We all want food that is satisfying, nourishing and good for the planet, that also saves on stress in the kitchen, don’t we? Plant-focused and veg-forward eating has seen a rise in recent years, as conscious consumption comes to the top of the agenda. But how do we form sustainable eating habits in a way that suits us?
First up, there is no one way to eat right – you need to discover what works for you. I’m a big believer in flexible eating, which some have called ‘flexitarianism’. Rather than following a specific diet or trying to fit into labels, this approach allows flexibility in how we buy, cook, enjoy and use up food. I think about ‘taste not waste’ and advocate freestyle cooking, which means using what’s in your fridge and cupboards, and making your time in the kitchen work for you with what you already have. I think this is one of the best ways that we can all start to make small improvements in our daily lives, ticking the boxes for feel-good, waste-reducing cooking and ultimately doing better for the planet.
Flexible eating is something we can all get behind, whether you buy less but better-quality and well-sourced meat, fish or dairy, or cut it out completely. It recognizes that, for some, not eating any animal products is neither sustainable nor realistic. There are many ways we can make greener food choices that feel good for us, and therefore that we can commit to for the long term.
Being less rigid about the vegetables we eat is also a good way to start (popping the same ingredients into our baskets every week is an easy habit to fall into). I say the more the merrier when it comes to quantity and variety. It’s also about reconnecting with nature, understanding where our food has come from and who farms it, while embracing delicious local and seasonal produce. (For those who would like to eat more seasonally, you’ll find a simple Guide to the Seasons in your copy of Eat Green – take a snap of it on your phone so you have it to hand when you’re shopping.)
Flexible eating also means reducing the quantity and improving the quality of meat and fish (if we choose to eat them at all), and looking out for the under-loved, less-fashionable cuts that often get wasted. These are usually delicious after being slow-roasted or left to gently bubble away in a stew, curry or restorative noodle broth, and a local butcher’s or fishmonger’s is a good place to get advice. It also means being adaptable in how we use up food, finding new ways to shop for our fridge and cupboards, so that we can cut our food waste while keeping meals interesting and satisfying. (In Eat Green, see my recipes for Fridge Forage Frittata, Clear the Fridge Curry and Fruit Bowl Bake.)
If that all sounds like a lot, please don’t worry: eating in a more planet-friendly way is not about overhauling your entire kitchen and suddenly reaching 100 percent on the sustainability scale. Instead, it’s about focusing on achievable daily changes that we can realistically take on in the long run.
You can start today by reinventing your leftovers for tomorrow. Save those herb stalks or leftover rocket and spinach leaves to make a delicious pesto, or stretch Sunday’s roast chicken into another meal. Get confident in switching up your vegetables depending on what’s local and in season (think of avocados as more of a treat than a daily necessity – there’s lots more to breakfast than avocado toast). Batch-cook your favorite meals so you have extra for packed lunches.
Rethink your shopping habits, too, by cutting right back on unnecessary packaging. Seek out refillable dried cupboard goods (pasta, lentils, rice, etc.) and refillable olive oil or wine – or kombucha if that’s your tipple of choice. If we all start to make small changes, collectively we can make a positive impact, so take back the power and vote with your fork.
On the dining-out front, here are eight veg-forward restaurants to visit. Some are entirely plant-based, while others champion veg, front and center, as well as serving well-sourced meat and fish.
Heckfield Place, set in beautiful Hampshire grounds, has its own home farm and gardens that supply the restaurants. The menus are designed by one of my food heroes, Skye Gyngell, and they champion her signature elegant and seasonal way of cooking. If you can’t get there, pop in to Gyngell’s Spring restaurant next time you’re in London’s West End for her pre-theater zero-waste ‘Scratch’ menu.
Pioneering restaurant Silo has now moved, luckily for me, from Brighton to my neighborhood in east London. Not only is the local, seasonal food incredibly innovative, the no-waste ethos runs through all its practices. Silo trades directly with farmers to eliminate plastic packaging, absolutely everything is made on-site (from the aged butter to the bread), it composts all leftovers and scraps, and meat is carefully selected from sources that would otherwise be wasted, such as dairy cows.
Plates in London’s Shoreditch is a plant-based creative food studio and restaurant that opens to the public on Saturdays. It’s a beautiful space, which is definitely worth the visit if you’re after something different and special. Think along the lines of celeriac and shiitake lasagne with black truffle sauce, a modern take on classic onion soup or rippled winter berry sponge with meadow-sweet custard and hibiscus.
Chef Dan Barber’s Blue Hill restaurant in New York is a must-try. Fiercely farm-to-table in everything it does, the menu celebrates that week’s harvest from local farms, including his own Blue Hill Farm and Stone Barns Center. The menu includes insanely delicious veg-forward, seasonal dishes such as parsnip ravioli with mushroom broth and smoked murdoc cabbage. Delicious.
For incredible hummus, Middle Eastern-inspired plates, shakshuka and falafel, go to Hasiba in Los Angeles. This is a casual brunch spot and great for grab-and-go pitta sandwiches.
For Mexican-inspired food cooked over a huge wood fire, head to Quetzal in Toronto, where veggies have pride of place – and its coal-roasted sweet potatoes are unbelievable.
Alternatively, Rosalinda (also Mexican and in Toronto) is totally plant-based – serving bright, bold and delicious tacos, bowls, salads and brunches in a bright and modern space. Try the roasted cauliflower tostadas.
Light and airy Café Ineko is hidden down a pretty little street in Paris’s Le Marais. It serves a regularly changing menu focused on seasonal produce that is mainly plant-based. Grab lunch there with a glass of natural wine and make sure to browse the ceramics on sale by the counter.
With more than 100 recipes and flexi-eating tips, Eat Green is available to buy now.
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