So much of our food supply is controlled by huge agribusinesses and multinational corporations. As they have tightened their grip over the food industry, so they have become increasingly rich, influential and powerful. Their domination of the various processes that bring food to our plates means we have a food supply heavily reliant on monoculture (where vast areas of land are devoted to growing a single crop), supported by agrochemicals.
Over the last few decades this has led to a situation where, according to a new United Nations report, just nine crops form 66% of the world’s total output.
In the process of narrowing the range of crops we grow, we have lost many other beneficial plant species that could have provided us with food.
In a time of growing concern about climate change and global warming, it is madness that we continue to allow big business to effectively shrink the plant gene pool. Crop diversity is an essential component of food security. The less genetic variety there is, the more susceptible crops are to disease or the ravages of temperature rises and other weather fluctuations. The large-scale industrialised model of food production has caused this loss of plant diversity to be accompanied by other harmful activities – for example, excessive use of harmful pesticides, over-exploitation of water resources, soil erosion, deforestation and ecosystem degradation.
An ecosystem is a complex, ever-changing but harmonious balance of organisms and their physical environment. In that ecosystem each element has its own role to play, and we benefit from those roles not only through the production of food and water but also through the enrichment of our soil, the pollination of our plants and the purification of the air we breathe. Monoculture works against the harmony by taking on and destroying delicate ecosystems. This unbalanced model of producing our food has led to the food industry being responsible for 30% of all the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and half of that is created by the meat industry alone.
The powerful vested interests that exert such control over the route our food takes to reach our plates are much less concerned with the common good as they are about generating profit. Next to such powerful monoliths we seem powerless, but we do have a choice about how we live and how we eat. If, individually and collectively, we exercise that choice in a way that encourages sustainable practices, by buying less or no meat, by growing some of our own food organically, by buying food that is organic and produced locally, our actions will hit those corporate profits, and that is one thing that is guaranteed to help force change.
Rhubarb crumble and custard is a classic combination, so why not make it into an ice cream? And while we’re at it, why not make it a vegan ice cream?
Freezing the crumble before adding it to the ice cream mixture at the last minute helps ensure it doesn’t become soggy.
vegan rhubarb crumble and custard ice cream
200 g forced rhubarb stalks, cut into 2-3 cm chunks
125 ml maple syrup
for the crumble
60 g hazelnuts
60 g ground almonds
40 g maple syrup
25 g cold pressed organic coconut oil
for the custard
3 vanilla pods, split (or use 3-4 tsp organic vanilla essence)
2 x 400 ml cans full fat organic coconut milk
110 ml maple syrup
10 g cornflour
1. For the custard, pour one tablespoon of the coconut milk (shake the can before opening) into a small bowl. Add the cornflour and whisk together until smooth. Set to one side. Pour the rest of the coconut milk into a saucepan Add the maple syrup and place over a medium heat. Keep stirring the mixture. After 3 minutes, whisk in the cornflour mixture. Continue to stir for five more minutes or until the mixture has thickened noticeably, enough to coat the back of the spoon. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla. Set to one side to cool completely, then chill in the refrigerator.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C (325°F, gas mark 3). For the crumble, pulse the hazelnuts in a food processor until finely chopped. Melt the coconut oil in a saucepan over a low heat. Place the ground almond, maple syrup, and chopped hazelnuts in a bowl and pour in the melted coconut oil. Mix to combine. Spread this mixture evenly across a flat baking tray and place in the pre-heated oven for 1-15 minutes, until the crumble is an even golden brown colour. Check periodically whilst the crumble is the oven, gently turning the crumble each time to ensure it is evenly cooked. Remove from the oven and set to one side to cool completely. Once cool, place in a freezer-proof container and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
3. Put the rhubarb in a pan with 150 ml of maple syrup. Place over a gentle heat until it comes to the boil. Reduce the heat to its lowest setting and simmer gently for a further 3-4 minutes, until the rhubarb is tender but still holding its shape. remove from the heat and set to one side to cool and infuse. Once cool, carefully remove the rhubarb pieces and set to one side.
4. Pour the chilled custard mixture into an ice cream maker and churn until beginning to set. Add the frozen crumble and the reserved rhubarb pieces. As soon as they are evenly combined into the ice cream, tip the mixture into a freezer proof container. Cover the container with a lid and freeze for at least 4 hours. Remove the ice cream from the freezer and leave to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.