I have just been introduced by Crumb magazine Bristol to a new word that I like to beleive describes my ethos and style of cooking well. The word is ‘locavore’. It defines a person who eats locally produced food, someone who chooses to buy from the local market, rather than importing goods. For me, the significance of the term ‘locavore’ is that it refers to a developed relationship between an individual and their food.
Having a connection with the food I eat, is so important to me. Not only does it taste better, but also I know where it has come from and how it has been produced. The sweetest pea I have ever eaten was one grown in my Mum’s back garden. The most flavourful beef was from the herd of Devon Ruby at River Cottage that I walked past everyday. The most enjoyable mouth of bread I’ve ever enjoyed was from the clay oven my friends had built.
I’ve always loved cooking with food from the locality, but it’s only in recent years that I have become strict about the provenance of my ingredients. Farming was in my upbringing. My first job was on a pig farm in Dorset and during university in Cornwall, I lived on various permaculture farms, working to pay my rent.
I started my festival business Poco, 8 years ago. In 2005 food was a lot more affordable. Since then, the costs of ingredients have inflated massively, which at times has meant that my morals have been wavered through not always buying local or free-range in order to keep the business afloat. However I have learnt that you can keep to a strict budget while using exceptionally high quality products. All it takes is a little thrift, a seasonal approach and the use of the whole animal. I feel like this has strengthened my beliefs in seasonal and local food. Now I simply won’t use an ingredient if it doesn’t match my principles and will always find another route or recipe to replace that ingredient.
There are many good reasons to buy local food –
- Support the local community
- Quality – food is picked ripe and has less distance to travel
- Carbon footprint – reduced by no air miles
- Seasonality – food is cheaper and more flavoursome when in season
- Trust – if you have a relationship with the trader of a product, you can learn how and where their food is produced.
I use as much local food at all my restaurants and events. When sourcing all of our ingredients, I first look to see what is available within the local region. On our present menu at Poco in Bristol, we have salad leaves which are grown at The Severn Project, a delicious onglet steak that is a Hereford cross and salt marsh lamb, from Cullimores farm, in Frampton on Severn. All our organic eggs are from Model farm, near Chippenham, and we also get a lot of veg from John, who owns a farm on the Dorset border.
If you feel like you don’t have time to go shopping to all the local shops and farmers markets then Box schemes and delivery are a brilliant solution. These days you can get all sorts of local groceries delivered, even milk and cheese. The best advice I can give, to those of us that are worried about expense, is to explore cheaper cuts of meat such as shin of beef, pork belly, chicken wings and so on. Bulk up your larder with root veg and greens. I’m beginning to write a book about this very subject. My aim in writing this text is to provide people with a variety of exciting, nutritious recipes at an affordable price.
When it comes to local verses organic, for me it is the quality that is most important. If food is locally produced, does that mean the quality is irrelevant… I think not. What good is a locally produced sausage if the pigs have been pumped full of hormones and kept in pens, even if the farmer is your friend.
The Soil Association’s organic certification is a reliable guide to ensure that your food has been produced with high animal welfare standards and without the use of unnecessary and harmful chemicals.
If you’re buying direct from local farmers and suppliers that you trust, to treat their livestock and vegetables with respect, then I believe local can be as important as an organic accreditation.