When was the last time you thought about where your food comes from? The dried fruit and nut granola you ate for breakfast, the chicken sandwich that you had for lunch, or even the BBQ’d lamb with baby tomato, spring onion and feta cheese pasta salad at the BBQ you’re going to this weekend. I don’t just mean the supermarket, or local farmers market. I'm talking about where the actual ingredients that go to make your food came from.
These days we've become so used to having anything we want when we want it. A Thai curry one night, Spaghetti Bolognaise the next. It's become hard to imagine a world without the things we love to eat being available whenever we want them.
So in May I set myself another food-based challenge, one that was going to be far harder than Vegetarian April. I would try to eat food only grown or reared in Britain; nothing imported. If I couldn’t be certain where it came from, I’d try to avoid it if possible.
“That's easy” I hear you say. “There's plenty of British-grown food”, and you’d be right. Around 80% of our meat and dairy comes from the UK*, and with summer having kicked in, there is more seasonal veg including peppers, cucumber, tomatoes, mushrooms, lettuce, strawberries, apples, and pears to name a few. But I still had to root about (no pun intended) to find the British variants of these, as well as paying that little bit extra. Many veg items on the shelves are imported from Spain, Italy, Holland, or far-flung places like Thailand, Brazil, and South Africa.
When it comes to many cupboard staples or processed food such as bread or pasta it becomes much harder to tell. Canned tomatoes and olive oil from Italy, salt from China or the US, Pepper and many other spices from Morocco, India, Indonesia or Malaysia. The wheat used in many products often comes from the EU, the sugar in our jams is unlikely to British and you can forget about any chocolate or pre-made sweet treats!
So how did I fare?
Weekdays was relatively straightforward once I got myself into a routine of knowing what I could eat. I’d make my own bread using British flour, sugar, butter and salt (the yeast was questionable). I could then have toast for breakfast with English honey, or a ham, cheese and salad sandwich for lunch. My dinner would generally consist of potato with an array of meat and other veg. I ate very few snacks other than apples or pears, which can only be a good thing.
The weekends was when it got difficult. I cycled to Paris one weekend, so that was a write off (though I did make my own British flapjacks for the journey using Scottish oats, English honey, and butter). I went home another weekend only to find my parents telling me this was a silly idea and that I shouldn’t play by my own rules at the weekend, so they didn’t go out of their way to help. It was a similar situation if I went to a friend’s house for dinner – I couldn’t exactly say, “Sorry, but I’ve become a fussy eater" – a ‘Britarian’ if you like though my colleagues preferred to refer to it as the UKIP diet.
The purpose of the exercise was to really get me thinking about where my food came from, not to actually achieve the challenge. I’d spend longer in a supermarket studying packets, hopping on websites to find out as much detail about my food’s origin as possible and that's continued into June. I lost weight having cut out a lot of the unnecessary rubbish that is poured into our quick and easy solutions. It got other people thinking too. Everyone I spoke to about my challenge started to question where their food came from. They became more conscious about the food miles that had been clocked up so they could eat whatever they wanted. It inspired some to give something up – refined sugar for example, or at the very least buy more locally.
So, next time you’re in the supermarket, why don’t you take up the British only challenge?
Read more about how I went about this challenge and what I found I could eat.
* Your food is global, Food Security