Our January Challenge
As small scale, regenerative farmers, it goes without saying that we are passionate about preserving and improving our natural environment and as a result, we wholeheartedly support the movement to reduce our national meat consumption to a more sustainable level. However, quite why one would choose January to stop eating meat, our most important source of iron and vitamin B12, when colds and illnesses are at their peak and most vegetables are out of season in the UK, in favour of a plant-based diet mostly imported from abroad, is mystifying. ‘Veganuary’ as a concept is as misconceived as its clunky name suggests.
In July, when fresh vegetables are bountiful, we would happily switch to a vegan diet, but very few of the bloggers we have seen are advocating a switch to turnips and potatoes. It is however a depressing symptom of our disconnection with food that this annual campaign, fuelled by celebrities with little knowledge of food systems, health or the countryside, continues to grow in popularity.
We are, however, not alone in questioning this and we are proud to support the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) with their timely Eat Balanced campaign. As well as providing information on the important health benefits of a balanced diet, which includes dairy products and red meat, they have shone a welcome spotlight on UK farming practices which are amongst the best in the world in terms of sustainability. The carbon footprint of milk produced in the UK is nearly a third lower than the global average, and beef and lamb is almost half the global average. That doesn’t mean that you can eat twice as much meat as your American friends, but it does mean that provenance matters enormously when it comes to assessing environmental impact.
With the recent announcement of a new nationwide lockdown in the UK, life is set to slow down again. Like before, we hope that this presents an opportunity to think about food. Cooking and eating well is after all one of the few pleasurable things that we are still allowed to enjoy. In the past year, more and more producers have created the opportunity to buy their produce direct from the source through e-commerce platforms. Some of our favourites include Pesky Fish for seafood straight from the boats, the Cornish Duck Company for incredible free-range ducks, Castello di Potentino for new season olive oil and delicious Tuscan wine and Flourish Produce for mixed, seasonal vegetable boxes. There is also likely to be a whole host of other options closer to you that are waiting to be discovered.
Our January challenge therefore is to understand as much as we can about what we eat. Try for the month, or even just one meal, to piece together the journey, the people and the production behind everything on your plate. If shopping in the supermarkets, read the packaging and ask questions about provenance and production but where possible, cut out the middlemen that blur transparency by buying direct from the source.
It is our belief that understanding what we eat will not just help us make more sustainable choices, but it will also help us to enjoy our food more. After all, a tomato imported in the depths of winter is a sad thing compared to one at the peak of its natural season and avocados flown in from Mexico come laced with their own form of social and environmental guilt.
By creating a positive relationship with food based on knowledge, transparent supply chains, seasonality and locality, we can make changes that are healthy, sustainable and, most importantly, far more likely to endure.