Transforming the Way We Eat
Marcela has worked with multinationals leading the way in sustainability (Unilever, Quorn, Divine Chocolate, the UK’s highest-ranking BCorp), and as a food entrepreneur seeking to transform how we produce and consume food. Marcela is studying a Masters in Sustainability Leadership at Cambridge University, specialising in circular, regenerative agricultural models.
If 2020 were a restaurant it would most certainly get many bad reviews. The thing is, if a restaurant is rated badly, punters will be likely to avoid it, and it will either have to change or it will likely close down. Can we, as consumers have an active part in making 2021 better through the food we put on our plates? Well, as it turns out, there is a lot that we can actually do, and it may not all be that obvious.
In my previous article in High Profile Magazine I wrote that livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources, with pasture and arable land dedicated to produce feed representing almost 80% of the total agricultural land. Beef is the biggest culprit: 60% of the world’s agricultural land is used for beef production, yet beef accounts for less than 2% of the calories that are consumed throughout the world. This drives deforestation, huge loss of biodiversity, and ultimately extinction of important species. It is easy to see how it makes sense to eat more food which is lower down the food chain, i.e. more fruit, vegetables and legumes.
Another interesting fact has come to light. In a comprehensive study published in the British Food Journal in 1997, it was revealed that there was a marked reduction of several minerals in 20 fruits and 20 vegetables in the UK in comparing food composition data from the 1930s and 1980s. A similar study published by the US Department of Agriculture shows an ‘alarming decline’ in food micronutrients in 12 common vegetables. As Isabella Tree from the Knepp Wilding Project puts it, for every one carrot or tomato we ate in the sixties, we have to eat ten today to get anything like the same trace elements and nutrients, mainly due to soils being degraded through intensive industrial agriculture and incorrect use of fertilisers, which is sadly common practice.
As we can see, not all fruits and veggies were created equal, so in order to provide our bodies with the most nutrient-dense food we should try and buy organic as often as possible. Another good option is to grow your own, even in pots if no garden space is available. Kale, swiss chard, runner and French beans, peas, tomatoes, chillies and herbs are only a few examples of things that grow easily in a small space, and you can start planting the seeds very soon! Here is some inspiration on how to grow vegetables on a balcony (you can’t get more local than that!).
Here is a really important concept (and a favourite of mine) to get familiar with: dietary diversification, which simply means to eat a more varied diet. You may wonder, why is this so important? Well, did you know that about 75% of the world's food comes from just 12 plants and 5 animal species? Yes, that is correct, we eat only 12 plants out of the 300,000 known edible plants that we could be eating, cutting huge amount of food miles and helping small farmers and biodiversity!! This concentration around just a few foods puts a huge pressure on our food systems, making them much more vulnerable to threats like disease, pests, and climate change... we are essentially putting all of our eggs in one basket.
Diversification for a sustainable and healthier diet is a favourite of mine because it is so easy and fun to take on board, so let’s eat a more varied diet! Here are some amazing and tasty superfoods that can find their way to your plate:
Buckwheat: gluten-free, high in protein, fibre and many micronutrients, this “pseudo-grain” has a pleasant nutty flavour and a hint of cinnamon tones, and it is great as a substitute for rice. In its flour form, I also use it extensively to partly substitute wheat flour for cakes, pasta and I also love it in pancakes. Here’s a couple of recipes that I love to cook for my family:
Cinnamon Buckwheat Pancakes
Mushroom & Buckwheat Risotto
Amaranth: This seed or “pseudo-grain” is similar to Quinoa or Buckwheat and was revered by the Aztecs, until the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the 15th Century and banned the crops for a few centuries.
Amaranth is highly nutritious, and is rich in iron, magnesium, and calcium. It also provides plenty of protein with 7 grams in a ¼ cup, dry, and most importantly, it is delicious in savoury dishes as a substitute for rice - or mini-popcorn, anybody? It is also tasty in sweet applications such as porridge, granola or the Mexican Alegrias, which are like cereal bars with Amaranth and honey.
Next time you are planning a meal, why not try something a bit different, perhaps Amaranth or Buckwheat instead of rice as an accompaniment, or milled to use instead of wheat flour? If you are thinking about transforming your diet and go beyond using the typical wheat, rice, corn or soy, there are countless ingredients to play with and explore! Some more of these next time…