Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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This is Day 24 of Veganuary, a 30-day pledge to eat vegan to save the planet. Today, Elina finishes her cold swimming pledge and I discuss how healthy and environmentally-friendly aren’t necessarily the same thing when it comes to food.
I wake up early to be at the Serpentine, with breakfast and lunch in my bag, at 7.40am. Today, January 31st, marks the end of my friend Elina’s pledge to swim 150 lengths of the Serpentine or 15K in water around 3C/38F through January, to raise funds to build a shelter for homeless youth. She’s inspired people so much with her determination and funny daily posts that she’s exceeded her fundraising target and the chief executive of LandAid is here to swim the last home stretch (or parts of it) with her.
Here they are before the swim, likely considering the fact that the sooner they swim, the quicker they eat cake. I would think the same.
Here is the Serpentine, after the rain has stopped. Today’s temperature is a balmy 6C/42F. Elina receives a standing ovation in the water when she finishes (in fly, no less), cold wet hugs (the best kind) and cheers. She is a real star and she shows that anybody, anybody, can do something for a cause that they care about.
Sipping a cup of tea without spilling it all over the place, I discuss Veganuary so far with my friend Poppy. What have I learned or discovered? Since I’m doing Veganuary for environmental reasons, the most shocking thing I’ve found out is how disconnected we are from where our food comes and how little we know about our food’s impact on the planet. Let me clarify. Take a British person and ask them where apples grow. Apples probably grow on a farm in Kent, on a gnarly tree in a field. If the farmer grows the apples organically, there might be a beehive nearby to pollinate the trees and the farmer also grows pears, runner beans or some sort of other local crop. That much is pretty clear.
Now, ask the same person where the coconut in their curry’s coconut milk comes from. They figure it’s probably by the beach and in a warm country. The farmer? It’s fuzzy, maybe wearing flip-flops. The other crops? Fuzzy too. What I’m getting at is that we have no clue how the imported exotic food that we eat is grown. The global demand for coconuts has skyrocketed in the past 10 years because they’re now considered healthy alternatives to dairy/animal products. In any supermarket today, I can buy rice milk, cashew milk, almond milk, hazelnut milk, soy milk or coconut milk. The only differentiator for consumers? Most likely price and then taste and yes, health claims. Do I choose based on the crop that’s the most environmentally-friendly? No, I don’t because the information is nowhere to be seen.
We simply don’t know anything about our food’s environmental impact.
On Day 14, I started questioning dairy substitutes and the environment. I only scratched the surface but I quickly learned that coconut farming hurts local biodiversity, that soy farming is a big cause of deforestation and, incidentally, global warming, and that almond or avocado farming causes huge irrigation issues in drought-prone areas. If you are interested, this article on healthy foods that are ruining the environment is rather enlightening.
The fact is, we need an indicator of our food’s carbon footprint and it needs to be easy to understand. Fish now have little rate cards produced by the Monterey Bay Aquarium or the Marine Stewardship Council, indicating whether they are sustainable or not. Who in your supermarket tells you that your avocado toast is indirectly fuelling illegal deforestation and environmental degradation? Nobody is. Avocadoes are grown too far for us to care and this complete disconnection impairs our decision process. If the apple farmer in Kent was deforesting precious Woodland Trust ancient growth forest to plant young apple trees, I can bet you that people would go up in arms, do their best Lorax and speak for the trees.
Hear me out. Healthy foods are great but next time you crave a healthy exotic food, think about what other choices you have. Better yet. Demand from retailers that they provide the information on a product’s environmental impact. Organic and fair trade labels are only a small, if important, part of the answer.
End of rant.
As I get into the office, I am super hungry and eat, back to back, two breakfasts. First, I owe an apology to Pip & Nut’s Nutella substitute. It’s not that bad if you stick it in the fridge overnight (thanks for the tip, reviews on Ocado.com). It spreads much better and the taste is more pleasant. Had I known, I would have packed a third slice of rye bread but I didn’t. As second breakfast, it’s oat and nut muesli with … hot water. I can’t use cow milk and I don’t have anything else with me. It’s not bad.
Sometimes, I eat so healthy that I surprise myself. Lunch is reheated chow mein (leftovers from Day 21) and fresh sugar snap peas. For dessert, I eat a banana. I should feel light and energetic. I feel bloated and this is giving me…
Geez, doesn’t the flatulence ever stop? Surely by now, my body has somewhat adjusted to “bye bye bacon” and explained to my digestive tract that it’s 100% veggies during Veganuary. Well, think again. The farting machine is in full wind mode and I need to take a walk outside otherwise my colleagues will exile me. Even outside it’s powerful. The Force is strong with Veganuary’s gas.
Dinner is what we call in French a poem. Blame this on my horror of food waste but I absolutely want to find a use for the failed fried plantains of Day 19. Zipadeedoodah, how about a failed fried plantain curry without curry paste (because it has prawn paste) and fish sauce (because fish)? Hmm, I sense a MasterChef evening.
At the dinner table, my daughter has a taste and looks at me like I’m a 3-legged puppy.
“Maman, you can’t cook delicious food every night.”
I nod. And completely agree.
“Maman, it’s OK. We all learn from our mistakes. Can I not eat the plantains?”
She’s right. It’s totally forgettable. That’s why, after quick consideration, we eat plain Thai hom mali rice with sesame seed oil and soy sauce. Now that, is delicious.
Why bother creating weird recipes? Seriously.