Green cuisine: why low carbon eating can help save the planet
12th March, 2012
Forget low carb; it’s all about low carbon this March. And with everyone from Sir Paul McCartney to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall getting stuck in for Climate Week, there’s no excuse not to try it
Today sees the launch of Climate Week, a programme of events and awards that champions practical action on climate change. This year, the organisers are encouraging the public to think about the carbon footprint not of their cars, but of their kitchens. Their challenge is simple: eat at least one low-carbon meal during Climate Week, and record it on the website.
Kevin Steele, founder of Climate Week, explains why. ‘What we eat is actually a very important part of the low-carbon agenda, and changing how people eat is an important part in bringing about a transition to a more sustainable society. And we also wanted to focus on something that people could easily identify with and take action, in the course of their everyday lives.’ Helene York, from sustainable food firm Bon Appetit, agrees. ‘Most people think about changing light bulbs or switching their cars when they want to help curb climate change. But growing, packaging, transporting, and disposing of food plays a huge role in our carbon footprint - our food system actually creates about one-third of the world’s total greenhouse gases.’
‘Modern industrial agriculture relies heavily on fossil fuels, from petroleum-derived fertilisers and pesticides to the vast amounts of fossil fuels burned in food transportation and processing,’ she continues. ‘Livestock alone is responsible for 18 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and certain agricultural methods such as tilling release nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.’ Wasted food also has a huge impact - British households throw away seven million tonnes of food every year.
Hence the Climate Week call to action: make a low-carbon meal. But, as Steele explains, we don’t have to become vegan in order to make a difference. ‘You can interpret low-carbon in three ways. First, you could make a meal out of leftovers, thereby helping to reduce waste. Second, you could make a meal using local and seasonal ingredients, which are on the whole a much more sustainable form of food. And third, you could make a meal using less meat and dairy than you’d normally use.’ To help encourage people to get involved, and to provide inspiration and ideas, Climate Week has recruited 20 celebrity chefs to the cause – each of whom has contributed their own low-carbon recipe. Prue Leith has dished up a fantastic ratatouille, Sir Paul McCartney recommends a moist Mediterranean salad, and Levi Roots has chipped in with a sweet potato and spinach soup.
Climate Week is also working closely with the restaurant industry to reduce waste and encourage sustainability. A core idea is to champion the much-maligned doggy bag, as Mark Lineham, managing director of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, explains. ‘The total amount of food wasted annually by restaurants is about 600,000 tonnes. Amazingly, that means that every time you visit a restaurant, about half a kilogram of food is thrown away. The beauty of the doggy boxes is that in the event that someone can’t finish what they’ve ordered, and it’s perfectly good food and they liked it, they can take it home and have it the next day.’
Time to get cooking, but, Steele adds, don’t forget to register your meal on the Climate Week website. ‘It helps to build a movement – if people see there are thousands of others doing it, it gives them a great sense of empowerment and togetherness, and this is actually something where millions of people doing small things can change the world.’
Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Baby Beet Tarte Tatin
‘The classic tarte tatin is made, of course, with apples,’ says Fearnley Whittingstall, ‘but the principle of caramelising some delicious, round, sweet things, topping them with puff pastry, then flipping it upside down, works equally well in this savoury interpretation. The shallot/spring onion vinaigrette finishes off the tarte a treat but, if you fancy ringing the changes, it’s also very good topped with crumbled feta and coarsely chopped parsley.’
250g rough puff pastry or all-butter puff (ready-made)
A knob of butter
One tablespoon rapeseed or olive oil
Two teaspoons cider vinegar
Two teaspoons soft brown sugar
About 300 to 400g baby beetroot, scrubbed and halved
Sea salt and black pepper
For the vinaigrette:
One or two shallots, or three or four spring onions, trimmed and very finely chopped
One teaspoon English mustard
One tablespoon cider vinegar
Four tablespoons rapeseed oil
A pinch of sugar
A handful of parsley leaves, finely chopped
• Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 5mm. Take an ovenproof frying pan (or a tarte tatin dish) roughly 20cm in diameter, place it upside down on the pastry and cut around it. Wrap the pastry disc and place it in the fridge.
• Melt the butter with the oil in the frying pan (or tatin dish). Add the cider vinegar, sugar and some salt and pepper, stir well, then add the beetroot and toss in the juices. You want the beetroot to fill the pan snugly, so add a few more if you need to. Cover the pan with foil, transfer to the oven and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, until the beetroot are tender.
• Take the pan from the oven and rearrange the beetroot halves neatly, placing them cut side up. Lay the pastry disc over the beetroot, patting it down and tucking in the edges down the side of the pan. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the pastry is fully puffed up and golden brown.
• Leave the tarte to cool in its dish for about 15 minutes, then turn it out by putting a plate over the top and inverting it. Pour any juices left in the pan back over the beetroot.
• Put the ingredients for the vinaigrette into a screw-topped jar, season well with salt and pepper and shake to combine. Trickle over the tarte tatin and serve.
For more on Climate Week, see www.climateweek.com
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