Most informed scientific opinion now agrees that we are either heading for or already within the Sixth Age of Extinction.
For us humans, as well as many other species, this could well mean terminal decline unless we dramatically change the way we live by embracing a balanced, sustainable existence.
And of all the human activities that have brought us to the edge of this precipice, it is the way we grow, produce, distribute, package and discard the food we consume that has had the greatest influence. It is the single biggest contributory factor to climate change and global warming.
It follows that if we are to have any prospect of salvation we must change this fundamental aspect of our lives.
Agrichemicals – pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and artificial fertilizers – are killing our insect and wildlife populations and destroying our topsoil. Deforestation, often in the name of livestock farming, is causing soil erosion, habitat destruction and flooding on an unprecedented scale. And, for all the convenience it brings, our global food economy often means non-essential food products are transported ridiculous numbers of miles to reach our plates.
According to the United Nations, we have just 12 years left in which to limit climate change catastrophe.
In the absence of decisive governmental action, it is falls to us individually to make the changes needed if we are to have any hope of averting disaster for our species.
When it comes to the food we consume, that means following three abiding principles: buy organic, buy local and avoid waste.
To reinforce those principles, foods that contribute to global warming and climate change should be subject to a hefty tax levy, as should any activity which creates food waste. If this change was brought in, suddenly “cheap” food would no longer be “cheap”, being forced to reflect its true environmental cost. Shopping habits would be radically transformed and, consequentially, the way our food is produced, transported, valued and consumed would be forced to change. The powerful food producer and farming lobbies will no doubt rail against any legislation that places constraints upon their destructive activities, but radical change has to happen if we are to have any long-term future as a species.
There is no sign of any governments taking such a bold but necessary step. Perhaps they will, but perhaps again only when it is far too late. So, what happens next is really down to us, and the choices we each make about the food we consume.
On that bright and cheery note, let’s move on to the recipe, a hearty dish of vegan comfort food. All of the lovely vegetables in this dish are organic and all were grown within a four mile radius of my home.
You can mix and match the vegetable content depending on your preferences and on what organic, local produce is available.
vegan vegetable hotpot
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, sliced
2 carrots, chopped into roughly ½ cm cubes
1 medium swede (rutabaga), chopped into roughly ½ cm cubes
150 g chestnut mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
400 g can organic borlotti beans, rinsed and drained
40 g organic pearl barley
50 g peas
500 ml gluten-free vegetable stock
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp buckwheat flour
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
for the topping
450 g organic potatoes, scrubbed clean but not peeled
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
½ tsp sea salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4). For the topping, bring a large pan of water to the boil. Use a sharp knife, or even better a mandolin, to cut the potato into thin slices. carefully add these to the boiling water and bring back to the boil. Immediately strain through a colander and run under cold water. Drain and set to one side.
2. Pour two tablespoons of olive oil into a large pan or casserole dish. Place over a medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion, carrot, celery and swede and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook, stirring for another 2 minutes.
3. Next, add the buckwheat flour, thyme and bay leaves and stir to combine with the other ingredients. Cook for 2-3 minutes then add the stock, a little at a time. Stir thoroughly each time you add the stock until you have a rich, thick “gravy”. Once all the stock has been incorporated, stir in the peas, borlotti beans and the pearl barley. Cook for a further five minutes, then remove from the heat and transfer into an oven proof dish.
4. Add a layer of the potato slices, brush with a little of the olive oil. Scatter over a little of the sea salt and a few fresh thyme leaves. Repeat this process until all the potato slices have been used.
5. Cook the hotpot in the pre-heated oven for an hour or until the potatoes are crisp and golden.