The UK now imports over 50% of the food that we eat, a proportion that has grown steadily over recent decades (in 1987, for example, it stood at 36%).
One hidden consequence of this growing reliance on other countries for our food is that as we import more and more food from abroad we simultaneously export more and more of the environmental impact of growing that food.
A recent study analysing the impact of the UK’s dependence on food from overseas shows that whilst just over 50% of our food comes from abroad, 70% of “cropland impacts” (for example soil erosion or nutrient depletion) and 64% of greenhouse gas emissions associated with our food production take place abroad.
Professor Tim Laing, President of Garden Organic has described this phenomenon as “soft imperialism”: outsourcing the environmental impacts of our food supply and allowing other, poorer countries to pollute on our behalf.
We have a moral and ethical responsibility to acknowledge and take responsibility for the damage our food consumption is creating in those other countries. But there is another, more fundamental challenge we must face: as a nation we need to work towards eating within our means in order to allow those poorer countries to produce food for their own populations.
On an individual level there are two steps we can take towards that end.
The first one is to eat local produce and to eat seasonally (for example, do we really need to eat sugar snap peas in January when to do so means importing them from impoverished Guatemala, where half the nation’s children under five are malnourished?)
Secondly, we need to eat less meat. Humans do not need to eat meat in order to survive, and in the 21st century the meat industry is not only a huge consumer of global resources it is also the single biggest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.
Under the terms of our arrangement, I select products from the Suma Wholefoods range which Suma provide free of charge. From these I create an original recipe which appears on the Suma website as well here, on the Circus Gardener’s Kitchen.
These amazingly light, crispy and utterly delicious kale and butter bean fritters are quick and easy to make. I have used a vegetarian (i.e. animal rennet free) Parmesan equivalent in this recipe, but there are also now some pretty good vegan “Parmesan” style cheeses available from health food stores for those who would prefer a vegan version.
kale and butter bean fritters
2 x 400 g cans organic butter beans, rinsed and drained
100 g kale, chopped and tough stems removed
40 g vegan or vegetarian Parmesan, finely grated
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
leaves from a sprig of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
½ tsp sea salt
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
50 g brown rice flour
1. Pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil into a frying pan and place over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the onion is soft and translucent. Reduce the heat and add the garlic and rosemary. Cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the chopped kale. Cook and stir for a further five minutes then remove from the heat and set to one side.
3. Put two thirds of the butter beans in a mixing bowl and mash them to break them up. Add the remaining butter beans, the Parmesan, salt and the kale mixture. Mix to combine.
4. Put the rice flour in a separate bowl. Divide the butter bean mixture into eight and shape into fritters. Place each fritter in turn in the rice flour and roll gently to coat with the flour. Dust off any excess.
5. Any fritters you don’t intend to use now can be frozen at this stage. For the rest, pour the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a clean frying pan and place over a medium heat. When the oil is hot carefully add the fritters and fry for 5 minutes on each side, or until golden and crispy. Serve hot, accompanied by a green salad.