Taste and Sustainability

Tom Hunt, Dan Barber, WastED Selfridges, London

This article was first published in Vegetarian Living’s March issue this year.

Food tastes better when it’s been made with care, whether it’s a vegetable grown slowly in well maintained soil alive with microorganisms and mesofauna; mites, nematodes and springtails (the critters which help break down soil into a rich fertile humus) or a meal made at home using carefully selected ingredients.

But what makes food taste good? To a degree ‘taste’ is subjective. Depending on our culture and how we grew up different foods will taste good to us. We might have a sweet tooth partialness to sour flavours or love for spice. However there are some things that universally define a foods quality and good taste. Everyone wants their food to be of the best quality and taste they can afford. We want our food to be fresh (when appropriate), nutritious, satiating and pleasurable to eat.

Ingredients that are not required to be fresh or seasonal and imported like olive oil, chocolate, sugar, and coconut milk require a different analysis of their taste and quality that can include preservation, storage, transportation and the farming methods. The Soil Association, Fairtrade and other organisations like the Rainforest Alliance start to become important in indicating their quality taste and sustainability.

But how does taste relate to sustainability? The locally grown tomato is a common example used to describe good taste. Perhaps more delicious than its imported or heated greenhouse counterpart because of it’s freshness, seasonality, the particular species (which grown locally can be chosen for flavour rather than durability or shelf life) or even the soil the tomato was grown in as opposed to a hydroponic tomato grown in water and fertilizer.

Sometimes freshness doesn’t mean that an ingredient is more sustainable or nutritious. According to various reports some fruit and vegetables like tomatoes, asparagus and lettuce grown in heated green houses are more carbon heavy than their imported equivalent. And when an imported fruit or veg is flown in for freshness this brings with it a huge carbon footprint. And according to Tim Lang in his book Sustainable Diets frozen foods can be more nutritious and higher in vitamins than fresh ingredients harvested just 24 hours previous.

For the ultimate freshness, taste and most sustainable ingredients buy whole vegetables with greens, bulbs, roots and mud still attached whenever possible will help prolong the freshness and improve the taste of your food. If a root still has its greens attached and alive it indicates that it will have been picked very recently – perhaps even within 24 hours. When vegetables are whole and muddy they are still growing and alive, tricked into thinking they can survive or may be planted again. Save the time lost in preparing these vegetables from scratch by cooking with more simplicity. Such nutritious veg will taste yummy with only the simplest preparation.

Truly fresh vegetables harvested locally from environmentally conscious farms that support the soil and biodiversity of the local flora and fauna will of course be more nutritious due to the soil quality, short distances travelled from field to fork and perhaps even the slow method of farming used – making your food taste good.


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