The movement towards ethical living is really picking up, particularly in the last few years. People are becoming more aware of the world around them and developing an increased desire to know where and how their food is made. Even though I am not a purist, I do believe every little gesture helps, and a small change in the way we eat and buy food can have a large impact on the way we live. Apart from buying organic food, there a few things I try to keep in mind when it comes to ethical ingredients.
Into the ethics
Firstly, it is very important to understand the area where you live and what foods are locally produced around you. If you are fortunate to have bananas growing in your region, then instead of buying mass-produced bananas at the supermarket, why not find a local producer to purchase from? Not only does this help your local community, it also helps small businesses survive global competition.
This brings me to the second point: the importance of trade. I love the fact that quite a number of places are becoming ‘home-proud’ and showcasing the variety of plant-based and animal-based products that have been grown or reared in the area. However, the country I live in has a temperate climate with cool winters and not-so-warm summers, so certain fruits cannot be grown here without the help of heating and a large amount of sunshine. Therefore, if I want to use such fruits, I choose to acquire them in a responsible way. I will try to find and purchase from home-proud farmers or dealers abroad whose standards and norms I agree with, rather than going for the most convenient option. This way, I know I am still living up to my own ethics while stimulating trade with smaller businesses that are often forgotten by large-scale retailers.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s essential to eat what is in season. Where I live at present, for example, strawberries grow abundantly through the summer months, and during that time, you can either buy them from local farmers or go pick them yourself at certain farms. However, people often eat conveniently imported strawberries in the middle of a deep, snowy winter. This is something I try to avoid. Not only is this quite costly, it also makes us less aware of seasonal patterns which inevitably leads to an unnecessary increase of our carbon footprints. Therefore, I only include ingredients in my recipe designs that are seasonally available.
Cooking with the seasons
I try, as much as possible, to educate myself about where I live and which ingredients are available nearby. My blog, Sumac & Dutch, is not only a collection of my experiences and recipes, it is also an illustration of the varieties of produce available to me. Because every region experiences the seasons differently, it is important to keep doing your own research. To show you what this would look like in my own recipes, I will share how I approached two of my recipes. Also, I will imagine what they would have looked like if I had lived in a completely different region.
On a trip to Morocco I was completely inspired by the local flavours and traditional dishes there, particularly the aromatic pastilla. However, since it was late winter, my cilantro and parsley plants at home were still far too tiny and would not be thick enough to use until May or June. So, in order to re-create the sensation of these Moroccan dishes using only ingredients available to me, I wanted to use some of the first of my herb shoots. Not only are they nutritious, they are packed with flavour. I was also aware that the winter hunt was coming to an end, so I decided to purchase some locally and sustainably hunted game birds for the pastry instead of the traditional pigeon or chicken. If I happened to live somewhere like New Orleans in the USA, I would definitely opt for rabbit or squirrel, or even quail, which is still available in January. Or, I’d simply enjoy taking advantage of the fresh seasonal fish available, such as speckled trout, black crappy, or black drum.
Another example is when I started to experiment for my Forced Rhubarb Series. Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly here in Western Europe, brings a sense of brightness and a much needed variety of colour. Forced rhubarb, the sweeter, less acidic variety of regular rhubarb, is available from late winter to late spring, and since I was visiting my mother, who lives in a region where forced rhubarb is famously grown, it seemed fitting to use this produce and showcase the different flavours that can be combined to really bring out the wonderful aromas.
If I lived in the New Orleans area however, I would be looking at using tangerines, regular rhubarb, and as they slowly begin to come into season in March, strawberries as well. Rhubarb and citrus fruits really work well together, providing a much needed sweetness without losing the tartness of the vegetable. Rhubarb and strawberries also work well, providing a wonderful sweetness and tartness that I absolutely adore.
Minding the seasons is a philosophy, a habit, that I will take with me wherever I go because, besides bringing variety to my dishes throughout the year, I believe it is important to live sustainably and responsibly in connection to my environment. For some, it may seem to demand tedious adjustment to their cooking styles, but once I engaged with it, it deepened my creativity and respect for the riches of the natural world around me.
Author: Yasmin van Luttervelt of Sumac & Dutch