Sourcing Food

Towards a renewed respect for the beings who feed us, sustainable eating habits, and a less toxic diet. [under construction]

Principles

In an ideal world, the food we buy would tick all these boxes:

  • Respectfully grown or farmed (traditional farming, permaculture, agroforestry)
  • Organic (no pesticides, no GMOs)
  • Grown locally, no air miles and as little transport as possible
  • Packaging-free
  • Animal well-being prioritized if any are involved

But our system is less than ideal and very often there is just no perfect solution. An absurd example of this is that organic produce is mostly sold packaged in plastic while any that we find package-free is not organic. Sometimes we’re forced to choose between two evils, or give up an item altogether. We can only do what we can do, and not go neurotic over what we can do nothing about.

So what are the best places to source food?

Farmer’s markets

If you are within reach of a farmer’s market, this is the best place for produce and other farm products (though you still have to check that their products are organic as this is not necessarily the case). This is where you can get foodstuffs directly from the people who grew, raised or prepared it, without the various intermediates that come into play when you buy from a supermarket, without the excessive packaging, or preservatives required to extend their shelf life. It is also without air miles or even excessive road miles, since growers mostly sell or distribute locally, and this means less waste (so much produce gets spoiled in transport). Your money goes directly to the producers, who can then afford to keep high standards, shun pesticides, and treat the soil and their animals well because they’re not under pressure to increase production. The alternative to this —if farmers could no longer make a living, and all food production fell into the hands of corporations— is terrifying. You are also face to face with them and a dialogue is possible: you can ask about the products, and even make special requests (a friend asked a dairy farmer for milk in glass bottles, rather than plastic, and they were very accommodating). Relationships form, and so farmer’s markets also contribute to creating community, the importance of which cannot be overstated.

The Food Assembly

The Food Assembly started in France, and is now a movement across Europe, with more than 700 Assemblies in France (La Ruche Qui Dit Oui!), Belgium (Boeren & Buren), the United Kingdom, Spain (La Colmena Que Dice Sí), Germany, Denmark (Madsamling) and Italy (L’Alveare Chi Dice Si). It’s a kind of specialized farmer’s market, with all the advantages of the above, and two major differences: you order in advance (so there’s no waste at all as they know exactly what to bring), and the order is brought to your closest Assembly venue, usually on an evening after work hours (which can be more convenient than going to a farmer’s market on the weekend). As the order deadline is two days before collection, you can’t be spontaneous on the day, but this shopping method can be complemented by others.

It works in the following way: you sign up (for free) to your nearest Assembly. Every week when it opens for orders, you select what you want from the products on offer by your local producers (farmers, growers, small food businesses), with no obligation to buy, minimum order or delivery charge. On the designated evening you go and collect your order, which is an opportunity to meet hosts, producers and neighbours! Each Assembly is independent but part of the network. If there are none in your area, you can even start your own and become a host.

Organic Box delivery

A weekly box of organic vegetables and fruits, as well as other products, delivered to your door once a week. This is another fine way to connect farmers and their clientele, that reduces waste (harvest is to order), is local, organic, and empowers small producers. My reservation with it is that because things are delivered in a box, some require plastic packaging that could be easily avoided (though compostable “plastic” is gaining ground). Another is that it can be tempting for a supplier to expand their catalogue with imported products or others that blatantly contradict claims to environmentalism (I’m looking at you, Abel & Cole with your pre-squeezed lemon juice packaged in plastic) so a bit of study is necessary (also, not all food box delivery services are organic or indeed have ecological concerns.) Boxes are usually picked up for reuse week after week, and the weekly delivery (as opposed to delivery at will) limits transport emissions.

Organic box deliveries exist around the world, so it’s best to google “organic box delivery” for your area. Here are some I’m aware of around London, and recommendations further afield are welcome:


Recipes

Many food basics are simple to make at home (and indeed always used to be made at home), cutting out an entire process of production and packaging, not to mention the inevitable preservatives that wind up in all pre-made food. Try making the following at home rather than buying them in stores:

Bread

If making bread sounds daunting to you, you are no doubt thinking of those perfect baguettes or sourdoughs from the bakery. But there are many other varieties of bread that are seriously simple to make, and if you don’t have an artisan bakery at hand, homebaking can save you from relying on supermarket bread with its dubious origins and extra ingredients. Here are a few recipes:

Nut milks (and coconut milk)

Whatever your reasons for keeping away from dairy, nut milks are a common and diverse substitute. But they cannot be found package-free, and in addition tend to be produced by big brands engaged in mass-scale agriculture, so they are not Earth-friendly. Happily, they are the easiest thing to make at home from bulk-bought nuts – all you need is a blender. I make cashew milk for my morning tea regularly, in small quantities adapted to my personal consumption. Here is the recipe.

Pizza dough

Making a fresh thick crust dough takes no longer than defrosting a store-bought one, and a thin crust takes all of five minutes! Here are a few recipes:

[more in the works]


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