Today marks Earth Overshoot Day, the day in the calendar when humankind has already used up the equivalent of a year’s worth of natural resources. It marks our continuing failure to adapt towards a more sustainable pattern of existence.
When Overshoot Day was first calculated, back in the mid 1980s, it fell on 19 December. Although in recent years the rate of acceleration has decreased (last year Overshoot Day fell on August 13th, the previous year August 19th), we are still depleting resources faster than they can be replaced.
Loss of arable land, deforestation, fossil fuel depletion, overfishing and in particular global warming are continuing to widen the gap between what we consume and what is ecologically available.
If we wait until we get a government with the vision and courage to make the necessary changes to the way we interact with our planet we will be waiting for a long time.
Instead of waiting for someone else to grasp the nettle, each of us can make relatively modest changes now to our consumption habits, which cumulatively can make a difference.
Here, for example, are just three suggestions on the food front:
1. If you are meat eater, have one, or preferably more, meat free days each week. The meat industry is by far the biggest single contributor to global warming, outweighing all forms of transport put together;
2. Buy organic whenever possible. Organic food has been grown in a sustainable way, and actually helps combat global warming as organic soils trap higher amounts of carbon (in the form of organic matter), reducing the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere;
3. When you buy your food, check where it has come from and always aim to buy seasonal, locally produced food, which is fresher and has had fewer miles to travel to reach your basket. We import some foodstuffs because we cannot grow them here: others we import simply because we are in the lazy habit of eating certain foods all year round, without regard to the season. If you aren’t used to looking at the label of origin on your food you will be surprised when you start to do so. Do you really need to purchase asparagus in the middle of August when it has been grown 6,500 miles away in Peru at huge environmental cost? What about green beans from Kenya in February? Mangetout from Zimbabwe in November? There is, of course, an ethical as well as an environmental consideration to factor in here: we currently source much of our imported food from poor countries that already struggle to feed themselves.
Our blindly unsustainable way of living has already propelled us beyond the time when change is simply an option. Sooner rather than later change will be forced upon us as it becomes increasingly impossible to ignore the cold, hard, bankrupt reality that lies behind the facade of present day “prosperity”.
And if we do wait until that change is forced upon us out of sheer necessity then we can be assured of one thing: we will not be remembered with fondness by the generations to come, who – because not enough of us cared enough to make the right changes at the right time – will have been left to clear up the mess we left behind.
On that characteristically joyful and upbeat note, let’s move on to the recipe.
At once refreshing and exhilarating, this salad has a simple cucumber and shallot base, which is given an exotic zing by the wonderfully spicy dressing.
Both vegan and gluten free (and low in calories), this salad can be paired with cold noodles to make a more substantial meal or it can be served as a side dish with south east Asian dishes, for example with my Thai-style sweet corn fritters.
Thai-style cucumber salad
2 shallots, very thinly sliced
1 tbsp peanuts, dry fried in a pan then finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh Thai basil leaves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
for the dressing
2 lemongrass stalks, tough outer leaves removed and ends trimmed
4 kaffir lime leaves (use zest of a lime if unavailable)
2 cloves garlic
1 green chilli, seeds in, roughly chopped (deseed for a milder dressing)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp groundnut oil
3 tbsp mirin rice vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
1. Chop the lemongrass stalks roughly. Place them in a blender with the lime leaves, garlic, green chilli, soy sauce, sesame oil, groundnut oil, mirin and maple syrup. Process until you have a smooth paste.
2. If you have a spiraliser, use it to cut the cucumbers into long noodle shapes. Otherwise, use a sharp knife to cut the cucumbers lengthways in long strips about a third of a centimetre wide. Spread the sliced or spiralised cucumber across a few sheets of kitchen roll to asborb excess water.
3. Place the cucumber and finely sliced shallots in a bowl. Add the chopped basil and mint and two tablespoons of the dressing (any left over dressing will keep in the fridge for several days). Finally, scatter over the chopped peanuts and serve.