We want ugly veg!

Image credit: PropogandaTimes on CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image credit: PropogandaTimes on CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I just finished reading a report on the amount of food wasted globally from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. The report has been featured in the press because of the stomach-churning statement it makes- that up to 50% of the worlds food goes to waste!

In the third world and newly developing nations this is largely due to inefficient harvesting and transportation, in late-stage developing nations spoilage and poor infrastructure present problems (its well-known that India wastes up to 1/3rd of its food) and in developed post-industrial societies, where transport, storage and processing facilities are efficient, food is wasted through retail and consumer behaviour.

For some reason this type of food wastage is especially appalling, because it is not accidental wastage but behavioural, intentional waste. The report states…

“Major supermarkets, in meeting consumer expectations, will often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables at the farm because they do not meet exacting marketing standards for their physical characteristics, such as size and appearance. For example, up to 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is never harvested as a result of such practices. Globally, retailers generate 1.6 million tonnes of food waste annually in this way.”

Up to 30% of our veg gets chucked away because it’s ugly?! Not even ugly, but perhaps the wrong coloration, size or shape, or have blemishes, scratches or are in the wrong stage of ripening.

So who’s to blame here the UK supermarkets or us British consumers? Surely the supermarkets wouldn’t reject vegetables unless we wouldn’t buy the imperfections? If we have to pay 70p for a pepper, and one is half the size of the other than that lack of standardisation will leave the little pepper unsold and the supermarket out of pocket, the little pepper wasted anyway. But for items sold by weight this theory holds little traction and even in the pepper scenario if stocked correctly someone would pick that little fella up.

Previously the supermarkets could hide behind regulation; EU restrictions on appearance and varieties of fruit and veg were in place. But with the EU restrictions lifted in 2009, why haven’t we seen more wonky veg? I recently visited an Italian supermarket it was great to see the knobbly peppers and varying sizes and shapes of aubergines.

Also I just don’t believe as consumers we’d reject the ugos.

In 2012, after our crummy weather and terrible harvests, Sainsburys accepted some of the misfits.  Director of Sainsburys food Judith Batchelar even said that consumers were definitely Pro-ugo…

“This may mean a bit more mud on peas or strawberries that are a little smaller than usual, but our customers understand and love the idea.”

So why not all the time?

I think we’d actually enjoy a bit of variety as consumers, I’ve never known anyone to waste their time rifling through tomatoes for that perfect sphere of light red and last year we grew “Black Krims” (possibly the world’s ugliest tomatoes) on the plot.

“Black Krims” are heirloom tomatoes, originally from Crimea. They are a green/purple/brown colour and grow with a folded appearance, sometimes even engulfing their stalks, and have characteristic splits in them, yep, splits and scars on their skins.

Here is quite an attractive Black Krim courtesy of Marshall Astor on flickr….

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CCSharealike license

So, you get my drift, these tomatoes ain’t pretty, but they’re so sweet and tasty, we loved them and we’re growing them again this year.

I think consumers would buy ugos, like Krimmy above, and American supermarket ‘Wholefoods’ has embraced this philosophy, proudly displaying their bounties of heirloom tomatoes and even blogging about them, their scars and their imperfections.

So the next time you’re in the supermarket pick the most misshapen carrots you can find, maybe over time the straighties left in the pallets will force the supermarkets to stock more wonky ones, or just lament the wastage and celebrate your own ugly veg, like mine…

My yummy "ugly" veg :)

My yummy “ugly” veg 🙂

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Micro Salad!

It’s January, and it’s been ages since my last post. Last year’s harvest was pretty pitiful due to the bad weather in the UK, a couple of  kilos of tomatoes, a few onions, a sack of new potatoes or two and (admittedly) endless courgettes and marrows (courgettes are immortal…I swear).  Hence the lack of posts in 2012!

This year we’re going to put up our plastic greenhouse and try to grow a few plants which can cope with the weather, I wanted to get started nice and early, with some plants to grow indoors!

I was wondering what to do with a whole bunch of seeds left over from the last couple of years, some of which are, apparently, “out of date.” I didn’t want to risk them not germinating in a spot up the plot, and I’ve bought new varieties this year so I decided to plant a whole bunch in a seed tray as “micro salad.”

Micro salad is basically cress from seeds which are more expensive than mustard cress seeds- think celebrity cress.

Here’s some fancy food with a “micro herb salad” atop it

CC image by Michelle Muirhead (flickr.com)

CC image by Michelle Muirhead (flickr.com)

Micro salad can really be created from any plants which will have tasty young foliage.  But popular varieties, selected for their taste and colour are:

-Mizuna

– Radish

-Carrot

-Coriander

-Purple Basil

-Beetroot

-Chives

-Endive

-Chicory

-Land Cress

-Pea Shoots

-Kale

-Radicchio

-Red Mustard Frills

-Celery

Called micro greens in the US, this trend seems particularly popular in the states, with a number of shops selling portions of these posh cressies online, and some UK firms even following the trend, and seed companies cashing in on micro equipment and seed varieties.

So this seemed like a great way to use up my old seeds and get a teeny crop to add some class to my dinners in just days.

So I got two old vegetable containers (no drainage holes, easy peasy), filled them with seed compost and sprinkled the seeds on top (I used lemon basil, mooli radish, spinach, beetroot, carrot and onion seeds), covered with a little more soil and kept moist and just a few days later look what peeked out-

Amsterdam, wills wedding, xmas 143 Amsterdam, wills wedding, xmas 146 Amsterdam, wills wedding, xmas 148

The green shoots are spinach, the red beetroot, I actually took these pics a few days ago and I know have some cresses ready to cut- a great idea if you need a few sprinklings of greenery for your daily sarnie but hate watching bags of salad mould away in the fridge, or if you have a posh dinner party coming up in a few weeks.

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Totnes Food Market

I was lucky enough to grow up in beautiful Devon, amongst the rolling hills, Torbay palms and frequent rain showers. My family home is near to the fun and intriguing town of Totnes. A middle-class hippie paradise, Totnes combines traditional english countryside pursuits with an environmental eye, a fun open attitude, a savouring of times gone by and a good healthy dose of wheatgrass shots and ylang ylang. Last weekend my parents, my brother and I went to visit the monthly food market. My dad took his new (very swanky) camera to pap the occasion! Here are some of his excellent pictures from the day.

My favourite stall was the Dartmoor Chilli Farm stall. The guy who was running it was really nice and really passionate about his plants and ‘chilli’ culture, he told us all about the different varieties, strengths and tastes of the chillis and even showed us his Trinidad Scorpian plant (the hottest chilli in the world guys!) He and his wife live in Dartmoor and grow the chillis in an unheated polytunnel, what an admirable (and highly enviable) existence. I bought some of his smoky chipotle sauce- it is delicious!

Me and my brother Will checking out some chillis!

All sorts o’ sauce

Lots of chilli plants- from Bonsai to variegated to very very hot!

Here’s a video of some chilli fanatics reviewing Dartmoor CF’s hottest product…the DEVIL naga chocolate bar!!! Skip to 2.20 to see the Devil’s effects…

There were loads of irresistible cakes and pastries everywhere…

There was fresh Devon produce, greengrocery at it’s best…

Delicious westcountry cheeses!

Westcountry Herbs

There were lots of different types and regions of cuisine…

Thai food!

Spanish tortilla and salad

Paella

Salad from ‘Jason and the Gastronauts’

The Veggie Deli- more my style!

The Alcohol Free Zone has not dampened my mood!

Searching for Deli goodies

Mediterranean food and products

All in all a fab day out and well worth a visit if you’re in Devon on the third Sunday of the month- Thanks Dad for playing journalist!

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A tiny harvest

The pots outside our one bedroom flat (which is without garden 😦 ) are flourishing with potato, courgette and tomato plants today (the few that survived the awful beginning of the summer we’ve had that is).

Tomatoes,squash, courgettes and some scraggly peppers and dwarfed aubergines- using every square inch makes plants flourish!!!

Tomatoes (which need some shoots pulling out)

Maris P’s in a pot!

Also, our allotment, despite not being tended for about 4 weeks has produced some lovely courgettes to join the couple from our pots: F1 Tristan, Black Beauty, F1 One Ball and F1 8 Ball.

Our first harvest for the year is a small bundle of these lovely fruits!

8 ball courgette! YUM!

What a handful!

A tiny harvest

We celebrated our crop, and the lovely (short-lived) weather, with a barbeque (or two) at the allotment…pure bliss!

Chopping onions for the veggie burgers

Our homemade BBQ- a shopping basket, some bricks and coals- with halloumi kebabs and Quorn best of british sausages- nom nom

Quorn burgers, Quorn sausages, frying onion in tin foil, and halloumi and veg kebabs!

Marshmallow anyone?

Despite the poor weather these few barbeques and relaxed times have made me feel very summery indeed. To make everyone else feel a little more summery and satisfied in their agricultural endeavours in the city, you may enjoy this farm and town paper animation set to Vashti Bunyan’s Diamond Day- what could be more summery?

By the way, we used the tiny harvest to make up the layers in a delicious vegetable lasagna, where instead of a layer of bechemal sauce I make a creamy layer of courgettes cooked  in garlic, herbs and cream cheese to place in between layers of quorn mince, passata and basil.

Colourful courgettes

YUM! Part of the tiny harvest cooked

Creamy courgettes in lasagna!

Finished lasagna, topped with ricotta and spinach, then gran padano and breadcrumbs for a twist

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Anyone for Tagine?

Vegetable Tagine, lentil salad and bread at Bab Bou Jeloud, Fes

James and I just got back from Morocco where we were travelling for 2 weeks from Fes to Marrakesh (through Ifrane, Azrou, Midelt, Er-Rachidia, Erfoud, Merzouga, Todra Gorge and Essouira).  Before going I was a little worried we would have a hard time getting vegetarian food, or encounter the awkward scenario of trying to explain in a foreign language that vegetarian really does mean ‘no chicken’.

However this was simply not the case, it was actually really easy to be vegetarian in Morocco, even in fairly small towns. We had a few dishes that tasted like they were likely cooked in meat broth, which wasn’t a nice surprise, but it was always really easy to find a menu with at least a couple of veggie options on- including tagine, couscous, pasta and pizza.

I thought I’d detail some of the places we ate in the nature of food tourism or for anyone looking for places to go:

We recommend

Le Kasbah, Fes

This place was right by Bab Bou Jeloud and served up some really tasty salad, veggie tagine with lemon peel and olives and couscous for a reasonable price, the veggie tagine tasted pretty “savoury” so for purists, I’d stick with the couscous!

James+FOOD

Riad Laayoun, Fes

We stayed at Riad Laayoun and it was truly excellent, the accommodation was unique and the meal there was very good, if a little more pricey than the medina, the top ups of mint tea and cookies during our stay were really nice too.

Ksar Sania, Merzouga

There were some things that weren’t so good about staying at Ksar Sania, like the crabby colonial french owner, the overpricing and the constant subtle pressure to buy excursions or extras (go for camels, avoid all lifts or excursions elsewhere), but the food was very good indeed.

Berber Omelette, with tomatoes and peppers at Ksar Sania

Auberge Le-Festival, Todra Gorge

Excellent people, excellent food in an amazing setting, this place rescued our diminishing faith in morocco being a nice place- what more can I say? It was GORGEous (get it, ‘cos it’s in a blummin massive gorge).

A candlelight meal for two! Enjoying a salad washed in bottled water (phew!)

Vegetable Moussaka- Maroc style!

Earth Cafe, Marrakesh

We ate twice at this vegetarian and vegan restaurant hidden in the souk,  just away from the central square. The lentil burger (despite sounding dull) was actually the best dish of the 2 nights we ate there.

Spring rolls and Lentil Burger

Spinach and Goats cheese parcel and lentil burger

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Big Food at Work

Image Credit: Original image by Todd Hryckowian at flickr.com, with enhancements by Lizzy Parisotto, PLoS.

It’s rare that my interest in (/slight obsession with) food features in my workday- other than at lunchtime that is!

However,  PLoS Medicine (the medical journal I work for) has published a series on “Big Food” corporations- so my work and my interest in food industries have happily collided this week.

The PLoS Med series describes Big Food as “the multinational food and beverage industry with huge and concentrated market power” and explains why this market power needs to explored, especially “in the health arena” (as bloggers such as Yoni Freedhoff and Travis Saunders show).

Utilizing two well known guest editors, Marion Nestle (of Supersize Me, foodpolitics.com, and ‘What to Eat’) and David Stuckler (author of ‘Sick Societies’), the series jumps in with both feet in its first weeks presenting key articles from Stuckler, Nestle, Rajeev Patel and Lori Dorfman and is accompanied by an Editorial from the PLoS Medicine Editors, with Marion and David.

The series makes for excellent reading (whether or not you’re a clinician), one of the most powerful statements I’ve taken away is the straightforward introduction to Stuckler and Nestle’s piece “Big Food, Food Systems and Global Health” (text bolded by myself):

“let’s begin…with a blunt conclusion: Global food systems are not meeting the world’s dietary needs [1]. About one billion people are hungry, while two billion people are overweight [2]. India, for example, is experiencing rises in both: since 1995 an additional 65 million people are malnourished, and one in five adults is now overweight [3],[4]. This coexistence of food insecurity and obesity may seem like a paradox [5], but over- and undernutrition reflect two facets of malnutrition [6]. Underlying both is a common factor: food systems are not driven to deliver optimal human diets but to maximize profits. For people living in poverty, this means either exclusion from development (and consequent food insecurity) or eating low-cost, highly processed foods lacking in nutrition and rich in sugar, salt, and saturated fats (and consequent overweight and obesity).”

I’ll be reading the series with pleasure as it moves along- and the best thing is I can get away with reading it at work 😛

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Chargrilled peppers with cheese and coriander

This is a bit of a titchy post about my lunch, but this was so yummy I can’t not do a quick post about it.

So we had a pretty dull array of foods in for lunch a couple of weekends ago. Some hummus, bread a few sundried tomatoes in oil and some red peppers and a few grates of low fat cheese left.

I chargrilled up the red peppers in some olive oil on my chargrill pan, and whilst they were still hot added the cheese and some fresh coriander while they were in a bowl- the results made a lovely extravagant feeling lunch with little effort.

Smushed on top of some hummus-smeared bread this was really yummy. Please excuse the big bite in the photo- I couldn’t wait to sample before taking the picture!

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Sprouty ‘taters!

Arghh!

 

Look at these monsters I found at the back of the cupboard last weekend, and yes I did actually once intend to eat these potatoes at some points and yep, I did just totally forget about them-gross! My cupboard stock-rotation skills aren’t up to much it seems!  Here’s my foot (and pajama-ed leg (sorry about that)) in next to the sproutiest one for scale.

 

 

So I’ve never planted potatoes before so I looked on some forums online about this to see if these cupboard ‘head-starters’ were worth planting. The answer seemed to be ‘yes.’ I also found out that potatoes will pretty much grow out of any potato remnant with an eye on it, and people have even had successful potatoes grow out of peelings chucked in their compost patch.

 

Peel us and we will multiply!! Mwahaha!
(Image CCAL Dag Endresen)

 

It seems with these sprouties you can plant the potatoes with the sprouts lying down sideways or sticking up into the mound away from the potato, or you can knock the sprouts off if you’re worried they’re too big and will get damaged and they should grow again in the soil. If they poke out of the top they’ll soon green up. I went for lying down sideways as this seemed the most likely to be supported by the soil and not break. I put sprouties (with antlers intact) into pots about 1.5 feet deep x 1.5 feet wide. I laid 2 in each pot half filled with compost then added more compost to the top.

Here’s hoping they do OK. They’re growing in the same compost I had tomatoes in last year, and I’ve heard you shouldn’t of that but we didn’t have any blight last year so I’m risking it (MAVERICK!)

I’m so excited about my potatoes I had to listen to the potato song in anticipation-

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More seeds, potting on courgettes and three sisters

This week has been very busy- less on the allotment and more in and around the flat. 65 of the original 80 tomato plants have been potted on (about 10 left to go, 5 were too sickly or didn’t germinate 😦 );  the sweetcorn has germinated this week, along with an acorn squash seedling.

Tomato sprogs all potted on!

On Thursday I potted on the courgettes. They got moved from their sweet spot on the windowsill to the cold outdoors, and from lovely new shiny seed compost to last years compost and soil from the pots outside. I don’t know how happy they are about this…

.

Dude! Sweet!

'tell me about it! Windowsill life RULES'

wtf?! Since when did we live outside?!

She did this to us- I have a feeling that one day she'll eat our arms off too!

But they come in at night while we’re hardening them off until we know that the last frost has passed!

I'm so confused!

Today I also planted more seeds as one thing we’re in need of is more plants! We have a 15 pole allotment (that’s 370 sq metres!) and although 90% of it isn’t dug over, we have two big plots double dug and ready for filling. The problem is we have a potting shed but no greenhouse (we have a plastic one now to put up this year) we could have potted seedlings in the potting shed earlier but I was concerned about them getting too chilly earlier in the year. So instead we’ve filled as much of the living room with seedlings as we can but there’s still not enough. Next year we’ll start earlier and in the greenhouse!

The tomatoes are going to take up one bed in rows with whatever we can sow as groundcover (salad? spinach?) in between them, with peas at the back (if we can get a sunny weekend to do some sowing!)

The other bed we’re planning is a ‘three sisters’ bed. This consists of mounds or rows of corn,  beans and squash. The corn grows out the top of the mounds, it likes mounded soil for drainage and due to its root structure which lies close to the surface,  the squash (in our case courgettes, acorn squash and pumpkins) also likes mounded soil and grows around the bottom, shading out weeds and preventing water transpiration. Beans are planted at the bottom of the corn plants and grow up it for support- no need for canes! Also all three plants together provide a balanced diet. Let’s see how it goes, I may follow a guide like this one: http://www.reneesgarden.com/articles/3sisters.html

Three Sisters Planting

However, right now my sweetcorn seedlings and squash are really teeny!

Tiny wisps of grass, I mean, sweetcorn anyone?

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Growing in the urban environment- Self SuffiCITY!

Today I watched a really interesting video (it’s embedded at the bottom of this post) made by the Dervaes family who live on an urban homestead in California. I don’t  agree entirely with all of their views but find their story and lifestyle extremely inspiring.

Inspiring words

So the parts I’m not sure I totally agree with in the video are those about GM crops, I think maybe GM is handled differently in the UK than it is in the US where it seems to have made its way into food products and restaurants without any prior warning or openness about it or its processing that is totally wrong. We have laws stating that GM products must be made clear to the consumer so they can make the choice about what they want to purchase. Like with vegetarianism I believe if the global population doesn’t want GM foods and where GM foods lie is made known to them they won’t  buy them and then the markets will make the choice- a vote every time you buy and eat, that’s my attitude to meat too.

I do believe GM has the potential to have a good role on our planet, working with nature instead of against it for the benefit of mankind and our environment. Such as if drought resistant crops are developed that work effectively with nature then terrible events like the Horn of Africa mass starvation last year might not have occurred. Perhaps I need to find out more about GM and why it’s good or bad (please feel free to leave views here if you are more in the know than I) but I definitely don’t feel against it just because it’s ‘unnatural,’ many scientific endeavours which have brought wonderous discoveries to our world could be categorised as such- such as prostheses, robotics, medical tissues and now the wonders of grown meat which could potentially create a real impact on climate change and carbon-poor and environment leaching animal farming practices.

I think we just have to be given as much information as possible about our food, where it comes from, what’s in it and who created it. The best way to do that would be with an awesome set up like the Devraes, or like our own little plots, gardens and allotments.

The Dervaes are an inspiration. I live in Cambridge, in a one-bedroom flat, no garden, currently overrun with plants, and have an allotment plot about a miles’ cycle away so love learning more about optimising space. I would love to keep my own bees, chickens and goats and the Dervaes model of using every inch of space for water efficiency and soil quality is fantastic and looks extremely effective-  I’ve heard of this termed ‘forest gardening’ before. The idea of being self-sufficient by selling on produce to local establishments is an inspiring one, what a great idea!

Here’s  the video if you need some afternoon inspiration with a cup of tea before grabbing your trowels!

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