There’s a great deal that could have been said to the 30 or so food and trade journalists and bloggers at The London Produce Show Media Masterclass. Representing all walks of the fresh produce industry, from retail to foodservice, chefs to growers and service providers, the show holds so much information, sets so many new trends and advances so many new concepts that it's hard to see the stories from the stalls when you walk in. So, in a world where there is so much information, coming at us from a multitude of different places and in ever-increasing new ways, it was refreshing to enjoy a bit of balance
There’s been an awful lot flying around media circles about the fast-becoming-frowned-upon ‘clean eating’ brigade, the fat debate and what constitutes a good 'diet' in the last couple of weeks, maybe even months.
This month, we've seen the Hemsley sisters’ new Channel 4 show receive backlash via viewing figures for advocating gluten-free to non-coeliacs and the once-dubbed ‘queen of clean eating’ Deliciously Ella denouncing the term – saying that it's a really "negative" way to look at food. And to top that all off, River Cafe founder Ruth Rogers told The Telegraph, that concepts such as anti-gluten, anti-carb, anti-dairy 'clean eating' brought about “impossible ideals", "encouraging disordered eating”. "The key to healthy eating", she added, in the spiralizer-bashing article, "is lots of vegetables and seasonality”.
Apt then, that we had a three-course menu demonstration from two-Michelin star Dutch chef, Dick Middelweerd, who has built Restaurant de Treeswijkhoeve on a fruit-and-vegetable heavy ratio of 80% fruit and vegetables (including spuds and grains, nonetheless) and 20% meat, fish and protein. This concept materialised after a wake up call from the chef's own body in the way of a heart attack – the warning sign that made him assess the food he ate and cooked for others.
Fruit and veg centric
With the massive fruit and veg glasshouse empire on his doorstep in Westland, he has all the inspiration and product he needs. “There are a lot of extras on the plate that you can make with fruit and vegetables, rather than fats, like jus, for instance,” Middelweerd told us. “I love to work with vegetables because they are so good for you. We don’t throw anything away and make use of the whole vegetable.”
Our first plate was an array of different types of perfectly ripe tomatoes - plum, baby, tiger, green, cooked in differing ways (some were confit, some pickled in sushi vinegar overnight) with a Ruurhoeve cheese foam and an aubergine compote. He even saved the seeds of the firm and plump plum tomato to create a simple “vegetarian caviar”, and topped it all off with a basil-infused soya-bean oil.
Next up was his Terrine of Westland Vegetables featuring courgettes, red peppers, Pomodori tomatoes, stripy aubergines and Palermo peppers, with a thick and iron-packed Salatrio root-ball lettuce, and cucumber juice. The product of time and effort, the terrine had been steamed for 35 minutes, then chilled for eight hours, and the peppers had been baked for an hour-and-a-half before puréeing.
We were then presented with and talked through Middelweerd’s BBQ Beets dish, with pineberries, pearl barley cooked in beetroot juice and a beetroot-flavoured meringue (made with powdered egg whites and beetroot juice) filled with goat’s cheese, as well as red, golden and white barbecued beetroots. “Oh good, some carbs!” exclaims one of the bloggers. We were inspired to make fruit and vegetables the star, but not at the cost of a healthy, balanced diet.
Balance environmentally and socially
You can talk about healthy eating and fruit and vegetable appreciation as much as you like, but if there isn’t a sustainable and ethical supply chain behind it then it will eventually come crashing down.
Feedback – an organisation set to combat the global food waste – was at the masterclass to bring a reminder of the reality of everyday life in producing the fruit and veg we were readily enjoying. It was startling to learn that the amount of food we waste through the food chain, whether it’s at farm level via supermarket specifications or failing to eat the produce in time at home, could eliminate hunger in the developing world.
Dan Woolley from the registered charity said the situation was a “social crime”. He explained that the Feedback movement began in 2009 with pyramids formed by tonnes of parsnip waste caused by supermarket policies in Norfolk. This then led to the Feeding The 5,000 campaign, which regularly serves up a communal feast for 5,000 people with otherwise wasted food in venues all over the world to bring political attention to the issue.
Woolley also highlighted the waste caused in Africa, the UK, Peru and Guatemala because UK supermarkets are enforcing wasteful, strict, production specifications and last minute cancelations, and appealed to people to ask supermarkets to “stop dumping food waste on farmers” and take some responsibility for the repercussions of their actions.
Another of Feedback’s many campaigns is the Gleaning Network, which coordinates volunteers, growers and food redistribution charities to salvage the thousands of tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables that are wasted on farms every year across the UK and Europe, and direct this fresh, nutritious food to people in need. “One solution could be more cold stores or processors onsite at farms to make it into soups that could be then sent to the needy,” said Woolley. “While the retail side needs to relax with cosmetic standards, we need to shop smarter in our everyday lives. Buy only what you will use everyday and get out of ‘big shops’.”
Back to our roots
London Produce Show ambassador Oli Blanc brought us back to our childhoods with his kids’ app Henri Le Worm, designed to teach children how important the garden and growing things is, as well as the necessity of bees and insects. Saying his father [chef Raymond Blanc] was an inspiration for teaching him right from wrong when it came to ingredients, he hopes to pass on this knowledge through the fun game and story app, where kids go underground with Henri to learn about nutrition and cookery.
As an industry and in society, we have to be careful the enjoyment doesn’t go out of the wonder that is fruit and veggies, whether it’s through mismanaged waste, diets that damage our psychological relationship with food or a complete detachment from where our fresh produce comes from and the livelihoods it supports. Offering free lesson plans and with a cartoon version on the horizon, Henri Le Worm aims to change the way the future generation sees food. Maybe the grownups could do with a lesson from Henri, too.