A quarter of the Earth’s living creatures live within the thin layer of topsoil that sits like a skin on the surface of our planet.
That topsoil also stores carbon – at least as much as the trees and other plants above ground – which is critical in tackling the climate emergency.
And, of course, we rely upon that fragile layer of topsoil to grow virtually all the food we eat.
In other words, topsoil is of fundamental importance to our very existence. But it is disappearing at an alarming rate.
Topsoil takes thousands of years to form, but in a few short decades we have managed to destroy vast swathes of it through our dependence on intensive agriculture.
Agrochemicals kill organisms that live in topsoil, leaving it prone to erosion. Practices like monoculture and tillage reduce soil fertility and weaken the topsoil’s delicate infrastructure. In 2014, the United nations predicted that unless these practices change we have just sixty years of topsoil left.
And the biggest part of the problem is the meat industry. Not only does it cause soil erosion through overgrazing, it is also responsible for much of the world’s rainforest destruction. The meat industry also happens to be the world’s single biggest contributor to global warming.
Over 80% of the world’s farmland is now used to graze cattle, but the meat produced represents just 18% of the total calories we consume. It is a shockingly inefficient, as well as a hugely destructive, way to feed ourselves.
Every time we purchase food products that have been produced via intensive agriculture we contribute to the problem. But collectively we have the power to encourage change. By cutting out, or cutting back on, meat purchases and buying organic whenever possible we will send a message to food producers that they cannot ignore. It will encourage practices which will protect our remaining topsoil and promote the long, slow process of regeneration.
With St Patrick’s Day almost upon us I thought I really ought to create a dish to celebrate my Irish roots.
Guinness is one of Ireland’s most iconic exports and, significantly, has been a vegan product since 2016. Here I’ve incorporated it, with dark chocolate and hazelnuts into a rich and indulgent ice cream.
chocolate, hazelnut and Guinness ice cream
150 ml Guinness or other vegan stout
60 g hazelnuts
60 g dairy free dark chocolate
400 ml can organic coconut milk
150 ml maple syrup
1. Preheat the oven to 140°C (275°F, gas mark 1). Spread the hazelnuts on a shallow oven tray and roast in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until the skins have darkened and the nuts are giving off a lovely aroma. Leave to cool for a few minutes then use a tea towel or some kitchen paper to rub off the skins.
2. Pour the coconut milk into a saucepan. Add the hazelnuts and place over a medium heat until the mixture begins to simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and set to one side for 30 minutes to cool and infuse. After 30 minutes, blend this mixture until smooth.
3. Return this blended hazelnut and coconut milk mixture to a clean pan and place over a low heat. Add the chocolate, broken into small pieces. Sir until the chocolate has melted completely. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.
4. Add the Guinness and the maple syrup to the chocolate and hazelnut mixture and stir to combine before pouring into an ice cream maker and churning. Once it has begun to set, tip the ice cream out 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 15-20 minutes before serving.