• Business

    Acquiring A Taste For The Exotic

    There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world. Despite this great variety, our diets are dominated by a handful of staple crops.

    The most popular 20 species account for 90% of our total botanical energy. There are many lesser known exotic plants from all around the world which are both delicious and nutritious.

    Physalis berries

    Electing to eat the exotic not only satisfies gastronomic curiosity, it serves a higher ecological purpose. It is easier to protect edible plants that have a market value. Rare and exotic edible plants don’t immediately have a market value, it is up to us to create it to save them from extinction.

    There is limited opportunity to sell rare produce in wholesale markets, however, there is a valuable opportunity to sell it directly to consumers, fresh, preserved, fermented or dried.

    Pomegranate and chestnut

    Tesco sell approximately 180 different fruit, vegetable and nut products. It is possible for a forest farm to sustain a similar number of different plant species (some generating 3 or more different products) and many species of fungi. The reality of seasonality means only a fraction of products are available at any one time.

    The benefit of growing rare produce is that there are few rival suppliers, the key challenge is creating demand.

    A significant challenge in selling extraordinary produce is educating consumers as to why they should eat or at least try something new. Farmers’ markets, and the internet, provide an educational platform which is hugely valuable. Visibility is key to inspire future buyers of this extraordinary produce.

    Night market

    The choice to grow rare produce is not feasible for a commercial monoculture farmer; they cannot reasonably expect to sell tons of the unfamiliar.

    For all but the most experienced chefs, cooking with something for the first time can prove challenging, and may put them off the ingredient for life. Drawing upon similarities to conventional produce can make the unknown less daunting. Empowering consumers with knowledge of how to cook the produce they are buying is an important hurdle to overcome.

    Teapots
  • Mission

    Rage Against The Industrial Food Machine

    The industrial food chain takes food on a journey of several thousand miles, originating in gigantic monocultures, produce passes onto far-flung food processors and packing factories before ending up on your plate. It has become an unfortunate norm that food travels thousands of miles prior to consumption.

    Truly sustainable design requires understanding a product’s entire lifecycle. Sustainable food requires more than just responsible agricultural techniques – the entire length of the food chain needs to be considered.

    Container ship

    Relearning the seasons

    These modern supply chains have created a year round supply of most produce, something nature never intended. We have forgotten the bright colours of each season. We all once knew these by heart but for local food chains to succeed people must relearn what it means to eat according to the seasons. There is an informal alliance of small farmers and local chefs who are driving the re-education of consumers. Chefs have been instrumental in leading a movement to save local agriculture and share the pleasures of eating by the season. The best restaurants now showcase the superior qualities of fresh food grown with care and without chemicals.

    The multidisciplinary nature of the local food chain makes it a movement, not merely a market. The decision to buy from a local farmer rather than from Tesco is a civic act, a form of protest to opt out of the supermarket and globalised industrial agricultural system. Buying from local farmers is more than just a consumer choice, it is a political decision. Reversing the damage done to local economies and the land by the juggernaut of Big Food requires a revolt by local small producers and consumers against the global industrial machine. It is difficult to pass up the convenience of the supermarket, but every purchase we substitute to local producers is a step in the right direction.

    Hong Kong Night Market

    A global food rebellion

    The start of this rebellion is the growing demand for food from local producers, known and trusted by consumers. A global, totalitarian diet poses a threat to the distinctiveness of local cultures and identities. The survival of local landscapes and biodiversity was the reason a French anti-globalisation activist, and farmer, drove his tractor through the glass, not of a bank or an insurance company, but a McDonald’s.

    The most powerful protests against globalisation to date have centred around food. Protests against seed patents in India have brought 400,000 Indians into the street. The globalisation of food that treats it as a commodity has created a system dominated by the iron law of competitive advantage. If other countries can grow a product with cheaper land, labour or environmental laws, why grow it here? People crave the sense of security that comes from knowing: your community and country can feed itself.

    Protest

    David and Goliath

    Local agriculture preserves practical local knowledge, farmers bring a community, satisfaction. The promise of global capitalism, much like the promise of communism before, demands faith that the destruction of things now will help achieve a greater happiness and prosperity in the future. To a degree communism was founded on the issue of food. The Soviets sacrificed millions of small farms and farmers to the dream of a collectivised industrial agriculture. At the Soviet Union’s collapse more than half of the food consumed in the Soviet Union was being produced by small farmers and home gardeners operating without official sanction.

    Today’s centralised industrial food system hasn’t satisfied people’s consciousness, so they have sought out independent farmers markets. The problems with our food system, unlike the Soviet’s, is that it produces too much food at too great an environmental cost. Everyday we participate in this battle; we can reject the industrial machine’s offerings and choose local. This is not to say that local farmers cannot commit ecological malpractice, they can, but there is a level of transparency and accountability at the local level that cannot manifest at the industrial level.

    Buying and selling locally also tends producers toward polyculture, as they cannot sell vast volumes of the same crop, this helps to diversify landscapes away from destructive monocultures. Well designed polycultures maintain fertility and reduce disease prevalence, reducing demand for chemical pesticides.

    Produce market

    Find, prepare, preserve

    “Eat your view” is a concept of active conservation probably more effective and sustainable than writing cheques to environmental organisations. Participating in a local food economy requires considerably more effort than shopping at the supermarket – one will have to become reacquainted with seasonal cooking. The industrial food chain offers the convenience for busy people a way to delegate their cooking and food preservation to others. This food system has, over the past half-century, transformed not just our landscapes, but our diets. Our knowledge of how to navigate the seasons using local produce has been eroded. Finding, preparing and preserving food is one of the pleasures of life, the machine would rather we crave the Big Mac. A change of approach to focus on the survival of landscapes, species and traditional food connoisseurship is the most pleasurable thing we can do.

    Local ingredients