Happy cows – spring is coming

The best and healthiest milk comes from traditionally farmed cows that live in fields, eating grass. Watch this clip of cows being turned out onto the pasture after spending winter indoors. It says it all.

Sadly not all cows enjoy the sun on their backs or lush grass under their hooves. US style mega ‘zero grazing’ dairies have been introduced into the UK. Behind the innocent looking white stuff that ends up on the supermarket shelves, there is a mega industry under huge pressure to produce more for less. Zero grazing dairies means that cows are kept indoor for the whole of their adult lives in concrete and steel pens. It is all about production, 24/7. In the UK approximately 20% of milk production is now from mega dairies and that is on the increase.

Cows are ruminants, they are designed to graze pasture, kept as part of a rotational, traditional farming system, dairy is healthier, sustainable and has low environmental impact. A diet based on grass results in cow’s milk that’s higher in an essential fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat that reduces inflammation in the body and has been tied to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Grass-fed milk has double the omega-3 fat content as conventional milk. Changing that to keep cows indoors creates huge welfare and environmental issues. All for the sake of making more profit and saving you a few pence.

Milk is cheap, even the highest quality milk is affordable, it is not a luxury item or an item we should be undermining to save pennies. It is estimated that moving to organic milk would cost the average family of four just £1 per week.

It is clear that we should buy milk with caution but it is wise to know the facts. It is very easy to a condemn a whole industry whenever there is bad press and the dairy industry has had it’s fair share. 66% of dairy farmers have gone out of business over the last 20 years and we are loosing around 1 traditional farm per week. Dairy farmers are under huge pressures and we need to support those that are fighting to maintain high standards at affordable prices. Not all milk and dairy is the same, there are vast differences in production yet small difference is price for the superior version so it is well worth investing in quality dairy.

How can you compare and buy ‘free range’ milk

Buying organic milk and dairy is the easiest way to ensure grass fed, free range milk. There are various organic standards in the UK but all of them include grazing access. e.g. Duchy, supermarket own brands, Yeo Valley, Moo and smaller independent organic farmers, sold directly or via retailers.

Free range milk is also now widely available, looks out for this Free range dairy logo at Asda, Morrisons, Booths and some Co-op stores. As consumer awareness increases, the industry responds with labelling to help you differentiate between products. The concept of labelling ‘free range’ milk has now been introduced. Free range dairy used to be normal, so it is not a new product, but the need to label it as such is. See http://www.freerangedairy.org for more information.

Waitrose has a ‘grass promise’ on their own brand essential milk but it is the same price per litre as Tesco and Sainsbury own brand, so a great choice if you are budget conscious.

There are also high end milk producers that make the cream of the crop, literally! Worth a look even just for interest to compare against the industry. A raw milk microdairy http://www.the-calf-at-foot-dairy.co.uk. Unhomogenised guernsey milk from Able and Cole https://www.abelandcole.co.uk/guernsey-milk

We are lucky in the UK compared with other EU nations and countries worldwide that we still have a large amount of traditional dairies, where cows get access to grazing, but this is rapidly declining. Unless the label states organic, free range, grass promise or you can trace the milk to a specific dairy or corporative that has a policy to give cows access to pasture there is a real possibility your milk or diary has come from an intensive dairy system.

Cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter

Labelling on dairy other than milk has not caught up in terms of free range or grass promise. The industry focus in on milk. For example I contacted Waitrose to ask if they grass promise extended to cheese and butter and their response was no. They did not have a direct relationship with the farmers so where unable to guarantee it was produced from pasture feed dairy cows.

Buying organic cheese, yogurt and butter is a guaranteed way to ensure the diary is free range. Some producers will label the product as such but you’ll need to read the label carefully.

Imported cheese from outside the UK is likely to come from zero grazing dairies. Italy, Spain, France, Germany etc. all have a very high ratio of non grazing dairies. Even high end, luxury cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano = no grass. So read the labels and ask questions.

Parting thoughts, dairy and specifically milk is considered an essential item, but it is not a necessary part of our diet for calcium, that is a myth, see https://wp.me/p7RDjy-77. Consume dairy because you really enjoy it, look for organic, free range, traditional, high quality milk, ice cream, cheese, butter and yogurt and thus enjoy it even more!

Alternative plant based milk, yogurt, ice-cream and cream (I am not convinced about cheese) are readily available and on the increase see this post for ideas https://wp.me/p7RDjy-8U

Moo to you too, the Ethical omnivore.

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Buy British

If it can be grown or produced in the UK we should avoid buying imported versions. For example banana’s aren’t grown here, but apples are so look for UK origin apples. All animal products that we typically eat are farmed in the UK, however we import vast quantities.

Free markets and free trade have positive benefits, but where food production is concerns the negatives outweigh the benefits.

Food security – this is our ability to be self sufficient. Do you really want your pork to come from China, or your dairy to come from a 46,000 cow indoor farm in Saudi Arabia? The production costs might be cheaper, but that benefits the businesses in the food chain, not the consumer. The more imported food we buy the more risk we are stuck with it with little or no control over production standards, quality or price. Creating a threat to our national food security.

Level playing field – We are lucky in the UK as a lot of our agricultural policies, mean safer and better produce, but it often means we ask more of our farmers in the UK, through welfare acts, non GMO crops, reduced use of chemicals etc. they face tough challenges competing with producers from other countries. We can’t have it both ways and need to support our UK farmers.

Misleading labelling – watch out for products that appear to be British. It is used as a marketing technique. For example a ready meal sold as ‘British hotpot’, that is made using no ingredients from the UK. Or Strawberries advertised an ‘perfect British summer’ that are from Spain.

Lamb and mutton – Sheep are part of our farming heritage. Sheep suit our climate and landscape. UK lamb and mutton is available all year round, so buying it from the other side of the world, New Zealand is unnecessary. The same with beef from other continents, such as USA and South America.

Country of origin – Read the labels, the country of origin is listed. Be aware that ‘packed in’ doesn’t mean where a product originated. Some labels are misleading as it might be sold as British if it was finished or packed in UK. Apply common sense.

Source directly – supermarkets and will source produce from the cheapest, most available source. That doesn’t mean they pass the saving onto you, it means they can’t often can’t tell you which country they sourced the product from. For example it will have a list of countries or simply say ‘the EU’. Try to find direct sources of produce and independent retailers that are committed to local produce.

Support UK farming –  We need to support our farming industry to ensure it’s future.

Grass fed dairy – The UK still has a high level of outdoor grazing dairy, around 80%. Compare this with a lot of other European countries where intensive dairy, with zero grazing is in the majority. For example in Italy where approx 90% of all dairy is intensive. We have an amazing cheese industry but buy a lot of imported cheese. Over all we import dairy products worth £1.3bn more than we exported.

Miles travelled – obvious one, less carbon footprint.

Pork – our welfare standards for pork production are better than a lot of other countries. The use of farrowing crates, sow stalls, male castration, tail docking, straw bedding systems etc. This puts a strain on our UK pork farmers to compete on price, but the product is better and worth the difference.

Provenance – Know where it has came from. The UK has a reputation for higher standards, including review and audit of these standards.

Chemicals and preservation processes – To be able to move your food around the world it undergoes chemical and preservation processes to retain freshness, control ripening etc..

Seasonal – It is always said it far better to eat in season, buying British means you are leaning to a seasonal diet. Enjoy ‘out of season’ produce as a treat but think about what you are buying when.

Buy locally – Go one step further and buy as much local produce as you can.

Parting thoughts – Buying British (or your local country) represents the overall concept of Ethical omnivore. Whole food, grown and supplied to benefits us all, keeping control of our food supply and quality. It makes sense for so many reasons. Sadly it doesn’t mean that all UK produce is ethical, as we also have intensive farming in the UK. So buy British and buy ethical British.

The Ethical omnivore.

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Tostadas

Tostadas meaning toasted in Spanish, a simple, adaptable dish that is yummy and fun. You can make a 100% plant based (vegan), veggie, fish or meat version to suit. The recipe below is just an idea, you can add whatever you like really. I use plenty of seasoning in all elements to give a really rich, indulgent flavours. We love Mexican inspired food and were introduced to this dish by my Aunt Caroline, who is an amazing chef and cook 🙂

When time allows I make my own flour tortilla as shop bought ones often contain palm oil and preservatives, but they work just as well, e.g Waitrose essential wholemeal tortillas. If you make your own you can make gluten free, using a non-wheat flour such as rice or gram flour. See a simple recipe at end of post.

Tostada recipe serves 4:

Prepare of the elements and then put them together at the end. You can make everything is advance if easier.

  • Beans
  • In a frying pan, add 1 large red onion finely sliced and very lightly fry, (oil or apple juice)
  • Add 250g pre cooked black turtle beans (approx 1 can drained. Or dried version but they take 1hr+ to cook).
  • Add splash of water, seasoning to taste (I use cumin, chilli power and smoked paprika)
  • Beans are precooked so just cook to heat them up and smash a bit as you go.
  • Prepare fresh veg / salad
  • 2 large fresh tomatoes diced, add a pinch of salt and mix well.
  • 2 medium avocado, chopped and smashed
  • Finely chop red cabbage or lettuce (something to give it freshness and crunch), add a large dash of lemon juice and toss.
  • Flat leaf parsley or coriander chopped if you have it
  • Creamy sauce
  • I use cashew cream, see https://wp.me/p7RDjy-8Y (prepared in advance) but you can also use organic creme fresh or sour cream
  • Mix in chipotles (dried, smoked Jalapeño, you can buy as flakes, sauce or a rub, I use Bart’s smokey chipotle rub, which has sweetness too), if using pure flakes also add a pinch of brown sugar and generous glug of lemon juice.  Sauce should be running, like single cream.
  • Choose – veg / meat / fish and cheese
  • Veg version – slice and fry 250/500g mushroom in seasoning, and / or roast around 250/500g cubed root veg, toss in little oil or apple juice 200c oven 40 mins, until cooked and soft, bash up a bit (not mashed) e.g golden beetroot, squash, sweet potato. (Total 500g veg)
  • Fish version- use 300g prawns or a white fish, pre cooked and flake
  • Meat version – 300g anything you fancy. Slow cooked meat cooked in stock or wine shredded works well e.g beef brisket. I used braised pheasant and venison so anything goes!
  • Useless you are making a vegan version, grate organic cheddar in a bowl
  • Tostadas
  • 4 large wholemeal tortilla. Brush either side of tortilla with a little oil, add to a hot frying pan and cook until toasty and cripy, repeat both sides. Set aside in warm oven.
  • Putting it all together (as rough as you like)
  • Put toasted tortilla on a plate, spread layer of beans, then veg, meat or fish layer, sprinkle with cheese if using, add to warm oven to melt
  • Add tomato, avocado, cabbage and herbs
  • Drizzle creamy sauce all over the top and serve as is or with fresh green salad on the side
  • It ends up a bit like a Mexican version of a stacked pizza. Then just tuck in, there is no right or wrong way to eat it. As the tortilla is crispy it is hard to pick up but you can try!

Bright colours, yummy flavours, filling and fun, what is not to like. Ask the man in the photo, he’s happy 🙂

Recipe for homemade tortilla (make 8):

  • 280g wholewheat flour, 170ml water, 3 tbsp olive oil, pinch salt.
  • Add flour and salt, stir in water and oil
  • Turn onto a floured surface; knead 10-12 times, adding a little flour if too wet or water if too dry to give you a smooth dough
  • Leave 10 mins
  • Divide into 8 portions (more or less depending on size of tortillas)
  • On a floured surface roll into tortilla shape and thickness, thickness is more important than shape!
  • In a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, cook tortillas over medium heat for 1 minute on each side or until lightly browned
  • Use straight away or cool, wrap and freeze. Use baking paper between them to separate if easier

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Woah – meet quinoa!

Hard to spell or pronounce (Keen-wa not Kin-oo-ah, as Mr Ethivore keeps telling me), It is all the rage so I decided to investigate. What I found out is fascinating. It was one of those things I had in the back of the cupboard; another grain to eat instead of rice, but now I know more, it will be moved to the front.

Quinoa might be new to us but it a staple food in many areas of South American and especially the Andes where it has been grown and eaten to thousands of years.

We tend to think of it as a grain, but it’s not it’s a seed. It is in the same family as spinach, beets and chard. The leaves are edible too but the bit we eat is the seed. The United Nations, FAO made 2013 ‘International year of Quinoa’ to promote it’s importance as a food crop.

Why is it good for you?

It is celebrated for being of the most nutritionally rich food on the planet, compared with both plant and animal sources. Quinoa is a complete protein food, meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids, which cannot be made by the body and therefore must come from food. This is also true of the soya bean (edamame). Making them a perfect source of plant based protein. In the debate around the best source of protein, quinoa and soya win over meat with their added benefit of also reducing cholesterol whilst meat proteins can increase it. It is also rich in omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids.

It is easy to digest and good source of calcium, phosphorus, copper, folate, zinc and iron, rich in vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin C and vitamin E. Quinoa is also a good source of magnesium which relaxes blood vessels so provide cardio vascular health. Protects against breast cancer and acts as anti oxidant.

Quinoa has many qualities that make it a weight loss friendly food. It is high in protein and fiber, and has a relatively low glycemic index value.

Cooking with quinoa

There are reported to be around 120 varieties of the quinoa plant. We typically eat three types, white, red and black. White being the most common. Red quinoa is more often used in meals like salads since it tends to hold its shape better after cooking. Black quinoa has an “earthier and sweeter” taste. You can also find quinoa flakes and flour which are great for baking. Quinoa is also gluten free so a great alternative to wheat flours.

You can buy dried, raw or pre cooked quinoa. Before cooking the dried version give it a good rinse in cold water, the seeds are coated in a compound that is quite bitter. Follow the instructions on the packet. Typically, add it to the pan with 2-3 times the volume of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 mins, the water should absorb, the quinoa turns translucent and the little ‘tails’ uncurl when it is ready.

Because quinoa has a fairly neutral taste it is good to use in both sweet or savoury. It makes a nice porridge cooked in 50/50 apple juice and water or milk. You can also cook in stock to give it more flavour if you are eating it as a savoury side dish. Once cooked it can be cooled and stored in the fridge for several days.

The pre cooked version is usually open and serve. They often add oil so it is slightly higher in fat, but handy to have in store and good to check in a salad or when making a quick lunch.

I wouldn’t bother with quinoa mixed with other grains as a source of quinoa, it is a bit of a sales gimmick really, they are often very high in the other product e.g. rice 90%, quinoa 10%.

Is all quinoa the same?

No. The main exporters of the quinoa in the word are Bolivia, Peru and Chile. It is also now being grown in UAE, EU, Canada, basically anywhere it will grow, now over 50 countries!

The champagne equivalent of quinoa is grown in Bolivia; Quinua Real or Royal Quinoa it is grown in the same way the Incas have for thousands of years. It is organic and traditionally grown, harvested and prepared. Soil preparation is fully manual, it’s fertilized with llama dung and pests are controlled using extracts of indigenous plants. Sounds good to me!

Quinoa is big business and where there is big business there are ethical challenges. Reports that the Western demand of quinoa caused a sharp price increase and meant local people could no longer afford it, have been balanced in recent years with reports of improved economic conditions for farmers and communities. Buying Fairtrade or organic approved products is a way to ensure you are supporting an ethical choice.

Waitrose Duchy Organic British Quinoa

Parting thoughts, as quinoa is grown in the UK and the prices even for the organic version are similar, it seems like a good choice, considering Airmiles, ethical issues and supporting UK farmers.

Long and short is we should add quinoa in our diet because it is easy to grow, highly nutritive, medicinally important, economical and versatile food.

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What is a ‘plant powered diet’?

A whole food plant based diet, or plant powered diet (PP) is exactly that. It is preparing dishes from whole foods that grow naturally from the earth – soil, sun, rain. The food chain starts with plants, that is where all food energy and nutrition originates. By moving to a plant based diet you are simply getting closer to the original source of food energy.

  1. Producers – plants, create all food energy
  2. Consumers primary – herbivores, eat plants
  3. Consumers secondary – omnivores, eat both plants and herbivores
  4. Consumers tertiary – carnivores, eat herbivores and omnivores
  5. Consumers quaternary – carnivores, eat other carnivores and have no natural predators

Learning to enjoy a whole food plant based diet (PP) and recognising all of the benefits is like throwing a good bowling ball and knocking down the majority of pins, maybe all of them! A plant based diet is the healthiest, most sustainable, affordable diet we can eat.

There are lots of organisations and diets available in this arena. I favour a whole food plant based diet rather than meat replacement products as I avoid eating highly processed foods. I found the easiest one to follow is Michael Greger’s daily dozen checklist, see this video clip:

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/dr-gregers-daily-dozen-checklist

I have made a chart and check list to help keep track Daily dozen. As with everything, moderation and variety is the key. Saying broccoli is good for you doesn’t mean eat only broccoli it is all about eating a variety of foods.

And the question most of us ask: ‘Can I get everything I need from a plant based diet?’ The answer is: Yes you can get everything you need from a plant based diet. In fact it is the best way to get everything you need!

And the next question: ‘what about the taste, is plant food bland?’ You are in for a great surprise. You might have picked up from reading this blog that I love food and I plan my day around it. I can personally reassure you that all the food I eat is delicious. There is a wealth of food, flavours and dishes to discover and once you do you’ll never go back. There are an estimated 20,000 species of edible plants so plenty to try!

When we look at food choices and concerns, we tend to focus on one thing at a time; meat or non meat, processed or non processed foods, good or bad fats, too much sugar, too much salt, eat ‘5-A-Day’. A whole-food plant based diet isn’t another one to add to the list, it is the one, it means you get rid of the list.

The focus is not on cutting things out or being restrictive. You focus on what you should eat, increasing your intake of foods that give you all the nutrition you need and will thrive on. Focusing on a plant based diet and then choosing to add fats, meat, sugar, fish, processed foods, dairy, salt etc. gives you the freedom to enjoy a healthy, flexible diet, include only the best versions of animal products and enjoy extras like chocolate, crisps etc as a treat. You’ll find the more you change you diet the less you will crave or want to eat unhealthy foods, but it is good to know you have choice so you don’t freak out or lack the motivation to try.

In summary: Plants means:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Berries
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Grains
  • Herbs, spices
  • Legumes (bean, pulses, peas)

Whole foods means:

  • Prepared food or eating a whole product or close to it, e.g. A whole apple rather than apple juice
  • Minimal processing only, for purpose of preserving, e.g. dried beans, fruits, herbs etc.
  • Intact nutrition e.g. wholewheat bread or pasta, brown rice etc.
  • Maximum nutrition, preparing food to maximise nutritional value, e.g. cooking techniques, eating raw foods.
  • Preparing food without added sugar, fats or salt.

* You will recognise some of those terms from the post about Ultra processed foods.

Parting thoughts, how far you go with the diet is your choice. Some people will make it 100%, which is recommended for maximum health benefits, but any shift you make will give you benefits. The key message here is that once you have learnt how to enjoy a PB diet and feel confident you better understand nutrition and unpick certain food myths for example read https://wp.me/p7RDjy-77 and https://wp.me/p7RDjy-6h the easier it is to make ethical food choices.

Don’t take me word for it, Google ‘plant based athlete’ for some inspiration, from Lewis Hamilton, Venus Williams, David Haye, Scott Jurek, Rich Roll to name but just a few.

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