Although we humans probably like to think of ourselves as the single most successful organism on this planet, there is a strong argument that it is bacteria which should occupy that position.
Capable of evolving at extremely fast rates, bacteria are as a consequence supremely adaptable to any challenges their environment throws at them.
Over the relatively short human time span since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin eighty six years ago, bacteria have managed to mutate to become resistant to some of the commonly used antibiotics upon which we have since come to rely.
The UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently joined the rumbling clamour of concern about the growing ineffectiveness of antibiotics in combating infections, suggesting that the world could soon be “cast back into the dark ages of medicine”.
Although Mr Cameron then went on to focus his criticism on the drugs industry for failing to develop new classes of antibiotics, there is no doubt that we are facing a looming crisis, which is partly a simple fact of nature but also partly of our own neglectful making.
Many observers believe that the problem of antibiotic resistance has been accelerated by overzealous prescribing by doctors. This may be true, but a far more insidious problem exists within our own food chain.
For years, non-organic meat producers have regularly put antibiotics into their animal feed. This is partly as a precaution against infection (the very need for such precaution is often because the animals are kept in cramped and unhygienic conditions), but also because antibiotics cause animals to gain weight rapidly.
Take the poultry industry, for example, where it is not unknown for (non organic) farmers to inject incubating chicken eggs with antibiotics a few days prior to the chicks hatching. Once hatched, these miserable creatures will rapidly gain weight – up to 2 kg – on a diet of high protein feed mixed with antibiotics for the remainder of their short lives, which last an average of just 39 days.
This prevalence of antibiotic use in the meat industry has inevitably led to much greater contact between antibiotics and the bacteria that they are supposed to combat, encouraging more rapid bacterial mutation and ultimately resistance to the antibiotics contained in the animal’s feed and excreta.
So although Mr Cameron is right to highlight antimicrobial resistance as a growing threat to human health, the focus of his blame for this crisis is both misdirected and simplistic. Without a major change to the way we currently farm livestock and poultry, and to the way we value the provenance of the food we eat, this crisis will only become more acute.
On that happy note, let’s turn to the recipe.
There is not so much as a hint of an antibiotic or any other artificial extraneous ingredient in this joyous, organic, homegrown, vegan celebration of the vegetable, in all its forms.
You can vary the ingredients in this dish according to your personal taste and what you have available.
This would make a colourful and impressive starter for a dinner party, with the advantage of being very quick and easy to put together.
The important thing in plating up is to try to channel your inner artist, using colour, shape and pattern to show off the ingredients to their vibrant best.
carpaccio of summer vegetables
2 small organic chioggia (candystripe) beetroot
2 small courgettes
6 radishes, washed
1 fennel bulb
15 g broad beans (weight after podding)
handful fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
handful fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
60 m extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp French mustard
1 tbsp water
pinch sea salt
1. Make a dressing by whisking together the oil, lemon juice, sea salt and mustard. Set to one side.
2. Put a pan of water over a high heat. Once it has started to boil, add the broad beans. Cook the beans for one minute, then drain and rinse under cold water. Remove the skins.
3. Using a very sharp knife and with a steady hand or, preferably using a mandolin, slice each of the vegetables very thinly.
4. Carefully and imaginatively arrange the vegetables across the plate. When you are ready to serve, whisk the dressing again then drizzle a small amount over each plate before scattering with a little chopped mint and parsley.