Eating Consciously with Tom Hunt

 

Recently I took a trip to Spain to a Fiesta de Matanza which directly translated means ‘the slaughter festival’. It’s a traditional and often annual village festival, a pig is slaughtered and then butchered from nose to tail, leaving nothing behind but the oink!

Since Spain joined the EU, individuals are no longer allowed to slaughter the animal themselves, it must be done by a vet. When I have described the matanza to many people in the UK, they seem shocked by the idea of killing and butchering an animal. But in reality it is a respectful and rich community based event that connects people to the origins of their food. On returning to the UK it set me contemplating how I want to live and eat with respect for all my ingredients.

Tom hunt

In the rigmarole of life, a balanced, honest and humanely procured diet is not always the easiest thing to achieve. In today’s marketplace where ingredients are picked, packaged and purchased by machines it’s easy to forget about our food’s origins and be confused about what we should or shouldn’t be eating.

Our pork mostly comes in hygienic packets not whole and alive like my experience in Spain. I feel like the answer should be simple, and it is in theory ‘Boycott the food industry and buy from independent farmers and shops’. But putting this into practice needs serious determination and willpower. The food industry – according to the Department of Health – spends more than 800 million on food advertising a year. Most of that budget is spent trying to convince us to eat foods that are typically bad for our health and the planet.

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Through contemplating how I’d like to eat I’ve developed a style of cooking which I call Root to Fruit. It means to make the most of your ingredients, in the same way that nose-to-tail cooking is about eating the entire animal. But root to fruit eating goes far beyond the idea of simple thrift or ‘complete consumption’. When we think about how we can waste less we start to think about how we can value our food more, and how our food can provide us with more flavour and nutrition and have a positive effect on the people and place it was made.

Valuing food can mean many things, it could mean butchering your own pig and using every last morsel, eating your leftovers or understanding the history of a cooking technique or the importance of a food within a community. As we contemplate the value of food, our minds wander and dig deeper into the effects our food choices have on the world and our own health. Putting root to fruit eating into practice within my everyday life has not been as easy as establishing it within my restaurants. Of course this is because a restaurant is a business with structure and rules, the rules we make in life are not as easily followed.

I believe strongly that whatever food we chose to eat, should be eaten without guilt. However all ingredients have their own traceable past that has had an affect on many people and the environment.

A green bean grown in Kenya – in a monoculture of limited crop varieties – by underpaid and exploited workers, that has been top and tailed, packaged and transported by air will not be as nutritional as a bean grown by a small local farmer. The reason why is that the small local farmer – who is growing a diverse range of crops –  is able to deliver us that ingredient whole, perhaps even on the day it was picked.

foodmiles

Ingredients transported over a long distance will most likely be less nutritional than an ingredient sourced from a local farm, as a locally grown ingredient is more likely grown in a diverse and therefore fertile soil and also picked more recently. As a rule, if food is fresher it will be more nutritious unless preserved, fermented or cured.

An ingredient grown in rich organic soil instead of conventionally farmed ingredients – grown using pesticides and fertilisers – will have a greater nutritional value as described by Charles Benbrook (a co-author of a recent study into organic and conventionally grown vegetables from Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources).

He says “Across the important antioxidant compounds in fruits and vegetables, organic fruits and vegetables deliver between 20 and 40 percent higher antioxidant activity.” These antioxidants are called flavonoids and carotenoids, flavonoids are thought to be very good for us, they are antibacterial and good for heart health. But they are also one of the key factors that make our food delicious, they often provide a bitter note but also make up the depth of flavour in an ingredient, and give it the taste constituents that it should have.

Have you ever thought how tomatoes used to taste so much better when you were a child? A lot of conventional and even organically grown produce now tastes bland and not how it should. Food journalist Michael Pollan even goes as far as to call mass produced ingredients “edible food like substances” suggesting they are no longer a natural product, but grown in a lab and designed by scientists.

Modern varieties of vegetables have been bred and modified to be more resistible to pests and to produce a higher yield, ignoring flavour and nutrition.

My search for honest and humanely grown produce has coincidentally and importantly brought me in touch with organic and naturally grown ingredients that taste as they should, remarkably delicious, fresh, and deep with flavour, improving not only my cooking but my diet as a whole.

Eating from root to fruit has allowed me to eat more fibre, antioxidants and just plain better tasting ingredients on a sensible weekly spend. Seek out whole ingredients from your grocers and markets, buy whole fish and thrifty cuts of meat and cook with the head and tail, use whole celery and put the leaves in your salads and cook with the whole ingredient from root to fruit.

 

About

Tom Hunt

Tom Hunt

Tom Hunt is an eco-chef, director of Poco restaurant in Bristol and author of The Natural Cook.

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