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The concept of eating less and better

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… 

LARD AND GHEE 

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. 

STOCKS AND BROTH 

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.’ 

ARTISAN GRAINS

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

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. 

HERITAGE PULSES 

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 sustainable 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.

Protein

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. 

Hydration/electrolytes

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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Wild food in fashion: Native restaurant at Browns

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 www.nativerestaurant.co.uk

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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.


Fairtrade

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.


Organic

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.