ISSUE 7 | SUMMER 2021
SUSTAINABLE FOOD AND ETHICAL BUSINESS Regenerative Farming Special
Food & female power Asma Khan on why it’s time for a new kind of hospitality.
Your questions answered On plastic, local food and price.
Farmer and author of English Pastoral with a cry for help for farming.
Plus: Vegan farming | Students and green eating | Eat seasonal in summer
Wicked Leeks magazine is published by Riverford Organic Farmers. Wash Farm, Buckfastleigh, Devon, TQ11 0JU. 01803 227416 firstname.lastname@example.org Editor: Nina Pullman Staff writer: Jack Thompson Design: Chanti Woolner Marketing: Max Harrop Contributing illustrators: Tom Jay (tomjay.com) Victoria Holmes: (@urbanmagpiestudio)
FIND US ONLINE wickedleeks.com @wickedleeksmag #WickedLeeks
here seems to be many similarities between those of us who eat, and those of us who produce food. A growing number of regenerative farmers have grown tired of waiting for any government action on farming, and are part of a farmer-led movement to cut pesticides, protect soil and restore nature, as we report in our Regenerative Farming Special (pages 4-5). Then there’s the community of ethical eaters and citizens, who we know make up Wicked Leeks’ readership, who desperately want to make the right decision and find the right information, reducing the impact of their diet while enjoying the delights of good quality, seasonal food. We gathered some of your questions on issues ranging from plastic to price, and put them to our pool of expert writers (pages 16-19). Connecting farmers with consumers has always been a big part of Wicked Leeks, as it’s so often the case that the damage is done when there is too much distance – people can’t make informed choices, farmers aren’t properly reimbursed, and no one
is held to account. It’s also why author and farmer James Rebanks ends his column on the future of farming (pages 6-7) with a plea for help to you, the buyers of the food he produces, before it’s too late to save smallscale British farming. It’s inspiring reading, and not the only voice of leadership we’re featuring in this issue. Asma Khan’s background as a second daughter in India has done much to inspire her championing of marginalised communities (pages 11-15), but it’s the possibility of a progressive world where ethical businesses are the norm – whether that’s flexible working to allow a fairer workplace, or when no bullying goes unchallenged – that drives her forward. That and a strong belief in the transformative power of food, however you come across it.
Nina Pullman Editor, Wicked Leeks @nina_pullman
Read on screen: issuu.com/ wickedleeks-magazine Printed by: Walstead United Kingdom, 109-123, Clifton Street, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 4LD. Wicked Leeks magazine is printed on 100% recycled FSC certified paper, meaning it is harvested from sustainable forestry. While we hope you choose to keep the magazine, rest assured it is 100% recyclable.
CONTENTS & CONTRIBUTORS / ISSUE 7 NEWS / 3 - 5
Asma Khan on a new kind of hospitality.
OPINION / 6 - 10
FEATURES / 11 - 29
LIFESTYLE / 30 - 39
Student Anna Zuurmond with a new column on why young people don’t make greener food choices. P8. Farmer and author of English Pastoral, James Rebanks, on why farming hangs in the balance. P6-7,
Historic reform to food would improve lives and environment By Nina Pullman
istoric reforms to diets, junk food subsidies, farming and meat consumption are needed to improve the UK’s health and restore the environment, a landmark report has said. Henry Dimbleby’s much-anticipated National Food Strategy has published bold proposals to counter diet-related deaths and enable farming in a way that protects nature, creates sustainable livelihoods and tackles climate change. Among its wide-ranging recommendations, the report said meat consumption should reduce by 30 per cent, which could be done by reducing meat in processed food or foodto-go, as well as people cutting down what they eat in the home. The report, the second of two, was compiled after two years of analysis and meetings with people from every part of the food system, including “deliberative dialogues” with citizens across the country, to establish what changes the public is willing to embrace. As a result, they discarded ideas like a meat tax in favour of government interventions to incentivise and nudge dietary change. “The recommendations we have put together are intended to create the kind of food system the people of this country say they want – and need,” Dimbleby said. “However, state intervention is rarely,
if ever, sufficient by itself. You can’t send in the army to improve the cooking in schools, or imprison people for serving bad hospital meals. “Transforming the food system will require change at all levels: structural, cultural, local and individual. But it is work that must be done.” In addition to cutting meat, fruit and vegetable consumption will have to increase by 30 per cent, while consumption of food high in saturated fat, salt and sugar will have to go down by 25 per cent. Making these diet changes, particularly around meat, will allow intensive farming to decline, and enable a more regenerative use of livestock to fertilise fields, moving away from fertiliser and soya for animal feed – both key contributors to climate change, via nitrous oxide and deforestation respectively. “The next big shock to our food supply will almost certainly be caused by climate change, in the form of extreme weather events and catastrophic harvest failures,” said Dimbleby. “Agriculture alone produces 10 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions, despite constituting less than one per cent of our GDP.” Setting out in stark detail how poor diets contribute to around 64,000 deaths every year in England, Dimbleby also calls for an end to what he dubs the ‘Junk Food Cycle’
Above: Henry Dimbleby has set out ambitious plans to reform food and farming. and availability of cheap processed food causing obesity-related illness, to be used to fund the expansion of Free School Meals. The report has been widely backed by food charities, campaigners, civil servants and celebrities, and there has been speculation about exactly what, if anything, the government will choose to act on. “It’s likely that the elements of the strategy focused on vulnerable children and ideas for procurement in schools and hospitals will be easy for government to pick up,” said chief executive of the Food, Farming & Countryside Commission, Sue Pritchard. “But I hope the level of consensus (that the need to transform our food and farming system is urgent) revealed in Henry’s rigorously researched plan, will give the government confidence in taking action on more challenging aspects of the strategy.” Soil Association CEO Helen Browning said: “The meat question will spark debate, but the evidence is clear that dietary change will be needed to enable nature-friendly farming. The debate in farming shouldn’t be about whether this is so, but about how to make this transformation quickly and fairly, for both farmers and citizens.”
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NEWS / REGENERATIVE FARMING SPECIAL
Tweeted @loubgray 12 July I expected debate about #renewableenergy & #pesticides but not #veganism in my latest column @wickedleeksmag about #tomatoes #bumblebees but that is what I like about being part of this informed vegetable community.
Retailers need to support regenerative farming By Nina Pullman
@keating_joseph 24 June A lot of talk about the potential revenue farmers can generate from selling carbon at #groundswell. Makes me worry a little. How can the industry be net zero if we sell our carbon savings? Are we overstating the potential/value of the carbon market? Time will tell I suppose.
I have recently finished reading Jason Hickel’s book, Less is More: How Degrowth will Save the World; and this ties in so much with his ideas - how to aim at greater democracy and returning ‘capital’ to the ‘commons’. There’s too much to unpack here, but I do recommend anyone who hasn’t read it yet to read it. Manduco Bene, via wickedleeks.com.
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ore ethical retailers are needed to match the shift in sustainable farming and create an ‘ecosystem’ of fairer prices to farmers to allow them to continue farming in a better way. Speaking on a lively panel at Groundswell, an annual gathering and conference for regenerative farmers held in June, co-founder of pulse supplier Hodmedod, Josiah Meldrum, said: “We need a network, an ecosystem, of supply and retailers. We need ‘regenerative’ retailers to match the farming side.” Asked whether supermarkets fit into this vision for sustainable food, Meldrum said: “There’s a lot they need to do to get their house in order before small producers want to engage with them. They have a bad reputation for a good reason. There is a will to talk about relocalisation [among supermarkets] and we have to be open to having those conversations. But it’s a slightly intractable position.” Natasha Soares, project leader of Better Food Traders, a network of ethical retailers across the UK, said farmers need more of the customer pound in order to farm sustainably. “To us, sustainable means organic or better. We believe ethical retailers and wholesalers need to play a part in farmer-focused food systems. Our farmers receive over 50 per cent of the customer pound via local veg boxes,” she said.
We need ‘regenerative’ retailers to match the farming side. “Research by the Sustainable Food Trust found that every £1 spent on food in the mainstream results in another £1 in hidden costs to the environment.” Small farmer and member of The Landworkers’ Alliance, Jyoti Fernandes, said farmers could consider cheese making or meat curing to make low intensive farming profitable, while aesthetically damaged fruit could go for juicing or cider making. “With four cows, if you milk them and turn it into cheese, combine it with veg in a market stall, and you can make £4k profit on one cow. “We also have a meat cutting room on the farm which means you can add value to the whole carcass, turning it into back bacon and cured meat like salami. It shows how you can make extra profit while de-intensifying.” Selling direct, through networks such as the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), farm shops, or veg boxes all provide profitable routes to market for small sustainable farmers, Fernandes added.
REGENERATIVE FARMING SPECIAL / NEWS
What is regenerative farming? While it may sound like the latest buzzword, regenerative farming in the UK is actually a term used to describe a grassroots movement led by farmers to reduce pesticides, move away from grain to grass-fed livestock, and restore soil fertility and biodiversity.
Haven’t organic farmers been doing that for years? Yes, and there are many organic farmers also farming regeneratively. Because it is a mindset rather than a certification at this stage, regenerative farmers can be organic or non organic. At its heart, it’s about protection of soil, and many believe ploughing (like organic farmers have to do to avoid weeds without chemicals) is deeply damaging, and would prefer the opportunity to spray very occasionally. Shouldn’t we be wary about ‘green’ farming that isn’t certified? There is always a risk of greenwash. But the almost 3,000 self-defining regenerative farmers who met at Groundswell recently to discuss how to restore wildlife, reduce chemicals and nurture soil proves the level of interest. And when organic farming still only accounts for less than three per cent of farmland in the UK, there’s clearly a need to transform the majority of agriculture. The problem is when bigger multinational brands get involved and use the term for marketing purposes, as is starting to happen in the US. You can counter that by trying to meet the farmers in your area, via box schemes, local butchers or farm shops, or on social media.
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Sustainable farming relies on small abattoirs
arming of rare or heritage breed livestock that are bred in non intensive conditions and are well suited to the British climate is under threat due to declining numbers of small abattoirs that can cater to small herd sizes and less uniform animals. That was according to Chris Price, chief executive of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, speaking on a panel about farmer-focused supply chains at Groundswell, and backing up a campaign by the Sustainable Food Trust highlighting how smaller abattoirs have less stress and better animal welfare.
“When it comes to small abattoirs, it’s not the number, it’s the type,” said Price. “There are lots, but they don’t take unusual animals, such as with horns or thick skins. Or they don’t return the ‘fifth quarter’ [offal], which is what a lot of farmers rely on.” But speaking elsewhere at the event, environment minister George Eustice dismissed the issue. “We have supported facilities to stay open on islands, and we know there are gaps in Scotland and Wales. But in England they are actually still quite widespread. If we funded this, we might not be able to fund something else.”
Farmers searching for biodiversity support
egenerative and nature-friendly farmers want a diverse range of information to help increase the amount of wildlife on their land while producing food and a sustainable livelihood. A panel at Groundswell on the topic ‘A new era for farming’ heard from chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN), Martin Lines, who said: “I want diversity of information. I’m concerned about the focus on agronomists – they’re good but I want to be more forwardthinking and bring the wildlife bit into it. “As a farmer I want to use these free gifts from nature. It has always been about output, that’s what you’re taught at agricultural college. But actually what I want to understand is what species should we have? I have a lot of good stuff, but I can do better.” Farm manager at RSPB’s Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire, Georgie Bray, said that over 15 years, the farm has seen breeding bird numbers rise by 200 per cent and butterflies rise by 400 per cent, using a
combination of wildflower margins, winter seed mixes and hedgerows. But she said it’s also about where to put wildflowers, and how to manage them, and there is a lack of information available to farmers wanting to farm this way. “We have relied for so long on the ‘can’ and the input, and they don’t work anymore. But they’re still causing the same damage. If we fight nature, we will never win,” she said.
ISSUE 7 | WICKED LEEKS 5
The future of farming hangs in the balance
Credit Stuart Simpson
Above: Farmers facing cheap competition cannot afford to invest in sustainability.
JAMES REBANKS Farmer and author of English Pastoral @herdyshepherd1
e live and farm in Matterdale in the English Lake District on an oldfashioned family farm. The hawthorn by our farmhouse is frothy with blossom and humming with bees and other insects. The cuckoos are calling from the oak trees down the lane. And the swallows are swooping in and out of the barn and away across the greening hay meadows and cow pastures. On days like this, it is all very idyllic and seems a million miles away from the politics on the radio news I listened to while I had my breakfast. But the sad truth is, what happens in the fields of Britain is deeply affected by, and shaped by, politics. It always was. I recently wrote a bestselling book about my family’s farm over the last four generations, called English Pastoral. It explains in simple terms how in the post WW2 period, we tasked farmers with producing more and more cheap food, and we paid them for doing it and demanded they ‘modernise’.
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My genuine fear is that this is about deregulation and loosening of standards. We also armed them with ‘miracle’ tools and chemicals, like DDT and ammonia nitrate fertilisers, to pull that off. They achieved amazing feats of productivity. But it has become increasingly clear that this was a rather blind and dangerous way to think about farming, and it forgot about, and destroyed, a lot of things in the countryside that matter greatly. We screwed up our soil, eradicated weeds (wildflowers and grasses), moved animals into vast crowded sheds, removed hedgerows, and created devastating declines in farmland wildlife. We also shifted to monocultures that were highly mechanised, and away from mixed rotational farming. Less than two per cent of
us now farm. Food is cheap and abundant, but at an unsustainable cost of destruction. And now, because of Brexit, we have a moment that requires profoundly important choices to be made about how to farm our land and how to balance the complex mix of things we need from it. Sadly, our government seems to be creating the conditions for it all to get worse – proposing free trade deals with places like the US and Australia that will drive down prices paid to British farmers and create greater pressures for intensification at the field or barn level, instead of creating and protecting a more ambitious nature-friendly (or agroecological) farming system. We are creating a system in which our farm dies and is replaced with something worse. We simply can’t have both evercheaper food and better managed and balanced landscapes. We have to make grown up choices and compromises and pay for what we choose. To their credit, our politicians are proposing to change our farm payments away from paying for bad practices, or for very little beyond owing land, to paying for
‘public goods’. Paying farmers to focus on delivering things like carbon, healthy soil, flood alleviation, or restoring habitats. The rhetoric is great, and if it delivers then I’d hope to earn part of my living from creating an abundance of nature around my sheep and cattle. We just planted 20,000 trees, restored three miles of hedgerow, and planted 6,500 wildflower plugs. We can mend rural Britain and make it work better for society. But five years after the referendum, we haven’t seen any details of what this government wants, what they will pay for, or how they will measure these public benefits. They are already phasing out the old payments, reducing farm incomes, without most farmers being able to join the new schemes to replace it and deliver something better. Economic pressures on farms like ours to exploit land are getting worse, not better; farms are under more debt pressure to produce more, not less. There is a very strong suspicion emerging that this is a re-run of the 1980s but with farmers as the new miners, to be done away with for ideological reasons. My genuine fear is that this is really about deregulation and loosening of environmental and welfare standards; outsourcing food production to the developing world (where its ecological impacts are horrific but out of sight); cheapening food (to buy off voters and compensate for gross inequality); lowering food safety standards (to keep US trade negotiators happy); consolidating land in
Credit Andrew Heading
Producing food in the UK means the impact is transparent and regulated.
fewer hands (pleasing political donors and the wealthy); and wrapping that whole ideological neo-liberal project in greenwash with the last of the cash from the old subsidy system, before phasing out any kind of support for British farming. And if that is the case, make no mistake: British farming would die, because it would be unfairly asked to compete with subsidised and often ecologically destructive farming everywhere else. Do we want our countryside to be a broken wasteland like the American mid-west? Or do we want something better, something sustainable, and a decent future? I think most of us want something better and are willing to pay to create and sustain that. I believe in our ability to rebel against this looming disaster, and choose the light. I believe in you. Start rebelling, please, before it is too late. English Pastoral: An Inheritance is available in paperback from 2 September.
HOW TO REBEL TO HELP FARMERS BY JAMES REBANKS Try to buy direct from at least one farmer, one who you make the effort to learn about, and who farms in ways you’d approve of. A veg box is a good start, and social media is a great way to connect with farmers. Start being troublesome in cafés, restaurants and shops about where their food comes from. If they can’t tell you where the meat or vegetables came from, tell them you will move your custom elsewhere. Or, they can buy British and from a good farm and you will support them loyally. Write to your MP and insist that we don’t allow imports of food that are produced in ways beneath UK standards. Try and grow something to eat (even if you only have a pot or window box). It is a good reminder about the realities of food, and it is good for us to connect with elemental things.
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Credit Tom Jay
Understanding student reasoning is key to change.
Why don’t students buy sustainable food? ANNA ZUURMOND Geography student, University of Sheffield
niversity students are pretty green. Most of us don’t drive much, we represent a high proportion of vegetarian and vegans, and we’re more likely than many other population groups to participate in green activism, protest and voting. We’re doing our bit - however this does not always translate to buying choices. I’m a second year geography student, and in my third year research project I would like to investigate what percentage of students are consistently buying based on environmental factors, such as organic and local, when it comes to their fruit and veg.
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Following this, I really want to understand why, by starting conversations about purchasing habits, and asking what could persuade students to make greener choices, particularly choosing organic food. Yes, organic food is more expensive. Meanwhile, the price of regular, nonorganic food is artificially low because it doesn’t factor in the real social costs. There is, therefore, growing concern that food is becoming a very socioeconomic issue. But is this the oversimplified answer? While, yes, students are generally pretty tight on funds, is the cost of our food the sole reason for our buying choices? In general, here in the UK, we spend a far lower proportion of our incomes on food compared to other European countries. This begs the question of prioritisation. Students, for example, often have busy social lives, as well as plenty of other hobbies - all of which require money. For me personally, I can be strangely happy
to spend £20 at the pub or a tenner on a takeaway, but often have to think twice about spending 30p more on organic tomatoes. For others, I’m sure convenience is half the hassle, such as having to read labels, or perhaps popping to another shop for your fruit and veg. We’re all human and we’re busy, and we’re also not working a routine 9 to 5. Students also differ in that we’re buying solely for ourselves (so often quite frugally), whereas many buy organic thinking of the quality of their food for their partner or family. We are a largely untapped demographic by the organic sector, and understanding student reasoning is key to changing that. This can be used to inform strategies, such as greater education and incentivisation. Does there need to be greater involvement of universities, or instead direct engagement of organic sellers with student bodies? Crucially, these solutions and propositions must originate from students themselves. While the government is failing to subsidise and invest in organic food, or tax environmentally damaging production, the burden falls to consumers. Targeting groups, such as students and those on low incomes, requires stronger strategies to meet them half-way in incentivising change. This serves as an opportunity to access a large market of people in the UK, and importantly a young group for whom this could influence their consumption choices for life - and proliferate through future generations.
A student at the University of Sheffield, Anna Zuurmond’s new column series for Wicked Leeks will explore student perceptions of sustainable food and solutions for change.
What Bob Dylan teaches us about fruit picking By Nina Pullman
Strawberries are often grown on table tops rather than in soil.
GUY SINGH-WATSON Founder, Riverford Organic Farmers
ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.” So opens Bob Dylan’s 1965 classic Maggie’s Farm. Apparently, the plaintive lyrics were aimed at an exploitative record industry, rather than as a literal rebuke to sadistic farmers. But on a hot, humid afternoon, surrounded by ripening strawberries that make the whole field smell like a jam factory, with the exhausted young pickers around me wilted and limping – as so often, the great man’s words hit home. “Well, I wake up in the morning, fold my hands and pray for rain,” the song continues. You can’t pick wet fruit, so rain showers offer a bit of respite for our exhausted team; although commercially speaking we’d prefer for the rain to fall at night, some tired bodies are understandably grateful for a delayed start. Despite the challenges of Brexit-induced labour shortages, we are staying on top of most of the work. Strawberry picking is always a challenge; it arrives in a four-
It frustrates me when growers moan about work-shy UK youth. week rush and overlaps with the window in which we need to be weeding and planting winter crops. To ease and speed up picking, most growers have moved to table-top production of strawberries, growing them in polytunnels where the plants never touch the soil. Instead, they are fed hydroponically in gutters, or grown in peat which is discarded after a year; both rightly banned under organic rules. Our berries are grown in the soil, for sustainability and better flavour – making picking them back-breaking work that favours the young and flexible. A few love it, but more cannot believe what
they are being asked to do, and crumple in the first few hours. I have some sympathy for the crumplers; I couldn’t manage a full day of it myself anymore. Watching the contorted pickers, I determine to try growing the berries on high raised beds, to aid more ergonomic picking. “Well, he hands you a nickel, he hands you a dime, he asks you with a grin if you’re havin’ a good time.” As the season progresses and the strawberries get smaller, we increase the rate of pay per punnet – but years of managing people doing very physically challenging jobs has taught me that there is no rate that will keep a miserable team going for long. Even with the most mundane work, there has to be some fun, camaraderie, pride, and a sense of purpose to sustain a tired body. It frustrates me when growers moan about work-shy UK youth; we must do more to make the work attractive, which can be as much about respect, agency and working conditions as it is about money.
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I stopped in my tracks at the statement ‘the family farm is a colonial concept’.
Why we need to
rethink land ownership COL GORDON
Seed researcher, baker and farmer’s son
was born and raised on my family’s farm, Inchindown, in the Highlands. For practically all my life, I’ve never imagined ending up anywhere else. Even before I knew I wanted to farm, I knew this was where I wanted to spend my life. As a model, the small, family farm is always something I’ve seen as an ideal – integral to any vision of a more just and ecological world. But around the time of the Black Lives Matter protests last year, I was stopped in my tracks when I read the statement “the family farm is a colonial concept”. While jarring at first, it led me down a path of investigation into traditional Gaelic relationships with the land going as far back as before the Highland Clearances, and the legacy of the slave
Above: Scotland has the highest concentration of land ownership in the western world.
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trade on rural landscapes. I discovered that the family farm as a concept didn’t exist here until 300 years ago, and that patterns of land ownership in the Highlands and Islands have been deeply interwoven with colonial processes all over the world. Once you look closely, it’s hard to ignore how that still shapes farming today, and can help us understand some of the real challenges we are now facing - from the climate and biodiversity crises to the challenges of farm succession. In Scotland, we have the highest concentrations of land ownership in the western world – fewer than 500 people own half the land. Much of the rest is made up of small and medium family farms. But change is afoot: the average age of farmers in the UK is now over 59, and combined with significant change in policy and subsidies after leaving the EU, it’s highly likely the next decade will see a lot of farms come onto the open market. There’s an opportunity for farms to change hands in a way we’ve not seen for decades, but I’m not convinced there are models in place to allow new entrant farmers onto the land who are committed
to growing in an agroecological way. There’s going to be very few people who can afford to bid on land parcels of hundreds of acres or more. If barriers to entry get harder, we could be moving towards bigger, more industrialised farms and carbon capture landscapes, with fewer people working on the land and an even greater concentration of land ownership. But there are pockets of change happening. The Land Reform acts passed by the government allows communities the right to own and buy land. Off the west coast of Scotland, for example, is the island of Eigg which has been collectively owned and managed by residents through the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust since the community buyout of 1997. I visited this island often with my father, and it was here that I started to imagine there might be different ways to relate to land and to land ownership. Perhaps we can also take inspiration from traditional Gaelic practices such as crofting, where townships work together to grow food and graze animals on shared commons. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m excited about the possibilities for a future beyond the small family farm – a future that could serve everyone better, including farmers. And that’s what I hope to shed light on in Landed.
Landed is a four-part podcast series and personal exploration of land ownership and colonial legacy, told by a Scottish farmer’s son as he returns home to his family farm. Listen to Landed by Farmerama Radio on all major podcasting platforms.
THE THEBIG BIGINTERVIEW INTERVIEW / FEATURES
Food & female power Asma Khan’s all female-run restaurant is a beacon of ethical business. With the industry facing a post-Covid recruitment crisis, she tells Nina Pullman why female leaders are crucial, and of her belief in the power of food. ISSUE 7 | WICKED LEEKS 11
FEATURES / THE BIG INTERVIEW
Above: From supper club to lauded restaurant. Right: Asma Khan.
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‘rattler of cages’, a ‘heckler on the sideline’, even a ‘mad banshee’. These are all words Asma Khan uses to describe herself and her position within the restaurant industry. They’re perhaps not the first words that would come to mind for anyone else describing the award-winning chef-owner of The Darjeeling Express, the restaurant that grew out of her supper club for home-cooked Indian food, and that is run, famously, by an allfemale team of cooks, rather than professional chefs. The restaurant, pre Covid, was racking up the plaudits, both for its food – a combination of traditional Indian dishes and food from Khan’s heritage in the Mughal dynasty – and its owner. Khan interacts with her guests, telling them stories of the origins of the food they are eating and welcoming them to her world. Boosted by word of mouth and some prominent food writing, The Darjeeling Express and Khan rose to further notice after she became the first British chef to feature on an episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table. She was named in Business Insider’s 2019 list of ‘100 Coolest People in Food and Drink’, thanks largely to her commitment to inclusivity and using her platform to raise ethical issues. But back to the rattling. Khan is not interested in talking about her own fame or fortune, and says the only reason she appreciates such a “stage” is to use her voice to highlight those in the shadows – primarily women, but also other marginalised people and communities.
You cannot expect people to work a 16-hour shift. It attracts a particular toxic, manic behaviour. This interest in oppressed women is deeply personal. Born in India as a second daughter, a traditional stigma where women are seen as a financial burden, Khan set about giving her mother a reason to be proud of her. Moving to England with her husband, she studied law to PhD level, before loneliness sent her back to India to learn the secrets of her culture’s home cooking. “I grew up in a very gender biased society, I was a second daughter, which traditionally were unloved and unwanted. Once you leave the cage, you think: I’m never going to go back to that,” she explains. Returning to London, she forged links with other South Asian women in her community, hiring them to cook at her supper clubs - a core team that remains with her today after leaving their jobs as nannies and cleaners. But it was within the restaurant industry she came across another version of female oppression. “I seriously think there is a problem in our
industry. Because in almost every central London restaurant, the dayto-day running of the restaurant and the owner are different. The people who own it, the venture capitalists or investors, or foreign restaurant owners who come in – they are divorced from the dayto-day running; they do not have a moral responsibility to see what’s happening to their staff. “The so-called leaders of our industry are so tied in with the vested interests of the big boys – and I say boys as boys. It’s almost all male, mostly white, very driven by alcohol interests. “It’s irresponsible, uncaring, and not willing to invest in people. They are not standing up or supporting females who accuse powerful men of abuse,” says Khan, who says the restaurant industry is “still waiting” for
THE BIG INTERVIEW / FEATURES
Khan with her core team of female cooks.
its ‘#MeToo’ moment. It’s unlikely that many people would consider suing Khan lightly, but if they did, it’s fair to say she’d relish it (“I’d clean the floor with them”). But in any case, there seems to be little dispute over the problem of harassment in kitchens. After we speak, there are fresh headlines about yet another toxic workplace, this time Tom Kitchin’s restaurant in Edinburgh. “The silence is deafening,” she continues. “When prominent male chefs have been accused of violence and bullying and sexual harassment in restaurants, the leaders of hospitality are quiet. Including the women who are powerful Michelin star chefs; they are silent. “Everyone knows what’s happening, and everyone is silent. I am the heckler on the sideline.” Clearly, speaking out isn’t a problem so much as a raison d’etre for Khan, whose current preoccupation, like her peers across the breadth of hospitality, is the uncertainty over
how the sector will survive post-Covid. A perfect storm of Brexit and the pandemic, where furlough offered restaurant workers a glimpse of normal working hours, have combined to leave restaurants crippled, with anyone from top chefs to kitchen porters in severe short supply. It’s a crisis that is affecting livelihoods, both in restaurants and their supply chain – and it’s often the small-scale sustainable suppliers who depend on the eating out sector. “Of course there is this major issue, which is Brexit,” says Khan, referring to the exodus of many Europeans working in hospitality after the vote. But she says the issue runs much deeper. “Why is there no one asking why we’re in this position? Yes everybody is having this issue about Brexit – food processing, drivers, they’re all suffering. But we are suffering in a different way. “I have a very controversial position on this, and it’s been my consistent position for many years. I always said it’s the way that hospitality
When prominent male chefs are accused of bullying and sexual harassment, the leaders of hospitality are quiet. ISSUE 7 | WICKED LEEKS 13
FEATURES / THE BIG INTERVIEW
Khan cooks traditional Indian food with British produce wherever possible.
treats its teams: as cannon fodder, as if they’re just passing through. They don’t invest in supporting them emotionally, or for their mental health. “I’ve said this for years; you cannot expect people to do a 16-hour shift. There are some psychopaths working in these kitchens. They come in early in the morning, they go home late at night; it attracts a particular kind of toxic, manic behaviour.” Khan’s picture brings to mind the widely accepted caricature of the head chef, embodied most famously by Gordon Ramsay, as the explosively angry white male solving the inadequacies of his staff. “And now all of the wringing of the hands, saying we can’t recruit anybody,” continues Khan. “I know it’s a bit too late. But like this crazy mad banshee, I’ve been saying this for a while; if you don’t treat people properly, if you don’t respect them. This is the price we are paying. In the early days of furlough, so many restaurant owners and chefs behaved appallingly.”
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I use cooking as a way to open people’s hearts and minds. The Darjeeling Express, which coincidentally is not facing any staff shortages, according to Khan, runs two separate shifts, where women can come in early and leave at 3 to collect their kids, while the afternoon shift starts at 5 so they can collect, feed and see their families. It’s a common-sense approach she applies to another so-called barrier to women working in the kitchen: lifting heavy pans, a view chef Heston Blumenthal notoriously put forward before being widely criticised. “At the moment, I have two
women who are pregnant. It’s no big deal. There are five other people who can lift. What kind of bloody kitchen are you running if people are lifting pots all day?” says Khan. In many ways, Khan seems to run a restaurant in a way it should be done, for people and for planet. And like other ethical pioneers, she makes it seem simple. As well as flexible working, she buys primarily British produce when in season for her staples including potatoes, onions, cauliflowers or squash. Speaking about her food sustainability, she says: “Because I rattle so many cages, I don’t make this into a big issue. But I don’t use any fruits or vegetables from India or Africa. Because I don’t want the carbon footprint on my menu. And also I know the damage it’s doing to the farmers in India, because my father is a farmer,” she says, explaining how farmers are being encouraged to grow GM cash crops for western markets, with no focus on growing for their own families. “I’m making traditional Indian village dishes, all from British produce. I try to buy organic as much as I can. We get aubergine and herbs from the continent – that’s the furthest I will go,” she says. Food waste doesn’t seem to be a problem, either, as all guests are asked to take their food away if they can’t finish it (all that returns to the kitchen is empty boards). “If people genuinely can’t take their food, we put it neatly into boxes and we give it to the homeless at night,” she says. “It’s such a nice feeling because people die of hunger in my country. How can you throw food? “Sustainability is very, very important. This is the only Earth we have. We have a duty of care to the environment, because you can make a difference.” What is the solution that would bring the restaurant industry onto a more equal footing? Simply, she says it’s a case of more women in positions of leadership. “Our greatest strength is the fact we can multi-task, and we’re able to separate issues out. A lot of women have life lessons, from being not picked for the science prize to not being selected for football; we have all gone through discrimination. We understand what it is to be ‘other’.
THE BIG INTERVIEW / FEATURES
I don’t buy any fruit or vegetables from India or Africa. Because I don’t want the carbon footprint on my menu. And I know what it’s doing to farmers.
“All of this burden that women carry can be turned around into a powerful leadership lesson. “Despite everything that could have dragged them down, they’re successful,” says Khan, who to this end is opening a mentoring school to train women for leadership in hospitality, to run from her deli and restaurant in the evenings. Trained in law and by nature willing to champion those who are overlooked, Khan would seem primed for a switch into politics. It’s something she says she’s thought about a lot, but ultimately prefers the freedom of her own business, from where she can rattle as many cages as she likes. And then there’s her own secret power of transformation; her cooking. “There is so much fanning of hatred. This is why cooking is so important to me, I use it as a way to open people’s hearts and minds,” she says. “So you can sit next to someone who looks like me in the Tube, smelling of masala, and remember this meal you had in my place.”
Of course, racism in the UK isn’t just a coincidence, with an educational system that largely prevents children from learning about history in a balanced way. Reversing this would solve many issues, believes Khan, who says: “It’s about putting it into context, because the descendants of slaves and those who suffered under colonialism may be sitting next to you at your workplace. It puts into context why they’re here and what their story is. And you understand them better,” she says. Racism is also her own personal lived experience as a woman of colour. “We jump hurdles that no one else can see. Not just in hospitality, but in every
Left: Flexible working makes it easier for women to work in hospitality. Below: Food can break down cultural barriers.
profession. It’s deeply problematic,” she says, recalling a racial abuse incident she witnessed and intervened in recently. For all the challenges, Khan says she is an optimistic person, and takes most hope from the thought of the next generation. And as a late arrival to cooking herself, she also offers inspiration in overcoming a very different obstacle; how to learn how to cook from scratch. “I think everybody can cook,” she says. “It is about appreciation and appreciating yourself. When you cook, this is you at your most powerful. “Take time, step down, listen to music and take it slow. The most expensive ingredient you’re putting into that dish is your time. It’s not the saffron or the quality of the meat, or the expensive, organic vegetables that you’ve gone out and bought.” Her tips seem to come from a deep self belief rather than anything else, albeit endowed as she was with generations of highly skilled teachers in the form of her mother and aunties. But it’s this belief in the power of food, in the chance for a better world and our own power to create it that is perhaps her most compelling quality, and one that places her right in the centre of the table.
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FEATURES / YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Your questions answered
Slow progress on plastic, whether to choose local or organic, and how to make a difference on a budget – you asked, and we answered.
Editor, Wicked Leeks
Staff writer, Wicked Leeks
Author of Ethical Carnivore
2 My son keeps asking which plants are weeds. He points to wildflowers and asks if those are weeds. So what characteristics mean that a plant is considered a weed? Zairis Coello, by Facebook Great question. It’s gardeners and growers who call some plants ‘weeds’. What they mean by this is usually a weed is a plant which they haven’t sown or planted, and it’s growing where they don’t want it to. Many weeds are wildflowers. They grow because the soil and conditions suit them, they often blossom easily and provide nectar and pollen for important insects. But the reason gardeners take out most weeds is because they compete with our chosen plants for space, soil nutrients, moisture and sunlight – all things vital for growing. And many weeds can get out of control, swamping your growing area. But some weeds are quite beautiful. Golden yellow dandelions, for instance, or dark red Herb Robert. So I think it’s up to you as to how many you allow in your growing space, and whether you cultivate them as a chosen plant - or a weed. Sarah Brown, gardening columnist, Garden Organic
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Should we be ending the relatively modern 'garden centre' model of cheap seasonal plants, piled high and sold in non-recyclable plastic? Would we be better going back to the old style 'nursery' where you ordered your bare rooted plants and collected them in the autumn? Hecate, by wickedleeks.com This is a very valid point, Hecate. Garden centres could lead the fight to save the natural environment, by cutting out single use plastic, not stocking plants grown in peat-based composts, and by not selling toxic pesticides. As retail operations, they could embody the circular economy, thus increasing their sustainable approach to business. Have a listen to The Organic Gardening Podcast July episode, where we explore this very topic. And yes, bare root plants are often stronger, healthier and more likely to survive being replanted. Sarah Brown, gardening columnist, Garden Organic
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED / FEATURES 4
3 Why is it more expensive for me to go to the refill shop, with my own container and fill it with, say liquid soap, when those items are supplied in huge containers? I’m happy to pay more, but sometimes feel as though the prices are just too high to encourage people with little disposable income. Diana R, by wickedleeks.com Yes, it’s bonkers. Refill options shouldn’t be more expensive. While refilling washing-up liquid recently, it struck me that perhaps higher prices cover the cost of spillages – customers aren’t as accurate as machines?! The more popular refills become, the more cost-effective they’ll get, so we need to shout loudly and make our demands heard. More supermarkets are trialling refill schemes (Waitrose is trialling its Unpacked options in certain stores; M&S, Asda and Sainsbury’s have run refill station trials; or try loopstore.co.uk) plus there’s a growing trend in household cleaning for concentrated pods that you dilute with water at home (try Oceansaver or Spruce). City to Sea’s Refill app (refill.org.uk) connects users to more than 200,000 places globally where you can eat, drink and shop without waste. Please don’t be disheartened – your small changes do count and the more of us that call for change, and fairer pricing to reflect that, the better. Anna Turns, environmental journalist and Wicked Leeks features writer
5 Why is it taking so long to reduce single use plastics? I accept some products would be difficult to be repackaged in something more sustainable. However, many should be easy. Pasta, rice, tea spring to mind, and there are probably thousands more. So why is it taking so long to make packaging more sustainable?
If one had the choice between a local conventionally grown product or an organic one from another continent which would be better for you and the environment? For example, organic apples from Chile or conventionally grown apples from Kent.
Jane Edwards, by wickedleeks.com
Tricky one. If I knew where the apples had been grown, and knew and trusted the grower, in this instance I would go for the Kent-grown nonorganic apples. Sorry to the Soil Association and all those organic growers that this will annoy. It does of course depend on how the organic apples are grown in Chile, how they are transported, packed, etc. compared to how those non-organic apples are grown in Kent; information that we normally don’t have when we pick up a bag of apples in a supermarket, and the reason so many people put that trust in the tried and tested organic certification standards. I don’t think that we should pretend that organic has all the answers to all the world’s problems, and in particular it gives no measure of the climate change implications of transport. Of course, what so many of us want is produce that is both local and organic, and I think it is a fair criticism of Riverford that we could do even more to promote production within the UK and to push our customers more towards consuming what is in season locally.
Because we don’t have an even playing field. Replacing singleuse with reusable options involves complex behaviour changes, and while plastic is still the cheapest option, there’s no financial incentive for everyone to switch. We urgently need effective legislation that forces manufacturers to avoid unnecessary packaging. This ‘extended producer responsibility’ encourages investment in nationwide deposit return schemes and other initiatives that minimise post-consumer waste. Occasionally, single-use plastic might be justified because it reduces food waste and it’s lighter to transport, but nonessential use needs to get thrown out. Innovative compostable alternatives such as MarinaTex (cling film made of fish waste) have been developed, but these won’t become more mainstream until waste streams are better able to cope with compostable materials that are currently considered contamination in most food waste bins. Ideally, a more circular system will turn all ‘waste’ into a valuable resource. That’s a massive step change.
Tom FitzPatrick, by email
Guy Singh-Watson, founder, Riverford Organic Farmers
Anna Turns, environmental journalist and Wicked Leeks features writer
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FEATURES / YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED 6 Which has the smaller carbon footprint - beans (or tomatoes or whatever) grown in Spain/ Morocco/Kenya using natural light and flown to market, or those grown in the Netherlands, UK or northern France inside greenhouses? And why isn’t this information transparent? Climate Bodger, by wickedleeks.com Air freight is generally higher carbon than transport by sea or land, even if you take into account the carbon saved by growing the veg outside rather than in heated greenhouses. Even though the carbon from air freighting fruit and veg is a small part of our overall carbon footprint as a nation, when it comes to your shopping basket it is very high compared to food transported by sea or land. Interestingly, when you start to transport foods like tomatoes from Spain by lorry then the carbon saved in
growing them outside does actually outweigh the carbon used in heating greenhouses. Confusing, isn’t it? I think the real problem is your point on why isn’t the information more transparent. A big reason for this is simply because it is so complex. To calculate the carbon footprint of a food over its whole lifecycle is still a developing discipline. Do you include the energy used to produce the fertiliser? Or the manure? Do you include the energy used by the consumer travelling to the shop? Personally, I think the information will always be complex, so we need to educate people to make decisions without labels. If shops made clear not just country of origin but means of transport, and made more seasonal food available, people could choose to avoid air freight. I do think people want their food decisions to have less impact, and that will push the retailers in the right direction. Louise Gray, author of Ethical Carnivore and Wicked Leeks columnist
8 If you’re on a budget but really want to make a difference, where’s the best place to start? Jacqui Martin, via wickedleeks.com Air travel tends to be an individual’s biggest environmental impact, so reduce that down and you’re already doing well. Next you can consider your food. Shifting your diet towards less meat and more whole fruit and veg will reduce your impact and also tends to be less expensive – but there are ways of doing it that are better for sustainability, either by buying organic, eating seasonally, or without packaging. Choosing any (or all!) of these is a good start. An easy way to eat seasonally is to look closely at what there is most of. Are there loads of tomatoes and peppers at the front of the shelf or online shop? They are most likely in season. If you have to look hard for something, chances are it’s not in season and is being imported from somewhere further afield. Consider what’s in your local area – explore the high street, is there a butcher stocking grass-fed or organic meat? Ask for the more unusual cuts; this helps the farmer make more money from an animal, while they are also usually less expensive for you. Aside from what you buy and eat, bring a general aversion to plastic and food waste into your everyday life. Shopping local and talking to local shop owners about what you’d like to buy maintains a resilient local economy and could also bring more choice to your area. A sustainable future should include people, and there is huge power in changing a whole community. Nina Pullman, editor, Wicked Leeks
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Should we be reducing the size of farms and increasing the number of farmers instead of the other way around? Is it even possible to farm without fossil-oil-based inputs or synthetic pesticides at scale without increasing the amount of labour? Rob Ball, by email Contrary to the theory of economies of scale, we now know that small farms can be higher yielding and more biodiverse than big farms. They are more ecologically efficient, just not more economically efficient, and therein lies the problem. Big farms might not produce more food per acre, but their costs of production per unit are significantly lower. This is what the current farming model rewards: economic efficiency, even though we know that the economic benefits of agriculture are outweighed by the environmental cost, as revealed by the Dasgupta report. When we harness human knowledge and resourcefulness, we don’t use as much machine power. The more labour-intensive our food production is, the less impact it has. While smaller fields and more hedges are great for biodiversity, it inherently takes longer for farmers to work with and reduces profit. If we want to stop the trend of farms and field sizes getting bigger, the current model of incentivisation needs to change. This change is apparently in motion, with a different system of farming subsidies being developed. Whether this will stem the tide remains to be seen. Jack Thompson, staff writer, Wicked Leeks and food policy student at City University
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED / FEATURES 9
10 How is the organic registration held accountable? How do I know that my organic bananas are not being treated with chemicals?
Should we be worried about meat coming from Australia? Heather Townley, by Facebook Yes. Farmers in the UK have rightly pointed out that a free trade deal with Australia could open the flood gates to cheap meat raised with low animal welfare standards. Previously, high import taxes prevented Australian meat making headway in the UK, but under the government’s new deal, it may start appearing on supermarket shelves. The government has insisted that it will encourage Australia to improve welfare standards but they have not committed to banning meat that is below our expectations. As is often the case, it is down to us to make the choice. Yes, you may see quite cheap Australian meat on the shelves. It is up to you if you want to buy it. As I made clear in my book, Ethical Carnivore, we need to be eating less meat for the environment, so why not spend more on the good stuff?
Frappemarzipan, by wickedleeks.com. In a world of much uncertainty, the organic certification is probably one of the most concrete guarantees. Certification is incredibly hard to obtain, and growers or producers must prove they’re not using any artificial chemicals across their entire supply chain, including animal feed, straw, compost. This is regulated by a group of certifiers in the UK, who require their standards to be matched by international organisations doing the same thing to certify imports. These standards are upheld by inspections, which in a pandemic year has broadly been impossible. When knowing the grower is a luxury most don’t have, an organic certification is the best option. That said, there are also plenty of good farmers who might not quite meet organic standards. So, either shop via a label or discover the farmers in your area. Nina Pullman, editor, Wicked Leeks
Louise Gray, author of Ethical Carnivore and Wicked Leeks columnist
11 I feel very privileged to be able to afford to make choices about how my food is produced and what I eat. If all food was produced worldwide as Riverford do, would there be enough to feed everyone? Helen Irving, by Facebook Organic farming can deliver yields equal to or even higher than conventional, if it’s grown in a complex and integrated system. I have seen this in Uganda, Kenya and Togo, where such organic systems delivered yields up to 10 times higher than a conventional monoculture next door, as well as sequestering carbon and harbouring biodiversity. So yes, organic farming could feed the world, but it will be difficult without reducing the amount of animal protein we consume and tackling the issue of food waste. I think we also need to accept that organic is a stepping stone towards a truly sustainable farming system, which would include much more diversity within the fields, more perennial crops and more people working on the land. Guy Singh-Watson, founder, Riverford Organic Farmers
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FEATURES / THE FARMING SPIRIT
The farming spirit Anna Turns gets a taste for biodynamic whisky, carbon-negative rum and other unusual evolutions in the sustainable drinks sector, and finds change is brewing.
s there really any such thing as a green pint or an eco-friendly tipple? As Brewdog’s recent negative media attention proved, carbon offsetting is definitely not the answer. Making something and then planting trees won’t sufficiently reduce carbon emissions. Sustainability should never be an add-on, an afterthought or a tick-box exercise; that philosophy needs to run through every aspect of a business - as some artisan drink companies are proving. A RUM DEAL Two Drifters Distillery in Exeter reduces its carbon emissions by using certified 100 per cent zero emission energy sources, driving electric vans, using lightweight glass bottles, and minimising waste and water consumption. Plus it uses molasses from Tate & Lyle that would usually be
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sold for animal feed. Rum is made with sugar cane, raw sugar or molasses, which is produced in a tropical climate not found in the UK, so importing the waste product is the best option, before offsetting the emissions from transportation. The company also actively removes more emissions than it produces through carbon capture technology (capture is different to offset and therefore not certified under an offset scheme). Since April 2019, it has removed 16.72 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere via a company called Climeworks, which transforms carbon into solid chalk to be permanently stored underground at a carbon capture facility in Iceland. Although this new technology is expensive, cofounder Russ Wakeham feels compelled to pay: “We’re effectively taxing ourselves at source,” he says. “Every company should
Every company should be told to reduce their emissions or be sent a carbon tax bill, but we need the whole world to do it.
strength and resilience – whatever happens with the weather, our yields remain consistent.” That’s becoming even more critical as impacts of the climate crisis are increasingly felt by farmers. “With 550 distilleries in the UK now, I wonder how many sit down to talk about planting?” asks Smith, who collaborates with John Letts, an archeobotanist who has built up seed banks of ancient grains. Now, Smith is working with Oxford Brookes University and Oriel College, Oxford University, to investigate how arable farming for his distillery can have positive socioeconomic impacts on the rural community. IS THIS WHISKY WOO-WOO? Irish farmer Trevor Harris has grown barley like no other in County Kildare for the past three years. He has buried dung-
Credit Stroud Brewery
THE FARMING SPIRIT / FEATURES
filled cow horns under the soil, ditched farm machinery in favour of horses and sown barley seeds according to the position of the moon. Having followed these fairly wacky-sounding principles - first discussed in 1924 by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, and formalised into what’s practised today as biodynamic farming Harris’ barley has been distilled into the world’s first biodynamic whisky. Founder of Waterford Distillery, Mark Reynier, admits that as a business move, this might seem bonkers: “It makes little financial sense but for taste alone, it’s the holy grail. The healthiest possible soil equals the best flavour.” Much of this comes down to the rediscovery of the concept of ‘terroire’, which Reynier describes as “the three-dimensional interaction of topography, the living
be told to reduce their carbon emissions or be sent a carbon tax bill, but we need the whole world to do it otherwise somewhere there’ll be an unfair advantage.” FROM GRAIN TO GLASS “Ninety-eight per cent of our gin is grain, two per cent is botanicals, so it’s important that the grain is farmed responsibly. But a lot of the grain used by the alcohol industry is grown as monocultures in warmer places such as Ukraine,” explains Dave Smith, chief executive of Oxford Artisan Distillery, whose gin and vodka is certified organic. Whisky isn’t yet certified but heritage grains of rye, wheat and barley are all grown regeneratively, without any spraying or tillage at all, resulting in much taller crops rich in biodiversity. “Our farmers say they go beyond organic, and the genetic diversity from heritage varieties gives these crops
Top left: Farmers and brewers can work together, Top: Organic hops are hard to come by. Above: Sustainable farming improves flavour.
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FEATURES / THE FARMING SPIRIT
soil, bedrock, altitude, orientation and microclimate on the plant and its fruit”. While this terminology is more commonly associated with wine and cheese, terroire has recently been proven by scientists to exist in single malt whisky too. “Whisky is made from just three ingredients, yeast, barley and water, and barley’s flavour is the source of whisky’s extraordinary complexity. If my finance director agreed, I’d buy all my barley from biodynamic production,” says Reynier. Perhaps the fastidious principles of biodynamics are the ultimate form of regenerative agriculture, but could it become mainstream? Hopefully, says Reynier: “Look at the top wines, many of those vines are farmed biodynamically, they just don’t mention it because they don’t want to court controversy.” HOP TO IT Hops are notoriously vulnerable to disease and pests in the UK’s temperate climate, so most organic hops are imported from
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Above: The Oxford Artisan Brewery works with heritage wheat growers.
A lot of grain used by the alcohol industry is grown as monocultures in warmer places such as Ukraine. Belgium, Germany and New Zealand. Now, Stroud Brewery is teaming up with organic farmers and experts at the Organic Research Centre to identify disease-resistant hop varieties and produce low-impact organic beers in collaboration with Hugh Fearnley-
Whittingstall’s River Cottage. “UK-grown organic hops are difficult to get hold of, and the challenge of growing them is the largest barrier to increasing production of UK organic beer,” says Greg Pilley, managing director of Stroud Brewery, one of only five dedicated organic breweries in the country. “We’re aiming to identify varieties that farmers can grow more confidently, and as a brewer I’d like to have regular UK supplies of organic hops – there’s also a huge variety of flavours to tap into, which could help British brewers create more distinctive products.” The findings from the trial will be shared with organic and non-organic growers alike, helping them cut pesticide use. While these artisan drinks might have a higher price, they also have a wider positive impact and provide sustainable farmers with a much-needed diversified income.
FEEDING YOUR QUESTIONS THE PUBLIC ANSWERED SECTOR / FEATURES
public sector In the wake of an Australian trade deal, cheaper food imports could find their way into the public sector – but one sustainable sourcing model is pioneering a better way. Hugh Thomas reports.
ritain has some of the highest food standards in the world. But new agreements such as the freshly signed trade deal with Australia, coupled with a loophole in UK food procurement, could put that reputation at risk. The loophole, which some public services such as schools, hospitals, and prisons may choose to exploit, allows for food of lower standards to enter the supply chain. “If a [public] body says sustainable food costs too much, they’re allowed to buy anything they want,” says Rich Osborn. “There’s a large swathe of the public sector that is not meeting the standards.” Osborn is the founder of Bristol-based Equilibrium Markets (formerly online retailer Fresh-Range), a tech
platform facilitating the flow of produce into public catering. Not the only setup of its kind, Equilibrium’s USP is that it favours small to medium-sized suppliers. Typically, public services rely on producers big enough to deliver anywhere, at any time, and all in one go. Which leaves smaller farmers and producers – often performing better on quality, variety, and environmental stewardship – out of the loop. But a new system being trialled by Equilibrium, known as Dynamic Purchasing Systems (DPS), could help counter larger producers’ logistical advantages, while highlighting the benefits of smaller suppliers. Osborn says Equilibrium will offer its customers in the public sector full visibility on any given farm, including “what they grow and how they grow it,
Sink hole or sustainability: the future of public sector food.
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FEATURES / FEEDING THE PUBLIC SECTOR what they’re doing in terms of biodiversity, climate change mitigation, animal welfare, and any social work they’ve done.” With most buyers opting for convenience, DPS hasn’t really caught on within food. A pilot run over the past two years by Bath & North East Somerset Council (BANES), however, has shown how it could be managed. With Equilibrium consolidating orders and managing deliveries, 7,000 meals a day made from food from small suppliers in the region were served at schools, hospitals, and prisons. Reducing food miles by 59 per cent and creating a more efficient and high value supply chain in the process, the pilot challenges the theory that more sustainable food is more costly. Andy Jeffery, owner of Farrington’s, an organic farm that took part in the trial as a supplier, said the only disadvantages from his perspective were the formalities involved. “Our customers [usually] just ring us up or text us with their order each week and we deliver it, whereas the pre-supply requirements for Bath and North East Somerset were quite stringent,” he told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee in the wake of the pilot. Like the vast majority of other small suppliers, Farrington’s hadn’t supplied schools before. “There were lots of advantages because we were supplying the public sector. We knew we were going to get paid […]. We just had about 60 schools to supply and the volumes were not that big […]. The other advantage was that the agents, Fresh-Range, collected the produce from us. We had no problem in getting it to the market.” The success of the BANES trial will lead to another pilot next spring, expedited by South West Food Hub, which is currently ‘warming up’ local suppliers to serve the entire region. Though a select committee, among others, has already called for the model to be rolled out nationwide, a bigger test will Above: Trade deals bring evaluate how its capabilities stack fears of lower food standards. up on a larger scale. Right: School food could “Dynamic procurement support sustainable farmers. is a fantastic opportunity to keep public spend in regional
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economies, support smaller and more local suppliers, and benefit our food security and sustainability,” says Ruth Westcott, climate and nature emergency coordinator at sustainable food and farming alliance Sustain. “The work in Bath and North East Somerset has been truly inspiring, and we’d now like to see Defra confirm plans for rolling this out across the UK – with the funding it needs.”
A new buying system could help counter larger producers’ logistical advantages. Not everything suggests it’ll be the perfect fix to a broken system, however. Standards used in the BANES pilot include Red Tractor and Red Lion – labels that do not assure a welfare for livestock higher than the UK legal requirement. Also, a heavier reliance on seasonality will mean those creating menus for the public sector will need to get used to the fact they can’t access every food no matter the time of year. “I would be loathe to knock a project that is trying to improve market access for smaller, often family-run farms by consolidating their supply,” says Clare Horrell, executive director at Real Farming Trust. “Having said that, we’d like to see policies put in place that push for higher agroecological standards within public procurement. A good start would be to fix a percentage of organic requirement and/ or extension of the Food for Life scheme into areas of public procurement beyond nurseries and primary schools.” The government’s new trade deal with Australia is at odds with the shorter, more resilient supply chains the South West pilot is aiming for. A situation that will only be made worse should an amendment on the laws around what food schools, hospitals,
FEEDING THE PUBLIC SECTOR / FEATURES
Credit Monkey Business Images
We’re concerned that low-standard produce, that will be allowed into the UK thanks to new trade deals, will end up in schools and hospitals. and prisons can and cannot procure fails to materialise. “We’re especially concerned that low-standard produce, that will be allowed into the UK thanks to new trade deals, will end up on school and hospital menus,” says Westcott, who says Sustain has campaigned to improve food served in hospitals since 2008. While he shares the sentiment that the Australian deal could set a precedent, Osborn is encouraged that there are government ministers, such as Defra’s Victoria Prentis, treating the improvement of public procurement as a priority. “I will,” he says, “do my utmost to make sure they follow through.”
Honey & Co
The Riverford Field Kitchen Genevieve Taylor
FOODIE FEASTS AT THE FARM Join us and some special guest chefs at our farm restaurant, and learn to cook organic veg in inspiring new ways. From feasts over fire, to live demos on how to create dishes that are good for you and for the planet. Visit our website for a full list of events
theriverfordfieldkitchen.co.uk 01803 227391 Buckfastleigh, Devon, TQ11 0JU
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FEATURES / VEGANIC FARMING
Crops like clover work as a green ‘manure’.
Solution or sideshow?
Meat production is at the heart of the environmental crisis, so could so-called ‘vegan organic’ farming using no animals at all be the answer to our problems? Jack Thompson finds out more.
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Credit Andrew Bennett
ould the future of farming be free of animals? As one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss and carbon emissions, the role of animals is being justifiably scrutinised. Step in ‘veganic’ (vegan organic) farming, touted by a small but passionate following as a beacon of sustainable and cruelty-free food production, using no animal products or chemicals to grow food. This would be hard to imagine for many, particularly organic farmers who view animals, and namely their manure, as crucial for restoring fertility to the soil without the use of synthetic fertilisers. There are a few farmers and growers pioneering this approach, chief among them Iain Tolhurst, who has been farming organically without animals or their manures for 32 years to great success. He famously appeared on George Monbiot’s anti-meat documentary Cowspiracy, held up as a glowing example of how farming can be done without any animal involvement or chemicals. Speaking at The Vegan Society’s Grow Green conference earlier this summer, Tolhurst explained how his 18-acre patch of selfproclaimed “mediocre” land on the flood plains in Oxfordshire manages to thrive, producing over 100 different vegetables crops and enough to feed over 175 people and support five permanent staff through his local box scheme. So, what’s his secret? According to Tolhurst, it’s all about a dedication to flourishing biodiversity and soil health. “We like to think that the main crop on the farm is biodiversity; the vegetables and the fruit are simply a by-product. The farm functions on the stuff,” he said. So far, so feasible. But it soon became apparent there is a little more to it, when he
VEGANIC FARMING / FEATURES explained the seven-year field rotation, and nine-year garden rotation needed to ensure that soil fertility is kept at optimum. A rotation is the pattern of different crops that farmers grow to balance the nutrients in the soil year after year. Tolhurst also uses a complex web of ecological features designed to maintain abundant biodiversity and soil health without additional help from animal manure, such as beetle banks, woodchip compost and green manures. These green manures are crops such as clover and legumes, and are among an organic (and veganic) farmer’s most essential tools, as they draw the allimportant fertilising nitrogen from the atmosphere, transferring it into the soil. “Green manure is one of the main feeders of the soil,” said Tolhurst. “We grow it not as a fertiliser but as a soil food; it enables us to recycle all the nutrients from the farm. “We can get nitrogen from the air and we’re able to show that green manures have a huge impact on biodiversity. It’s not just about feeding soil but about feeding biodiversity.” While the principles that Tolhurst follows are not exactly revolutionary, especially to those already farming in a nature-friendly or organic way, replacing the fertility that animals provide means that he has to take meticulous care in nurturing all parts of his system. The method, according to Tolhurst,
also “has a very low carbon footprint because you’re not importing manures and composts from other farms,” pointing to the carbon-heavy nature of animal agriculture and the fact UK standards permit the use of non-organic manures in organic systems. Despite the enthusiasm of some successful adopters, and a desire on the part of vegans who would like to eat
The role of animals is being justifiably scrutinised. without any animal inputs, veganic farming has yet to pick up steam; there are only 22 producers who are part of the Vegan Organic network in the UK and Ireland. And although it has an undeniably low impact, others question whether avoiding animals altogether could detract from other pressing issues. “Is that really the question we need to be asking? We need to ask what is the transition we want: from industrial
to highly diverse [farming systems] that nurture ecosystems,” said Nick Jacobs, director of International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES), in another session discussing the topic at Grow Green. “There’s a risk that if we focus disproportionately on animals and in generic terms about animal agriculture, that we miss the fact that there are some specific animal and plant farming systems that are the problem.” This chimes with supporters of small scale, organic animal production who argue livestock can be sustainable, and even vital, in maintaining healthy ecosystems and rural livelihoods. “Organic farming is very sensitive to place,” said Chris Atkinson, board member of trade body IFOAM Organic Europe. “In a lot of places, livestock does play a role in supporting organic systems.” With still only 2.8 per cent of UK land farmed organically, the further step to veganic farming suggests that it might be one step too far to represent a widespread solution. But ultimately, we will need every tool in the box to reverse the climate and biodiversity crises. And while the transformation needs to scale up rather than splinter, there is undoubtedly still much to learn from the skill and self sufficiency of farmers such as Tolhurst and others in the veganic movement.
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Get your unique code at riverford.co.uk/refer ISSUE 7 | WICKED LEEKS 27
FEATURES / PLANT MILK
ambition Scottish oat farmers are joining forces to supply the booming plant milk sector – but how will they compete with the likes of Oatly? David Burrows reports.
hink of Scottish food and drink and what springs to mind? Whisky and salmon, for sure, but how about oats? This is a nation brought up on porridge (and Irn-Bru), and able to produce some of the finest oats in the world. But Scotland has, until recently, let the oat milk party pass it by. “It’s ridiculous the amount of oat milk that people drink [so] why aren’t we making it?” wonders Josh Barton from Brose Oat Drinks. In 2019, the UK oat milk market was worth £74 million in retail sales alone – up from £36m the year before, according to Mintel. Sales are “on fire”, suggests Kai-Brit Bechtold, senior consumer research scientist at ProVeg International. Cow’s milk generated sales of £3.1bn in the same year, but they’re falling, in part thanks to interest in dairy-free alternatives boasting of their environmental benefits. Brose, which was started by Barton and farmers Tommy and Robbie Dale, is among
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a number of very small brands looking to jump on the plant-based bandwagon. In recent months, SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College, has reported a glut of enquiries from farmers and businesses interested in developing their own Scottish oat milk. Many had seen the success of other brands – most notably Oatly. The company, started in Sweden, has become synonymous with oat milk, and arrived on the US stock market in May with a bang. The near £10bn valuation means there’s a reported £1bn to spend on expanding production capacity. Its first UK factory is due to open in 2023, and there will plenty of cash to splash on innovation, too. How on earth can these Scottish start-ups compete with that? “Oatly’s a great product but I think we’ll catch up,” says Barton
on a Zoom call from East Lothian, where the company is based. That’s certainly ambitious for a brand currently in “soft launch” mode and waiting for an electric van to arrive to help with distribution of its fresh ‘milk’. “It’s a long road,” says Barton. “We are establishing our name and place in the market.” He isn’t alone. SAC recently announced plans for an Association of Independent Oat Milk Producers in Scotland. The idea is to help all these micro-businesses deal with everything from legal expertise to marketing and research. Oatly puts carbon footprints on its products, but might Scottish products have a smaller one? “The industry in Scotland is in its infancy and must compete with large international brands like Alpro and Oatly,” explains SAC’s Alistair Trail. “By collaborating, the individual niche
PLANT MILK / FEATURES
A new Association of Independent Oat Milk Producers will help micro brands scale up and share resources.
Boom time: Oat milk is in huge demand as a dairy alternative.
manufacturers will be able to share resources and help the fledgling industry compete.” Scale is key. Brose is looking at bigger tanks and new kit as it plans further expansion, but it’s expensive. The process isn’t quite as simple as some might assume, either. “I think there’s a sweet spot and until you get to that point you’re spending money just to operate,” he says. That’s the position Untitled Oats, in Edinburgh, found itself in. After six months and 50,000 litres, the company recently stopped trading. Alex Baldwin, co-founder, had hoped to attract investment and in a few years become a competitor to Oatly. Sadly, it didn’t turn out that way, but the chemical engineering graduate’s passion for the Scottish oat milk sector remains undimmed: he is heavily involved in driving the new association. The association will have plenty to do, such as the fact the few plants in the UK
which can process oat milk tend to have minimum runs of 10,000 litres – well above what these micro-brands are producing. Pooling the milks isn’t really an option either: the drinks can be wildly different. Indeed, tasting Brose for the first time I was taken aback by how sweet it was. Their barista version (an essential product in any oat milk range these days) has a more neutral flavour. Brose uses organic oats but has tested non-organic and says they actually work better for the barista product – which is “a bit controversial”, according to Barton. Brose, which opened for business in October, currently delivers directly to customers across Scotland, plus some cafes and zero waste shops in Edinburgh. But the company isn’t chasing sales and is more worried currently about simply meeting demand. “We want to get to the point where we can produce 1,000 litres a day,” says Barton.
Should Oatly be worried? Not yet, unsurprisingly, as it sold almost 19m units in 2018. But it’s already flexing its financial muscle to squeeze out the competition. The brand is suing Glebe Farm in Cambridgeshire, claiming that its PureOaty oat milk product is too similar, and packaging adopts the irregular lettering used by Oatly, according to trial documents. The move “surprised” Glebe Farm owner Philip Rayner. As he wrote in a statement: “[...] there are deeper principles at play here for us as a family farming business in wanting to challenge back.” Glebe is the only large-scale manufacturer of oat milk in the UK (others use contract manufacturers, or are hyper local start-ups), so would be Oatly's closest competitor. Oatly’s new UK production facility is estimated to be likely to take 90,000 tonnes of oats a year, which represents around 10 per cent of UK supply – so shortages and price rises are a possibility. But provenance is a strong selling point for these Scottish brands. The Brose website traces the emergence of oat drinks back to the 1500s, when they were known locally as ‘brose’, and served cold out in the fields during harvest season. “This market is hotting up,” concludes Baldwin, and looking at the history of this traditional product, that’s in more ways than one.
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A taste of Galicia p32 Celebrate the summer
Home of the Padron pepper, Galicia is famed for its abundant produce, food culture and exceptional seafood. While we may have to wait for holidays abroad, now is the time to bring a taste of Spain into your home, writes chef James Evans.
G to live p34 How plastic free
p36 Plotting your patch 30 WICKED LEEKS | ISSUE 7
alicia has got to be my favourite place in Europe. Perched on the northwestern coast of Spain’s Iberian peninsula, the region sticks out into the Atlantic and gets hammered by deep ocean swells and a yearly rain average more akin to Wales than what you would expect of Spain. More importantly, its nutrientrich deepwater coastline combined with fertile hilly landscape create a food lover’s paradise. The seafood is exceptional, and the markets are bursting with locally grown produce. Due to its numerous rias (estuaries), craggy coastline and hidden bays, Galicia has a rich history in piracy and ship-wrecking, and continues to be a hot spot for drug trafficking, particularly from South America. This means it has a raw, authentic feel – Galicia hasn’t smartened itself up much for the tourism industry, and it’s one of those few remaining places that is unashamedly itself. It also seems everyone is involved in food. Walking down the promenade in A Coruña, a port city
in north west Galicia, it’s hard not to trip over people fishing from the breakwater. Every little plot and front garden has food growing regardless of the size or urban location. Lunch is a big deal in Spain, and work takes the back seat as families gather to share a meal and some wine. The centrality of food to the local culture is undeniable, but it’s the pride in the produce and the regional specialities that make it such a special place. Simplicity in cooking and exceptional quality of ingredients are at the heart of Galician cuisine. The Mercado de Abastos is Santiago de Compostela’s largest food market. Stalls are absolutely brimming with produce from the local area; this is the home of the Padron pepper and there are huge baskets full of them. The seafood stands have everything from octopus to salt cod to percebes (goose-neck barnacles) – traditionally cooked in seawater and eaten straight away; they taste like the sea, but in a nice way! Galician cheese is also exceptional. The local speciality is a young cow’s
FOOD AND TRAVEL / LIFESTYLE
Have a go at making some of the region’s specialities, or simply serve up a plate of Padrons with ice cold beers for guests.
Above: Explore Spain from your kitchen.
cheese, made into the shape of a small dome with a ‘nipple’ on top and aptly called ‘Tetilla’, which translates as ‘small breast’ and is used in desserts, particularly cheese cake. Another famous dessert, Tarta de Santiago, is a very special almond cake; it’s crumbly and especially delicious with a coffee. But out of all the delicious food in the region, pulpo a la gallega has to be my favourite. Tender, fresh octopus served with boiled potatoes, gallons of olive oil and sea salt. To tenderise octopus, the norm is to freeze and then defrost; in Galicia, they whack it on a rock over and over again until it’s ‘tender’, which results in a sublimetasting dish that loses none of its freshness. If you’re tempted to give this a go at home, be careful where you get your octopus from. Fisheries vary in sustainability, so do your own research and ask questions at your local fishmonger. There’s not much research on octopus fisheries because there is low demand for it in the UK, but it is often caught as by-catch in crustacean pots. An octopus fishery on the coast of Galicia was
the world’s first to receive the MSC blue tick, so if you’re not sure about sourcing sustainably, you could always save it as a holiday treat and add one more reason to put Galicia on the bucket list. Caldo Gallego is another traditional staple from Galicia – a cabbage soup made using collard greens, which are grown all over the place. It’s a delight in its simplicity, often seasoned using pork lard which can catch a unsuspecting vegetarian out. Delicious cooked in a tiny bit of olive oil and sea salt, I don’t think there’s a single bar or restaurant in Galicia that doesn’t serve Padron peppers when they are in season, usually enjoyed with a cold Estrella Galicia – the ubiquitous local beer. I’ve been incredibly lucky enough to have spent a considerable amount of time living and working in Galicia, and just thinking about it makes me deeply nostalgic about the place, the food, the people and the beaches. If you get the chance, make sure you explore this beautiful corner of Spain but until then, why not have a go at cooking some of the regional specialties like the Tarta de Santiago, or simply serve up some flaming hot Padrons with ice cold beer next time you have company.
Tarta de Santiago 6 egg whites
zest of 1 lemon
250g golden caster sugar
1 tsp of cinnamon icing sugar
6 egg yolks 250g ground almonds (Preheat oven to 180°C/Gas 4) 1 Whisk the egg whites with 1 tbsp of the caster sugar until stiff peaks have formed 2 Cream the sugar and the egg yolks. Fold in almonds, egg whites, lemon zest and cinnamon. 3 Pour mixture into a 28cm round cake tin. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. 4 Allow to cool, make a stencil of the St James Cross and dust it on with icing sugar for the traditional look.
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LIFESTYLE / SEASONAL EATING
seasonal eating This year’s staycations are a great opportunity to make the most of the abundance of British produce and make a few climate-friendly eating tweaks to your diet, writes Becky Blench.
Top and right: Summer is a good time to cut food miles.
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ugust is a busy time for growers, but the holiday season usually means that, although fields and greenhouses are overflowing with produce, there is a dip in the market for them at this time every year. With most of us staycationing this year, now is a great opportunity to have a low-impact August. One of the main reasons real food may get ditched at this time may simply be for convenience, but eating on the go can be a more eco-friendly affair that makes the most of a stunning array of produce; part of our days out, rather than something we ‘grab and go’ or rush to fit in. Seasonal eating helps you focus on and really enjoy the incredible variety grown in the UK. At the peak of their season now, cucumbers, radish, spring onions and sugar snap peas add crunch to easily assembled leafy salads or work extremely well on the BBQ, as do dazzlingly bright yellow Zephyr courgettes. Tomatoes and basil bring sweetness and aromatic Mediterranean scent, but grow wonderfully at the height of British summer in unheated polytunnels, while jewel-bright redcurrants, raspberries and strawberries make for a delectable dessert. As the most fruitful period of the veg calendar, the so-called ‘summer flush’ is the perfect time to make a few climatefriendly eating tweaks to your diet:
SEASONAL EATING / LIFESTYLE
RECIPE 1. Eat a plateful that has created fewer food miles, filled with huge amounts of flavour, by choosing zero air freight. 2. Curious about trying a more plant-based diet? Abundant produce makes it easy to explore and integrate more into your diet – seek out slowgrown organic fruit and veg for the best flavour as you do so. 3. Follow the rhythm of the year. Dr (and author) Jenny Goodman advises that the cycle of the year supports a healthy diet and can help you reduce the impact of your diet, so from June - August when seasonal produce is at its height in Britain, she suggests you could easily eat a predominantly vegan diet. 4. Focus on provenance, exploring what is local to you. Connect to your local environment though seeing what you can grow in a planter or your garden, try foraging, check out a farmers’ market, join an allotment group or veg box scheme. 5. Seek out simplicity. On holiday, the simplest food is often the best. The scent of a bowl of fruit drizzled with local honey, a perfectly ripe tomato with a chunk of bread and some olive oil, chargrilled sweetcorn cobs; warmer weather and food picked at its peak makes for magic on your plate. 6. On these long evenings claim some much needed sunlight after work, find a green space or sunny spot (however small), enjoy eating outdoors and savour the summer.
Barbecued sweetcorn with burnt lime and sea salt Serves 4 | 35 minutes (prep time 20 mins, cooking time 15 mins)
Sweet, sour, smoky and very moreish – a great one for cooking on the beach, enjoyed with a cold beer.
4 sweetcorn cobs with the husk still on 2 limes pinch of brown sugar butter flaky sea salt
Fire up the barbecue. Soak the sweetcorn cobs in cold water for 20 minutes. Throw the cobs on the barbecue and cook for about 15 minutes, turning frequently. The husks will burn but you should be left with perfect smoky corn underneath. Cut the limes in half, sprinkle the cut side with a little sugar and rub it in with your thumb until dissolved. Press the lime on to the bars of the barbecue until lightly caramelised.
Watermelon and mint slush Serves 2 | 5 minutes
Method Remove the skin and any large pips from the watermelon. Dice the flesh, lay it on a tray and freeze it overnight. When you want to make the slush, pop the frozen watermelon into a blender with the maple
Peel back the husks to create a convenient handle. Butter each corn cob generously, then squeeze and rub burnt lime over it and sprinkle with salt.
Ingredients ½ a mini watermelon 2 ½ tbsp maple syrup or honey 6 mint leaves 1 lime
COOL DRINKS FOR HOT DAYS
syrup, mint, juice of half the lime and about 4 tablespoons of water.
Rhubarb lemonade Created by The Riverford Field Kitchen’s resident mixologist Gem Stadden, this mouth-watering combination is the perfect refreshment. Find the full recipe at riverford.co.uk/ recipes/roastrhubarb-lemonade or scan this QR code to watch Gem make it.
Blitz into a coarse icy blend – don’t blend too much or it will melt into a liquid. Taste and adjust with more lime juice and maple syrup to your liking. Serve immediately.
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LIFESTYLE / PLASTIC
Could less plastic mean a calmer home?
While cutting pollution and demand, reducing plastic also makes for a calmer, more natural living space, writes Becky Blench.
U Above: Refills can replace plastic. Opposite: Small steps to plastic free.
The fact that nearly all the plastic ever created still exists in some form today makes me look at the shampoo bottle on my shelf very differently. 34 WICKED LEEKS | ISSUE 7
ntil a few years ago, eco products had zero mainstream appeal and to most seemed dull as dishwater. This has undergone a sea change as stylish green goods now have great design and functionality; having less plastic in our lives is theoretically easier and more desirable now. So why haven’t most of us got that far down the zero-plastic road? According to Nick Torday, co-founder of home refill company Bower Collective, the biggest barrier to people living without plastic is just how widespread it is. “It is really hard,” he says. “Basically plastic has long been the go-to wonder material of the modern world, so therefore it is incredibly hard to avoid.” His issue is not with the material itself, but the fact it is often designed to be used once and then thrown away. One solution Bower Collective found was to create a closed loop ‘reuse and refill’ system to eliminate packaging waste. With ethical businesses leading the way, it is now possible to seek out suitable alternatives to single-use packs. The fact that nearly all the plastic ever created still exists in some form today makes me look at the shampoo bottle on my shelf very differently, but as I have started to make small changes I’ve noticed something new. I haven’t thrown away every bit of plastic I can spot in my home, but I’ve replaced things as they wear out with a plastic-free
alternative wherever possible, trying to purchase ‘less and better’. Areas that I didn’t like as they always looked cluttered – like my kitchen sink – I slowly started to feel more relaxed around. Natural materials aren’t just good for the planet, they are less stressful for us. Their colours, textures and forms connect us directly to nature, soothing rather than overloading our senses. One Japanese research study even showed that compared to wood or stone, touching artificial materials with the palm resulted in greater fluctuations in blood pressure and pulse rate, inducing a small but measurable physiological stress state. So where is the best place to begin making changes? First, assess where you are at currently: “We built our Plastic Waste Calculator to help people estimate how much waste they are generating and in which area of the home, as a starting point to think more deeply about where changes can be made,” says Torday. He suggests making easy switches initially, such as reusable dispensers for household products. “Beeswax wrap is a great alternative to clingfilm (which is notoriously a nightmare in the recycling waste stream). The bathroom is a more challenging space, look for solid soap or refill alternatives to reduce all those single use bottles cluttering up your shower,” he adds.
PLASTIC / LIFESTYLE
In addition to stepping back from creating unnecessary pollution, regenerating our homes by reducing plastic can help us feel calmer, and make our living spaces feel more harmonious. If you need a helping hand, these resources are an easy and enjoyable starting point: •
‘My little plastic footprint’ is a free app that enables you to track progress on plastic in each room.
Check out trashplastic.com, where Sophie Tait shares simple tips to support positive change.
Explore Instagram. @my_plastic_free_home has a wealth of wonderful ideas.
Make use of your local zero waste store – they have great products and knowledgeable staff.
Try these encouraging, practical books to support your zerowaste journey: Minimal: how to simplify your life and live sustainably by Madeleine Olivia, Is it really green? by Georgina Wilson-Powell, The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide by Jen Gale.
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Plotting for the future SARAH BROWN Gardening columnist
ugust brings a celebration for allotment growers. Yes, it’s National Allotment Week! And this year’s theme is ‘Plotting for the Future’. The organic grower always plans for the long term – not just for their plot, but for the planet. We do this by growing the most sustainable way: reducing artificial inputs (such as chemical fertilisers and pesticides), building up the soil health, supporting important wildlife, and being mindful of
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resources – such as energy and water. But not everyone has their eye on the sustaina-ball (sorry!). Organic growers can be criticised and shamed by their allotment neighbours for letting weeds in, and for using recycled materials to make home-spun shelters and plant protection (a colleague was reprimanded for her creative use of shopping baskets as pigeon barriers. It seems this didn’t suit the aesthetics of her allotment committee). Then, when the boot is on the other foot, do you find yourself gritting teeth as your neighbour sprays weedkiller and uses peat-filled compost? The close proximity of allotment sites can be challenging. But I see it as a great opportunity for organic growers to share their expertise. So next time
Make sure you grow what you want to eat. you have a friendly chat across the path, here are some tips for you to share with your non-organic neighbour. Weedkillers are not only toxic, research has shown that they also affect the microlife in the soil. This prevents your chosen plants from taking up nutrients from the soil. Remind your neighbour that weeds can add to the biodiversity on the plot – especially
GROW YOUR OWN / LIFESTYLE
early in the year when bees and other pollinators need feeding. Keep a few golden dandelions, even a handful of nettles – they’ll make that liquid feed, full of nitrates to help green growth. Pesticides will kill indiscriminately. Although sprays are aimed at aphids or other pests, they also kill other harmless insects who may be nearby. And if you kill an aphid, you are threatening the survival of ladybirds and song birds. They need the small aphids to feed their young. Pesticides can also create a health hazard for birds or frogs. Potting compost doesn’t need peat. There are excellent alternatives now on offer and by going peat-free you are not only saving a rare and endangered habitat but you are also saving the planet. Peat bogs are one of the most effective carbon stores on the planet, better than forests. The truly sustainable compost is your own homemade. Why not share compost making tips with your neighbour? You’ll find plenty of advice on peat-free growing at www.forpeatssake.org.uk.
Planning what to grow where is a vital part of the gardening year.
And finally, here are my top tips on what to grow in your lovely organic corner of the planet. •
First, make sure that you grow what you want to eat. Do you really want to spend your precious few allotment hours a week on raising swedes or sprouts, if, like me, you can’t stand them? Garlic, beans, tomatoes and salads are my go-to crops every year.
It’s easy to buy organic potatoes and carrots, so I recommend going for luxury crops – strawberries, raspberries and asparagus. I find them easier to grow than carrots, and some are perennials so they cut out that worrying seed germination gamble.
Similarly, herbs are easy to grow and you will have generous quantities to use, unlike the expensive bunches found in supermarkets.
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, whether you’re an experienced grower or just starting out. Share your own tips and gardening photos on social media under #GYOWickedLeeks.
Try our new recipe box range! Choose from a variety of seasonal dishes each week – including low plastic, plant-based, special guest chef recipes and more. We’ll deliver exact quantities of every organic ingredient, plus easy step-by-step instructions from our farm chefs.
riverford.co.uk/organic-recipe-boxes ISSUE 7 | WICKED LEEKS 37
LIFESTYLE / RECIPE
Chasing Smoke: Cooking over Fire around the Levant is out now.
IT’S TIME TO...
Cabbage & grill Grilled cabbage with garlic chilli butter Serves 4 as a starter, or 8 as a side There is nothing like a market stall piled high with cabbages in a huge variety of shades, from pure white to bright lime green or deep purplish red. Some may be larger than your head, their huge leaves used for stuffing; some may be small and crunchy and perfect for salad; some may be more fibrous, lending themselves to slow stewing. White cabbage is possibly the most underrated of all, but we absolutely love it. This is hands down the best way to eat any cabbage. You don’t even really need the dressing if you don’t fancy it – just grill a cabbage and eat it.
Cut the cabbage into four or six wedges, depending on how large it is, and brush the cut surfaces with olive oil. Set the wedges cut-side down on a very hot grill to char for 4 minutes, then flip and grill the other cut surface for 4 minutes. Finally set the wedges on their rounded sides for a final 4
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minutes, just to soften the cabbage a little. Remove to a platter and sprinkle with a little flaky sea salt.
While the cabbage is charring, combine the shallots, chilli and garlic with the butter and set in a small pan on the side of the grill over a low-moderate heat, enough to just melt
1 large, round white cabbage 2 tbsp olive oil flaky sea salt For the dressing 2 banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped 2 red chillies, halved, deseeded and thinly sliced 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced 100 g / 3 ½ oz butter 1 tsp flaky sea salt 1 small bunch of dill, fronds roughly chopped
the butter and lightly confit the vegetables. Stir occasionally, cooking for about 12–14 minutes or until the shallots are soft and look translucent. Remove from the heat, add the salt and chopped dill and mix well. Pour the butter dressing all over the warm cabbage and serve straight away for best results.
Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich are the founders of Middle Eastern deli, restaurant and smokehouse Honey & Co, and hosts of the Honey & Co: The Food Talks podcast.
Scan to read the full interview with Sarit and Itamar on Wicked Leeks.
THE BACK PAGE / LIFESTYLE
PODCAST SPECIAL Comfort food for your ears
s much as I cringe at the word ‘foodie’, I would declare myself one. I love food, love talking about food, love reading recipe books, love cooking; all of it. So, when I heard award-winning restaurant critic and well-known food personality, Grace Dent, was bringing out a podcast named Comfort Eating, I couldn’t wait to listen on one of my dog walks. In each episode, Grace sits down with a different celebrity to talk about what comfort food has seen them through their lives, journeying through happy, hard and significant times and the food memories that resonate with each. Guests include screenwriter Russell T Davies, comedian Nish Kumar, and actor Rafe Spall. Grace spends her life reviewing the UK’s most fancy restaurants, so
there’s something so charming about the beginning of each episode, when she gives some background on that episode’s guest, and reveals what she is eating at home that day. Safe to say her choices are far from fancy, pretentious or health conscious; buttered toast with fish paste out of a jar anyone?! She then begins each conversation by asking her guest to bring along their ultimate comfort food choice to share with her - the kind of food you would eat alone on the sofa in your pyjamas, without any worry of judgement or calorie content or nutritional value, just pure enjoyment. This part alone is worth listening for, but the podcast has much more to offer than just finding out what food centres each celebrity. There’s something about it that reminds me of Desert Island Discs. Perhaps in the way that the conversation takes a journey through the guest’s life, but regularly comes back to food (instead of songs).
Grace is a delight to listen to, with a soft, soothing tone and gentle northern accent. Almost like comfort food for your ears. And while I wasn’t always familiar with the guests, each episode was brilliant nonetheless, so don’t cherry-pick episodes based on who you know. All round a wonderful, warming listen. I urge you to give it a go. Emily Muddeman. Comfort Eating by Grace Dent is available wherever you get your podcasts.
One last thing…
ISSUE 7 | WICKED LEEKS 39
n w o r g w Slo r u o v a for fl (not fast for profit) Whereas others obsess over the biggest yields or the most uniform shapes, we grow your veg with one thing in mind: how it tastes. Farming for 35 years has taught us that it’s time well spent. So we insist on giving your veg the time it needs to develop – no unnatural heat, no unnatural fertilisers. It’s great for flavour, and great for the soil it grows in. Less haste, more taste!
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Including a special focus on regenerative farming, an exclusive cover interview with ethical restaurateur Asma Khan, and we answer your ques...
Published on Jul 28, 2021
Including a special focus on regenerative farming, an exclusive cover interview with ethical restaurateur Asma Khan, and we answer your ques...