A recent study entitled “What are the barriers to eating healthily in the UK?”, led by the Social Market Foundation, concluded that 10.2 million people resident in the UK are living in what the report calls a “food desert”.
It defines a food desert as an area where residents have severely limited access to fresh fruit and vegetables, usually in the form of a local supermarket.
The findings of this study really need to be considered alongside those of a Cambridge University study published last year, which found that poorer people living furthest away from supermarkets were more likely to be obese than those who lived closer. I suspect that in some cases the void created by loss of access to fresh, affordable food is being filled by the cheap fast-food take away. This, in turn, will be fuelling health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Unsurprisingly, the Cambridge study concluded that improving access to affordable fresh food would help to cut the rocketing rates of obesity in the UK.
The findings of both reports accentuate a fundamental characteristic of the way most of us now live.
Our increasing separation from nature has led to our growing estrangement from the source of the food we eat. Locally grown fresh food was once at the very heart of life in our towns and villages. Nowadays, many of us care little about how our food is produced or where it comes from. For those that do care, sourcing local, fresh food can be a challenge, even if we do have access to a local supermarket.
There are some encouraging signs that supermarkets are beginning to respond to consumer pressure by supplying more locally grown fresh produce in their fruit and vegetable aisles, but there is still a very long way to go. The very reason this positive change has come about is through supermarket shoppers checking the labels of origin and purposefully choosing produce that has been grown locally.
We have more power than we might think, if only we wielded it more wisely and collectively. Supporting and encouraging local producers, preferably not via the supermarket, is the best way to restore good, local food to the heart of community life and to eradicate the scandal of food deserts.
Sweet potatoes traditionally came come from countries with warmer climates than ours, but there are several hardy varieties now grown the UK. I never used to be a big fan of this particular vegetable, finding its texture rather cloying.
But that was before I first used them to make oven fries. What a revelation, and such a simple and delicious way to enjoy this highly nutritious vegetable. Try these healthy, nutritious fries alongside my beetroot, chickpea and bean burgers.
sweet potato oven fries
1 kg organic sweet potatoes
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cornflour
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C (325°F, gas mark 3). Peel the sweet potatoes then cut them lengthways into chips. I prefer thin chips, but cut them to your preferred width. Place them in a baking tray and drizzle over the olive oil.
2. Mix together the cornflour, smoked paprika and dried oregano. Sprinkle over the potato chips in the baking tray and toss until all the potato chips are covered.
3. Place in the pre-heated oven and bake for 25 minutes, tossing the tray a couple of time to prevent sticking, or until the chips are golden and crispy. Serve hot.