Real Food: The Struggle for Sustainability

This week Nafsika chats to Duncan from Sustain about their recent nose-to-tale butchery workshop and how we can all eat a bit more of our favourite animals. 

In search of real food, this week you are cordially invited to join us as we learn more about restaurants, sustainable food choices and intriguing cooking ideas!

One of our all time favorite ways to spend a Saturday night, or any night for that matter, is to have dinner at a new restaurant. Be it a home cooked meal in a tiny space with a few other guests or molecular gastronomy and funky magic tricks that turn science into food into art, we like to try everything. From exotic undiscovered cuisines, if you are feeling adventurous, to our very own familiar tastes, the city of London offers restaurants that can please everyone. But what do we look for when we choose a restaurant? What factors are important? Do we check the menu beforehand? Do we look into elements such as sourcing of ingredients or sustainability? And if so, how does this affect our food choices?

©Toby Allen Photography 

To investigate further, we met with Duncan from Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, to talk about their very interesting initiative that took place a few weeks ago: the nose-to-tale butchery workshop. Central Street Cookery School welcomed 25 London Chefs, a meat supplier, a butcher, a food writer and a street food vendor specializing in cooking tongue and cheek (yes, you guessed it right, it’s Cristiano who we met a few weeks ago) who got together for an entertaining event. The goal: to draw in chefs and inspire them to think outside the box and create recipes and menus using all parts of the animals. Half a pig was presented, carving techniques were shown and after a few hours many extraordinary dishes were created, using all of its parts. Such an approach does not only result in new taste combinations but also leads to a more sustainable way of cooking and eating.

©Toby Allen Photography 

It is true, most of us use only specific parts of the animal, specific types of fish and often we have a very limited range of fruits and vegetables that we choose from. Partly this may be because our local butcher does not always have beef tongues or pig’s ears. Or maybe because the supermarket usually carries the same types of fish throughout the year. Partly, however, is because we haven’t ever asked for it.

We tend to cook and choose to eat foodstuffs that are familiar to us. However, how sustainable is eating salmon all the time? And if you think about it, how many tastes are we missing out? For Duncan, the planning of the menu at restaurants is the key. Changing the menu according to what’s in season and using all parts of the animal gives the chef the opportunity to cook with better quality ingredients and to present innovative dishes that will definitely inspire customers to come back, reducing at the same time waste and unused food supplies.

©Toby Allen Photography 

Of course, using all the different bits of animals is not something new. We doubt that our ancestors would just select a few pieces of meat, disposing the rest of the animal. This homogenization of cuisine does not leave much room for experimentation. It also removes all meaning from our food. If we trace back history to the origins of the British cuisine (or any other cuisine for that matter), we will find foodstuffs that get lost through time. A salmon fillet may have no history for most of us. Other fish though? Should we maybe claim them back and expand our culinary pallet?

In Greece, Easter time is probably the time of the year where we make most use of these neglected parts. A whole lamb roasted over a coal fire on a spit is always accompanied by Kokoretsi, which makes use of lamb offal (the off-fall or what has fallen off during butchering) such as liver, lungs and kidney. Pierced together on a spit and covered by washed small intestine wrapped around in a tube-like fashion, this dish may sound strange to most but is an integral part of the Easter celebration. Not to mention delicious. Tradition meets taste meets sustainability. After a quick internet search, the British Melton Mowbray pork pies, made with jelly from pig trotters fascinated us. Wouldn’t it be interesting if more dishes like this appeared on restaurant menus? Besides, utilizing all available sources of food is another “ingredient” to sustainability.  As the nose-to-tail workshop showed, offal can offer delicious recipes and variety, replacing our usual medium-rare fillet steak.

So next time you choose a restaurant to spend your Saturday night, check the menu in more detail, ask, choose differently. And when you plan your next dinner party or family lunch, instead of presenting your usual dish, surprise your guests with something extraordinary. It is after all real food.

You can find out more about Sustain and the work they do at http://www.sustainweb.org/