Let’s talk butter. Beurre noisette, almond croissants, madeleines, hollandaise, Nigella’s Marmite butter pasta… this is essentially a list of my life’s greatest moments. My corpulent childhood golden labrador once ate half a pound of butter when our backs were turned and I can’t say I blame her.
So it is with a very heavy heart that I have cut it out, after learning that it is one of the most carbon intensive foods around. Since going vegan, I have been trying to find recipes where I can replace it without feeling like I’m missing out on life. Cold-pressed rapeseed and sunflower are the oils with the smallest carbon footprints and have roughly a quarter of the footprint of butter. Read this article for a great environmental comparison of butter and margarine.
Enter steamed dumplings. They are partly about high fat content, traditionally from suet, but mostly about texture – fluffy and doughy.
To make them I swapped butter for margarine in this herby dumpling recipe. I steamed them for 25 minutes in a huge cast iron pot of onion soup subbing beef stock for veggie and using nice white wine.
The only vegan margarine I can find that uses sustainable palm oil is Biona sunflower spread, but it’s expensive at £3.49 for a 500g tub. I can’t find any margarines that don’t use palm oil at all. I tried to bypass margarine and use rapeseed oil on its own but it was a massive fail.
I used Flora Freedom (£1.80 for 500g) which has sustainable palm oil label of sorts – its parent company Unilever says it plans to source its oil completely sustainably by 2019. A big part of the problem is a transparent supply chain but by the end of this year they aim to have full traceability. It’s not perfect but it’s better than most others, which make no promises at all to end deforestation and treat workers fairly.
Makes 14 medium sized dumplings
140g cold margarine, diced
250g self-raising flour
2 tbsp chopped mixed herbs – try parsley, thyme and sage or chives
Rub the marg into the flour with your fingertips until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the herbs, plus salt and pepper. Drizzle over 150ml water, and stir in quickly with a cutlery knife to form a light dough. Shape into 14 ping pong sized balls.
25 minutes before your soup or stew is cooked, place the dumplings on top, put the lid on and steam.
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.
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:
loss of plants and wildlife in our ecosystems (which we depend on)
the ability to keep growing food
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.
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.
It 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…
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.
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…
beer battered onion rings
orecchiette pasta salad with tofu, olives and sundried tomato
houmous and za’atar
dried bean salad with a walnut coriander dressing (wait for it, this was unbelievably the best part)
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.
Vegan food can induce fomo but it can also be stupidly delicious. Meat-eaters and vegans alike, meet the amazing vegan onion bhaji sandwich. Addition of either chutney, pickle or even houmous is mandatory. Take it to a picnic or just be frank with your feelings and cuddle it in bed.
As a bonus, these bhajis are very low-fat as they are baked instead of deep-fried AND they’re gluten-free.
70g chickpea or gram flour (now in many supermarkets)
3 tbps lemon juice
2 tbsps grated ginger
For the sandwich
Pickle, chutney or houmous (beetroot pickle works particularly well)
Spinach or salad leaves
Preheat the oven to 170C/ 190C fan/ 350F/ gas mark 5. Toast the cumin and coriander in a frying pan for 2-3 minutes on a medium heat. Blend the seeds in a spice blender or a pestle and mortar or keep them whole if you possess neither.
Finely chop the onions into thin half moons.
Using the same pan, heat the oil for a minute then add the onions and cook for 5 minutes on a medium heat until translucent.
In a big bowl combine the salt, coriander, ginger, lemon juice and spices with a couple of tablespoons of water. Mix to make a thick sticky batter that isn’t runny at all.
Add the onions and mix well to coat them completely.
Cover an oven tray with baking parchment. Use your hands to form 8 bhajis. Dip your fingers in a bowl of water to stop the mixture sticking.
Bake for 15 minutes, turn over the bhajis then bake for 15 minutes more.
Slice the baguettes, spread your pickle or chutney generously. Add the bhajis then cram in the leaves.
Radius 7, New Road, Stoke Fleming, Dartmouth, Devon TQ6 0NR (01803 770007). Three-course meal for two, including drinks and tips: £80
The word ‘local’ has suffered the same fate as ‘organic’ in that it has been abused by marketing types as a stamp of authenticity. It conjures up scenes of food on wooden boards, served in buildings with wholesome scrubbed red brick walls.
But local is much more than a middle class buzzword. Buying locally is good for the economy and means fewer food miles. It can also allow restaurants to build a better relationship with suppliers so that less waste is created. And a transparent supply chain suggests people are fairly treated and paid at every stage of production.
Radius 7 does local very well.
Sat on a hill that suddenly plunges into the English Channel, the restaurant started out in 2015 with the idea that ALL of its food would come from within a 7-mile radius. Two years on, the proportion is 85% local (they said butchers’ prices were becoming too high) but it is still an impressive achievement.
For starters I had Salt and Pepper Onion Petals (£2.95) which arrived deep fried and with garlic mayo. The onion had been part caramelised before being battered which made for mouthfuls of sweet sticky jam and crunchy fried coating.
My five and a half fellow diners happily saw off heavily cheddared soufflés, scallops with black pudding and peas, and summer minestrone soup.
Wild Mushroom and Mascarpone Arancini (£12.95) with pea puree and beer battered asparagus came next. It was at this point I realised everything I had ordered was deep fried. With my battered starter and the veggie mains menu mostly filled with fried goods (beignets and croquettes too) there could be a better balance. It may have been created for vegetarians who are afraid of vegetables but I am not.
The arancini, which are fried risotto balls, were crisp and well-seasoned, with fat chunks of meaty mushroom inside. The asparagus was juicy and sweet, although the batter was probably unnecessary and did not taste much of beer. However, I was abruptly disappointed when I discovered I had eaten them all. The creamy pea puree was a good foil to the beige but was too salty.
Elsewhere on the table, silenced mouths lapped up crab claws, langoustines and mussels draped in wild samphire and garlic butter. There was a platter of mackerel pâté, prawns, smoked salmon and crab, and steaks with onion rings and veg, and chips to mop up peppercorn sauce. A slow braised ox cheek glazed in Doombar ale and black treacle was eaten in a religious daze as deep as the dark meat lacquer.
Defeated, only one of the group ordered dessert. Dark Chocolate & Peanut Butter Cheesecake (£5.95) with salted caramel came on a wooden board supplied by the local tree surgeon. A thick, rich, creamy, generous chocolatey jar affirmed that Radius 7 knows what it is doing.
The whole meal happened effortlessly, with no delays except when waiting for the bill during an influx of diners. The building is a wonderfully light space that benefits from a high ceiling and two long walls of windows, with the sea visible over the rooftops. On this Friday night it had a pleasant hum helped along with relaxed, assured staff.
Radius 7 could make even more of its local mantra, which is not advertised in the restaurant or online. Arguably the best it has to offer is the seafood, which comes from nearby Brixham, one of the biggest fishing ports in the UK. The restaurant also grows its own microherbs in a polytunnel out back and is looking into stocking Dart Valley wine alongside its Salcombe and Exmoor Wicked Wolf gins.
From an environmental perspective, local food does not always translate to a smaller carbon footprint because most emissions happen in the field rather than during transport. But it still helps, especially if the food is in season and grown easily in Britain.
Moreover it points to a thoughtful and sustainable way of restauranting that I am happy to buy into. Even if the deep fat frier had a bit of a heavy night.
Fed By Water, Dalston Cross Shopping Centre,64 Kingsland High St, London E8 2LX (020 7249 6242). Three-course meal for two, including drinks and service: £85
This vegan Italian dinner started in the best way I could hope for – with a stuffed mushroom.
But after the first disappointing bite, I knew I was stuffed.
Let me rewind. This is Fed By Water, ‘a concept restaurant offering authentic, traditional Italian plant based cuisine’ that ‘encourages healthy, ethical and sustainable living’.
I’m sold. But it seems, after months of drooling over their Instagram posts, another Londoner has fallen prey to mediocrity masked by pretty pictures of pizza.
For starters I had Fungo Ripieno (£8.95), mushrooms purportedly stuffed with onions and sage. The stuffing was grey, mushy and watery. Perhaps it had been regurgitated. It came with a truffle soy cream that had the exact appearance of part-cooked egg white.
As so often with truffle oil, there was no evidence of it in the eating, only the smelling. Truffle should be served in generous shavings if at all. The green beans were just that.
My accompanying diner had Asparagi Al Sole (£8.95), baked asparagus with orange soy cream and a vegan version of pecorino cheese.
The asparagus was crunchy and sweet and the cream was an impressive take on hollandaise, with not too much orange. The roast fennel was nicely cooked but my sister makes better. The bread was stale.
The pecorino, however, was so offensive that I cannot calmly describe it. My keyboard will suffer.
It was shaped ironically into a heart, with sweet green gel in its hollowed-out middle. Its colour was so un-food-like that when my fellow diner cut into it I let out a yell of shock that it was not in fact a pottery dish for holding sauce.
It was fridge-cold, blended and bland. The waiter informed us it was made with hemp and soy, and doesn’t it taste nice? They might as well use a petrol-soaked tricolore as kindling for the pizza oven. Italian cheese this was not.
For a main I had a vat of Spaghetti Alla Carbonara (£14.95). It satisfied that urge you get with pasta to cram it in your mouth and enjoy the oxytocin high that comes with an overload of carbs. The sauce was cleverly made with salty smoked tofu, turmeric and soy cream and it came topped with seitan, a meat substitute made of wheat that was deliciously chewy and salty.
We also ordered a Pizza Diavola (£14.95). The base was excellent having been cooked in a pizza oven and the umami olives were proper. But the fake mozzarella was watery and foamy and the array of pretend salami would only convince someone who doesn’t remember what meat is like.
The wines were all organic and my glass of negroamaro was approved by fellow diner, who tastes wine for a living. She had a nice organic cider.
Fed filters impurities out of its drinking water and the water used in its cooking. It lists limescale, chlorine and bacteria as some of these impurities. The water is actually noticeably different, smoother somehow, with a mineral taste.
I ordered a ‘tiramisex’ pudding (£6.95) to take home, which I asked for in a very British matter-of-fact manner. It was very healthy tasting. (I have been known to stomp around the house chanting ‘TIR-AM-SUU’, in desperate need of cream, coffee, booze and cake.)
Instead of ladyfingers there was one layer of chopped nuts at the bottom. The vegan cream mix was thick and rich. I can forgive it for being healthy as this is one of the tenets of the restaurant. I was just expecting something more from a dessert with a rude name.
The bill came to £78.71, which I believe was too much for what we got. Fed justifies the portion sizes with being southern Italian, which is not so cute if you feel you’re paying too much. And in half-gentrified Dalston this cost seems incongruous. Next door was a cheap butchers with rows of plucked chickens hanging from the ceiling and a crowd of customers paying for them.
I don’t believe Fed has come into its own, despite its social media following. On a Saturday night, a London restaurant with approximately 40 covers should definitely be more than half full.
The pasta and pizza was delicious – all the chefs are all Italian, though not vegan. Which explains why the vegan elements were, let’s say, unusual.
Mostly I feel that Fed hasn’t pulled off its ‘authentic’ vegan Italian concept. Some of the dishes need to spend a long holiday in the test kitchen and that pecorino needs to return to the special deep, dark vegan hell from whence it came.
Not much beats a plate of asparagus slathered in hollandaise. But if you fancy a more eco-friendly swap, mayo is the answer. That’s because the carbon footprint of butter is four times higher than olive oil and twice that of rapeseed oil.
This homemade mustardy mayo is easy to make, as long as you’re willing to give your whisking arm a workout! Have it with boiled eggs and toast for a simple but excellent dinner.
Why is this eco?
If you are going to make hollandaise or cook anything with butter, you’ll be doing much better by the environment by using olive or rapeseed oil instead.
CO2/eq is a way of measuring all greenhouse gases under one common unit. For example, methane produced by cows can be measured in CO2/eq. These carbon footprints were calculated by adding up the greenhouse gases produced in all stages, from farm to packaging and transporting.
1 egg yolk
1 tsp white wine vinegar (or lemon juice)
1 big tsp Dijon mustard
Big pinch of salt
75ml British rapeseed oil, or olive oil
1 bunch asparagus (about 12 spears)
Chilli powder, paprika or black pepper to taste
Whisk the egg yolk for a whole minute with the vinegar, mustard and salt.
Drizzle in just a teaspoon of oil and whisk for another whole minute. Add another teaspoon and whisk for one more minute.
Now pour in a thin steady stream of the remaining oil, whisking constantly with your other (aching) arm.
Steam the asparagus for 5 minutes or up to 8 if it’s thick. I use a steamer or a sieve with a lid on, placed over a pan of boiling water.
To serve, spoon some mayo over the asparagus and sprinkle over chilli powder, or dip spears in a ramekin of the stuff.
Use up any leftover mayo in sandwiches or in a potato salad. Store it in the fridge for up to a week with clingfilm pressed against the top of the mayo to stop a skin forming.