Last weekend, my mother produced a dinner including a side of boiled broccoli which was enveloped in a sickly yellow hue. Tinges of this shade on every floret, in an attempt to hide its age. This was not a rare event given that my mother is an avid kitchen gardener and advocate for seasonal eating. She often creates meals with an aim to use up everything that comes her way. So, over the years we have grown used to the occasional slug or another vegetable-eating bug in our food, as well as mould (only occasionally removed).
However, this time my brother pointed out that it simply didn’t taste very nice, leading to a lot being left in the bowl. Much to our surprise, the next day my mother presented us with her cleverly named ‘Win the War Vegetable Crumble’. She had adapted an Ottolenghi vegetable crumble recipe and used any vegetables left in the kitchen, hence the war reference, including the aforementioned offending broccoli. Despite our skepticism, before long we were spooning more and more onto our plates. It was quite simply delicious. Creamy, butter, crunchy top and packed with so much veg! At the sight of the empty dish, she was completely smug and rightly so. She had transformed that yellow broccoli and it was not only eaten but devoured and enjoyed.
The appearance of this broccoli last weekend came hand-in-hand with a programme on BBC 2 called ‘Horizon: Feast to Save the Planet’. The show emphasised the impact that our food choices have on our carbon footprint by scoring each of the five special dinner guests on the impact of every dish they choose. Aiming to encourage viewers to make an informed choice about what we eat, given that food accounts for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions.
This made me think about how important it is to make the most of our food in terms of using every part of the ingredient. We should consider where and when we are sourcing these ingredients, and their best-before dates, although I was raised on a ‘best before, better after’ attitude. According to WRAP, a charity that helps organisations achieve greater resource efficiency, in a January 2020 report the value of UK wasted food (excluding inedible parts such as bones and egg shells) is estimated at around £19 billion per year. Moreover, household food waste makes up 70% of the total UK food waste post-farmgate, meaning statistics that exclude food waste arising in primary production but includes all other sectors, from the manufacturing to retail and wholesale. I believe that there are two easy ways we can tackle this problem and reduce our wastage considerably.
The first of these is something very simple: meal-planning! I only started doing this when I got to university, with an interest in saving my pennies but I have become a dedicated practitioner. Not only did this save my limited student funds, but I noticed a serious reduction in food waste. Merely by being on top of what’s in your fridge and cupboards can make a huge difference.
The second is something I’d like to discuss a little more: seasonal eating. Several times across the BBC 2 Horizons show they referenced the change in certain ingredients’ carbon footprint as and when it’s in season. For example, asparagus is in season in the UK from the end of April to the end of June, giving us just over eight and a half weeks to utilise this tall and tasty green vegetable. However, in the show, the asparagus used for one of their starters was not in season in the UK and was flown 10,000 miles from Peru; asparagus is considered too perishable to be transported via sea. The programme explained that, therefore, the asparagus starter equated to 3.52kg of CO2, for that one dish! And so, in order to reduce our carbon footprint through our food choices, we should all make an effort to cook and eat locally sourced food when it’s in season. Due to globalisation, we are spoilt with choice when we visit our local supermarkets, with access to summer berries and courgettes in winter when their seasonal dates don’t come around until the summer months (3-4 months or so from July).
So, with seasonal eating in mind let’s talk about what’s in season at the moment. The wintry months of January and February in the UK provide the perfect time to explore new ways of cooking the delicious root vegetables that are in abundance. Swede gnocchi, turnip and beetroot dauphinoise, whole roasted celeriac, and parsnip fish cakes are a few of the things I’ve been trying in the kitchen recently and they have been warming me through these snowy days. Not to mention the Seville orange marmalade I’ve been making, as well as Seville orange and pistachio bread. Both divinely delicious and worth making before winter comes to an end.
The interesting and useful aspect to root vegetables are their ability to be harvested for several months of the year; celeriac, for example, is in season 8 months of the year! Likewise, parsnips are harvested from August – March; another root vegetable pining to be on our dinner plates for two-thirds of the year.
As we look towards fruit it gets even better. Bramley apples – which are the best for all things cooking – are in season all year round! This is great news for the pie and crumble lovers out there. On the other hand, strawberries are best from the end of May until early August, so we can look forward to these months knowing what’s to come. If we all ate more seasonally, we would appreciate the fruits and vegetables more during the months of the year they become locally available to us, lowering our carbon footprint in the process.
There are so many recipes available online, in magazines, cookbooks, blogs and Instagram accounts that make seasonal eating easy and accessible. Take a look at the BBC Good Food’s online seasonal calendar and the recipes they offer before you go food shopping next and plan in advance some delicious, sustainable and environmentally-friendly meals for yourself! Happy cooking!
Words by Betsy Bell
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