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Eating less meat? Here’s how to consume it consciously

For a while, the campaign to eat less meat and find ways to make meat go further has been ticking on in the background. But now, it’s come to the forefront again with a real emphasis on showing people how natural ingredients can work to help you cut down your meat intake, and how this balanced approach can help the environment to heal. So, how do we go about realistically changing people’s perceptions on what is a sustainable level of meat consumption? After all, although the world does not need to go vegan overnight (quite the opposite, in fact), we do need to consume in a more sustainable manner and cut down. 

It’s about choice architecture – providing more sustainable options for people to cut down on meat, more opportunity for producers to turn to regenerative techniques and more choice as a whole for an ethical and localised food system. The concept of eating less and better encourages the consumer to really think about where their food is coming from (it’s like the diet equivalent to slow fashion) which, in turn, helps both our health, the food chain and the planet. The Eating Better Alliance is working to stimulate a 50% reduction in meat and dairy consumption in the UK by 2030, and for a transition to ‘better’ meat and dairy as standard.

Reducing meat consumption while buying only from ethically sourced origins and slow farming establishments can also yield incredible results in making the world a more sustainable place for people who don’t want to give up meat. The eating less campaign is about embracing a less and better approach to meat consumption and therefore removing the economic incentive for factory farming through reducing the demand for cheap meat. With a surge in the popularity and growth of regenerative farming, organic meat producers across the globe are starting to get onboard with the campaign. 

It’s almost an odd concept, coming from farmers and butchers within the slow food and regenerative agriculture movement, to champion eating less meat, but this is paramount to many of those within the organic food industry. Pipers Farm, a destination for meat that is farmed sustainably and in harmony with nature, ‘believe we should all eat much less meat, and when we do eat meat ensure it has been produced in a way that has respect for the animal, respect for the farmer and respect for the landscape.’ 

Essentially, the way food is produced is a crucial, if not the most crucial, element in sustainable food systems. The rise in popularity of vegan and plant-based foods means that this is an entity that has been hijacked by mass corporations, too – ultimately, there’s a balance to strike. In a feature for Pipers Farm, the founder of ethical lifestyle community Live Frankly and highly respected investigative writer Lizzie Rivera stated: 

‘The tribal lines should not be drawn between vegans, vegetarians or flexitarian. That division predominantly serves to distract us from the most important objective: producing healthier, more nutritious (and better-tasting) food, farmed in tune with nature – and ending the era of industrial farming. Including getting animals out of factory farms […] Intensive animal agriculture and intensively farmed vegan products are not so much polar opposite food systems, but two sides of very similar extractive thinking. If we want to protect the environment and animals, we need to protect our habitats. Whether we’re vegan, veggie or flexi we still need to consider where our food is coming from – who is farming, how and at what cost.’ 

So, what ingredients should you be packing into your pantry in order to eat less and better? Focus on finding foods that help your meat to go further in order to reduce your need to consume more – generally, you don’t need as much meat as you might think. We dive into the details… 


Part of the eating less and better approach is about utilising the whole of the animal – including bones for broth, and the fat for lard and ghee. Fats can go a long way and are an incredibly overlooked and flavoursome base for dishes such as soup and stew. 


Pipers Farm stated in their feature on natural ingredients to make your meat go further that ‘good stocks and broths are superb kitchen allies. When made using bones and collagen from slow grown livestock, they are especially loaded with nutrition and flavour, and come with feel-good thrift and satisfaction as they make the most of every scrap of the animal. Whether you embrace the kitchen ritual of making it yourself using our beautiful bones, or go for our equally flavourful and health-benefit-packed pouches, having a batch on standby in the freezer sets you in good stead for the week. Use to cook pasta or grains for a meat-free weekday feed, add to meat juices for punchy sauces and gravies or go classic with simple veg-packed soups and stews.’ 


Similar to the way in which pulses soak up the flavours of dishes perfectly, whole grains are a brilliant meat substitute to soak up and absorb savoury cooking notes. You can pair them with meat in order to reduce your meat portion, or use them instead. 


Mushrooms are a brilliant bulking ingredient and, combined with meat, they can make your meal go much further. They are also a great way of adding flavour to a dish, especially if you are transitioning from a meat-rich diet to a flexi or plant-based one. 


As well as being an incredible protein source, pulses are a brilliant way to bulk up dishes and replace meat, or stretch meat further if you’re unwilling to give it up completely.A key aspect of eating less and better is improving the production of plant foods for human consumption. Farmers Collective Hodmedods works directly with British farmers to produce and source a range of pulses and grains, with a commitment to providing wholesome quality food that is more sustainably produced.

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A runner’s guide to conscious and eco-friendly nutrition

At its core, running is the ultimate sustainable sport. It requires not much more than your legs and a pair of trainers, it’s hard to wonder what could be so unsustainable about running. However, between wearing out shoes, constant new kit, travel to races and plastic food packaging, the climate impact can quickly build up. 

As we lead up to marathon season, one of the most common issues eco-conscious competitors will face is the number of plastic wrappers on all things to do with running nutrition. From energy gels to drinks and protein bars, the single-use packaging adds up, but it doesn’t have to be this way, as evidenced by the number of  brands who are switching to more eco-friendly formulas and sustainable packaging. As a runner myself, I’m constantly on the hunt for products that work well and are kinder on the planet. Here are some of my favourites.

Energy gels

Finding eco-friendly fuel for long runs has been the number one question I get regarding nutrition. It’s a tough one – any extra weight when you’re running is detrimental, so single-use, disposable sachets have long been the packaging of choice when it comes to running gels. The problem is, not only is this packaging reliant on harmful fossil fuels, it’s also damaging (and unsightly) when it accidentally falls onto the trails.

A natural alternative to modern sports nutrition, Lucho Dillitos is my go-to trail ‘gel’, although in reality it is a solid block more than a gel. Based on the traditional Colombian dessert Bocadillo, this fuel is made from guava fruit (85%) and sugar (15%). Because of its ingredients, it’s super high in vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium – useful for when out on a run. Most importantly, it’s wrapped in a dried leaf which is completely compostable. Once the block is eaten, the leaf can be discarded on the trail like any other leaf, where it will biodegrade. The blocks also avoid the problem of sticky wrappers and half-eaten gels in your running pack – a huge bugbear of mine! 

If you prefer liquid gels, one alternative could be to create your own, either with a gel mix or using home ingredients. Active Root is a small brand providing eco-friendly electrolyte and gel mixes. Its powdered gel can be mixed with water to create a natural energy gel, completely erasing the need for single-use gel sachets. They sell soft-flasks for mixing, holding the equivalent of 3 – 4 gels, and some flavours even have caffeine in, too.


Most protein brands package their products in plastic or mixed-material packaging, making it harder to recycle and (again) heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Additionally, whey protein relies on carbon-intensive animal agriculture. Opting for vegan proteins can reduce the overall impact of the product itself, and choosing plastic-free compostable or recyclable packaging lessens the environmental cost further. 

Introducing Vivo Life, a specialist in supplements that don’t cost the earth. Not only are its proteins all 100% plant-based (using a mix of protein sources including hemp protein, pea protein and soy protein) to minimise the impact of animal agriculture, it is also a certified carbon neutral company, including delivery. As much as possible, Vivo uses organic ingredients, and its delivery boxes are cut from recycled card. On top of all this, Vivo has ditched plastic scoops and is switching to home-compostable packaging within the year – a positive change which will pave the way for others in the supplements industry. 


For longer and warmer runs, hydration in the form of electrolytes is vital, both out on the run and when you return home afterwards. Electrolytes are not only important to allow your muscles to contract and relax (hence why athletes get cramps if they don’t have enough), they’re also key to recovery after each run. If you don’t take rehydration seriously, your next run will suffer. 

Active Root is a small UK-based brand providing eco-friendly electrolyte mixes. Each pack contains 1.4kg of powder (cane sugar, ginger powder and sea salt), enough to make 40 500ml electrolyte drinks. The refill sachets are 100% compostable too, making this an entirely plastic and waste free option. And, because of the ginger, it’s a great option for people who get upset stomachs on the move! 

Vivo Life also provides hydration mixes (Sustain), using coconut water mixed with EAAs (essential amino acids, providing further recovery benefits). The orange & baobab flavour is my absolute fave post-workout for muscle repair and rehydration.

On the go snacks

Created to help you hit your long term health and wellness goals, nutrition brand Human Food offers up natural snacks packaged in home-compostable packaging made from plant-based cellulose. The wrapper can be disposed of in your food-waste bin or compost, and if it flies out of your running pack on the move it won’t wreak havoc with the local ecosystem (although it’s better to find a compost bin rather than throwing in a hedge as conditions are better for decomposition in the former). 

I really like making my own snacks at home, too. Homemade ginger cake or flapjacks are my favourite, and make a nice change from pre-packaged foods during an ultra-marathon. Storage can be difficult but beeswax wraps or reusable zip-locked sandwich bags tend to do the trick. Snacks that can be bought in bulk, like trail mix also make for decent food, but remember that high-fat foods such as nuts are processed slower than sugar, so best for long and/or slow expeditions. 

It can be hard to find what works for you on a long run, and harder still to find eco-friendly options. Thankfully, so many brands are coming out of the woodwork and stepping up to the mark when it comes to sustainability, and hopefully soon running can be the simple, eco-friendly sport it was meant to be.

Follow @foodfitnessflora for more tips.

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How new restaurant Native is pioneering wild food

The concept of wild food is simply food that is grown in the wild, without human intervention. Restaurants and chefs who embrace the concept have become increasingly popular, particularly as sustainably-minded consumers are placing the provenance, locality and seasonality of their foods at higher value.

Old-fashioned or long-forgotten ingredients such as quince, rosehip, medlar and nettle are appearing on menus in restaurants and cocktail bars and according to Soil Association’s 2021 Organic Market Report, we’ve seen “the highest year-on-year growth in 15 years in the organic market, at +12.6% with the market now worth £2.79B”. 

Native, a restaurant founded by Ivan Tisdall-Downes and Imogen Davis, is somewhat of a pioneer within the wild food movement in the UK. Their history is somewhat nomadic; after several successful years as market stalls and pop-ups, they launched a permanent site in Covent Garden’s Neal’s Yard in early 2016 to much acclaim. In Autumn 2018, the restaurant relocated to 34 Southwark Street in London’s foodie hotspot Borough and come October of last year, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, Ivan and Imogen said goodbye to the city and hello to the shores of Osea Island on the Essex Coast. Here, everything from the menu to dining times are dictated by nature (guests travel to the island via a boat or causeway, so much is dependent on the sea levels). Native food has remained available to Londoners as the company adapted to offer a ‘Native At Home’ à la carte dining kits delivery which changes fortnightly and is available UK wide.

What’s most exciting though (and telling of the times), is that they have now partnered with Browns Fashion to open an urban garden nestled within the luxury fashion retailer’s new flagship site in Mayfair’s Brook Street. This is Browns’ first foray into food and dining, making the pairing all the more exciting. Shoppers will be able to indulge in some al fresco food, natural wine and foraged cocktails amongst ferns and birch trees when the store and restaurant opens in Spring 2021.

Seasonal, ethical and local produce will remain firmly weaved into Native’s food philosophy at Browns, as well as their steadfast zero-waste mentality. While provenance of ingredients is key, there’s much to be said for the dishes themselves. Expect casual sharing plates of typically unpopular offcuts of fruit, vegetables, seasonal game and sustainably-caught fish. The creations are bold and brave, with unexpected combinations and refreshing ways of interpreting nose-to-tail and root-to-fruit cooking principles. Native’s kitchen will be led by Head Chef Joe Knowlden, previously of Hide Mayfair, who will work alongside Ivan and Imogen to bring forth the innovative offering.

The menu will feature starters such as Dorset brown crab with cacklebean duck egg and foraged sea herbs. To follow, plates such as roast cauliflower, nasturtium (a herbaceous flowering plant) and brown butter will be on offer and for dessert, there’s a clever take on millionaire’s shortbread which is seaweed infused and topped with white chocolate and bone marrow caramel. 

“We are excited to be embarking on this new chapter of Native in partnership with Browns and it’s been a delight to see our vision for a closed-loop restaurant supported at every step” says Imogen. 

“Our ethos is reflected not only through the menu, but also through the thoughtful, sustainable design which reflects our ideals whilst harnessing the talents of innovative producers across the UK.” Adds Ivan. 

Foraging is typically more common across Europe but a recent revival here in the UK has spurred an increase in the practice. The pandemic has also seen many of us deepen our connection with nature. Daily walks and exploration of different local green areas, coupled with an increased sense of mindfulness means many have begun taking more notice of what’s growing around them. While you can find wild herbs and fungi growing in parks, woodlands and even roadside in certain places, it’s best to get some guidance from an expert before deciding to consume foods you’ve foraged yourself. This is not only for your own health and safety in order to avoid potentially poisonous and inedible plants, but also because there are some laws around foraging in public areas and the preservation of plant populations – certain rare or endangered plant species are protected by law. Learning from someone who is well-versed on the subject, whether it’s a one-on-one foraging trip, an online course or a group excursion, will enable you to learn about wild food in a safe way. 

Here in the UK, hedgerow fruits and berries such as elderberries and crab apples are amongst the most easy to find and forage foods. They’re easily identifiable too. Away from the city, foraging along the coast will also prove fruitful. Samphire, purslane and seaweeds such as dulse and kelp are all highly nutritious and delicious finds. A diet which includes wild foods is naturally more diverse, and eating a variety of foods means your body is receiving a variety of nutrients. Wild foods often have greater health benefits than their cultivated counterparts too. Wild blueberries for example are known to contain around 30% more anthocyanins (the flavonoid which gives them a purplish blue colour) than regular blueberries. These anthocyanins improve blood cholesterol levels and blood sugar metabolism. 

If you’re keen to expand your knowledge of wild food and foraging before Native opens, books such as ‘Forage: Wild Plants to Gather, Cook and Eat’ by Liz Knight and ‘The Edible City: A Year of Wild Food’ by John Rensten are great reads.

Native at Browns opens spring 2021. Native at Home is available from Friday 19th February. 

For details and to order, please visit

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What’s in your cup? A guide to buying ethical coffee

Eva Ramirez speaks to London Grade Coffee and shares what to look out for when purchasing coffee to ensure you’re buying an ethical product.

Exploitation within the coffee industry is nothing new considering its colonialist roots and a global expansion which was bolstered by the slave trade. However, these colonial structures are still present in the industry today. Issues such as unfair wages and poor, hazardous working conditions are rife. On a daily basis, coffee growers work for long hours handling highly toxic chemicals, pesticides and heavy machinery for very little reward. 

Much like fast fashion, the problems are environmental too, as farms are forced to satiate the growing appetite for caffeine across the world. Deforestation in lieu of the expansion of coffee farms which is detrimental to the local environment, wildlife and climate change on a wider scale is commonplace. Native trees in forests such as the Amazon are cleared to make way for coffee plantations where the agricultural methods used harm the planet further.

Yet while coffee consumption increases on a global scale, the price of it has dropped due to several factors. A huge surplus of coffee beans, political instability in coffee producing nations such as Brazil and market fluctuations which affect exchange rates have all played a role in the decline. The plummet in prices means coffee farmers, particularly small-scale growers, face increasing pressure as the cost of production surpasses the profit that their harvests yield. 

“Coffee is the second largest traded commodity after oil and there is variation of supply” says Alice Owen-Lloyd of London Grade Coffee, a retail and wholesale supplier that is organic, sustainably grown and ethically sourced. 

Unfortunately the coffee industry is overwhelmingly dominated by multinational corporations whose MO is to supply a high volume of cheap, generic products into mainstream supermarkets. Specialty coffee roasters like London Grade Coffee, who are involved in the entire cycle of coffee production from harvest to roasting, only account for a minute percentage of the industry. 

One of London Grade Coffee’s top priorities is to source their beans ethically “in order to deracinate coffee farming’s oppressive roots”. This means a direct relationship with their growers. “We deal with our estate directly and pay the price they need to keep producing exceptional coffee beans. It is important that we do not deal through an importer, by dealing directly with the estate they get paid the price they deserve. They trust us and we trust them.” 

There have been some considerable, positive changes spurred by the specialty coffee industry, Alice says. “The emergence of compostable pods is perhaps the most significant. However there is definitely now more of an emphasis upon paying the producer a fair price and acknowledging their role. We’ve also seen big improvements with regards to packaging – less single use plastic. Recycled and recyclable materials are much more readily available and affordable too.”

When it comes to labels and certificates, Alice advises against getting hung up on the buzzwords and instead looking at the actual facts, asking questions such as “where has your coffee come from? Have the farmers been paid a fair price? Has the planet and its biodiversity been taken into consideration?” 

Much like navigating the world of natural wine, understanding the true meaning behind ethically-sourced coffee can be overwhelming. Here’s a quick explanation of the most common labels and terms:

Rainforest Alliance Certified

 Environmentally sustainable coffee grown with biodiversity conservation as a priority. There’s a strong focus on reducing deforestation and the destruction of ecosystems. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s socially ethical or guarantees a minimum price to suppliers.


As with other organic products, this means the coffee is grown in a way that promotes agricultural methods that work in harmony with the earth and reduce the use of synthetic chemicals. This supports biodiversity, builds soil health and is also beneficial for the farmers and producers of the beans as they are around less chemicals. While this is all undeniably positive, the cost to gain an organic certification can price out small-scale farmers unless they are part of a cooperative.


This certification works directly with farmers to guarantee them a minimum price for their coffee and promotes direct trade and community development. Unfortunately land ownership is a requirement for participation in the Fairtrade cooperatives, so many farmers who don’t own their own land are unable to profit from the higher prices that come with selling Fairtrade coffee.

Direct Trade

This is when a roaster buys coffee directly from a producer, indicating an honest relationship between both parties whereby quality, pricing and other terms are agreed upon and mutually beneficial. As there is no clear-cut definition, uncertainty surrounds the direct trade model and many question whether it truly tackles institutional poverty and inequality.

Single Origin

This simply means that all of the beans in the packet have come from one estate, grown by the same people.

Shade Grown

Shade trees are planted near the coffee plants to protect them from rain and sun, help maintain healthy soil and attract local birds which serve as pest control.

Specialty Coffee like London Grade Coffee is about the quality of the beans and the conditions under which it is produced and distributed. It is more expensive than buying Lavazza coffee for example because of the quality of the bean – it is the highest quality possible. The importer hasn’t then mixed it with an inferior bean. “Specialty coffee tackles the issues the coffee industry presents: it has been ethically sourced and in theory the farmers are paid the price they need to keep on producing very high quality coffee. Speciality coffee commits to making coffee better for everyone in the value chain.” 

“When buying your coffee it is important to buy from a company who is devoted to selling high quality coffee, rather than selling commodity coffee” Alice continues. “You want to look for a company who knows their supplier, who has a relationship with the growers. This is important as unethical farming is very prevalent in the coffee industry, and more often than not the farmers do not get paid a fair price for their beans. It is also important to buy organic coffee, as this means the farmers haven’t used pesticides and chemicals which are harmful to the environment.” 

So, how can you make sure the way you make your coffee at home is as sustainable as possible?
“The key is to use non- bleached filters, and to avoid Nespresso pods at all costs” says Alice. “While we can’t deny the ease and simplicity of a pod machine, we also cannot continue to deny their highly damaging impact on the planet. Every year up to 52 billion capsules end up in landfills or in oceans. It is also important to not waste the coffee grounds after it has been brewed.”

6 million tonnes of used coffee grounds are sent to landfill every year, but there are multiple ways to recycle and reuse them. Here are a few:
  1. Use them as fertiliser or compost. 
  2. Combine the grounds with baking soda for a natural cleaning solution which is great for scouring pots. 
  3. Mix them with honey or coconut oil for an exfoliating scrub that you can use on your body and lips. 
  4. Coffee grounds contain nitrogen and can help neutralise odours, so keep a small bowl or container in the fridge for a week or so to dissipate unwanted smells. 
  5. Many insects are repelled by the smell of coffee, so sprinkle them in your garden or keep a bowl or two next to your outdoor seating areas to keep bugs away.
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Everything you need to know about eating seasonally

As we inch towards spring here in the UK, we move ever closer to the ‘Hungry Gap’, a time that spans much of the spring where there is little to no fresh produce available to harvest. Winter-harvested vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes, kale, turnips and swede have all been harvested, and spring crops such as asparagus and broad beans are yet to come through. There is a reason British-grown asparagus is seen as a sign of the warmer days – it is one of the earliest spring vegetables to be harvested.

Despite its limitations, seasonal eating is making a comeback, with multiple companies dedicated to delivering fresh, local produce to your door and many people willing to spend considerably more for locally produced, seasonal food. There does, however, seem to be a divide between those looking to shop seasonally, and everyone else. A survey by the BBC suggested that whilst 78% of Brits claim to shop seasonally, only 5% could name when blackberries ripen in the UK. In addition, it seems not all of us are even aware what ‘seasonal’ and ‘local’ means anymore, so where do we begin, and what are the benefits?

According to Wikipedia, “Seasonal food refers to the times of year when the harvest or the flavour of a given type food is at its peak. This is usually the time when the item is harvested, with some exceptions; an example being sweet potatoes which are best eaten quite a while after harvest”. Seasonal produce tends to be foods grown ‘locally’ at the time of year that they have traditionally been abundant, without the aid of artificial heating.

Arguments for seasonal eating include better tasting produce, more nutrients, supporting the local economy, reducing environmental footprint and paying less for food. Food systems are complex though, and not all of these factors stand up to scrutiny. For example, depending what you’re looking to buy, it may be more environmentally friendly to transport (by road) some fruit and vegetables from Europe, due to the warmer growing conditions negating the use for artificially heated greenhouses. Thankfully, the energy demand for UK grown vegetables is generally lower than their imported equivalents, aside from a few notable exceptions, such as aubergines, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes which are often grown in heated greenhouses in the UK.

Despite the complexity of our food systems, it can be good to support local farmers and the produce they produce. If you are also buying from small farms, you’re likely to get a variety of produce you might not find at your local supermarket. Buying from local farms may also help boost the economy in the area – important especially at a time like now, where many are struggling


When eating raw/fresh produce, local and seasonal vegetables may taste noticeably better and may even be more nutritious. Foods that are able to be picked when fully ripened (as opposed to harvested early so they can be transported further) may be higher in nutrients, and thus have a better flavour. If you are eating a lot of foods raw or unflavoured, this difference in flavour alone may mean it is worth picking up local produce over imports.

Cabbage, celery and Brussel sprouts are the most sustainable UK produce you can eat, and should always be consumed in season if possible. Aside from that, importing vegetables grown in unheated greenhouses in Europe has a lower impact than UK vegetables cultivated in heated greenhouses (e.g. aubergines, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes), despite the transportation – so if you are eating produce out of season, make sure you know how it was grown. If there’s the chance it was grown in a heated greenhouse, it may be better to opt for food grown in Europe that has been transported to the UK by road.

Air freighted vegetables have around a five times higher impact than domestic produce, so in the case of a choice between locally produced vegetables and those air freighted, always choose local produce.

It is important to bear in mind that despite all these variables, eating vegetables is always more environmentally friendly than eating red meat when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, and the confusing nature of food labels should not put you off eating a mostly plant-based or diet. It can be easy to become bogged down in the specific of in season or local produce vs importation, but there are a few changes you can make to your diet that will have far bigger impacts in the long run. For example, plant-based diets are the best suited to fight climate change, so if you eat a lot of red meat, cutting down will have a far bigger impact environmentally than purely eating locally.

In addition, food waste is one of the worst culprits for increasing food impact on our environment. Reducing food waste overall, rather than focussing on purely buying local produce, may have more of a beneficial impact on our environment. 4.2 million tonnes of avoidable food and drink is wasted each year in UK households, worth £12.5 billion.

In conclusion, there are many benefits to eating local. Eating food in season may taste better and be more environmentally friendly, but even more importantly, it can help support local farmers and their families, support the local economy and may even introduce you to produce you’d never see in your local supermarket.

However, there are other ways in which you could have a greater impact when it comes to carbon emissions and environmental impact. Moving to a more plant-based diet and reducing food waste overall will help you see the greatest reduction to your environmental impact!

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Chef Rob Howell on veg-centric eating and his new book Root

With its ethos of prioritising and elevating veg-centric cooking, and its stylish and approachable neighbourhood vibe, Root, which is situated in Bristol’s trendy Wapping Wharf and part of the Michelin Guide, has been steadily taking the south west by storm over the last few years. 

Now, head chef Rob Howell is releasing his debut cookbook, Root: Small Vegetable Plates, A Little Meat On The Side, which is published by Bloomsbury and on the shelves in spring 2021. As with everything Rob does when it comes to cooking and his relationship with food, you can expect inventive and inspiring recipes, and a real sense of pure heart and soul.

Rob is known from his time as head chef at Josh Eggleton’s Michelin-starred Pony and Trap in Chew Magna. He counts his time with Josh as where his real thoughts, passion and processes around sustainability and ethics came from, and Root was born from this and the realisation that there was a gap in the market for a restaurant centred around this. 

It started with the idea of meat and fish on the side, but Root became so popular for the vegetable dishes, it soon transpired that these should take centre stage. ‘We didn’t expect it to take off the way it did,’ smiles Rob. ‘A small amount of meat and fish is sometimes used on the specials board, but it’s all about the veg. We work as much as we can with local producers, and not only is it good for the world and us, but the vegetables are delicious too. When it comes to vegetarian eating, I think people forget that vegetables can be so good and focus on meat substitutes too much.’

In terms of eco eating, there’s some argument that a veg-centric attitude is the most sustainable way forward. According to a study by Harvard: ‘In 2019, the EAT-Lancet Commission developed the world’s first scientific targets for healthy and sustainable food systems, including a “planetary health diet” with defined daily consumption ranges for each food group. This dietary pattern – characterized by a variety of high-quality plant-based foods and low amounts of animal-based foods, refined grains, added sugars, and unhealthy fats – is designed to be flexible to accommodate local and individual situations, traditions, and dietary preferences.’

In general, a diet higher in plant foods than meat is more sustainable than a diet higher in meat than plant foods. Essentially, there’s a balance to be struck, and veg-centric eating does exactly that. For real change to happen, over a period of time, each step on that journey to sustainability has to be achievable and able to slot into a huge number of the population’s lives instantaneously. 

Rob is not a vegetarian or a vegan, but he does follow a diet where vegetables and green eating is prioritised. ‘I’m eating it less and less, and I only try and buy meat where it’s a special occasion and from a decent source,’ he says. ‘If we can all be a bit more aware of what we are eating, this is a massive part of it and the problem with food sustainability, then we can get to know the seasonality of food. I can honestly say that the Root kitchen produces less waste than any other restaurant I’ve worked in before.’ 

The menu at Root is ever changing and adapts to what is available, what veg is in season and what works best at the time – the suppliers tell them what they’ve got and they take it. Compare this to a menu with a huge magnitude of different dishes, many of which using lots of different ingredients, and you naturally end up with far more waste at the end of a shift. 

Interestingly, Rob notes that, with Brexit, we may not be able to get all of the fruits and vegetables that we are so used to getting year-round, which might actually not be such a bad thing. It could teach us how to deal with food more seasonally, and eat crops when it’s the most nutritious. 

I wonder if Rob thinks that there are big misconceptions when it comes to sustainability in food. ‘It needs to be realistic, as everyone is in a different situation,’ he says. ‘There are all of these expensive products being sold after people have jumped on the vegan hype, so people think they can’t afford to be vegan or vegetarian. Just knowing how to cook vegetables is really important.’ Clearly, as with Root, it’s about taking it back to basics and not making it complicated.  

What strikes me, as one of the most sustainable elements of Root, is the way in which it continues to change people’s perceptions and present vegetarian dishes in a non-preachy, non-idealised way – it’s accessible, raw and realistic. Root focuses on the vegetables for what they are and, in turn, showcases their diversity to people – it takes away the very common conception that a meal is not complete without meat. 

‘We’ve got an open kitchen and we get a lot of families where, perhaps, the whole family including grandparents have come to Root because the daughter is vegan, and you can see their scrunched faces,’ laughs Rob. ‘But the amount of people, who have then come up to us at the end, shook our hand and said that they didn’t realise a meal of vegetables could be so tasty.’ 

And now, the book is set to do the same. I wonder how Rob feels about bringing out a cookbook? ‘I’ve spent most of my earnings my whole life on cookbooks, so to write my own is insane and is an incredible feeling,’ he laughs. ‘I didn’t want to go down the preachy route, or to tell people what to do, but I just want to show people what you can do with vegetables and make it more exciting and accessible. Hopefully, this can help people move toward eating less meat and fish. The photography is beautiful and I really hope it gives people a lot of inspiration.’ 

Made up of 100 recipes of Root dishes from the last three years, Rob hopes that the book will help people to discover new vegetables, and discover recipes with vegetables that they may not otherwise know what to do with. I, for one, can’t wait to devour the book and for the world to open up again so that I can pay Root a visit. It’s going straight to the top of my post-lockdown bucket list… 

1. Know the season

If you follow the seasons, you’ll not only be eating produce at its best, but it usually lends itself to being grown closer to home too.

2. Research

What is being produced around your area, and you may find local food markets or producers right on your doorstep that you never knew about.

3. Limit meat & fish consumption

Swap out meals that you would usually use meat in. Lasagne? Make it vegetarian. Vegetable curry? They are always just as delicious! 

4. Batch cooking

It’s always a great way to make the most of what you have in your fridge, so if you have big vegetables such as swede and celeriac that are hard to use all of, make big batches of meals and freeze. 

5. Seasonality

Freeze fruits like blackberries and raspberries when they are in abundance so that you can use them throughout the whole year and don’t have to buy berries that have been imported. 

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Cookbook author Melissa Hemsley on feel-good food

Melissa Hemsley might just be one of the loveliest people in the food business. For over a decade she’s inspired her growing audience to cook from scratch, love the food they eat, and be conscious of its environmental and social impact. She’s a self-taught chef, food columnist, best-selling cookbook author, real food activist and all-round champion for positivity, community and feel-good food. Eva Ramirez chats to Melissa about her views, tips, inspiration and more.

What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?

About 12 years ago, my sister and I started cooking for bands and actors. Our mission was always to cook food in a relaxed way with easy to source ingredients, for lovely people to bring them energy – and that’s what I’ve always tried to do. Since then, I’ve written four books in total, always with that mission in mind, to just spread a little bit of good stuff through food while shouting out farmers and producers and having fun with it all.
Now more than ever, I’m deeply interested in where exactly foods come from, the relationship to the land and earth, how the seasons affect this all, why we should all care for and respect our farmers, and so on. I’m constantly learning and I like to discover ways to make food in the most authentic way possible, as well as putting a modern spin on things.

What are some foods that are commonly thrown away which can actually be used?

From having spent time in people’s kitchens, and I say this in a non judgmental way(!) I’ve seen pretty much every ingredient being thrown away, from meat, fish, eggs, milk, dairy, all the way through to vegetables and chocolate. Yoghurt and hummus are big ones too! I get it, it’s habitual…they’re things you may always have in your fridge and then when you do your weekly shop and you buy them again you might just think “oh throw out the old hummus or yoghurt as we’ve got a new one now”. Also, the last few seeds or raisins in a bag, often people will think “oh there’s just a bit left I’ll throw it away” but they can always be saved and used in desserts, chucked in your porridge or for granola. Milk always gets thrown away and while of course hygiene and food safety is really important, I think use by labels can be a bit of a problem. I’d suggest going back to the old-school way of sniffing and seeing what’s obviously gone off and what hasn’t.

What do you think is an obstacle people face when trying to reduce food waste?

I think a lot of it is just down to mindset, and retraining yourself in regards to your attitude towards food. Once you start thinking about food in a way that doesn’t prioritise one part of the ingredient over the other, you can start really envisaging your meals around that whole ingredient, whatever it is. So for example a cauliflower – instead of thinking about the cauliflower florets as being the good bit and the leaves extra, maybe rethink it. The leaves are just as amazing as the florets, they’re beautiful roasted or stir-fried, you can treat them just like cabbage! That’s why I wrote my book ‘Eat Green: Delicious recipes for planet friendly eating’.

Truly, being more conscious of food waste is good for your pocket, good for the planet, and the feeling of when you haven’t wasted anything is so satisfying. If you flip that on its head, when it’s a rainy day, or it’s cold, you just don’t want to go to the shops, or it’s difficult for you to get to the shops, and you make something from what you’ve already got, it just feels good!

What are some of your favourite restaurants for their ethos and ethics?

I miss going out to eat but I’m also really happy that we can order from our local restaurants which may not have been fulfilling home deliveries pre-pandemic. TredwellsSiloCoombshead FarmRiverfordRiver CottageElliot’sPoco, Native…there are so many!

What are some of your favourite ingredients and why?

I love eggs for their versatility and the fact that you can eat them at any time of day, chickpeas because they’re great for bulking out dishes, and garlic, because nothing beats the smell of it frying! When it’s in season I love wild garlic too. I’ve got more of a savoury tooth than a sweet tooth but when it comes to sweets, it’s got to be really delicious or I’m not that enthused. I’m not a fan of making a ‘healthier’ version – I’d rather just have the best possible version of it and if not, then I’ll order it from someone who makes it really well and authentically.

You do a lot of charitable work, can you tell us about some initiatives that are close to your heart that you feel are doing inspiring work?

I’m involved with quite a few charities. One of them is The Felix Project which is run mainly on volunteers. They pick up food from about 500 food businesses, be they cafes, food brands, food warehouses or supermarkets and store distribute them across London to those in need. I’ve helped deliver food to community centres, kids clubs, homeless shelters and the like. I’ve also helped cook for them, so that we can show people what to do with the food or just spread a little bit of love and inspiration within the community.

What are some tips you can share with regards to being more sustainable when cooking at home?

Globally and on a community level, we should all care about food waste. There is a hunger crisis and food emergency even here in the UK and ⅓ of food gets wasted, whether that’s in transit, in the shops, or at home. Some of my tips to reduce waste at home are:

  • Be creative with reusing ingredients, like adding parmesan rind into a tomato sauce that you’re simmering for pasta or to a lovely noodle broth for that gorgeous, salty umami flavour.
  • If you do eat meat or fish, thinking about how you can add lentils or beans to the dish to make the fish/meat stretch further so that you can buy the best quality you can afford.
  • Keep a clear bowl or container next to you as you cook instead of running back and forth to the bin. When you’re finished cooking, look at it and be aware of how much you’ve discarded, then ask yourself if there’s anything in there that can actually be salvaged. It might be a broccoli stalk which you can add to a soup, or herb stalks that can be used for pesto.
  • Also look inside your bin on a weekly basis – you don’t have to get elbow-deep, but have a little rummage and see what foods you repeatedly throw away or don’t get through before having to chuck it away.
  • Get a compost bin ASAP if you don’t have one!
  • Use your fridge or freezer to store leftovers.
Who do you feel (other than yourself!) is driving change in the food industry?

People like Anna Jones, Tom Hunt (Poco) and Doug McMaster (Silo) are huge inspirations of mine. Also Max LaManna, a fantastic zero-waste chef and Gizzi Erskine too. There are also some great apps like Olio, which is a free app that lets you connect with your neighbourhood to share things. So if you’ve got anything from a bit of extra lasagna or potatoes, someone not too far away will gratefully receive it.

How would you describe your approach to food and cooking?

Feel-good food – it’s got to hit the spot. We’re all unique and need different things at different times, so it’s about really listening to your body and discovering whatever feels good for you – that to me, is the most important thing. I base how I eat on what’s local and in season or what comes in via my veggie box.

What can we expect from the recipes in your cookbooks Eat Happy and Eat Green?

I always come up with recipes based on the most common foods people throw away. So the 13 most common groups of foods are what I base my book Eat Green on. So things like salad bags or just salad heads, herbs, root vegetables like carrots, celeriac and potatoes. I always suggest people make freestyle fritters with things like that – just grate any veggies you’ve got, combine with flour (I love chickpea/gram flour which is great if you’re vegan because you can avoid an egg as it binds really well). And then I use herb stalks or herb stems to whizz up into a gorgeous Indian-style chutney with a bit of coconut milk, lime juice or apple cider vinegar. I really like doing things like that once a week. I make a fridge raid frittata once a week too, which is great if you eat egg.

What are some ways we can get more connected to the food we eat?

I think it’s about connecting with your food consciously by trying (it can be hard!) to have laptop-free lunches or sit at the table and take a bit more time to eat, and then a little bit of time to observe how different foods make you feel. Also to understand our digestion. I love that I’m seeing more doctors and nutritionists speaking about this and educating people through Instagram. I’ve grown up eating fermented and pickled foods, and  what’s great about things like kimchi and sauerkraut is that they can sit in your fridge for ages so there’s no chance of you wasting them.

What was the last meal you ate?

Oooh good question. I was really craving ramen, so I made a 20-minute winter veggie noodle broth. I find Japanese food is really multi textured and with many dishes, to do them authentically it takes a lot of time and care. So I was loosely inspired by a Japanese ramen to use up whatever I had in the fridge. I sliced up a bit of cauliflower and cavalo nero and fried some leek with ginger and garlic then added it all to a broth. Then I cooked some noodles and while it was all simmering I made a dressing out of miso, more ginger, a bit of apple cider vinegar and some sesame seeds which I drizzled over it at the end – it was delicious. I just wish I’d made an extra amount of the sauce because I want to have it on some roasted sweet potatoes tomorrow!


This Spiced Coconut Carrot Soup with Carrot Top Pesto is a great way to love your veggies and minimise food waste in your home. A comforting soup for all seasons, feel free to use whatever root veg you’ve got at home like sweet potatoes or squash. If you can’t get carrot tops then use whatever greens need some love instead, such as radish tops, or left over spinach/mixed leaves from salad bags that you don’t know what to do with.

For the soup:

1 onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
pinch of chilli flakes or 1/4 tsp chilli powder, to taste
1 tbsp ghee or coconut oil
8 medium carrots, about 800g
400ml full fat coconut milk
500ml veg stock / organic chicken broth
juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
sea salt and pepper

For the carrot top pesto:

handful carrot tops
handful fresh coriander, stems and leaves
8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime (the other half from above)
small handful pumpkin seeds/nuts, roughly chopped
sea salt & pepper


1.Fry onion in oil/ghee in a medium sized saucepan, stirring now and then for 10 minutes until softened. Use the time to prep everything else.

2. Add garlic and spices and let fry for another minute, stir halfway.

3. Add the chopped carrots along with the coconut milk and the liquid, stir then put the lid on and let simmer away for about 18-20 mins (until the carrots are tender then add a pinch of sea salt, pepper and lemon juice) and take off the heat.

4. Meanwhile, make the pesto by roughly blitzing or just chopping everything and mixing together in a bowl or jar, season to taste.

5. Blend the soup, seasoning to taste and adding a little more water if you’d like it a bit less thick then serve up with a good dollop of carrot top pesto.

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How sustainable is your tea?

Tea is the most commonly drunk beverage in the world, with an origin story dating back to 2737BC, when some Camellia leaves allegedly fell into a vat of boiling water. According to the FAO, approximately 5.1 million tonnes of tea are produced every year, with over 1.8 million of this being exported

Due to the growing conditions required by the plants used to make tea, the majority of the tea producing countries are located in the continent of Asia where China, India, Sri Lanka are the biggest producers. African tea growing countries are located mostly around the tropical regions with Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda being the major producers –most of our tea in the UK comes from East Africa.

As with the world of fast fashion, the locations of these producers leave them vulnerable to human rights abuses, and the sheer quantity of tea grown for consumption and exportation leaves a big question mark around the sustainability costs for our planet. 

So, with over 100 million cups of tea being consumed each day in the UK, what are the issues, and how can we ensure that our tea is as sustainable and ethical as possible?


Working conditions for tea pickers is often poor, with low wages, low income security and high levels of discrimination along ethnic and gender lines. Sometimes conditions are unsafe, both to work and live in – some pickers live on site – and unionisation is hard when there are so many workers are temporary/agency workers, who are unable to be represented. Because of this, it’s hard to work to improve conditions from the bottom up, but equally, with opaque and complex supply chains, improving things from the buyer’s end is hard too.  

Many tea-pickers are women, meaning their conditions are often in direct contradiction to some of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Goal 4 is quality education, 5 is gender equality and 10 reduced inequalities and discrimination. Research has found that there are high levels of illiteracy among female plantation workers, thanks in part to cultural negligence of girls’ education, early marriages and lack of infrastructure, and discrimination against female workers.  

Globally, the price of tea is being driven down, with the price of fresh tea leaves often below the cost of their production, leaving smallhold farmers struggling to raise wages and improve conditions. 90% of the tea traded in Europe and North America is bought by 7 companies: Tata, Unilever, Associated British Foods, Van Rees, James Finlay, Teekanne and Ostfriesische Tee Gesellschaft. Some of these companies, namely Tata, have been caught up in many unsavoury deals, such as arms deals, which makes their products, such as Tetley and Teapigs worth avoiding

Wages on many tea plantations is far below the locally agreed minimum, especially in India, where working conditions are a hangover from colonial rule. Wages are often provided ‘in kind’ in the form of housing, healthcare and food, although in reality often workers are forced to pay for these things too, despite the Plantations Labour Act of 1951. Because of this, the workers are trapped in a system whereby they cannot leave plantations as they would also lose their homes, and may be left owing money – this is essentially a form of bonded labour, or slavery.


The sustainability of tea is dependent on many factors, with packaging being the largest factor in the carbon emissions of tea, matched by the type of milk you use. In terms of energy use, however, the biggest emitter is simply boiling the kettle, with overfilling reducing the sustainability of your daily cup of tea considerably. However, the biodiversity implications of habitat conversion, degradation and pesticide use cannot be ignored either – as with many food items, the way tea is grown can vastly reduce local biodiversity.

In addition, while the teabags are generally considered compostable, the majority of those sold are only 70 to 80% biodegradable because they contain plastic used to seal them. This also contributes to the release of microplastics, which are promptly ingested along with the tea in levels significantly higher than previously recorded in foods, especially where high-content plastic teabags are used. According to one study, steeping a single plastic teabag at brewing temperature (95 °C) releases approximately 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into a single cup of the beverage.

While the health impacts of microplastics are not yet fully realised, what is certain is that plastic teabags are significantly more environmentally harmful than their paper counterparts, in part due to the use of non renewable resources in their production, and in part due to their inability to decompose, contributing to landfill and further releases of microplastics into local waterways, impacting ecosystems.


It shouldn’t be so hard to have a sustainable and ethically sourced cup of tea, but there are a few things you should look for and do when you shop and next make your tea.

  • Buy tea that is certified by Fairtrade. Although this does not guarantee better conditions for workers, there is the potential that paying a fair price for tea will trickle down to benefit workers. 
  • Look for organic tea. It does ensure no pesticides are used, which is beneficial for local wildlife.
  • Buy 100% biodegradable teabags or loose-leaf tea, and compost the remains, or dispose of it in your food-waste bin.
  • Don’t overfill your kettle – boiling too much water can double the carbon emissions of your cup of tea. Only boil the exact amount you need.
  • Look for companies that are transparent about their sourcing – do you know where the tea is from? 
  • Take a look at Ethical Consumer’s score table, listing major tea brands and rating them on their sustainability and ethical credentials.  Avoid teas towards the bottom of the list.

It’s not easy for us, as consumers, to know everything about the tea we drink, or in reality many of the things we consume day to day.

However, by engaging in learning more about who grows, process, packages and buys the produce we consume, we can start to demand more transparency from brands and better standards for everyone involved.

We did some digging and these are tea brands we like & trust: PukkaYogiArt of TeaKusmi! Enjoy a cup of tea and let us know which one you picked!

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Chef Luis Ronzón on food, waste & natural ingredients

I first met Luis Ronzón back in February 2018 when I visited Chablé Resort in Yucatan, Mexico. An internationally renowned chef who has worked at award-winning restaurants including Copenhagen’s Noma and Quintonil in Mexico City, his experience is vast and varied. With a passion for sustainability, his inventive dishes combine gastronomical innovation and traditional, local ingredients. My most vivid memories from the trip are courtesy of his remarkable culinary talents and I still remember the taste of my final plate of food at Chablé’s Ixi’im restaurant where he is Executive Chef; a cilantro sponge cake with charred pineapple and soursop sorbet which concluded an incredible trip with a tart yet sweet explosion of flavours.

Chablé Resort grows a lot of the food they serve on site through indigenous farming principles similar to biodynamic agriculture. Much of it is grown in Ka’anches, traditional Mayan raised structures used to grow produce, often in accordance with the cosmos, while keeping it away from the reach of animals. As Luis walked me through the farmland one morning, he explained how they harvest seasonal produce every day and pointed out his favourite ingredients – cilantro, for its adaptability to both sweet and savoury dishes and habanero chiles, for their sweet spiciness. We watched one of the farmers pluck a Yucca the size of a lightsaber from the earth, and I was told it would be the main ingredient for my lunch later that day. Signalling towards some lettuce which was growing beside sprigs of mint, he said that by conserving the soil organically and letting things grow naturally, nature often did the taste pairing for us. 

What I witnessed from experiencing Luis’s cooking was a beautifully instinctive and almost sanctimonious approach to handling produce and ingredients – respecting their connatural qualities, be it the flavour, texture or aroma – and preparing them in a way which enhanced but never detracted from what nature had provided. Below we discuss how a celebration of culture, respect for our planet, and innate passion for food collectively imbue his work as a chef. 

How did you become interested in food and a career as a chef? 

Well, being a chef is actually my second profession, my first was an accountant! My father is an accountant so I think he indirectly influenced me. I think my first hands-on introduction to cooking was because of my grandfather who used to be a baker. My first job was at a bakery when I was 12 years old as a baker’s assistant and I still remember learning to make the sugar crust that goes on ‘conchas’ (traditional Mexican sweet bread rolls). I used to love eating it!

How did working at Noma and Quintonil shape your views on food waste and being resourceful in the kitchen?

When I was at Noma, besides learning new cooking techniques, I learned a new way of understanding cooking. It changed my whole perception of what it was. I felt so grateful for being there, and it marked my life as a cook. So, once you understand the philosophy I think it is easier to do it at home, which is what I did, by taking it to my country and applying it to the ingredients I’d grown up with. I’ve continued to do this ever since and also while at Quintonil later on. We used to have a kitchen garden on the rooftop which improved the connection between our cooks and the produce. As we learnt to make our own compost and save the scraps from the kitchen, we soon realized that we, as cooks, had the power to close a cycle and be resourceful.

How would you describe your food philosophy?

I’d simply say it is organic. I’ve learnt to cook with what I have in my surroundings and get the best out of every ingredient, no matter if it is expensive or cheap. Every ingredient has organoleptic characteristics and that’s what we have to appreciate, as well as knowing when they can be improved by cooking. That;’s not always the case though. For example, to me, there is no better way to eat an avocado than just sliced! So, I try to cook or transform ingredients only when I think it’s needed.

What are some of your favourite local ingredients and why?

I love citrus fruits and here in Yucatán you can find them easily. There is a small town called Oxcutzcab, which in Mayan means ox = breadnut, cutz = turkey, cab = honey. That’s where almost all citrus fruits come from. You can find everything from orange, sour orange, lime, lima, china lima (a mix between orange and lime), tangerine, naranjitas de san josé, etc. I love the fresh squeezed juice citrus fruits provide and the aroma that’s in their skins. They are a very noble, fragrant, and versatile ingredient. You can use the juice, the flesh, the skin, etc, and you can use it either raw or cooked, sometimes preserved or fermented too.

What is one of your happiest food memories?

I think my birthdays were the happiest. My mom (RIP) was a great cook, and every year on my birthday she cooked Cochinita pibil for me. Each year we’d have a party and all of my friends loved coming because there was always Cochinita pibil. After she died, for some reason, I moved to Yucatán which is the land of Cochinita pibil, so I feel like she is always present!

 Can you share some of the resourceful ways you avoid food waste when cooking/creating recipes? 

First, it’s important to think of a smart menu that lets you use the most of each ingredient. So, maybe for one dish you only use a certain part of an ingredient but the scraps can be used for another dish (in the same or in a different restaurant). We do it a lot with citrus fruits – all squeezed citrus fruits for juice are saved. We’ll make the skins candied and incorporate them in desserts or into our sourdough bread which also has pecans in it. The pulp of the citrus fruits will get used as well, to make confitures.

Another example is that we save the pineapple scraps and skin to make a traditional fermented beverage called Tepache. We spice it with cinnamon, black spice and molasses and let it ferment for 3-4 days resulting in a very refreshing drink with a lot of probiotics. We use it for cocktails or cook it until it’s reduced to make a syrup that we serve on a steamed bun stuffed with pork belly – delicious! Corn is another ingredient which we use in varying ways. We save the husks to make ashes, ice creams, infusions, and more. By being creative and resourceful, we can get hundreds of recipes out of a single ingredient!

What are some traditional farming and cooking methods which you feel are important to celebrate and preserve? 

I think the pib technique is one of the most important cooking methods or techniques in the Yucatan. I love putting things inside that underground oven! The food at Chablé/Ixi’im definitely wouldn’t be the same without it. Its flavour is present in almost every dish, it’s an instantly recognisable smoked, herbal, soily flavour that you simply cannot create in a conventional oven.

The other main thing that makes food at Chablé so special is the ka’anche’s. These are an ancient Maya technique for growing vegetables and herbs and assure that no animals will eat your produce as they are elevated beds on stilts. The ka’anche’s provide us with almost all the herbs that we use at Chablé, assuring the freshness and therefore the flavour of our dishes. I realised that our freshly picked vegetables taste so different from those that we buy in the supermarket, it makes a huge difference!

Why is using indigenous produce important to you and what are some of the ways you do this at Chable?

The main idea is to promote the consumption of local ingredients. Sadly, even local people have been influenced by foreign ingredients, changing their local ingredients for imported ones. This results in local farmers stopping to grow their ingredients due to no one buying them. As you know, sustainability is more than just ‘grow your own vegetables’, it’s a very complex phenomenon. It may begin with local consumption and growing organic but it encompasses so much more; reducing gas emissions and ecological footprint, promoting the local economy, the wellbeing of local societies, ethical monetary benefits, reducing meat consumption or going vegetarian/vegan, and so on. Every one of these concepts is a huge topic in itself worth talking about, which makes sustainability so complex and interesting. For myself as a Chef, when I cook or look for suppliers, I think of all of the above and try to consider and incorporate the most factors as possible. After a while you start to realise that, that we as decision makers have the power to permeate a team, a clientele, a town (like the one I reside in – Chocholá), suppliers and maybe influence or inspire others beyond that too, because after all I was (and still am) influenced and inspired by many others. This is the most exciting thing to me.

What would you say is one of the biggest misconceptions around Mexican cuisine?

Well, besides so many people thinking that Mexican cuisine is only about tacos and chilies, (it is not!) I would say Mexican cuisine is actually a mix of many different cuisines. For example, food in the state of Oaxaca is very rich and even broader than the food of other countries – it is a whole cuisine in itself. Then, the food here in the Yucatan peninsula is so different from the Oaxacan as we use different cooking techniques, different ingredients and so on. The food in the north (Monterrey, for example) is totally different. Ensenada, in Baja California has the most amazing seafood, some of which is actually exported to japan, which indicates how high quality it is! The state of Michoacan is home to one of the richest and most ancient cuisines in Mexico and I think it is still very much undiscovered. So, as you can see, Mexico is a huge country and that is why we have so many different cuisines within the same territory. 

Another misconception that is common is that Mexican cuisine can’t be sophisticated or refined. People are amazed when we explain what we do here at Chable, particularly Ixi’im, what we cook and the ingredients we use across my restaurants, because they have never tried them in that way before, or didn’t even know a certain ingredient or part of a fruit/vegetable/flower was edible. But that’s another story, that we as cooks, are taking charge of…

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Meet chef Doug McMaster, creator of the world’s 1st zero-waste restaurant

Silo was first established back in 2011 in Australia when the artist Joost Bakker simply proposed to chef Doug McMaster, the notion of ‘not having a bin’. It was from this point on that Silo’s chef and owner built the business up from being the world’s first zero waste restaurant.

The sustainability association, Too Good To Waste, estimated that in London, a staggering 600,000 tonnes of food is wasted every year – and it’s chefs like Doug McMaster who are leading the industry in reducing this wastage. The Hackney-based restaurant works directly with farms to source their produce. They create their own flour mill, churn their own butter, make their own oat milk, roll their own oasts and support a nose to tail ideology when it comes to meat – which means that they’ll maximise the whole animal respectfully as to avoid waste.

Even the label’s furniture and fittings are considered. They choose up-cycled pieces and furniture crafted from materials that would otherwise have been wasted. Their plates are formed from plastic bags, tables from reconstituted food packaging, light shades are made from mycelium grown on used brewing grains and the crockery is formed from crushed wine bottles. All products are delivered to the restaurant in re-usable vessels and anything that isn’t consumed by our customers or the team is fed into their aerobic digester which can generate up to 60kg of compost in just 24 hours.

The Forward Lab had the pleasure of speaking with chef and founder of Silo, Doug McMaster, on everything from the industry to his plans for lockdown.

Hello Doug! Thanks for agreeing to meet with The Forward Lab.
To start, why don’t you tell us how would you best describe Silo to someone who’s never been before?

To describe that to someone that’s new to the conversation, I would say that firstly, we don’t have a bin. What that means as a culinary, is that…you’re forced to do a bunch of things, which conveniently forces you to cook food which is more natural. When food is natural, it’s healthier and I would argue, it’s more delicious.
Our food comes directly from the farm – it’s also loose with no packing and we insist that we don’t want it. It works because it’s direct – if it wasn’t it wouldn’t work. So the food comes in on the day it’s been picked and then it’s on the plate the same day or in 48 hours… It’s an organic food system.

What motivated you to create a zero waste restaurant in the first place? 

I was raised in a very small working class town in the North of England where there was no art to food. Food was just fuel. There was no point in my childhood where food was a precious thing. You bought sweets and that was a precious thing.
I certainly wasn’t a foodie – it certainly wasn’t till late when I was travelling the world and I met this artist in Australia and it was at a time where I was already a chef…

I was working in a kitchen in Sydney and he opened my eyes to the idea of zero waste restaurant. He was way ahead of his time – when I met him 9 years ago, in 2011, he was making a building out of waste material. He has been commissioned by the Sydney council for a food festival.
But it wasn’t necessarily zero waste food, it was just food. That’s when I came along. We had these profound conversations, in which he said to me, could you just not have a bin?

That’s when we created Silo as a pop-up concept. Later on he said to me, you take Silo, it’s your baby. Please go on and do us proud.

What are you most proud of when it comes to the development of Silo? Your most inventive ideas? Your favourite one?

So many. Too many to even think about let alone mention.

What we’ve basically created is a very different business – it’s like a restaurant, that is the same, but the whole back of house operation is radically different.

Any other restaurant operates very differently – the structure of staff for instance, we have to pay them way more, rather than paying more for ingredients and so it’s a different dynamic all together.
We have more staff because we have to churn all of our own butter and mill our own flour. If we need yoghurt, we make it from scratch.
But then what’s fascinating and this is some of the challenges we are faced with: first, how to make all of these things, and second – for instance, when you make butter from cream, what do you do with all the buttermilk?
There’s so much of it when you make cream.

And the biggest challenge is what to do with all of the bi-products that we make, and it’s just trying to find out what to do with a phenomenal amount of butter milk – and what to do with all the vegetable scraps? It’s just endless for us.

Have you adopted a sustainable lifestyle and have you applied consciousness to other parts of your life?

There was a little while when I thought I was doing as much as I can in my restaurant, so I didn’t want to apply it to the rest of my life.
There’s still a part of it that’s true – as there’s such massive sacrifice as I’m sure you know. Changing your behaviour is pretty taxing – you don’t get any benefits from doing it, there’s no incentives, no pat on the backs from the government, so I thought I’m doing enough.
It is different to adapt when you see the price point too. But when you know the damage and the slave labour that’s occurring to produce certain products you cannot go back.

We just opened the White Building Market, as our homewares store. A collaboration between Silo and Crate. It’s got all the Crate beers and Silo wines, the chopping boards, aprons, the knives made from waste and so on. We’re also selling cleaning products and soon to be, produce including our bread and butter.

What culinary trends would you like to see disappear in the future?

Popular ingredients being used extensively – things like lobster. Diversity in food is really important, to use all the parts of products but certain things become trendy and everyone wants it.
It then creates an unequal balance and nature won’t exactly give us what’s on trend. I’m very anti what’s-on-trend because there’s always an abundance of it.
It’s just that approach to opulence – let’s all use caviar and lobster – they’re all delicious but actually, let’s use those off-grid things, those ingredients that aren’t popular and let’s popularize them. I’d really like to see the ‘lesser ingredients’ a lot more on our plates.

What advice would you give to someone hoping to start their own restaurant with a zero waste focus? 

Often I want to say, it’s really hard. It’s hardcore to be completely zero waste, and that takes all kind of sacrifices so instead take an area like going plastic free because that’s just a remarkable step in the right direction. Or zero food waste and compost everything rather than going to landfill. Or use perishable ingredients that come from 60 miles around you.

You launched a zero waste cooking school yesterday! Congratulations!

It’s a lockdown baby. I was sitting twiddling my thumbs at the beginning of lockdown thinking, what next? I’ve got Silo and The White Building Market, but beyond that, are we just appealing to a selective few in East London? Which is a good thing of course, and the iteration that Silo creates to the restaurant industry is quite powerful, we really are influencing change.

I’m sure you remember, every chef was doing sour dough recipes at the start of lockdown, and I did as well!! Then I was like we can go a little deeper so I got really ambitious, and thought we could literally do cooking videos for everyone at home. But this took a lot of planning and research, and we created a whole new vision for the future with zero waste as the focus.

Our main channel is going to be Youtube which we will launch in the next couple of weeks. But our main audience is Instagram anyway so it’s creating a kind of excitement.

Check the Zero Waste Cooking School.

What do you imagine the culinary industry to look like in 20 years’ time? 

I’d like to see some type of certification – a body or organisation monitoring and promoting positively the activeness of zero waste and sustainability.
I’d like to be part of that or the person behind that but I’ve got a lot on my plate so we’ll see!!

What does 2021 look like for yourself and Silo? 

Silo is only in its second year. A big push will be put on the Zero Waste Cooking School, in terms of my personal drive and attention. I would also like to see the White Market go online so everyone can order all the goods to their home.

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Everything you need to know about natural wine

As far as gastronomy goes, certain subjects will always be contentious. Is foie gras immoral? Should you always order your steak rare? Does gluten intolerance really exist? These are all common topics which tend to spark debate around a dinner table, and while we may have to agree to disagree on some, a more recent subject which I’ve found myself conferring with friends is our mutual increased interest in natural wines.

Thus far, our conversations have included various inquiries such as: ‘Why is there a cloudy sediment at the bottom of my glass?’ ‘Does this smell funky to you?’ and ‘What is pet-nat anyway?’. These questions inspired me to do some research into the subject, which as it turns out, is rather…cloudy.

Unlike organic or biodynamic wines, the term ‘natural wine’ has no exact definition and there is no certifying body or hallmark to look out for on bottles. In fact, it’s more of a concept than a category with clear-cut characteristics. Really, it’s just a stripped-back form of wine making which takes the process right back to its most rudimentary and traditional roots. From vine to bottle, there’s as little intervention as possible. These types of wines are also often referred to as ‘low-intervention’, ‘raw’ or ‘naked’.

Natural wine tends to come from either organic or biodynamic grapes, meaning the vineyards are not sprayed with herbicides or fungicides which are used extensively in conventional agriculture. Biodynamic farming principles go a step further, deeply respecting the earth and holistic outlook on agriculture while taking into consideration many interdependent elements such as plants, animals, nearby soils, people and lunar cycles.

It’s safe to say that the process of natural wine making is environmentally-friendly in many ways. Even once the grapes have been harvested and transported to the cellars, this type of wine is produced with little to no additives. It is fermented naturally with native yeast that comes from the air instead of adding large quantities of sulfites (which some people believe is the main culprit of hangovers) and impurities are not filtered out after fermentation, leading to the cloudy sediment that can often be seen at the bottom of the bottle. There is minimal use of machinery too and overall, the labour intensive process results in small batch production.

The concept of natural wine is nothing new, nor is it a wellness fad; people have been fermenting grape juice without additives for thousands of years. However, in the modern world,  natural winemaking heralds from France (surprise, surprise) and in particular the Loire Valley, where many producers apply the principles of minimum-intervention throughout the vinification process. The unique bottlings are becoming increasingly popular across the globe, making their way onto bar menus and wine lists in even the most mainstream places. As more of us show greater interest in the provenance of our food and become increasingly aware of the ethical and environmental impact of what we consume, the demand for raw wine also continues to increase. The consumption of natural wines and any other natural ingredient or product for that matter, is linked to an affinity for healthy living, environmental consciousness, and the preservation of culture and tradition – which we can all agree are positive things which the planet needs more of.

The adjective most often used to describe natural wines is ‘funky’. A slight tartness in terms of flavour, with an unexpected effervescence that leaves a little tingle on your tongue as you sip it. In both taste and texture, natural wine is vibrant, aromatic and alive. If you’re into kombucha or water kefir, you’re likely to love the complexity and unpredictability of it. As for pet-nat, that’s just short for petillant naturel, which is a naturally sparkling wine that’s like a more rustic version of Champagne. As it’s unfiltered, pet-nat is cloudier than champagne, but the delicate fizz makes it a great choice for the approaching Christmas and New Years’ season.

See below for a handful of the best spots for sipping some natural wine in Paris and London.

Racines, Paris
Occupying an old printing factory, with a menu that celebrates good quality produce, slow cooking methods and of course, ‘vins vivants’.

Vantre, Paris
This wine-focused bistro from Marco Pelletier, former sommelier at Le Bristol, is a natural wine mecca with over 2,000 eclectic labels.

Naughty Piglets, London
An intimate bistro serving seasonal and simple ingredients with a fully organic wine list.

40 Maltby Street, London
The wine at 40 Maltby Street is produced by a handful of wine-makers who eschew the use of chemical fertilisers and can be enjoyed at home or by the glass or bottle at the bar.

Terroirs, London
Terroirs opened in 2018 and was one of London’s first natural wine bars. They have two outposts, East Dulwich and Charing Cross, and serve British/French cuisine alongside their vibrant wines.

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How to avoid food waste in your kitchen

Food waste is a very serious concern globally, with far reaching environment, economic and social effects. 

In the UK, WRAP estimated that around 22% of all food is wasted post-farm-gate. In 2019, this had a value of over £19 billion a year, associated with over 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. The majority (70%) of this is household waste, not hospitality and food service (12%) as often expected. Reducing this waste could save UK households around £700 a year, and provide those without access to regular meals an extra 10bn edible meals each year. To put global food waste into perspective, if it were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the US.

Thankfully, food waste in the UK has reduced since 2007, when large-scale interventions were put in place to raise awareness of food waste and reduce waste across supply chains and in households. Between 2007 and 2018, edible food waste in the UK fell by 21%, although globally the figure is still almost incomprehensibly high, at 1.3bn tonnes globally per year. This is a third of all food produced for human consumption, and enough to feed all the 815 million hungry people in the world four times over.

Every day in UK homes we throw away: 4.4m potatoes, 0.9m bananas, 1.2m tomatoes, 0.7m oranges, 20m slices of bread, 5.2m glasses of milk and 2.2m slices of ham. The majority of this is cause by over-purchasing and over filling plates, and storing items wrong. Despite the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables thrown away, access to these products is still an issue for many. According to charity Food Foundation, as of 2018, 3.7 million children in the UK alone were living in homes unable to afford to eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables each week.

It is important to remember that not everyone has access to the same privileges that could reduce household waste. While poverty leads to an increased need to save as much food as possible, many people living in deprivation may lack the time needed to manage and prepare meals effectively due to juggling multiple jobs and long working hours. Shopping may also be done in bulk, increasing the risk of food spoiling before it is eaten. This is something that’s key to remember when implementing strategies to reduce food waste at home.

However, there are many things we could all be doing to reduce the amount of our food that ends up in landfill. As the majority of food waste in the UK comes from households, it is up to all of us to reduce the amount we personally throw out. Below are some great tips to reduce the amount of waste you produce.

10 ways to help you reduce your food waste

    Plan your shopping to purchase only what is needed, and have regular clear-outs of your cupboards to have a better idea of what you already have. Challenge yourself to use up only what you already have in your cupboards and fridge every so often before buying new items.
    Ignore best-before and try to use before use-by, although many foods are ok after this point too, especially vegetables. Use common sense to avoid throwing out perfectly good foods, and only buy items you know you can use before their use-by date.
    Foods that are able to be frozen should be placed in the freezer before they go off so they can be consumed later on. 
    And experiment with dishes using what you need to use up. It can be fun thinking of new ways to use food! Prioritise using up leftovers over buying new food.
    (or try a ‘waste veg’ veg box, such as Oddbox) This reduces waste before the farm gate, which is a significant proportion of food that is wasted due to size and shape requirements. Some supermarkets provide wonky vegetables at a reduced price.
    (which are most often quite edible), e.g. carrot-top pesto, sauteed beetroot leaves, vegetable broth, roasted potato peels, broccoli stem stir fry, tomato carpaccio etc.
    Fresh herbs go off very quickly, but freezing them retains their flavour and allows you to use them over a longer period of time.
    Many like being refrigerated, while others prefer storing in dark places, and others on the countertop. Keep fruits separated – apples, bananas and pears give off ethylene gas, which ripen fruits around, causing them to go off quicker.
    While not every area provides composting bins, if you are able to do so this significantly reduces the amount of food making its way to landfill, and allows nutrients to be recycled back into the earth.
    Many people can be quite condescending about these options, but in reality frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables reduce waste as they last significantly longer than their fresh alternatives, and you only use the amount you need, when you need it. They also often have higher levels of nutrients, thanks to being frozen immediately after being picked, rather than travelling long distances while fresh.

There are a myriad of ways to use your food so that as little as possible gets wasted. Here in Europe most of us are incredibly lucky to have almost unlimited access to fruit and vegetables everyday, which unfortunately leads to a wasteful attitude, and the 30% food waste figure we see globally. However, much of this is avoidable which just a little rethinking of our shopping and cooking habits. See what you can do this week with your leftovers and ‘waste’ products – you’ll be surprised how far they go!