and what price they want to pay, under a new initiative. The Consumer Brand, which launched in the UK in 2019 as a new ‘bottom up’ food business model, is now actively recruiting both consumers and producers. To participate, people can fill in a questionnaire to select product characteristics, and how much they think it is worth, with example questions including ‘where would you like your flour to come from?’ and ‘what price would you like to pay the farmer?’. The team will then negotiate with producers, retailers and processors to bring the products that have been chosen to market. Two product questionnaires, for

eggs and flour, are already live, with oats, honey and milk in the pipeline. “We can be described as a ‘Fork to Farm’ initiative,” said co-founder David Poussier. “By which we believe that from our responsible consumption and commitment to fair trade for farmers, we are contributing to the start of a virtuous circle in the food supply chain.” The brand was established in France as ‘C’est qui le patron?’, translating as ‘who is the boss?’, and is now sold in ten countries. It was set up to counter supermarkets’ drive for ever-cheaper goods and exploitive practices, and bring greater transparency about how much of the food price goes to farmers. In the UK, it works with schemes including Nature Friendly Farming Network and the RSPB’s Fair to Nature to validate its supply chain.

transitioning over to the new system with trials to work out what exactly they can be paid for beginning in 2021.

Farmers will be paid for environmental protection as well as producing food.

Star letter Eating organic and high welfare costs 30 per cent of our income. Only affordable as no longer have the mortgage. That’s the real driving down of money available to pay properly for food; the ridiculous cost of keeping a roof over your head. JennyR68. To comment, sign up at www.wickedleeks.com.

Tweeted @MarcusRashford 21 Dec We need a longterm sustainable framework to catch children falling through the cracks. That has to be the goal of 2021.

@GretaThunberg 3 Jan

@JoannaBlythman 4 Jan

Thank you so much for all the well-wishes on my 18th birthday! Tonight you will find me down at the local pub exposing all the dark secrets behind the climate- and school strike conspiracy and my evil handlers who can no longer control me!

They have stayed open in difficult times, responding to challenging circumstances and providing us with essentials and treats. Many people have discovered the pleasures of shopping in independent food shops. Do read @jennylinford on #shopsmall 5



IF? Rob Hopkins Co-founder of Transition Town Totnes and author of From What If to What Next. @robintransition


he poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote that “the future must enter into you a long time before it happens”. When Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon in 1969, it wasn’t his idea, or JFK’s idea when he announced the moon mission in 1960. We had been going to the moon for decades before then, in films, stories, songs. Tintin went to the moon, Sinatra sang us there. By 1960, we had created such a deep cultural longing to get there that once we decided to, it took just nine years, from scratch, with a team whose average age was 26. When I think about the changes that the climate and ecological emergency demands that we make, changes of which Naomi Klein once wrote “there are no non-radical solutions left”, I often wonder how it might be that we can similarly create sufficient longing that such a shift becomes inevitable. It strikes me that if all it required was logical arguments, reasoning and science, we would have done this in the 1980s when it would have been so much easier. Our challenge, the scientists tell us, is within just 10 to 15 years, to reimagine and rebuild pretty much every aspect of our economy. In part, this is the work of storytelling, of bringing to life for those who struggle to imagine anything other than the way things are today, how such a world would taste, feel, look and sound like. All too often we default to dystopian images, rather than allowing ourselves to believe that it could actually be amazing: more connected, happier, healthier, more


time-rich, less stressed and anxious, with cleaner air, better food, cities full of vegetation and far fewer cars, a far more diverse and decentralised economy, more equal, fair and just. I am a great believer that one of the best ways to unlock our ability to imagine a different, and far better future, is through the asking of good ‘what if’ questions. Antanas Mockus, former mayor of Bogota in Colombia, once described a good ‘what if’ question thus: “What people love most is when you write on the blackboard a risky first half of a sentence and then recognise their freedom to write the other half.” In Liège in Belgium, the local Transition group six years ago asked: “What if, in a generation’s time, the majority of the food eaten in Liège was grown on the land closest to Liège?” The asking of this question has sparked a remarkable reimagining of the city’s food system; with 25 new co-operatives created already, and €5 million invested into it by local people, a new economy is emerging. The city’s mayor told me “this is now the story of our city”. We must imagine while we build. And build while we imagine. So, a challenge to you: what if, over the next few weeks, in any conversation you have about the state of the world, you were to weave into it your own storytelling about how the world could be, if we were to do everything we could possibly do? Try it. Because it is still possible, just. But only if we create the best conditions possible for the future to enter into us.

It could be amazing: more time-rich, less stressed, cleaner air, better food, cities full of vegetation and far fewer cars.


The green recovery, forests and fish James Thornton Chief executive of environmental law firm ClientEarth @JamesThorntonCE


or many people, 2020 has been a hugely challenging year. For some, it has been devastating, as loved ones lost lives and jobs disappeared. We are all looking to 2021 with trepidation, with expectation and above all, with hope. How can we take stock of the challenges we face, and turn them into positive action? Luckily, there is a strong case for hope. Covid has unleashed huge levels of government spending, the kind we haven’t seen since World War 2. Suddenly, there is money being committed to rebuild the world better than it was before. At ClientEarth we are asking, what does this mean for the environment? Studies already show that green economic stimulus is a better bet, with Greenpeace calculating that investing in a sustainable economy and green buildings would create on average 24.1 and 23.2 jobs respectively per £1 million – compared to 19.6 jobs for every £1m invested in traditional roles. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development agrees, saying: “Delivering a green recovery is vital for tackling the urgent and interconnected challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.” So, we know spending green is a good idea, but are governments doing it? Some of them certainly are - Germany has pledged €40 billion on climate spending this year, and France has promised €31 billion. The EU has also powered on with the Green Deal, and Joe Biden has mooted $2 trillion to deal with climate change. Although the UK has fallen short with only £8 billion promised, their ten-point plan for a green revolution is still a positive step. But when it comes to Covid-linked funding, things are looking less good. Politicians around the world have pledged $12 trillion in Covid stimulus funds. But analysis shows that in 14 of the 17 major economies, money for projects that harm nature and the climate outweighed cash supporting them. We know these stimulus funds will shape our economies for decades, but what does this all have to do with forests and fish? When it comes to marine life, fishing sustainably has a huge impact on our ocean. Only taking fish from healthy populations

Protecting marine ecosystems could bring huge carbon savings. means chip shop favourites have a chance to reproduce, and the rest of the ecosystem enjoys knock-on benefits. At the top of the food chain, whales act as huge carbon sinks, many times more effective than trees. If we were to restore today’s population of great whales (around 1.3 million) to pre-whaling days (4 to 5 million), they would collectively capture about 1.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – that’s more than the annual carbon emissions of Brazil. Many people know that forests act like lungs for the planet, filtering our air and locking up around 45 per cent of all land carbon. So we need to protect them. Fighting illegal deforestation, stopping illegal timber sales and empowering people who live in or near forests to have a say in how they are used – these are all key tools in the struggle to keep trees standing. As we (hopefully) start to envision life on the other side of Covid, we must make sure our recovery is a positive one. We must spend money to benefit people and the planet just as much as the economy, and prioritise investments that will build a healthy, long-term future for all. Whether through protecting marine life or defending forests, sustainable solutions exist, and we must grab them with both hands.

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The world is facing a catastrophic decline in species.

biodiversity loss Mya-Rose Craig Youth conservationist and president of Black2Nature @BirdgirlUK


he number of birds alive in Europe, including the UK, has gone down by 400 million, just in the last 30 years. This decline in the number of birds is only increasing year by year. When we look at the number of species that have become extinct, or will become so in the next ten years, the numbers continue to soar. We as humans are doing our very best to dominate every inch of our countryside, exterminating wildlife even further. In the global north, we are eliminating species that are trying to cling on in our manmade but nevertheless essential habitats, such as farmland, meadows and non-native forests, and in the process are continually losing wildlife at great speed. People often forget that, as humans, we are part of nature too, and nature is part of us. We cannot exist, physically or mentally, without it and, despite our best effort to move away from the fact, we are still animals and still innately part of the wilderness that we are trying so hard to destroy. I often wonder how we managed to lose the wilderness of our past, and how


we can build it back into our future. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) 2019 report found that nature’s decline was unprecedented, that species extinction rates were accelerating, that the current global response was insufficient, and that transformative changes were needed to restore and protect nature. Most shocking of all, one million species are threatened with extinction, which would be catastrophic for our survival. Why is it that hundreds of thousands of young people around the world are prepared to miss school and march in the streets calling for action to save the environment and the planet from climate change, but there is hardly a word spoken about biodiversity loss outside of conservation circles? Why would those same young people find it hard to care about species loss? I believe one reason is that many climate activists do not actually have a connection with nature. The biggest hurdle to be overcome is the fact that people cannot truly care about something they know nothing about. Nature is no different. However, as wildlife and nature decline, so do the opportunities to form a connection with it. As well as this, spending time in the outdoors and in the countryside is also

Why do hundreds of thousands of young people march for climate but there is hardly a word spoken about biodiversity loss? increasingly becoming a pastime for the privileged. Access is now often very difficult and many people don’t have the time, money, or energy to spend their free time fighting to access somewhere that feels completely alien to them. Another issue is that the conservation movement, which fights against issues of habitat and biodiversity loss, is, I believe, struggling to keep up with the times. It is still frighteningly homogenous – being made up of those who are white and middle-class. It is a movement that is struggling to engage with anyone outside of the mainstream, despite environmental issues arguably being some of the most critical of this century. We need to engage everyone and work with everyone to save our species and so our planet.


Multicultural voices for

sustainable food Judy Ling Wong CBE

Credit London Food Link

Poet, environmentalist, and honorary President of Black Environment Network @ling_judy


he most effective way to include people is to start where they are, setting issues at the centre of their lives. The focus of Black Environment Network is full multicultural environmental participation. We challenge the mainstream environmental movement to open up equality of opportunity to environmental awareness and active participation. Access to healthy, affordable food by disadvantaged communities looms large in the context of health and vulnerability to disease. Covid-19 has highlighted the devastating consequences of health inequalities, with the risk of dying shown to be higher in black, Asian and minority ethnic groups than in white ethnic groups. It is astonishing that in the 21st century so many of us can grow up without ever seeing a vegetable growing in the ground, or an animal in a field. The purposeful engagement of people in urban areas, where over 80 per cent of our population now lives, is a key to unlocking their potential contribution to the sustainable food movement. Urban food growing has exploded in recent years. Myatt’s Fields Park, near where I live in south London, is set in an area of high multicultural presence. For newcomers to see tiny seeds, almost like specks of dust, grow into onions or pak choi, which you can then eat, is like taking part in a miracle. It is a lifechanging experience. Within the older generation of particular multicultural groups, long dormant skills for growing produce from their countries of heritage become centre stage. Some three years ago, staff at Myatt’s Fields Park realised that a significant barrier is the lack of greenhouses to enable a long enough season for the satisfaction of harvest. They decided to grow plug plants for the community in their huge Victorian greenhouse. Initially, people signed up for about 3,000. Within only three years, the demand grew to 50,000. Beyond allotments, people grow food on their balconies, their paved front gardens or backyards.

Myatt’s Fields Park is the centre of a community food movement.

Growing food has a phenomenally large impact, improving both mental and physical health. Eating fresh and nutritious vegetables gives great pleasure. It gets people to be active by taking them outdoors. Alongside food growing, Myatt’s Fields Park ran a Food Heroes Project, building the coming together of community. Sharing recipes, cooking and eating together creates a setting for informal learning, where the consciousness of issues naturally emerge. The community recently took action against the use of pesticides in local parks and gardens. There is growing awareness around the use of pesticides in what they still have to buy and consume from supermarkets. Engaging people continues to be a big job: reaching out, starting where people are. Effective action requires sound, specific knowledge. The food growing movement is a prime target for the sustainable food conversation. Within such community settings, what touches the heart fuels the search for information. Diversity and equality, inclusion, farming practices, packaging, food miles, fair trade and so on, set within local and global ethical business practices, will subsequently appear on the agenda. I look forward to an increasing number of multicultural voices and the rising generation of activists, supported to join the demand for the sustainable food systems that will benefit all of us.

Within the older generation, long dormant skills for growing produce from their countries of heritage become centre stage.



Campaigner, TV presenter and food writer Hugh FearnleyWhittingstall meets Nina Pullman to talk influence, how to inspire change and what healthy eating really means.



here must be a tremble in the knees of industries when they first hear of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s next TV series. So it was with the coffee industry, when his War on Waste blew the lid off the scale of disposable single use coffee cups, accelerating a move towards reusable cups. The same with supermarket bosses, facing an onslaught of consumer attention as he urged them to send back their plastic packaging on social media and in the post. Whether it’s fisheries, animal welfare, wonky veg or plastic, a Fearnley-Whittingstall campaign is almost guaranteed to gain viral attention, get hashtags trending, and create long-lasting public attention to an issue that forces larger-scale change. The 56-year-old affable TV presenter and food writer has a way of reaching people in an accessible way, even convincing them to act: no mean feat in today’s world of information

petition, and then start to give politicians the feeling that if they don’t take this seriously and do something about it they might get booted out at the next opportunity.” Fearnley-Whittingstall is quick to credit the expertise of others, mentioning campaigns by Jamie Oliver and Marcus Rashford, and describing how he “stands on the shoulders of giants” in his TV shows by working with experts like Compassion in World Farming or food waste organisation Feedback. “When we’ve gone off to make some other programme, we need to keep those issues alive. So it’s really important that this is a collaborative process,” he explains. His own current subject of interest is healthy eating as a permanent lifestyle, something he tackles in a typically accessible and engaging format in his new book: Eat Better Forever. Covering a huge range of health aspects, from whole foods, to gut health, to mindfulness

overload and convenience. How does it feel to hold such a position of household influence? “It’s a really mixed feeling, and it’s a feeling of privilege and excitement,” he says, speaking from his garden office on a cold December morning. “In the end what really matters is the public response to these things, the fact that lots of people will sign a

and the role of awareness in healthy food choices, it’s almost more life coach than recipe book and holds an impressive amount of research and up-to-date scientific expertise. The second half of the book contains recipes (plant-led but with a meat chapter), while the first is a seven-point guide to what he calls “my idea of what healthy eating is and should be.”

Credit Matt Austin

Credit Simon Wheeler


Above: Food campaigner and writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Left: New book Eat Better Forever promotes a diverse diet.


THE BIG INTERVIEW “I just wanted to tease out these seven really simple ideas, leading with three really positive ones, which are ‘go whole’, ‘go varied’ and ‘go with your gut’,” he explains. Chatting to Fearnley-Whittingstall is at times like being in an audience of one for his TV shows; he is clearly well versed in absorbing research and translating it for a mainstream audience. “Cabbages and apples and steak and fish and eggs and milk, and all those things that are natural foods and haven’t been messed around. These are the best foods, because they are food,” he continues, talking about the value of ‘whole’ over processed. “They are foods that, in many cases, have evolved in order to be eaten, and in other cases we have evolved alongside them in our diets and we’re very comfortable eating them.” Adapting message for audience without sounding patronising is a skill prized by any TV presenter, and particularly one working in the complex areas of food. It’s perhaps one of the learnings from his time at Eton, a school that prides itself on teaching students a chameleonlike ability to fit into public life. The prestigious school is not an experience that FearnleyWhittingstall regards as formative himself, though, saying that what he remembers most is coming home in the holidays. “There’s a lot of complicated things to say about boarding school and the effect it has on someone over the long-term,” he says. “One of the things I remember valuing the most was coming home and getting in the kitchen, and being out in the garden and pulling up carrots and wiping them on the grass and munching them.” Similarly memorable was his short stint at River Café, the Michelin-starred restaurant run by Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray, which is as well known for its food as for producing culinary talents, including Jamie Oliver. “I can roll back and remember myself there in an instant,” says FearnleyWhittingstall. “I can see the kitchen, I can see the jobs I’m doing, I can see the people,” he says, adding that it was “utterly, utterly formative” in teaching him about good ingredients. It’s these values of the connection to food, seasonality and the joy of eating with friends and family that are common themes across his career and embodied in the River Cottage brand, which began as a series on Channel 4 tracking Fearnley-Whittingstall’s adventures in self-sufficiency. River Cottage is now home to a public restaurant, various farmto-fork courses, and a cookery school, the latter carefully taken online during coronavirus and which Fearnley-Whittingstall sees as a counter to the passive experience of watching cooking shows on TV. His fascination with healthy eating is partly down to his own diet, which although underpinned by a love of good food and ethical sourcing, for many years was supplemented by snack food during hours of TV filming, with a knock-on effect on his weight. So where do his heartland values of animal welfare and low-intensive farming come into the new book? They’re still there, he says, if not quite as

“full frontal”. “The very useful thing is that, if you’re primarily sourcing whole foods, leaning towards what is seasonal or what is local, is a relatively easy rationale,” he explains. “If you’re buying lots of ready meals and highly processed foods, those decisions about food provenance have usually been taken away from you.” Omnivorous these days, Fearnley-Whittingstall’s last book was vegan and he says his food is “plant-led” and he’s “heading in that direction”. On processed meat ‘alternatives’, he takes an underrated common-sense position in a debate that has become increasingly polarised: “Lots of the ways to address the so-called meat crisis involve dishing us up some very processed plant proteins. I don’t think it’s ideal. “I’ve got no problem with a good veggie burger. For me, a good veggie burger should be a bashed together combination of things like pulses, some corn, maybe some grated beetroot or some roots in the mix. I’m not saying we shouldn’t chop or grate or blitz or make soups, absolutely, these are good things to do. But when we do those things, we shouldn’t take things away and we shouldn’t add things that don’t need to be there.” He is also keen to stress that “it’s about more than personal responsibility”. “Because the problem is we could have the best will in the world to choose healthy foods, but the world around us is bombarding us with messages to do otherwise,” says Fearnley-Whittingstall, who also fronts the national Veg Power campaign to encourage children to eat more veg. It’s why books and TV programmes are only half the story, and his campaigns are usually also lobbying the government and businesses on the same issue. This last year saw Fearnley-Whittingstall join celebrities, campaign groups and citizens, to ask that low quality food imports like chlorinated chicken be banned by law under the new Agriculture Bill, ahead of controversial trade deals with countries like the US after Brexit. Despite huge public awareness, the government refused to budge. It was a huge blow to public interest, and even as a seasoned campaigner Fearnley-Whittingstall says that felt tough. “It’s partly an ideological thing,” he says. “Conservative governments in general, and this government even more than usual, don’t like clipping the wings of business. But at a time when they’ve boxed themselves into a corner because of Brexit, they are even more anxious about putting restrictions around trade. Essentially it’s putting money ahead of human health, it’s putting business ahead of looking after us.” Where did all this seemingly insatiable drive to improve things come from? FearnleyWhittingstall says it was less about a burning desire to change the world, and more about “being passionately in love with wildlife for as long as I can remember”. Moving to the countryside aged six, he recalls a “rural adventure playground” and memories of collecting snails, birds’ eggs and other nature treasures. Combined with learning to cook at the same age with his mother, and a deep-seated interest in food and the natural world was cemented for the rest of his career.

Credit Simon Wheeler

If you’re primarily sourcing whole foods, leaning towards what is seasonal or local is a relatively easy rationale.



Many TV shows or food writing could show a little more concern for provenance.

Credit Simon Wheeler

Of all the issues he has covered, it seems that one is missing, and I wonder whether he has considered putting his considerable influence to work on the climate crisis. “There’s often a climate element to the stories we tell, but the short answer is yes, of course I would consider it,” he pauses, before nodding to a series he was due to do this year on this topic and that is still in the pipeline. He suggests there have been difficulties in working out how to frame such a programme, and it’s true that climate has been a hot potato, as far as TV programmers have been concerned. “People are very quickly made anxious and stressed by the idea of climate change, so it’s a question of how do we find the positives and get people feeling good about their actions,” says FearnleyWhittingstall, for the first time swapping his openness for something a bit more guarded, or at least reflecting careful adherence to some fairly live discussions being held elsewhere. In any case, it’s a similar issue to what has already played out around the BBC’s coverage of climate elsewhere, most notably the change in direction and tone of David Attenborough’s programmes on the natural world, where it was felt by many that the human threat to the beauty on screen was left out of the picture for far too long. Perhaps food is facing its own ‘bubble’ in mainstream TV, which is a problem for a media format that is recognised as being the most farreaching and a sector that has such a wide range of climate impacts. Fearnley-Whittingstall agrees, carefully, and adds: “I think you’re right. It’s a smorgasbord. There are a number of investigative shows: Jimmy Doherty, and Jamie, and Channel 4 has done some good stuff, and I’ve done my stuff recently on the BBC. Some of this can be done with a light touch, it doesn’t have to be all campaigny. “What I would like to see more of, is people talking about the provenance of their ingredients in an enthusiastic way. Many TV shows, or indeed food writing - the weekend supplements and the big name food writers, and the best-selling cookbooks - many of those outlets could show a little bit more concern for provenance and seasonality and local sourcing,” he says. “The reason that’s important, as well as the environmental impact, is that’s one of the pleasures of good food. To know where it comes from: the story of food,” he says, returning to more comfortable ground. “When you break the florets off a cauliflower, if you know it’s grown in Cornwall, just think about that and imagine a field full of cauliflowers with the sea just over the hill.” There may be more to come on bringing the urgency of the climate crisis to mainstream public attention, but it’s hard to pick holes in a career that has largely been dedicated to inspiring positive change.

As he puts it: “It was so obvious to me what the deep connection is between food, agriculture and the natural world. They are different aspects of the same thing and that connection just runs deeper and deeper.” Eat Better Forever by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (£26, Bloomsbury) is out now.



A culture war on

food waste China has launched a major new attack on food waste using the power of influencers on public perception – but are there lessons for the UK in our own food waste battle? Megan Tatum reports.


Credit Technode

ini is one of China’s first and best-known binge eating vloggers. The diminutive 24-yearold first shot to notoriety in 2017, when a video of her eating an entire roast lamb in one sitting was uploaded to Shanghai video platform Bilibili. Three years later she has more than 10 million followers on Weibo, China’s social media platform, and a professional crew to capture her as she tucks smilingly into towers of 1,000 crayfish or 17kg platters of meat. But in August Mini found herself fronting a slightly different sort of video. Rather than chat casually to camera as she works her way through a meal big enough for six, the promotional clip, published on state-run newspaper site Guangming Daily, sees the vlogger appeal to her fans not to waste food instead. Consider reheating meals as a “super tasty” alternative to simply chucking away leftovers, she implores. Right at the same moment, the sort of viral content that made her and many other influencers famous began fast disappearing from social media. It’s all part of a new national effort in the country to cut down on food waste. In August, President Xi Jinping called the volumes wasted in China “shocking and distressing” as he announced the launch of the Clean Plate Campaign 2.0 (the first iteration having been launched back in 2013).

Despite campaigns, food waste in the UK remains a major issue.



He urged the country to “maintain a sense of crisis about food security” amid the ongoing supply chain shocks being felt around the world as a result of Covid-19. But as the clampdown on competitive online eating demonstrates – by September, more than 13,000 competitive eating accounts had been shut down for violating the new policies on food waste – the country has gone about curbing its waste in some novel ways. In particular, rather than focus on production, manufacturing and retail, where it’s believed much of the waste occurs, China seems to have centred its efforts on the individual and the final stage of consumption, whether in hospitality or at home. Many restaurants, for example, are reportedly urging groups of diners to order less dishes to share, while lone diners are receiving just half portions as a way to combat cultural taboos around sharing food or not being seen to serve enough food for guests. There were even reports of one restaurant in Hunan weighing patrons as they made their way in before recommending quantities based on their weight. At one elementary school meanwhile, there were reports of students being told to send their teachers a video of their dinner each night to prove they’d cleared their plate. The approach has certainly raised some eyebrows. But could the UK learn a thing or two from China’s focus on culture, content and the end consumer? What is unequivocal is that this prioritisation of food waste in an industrial powerhouse like China can only be a good thing. According to one in-depth study back in 2015, which collected data across the four major cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Lhasa, the country wastes around 17-18 billion kgs of food annually – enough to feed up to 50 million people for a year. Another by the National Bureau of Statistics estimated those levels could be even higher, with household waste alone of around 50 billion kgs each year. “Food waste per capita in China is much lower than here in the UK and other wealthy western countries,” says food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart. “However there are a lot of

Food is a major emitter of greenhouse gases once it reaches landfill. with “celebrity chefs, mass media and widespread peer-to-peer cultural expectations.” Think Hugh’s War on Waste, foodie start-ups like Toast Ale and food sharing apps like Olio. The distinction, of course, is the role of government. “Fostering more of this is probably going to be more successful within the context of western democracies than governments prescribing changes to practices within arts and entertainment,” says Stuart. In addition, just like Chinese restaurants are tackling their own cultural taboos around over-ordering, there is plenty of work to be done in the UK around some of our own wasteful stigmas. Take doggy bags. Research by food waste app Too Good to Go last year found that 30 per cent of 16-24 year olds are too embarrassed to ask for a doggy bag in a restaurant, for example. If they did, they could save 1.3 million portions of food per week. “Removing the stigma around taking a doggy bag home would be a great step,” says cofounder Jamie Crummie. “This is something that Zero Waste Scotland have been working on and we’re hoping that the rest of the UK will follow suit so plate waste becomes a thing of the past.”

Research by food waste app Too Good to Go found that 30 per cent of 1624 year olds are too embarrassed to ask for a doggy bag in a restaurant.

people and any national change in China has colossal consequences for the rest of the world. “Within China itself, where food demand continues to grow, making the most of the food resources China has available makes a huge amount of sense, increasing food availability for a hungry population while reducing environmental burdens.” In terms of how it is going about it, there is some logic in clamping down on online influencers overeating for entertainment, he adds. “In the UK and elsewhere, society is increasingly sensitive to distasteful displays of profligacy – all the more so since the Covid lockdowns that have plunged even more people into food poverty.” There are also parallels to be drawn between their focus on culture and influential figures, and similar successful initiatives here in the UK, he points out. The fact that, since 2008, Brits have reduced their individual food waste by a third each is in no small part thanks to a grassroots movement gaining traction

But – though it can be tricky to get a clear view on exactly which steps China is taking higher up in the supply chain – it does appear that this focus on individual behavioural change is “excessive,” believes Jessica Sinclair Taylor, head of policy at food waste campaign group Feedback. Doing so “diverts attention from the fact that businesses need to be regulated so they take more ambitious action, ignores primary production waste, and ignores the fact that consumer decisions occur within a ‘wasto-genic’ environment that is significantly shaped by supermarkets and currently encourages waste,” she says. Only so much blame, in other words, can be laid at the door of online influencers like Mini. But be that as it may, when her legions of loyal followers sit down to search the internet for her latest clip they may find a polite government warning pop up instead: “Cherish food, refuse waste, eat properly and have a healthy life.”



GREEN JOBS FOR THE FUTURE From mushroom farming, to community food schemes and soil tech – Anna Turns hears from those already pioneering the green jobs of the future and how you could join them.


ith a looming recession and more than 700,000 job losses since Covid-19 began, could now be the best time to retrain for a greener future and futureproof your own career? Forward-thinking Oxford University economist Kate Raworth, who is helping Amsterdam reimagine its route to net zero, believes that: “Our future economy will thrive on reusing, repairing, refurbishing, remaking and repurposing - and this transformation will create new kinds of jobs, many of them creative, all of them purposeful because they serve to align our economies with the cycles of the living world.” The scale of this challenge is enormous, according


to Martin Hunt, a principal project manager at nonprofit Forum for the Future. He insists that it’s not all about chasing new tech, though: “We already have 90 per cent of the innovation we need to reach net zero but some barriers are cultural or financial. We need four D’s: decarbonisation, decentralisation, digitalisation and democratisation,” says Hunt. A recent Local Government Association report suggests that more than a million new green jobs could be created by 2050, from renewable energy and electric transport, to energy efficiency. And in fact, a green revolution is already underway, led by some inspiring ethical citizens and social entrepreneurs.




GARETH ROBERTS manages Regather, a veg box scheme for 700 households in Sheffield. From a 15-acre farm with polytunnels, beehives, a cider orchard and an organic market garden, he aims to make the local urban food system more resilient, sustainable and fairer for all. “Instead of redistributing food surplus or donated food, Regather’s focus on involving local people with food production can change food buying, cooking and eating habits while creating a more productive food landscape,” he says. Not only does this increase social connection and access to nutritious meals, it also creates more jobs, enables more people to engage in nature and physical activity, and improves soil health and biodiversity. “The development of food supply chains that are shorter, more resilient, lower carbon, healthier and are more affordable are a necessary part of a successful response and recovery from this crisis whether that be Brexit, Covid-19 or the climate emergency,” says Roberts.


ANNA TRANT, previously an event organiser, wanted to futureproof her career when lockdown began so she retrained as a consultant for the National Association of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Now she works on the trials of Defra’s new environmental land management scheme, which will be rolled out in 2024. “I’ve always wanted to do something environmental and I’m so lucky to have a new career,” says Trant, who sees huge potential for farming-related job creation as the government’s 25-year environment plan progresses. “Workers will be needed to cap the slurry tanks to prevent methane being released, or to manufacture new machines that direct drill to sow seeds instead of ploughing, peat bogs will need to be reinstated and dams will need to be built to remediate flooding,” she adds.

Our future economy will thrive on reusing, repairing, refurbishing and remaking and this will create new kinds of jobs. 4

DR SALLY GOULDSTONE, a Scotlandbased research scientist, wanted to put conservation theory into practice so she began growing native wildflowers to distil into botanicals used to make skincare products. “There’s so much potential for new green jobs in regenerative agriculture because demand for UK-grown ingredients in the beauty and wellness sector is increasing,” says Gouldstone, whose company Seilich is the UK’s first wildlife-friendly certified brand. Less productive marginal and upland areas are traditionally considered less favourable and less profitable, but Gouldstone says this is an oversight. “These poorer soils are really good for wildlife and biodiversity thrives when you don’t get competitive crops coming through. If we change the way we manage these areas, there’s huge opportunity for getting more people working that land.”


ADAM SAYNER, co-founder of GroCycle, previously worked as an ecologist before setting up the UK’s first urban mushroom farm in 2013 in Exeter. According to Sayner, mushrooms are an untapped resource and will become a significantly more important method of food production in the future. Sayner transforms waste coffee grounds into oyster mushrooms and teaches low-tech mushroom growing courses online to people in over 70 countries. “Mushroom farms are becoming more mainstream with lots in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, USA, Australia, Britain and Ireland,” says Sayner, who expects more large-scale commercial operations to be established as supermarket demand increases. There’s also huge scope for ‘mycoremediation’ – the use of fungi to decompose agricultural waste, oil or plastic to produce food or sustainable building materials, such as insulation boards.


ABBY ROSE, farmer and co-creator at Vidacycle Tech, believes that regenerative agriculture relies on the ingenuity of the people farming the land: “So having a workforce that understands the principles behind healthy soil and healthy ecosystems as well as building regenerative business will be key to making this positive change,” says Rose, who hopes her new ‘Soilmentor’ app brings agency back to farmers. By monitoring soil health and biodiversity in greater detail, farmers could be empowered to build a more regenerative farming system. “In the UK, as CAP payments go, many smaller farmers may need to sell and we could see mass consolidation of farmland into the management of a few larger farming operators,” she says. “So by 2030, the agricultural workforce could be mainly robots and machines. But if the land remains in the hands of multiple smaller-scale farms or is brought into land trust for regenerative farming, then we could see a much younger, more diverse workforce with more people living near or on the land.”

Eden Project, Cornwall, runs agronomy and horticulture degrees, Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Action Lab runs events and courses online, GroCycle runs mushroom growing courses online and the Biodynamic Agricultural College in Stroud runs work-based training as well as distance learning. The Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales runs an MSc in sustainable food and natural resources, while Schumacher College in Devon recently launched a new BSc degree in sustainable food and farming.



HIDDEN TOXINS Choosing organic may limit your pesticide intake, but food isn’t the only place you can be exposed. Nina Pullman reports.


nyone choosing to eat organic food is probably already aware of the use of pesticides to grow non-organic alternatives. The residues left on food, and the harmful impact on wildlife, soil and water, are some of the biggest drivers behind a choice to buy organic. But food is not the only place that we are exposed to pesticides, with consumer goods like mattresses or electronics and rural environments involving exposure to many of the same chemicals with considerably less transparency. “My main problem is that you can have the same chemical

In your bed


banned as a pesticide, but it can still be used as a biocide, or a nonagricultural pesticide, in things like hand sanitiser, flea killers or flame retardants,” explains policy officer at the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) UK, Nick Mole. “More people should know about it. It’s a failing of the regulatory system as it comes under different systems.” Couched in terms of health and safety, or the requirements of food production, these chemicals are part of our society, and as those fighting to change that have found, there are powerful vested interests involved in maintaining the status quo.

Mark Dowen was making futons in the 80s when he first came across the concept of chemical flame retardants. “Suddenly we were told we had to buy cotton that was covered with fire retardants,” he recalls. “We couldn’t understand it because cotton doesn’t burn very well, it smoulders. Years later, I started my own business and again had to use these coatings. We were told by the supplier that the product was safe, but I wasn’t happy with that.”

whole “found to be persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic to humans and wildlife”. Dowen’s shock at his findings had been repeated years earlier in the US, when researchers found traces of flame retardant in childrens’ urine after they wore pyjamas coated in it after only one night. “I started from scratch and just started reading about it – many of these chemicals are carcinogenic,” says Dowen, who says when he tried to bring the issue to parliamentary attention, he got little reaction. “Nobody cared that when you make a mattress you’re basically making a bellows and it’s got air inside, so when you sit on it, it puffs this stuff out. If you sweat on it, it turns into a semi liquid state that is absorbed by skin.” As scrutiny grew, some flame retardants were banned due to health concerns, such as Deca-BDE, which was classed as a ‘Substance of Very High Concern’ and banned in 2019. An Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report from that year states that: “Regrettable substitution occurred as it was replaced with flame retardants which are now being considered for restriction.” Disposal is another issue as these chemicals degrade into other hazardous forms, and

Under the Furniture Fire Regulation Bill passed in 1988, all mattresses and soft furnishings in the UK have to meet a fire retardancy standard, which they achieve by coating fabrics in chemicals including polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), Chlorinated Tris, and organophosphates. The latter group has been almost completely banned for

release toxins when burnt through incineration for energy – another reason why their role as flame retardants should be questioned, says Dowen. Despite concerns and growing restrictions internationally, there has been little noise in the UK. The EAC report states that: “It is clear that opposition from some in the furniture and flame-retardant industries,

use in agriculture due to toxicity to the natural environment and humans, with the exception of glyphosate, which has been classed as ‘probably carcinogenic’ and faces ongoing calls for removal. Organophosphates in fire retardants have specific irritation to eyes, as well as risk to central nervous system and bone strength, with flame retardants as a

and protection of their market share, also contributed to the inability to achieve a consensus for reform.” In the meantime, Dowen continues to campaign and raise awareness, alongside making and selling his patented ‘Cottonsafe Natural Mattresses’, a product he created by weaving naturally flame retardant wool around cotton.


In rural environments

Georgina Downs was 11 when she first started experiencing ill health and symptoms associated with pesticide exposure. Flu-type illnesses and frequent mouth blisters were followed by a hospital stay for muscle wastage and other chronic symptoms. On leaving, she investigated the possible links between her health and the proximity of her home, in rural West Sussex, to fields that were routinely being sprayed. In 2004, blood and fat sample results confirmed the presence of agricultural pesticides in her body, including organophosphates, carbamates and pyrethroids. Experiencing first-hand the risks faced by rural residents, she founded the UK Pesticides Campaign, and has been banging the drum for an underreported area of pesticide risk ever since. “Although there is now a named residents’ assessment, it is really in name only as it simply does not reflect the real-life exposure of rural residents to agricultural pesticides,” says Downs, whose work has led to a new legal definition of rural residents as a ‘vulnerable group’. “Still no account is taken in the risk assessment of mixtures, as it is based on exposure to just one individual pesticide at a time, which is of course not the reality of crop spraying,” she explains. NGO suggestions of a 5-metre buffer zone between rural residencies and spraying are entirely inadequate, says Downs, who points out that the distance that these chemicals can travel in air means the barrier should be more miles than metres, if not prohibited altogether. Downs’ campaign calls for “the urgent need to adopt a non-chemical farming system for the protection of human health and the environment”. And she’s not alone: almost 12,400 people – the majority of whom are affected rural residents in the UK – have signed her ongoing petition. An amendment for their protection was added into the recent Agriculture Bill, before being voted out by MPs, with Downs now aiming for the Environment Bill.

In your bread

While legal ‘maximum residue levels’ (MRLs) in theory control the amount of residual chemicals left in (non organic) food, residues vary across food types. The Soil Association and PAN UK’s report, The Cocktail Effect, found one in four bread loaves contained “multiple pesticides”, and around a third showed the presence of glyphosate. Classed as ‘probably carcinogenic’, by the World Health Organisation, studies have linked glyphosate with health risks including asthma, arthritis, endocrine-related cancers, Parkinson’s and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. “Many ‘conventional’ cereal farmers in Britain – and other cool, damp places – routinely spray their wheat with the herbicide glyphosate shortly before harvest to dessicate [preserve] the grain for storage,” says coordinator of the Real Bread Campaign, Chris Young. While the presence of glyphosate has not been found to exceed the legal MRLs, the problem, according to the Soil Association, is that those levels were set before the new classification linking the chemical to cancer. “The MRL for glyphosate has always been a matter of controversy, because, if glyphosate is an endocrine disrupter as some scientists suggest, there may be no safe lower level for human consumption,” the organisation said. In the meantime, there are alternatives, says Young. “Whether a miller, baker, retailer, hospital cook, college caterer, eatery owner, café or in our day-to-day lives, we can all say no to glyphosate,” he says. Concerned consumers can write to their MP to raise the issue, or choose to buy organic flour or bread, if possible, where the use of artificial chemicals including glyphosate is banned.

CHEMICAL-FREE FARMING? While rankings like the Dirty Dozen, which flags up strawberries and lemons as having the highest amount of pesticide residues, help consumers prioritise which fruit and veg they may prefer to buy organically, if budgets permit, a more long-term solution is to help

in Europe could make such a shift, using techniques such as permanent grasslands to retain nitrogen in soils, and ecological principles of diversity and soil health, demonstrating how a farming system that is not underpinned by artificial chemicals could still provide

farmers move away from artificial chemicals altogether. An in-depth modelling study by French think tank IDDRI, called Ten Years to Agroecology, has outlined how farming

enough food to feed itself. As food visionary and author Carolyn Steel put it recently: “A transition to sustainable food is perfectly doable, it’s just a question of political will.”



A GREEN TIDAL WAVE Greenwash is becoming an ever-bigger problem, ranging from fake farm names to claims of net zero, but what does it look like and how can we spot it? David Burrows investigates.


n email from a cereal maker recently caught my eye. Its new pouches are “100 per cent recyclable” so customers can now “rest assured” their breakfast is “free from single-use plastic”. Seems great, doesn’t it? Turtles and seabirds are choking, after all. But perhaps we need to take a breath and unpick such claims. For example, nowhere in the press release did it mention what the new packaging was made of. I asked, and it’s a mix of PE (polyethylene) and LDPE (low-density polyethylene). Both are plastic. But aren’t the new pouches free from single-use plastic? Obviously not. This company, like others (including Coca Cola) have started to argue that if their packaging is recyclable, then it’s not single-use. This is folly: if it is used once and thrown away, it is evidently single-use. Yet this is the nuance and ambiguity that brands are employing to hoodwink us. In simple terms, it’s greenwash. And it’s everywhere. “Greenwashing is going to be a big MSc dissertation topic this year,” quips Paul FoulkesArellano, founder of Circuthon Consulting, which advises companies on reducing their impact. Each week the terminology becomes more baffling; two of my current favourites are ‘ocean-bound plastic’


and ‘omnidegradable’. I’d chuckle if it wasn’t so serious. “These things are too important to be left to marketers to play with to their heart’s content,” says Robert Blood from Sigwatch, which tracks what environmental NGOs are saying about companies. And there’s another tide of misinformation coming. The pandemic, together with the UK’s hosting of the global climate change talks (COP26) next November, will mean companies bombard us with ‘net zero’, ‘carbon neutral’, ‘zero waste’ and myriad other commitments. And not just in food. Fashion has caught the green bug too. Even oil companies are making bold (but largely dubious) commitments. These are of course the masters of greenwash – a phrase coined in the 1980s but still causing debates over its definition. According to the Oxford Dictionary, greenwash is ‘disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image’. And there are different shades – from the deliberate, to the subtle and downright sloppy. Remember, for example, those ‘fake farms’ that Tesco, Aldi, Asda and Lidl were all using (and still use) to entice eco-minded shoppers? The leafy, green packaging certainly gives off the right vibes. Front of pack on Tesco’s


£41 billion. And the bigger the market, the more incentive there is for brands to cut corners in order to take a slice of pie. The team will be doing a sweep of websites to spot the greenwash – and using its consumer protection powers to take action. It’s not about “bashing business” though, says Cecilia Parker Aranha, who is leading the work, but ensuring they are not “taking advantage of people by slapping on a quick label or claim which might mislead them.” There are currently almost 460 eco labels globally, so we probably don’t need any more. Still, the CMA will be looking at ‘misleading omissions’, too – in other words the information that would help people make sustainable

choices, but isn’t there. One gap is carbon labelling, which is back in fashion after a 10-year hiatus. It’s another wild west scenario though: there are lots of different methods that allow brands to look better than they actually are. Plant milk brand Oatly, for example, is incredibly transparent about its process and has made admirable changes to reduce its emissions, including a switch to renewables across its production sites. And yet its on-pack carbon footprint stops at the shop door – there is no consideration of how much of the product might be wasted or where the TetraPak carton ends up (landfilled, burned or recycled). Whether this is better than the vague ‘lower carbon’ claims its competitors have started making is moot. Food companies will need to start back up such claims. Which? is expanding its work in this area, integrating environmental impacts into more of its testing of products and services. Briggs says it’ll be practical rather than preachy. “The best place for advice is where the options are confusing, or people don’t know what to do,” he says. That cereal packaging could well have been the result of ignorance rather than intent. Either way, it’s greenwash and the chances of getting away with it could soon shrink.

Companies have started to argue that if their packaging is recyclable, then it’s not single use.

Credit Flickr/GWire.

sultanas is the message: ‘Farm-grown’. We might ask, where else are you going to grow grapes? Indeed, start to look more closely and the easier it becomes to spot the fudges and the fakes. But most of us don’t have time. As we zoom around the supermarket, or online, brands have a matter of seconds to grab our attention so a key phrase, or better still an image, can work wonders. How many milk cartons show cows cooped up indoors rather than out in the field? Have you ever seen a chicken sold with a picture of a packed poultry shed? Or a steak labelled ‘high carbon’? Consumer watchdog Which? last year produced research on all the lingo supermarkets use to entice shoppers to buy their chickens. This included those fake farms, as well as terms like ‘higher welfare’ and ‘trusted farms’, which have no legal definition. “It’s not inaccurate but it doesn’t really mean anything,” says Mike Briggs, head of sustainability at the consumer group. This is different to ‘free-range’ or ‘organic’, which are regulated, and brings us to the golden rule for spotting greenwash: beware ambiguity. Terms like ‘eco’ and ‘biodegradable’ should set alarms bells ringing. Ten years ago, the government actually produced 40 pages of green marketing guidance for businesses (at the time the Guardian had its own dedicated email address for greenwash), but this has been slimmed down to one webpage. Now the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is planning an update. The CMA has clocked that the market for ethical goods and services has quadrupled in the past 20 years to total

Back in fashion: Carbon labelling is becoming more common but is difficult to compare.



Classical music has been found to relax poultry.

From playing music to hens and dousing seeds in hot water to brewing up potent compost: a scheme running farmer-led research is helping spread sustainable farming techniques across the UK. Jack Thompson reports.

Brewing compost ‘tea’ helps it cover larger areas.


t’s easy to plunge into despair when thinking about the many problems inherent in our food system. So it’s reassuring to come across projects like Innovative Farmers, which is helping farmers nationwide to promote ecological practices and reduce costly and harmful inputs. Set up in 2012 by the Soil Association and part-funded by organic veg box company Riverford, Innovative Farmers is a not-forprofit network that links researchers with farmers to carry out field work on their own farms. The scheme has set up over 100 ‘field labs’ over the past eight years, with anything from four to 20 farms involved in each project, and coordinated £300,000 worth of grants for farmer-led research. The benefits of carrying out farmer-led research like this are immense. Because it’s the farmers who decide what is studied, the research directly answers questions to real-life problems that farmers face. All too often agricultural research doesn’t address this. Secondly, since the research is carried out with commercial and practical issues in mind, it is more likely to be implemented by the farmers long-term. Having worked on the research themselves, farmers are empowered to make evidence-based decisions. “Farmers must be supported to innovate and adapt to this changing world as they grapple with record-breaking heatwaves, unpredictable weather and the disruption caused by Covid-19,” says senior communication manager at Innovative Farmers, Dan Iles. As farming can be an isolating business, an initiative that brings farmers together from all sorts of backgrounds, conventional and organic, provides not only invaluable knowledge exchange, but a


Hot water seed treatments led to lower disease in chard crops.

sense of community and solidarity. “Farmer-led research is critical to reducing reliance on costly and harmful inputs and making our farm systems more resilient to future shocks. To fix our broken food system we must put farmers in the driving seat,” adds Iles. Music for hens’ ears Glenn Haggart, a farmer in Lancashire, started to notice the beneficial impacts of playing classical music to his hens. Clearly a high-brow flock! However, up until now, very little research has been done on its direct effects. Haggart wanted to find out what kind of music is best for his hens and whether relaxation is key for a long and healthy life. Innovative Farmers has enabled Haggart to equip the sheds with surround sound to get full coverage and have linked him with the University of Bristol to carry out the research. Haggart has been impressed with the results, saying: “Anyone can walk around the shed and the girls don’t mind at all; they’re not even bothered by drilling, because it helps them get used to

SUSTAINABLE FARMING a range of noises and partially disguises them. Music and sound can also distract the girls if they begin fighting.” Compost tea, and brewing a high quality crop Sophie Alexander, an arable farmer in Dorset, began to observe with some interest the effects of a compost brewing machine. With a farm of 1,000 acres, it is just not feasible to apply normal compost to her crops in the amount it would require. But using a compost ‘brewer’ oxygenates regular compost, which increases the potency by creating an exponential growth of the beneficial microbes. One brew of the newly potent compost can make enough to apply to 100 acres. Where the compost tea was applied, the crop was of a higher quality and meant Alexander was able to sell the crop for milling grains, at a higher cost than the commodity market. “The scientific rigor that Innovative Farmers bring to trials and the network is vital,” she explains. “It has also helped tremendously with financing and it’s made it possible to do something that I wanted to investigate.” Hot water seed treatment Not only does foliar disease (such as powdery mildew and leaf rust), on Devon-based Riverford’s chard reduce the overall yield, it also takes much longer to pick, and because the picking is done by hand, labour costs increase significantly. At times, this can leave the crop barely commercially viable. Innovative Farmers established a field lab on Riverford’s Wash Farm in south Devon to investigate a hot water seed treatment to eradicate disease pathogens before planting. Instead of using chemicals to treat the seed for disease, the field lab trialled immersing the seed in hot water before sowing to reduce foliar disease, with great success. As Alex Stephens, crop production manager at Riverford, says: “The treatment virtually eliminated the disease within the chard.” Investigating antibiotic usage in dairy Mastitis, or inflammation of the udder tissue, is the most common cause for antibiotic use in the dairy industry. A group of ten dairies have been working with Innovative Farmers and the Royal

Farmers must be supported to innovate and adapt to this changing world.

Composting on a larger scale helps replace artificial fertilisers. Veterinary College to reduce their use of antibiotics in mastitis cases through increased testing. Project researcher Peter Plate says: “Mild and moderate cases of mastitis have a very high spontaneous cure rate (cure by themselves with no treatment). So, antibiotics in these don’t make a big difference.” The team developed an on-farm testing system that identifies in 14 hours which cases require antibiotics and which ones don’t. Not only will farmers spend less money on antibiotics, it reduces the time that the cow would normally spend out of milk production while recovering. It’s projects like these, which share techniques often used by organic farmers to replace chemical or other inputs with the non-organic industry, that could be vital in scaling up sustainable farming across the UK. And while food and farming p0licies are so often decided in London offices, here, at least, it’s in the fields where the real field work is taking place.

At Wicked Leeks, our mission is to inform and inspire positive change. And you can help. Our journalism is free to all, but we want to reach as many people as possible who share our desire for a better world. We know our readers are some of the biggest advocates of sustainable living, and you can help us grow this movement by sharing articles with your friends and on social media, and joining the conversation.

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WICKED LEEKS LIFESTYLE Replenish and reset, try new cooking tips and combinations, prepare the garden for a new year, or peruse the culture corner. Go to wickedleeks.com/lifestyle for more.

VEGANUARY SWAPS AND STAPLES Veganuary is in full swing – and for those of us who are new to a plant-based diet, Emily Muddeman rounds up the store-cupboard staples and easy substitutes to help you create a vegan diet.

Baking without eggs There are numerous egg replacements for baking, all of which help to bind ingredients together, like eggs do. One of these is ripe banana, or plantain. Use one ripe mashed banana for every egg in recipes like brownies and cakes. Apple sauce is another alternative: one tablespoon can replace one egg in most baking recipes. Alternatively, try a flax seed or chia seed ‘egg’: mix 1 tablespoon of flax or chia seed with 2.5 tablespoons of water to make one ‘flax/chia egg’. Aquafaba is another option, made from chickpea water, and contains natural proteins.

Go nuts for cheese A good way to replicate rich, creamy flavours is with nuts. Search online and you’ll easily find creamy pasta sauce recipes made with cashew nuts and similar (The Happy Pear have some great ones). Vegan cheese can be questionable, but a lot of vegan recipes use nutritional yeast to add a cheesy flavour to the dish; it’s worth buying if you plan to up your plant-based cooking. Avocados are also great for making creamy sauces and salad dressings.


Meaty flavours To replicate rich, meaty flavours, add ingredients like soy sauce, mushroom powder (watch the Riverford Veg Hack), or miso paste. For a smoky flavour, like you would get from bacon, add smoked paprika.


Old friends and new treats Choosing what to grow is a time of great excitement for any gardener – try new seed choices as well as returning to old friends. Sarah Brown Gardening columnist


here’s nothing like the cold, clear light of a new year to get the gardener’s sap rising. With little to do in the veg plot (except batting away the pigeons from my precious brassicas), I get my thrills from choosing what I’m going to grow this year.

The new year is an ideal time to plan next season’s havests.

to the Heritage Seed Library, your funds will help save old and local varieties that can no longer be bought. Cardiff District Nurse – a dark-podded climbing bean – is first on my list, to share with my son who now lives in Cardiff.

How about perennials?

The Cardiff District Nurse climbing bean

These include the staples of potatoes, beans, peas and courgettes. But this year, I’m trying two different sorts of potatoes – earlies (for the joy of that first bowl of waxy, creamy-fleshed tatties, steaming in butter and fresh mint) and main crop. That way I’ll be getting potatoes from late June right through to September.

I’m excited to try some perennial veg. They should save on maintenance, and keep me in greenery throughout the seasons. If they’re not available by seed, then beg a cutting off a neighbour. I’ve never grown perennial kale. I can choose between tall, stick-looking plants such as the Walking Cabbage, native to Jersey, or go for a low, bushy variety like Daubenton. Another perennial is the Caucasian spinach. Because it’s a climber, I’m saving precious bed space, and with leaves ready to pick in early spring every year, that’s plenty of Greek spanakopita pie!

New year, new seed choices

Keep it coming

The added benefit of sowing late is you can often dodge the pests. Carrot fly, for instance, are past their first infestation by August. And finally, there’s that array of micro greens and salad leaves, of which I’ll sow little and often. Purslane, claytonia, and landcress will join the ranks of cut-and-come-again lettuce. It’s called successional sowing – and it sounds so simple, just a few plants every fortnight or so. And yet, every time I fall into the trap of sowing and growing far too many at once. But 2021 will be the year of generosity. I’ll share my crops with my lockdown neighbours: old friends will get new treats.

Old friends

Have you noticed that garden centre seeds seem to be very limited in range? This is for commercial convenience, not breadth of variety for us growers. I buy online; that way I can source seeds which have been grown organically, and I can find beauties such as the bright pink borlotti ‘Stokkievitsboon’, the yellow Golden Sweet mangetout, or the deeply-ridged Cherokee Purple tomato. My beans and peas will definitely include some heritage varieties. If you join Garden Organic, and add on membership

One of the great challenges for any veg grower is to keep greenery on the plate throughout the year, as spring sowings are usually harvested by mid-summer. Lawrence Hills, founder of Garden Organic, once wrote a little leaflet called What You Could be Eating Now if You’d Sown it in Time. So I’m taking his advice and looking ahead. I’ll be choosing some quick growing mini varieties which I can sow midsummer to keep me in produce well into the autumn. Baby carrots, kohl rabi and small cabbages are on the list.

The Grow Your Own Wicked Leeks series is written by Garden Organic, the national charity for organic growing. Each month we bring you timely advice on what to do in your organic patch. Share your tips and gardening photos on social media under #GYOWickedLeeks and @wickedleeksmag.



Reset & renew Freshen up your meals, embrace slow cooking and delight in dressing your table – now is the time to reset and renew your enjoyment of food, writes Becky Blench.


t’s easy to get into a rut with what we eat, but the new year is naturally a time to reset and renew. This year, it seems even more important, as the global pandemic has changed habits in how we shop and eat, with more cooking from scratch and a growing awareness of the connection between us, our diet, and the wellbeing of our planet. There is seemingly infinite choice in the supermarket, but most foodstuffs on the shelf are made of identical ingredients. 75 per cent of the calories we consume come from just 12 crops and five animal species, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors’ diet was actually 20 times more diverse; we eat only 0.06 per cent of edible plant species, and only around a quarter of folks eating a western diet eat even the basic minimum recommended ‘five a day’ of veg. We can create a better food system by some shifts in our choices, while nourishing our bodies at the same time. Here are some simple, pleasurable ways to refresh your mealtimes and bring something new to the table.

Enjoy creating a beautiful table and switch off the TV.


Aim to eat a more diverse range of fruit and veg Better for our health and the environment, and great for your gut microbiome, which plays a key role in immunity. Eating with the seasons increases variety, marks out the changing year and adds excitement to your plate. Look for unusual heritage veg, small scale growers, slowgrown organic food. Top tip: Weekly changing veg box schemes are great for this.

Set the scene Renew how you eat – ditch TV dinners and make time for good meals, taking a little longer to eat and digest. Creative table settings are an emerging trend and a lost art that is being re-established as an opportunity to create a beautiful, calm meal space. This is especially useful if your dining table is also your workspace during the day.

The art of ‘slow food’ With more time at home, many have reconnected with the art of ‘slow food’. There has been a huge upsurge in preserving, pickling, baking and fermenting. It is empowering to know exactly what is in your food, plus it cuts out unnecessary packaging and food additives. Cooking from scratch

is a great opportunity to expand your recipe repertoire, exploring new textures and flavours.

Embrace flexibility Having the confidence to experiment and swap or adapt recipes to suit what we have in the store cupboard gives much more flexibility, with fresh seasonal produce providing variety. Think of recipes as a guide from which to learn about new techniques and flavour combinations, rather than following ingredients as an exact list. Run out of squash? If you are grating it, replace with carrots. Spring greens, kale, spinach and Swiss chard will all wilt down in a similar way, while carrots, squash, parsnips and sweet potato will roast with similar results.

Seek out simple ingredients and save money We think of takeaways as being cheaper, but the cost of fish and chips for four is around £30 – more than a week’s worth of organic veg. It is easy and economical to make healthier DIY versions of your favourite foodto-go at home, containing much less fat, salt and sugar and more of the good stuff. Batch cook and freeze in portions for healthy ready meals on busy days.

Seasonal stars


Fresh and simple: Take the new year as a chance to rediscover the joy of food.

January and February may seem bleak after the sparkle and excess of Christmas feasting, but the key to enjoying this season’s food is to savour the calm and explore new ways of cooking winter veg.

Cauliflower and coconut laksa with kale and rice noodles With aromatic lemongrass, fiery ginger and creamy coconut milk, this turns the humble and sometimes neglected cauli into a vibrant winter dish. The leaves and stalks are edible too, so do save them and use to make vegetable stock.

Make the perfect veg stock Makes 1 litre | Prep 15 mins | Cook 45 mins A decent homemade stock really improves any soup, stew, risotto or sauce. There's no need to be exact with your veg – use up what's left in your fridge, but avoid anything cabbagey. Keep trimmings and peeling too, if you are feeling thrifty – if clean, they can all go into a stock pot. Make a large batch and freeze the rest.

Harissa falafels with spiced beetroot, kefir dressing and pittas In place of the usual summer accompaniments of cucumber and tomatoes, here is an earthy and sweet beetroot preparation. The dressing is made with kefir, which is similar to yoghurt in taste, and it’s fermented so contains plenty of beneficial bacteria.

Ingredients 2 onions, roughly chopped 1 leek, cleaned and roughly chopped 3 celery stalks, chopped 3 carrots, cleaned and roughly chopped 1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped small bunch of parsley 3-4 sprigs of thyme 10 black peppercorns 2 bay leaves 1.2 litres of water

Method 1) In a large pan, add all the ingredients and bring to the boil. Skim any froth off the top. 2) Reduce the heat to a bare simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes. 3) Remove from the heat, strain through a sieve and leave the liquid to cool.

Kale Caesar salad A twist on this classic salad recipe with a hit of mineral-rich leafy goodness. Leaving the salad to sit for 15 minutes before serving allows the acidity to take away the raw taste and texture from the kale. This makes a wonderful seasonal salad out of UK winter greens when summer leaves aren’t around.

For the full recipes, go to riverford.co.uk/recipes 27


Often discarded, eating lesser-known cuts of meat or offal helps cut waste in meat supply chains, save money and get extra nutrition and flavour into your diet, writes chef James Evans.


he vegan and vegetarian movements are without doubt increasing in pace and volume. But there is still a large proportion of us who include animals in our diet in some form or another. And whether you are a proud carnivore, morally conflicted, or an occasional steak dabbler, it’s time to broaden our approach and open our minds to eating some of the lesser-known cuts. In the UK, we have become increasingly detached from what we eat, and often don’t make the connection between a nice, clean packet of meat, and the live animal it came from. Conversely, when we see animals in real life, it’s hard to imagine that living and breathing thing as something we’re going to have killed to cook and eat.


This is not the case for much of the world. For communities that are still heavily involved in farming, especially in poorer regions where choice is less of an option, animals are definitely seen as food, and not only the popular cuts – the entire animal. Most meat eaters do eat offal, but in a disguised form such as sausages. We know this, and yet most of us are still very reluctant to buy and cook offal in its raw form. Maybe it’s because eating offal, which is hard to disguise as anything else, makes that link between animal and food a little too graphic for us to stomach. The simple fact is if we eat every bit of the animal, less will be wasted. And not only that, but buying all parts of an animal gives more value to it, which


makes rearing them via slower, less-intensive methods more commercially viable. Due to its relative unpopularity, offal is also a much more affordable way of eating meat. Creating meals out of offcuts and carcasses is a seriously efficient and economical way of managing your food budget. And it’s a brilliant chance to get to know your local butcher. You can ask questions directly about where the animals were raised and give your own feedback on what you buy – ask them for carcasses or recommendations for offal and they should be more than happy to help. Eating the entire animal is a no-brainer (ironically also a yes-brainer). Not only are the cheaper cuts of meat delicious when cooked correctly, offal is also full of really good and healthy stuff. Liver in particular is full of vitamins and nutrients that can complement an otherwise plant-led diet excellently. From nose to tail Try cooking liver with onion and wild mushrooms, blitzing in a food processor and serving as homemade pâté on toast. Kidney, as well as liver, can be simply fried and eaten exactly as it is. Kidneys are quite intense in flavour, so if this is a bit much for you, why not try sweetbreads (the thymus glands or occasionally the pancreas of young cattle or lamb). Cooked to be crispy on the outside, they are absolutely delicious.

Bone broths are super simple to make and are a brilliant way of extracting nutrients from carcasses. Next time you have a roast chicken, try boiling the carcass and bones with vegetable scraps and loads of dried herbs to make a delicious and lowcost soup. Get really creative and make a ramen broth, with pork bones and a few ingredients, such as miso pastes and spice blends, and you’ll have something that is ten times tastier than shop bought. For some reason we don’t mind buying whole fish, but few of us actually use the whole thing. Make a simple fish stock with the heads and bones and use as the base for soups, chowders and sauces. Roasted crab and lobster shells make absolutely beautiful

Opposite: Use a carcass to make a spicy Asian soup. Above left: Turn livers into homemade pâtés. Above right: Bone broths are a good way to extract nutrients.

bisques – roast in the oven, then combine with gently sauteed onion, garlic and celery, tomatoes, white wine, tabasco and cream. There is so much flavour and nutrition locked up in bones and offal that we would normally discard. By addressing this, we not only become better cooks and create less waste, but we also begin to become more thoughtful and conscientious consumers. James Evans is a Riverford chef and host of the Riverford Veg Hacks on YouTube.

The Riverford Field Kitchen SEASONAL BRUNCH, LUNCH & SUPPER Our restaurant doors are closed, but you can still book for March onwards. If you can’t wait, let us bring the restaurant to you with Riverford’s special edition Field Kitchen recipe boxes, coming soon.

Advance booking essential

theriverfordfieldkitchen.co.uk 01803 227391 Buckfastleigh, Devon, TQ11 0JU



Zero waste Veg Hacks


ood waste has a huge climate impact, and we can all help to cut it down while getting the most out of our vegetables with a few simple veg hacks, writes Emily Muddeman. To help put the scale of the problem into perspective, here are a few food waste facts: • A third of food grown globally is wasted. • If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. • All the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be fed on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe. In developed countries, over half of food waste takes place in the home. Saving food saves money, as well as helping the planet. To help cut down waste, read our top five zero waste veg hacks, or watch the full tutorials by searching Riverford Veg Hacks on YouTube.

Kale stalk pesto

DIY Tenderstem Tenderstem and sprouting broccoli varieties have become increasingly popular, but you can easily get the same effect from a standard head of broccoli. Start with a whole head of broccoli, and use a peeler to remove some of the tougher outer layer of the stalk. Then cut off and discard the bottom 1cm of stalk. Next, cut the head of broccoli in half, lengthways, then cut away each floret from the top all the way to the bottom of the stalk, to create a Tenderstem effect.

Seven cuts of cauliflower Riverford veg box customers are used to receiving cauliflowers with outer leaves attached. Not only do they act as natural packaging, but they are perfectly edible, as is the stem. Watch our video (bitly.ws/aRWn) to see chef Bob get seven different cuts out of a head of cauliflower, with nothing for the food waste bin.

Most people throw away kale stalks, but you don’t need to. They are full of nutrients and fibre and make a fantastic pesto. Roughly chop the stalks, transfer to a food processor, and blitz with some toasted pumpkin seeds (or other nuts or seeds), garlic, ground cumin and olive oil.

Whole baked veg There are a few vegetables that are fantastic cooked whole. Celeriac and cabbage both work really well for this. Find recipe videos for both in the Veg Hack playlist on Riverford’s YouTube channel.


Search Riverford Veg Hacks


One last thing… with Gizzi Erskine Gizzi Erskine is a celebrity chef and food writer, best known for presenting Cook Yourself Thin on Channel 4, and for her role as longstanding food writer for the Sunday Times Magazine. Most recently, Erskine has published her new cookbook, Restore; a modern guide to sustainable eating.

Your biggest fear? My friends’ and family’s health.

Describe yourself in three words. Energy, creative, and all I can think of right now is angry!

What do you most like about yourself? My sense of humour.

anything without her; we have a very codependent relationship.

First memory? Being in Scotland in a vegetable garden,

Top comfort food? Phô or a noodle soup. Oh, who am I trying to

lying on a tartan rug and smelling carrots.

kid, spaghetti bolognaise all day.

Most treasured possession? I don’t know if I can call her a possession, but my sidekick Rose. I couldn’t do

Dream dinner party? Anthony Bourdain, Aleister Crowley, Elvis Presley, and Elton John from the 70s.

What’s been your worst job? Dropdown Menu, a TV show (the audience selects what is cooked by celebrity chefs and famous guests by selecting one of three dishes from a giant drop down menu); I hated every minute of it.

WATCH. The film Gather places indigenous food sovereignty as a rejection of mass food production and homogenisation of diets and cultures. Find it at gather.film.

IMAGINE. The BBC’s Rethink series explored how the pandemic offers opportunities for change around a selection of topics, including food. Available on BBC Sounds.

DISCUSS. Started as a forum for chefs and producers to debate issues, MAD has ballooned into a tonic against the bullish, aggressive, ego-driven and often unsustainable restaurant industry. Explore madfeed.co/content/ mad-talks.

What do you value most in others? Loyalty.

WATCH. The celebrity-laced Kiss the Ground has given soil health the Netflix treatment. Find it at kissthegroundmovie.com.

LISTEN. If you like soothing audio from famous names, listen to celebrities reading environmental poems on the Guardian, at bit.ly/37i2N1e.

What to watch, listen to and read, as recommended by the Wicked Leeks writers… LAUGH. For something food related and light-hearted, try Ed Gamble and James Lancaster’s Off Menu podcast. Find it at offmenupodcast. co.uk/episodes.

EXPLORE. A folk-horror art film, Arcadia is billed as “a visceral sensory journey through the seasons, exploring the beauty, brutality, magic and madness of our changing relationship with land and each other.” Watch via the British Film Institute at player.bfi.org.uk.



Our fruit & veg packaging is now

HOME COMPOSTABLE These super-sustainable bags, punnets and nets will properly biodegrade (breaking down not into microplastics, but into organic matter, just like a plant decomposing) within a year. You can dispose of them on your home compost heap, or through your food waste bin (depending on your local council). If you can’t compost at home, we can collect with your veg box – we’ll compost it on the farm and use it to grow more veg!

Ethical organic veg. Delivered.