Sustainability: we all talk about it and we all aim to live by it. For all our good intentions do we understand what it really means and how to achieve it?
“Eating with pleasure but with responsibility towards all human beings worldwide and for the next generation” – probably is the best way to bring the idea of sustainability onto the table.
It often seems like the entire world meets in our kitchen: pasta from Italy, curries from India or sushi from Japan. Today we are so globally influenced by food and the easy availability of foreign products that these dishes have become a natural part of our diets. However, many of these food products cover several hundreds of kilometers to land in our pots and pans. The way we shop for our groceries has a huge impact in keeping a good environmental and climate balance, making it extremely important to pay attention to what actually goes into our shopping carts. Every time we are at the market or the grocery stores it is worth remembering that our shopping pattern leaves a very consequential individual carbon footprint.
About one fifth of the local greenhouse gas emissions are produced through the manufacturing of our food: processing it, storing it, transporting it, cooling it – so that it can be freshly prepared in our kitchens. The main causes of CO2 emission is the intensive livestock farming, feed production, transportation, pesticides and an intensive fertilization.
Now this does not mean that adopting a vegan lifestyle is going to help our planet. To be honest I believe that becoming a vegan to save our earth is …. the best way to put it … bullshit.
Here is food for thought: on one plate - a locally grown steak, from a cow raised on grass, without hormones, bought from your local butcher. On the other plate - a highly processed soy burger, grown somewhere far, far away with ingredients that have more numbers to it and that I cannot even pronounce. Which plate do you choose? Which dish leaves a bigger carbon footprint?
Maybe many of the vegetarians and vegans reading this will say that the soy burger is the proper or “moral” choice. The soy burger certainly offers the least amount of animal suffering, the least amount of carbon and water usage and probably eases the consciences of many. While I know there will be an entire generation of vegans out there ready to stone me with all their known arguments – but honestly I will argue back and say you have been led astray.
I have just started reading a very compelling book “The Vegetarian Myth” by Lierre Keith. A vegan for twenty years, she very much establishes and reinstates what probably a few of us have always believed and lived by: a healthy balance in our eating habits, responsibility towards our planet by just reading the labels of your food or paying close attention to where it comes from is really a great step towards a better lifestyle.
The first chapter alone should be chiseled into stone and Lierre nails it:
“The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won’t save us. The truth is that agriculture requires the wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems. The truth is also that life isn’t possible without death, that no matter what you eat, someone has to die to feed you.”
Those who have been following my blog will know that over the 10 year journey I have learned and developed on so many levels but one thing has always remained consistent: when it comes to food I try to live a balanced life, not going to extremes and include every food group into the meals in a sensible and thoughtful way. And that is what I have “preached” on this space.
It does not mean that we have to entirely stop including items like mangoes, quinoa and co. into our dishes (if these are not locally grown) it just means indulge in these items less often and go for those fruits and food items that are locally produced more often. It means simple things like using more flax seeds instead of chia seeds in your muesli, smoothies and bread, it means making use of the locally grown blackberries rather that the goji berries. After all they have the same nutritional values. Fact is, if you are not living in Peru or China, where chia seeds and goji berries come from, the carbon footprint your shakes, muesli and co. will leave will be a lot less. It means eating meat but knowing what kind of meat lands on your plate and eating it on two days of the week instead of five. This also means not following every food trend and self-proclaimed food guru that explodes across our media channels. It means taking a second or two to use our intuitive sensible judgment.
These are easy steps that we all are capable of implementing effective immediately! Often it takes many small steps to reach the bigger goal. If we all pitch in we will be able to reach that goal and enforce a balance that is needed.
Reaching this goal is also a part of the teaching for the younger chefs of today. Equipped with the knowledge of working and producing a balance when creating dishes, has become an important factor for them, as they go on to shape many eating cultures. They are taught to use and re-use as much as possible from one single product, to think about the choices of ingredients, where they come from and how to use them in an economical and environmental friendly way and still produce dishes that are creative and inspirational.
This is what the young chefs of the World Culinary Olympics - Olympiade der Köche are learning along with all the other challenges they are faced with during their training. From 22 to 25 October 2016, 54 nations and about 1600 chefs will be arriving in Erfurt to the represent their country. These talented chefs compete head-to-head individually and in team competitions. Think of MasterChef but on a grander world stage.
The rules of the competition are very restrictive, with severe limits regarding the storage of raw materials, a strict control on what food and where it comes from, times for processing food and table service: during the key moments of the competition, a maximum of 6 chefs for each country will prepare 90 courses in 6 hours. The Olympics’ Regulation provides a 7 Euros refund for each course, those who spend more should pay the difference out of their pockets and certainly will not look good in times of crisis.
When I was hired to work with the organizers of the exhibition this year I was very excited. The more I read about the values and history behind the event, the more honored I was. While there are many challenges that the chefs face, I certainly appreciate the fact that they are keeping within the idea of “Eating with pleasure but with responsibility towards all human beings worldwide and for the next generation”
At our Food Workshop event last weekend, together with the organizers and the trainer of the German national team, Michael Hummel and Jannick Westbam, one of his young trainee-chefs, we were able to bring the idea a little closer to a select number of bloggers. Rethinking our eating habits to fit the concept does not mean reducing on our daily sustenance or eating pleasures. Michael and Jannick illustrated the example on a simple dish where local cucumber and German sourdough bread was used in several ways to create a stunning and multi-textured starter. Almost every part of the cucumber and bread was used to create cucumber and wasabi noodles or a bread sauce.
Keeping this concept in mind I was asked by the clients to create a recipe and photo that illustrated this concept further. It is often in the simplicity that one finds the answer and for me I turned to a traditional German dessert to get my inspiration. “Rote Grütze” is a classic German pudding where fruits are cooked briefly with sugar until thick and jelly-like and often served with whipped cream or a vanilla sauce. In my version I make simple jellies, using apricots grown in my in-laws garden, yellow plums from a plantation near Weimar, elderflower cordial made from elderflowers I plucked from one of my neighbors’ gardens and the Riesling comes from one of Thuringia’s great winemakers in Bad Sulza. Double the pleasure because not only does it taste great but I know that the ingredients I used to make the dessert left a minimal carbon footprint.
Recipe: Apricot, Yellow Plum and White Wine Elderflower Jellies with Creme AnglaiseMeeta K. Wolff
Ingredients(Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free - see notes below)
- 120g apricots, pitted, sliced and cut into pieces
- 120g mirabelle, pitted, sliced and cut into pieces
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 6 sheets of gelatine
- 350ml white wine - a good Riesling is great here
- 100ml Elderflower cordial (see recipe below)
- 575ml whole milk
- 1 vanilla pod, split in half and seeds scraped out
- 6 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornflour
- To make the jellies, soak the gelatine sheets, one by one, in a bowl with plenty of water making sure they do not clump together. Leave for about 10 minutes to soften.
- In the meantime pour the elderflower cordial and white wine into a medium-sized saucepan and warm over a medium heat. Do not let the mixture boil as it may affect the gelatine’s setting qualities.
- Toss the stone fruit gently in the lemon juice to prevent them from browning, then divide the apricots and plums among four small serving dishes. Transfer the softened gelatine into the warmed cordial and wine, then stir until it has dissolved. It should disappear almost instantly. Pour into the dishes to cover the fruit, then refrigerate for about 3 hours, until lightly set.
- While the jellies set make the custard sauce by pouring the milk into a heavy-bottomed pan with the vanilla pod and seeds on a gentle heat. Stir, bringing it to a very gentle simmer. Make sure this does not boil.
- In a large heatproof bowl, whisk together the yolks, sugar and cornflour. Remove the vanilla pod from the hot milk and then pour it over the yolk and sugar mixture, stirring vigorously.
- Turn the heat down to low and pour the custard back into a clean, dry pan. Stirring continuously, heat until it coats the back of your wooden spoon – the longer you cook it, the thicker it will get.
- Pour into a glass jug and generously pour over the chilled jellies.
- To make your own elderflower cordial put 2.5 kg sugar and 1.5 liters water into a large saucepan. Gently heat, without boiling, until the sugar has dissolved. Give it a stir every now and again. Pare the zest from 2 lemons using a potato peeler, then slice the lemons into rounds. Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the pan of syrup to the boil, then turn off the heat. Fill your sink with water and then give the flowers a gentle swish around to loosen any dirt. Gently shake the flowers and transfer to the syrup along with the lemons and zest, then stir well. Cover the pan and leave to infuse for 24 hrs.
- If you are a vegetarian substitute the gelantine in this recipe with agar agar
- For a diary and gluten-free version of the custard put about 3 tablespoons rice flour and 1 tablespoon corn starch in a pot, and slowly whisk in about 2 cups of rice milk to combine. Whisk until smooth. Add about 3 tablespoons brown sugar, scraped vanilla seeds and bean from 1 vanilla bean and 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil. Turn on the heat to medium-low, and cook the misture, whisking slowly. As the custard thickens, whisk more vigorously. Once it thickens to about the consistency of pancake batter, turn off the heat and let cool.
Today when we say “eat a balanced meal” – it does not only mean preparing a meal with a high nutritional value, which contains the healthy food groups in required amounts – it also means paying attention to the products and ingredients that make up your meal too. Yes enjoy your quinoa salad – I do and will continue to do so, but I will enjoy it occasionally (if it comes from far far away and not grown closer to home), I will add some chia seeds into my cereal, but use flax seeds more frequently and I love my goji berries but as a responsible citizen of this planet, will substitute them for dried cherries or blackberries more often. This apricot and plum jelly is just a simple dessert on my little blog in this big world wide web – but to me it is my small but not inconsequential contribution to leaving a footprint worth following.
Now off into the kitchen and make this dessert!
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