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  • Writer's pictureDevon Cookery School

Welcome to Veg of the Month: seasonal produce for nutritious and delicious January meals

Hello friends! How have your holidays been? If you’re anything like us you will have eaten and drunk to your heart’s content, and enjoyed some well deserved downtime with family, friends, games and movies. All this revelry and abandonment of normal routines create the perfect conditions to make us feel like we’re ready for change by January and the new year.

At DCS you’ll find the Christmas trees are down, and the festive classes replaced with brand new classes for 2022. But we’ve got to make a confession… we’re not that big on new years’ resolutions. While January is of course a good time to plan for the year ahead, and think about the direction you want to go in, we don’t think it calls for a complete personality overhaul. So although we’re shrugging off the excesses of the festive season, it’s not to embrace restriction or 30 days of salads (although if that’s what you want to do, you do you!). Instead we are returning to our regular ways of eating a rounded, colourful, intentional menu of home cooked foods.

Something we will be focusing on in the DCS kitchen this month is seasonal veg. Not just from a health perspective (counteracting all those Quality Streets!) but also from a sustainability perspective. More and more people are becoming interested in eating seasonally, and understanding where their food comes from.

Introducing our ‘Veg of the Month’ project

Every week in January we are picking a seasonal UK veg to celebrate. Over on our Instagram you’ll find a ‘veg fact’ post each week, and here on our blog you’ll find a delicious seasonal veg recipe to go with it.

We love food, and we’re big fans of trying to create delicious, nutritious and sustainable eating practices. Our cookery school was born from a love of understanding where food comes from, the work that goes into it, and appreciating that homemade food is naturally better for us - nutritionally and mentally. Learning to cook is not really seen as a national education priority, so many young people (and older) don’t have the privilege of proper food and cooking education. Many of us don’t even have the time to prepare homemade food. Our mission is to connect people with the essential practice and joy of cooking. To demystify delicious recipes, make complicated flavours easy to achieve, and help home cooking be the go-to option.

Ingredients from around the world naturally are a part of what we do - in fact we pride ourselves in our rota of international cookery classes - sharing the joy of flavours from across the globe. Our goal with ‘Veg of the Month’ is to introduce how we might make small decisions to reduce the ‘foodprint’ of our meals, maximise nutrition, and support local growers. Many international recipes can be made with local and even seasonal UK ingredients.

Eating seasonally means focusing on food that naturally grows in the UK at certain times of year. With modern farming, the growth and harvest periods of many foods has extended - but ‘seasonal’ means with minimal interference. We do take ‘seasonal’ to include foods that grow with a little help from grow tunnels or other low-impact infrastructure, but we focus on foods that thrive in certain seasons due to natural sunlight, water and soil nutrient levels.

What ‘seasonal’ definitely does not include are imported, chemically aided or genetically altered foods. Avoiding imported foods means reducing the pollution associated with air freight and shipped goods. Whilst shipping goods is seen as less environmentally damaging than flying it in, shipping still has major environmental ramifications.

Many cargo ships avoid ‘emission control areas’ (kind of like London’s low emission zone), are ancient and poorly maintained, and some end up leaking or sinking entirely, polluting waters for thousands of miles like the MV X-Press Pearl in 2021. In addition, many ecologists are concerned about the impact of not only pollution but other effects on sea life.

“Ship strikes are one of the leading causes of death for several whale populations around the globe” and the noise from ship engines confuses and deafens marine animals. Whales and dolphins can get lost, stop eating and even stop communicating with one another.

That’s not cool. It sounds a lot like when we lived near a neighbour who took the muffler off their motorbike and loved random midnight excursions. Of course the whales have it significantly worse, but it’s enough to say we feel bad for them.

In fact, The National Food Strategy: Independent Review (July 2021) sums up the problems with modern food production:

“…the food we eat – and the way we produce it – is doing terrible damage to our planet and to our health. The global food system is the single biggest contributor to biodiversity loss, deforestation, drought, freshwater pollution and the collapse of aquatic wildlife. It is the second-biggest contributor to climate change, after the energy industry.”

Gosh. That’s not so good. And according to Defra statistics, in 2019 the UK produced only 55% of the food consumed in the UK. That’s a lot of air and ocean miles to make up the rest.

So what can we do? It’s easy to read all this and feel a crushing weight of responsibility. Or alternatively, a sense of ‘this is such a big problem, it doesn’t feel like it’s anything to do with me’. Well, whilst there are environmental advocates out there battling governments, corporations and even entire industries, there are small things we can do to alleviate the pressure. And eating seasonal produce is one way to help.

Eating more seasonal veg is not just good for the planet and our animal friends - it’s good for us too. Internationally there are very different regulations on food growing, with the UK having some of the most stringent rules in the world. You might have heard of America’s chlorinated chicken practices being banned in the UK, but what other food growth standards might affect imported foods? Whilst many of them are regarding meat and poultry, vegetables, fruit and grains are affected too. Most UK banned practices involve the use of chemicals damaging to the environment, insects and wildlife, or to human health, such as neonicitinoids (kills bees) and chlorpyrifos (linked to brain damage in children). Eating local, seasonal food rules this out.

In-season produce may cost less! If that’s not a winner we don’t know what is. Seasonal produce often has lower overheads because it is easier to grow and being local means there are less transport and preservation costs. This all translates to what you pay at the market or supermarket.

And finally, seasonal produce may taste better. This is because it’s grown in optimal conditions for the produce - from weather conditions to soil nutrients. They also spend less time travelling, meaning they’re harvested riper and haven’t been chilled or preserved in any way. When asparagus travels from Peru to the UK, for example, it gives the plant sugars time to turn into starches, negatively changing the flavour profile. This flavour benefit is a byproduct of fresher produce retaining more nutrients from being harvested at the right time and nutrient profiles not declining over time.

We’d love to hear what your favourite seasonal recipes are - go ahead and tag us on Instagram or let us know below in the comments what you love to cook in January.


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