Updated: Apr 13, 2020
I've written before about the impact that the food we put on our plates has on the earth. Our food waste is one of the biggest contributors to CO2. Our food choices require resources and air-miles, making our accessibility unsustainable.
I think a really important piece of this puzzle is one that we often overlook. We are quick to judge whether or not people should be eating meat, or whether our food comes wrapped in lots of plastic. But for me, one of the most fundamental changes over the last century is that our relationship to food has dramatically changed. Ask your grandma if she could have had strawberries all year round when she was a child, or if they had ever dreamed of supermarkets as big as ours. Yet to us this is normal - we can't imagine a time where we couldn't buy exactly what we wanted, when we wanted it. (And of course I recognise that money plays a big role here - I'm not suggesting everyone can buy what they want only that the option to do so is so widespread).
Does anyone remember #MarmiteGate? In 2016, in the wake of the Brexit vote, Tesco announced that it would no longer be stocking Marmite and the UK went mad (or at least the half that love Marmite did). Since Marmite has not disappeared from shelves I can only assume that Tesco realised they were about to cause a national crisis and made a plan 🧐. This is a perfect illustration - we can't imagine being denied something that we've always had access to.
Why does this matter?
Previously, we ate what was locally available to us in any given season. In winter we ate squash; in summer we got strawberries. We were in tune with what the earth could give us. Our current system is out of tune - out of sync - with natural cycles of food production.
When it comes to climate change, food is a big player. Our current food system is responsible for 26% of all human generated greenhouse gas emissions (Science Mag). "Food systems...are significant contributors to deforestation, biodiversity loss and declining water tables" (The Guardian). The New York Times identifies four big ways that food impacts the earth:
"When forests are cleared to make room for farms and livestock — this happens on a daily basis in some parts of the world — large stores of carbon are released into the atmosphere, which heats up the planet. When cows, sheep and goats digest their food, they burp up methane, another potent greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Animal manure and rice paddies are also big methane sources. Finally, fossil fuels are used to operate farm machinery, make fertiliser and ship food around the globe, all of which generate emissions."
The global food system has brought us greater choices - we can choose between at least 5 different types of potato; we have year round access to tropical fruit. We don't have to compromise on our food, because we can pretty much get whatever we want all year round. We can't ignore the luxury - and the privilege - that this has given us. But the system has also contributed hugely to climate change - and ironically, if the system doesn't change it will be hit hard by the effects of climate change (but that is for another blog).
There's something idyllic about a lifestyle that is in tune with the seasons. I think we were made to live in harmony with the earth, respecting it's natural patterns and cycles. But as we have grown and increased in number we have sought to conquer those cycles, to beat them. Of course there are some great rewards that come from this, but ultimately we have created a system that is not sustainable. It's not sustainable for the earth or for us, and so I believe we need to go back to a more natural way of eating.
Anna Jones, cook and author, has a beautiful approach to this:
"There is something joyful about eating food at its best. Damsons as the evenings draw in, apricots when the nights are at their longest, watermelon on a searing hot day, squash at Halloween. It is about an ingredient at its peak, the apex of its flavour, but more than that it’s about a time, a place and the memories of days past that are wrapped up in every bite of food we eat." (The Guardian)
But how do we do that? One way of practicing this is to eat more seasonally. Another, is to reconnect ourselves with local produce. And (surprisingly) the two go hand in hand!
Below I've listed a few platforms to help you in this.
Farmdrop is an online supermarket connecting us with British farms and farmers, putting into practice ethical and sustainable farming.
"Our farmers follow sustainable and environmentally-sound farming techniques that preserve natural resources and help to enrich the soils for healthier animals and crops."
Image from: Farmdrop
Oddbox is a veg and fruit box, delivered to your home, which saves produce from going to waste. Whether it's surplus carrots or apples that were too 'ugly' for the supermarket, their produce is always fresh and in season.
Image from: Oddbox
Shopping at a local farmers market is a great way of supporting British farmers and eating seasonally. Find your local farmers market at London Farmers Markets.
A Modern Cooks Year, Anna Jones
"Divided into six seasons, Anna Jones’s long-awaited new cook book contains over 200 delicious vegetarian recipes interspersed with tips on everything from seasonal music playlists to flowers to look out for in each month of the year."
This cookbook is full of recipes that help you to cook what is in season, and to understand why this is a wonderful way to eat.
Just a little disclaimer: food is a massive topic, and is hugely complicated. Eating seasonally is important because it reconnects us to the food on our plate, and because it helps us to see that the system we live in is fundamentally unsustainable. But it isn't a silver bullet solution. There are issues surrounding it like the fact that sometimes food grown in the UK has a higher carbon footprint than food grown elsewhere and transported here - and that is because the UK does not have the weather or environment to grow certain foods naturally, and so we start using greenhouses or chemicals to produce these foods. However, I don't want to get into all of that here - it was just a note to say that I know it's not as simple as it seems. I want to do more blogs on this, but also wanted to give you a start. Eating seasonally could be a really good way to begin this journey. The more connected we are with what we eat and understanding where it came from can only bring good things.
So I hope you can take some actions from this going forward. I am excited to look at how I can implement this more in my own life, so I'm joining you on the journey.
P.S. if you subscribe to my newsletter you'll receive a winter recipe to help you get started!