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  • Writer's pictureRichard Hammond

Food for thought - guide to ethical eating and drinking

Richard Hammond on the organisations and accreditations that are helping us to make ethical choices when buying food and drink in the UK, and also further afield 


Feasting on local, seasonal food washed down with the local tipple conveys a sense of place better than any travel brochure. It’s also one of the most effective ways to keep your carbon emissions down. There can be a surprising number of hidden emissions embedded within the provenance of food and drink, especially when it is shipped, or worse, flown in from overseas – over 25 per cent of all greenhouse gases are based on the food industry. Whether it’s freshly baked bread for breakfast, salad from the kitchen garden for lunch, or the catch of the day for dinner – choosing local isn’t just good for the planet, it’s also enjoyable and a great way to put money into the local community.



However, be aware that the term ‘local’ can be used disingenuously: I’ve seen it used to describe a radius of hundreds of miles, stretching the concept to render it virtually meaningless. It’s best if the description of food includes the name and location of the local business. Prawn on the Lawn, a sustainable seafood restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall (prawnonthelawn.com), goes one step further and names the people behind their products, for example: “Ross supplies us with veg, salad and herbs that he grows on his family’s farm less than a mile from Padstow,” and, “Johnny’s a fifth-generation Padstow fisherman supplying the freshest crab and lobster from his day boat PW132. Look out for him popping into the restaurant in his oilskins.”


Rubies in the Rubble: An award-winning range of ketchups, mayos and relishes, sold nationwide and made from ingredients that would otherwise have been wasted because they’re the wrong shape, size or colour, from over-ripe bananas to curly cucumbers. rubiesintherubble.com 

It’s just as important to avoid food that comes from intensive farming, which has had a devastating environmental cost over the past 70 years. While yields have skyrocketed, fossil-fuel derived fertilisers and pesticides have polluted our air and waterways, wiping out many insects and wild plants, while other intensive farming practices have destroyed wildflower meadows, ponds and hedges up and down the land. Numbers of bees, butterflies and birds across the UK countryside have plummeted: in particular, hedgehogs, tree sparrows and turtle doves have all declined by over 90 per cent. Poor soil management has led to increasingly severe flooding and precious soil is being washed away at an alarming rate.


We should also avoid seafood from intensive fishing. According to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), 90 per cent of world fish stocks are currently fully- or over-exploited, so it’s vital to choose seafood from sustainable sources – whether that is fish that is farmed sustainably or caught in the wild sustainably. The MCS has produced a Good Fish Guide to help you choose sustainable fish by understanding three key things: where it was sourced; whether it was farmed or wild-caught; and how this was done, such as whether it was hand-gathered, dredged, bottom trawled, mechanically harvested, caught by hook and line, or by a net. It also includes a handy guide to what is in season – the most unsustainable fish is red-rated.


Local food tours 

Connecting with a local guide to show you around is a great way to get to know the destination’s food scene, especially in cities where the breadth of choice can be bewildering. They can take you to the lesser known places that serve signature dishes based on age-old recipes that the locals swear by. 


There are several websites that can point you to local food tours, such as spottedbylocals.comtoursbylocals.com, Airbnb (select the ‘Food and drink’ filter in its ‘Experiences’ section), and culinarybackstreets.com, which specialises in culinary food tours in several European cities, such as Lisbon, Porto, Naples, Barcelona and Marseille. 


One of my favourite foodie tours was with Alternative Athens, a half-day tour to the best street food stalls and the shops of heartfelt producers in the Greek capital, where I was given a wide range of fabulous tastings of the city’s vibrant food scene including an oregano-perfumed pork souvlaki and a nut-packed baklava oozing with honey. alternativeathens.com 


preparing souvlaki in Athens
Souvlaki being prepared during an Alternative Athens tour. Photo: Claire Hargeaves.

Sustainable wine

The UK now has a sophisticated wine scene with hundreds of vineyards producing all manner of wines, from award-winning sparkling whites to velvety reds. Keep an eye out for the Sustainable Wines of Great Britain label awarded to those producers that promote biodiversity on their vineyards, manage them sustainably with minimum pesticides and fertilisers, and reduce water- and non-renewable energy consumption. winegb.co.uk


Natural wine is made from organically farmed grapes that have been grown using permaculture practices; crucially, it is made without adding or removing anything during the

wine-making process, both in the vineyard and in the winery. rawwine.com


vineyard
Wine growers are increasingly turning to more sustainable methods of producing wine. Photo: Wix Media

Other organisations that can help point the way to more sustainable food and drink include:


Food Made Good is an initiative of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, which assesses restaurants on how sustainable they are, based on how they rate regarding three pillars:


  • Sourcing: using local and seasonal produce to support British business, reduce haulage costs and the environmental impact of transport; increasing the proportion of veg-led dishes to combat environmental damage and purchasing high welfare meat and dairy products; supporting global farmers by sourcing fairly traded produce to ensure farmers in the developing world have access to a trade system based on justice and fairness.


  • Society: providing equal opportunities, training and policies to keep employees happy and productive; engaging with the local community; offering balanced menu options, reasonable portions and healthy cooking options to cater for customers’ needs.


  • Environment: improving energy efficiency and managing water usage; reducing food wastage and eliminating waste that goes to landfill.


It awards three stars to the best, such as: Lussmans in St Albans, Harpenden and Hitchin, Hertfordshire; Where The Light Gets In (WTLGI) in Stockport; and BuJo Burger Joint in Ireland. The food served on Eurostar is also three-star rated. One of my favourite three-star restaurants overseas is at Hôtel les Orangeries in Lussac-les-Châteaux, just south of Poitiers, France, which designs dishes using edible flowers, wild herbs and oils for flavourings supplied from a local garden. thesra.org 


Pasture for Life is a certification scheme for meat and dairy that comes from animals raised only on grass and pasture. pastureforlife.org 


Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has a blue fish label for those products that come from well managed, sustainable fisheries. Over 150 fish and chip shops in the UK have this label, including Rockfish in Brixham, Devon, and Cod’s Scallop in Nottingham, so too do several chippies that operate out of mobile vans, such as The Whitby Fish and Chips Company and Kingfisher On The Go in Plymouth. msc.org 


Using the app. Photo: Billy Barraclough.org

Farm Wilder selects and labels produce from farms where wildlife still thrives – including birds such as cuckoos that have vanished from much of Britain, or rare butterflies like the marsh fritillary. It works with charities including Butterfly Conservation, The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group to help these farmers nurture endangered species, restore biodiversity and farm more sustainably.  farmwilder.org 


Soil Association is a British charity that campaigns on a range of issues related to the way we eat, farm and care for the natural world. soilassociation.org 


package showing kitemark for soil association
The Soil Association's logo for organic food. Photo: Riverford Organic/Tara Greifenberg


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This is an edited extract from The Green Traveller (£18.99 Pavilion Books) by Richard Hammond 

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