Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Resolution 2: Eat seasonal and regional food

Of all my resolutions, this one is the easiest. Or is it? How far can I go? How far is sensible?

The seasonal aspect is simple enough: in summer, I want to put light food on the table (salads, sparkling seasonal treats like asparagus and strawberries); in the winter, my family and friends (and me) are looking for more robust stuff to keep us going – big stews, root veggies, comforting puds. In fact, it’s a pleasure, because the things that are in season fit with the seasons and ensure lots of variety.

But regional? The purists in Transition are aiming for a fifty mile radius or even less. For most of my food, it’s no problem. But… I can’t imagine starting the day without my kick-start of Kilimanjaro coffee. And if I want to add that essential interest to my food, I need some spices in the cupboard (saffron, nutmeg, black pepper), not to mention olive oil.

I thought that the reasonable compromise was to eat whatever was available to the Romans during the four hundred years or so that they occupied this country. Surely that was sustainable? Well, maybe not, on discovering that they were responsible for turning the Sahara into a desert and killing off unbelievable numbers of wild animals in the Colosseum…

… but on reflection, I return to thinking that this is a formula that is sustainable. For most of our food, buy local and buy what’s in season. Two excellent resources I’d recommend are Eat the Seasons website and a book: Seasonal food: a guide to what’s in season, when and why by Paul Waddington.

Given our chilly climate, I think it’s okay to buy some of our food from the Mediterranean – citrus fruits in particular. But not all. Nobody needs to buy strawberries in December. Here in England we can have whatever we want, regardless of the season – but at what cost? We need to challenge where food comes from. I saw apples from New Zealand in the supermarkets when English apples were coming into season. A friend tells me that it’s becoming the same in South Africa, where he was born. In his country, the quality of fresh fruit is outstanding, but on a visit last month he saw grapes on sale from Spain, because they are cheaper. We mustn’t buy on price, because there is a hidden cost.

And we mustn’t fall for convenience, because there is an enormous hidden cost there too. Are we really so busy that we don’t have time to peel a few spuds or trim the tops off leeks and wash out the gritty bits? Who is carrying out these chores on our behalf and what rate are they paid? If you take this argument further, what is going into those convenience foods?

My picture today is of salad leaves, picked proudly from my allotment strip yesterday for today’s family lunch. They are an assortment of radicchio and other hardy salads. I’ve been surprised to discover just how many interesting things we can grow in this country that actually like winter conditions.

I’m going to take my foodie resolution in this way: grow as much as I can (not possible for lots of us) and select the most interesting varieties to grow; always buy seasonal food; support local producers; challenge where everything comes from and how it was produced.

Pic: Salad leaves, harvested late December 2009

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