Like it or not, each time we buy food we are, in effect, voting for the type of society we wish to live in. When we buy cheap, processed, subsidised food, or food grown using chemical interventions or exploited labour, we are implicitly sanctioning the processes by which that food ended up on our plate.
Cheaper, non-organic food costs less because governments hand out disproportionate subsidies to agribusinesses which rely upon unsustainable intensive farming methods. Those unfair subsidies help keep prices artificially low, and the price is further reduced by the fact that we taxpayers in effect provide a second subsidy to these agribusinesses by paying for the health and environmental consequences of their non-organic farming practices – water pollution, soil degradation and erosion, deforestation, antibiotic resistance, food contamination and the like.
None of these “hidden” public costs are a feature of organic farming, and the principal reason why organic food is generally more expensive than non-organic is because its price more closely reflects the true cost of producing food.
A survey carried out by the Soil Association in 2011 found that the price differential between organic and non organic foods was actually much smaller than most people believe. The survey found that some organic items such as olive oil, pasta and baking potatoes were the same price or less than non-organic, even without special offers, and that overall an average organic shopping basket was only 4.4% more expensive than a non-organic basket of equivalent products.
The designer Dame Vivienne Westwood was vilified in some sections of the British tabloid press a couple of months back when she was quoted as suggesting that people who say they cannot afford organic foods should “eat less and stop getting fat”.
I have no doubt her words were taken out of context in order to be portrayed as controversially as possible, but her basic point is right. After all, we are a nation where a quarter of the population is obese, and in most cases this as a direct consequence of unhealthy diet choices.
Buying wholesome organic food whilst simultaneously buying less food overall makes a great deal of sense. It is also a vote for a better, healthier, sustainable and less exploitative society.
Another organic seasonal delight – gooseberries – are now coming into their own on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden. Like many allotmenteers I grow my own but they are also now available at farm shops, farmer’s markets and (some) supermarkets. Classically paired with elderflower, they also work well with other flavourings, including thyme and, here, with mint.
This simple recipe produces a beautifully light, refreshing sorbet with a perfect balance of sweet and sharp flavours.
gooseberry and mint sorbet
400 g freshly gooseberries
10 g fresh mint leaves
150 ml organic maple syrup
1. Put the gooseberries, maple syrup and 250 ml water in a saucepan. Place over a medium heat and bring to a simmer. At this point, reduce the heat to its lowest setting and continue to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring to break down the gooseberries . Finally, add the mint leaves, stir again and remove from the heat. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
2. Pour the gooseberry and mint mixture into a fine sieve and strain into a large jug or bowl. Use a wooden spoon to push through as much liquid from the pulp as you can. Chill in the fridge for an hour.
3. Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and churn. Once it is starting to set, tip the sorbet into a freezer proof container. Cover the container with a lid and freeze for at least 4 hours. Remove the sorbet from the freezer and leave to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving. Serve with a sprig of fresh mint.