Why you should put down that fried chicken burger (and all factory-farmed meat)

It was roughly 2am on February 17th 2013 and I had just walked into Krunchy Fried Chicken in Fallowfield, Manchester, with my mates, a horde of sisters and their boyfriends after a particularly silly night out. I ordered a chicken burger and chips (not for the first time).

I noted the unprocessed real meat, the salty gnarled batter. As students, this very burger was what we had come to worship as the pinnacle of food, joy and life.

It hit me that I had just turned 21 – and I was conducting this strange coming-of-age birthday chicken ceremony in the best place I could think of.

Oh how times have changed.

It never occurred to me at that point to question where the meat came from. The UK has nearly 800 livestock mega farms, processing cows, chickens and pigs. About 80% of chickens and 75% of breeding pigs in this country are factory-farmed. Two out of every three farm animals in the world come from factory farms.

Now, I do not know where Krunchy was getting its fried chicken in 2013, and I am not about to accuse them of any wrongdoing. But the likelihood is that factory farming is producing the supermarket ham sandwiches, corner shop pints of milk and office cakes that are ubiquitous in our lives.

Why is this an issue? For starters, factory-farmed meat plays a huge part in:

  • climate change
  • animal welfare
  • loss of plants and wildlife in our ecosystems (which we depend on)
  • the ability to keep growing food
  • our health

Let’s head to October 2017, specifically, the first Extinction and Livestock Conference, held in London by the WWF and Compassion in World Farming. Stay with me. The conference title references the link between factory farming and our own survival, and made me realise that eating quality meat, dairy and eggs (or not eating them at all) is perhaps the most important thing we can do to help the planet.

Here’s where I go a bit more in depth, on just two points.

  1. Climate change. We are currently heading for a 3.6C rise in the world’s temperature by 2100, according to the policies of the world’s governments. If they stuck to their climate pledges, we are on track for a 2.6C rise, according to this unassumingly terrifying graph by the Climate Action Tracker.

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 11.32.27It was agreed in the 2013 UN Paris conference that in order to avoid more death, famine, floods, drought, exacerbated storms, malnourishment, water-borne infections and heatwaves (all caused by man-made climate change) we need to stick to 1.5C.

You can see there is a discrepancy in the figures.

How is climate change affected by factory farming?

Livestock farming alone makes up 14.5% of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN. Two thirds of that comes from cows.

When you consider that deforestation is responsible for another 11% of man-made emissions, factory farmed meat starts to look pretty unappetising. Deforestation mostly happens so that we can grow crops to feed animals. This is linked to…

2. Biodiversity loss, which means we’re killing animals, plants and insects. Since the 1970s, when factory farming really kicked in, we have lost 50% of the world’s wild animals. Destroying our ecosystems means we may not be able to keep growing food. An obvious example is that we need bees to pollinate our crops.

Why is biodiversity loss affected by factory farming?

Cutting down rainforests and savannahs is all in the name of growing corn, soy, wheat and palm. Palm oil goes into all kinds of products, and not just food. But the other three mostly go on feeding factory-farmed animals, including fish.

Philip Lymbery, head of Compassion in World Farming, says that animal feed is the number one cause of biodiversity loss.

He also says: ‘Those industrially reared animals are currently chomping their way through enough food to feed an extra 4 billion people on the planet.’ That’s half the world again.

Factory farming, where animals stay indoors for most of their lives and are fed on crops instead of grass, uses up our resources in an incredibly inefficient way. It takes 100 calories of cereal crops (wheat, corn, rice) to produce 17 to 30 calories from meat or milk.

What on earth can we do?

For a start, give up factory farmed food. If you eat meat and dairy, find out where it’s from. Ask the butcher, ask cafes and restaurants where they source that meat from. Be that person! Businesses notice and change when customers question their models.

Buy organic wherever possible. Rules for organic dairy farmers mean that cows are required to graze grass for at least 200 days a year.

Do your best to go for something veggie until you find the meat that isn’t factory-farmed. And please… don’t spend your milestone birthdays in fried chicken shops.

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Veggie sausage, tomato, leek and potato one-pot

One-pot life is coming round again and I couldn’t be happier. Well, nearly one-pot, there are sausages to be had here. This very cheap stew is great to take to work in a flask, or have at home as the winter chill creeps in.

Why is this eco?

Firstly, because I’m using veggie sausages. Quorn sausages are one option, although not vegan, if that’s what you’re looking for, as they contain a small amount of (free range) egg white.

Quorn as a company is really fabulous at reducing carbon in its production chain, and is the only fake meat in the world to get Carbon Trust certification, which is the gold stamp of good carbon practices. Quorn is much friendlier in terms of greenhouse gases than meat.

There isn’t an exact carbon footprint calculation of Quorn sausages but the company does say ‘Quorn products can have a carbon footprint up to 13 times lower than beef and 4 times lower than chicken’ in its 2017 sustainability report. Pork sits somewhere between the carbon footprint of beef and chicken, so the footprint of Quorn sausages is likely to be somewhere between 4 to 13 times lower than regular sausages.

Linda McCartney sausages, however, are made of soya. This would be fine if there was some kind of sustainable certification to say the soya was not causing deforestation or destruction of biodiverse regions such as the Brazilian Cerrado or the Amazon.

But there isn’t. When I emailed the company, they said simply that they sourced their soya from ‘the Americas’.

Seeing as thousands of square kilometres of lovely biodiverse, carbon-absorbing land have been razed just to grow soy over the last few decades in South America, this does not bode well. I’ve asked for more precise information and asked for comment.

Why is deforestation bad? It accounts for 11% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, more than 1 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods and it is causing the extinction of animals. Every year we continue to lose another 30,000 square kilometres of forest – equivalent to the size of England.

So, until I know that Linda’s sausages aren’t contributing to deforestation, I absolutely cannot recommend the brand. However, it is worth pointing out that most chicken and beef that we eat is also fed on soya, which is also often uncertified and is an even less efficient use of energy.

Rant over, back to the recipe!

RECIPE

Feeds 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsps veg or sunflower oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
  • 3 leeks, sliced into 1 cm pieces
  • 1 big potato cut into 2cm dice
  • 2 big carrots, cut into 2 cm dice
  • 600ml veg stock (I used two Knorr cubes)
  • Chilli flakes, as much as you can handle
  • 125g yellow split peas
  • 2 x 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 2 tbsps tomato puree
  • 6 veggie sausages
  • Fresh coriander, finely chopped

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large casserole pot. Over a medium heat, fry the onion, garlic and ginger for 2 minutes. Add the leek, potato and carrot and sweat for 2 more minutes. Add the stock, chilli, split peas, tomatoes and tomato puree.
  2. Preheat the oven to the temperature needed to cook the veggie sausages.
  3. Cook the stew over a high heat for 15 minutes, with no lid. Stir frequently to check nothing is sticking to the bottom.
  4. Turn the heat down low and simmer for 30 minutes, in the meantime cook the sausages for the amount of time specified on the packet. When they’re cooked, chop them up and add to the one-pot. Stir in the coriander and serve.

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Restaurant review: Tibits

King of the veggie/ vegan buffet

Tibits, 12-14 Heddon Street, London W1B 4DA (0207 758 4112). Two-course meal for two, including drinks: £46

★★★★☆

If you’re walking down Regent Street and realise you haven’t breathed normally in several minutes in an effort to dodge everyone, take a diversion down Heddon Street. It’s the type of street that Muggles don’t notice – you wouldn’t know there was anything to discover unless you were looking for it.

Suddenly you’re in a leafy enclave of restaurants, with strings of lightbulbs overhead. On a half-hot September day you can eat outside and forget about the bustle.

Tibits is king of vegetarian and vegan buffet. The food is so appealing because 1) it’s instant, just like Yo Sushi and 2) the quality and variety is excellent.

When I went on a Sunday lunchtime, there was a pleasant chattery thrum oozing out of the open windows. An oval table in the centre of the restaurant is filled with hot plates and salad dishes.

You pay by weight (£25/kg). So I set about filling up my plate with a little bit of everything…

  • gnocchi verde
  • beer battered onion rings
  • carrot salad
  • vegetable tartare
  • orecchiette pasta salad with tofu, olives and sundried tomato
  • houmous and za’atar
  • okra tempura
  • dried bean salad with a walnut coriander dressing (wait for it, this was unbelievably the best part)
  • rocket

IMG_2222 (1)

The gnocchi was a little overcooked and starchy but I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to carry on eating it for the rest of the day. It comes in a creamy sauce with spinach, leek and basil, which was heaven. The onion rings were sweet and juicy and dangerously addictive. The carrot salad was not naked and sidelined but has its own secret recipe dressing.

Veg tartare had an odd carroty flavour but the tomatoey orecchiette salad was better. The houmous was one of the best ones I’ve had. Tempura okra was great, if you like okra.

But hold on. The best bit, incredibly, was the dried string bean salad. Nope, I’ve never heard of dried string beans either. They don’t look particularly special but the texture was so good and rubbery in a really, really good way? The garlic, walnut, coriander, onion, balsamic sauce – just yes.

The recipe is actually online here. Thank you Tibits.

… and that’s not all.

Vegan pudding. I know what you’re thinking. But oh my, the chocolate molten pudding AND sticky toffee pudding made me all fuzzy inside. They were squidgy and gooey and cakey and datey and saucy. I actually wrote down the word ‘PHENOM’ in my notebook.

I had them with a vegan mocha cream, which was thick, delicious and what a hippy Nigella Lawson would adore.

So now you know about Tibits, don’t be a Muggle.

Oaty easy vegan biscuit flapjacks

There is a magical thing that happens when you combine baked goods with offices. Inbuilt cake radars have been fine-tuned over years and people can sniff the stuff from 20 desks away. Then suddenly, it’s gone.

These biscjacks are a perfect oaty 3pm office stopgap. Tea is mandatory.

P.S. They’re also really cheap to make!

Why are they eco? 

I swapped butter for sunflower oil in this recipe, which helps cut down the carbon footprint. Oil, depending on the type and size of the bottle, has about half the footprint of butter. It’s such an easy swap that translates to many other recipes.

RECIPE

(Blender needed)

Makes 8 biscuit flapjacks

Ingredients

  • 220g oats (any type)
  • 40g brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 70ml sunflower oil
  • 30ml water
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 8 blackberries (optional –  they’re in season so pick them from the hedgerows!)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 190C/ 170C fan/ gas mark 5.

2. Whizz the oats with a blender or a hand blender until it is a coarse flour. It should only take a few seconds. Set aside 20g and put the rest in a large bowl. Mix with the brown sugar and baking powder. Add the vanilla essence, oil and water. Mix again.

3. With your two hands, scoop up a small bit of the mixture and push your thumb against your fingers three times, until the mixture has been pushed back into the bowl. Turn the bowl 90 degrees. Repeat until the mixture resembles sandy breadcrumbs.

4. Squash the mixture into a ball of dough and on a floured surface using the 20g remaining oats, then shape into a round circle or a rectangle, about 1cm thick. Cut into 8 triangles or squares. Push a blackberry into the centre of each one.

5. Bake for 25 minutes. Enjoy!

 

Fudgiest ever (vegan) chocolate brownies

Holy moly, I’ve done it. I have found the greatest chocolate bar on the planet. It is like one big bar of Nutella because it is made with hazelnut paste and hazelnut cocoa cream. It is also massive, it is smooth and it is crunchy, it is purity, it is ataraxia, it is my relationship status. Oh, and it’s vegan.

So I have done a clever one and made it the melty middle inside some extremely fudgy vegan chocolate brownies.

Go forth, bakers, and foller.

By the way, the chocolate bar is called Vego, it really is quite expensive at roughly £3 per 150g bar (shop around) but quite clearly I believe it is worth it.

Why is this eco?

This recipe is vegan, meaning no butter or eggs. Instead of butter I used vegetable oil (rapeseed) which has about half the carbon footprint. I’ve written about swapping butter for oil before if you want to know the numbers.

Vego bars are also organic, which is seen as a more sustainable way of farming. And they don’t contain palm oil – unlike many other chocolate bars. Rainforests are still being torn down in the name of palm oil. It is immensely damaging to animals, local people and the climate.

Vego bars are also Fairtrade. Just eat the chocolate, okay.

RECIPE

Makes 9 brownies

** TIME KLAXON**
You will need to leave the batter to rest for at least four hours. This lets the flour and cocoa absorb the liquid and results in a chewy, fudgy brownie rather than a cakey, crumbly one. It also means no weird vegan substitute for eggs.

Ingredients

  • 80ml vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 80g dark chocolate (check it’s vegan, dark usually is)
  • 1tsp instant coffee
  • 200g dark brown sugar
  • 300ml water
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g bar of Vego (or other vegan chocolate if you must)

Method

  1. In a saucepan over a low heat, warm the oil and regular dark chocolate until it melts. Take it off the heat, stir in the coffee then add the water and brown sugar. Whisk until combined.
  2. Sieve the flour and cocoa powder into a medium-sized bowl. Pour in the chocolate/oil/sugar mixture steadily, whisking all the time. Add the vanilla.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool, cover the bowl and leave in the fridge overnight or for at least 4 hours.
  4. Heat oven to 170C/ 150C fan/ gas 4. Grease and line an 18cm square tin with baking parchment. You can use a 20cm tin but take 2 minutes off the cooking time.
  5. Pour the mixture into the brownie tin. Break the Vego bar down the segment lines and then chop in half lengthways. That gives you 10 pieces. Imagine a grid of 9 brownies in your tin and place a Vego piece into the centre of each one, pressing down until you hit the bottom of the tin. Like so:
  6. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow the brownies to cool in the tin for around 30 minutes, then cut into 9 squares. Devour.

5 easy ways to have a low-carbon diet

P.S. A ‘low-carbon diet’ is low in all greenhouse gases produced in the life cycle of food. So for beef, that includes methane produced by the cow. It’s easier than saying ‘a diet low in greenhouse gases’!

1. http://www.pnas.org/content/111/33/11996.abstract

2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513009701

3. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2007/oct/25/ethicalliving.foodanddrink

Restaurant review: Riverford at The Duke of Cambridge

Glorious, unfussy organic vegetables

Riverford at The Duke of Cambridge, 30 St Peter’s Street, Islington, London N1 8JT (02073593066). Three-course meal for two, including drinks and tips: £90

★★★★☆

Biting into a slice of tomato topped with crumbly, creamy ricotta, I was suddenly thrown into a cliché. This was just like in Italy, I thought, where I first discovered that tomatoes could taste good raw. Add the oozing alkaline green of basil pesto and I’m molta contenta.

This is to be expected when you eat at the pub supplied by Riverford organics, The Duke of Cambridge. Riverford is famous for its excellent veg box scheme, set up by Guy Watson, who is married to the founder of The Duke, Geetie Singh. Aha.

The Duke, which opened in 1998, is now ‘Britain’s first and only certified organic pub’ and yes, it is bloody good at vegetables. But it’s not just an organic pub – it aims to be sustainable in many aspects, from food waste, to packaging, to its second-hand wooden tables and chairs. It has therefore made it on to my food map of climate-friendly restaurants.

The starter was Tomato Salad, Liquorice Salt, Basil Pesto, Leaves & Ricotta (£8). The tomato was so ripe it barely needed chewing and the pesto was rich with olive oil, which we mopped up with what sadly looked and tasted a lot like bread-maker bread (£2.50). There was no liquorice salt evident to me or any of the other three diners around the table so it would be better not listed on the menu; particularly because the word ‘liquorice’ frightens some people. We shared it between four and that was lovely.

Tomato Salad, Liquorice Salt, Basil Pesto, Leaves & Ricotta

Next was Roasted Squash, Greens, Riso Nerone, Corn Salsa & Medita (£14) – picture at the top. Each vegetable was perfect. The squash was pull-apart stringy, sweet, herby and juicy. Baby kale was lemony and as salty as it could be without being too much. Black jewel-shaped rice with carrots and onion was piled up on the squash, and corn with pickled red onion brought acid and crunch. Grated medita, similar to feta, was extra salty seasoning that melted on the tongue.

We also ate Summer Salad, Batavia, French Beans, Courgette, New Potato, Cherry Tomato, Black Olives & Pesto (£13).

Summer Salad, Batavia, French Beans, Courgette, New Potato, Cherry Tomato, Black Olives & Pesto

Words depicting polytunnels bursting with gluts of August vegetables floated over the table. It was moreish and crunchy and fresh, the kind of dinner you don’t realise is so healthy until you reconsider it later. My only qualm? The veg wasn’t much chopped so with the green, red and yellow colours it looked a little like a toddler’s box of 3D shapes.

Dark, Milk and White Chocolate Brownie, with Cream (£6.50) was pudding. I wanted it to be dense chewy brownie packed with a galaxy of chocolate chunks. But it was a cakey and homogenous block that had been reheated in the oven, making the edges dry out. It came with sour cream that personally, I liked, but it upset the others who had eaten a big spoon of it, just like when my grandma dramatically ate wasabi for the first time.

Value for money? Yes. Organic farming uses more resources and the vegetables were beautiful. There is so much to admire about Riverford and the ethical ethos of the pub. The vibe was rustic and charming with bunches of dried flowers, wooden beams, plenty of windows for light, and the honey-coloured King’s Cross-type bricks.

To be particularly harsh, The Duke won’t excite the very culinarily adventurous. But I would happily bring my friends and family here to gorge on hyper-seasonal, delicious veg. After all, simple, fresh and locally grown is what the Italians are known for – and not what Brits are. Other UK pubs, take note.