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The way we eat can impact on the environment, says CASA’s Maria Broadbent, who shows us how we can help to save our planet in the kitchen

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The world has spent decades ‘shrinking’, items from the opposite side of the planet on our supermarket shelves, ‘seasonal’ produce available 12 months a year and exotic ingredients allowing us to cook any cuisine – anytime. This, as a chef particularly, is a privilege and a delight. The cost to the planet though is becoming increasingly evident. There are several reasons we have reached this point and there are at least an equal number of measures we can implement to help rebalance our food supply chain and the toll it is taking on the environment.

It was impossible to turn on the TV or radio this week without hearing about climate change and/or destruction of nature to produce more food. I was fascinated by The Food Programme on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday (worth a listen again) discussing large scale meat farms in the USA and their demise. Chapter 11 in the States is basically bankruptcy, and a livestock farm now faces this as a result of poor animal welfare. The animals were kept in such appalling conditions that the Environmental Health Department deemed it was impossible the food could be fit for human consumption. Compare this abhorrent method of farming with the incredibly high standards found on farms such as Dingley Dell, here on the Suffolk coast. I am omnivorous, but I often have meat free days, vegetarian days and sometimes a vegan day. I firmly believe, as do many chefs, that where and how the ingredients are produced is as important as the preparing and cooking of the dish itself. If all of us chose to eat less meat and buy ethically farmed meat it would be better for the environment, the animals and us!

Cooking has become disconnected from the seasons and indeed the source. Children are unaware of how certain food stuffs end up on their plate. Nutrition and cooking have long since disappeared off most school curriculums. Without this education and knowledge making informed choices in the shops, markets and supermarkets is difficult. What can you do at home to help to reduce your impact on the environment? Needing a quick and affordable dinner for a hungry family can mean other considerations go out the window. Here are some pointers I hope you find helpful. Firstly, we can easily be led by what is being cooked on TV, what we fancy from our latest cookery book or what the kids are clamouring for.

Pork Meatballs with Apple Gravy & Mustard Mash (52468465)
Pork Meatballs with Apple Gravy & Mustard Mash (52468465)

The home kitchen plan

* Have a list of what is currently seasonal

* Know what you are going to cook – write a menu plan

* Make a note of the weights and quantities your recipe demands – do not over buy. Use shops like Clear to Sea in St John’s Street, Bury St Edmunds, where you can buy exact quantities dispensed into your own containers

* Use the market in town for exactly the number of carrots or potatoes you need

* Make sure recipes that have ‘half used’ ingredients are used up elsewhere

* Put food in the middle of the table to allow everyone, especially the kids to help themselves to as much or as little as they like

* Do not have junk food alternatives – no-one will allow themselves to starve!

* Involve the family in shopping, preparing and cooking (and even growing) the meal

* Regularly check fridge and cupboards for stuff nearing its end date

* Check supermarket reduced shelves and utilise these to your financial and creative benefit

* Don’t chuck leftovers in the bin – get creative, try simple soups, bubble and squeak, omelettes, rissoles, fish cakes etc

* Locally grown – can you buy county, regional, national or European before buying from the southern hemisphere

* Cook larger quantities at a time and freeze – this uses less fuel and can be reheated in a microwave. (This way you won’t need a takeaway on a Monday!)

* Look at unsustainable products in the ingredients, palm oil being a prime one. However, not all palm oil is bad and not all bad palm oil is listed as palm oil. . . so a bit of a minefield, but we need to try

* Tins of Italian tomatoes are cheaper, tastier and are less likely to be wasted than out of season tomatoes from Almeria in southern Spain where plastic from the farms regularly ends up in the Med

* Finally, I asked my other half, Andy, for his green tip and he suggested draught beer as kegs are recyclable!

How can we as a restaurant play our part?

With the current situation of supply chain issues, empty shelves in the supermarkets and all the challenges facing importers and hauliers it would be very easy to think it is difficult to create restaurant menus. However, just as Covid forced us to adapt and consequently grow, this has forced me to look at how we adapt our menu to flex to the current ‘opportunity’. To create the flexibility and to grow our offering, the menu is diversifying with dishes

from anywhere on the planet but still served with a Mediterranean style influence.

As regular readers will attest to, I have long advocated a green approach to food and food waste. As I mentioned last month we are looking closer to home for those further afield flavours – chorizo from Suffolk, chickpeas from Norfolk, vermouth for Negronis from Scotland and gins from all over East Anglia. I have also sourced the most amazing handmade tortelloni from London.

I continue to look to create internationally-inspired dishes from local and seasonal ingredients. This also builds in a flexibility to respond to temporary shortages of specific ingredients. My chefs also continue to dispatch any ingredients we can’t incorporate into any dishes round the corner to the stillgoodfood.org shop on Elsey's Yard to be donated or sold. Anyone can donate here – so if you don’t fancy a slightly wrinkly carrot then someone shopping here will.

All of these measures reduce our impact on the environment, yet we continue to seek further measures we can take. We currently don’t recycle compostable waste as we can’t have a brown bin for kitchen waste. I cannot understand the difference between a whole onion (garden waste) and onion peelings (kitchen waste). Is this blanket rule applied because the council do not trust us to put cooked food (non-compostable) into it? We do split all our other recycling though and this has seriously reduced the volume of landfill we create. Even a simple thing like relocating a bin behind the bar made all the difference to how much plastic we recycled. Similar changes at home can help too.

I personally believe supermarkets should do so much more to facilitate recycling. The amount of unnecessary plastic and cardboard they churn out far outweighs any recycling bin capacity on their sites. According to an article in Country Living magazine, it is legal to leave your excessive packaging at the checkout and ask the supermarket to recycle it. They may direct you to their onsite recycling facilities – which is a step in the right direction.

Friends of the Earth waste campaigner Julian Kirby says: “Leaving packaging at the checkout is one of the clearest ways of letting supermarkets know their customers want change.”

This applies, I feel, particularly to the unnecessary plastic around the misshapen veg as it completely undermines the wonky veg’s environmental credentials!

Innovation in food production

There are many initiatives globally for making food from previously waste products. A Danish company, en.agrainproducts.com, is making flour and biscuits from the hops left from beer and whisky making. For every 100 litres of beer a brewery produces 20kg of masks (we are not talking PPE but the mixture of water and grain that is a by-product of beer production). Every year, breweries around the globe dispose of in excess of 40 million tons of masks. In Denmark, some masks are used for animal feed, elsewhere it may be used for bio gas, however the vast majority of it is simply discarded as waste. It is estimated that if this huge amount of wasted resource were to be turned into food for human consumption – we could globally cover eight per cent of the food deficit the world will be facing in eight years’ time.

Other businesses are using gleaned produce to make snacks and nibbles. It is important that these products are tasty as well as sustainable and many were very impressive.

There are so many ways to make small changes that together add up to make a difference. Anyone remember the phrase ‘Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’? Well, we currently face the green version of this theory.

Consumerism has had a rocky ride in the past 18 months and I imagine there is a great deal of temptation to shop for Christmas this year. I would just say that even recyclable items that are single use have a negative impact as they need energy to make, transport and indeed to recycle. I am most definitely a fan of Christmas and not the Grinch – but for the third year running we will not be using crackers. My presents will be wrapped in brown paper and string and all gifts will be useful! What are your plans and ideas? Are you making anything ready for Christmas – if so please share your thoughts with me on business@casabse.co.uk for me to include in next month’s article.




For the meatballs

1kg Dingley Dell pork sausage meat (or other locally reared sausage meat)

12 leaves fresh sage (out of someone’s garden hopefully or buy a plant and plant out!)

1 Cooking apple (side of the road/market – check not imported!)

2 Free range eggs (many places sell them at the side of the road plus local butchers usually have them too)

2 slices of any old bread – turned into breadcrumbs

1 locally grown onion

Salt and pepper to taste

For the gravy

200ml Maynard’s Bramley and Cox apple juice

Cheat’s ingredient – Bisto chicken gravy granules

2 bay leaves

1 onion

For the mashed potato

1kg main crop potatoes from local a producer

2 tablespoons of Suffolk Stoke’s cider and horseradish mustard

2 tablespoons Suffolk Marybelle Crème Fraiche

Salt & pepper to taste

Method for meatballs

Peel and finely chop the apple and onions, chop the sage.

Beat the eggs and combine all ingredients together until thoroughly.

Make a little patty and fry in a pan to check seasoning – if all good then start rolling!

Get a bowl of cold water to refresh your hands – this will help it to stop sticking.

Roll the balls and set into a baking tray – cook in the oven for around 15 minutes.

For the gravy

Add the bay leaves and the onion (peeled and cut in half) to the apple juice with the same quantity of water.

Bring to a simmer for 10 minutes and then add enough gravy granules to suit your personal preference.

For the mashed potato

Peel, cut into even sized pieces and cook the potatoes.

Put into a pan of salted water – bring to the boil. (put a lid on the pan as this uses less fuel)

Simmer until a knife goes easily into the centre of the largest potato/piece.

Drain thoroughly and put into a microwave proof bowl – this way you can heat up if needed.

Use a potato masher to mash and then a wooden spoon to mix in the mustard and crème fraiche.

Season to taste.

To serve

Add the meatballs and any released cooking juices to the gravy and bring to a simmer.

Check potatoes are hot and ready to serve.

Seasonal vegetables that would go well with this could include:

Broccoli – October to April is prime time for broccoli

Cauliflowers – the start of winter season cauliflowers arrived in September and remain in season throughout winter

Leeks – the first of these wonderful winter veg are coming into season

Parsnips, potatoes, swede and carrots. . . the classic British root veg are now all in season!

Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds

Call 01284 701313

See casabse.co.uk