Eating for a happy planet in November

With COP26 gathering in Glasgow, we are reminded of our responsibility to live within the limits of our planet. How we eat is a key part of this. Quite often, because we have been brought up in the supermarket and fast-food outlet era of processed food packaged up in appealing branding, we see this as an unwelcome challenge, rather than the delicious and good value opportunity that it actually is.

31 OCT - 12 NOV 2021 GLASGOW

Start with this thought: our pre-agrarian predecessors (that means our ancestors of about 10,000 years ago) had far more varied diets than we have now, and actually worked far less hard than we do in order to secure the food. Some research suggests that hunter-gatherer man actually worked for less than 20 hours a week! The varied diets- with sometimes up to 200 different food types a week- would be incredibly useful to the trillions of different microbes in their guts.

A rule of thumb is to try to eat thirty different unprocessed foods each week. This sounds ridiculous, but isn’t. The average granola packet has about ten of them for a start, and a bag of mixed leaves can take you up to half the requirement. Add in other vegetables, fruit, nuts and occasional mushrooms, and you are there. More important, you have trodden lightly on the planet to achieve it.

Whether we are meat-eaters or not, the overwhelming evidence these days suggests that we should be eating rather less of it. How much less? Well, the sums have been done in many academic papers, and, as a rule of thumb, you could go for about half. It is not so important what you eat as to the manner in which it has been raised (‘it’s not the cow, it’s the how’), and the nearer your animal has been to a natural diet in outside conditions from somewhere in your own country, the more likely you will be to be doing the right thing.

Then, try to create a conveyor belt of fruit, vegetables and nuts to be the main driver of the variety in your diet. Contrary to what many people think, the UK growers can offer you most of this themselves: potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, chard, leeks, carrots, parsnips and beetroot for a kick off; delicious Bramley apples (for cooking) and Coxes (for eating), not to mention the sloes and mushrooms you can forage if you know what you are doing, and lucky enough to live near the countryside. Whatever you do, try to avoid food that has been in an aeroplane, which is mainly perishable fruit and seafood from outside Europe.

A failsafe recipe is simply to see what you have got in the vegetable cupboard, chop it up into half inch cubes (maybe three or four different types), and then season it with salt, pepper and something like cumin before tossing it in olive oil and then roasting it for half an hour or so. It is both easy and time efficient, not to mention delicious.

If you want some thing even more exciting, then try beetroot gratin dauphinoise, or roast curried cauliflower. The main thing to remember that, if you follow some simple rules, it is stunningly difficult to get it wrong.

Sometimes, things are much easier than the branded food advertisers let on.

So get cooking!