Inspired by our recent trip to Dunes de Dovela eco-lodge, and the deliciousness of their locally sourced food, we embarked on a food challenge when we returned home – to only eat seasonal British food for the month of April. Turns out there’s a name for people who do this, they call themselves “locavores”, who knew?!
Here is the list of ingredients that were in season in April:
VEGETABLES: Asparagus, basil, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chard, chives, dill, kale, leeks, lettuce & salad leaves, mushrooms (morel), onions, parsnip, potatoes, pumpkin, radishes, red cabbage, rocket, rhubarb, shallots, samphire, sorrel, spinach, spring onions, watercress, wild nettles, wild garlic
MEAT: Lamb, wood pigeon, venison
FISH: cockles, crab, langoustine, lobster, plaice, prawns, salmon, sea trout, shrimp, whitebait, oyster, winkles, sardine
There were a number of benefits from the challenge, some unexpected:
1. Local seasonal food tastes delicious, as it is picked at peak ripeness versus being harvested early in order to be transported, sometimes thousands of miles, and distributed to your local store.
2. The list of products we could buy forced us to try lots of new ingredients and recipes which have now become regulars
3. Made us fall back in love with forgotten delicious ingredients that we hadn’t had in years such as rhubarb
4. Discovered lots of brilliant local producers and retailers
5. We ate more healthily including more fruit and veg as we were often required to buy raw ingredients rather than pre-made products where we couldn’t guarantee where the ingredients were sourced from
6. Have bought our own fruit juicer as nothing beats the taste of fresh and ripe fruit and vegetable juice
7. Buying local helps maintain farmland and green space in your area
8. Buying from farmers markets can help to reduce packaging waste as most things in supermarkets, including fruit and vegetables are wrapped in plastic
However the challenge also ended up being more thought provoking and insightful than we had imagined:
1. We realized how little we knew about food, including what food is grown in Britain, and what is in season when
2. Opened our eyes to how much of our food comes from overseas including many of our daily staples such as sugar, tea and coffee. Even many products which we thought of as inherently British such as apples and strawberries, are more often than not imported.
3. We were surprised how misleading many food labels were. One example is Copella Apple Juice – with the name “Boxford Farm, Suffolk” in large letters on the front label. A simpleton such as myself assumed this would mean it is “British” apple juice – ie. Apples grown and pressed in Britain, but closer inspection of the back label unveiled it simply meant “pressed” on the farm, but included imported apples.
4. It made us realize how hard British farmers have it as price competition from abroad is so high, and not just from developing countries, e.g. lamb from New Zealand was often often cheaper than British lamb.
5. To make eating local affordable you need to shop around. You can often get the best deals shopping at the end of the day at farmer’s markets when they are looking to clear their left over stock
6. Buying “local” isn’t necessarily better for the environment, but buying in season does have benefits
Yep, you read that right. Buying “local” isn’t necessarily better for the environment. According to Dr Adrian Williams, of the National Resources Management Centre at Cranfield University, the concept of food miles is too simplistic. Flying in green beans from Africa on the face of it may seem bad for the environmental. However, they might have been grown without the use of tractors, used cow muck as fertiliser; and used a low-tech irrigation system. Conversely local beans might have been grown using oil-based fertilizers, ploughed using a diesel tractor, or even grown in a heated green house or polytunnel. Further more, local produce such as apples are sometimes chill stored to be made available throughout the year. After a number of months the amount of energy used to keep them fresh will overtake the carbon cost of shipping products from as far as New Zealand.
Professor Edwards-Jones from Bangor University takes it further and says: 'It is not just where something is grown and how far it has to travel, but also how it is grown, how it is stored, how it is prepared.' A person’s foodprint is actually dominated by production emissions, and food transport makes up just a tenth of food emissions up to the point of sale. Just 4% of total emissions are final delivery transport from the producer to the retailer. Also whether food has been flown in or shipped in can make a big difference. Food that has been flown in can generate more than one hundred times the carbon emissions per kilometre than food that has been shipped. In fact, it is not the source of the food that matters the most, but the kind of food you eat, with red meat generating the greatest emissions.
Confused?! Well the good news it there are a few easy things we can do to reduce our environmental impact, whilst still eating delicious food:
· Buying direct from local producers at farmers markets is best as you can ask them about their farming methods, they typically sell fresh produce and minimizes the distance food has travelled
· Buying food in season is best for taste and helps ensure it hasn’t been chill stored, or grown in a heated green house thereby reducing production emissions
· Asking about how food is made demonstrates to producers that shoppers care and can encourage more sustainable practices, food tracking and greater food transparency
Another take away for me has been that we need to take a closer a look at what food we eat, not just where it is sourced from. Keep an eye out for a future blog on this topic.
If you're keen to try out eating more seasonally, here's a list of what's in season in May to help you on your way!
VEGETABLES: Asparagus, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, chard, cress, garlic, jersey royal new potatoes, lettuce & salad leaves, new potatoes, peas, radishes, rocket, rhubarb, rocket, samphire, spinach, spring onions, turnips, watercress, wild nettles
HERBS: basil, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, oregano, mint, nasturtium, parsley (curly), rosemary, sage, sorrel, tarragon
MEAT: Lamb, wood pigeon
FISH: Cod, coley, crab, haddock, langoustine, plaice, prawns, salmon, sardines, sea trout, shrimp, whelks, whitebait
The BBC good food guide provides some great ideas for seasonal recipes: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/seasons/may
As you can see we're on our own journey of discovery so would be great to hear your thoughts. Please click on "comments' below to share your views.
If you would like to read more, here are some of the sources of my article: