Slow Food London set a challenge: could regular Londoners go slow for an entire year? Would it be easy? Would it be hard? Would there be times when it would (slowly) start to go wrong?
Here, Susan Paul talks us through her last week:
This is the last week of the Slow Food challenge, a year which has been full of surprises. We have had a fabulous diet of delicious food, lots more fresh seasonal vegetables and fruit, sustainable fish, less meat, more eggs and British cheeses, real butter and yoghurt and enjoyed the resulting health benefits. We have saved time on shopping and cooking and saved money. We have barely wasted any food, have very little food packaging waste and we have produced compost from all our vegetable and fruit peelings. I have never consistently eaten so much good food and maintained normal weight and my husband has lost weight.
At the start I had to work out what a Slow Food diet is! For me it is essentially food that is healthy and affordable but doesn’t harm the environment, exploit producers or cause unnecessary animal suffering – it also has to taste good and be as local and seasonal as possible.
Most of the food we have had at home has been produced in Britain. There have been some exceptions: whole spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon, some fruits (mainly lemons), dried fruits such as figs, some dried or canned pulses such as flageolet beans and of course the odd bar of good dark chocolate – essentially things that meet the criteria except they are not produced “locally” and I didn’t want to be without them! I have avoided anything which is spoiled because of transportation.
For oil I have almost exclusively used rapeseed oil produced in England. Honey has featured regularly albeit in small quantities – there are so many “local” ones available. We have sampled more than 50 quality British Cheeses from the choice of the hundreds produced. We have tried English wines (surprisingly good but still a bit expensive) and delicious “local” brewery ales at reasonable prices. There are masses of delicious ones and they have been very good to drink with the food we have had. With few exceptions we have eaten British seasonal fruits and vegetables and this has provided a natural variety and increased enjoyment of foods when they are at their peak. Tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, asparagus and samphire are just some examples, which have short seasons and taste all the better for the wait.
The first few weeks of the challenge were the most difficult as I had to change food shopping habits. I have mainly used the food shops in Barnes, which is the most local area for me to buy “slow food”, just as I did before the challenge: J. Seal a family butchers, The Barnes Fish Shop and the Real Cheese Shop, all established over many years. I know the people who work in them well and they know my family – these relationships enrich shopping.
Before the challenge I used these shops for the bulk of our fresh food and supplemented that with some basics by ordering online from a supermarket and sometimes just picking up something, for supper say, wherever I happened to be on a particular day. During the challenge I have continued my loyalty to the Barnes shops but I usually only shop once each week on Saturdays to include some stalls at the Farmers Market. I have minimized my use of supermarkets for food. Having established my sources, I actually enjoyed the change in routine.
Three stalls at the Farmers Market have become favoured sources. For vegetables, the Perry Court Farm stall where the produce is all grown on their farm in Kent. I buy enough for a week, which keeps fresh for that time and very often longer. Apples and pears (there are lots of different varieties) have been our daily fruits since late August and these come from the Ringden Farm stall. They also sell delicious apple juice, which has become our preferred fruit drink all through the year. Good salads, some herbs and leafy greens have come from the Wild Country Organics stall - their things keep very well indeed, usually a week or more! I also buy good breads from both of the bread stalls, and occasionally things that I can’t get at the other shops in Barnes.
I am not suggesting that all Farmers Markets provide the best sources but we are lucky enough to have found one that suits us well. The challenge for a Londoner is locating the best sources of slow food in a convenient place.
I have been tempted by some other lovely foods in London’s food markets such as Borough Market near London Bridge particularly for very special things such as raw butter from Hook & Son and British charcuterie from Cannon & Cannon – there are lots of stalls selling delicious things.
I have saved money buying vegetables and fruit in season because as well as being exceptional in terms of flavour and freshness they have proved to be cheaper than alternatives. Savings have also been made by buying excellent quality meat, eggs, cheese and fish, - even though not necessarily the cheapest - because I have treated these foods with the respect they deserve, and made some excellent meals from the leftovers with barely any waste. I have been delighted by the delicious things which can be made by the creative use of these leftover foods, such as a warm salad of finely sliced roast beef, mushrooms and parsley and a dressing laced with mustard and horseradish; chicken, bacon and barley soup with thyme; lamb, stir fried with mint vinegar lemon and garlic; British cheese shortbread biscuits; gooseberry crumble ice cream – to name just a few. I have made better use of my freezer too, particularly for soups, and things made with leftover bread such as stuffings, croutons, breadcrumbs and even dumplings.
I have cooked fairly simply and moved away from following recipes slavishly –they can be too prescriptive - preferring to use the ingredients available in each of the seasons and adapt them to the tastes of my family and friends. In general I have kept things as simple as possible having realised quite early on in the challenge that these foods need very little embellishment. Fresh herbs have played a major part here (lots grown in my garden), as have preserves – I have made lots of these - mostly simple ones such as onion and raisin chutney, blackberry vinegar and horseradish vinegar. Cooking skills have been important, but only basic skills are needed.
The biggest surprise is that I have saved time or at least I feel as if I have, despite all the scrubbing and peeling, the stewing, slow roasting, stir frying, soup and stock making, pot roasting and preserving. I think there are a number of reasons for this: the natural limits of choice imposed by the seasons, making it easier to decide which foods to buy, simpler cooking methods because the foods need little embellishment, the creative use of leftover foods and the preserving of foods including freezing. I have enjoyed the whole process too which seems to have helped me to “slow” down. Looking back, I have made relatively small changes, which have had a big impact on health and well being amongst other things.
I don’t know why we have come to rely so heavily on foods produced abroad and so I am glad to have supported British food producers and the growing trend to homegrown foods. I hope this trend continues as I intend to carry on with the Slow Food regime – obviously.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog.
We are sure we will hear more of Susan in the future. She has inspired us, and so many of you - we thank her sincerely for allowing us on this journey with her