Two simple ways to eat food that tastes good AND saves the world
Inspired by the Goods Shed - a Canterbury farmer’s market, food hall and restaurant, writes Sally Gurteen
Supermarkets. Easy, quick, and full of almost anything you might desire at any given time. When your basket of food has the potential to have collectively travelled more than 100,000 miles though (1), what kind of taste does that leave in your mouth? Can convenience truly justify the cost of a carbon footprint on that scale?
Take the apple, for example. 76% of them are brought in from beyond the EU with an average air freight distance of over 10,000 miles - a staggering number, especially if you consider that 60% of British orchards have been destroyed in the last 30 years.
Or take the strawberry; even in the height of the British strawberry season, most of the strawberries on our shelves are from Spain, the majority of which (approx. 75%) are cultivated from the favoured ‘Elsanta’ variety, which is prioritised for its longer shelf life over its flavour, primed with pesticides and picked early before ripe so they can withstand travel.
Broccoli can lose up to 70% of its vitamin C and beta carotene in just six days (2), so when your fruit and veg is travelling from afar, doused in sanitising chemicals within plastic packaging, and often held in cold storage for months at a time, how much goodness is really left to enjoy?
These are only three criminal examples of many within our current food system (don’t even get me started on food waste and plastic) that not only compromise our planet and our people, but explicitly affect how you eat - stealing the joy of real flavour.
It’s not all that depressing though when you think that there are two effective solutions that you can take almost immediately without waiting around for anyone else to sort it out for you: shop locally and eat seasonally. Seriously, that’s it.
There are good reasons to shop locally - it encourages small producers; supports small retailers, and benefits the local economy. Pound for pound, local food outlets supports three times the number of jobs that supermarkets do (3). The network of links between people who buy, sell, produce and supply food form a 30 mile area and weave them together in a local food web. When we choose to eat local food, we support and strengthen that web. In the face of a potential compromise of our global food network (climate change, Brexit, you name it) these two solutions are ones that need to be adopted now to create a supply and demand that could withstand a wider collapse, if it’s not too late already, but better late than never.
While you may very well miss asparagus in the winter as much as I do, there is a pleasure to eating seasonally that truly celebrates the arrival, flavour and abundance of produce. What’s more is that it’s fresh, so it retains nutrients; it won’t have been heavily sprayed with chemicals and it has travelled perhaps 10 rather than 10,000 miles. It’s not only a question of checking your privilege but your desire to eat food that actually tastes good. And oh! the joy when those slender green spears finally arrive; when those bright, vibrant tomatoes beam up at you; or you sink your teeth into fresh, sweet cherry flesh - who can argue with that?
A note from the author and inspiration:
Basically my favourite place in Canterbury (possibly the South East, actually) The Goods Shed is a farmer’s market, food hall and restaurant in Canterbury, Kent, just next to Canterbury West train station. It’s been in operation ever since the disused Victorian railway building it is housed within was rescued and transformed over 18 years ago, founding with a very simple mission: to bring Kentish farmers and vendors together to celebrate, promote and sell local produce. I visit the Shed on a regular basis, having also worked in the restaurant and helping where I can to spread a message I very much echo.
Much of the information in this article is inspired by the spirit of the Shed - from a passionate founder, to the vendors and farmers you might come into daily contact with. The restaurant is the heart of it all: a place to really explore and delight in explicitly seasonal eating only (all ingredients sourced daily from the stalls) and to overlook the hustle and bustle of the market by day, or dine with each other by candlelight at night.
Miles and miles and miles, the Guardian 2003, Felicity Lawrence
Loss of nutrients in vegetables: Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2013
From field to fork: The value of England’s local food webs, CPRE, 2013