If you were to ask if there were a particular sustainable food trend we at Foodism really throw our weight behind, what would it be? Would it be buying high-welfare meat, or would it be wholly plant-based eating? Would it be buying only organically farmed produce at the supermarket, or would we put cutting out plastic at all costs before all of that entirely? The question's a difficult one, and the answer is probably 'none of them in particular'.
In the last couple of sustainability special issues, we've tried to dip a toe into as many aspects of sustainable food and drink as we can, and judge the lay of the land from there. And what we've found, really, is that the best place to start is by simply being considerate of the fact that food and drink carries a significant cost. It costs money, of course, but more than that it carries the cost of environmental, and human, resource.
This first step – the one that's simply about thinking beyond the food itself and considering the environmental, economic and social implications behind its creation – is a great place to start. And where you go from there is up to you: if feeling more connected with your food means you want start a back-and-forth with your local butcher, great; if it makes you want to go vegan, that's fine, too. If it makes you consider things like single-use plastic, food miles, food waste or anything else involved in the conversation, you're on the right track, whatever you're most drawn towards. We won't fix the food system overnight, but what we can all do is be more engaged with the systems that make our food, and use that as a platform to build from. So we've recruited people from across the sustainable food spectrum to chip in with some invaluable insight, too, to help you do just that. Read on to find out what they think.
How to cut down on food waste
Jen Coles, marketing manager of Leiths, on the value of teaching chefs an anti-waste ethos
Why is it so important it for home cooks to understand the importance of minimising waste in the kitchen?
Your ingredients will go much further if you're conscious of cutting down on your wastage and making the most of surplus produce. It pays to get creative with bits you haven't used because you can effectively carry forward any wastage to use in future dishes. Essentially, the less you waste in the kitchen, the further your money goes. It's all about ensuring that perfectly edible ingredients aren't being tossed in the bin.
What are some quick and easy ways to cut down waste when you're cooking?
Store foods in the right places and in the right containers – for example, always store tomatoes at room temperature as the refrigerator will make them rot quickly. Don't count windfall fruit as waste – cut out bruises and stew the remaining fruit ready for a crumble or pie filling. Freeze any produce that you won't use immediately and preserve surplus foods (think jams, pickles and kimchi) – to give ingredients a longer shelf life.
What are some simple dishes you can make with traditionally wasted parts of foods?
Rather than discarding carrot tops, you can turn them into a pesto by whizzing them up with pine nuts and parmesan in a food processor. Don't throw away unused herb stalks – they're bursting with flavoursome oils that you can extract and use in the future. Vegetable peelings that you'd usually discard can be used to make a vegetable peel stock. All it takes is a quick internet search to find a selection of recipes.
Are there any foods we waste that actually make for great ingredients in dishes?
The water you usually drain from a can of chickpeas (known as aquafaba) can be used to make meringues by whipping them up with sugar in exactly the same way as you would egg whites. Stale bread may not make for a particularly appetising sandwich, but it works brilliantly in a bread and butter pudding because it absorbs liquid like a sponge. Beetroot tops are used in Leiths alumna Olia Hercules' brilliant Ossetian pie, found in her cookbook Kaukasis.
Why you should consider going organic
The Soil Association's Niamh Noone on organic food icons
What are some of the positive impacts of organic farming on the environment?
There are lots of factors that make some foods more or less sustainable, including how they're grown, where they come from and how they are transported. What we do know is that leading scientists and bodies such as the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) repeatedly acknowledge the positive role of organic farming in tackling climate change and securing a sustainable food system that can provide food for all in the future. Organic farms generally emit fewer greenhouse gases and use less energy per hectare than non-organic farms, and store greater amounts of carbon in soils. Research suggests that converting half of farmland to organic by 2030 would cut almost a quarter of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
How can you make sure you're buying sustainable organic produce?
An easy way to do it is to make the most of your local organic veg box scheme, most of which are supplied by local farmers and growers and deliver fresh, seasonal produce right to your door, without the carbon footprint of international transportation.
Who are some hero producers of exotic foods in Britain, and what are they making?
Booja Booja (boojabooja.com) was established in 1999 and deserves a shout-out for its ice cream. It's dairy and soya free, but competes with the best ice creams out there. Davenport Vineyards (davenportvineyards.co.uk) is a really exciting wine producer, making vegan-friendly wines with no commercial yeasts and virtually no sulphites – well beyond organic. Hodmedods (hodmedods.co.uk) was established in 2012 to supply beans and other products from British farms. They only work with British farms to source a range of top-quality ingredients, particularly less well-known foods, like the fava bean – grown in Britain since the Iron Age but now almost forgotten – and black badger peas, as well as chia seeds and quinoa.
Find out more at soilassociation.org
How to kick your single-use plastic habit
Amelia Harvey, co-founder of The Collective, on fighting single-use plastic
What are some of the worst offenders in single-use plastic?
The alarming issue of single-use plastic has been gaining much media attention this year, notably after the airing of BBC's Blue Planet. Some of the most frequent single-use products consumers are likely to run into include coffee cups, straws, cotton buds and ready-meal trays.
Across the UK there have been multiple success stories over the past few months, including coffee cup levies to encourage reusable cups, bans on plastic straws and strong retailer commitments to make big sustainability changes.
The food and drink industry currently accounts for more than 20% of the UK's CO₂ emissions. We need to focus on reducing food and packaging waste, improving recycling rates and making education clearer within outlets so consumers know what to recycle. A great example is the award-winning On-Pack Recycling Label scheme (OPRL), which provides clarity to consumers on how to recycle products.
How can brands make sure they're doing their bit?
By taking advice from WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) and realising the importance of standardisation across packaging within the wider industry. We've made the decision to become a member of the OPRL scheme, with our small 150g tubs being the first range to switch over from August 2018 and the other ranges to follow in the coming months.
We're also launching a first-to-market recyclable black plastic. We've been working with WRAP to ensure our black lids will be fully recyclable and not rejected in recycling plants as the majority of black plastic is currently. From October, the lids on 450g and 900g tubs will incorporate a special pigment that makes them detectable by all UK recycling plants – and therefore fully recyclable.
How to (politely) challenge your restaurant's sustainability credentials
Andrew Stephen, CEO of the SRA, on ethics questions to ask restaurants
What are some simple things that tell you a restaurant is sustainable?
There are a few good speedy ways of judging if your chosen dining destination is cutting the sustainability mustard: Is tap or filtered water the default option? Is their tipping and service charge policy spelt out clearly on the menu? Rather than just referring to 'local' suppliers, does the menu highlight named producers? Are they happy to package up your leftovers?
And of course, it goes without saying that Food Made Good Stars on the menu, window and website – earned by excelling in the SRA's Sustainability Rating – are a great guide to a restaurant's credentials.
What should you ask your waiter?
If, as we have done, you ask your waiter where the fish comes from and he says "the sea", you know you're in choppy waters. A restaurant worth its salt should brief the front-of-house staff about the provenance of all the main ingredients. Don't be afraid to ask some simple but telling questions like: "Do you have MSC chain of custody?" This guarantees that all-important traceability from net to knife and fork.
What are a couple of London restaurants leading the way in sustainability?
Petersham Nurseries' Covent Garden restaurant hosts monthly events to showcase local suppliers and their incredible produce. And at nearby Farmstand, the menu is also a paean to provenance: the owners are hellbent on keeping their environmental footprint to a minimum, too, selling no bottled water and using no gas, for example. Paying all staff at least the London Living Wage is a good indicator of Farmstand's people focus, too.
How to source seafood sustainably
M Restaurants head chef Mike Reid on sourcing ethical fish
How important is it to make sure you're buying and ordering sustainable seafood?
The conversation around ethical and sustainable fish is difficult – I never feel it's discussed with the urgency reflecting the situation. It's so important we face up to reality and act now. Otherwise, in 50 years, we won't get to enjoy fish – it's that serious. We're moving in the right direction, with the consumer a lot more conscious of traceability, but this is just the start.
What are some sustainable and unsustainable fish species?
Two of the most popular fish to eat are actually two that are high on the 'unsustainable' list at the moment, but continue to appear on menus throughout the country. Wild seabass and eel are both readily available in restaurants, which is crazy when you think about it. There would be an outcry if a restaurant put black rhino on the menu – no one would choose to eat something that was about to be extinct – yet people do it every day with species of fish that are going to be extinct if we continue to overfish or mass fish our waters. We have so many great sustainable fish available to us – hake, pollock, trout and turbot to name just a few – there's
no real need to be eating things we're putting at risk of extinction.
What's some terminology people can look out for?
When buying fish always look out for the following labels: MSC, which means it is sustainably fished; and ASC, which means it is responsibly farmed. Ideally when buying farmed fish, go organic: it allows more room for fish to move, higher environmental standards and also uses responsible feeds.
Why you should embrace plant-based eating
Jenny Kenyon, head of brand comms at Tideford Organics, on the value of plant-based eating
Why do you think so many people are questioning their relationship with meat?
We're so pleased more and more people are starting to explore the delights of vegan cooking and eating, and the blossoming numbers of vegan restaurants, food trucks and festivals is partly to thank. But there are also so many more plant-based options in mainstream restaurants and supermarkets now, too, making it an easier choice, rather than something very rarified and difficult. For Tideford, our reasons for becoming a vegan company were mainly environmental, and this kind of information is getting more traction; from the film Cowspiracy to coverage in the press, facts about the amount of CO₂, water and land that can be saved by adopting a plant-based or flexitarian diet is really attention-grabbing. If you skip one burger, you can save enough energy to charge your phone for 4.5 years – and as we become more conscious about energy use and conserving the planet, these factors play into the food we eat.
For people who aren't used to cooking without meat and dairy but want to cut down, what are some key things to consider?
When Tideford became the UK's first organic, vegan and gluten-free brand in September 2016 we had to completely revolutionise our range, which led us to discover some amazing ingredients that come with tons of flavour, plus a heap of nutritional benefits. When cooking without meat many people miss a certain salty-sweet, moreish flavour otherwise known as umami. We've found miso, the ancient fermented Japanese combination of rice and soya beans, to be an incredible flavour-bomb when it comes to vegan cooking. From a spoonful added into soups, casseroles and stews to a marinade or dressing, it's incredibly versatile. It's also full of good bacteria from fermentation, as well as B vitamins (key for a vegan diet), protein and antioxidants. It's also not always as hard as you might think – meatballs are delicious made with kidney beans instead of meat, and a lot of plant milks work perfectly in place of dairy in traditional recipes.
What are some great plant-based substitutes for meat in popular dishes?
We're big fans of tofu: marinated with miso, ginger and lime, it makes a fantastic centrepiece. But we're also big believers that plants can take centre stage – for example, chickpeas and sweet potato bring fabulous colour, flavour and texture to a vegan curry.
How to buy high-welfare meat
Andy Cook, head butcher for Tom Kerridge's restaurants, on buying sustainable meat
What are the essential things to look for when buying ethical meat?
The main thing to look for is traceability. You should be able to get the story from farm to shop. This way you can see what resources have been used to raise the animal.
What questions can you ask a butcher to make sure what you're buying is traceable and high-quality?
Traceability really is key, but if you don't want to go into your butchers and ask about it in this level of detail, you can ask which farm the animal has come from, or what type of breed the animal is to get a conversation going. Another good question to ask is about the dry-aging process– all of these questions will lead to a better understanding of the full timeline of events for the animal from the farm to the shop.
What's a traditionally wasted cut you can ask for, and what's a simple way to make use of it?
Pig's jowl, otherwise known as cheek, is delicious due to its high fat content. The most popular dish would be a pork chap. For the best results, pickle it overnight in brine, then boil it just like a traditional ham. Once removed from the pan add a layer of breadcrumbs. For optimum taste serve nice and cold. This method of cooking the jowl creates an intense and flavourful ham-like flavour.
How to be an all-round sustainable shopper
Lizzie Rivera, founder of ethical lifestyle site BICBIM, on being a good shopper
Where's best to start when buying seasonal produce that's low in environmental impact?
The first step on the road to becoming an ethical shopper is the arguably the most important one. Start small – by being more conscious about your coffee or cleaning products – and you are likely to find this soon becomes a habit you can build on. Buying seasonal fruit and vegetables is also a good place to start, and buying from a good greengrocer is an important way to support your local high street.
But online shopping also offers some great ethical options: Farmdrop (farmdrop.com) prides itself on paying its farmers double what supermarkets do, and Riverford (riverford.co.uk) offers purely organic produce. With Soleshare (soleshare.net), Londoners can sign up for a weekly fish box caught using sustainable fishing methods that guarantees fishermen a more stable income and introduces customers to tasty, lesser-known species. If plastic is your focus, bulk-buy shops (where you take refillable containers to stock up on cupboard staples) are popping up across London. Dalston's Bulk Market (bulkmarket.uk) is back open and Planet Organic (planetorganic.co.uk) stores have a dedicated unpackaged section.
What are some key supermarket signifiers to bear in mind?
I'm wary of self-policing in the form of Cadbury's 'Cocoa Life' label or Sainsbury's 'Fairly Traded' tea. I prefer third-party certification such as Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance. Whatever your choice, being mindful of food waste is also hugely important: we each throw away more than 100kg of food each year, equivalent to £200 per person, and CO₂ emissions generated by around 30% of cars. Buying better can be more expensive; buying less is a good way to balance extra costs.
Find out more at bicbim.co.uk