In a post-festive haze, January seems to be the month that never ends. People plunge into new year resolutions with the best of intentions, but many often end in sad and quiet defeats two weeks into the month. One of the latest additions to our usual role call of health-oriented goals has been the challenge of Veganuary. This concept began in 2014 with the aim of inducting people into the habit of living a vegan lifestyle at a time when we often attempt new things in the hope of bettering ourselves. Since it began, participants have more than doubled each year.
While vegan and vegetarianism have been proven to be beneficial for the environment, January is a terrible month to take part in mass. Veganuary aims to show the best of vegan food in order to encourage people both to take part and hopefully make the change long term. However, this means providing a massive variety of meals and produce in order to show people how interesting and diverse veganism can be. This is where the biggest problem comes in; the supply of such a range of ingredients - fruits, vegetables and grains - have to be grown and shipped over from countries with hotter climates so that we can enjoy the same vast selection all year round. The environmental cost of enjoying tomatoes and berries in January is exponential in comparison to August. The planes, trains and automobiles involved in ensuring you can eat avocado crushed on toast in February leaves a huge mark on the planet; a big, dark, carbon footprint on what you thought was a healthy choice, both for your body and the Earth. This is where the idea of eating seasonally comes into play.
To eat seasonally is to eat foods that are ripe at the same time that you eat them. It’s a very simple idea which allows you to eat produce that is grown as naturally as possible, without it having to travel miles to reach your local supermarket. That is not the only benefit. Not only does it allow for you to eat better quality fruits and vegetables, it adds more variety to your diet, encouraging you to perhaps try new produce that you may not have otherwise and eat produce that is so much richer in vitamins and minerals than those grown countries away and transported over a period of weeks. Buying locally as well as seasonally also supports local farmers and companies in your area, and reiterates to you just how fresh and high-quality this produce is. Finally, as a student one of the most appealing things about shopping seasonally is how much cheaper it can be. The cost of growing and transporting produce grown halfway across the world is reflected in the price you pay. By buying seasonally, those transport and production costs are hugely reduced, which results in a cheaper price and a better product for the consumer.
While it may seem like a big change, this is one of the best habits you can implement in your own life to improve not only your impact on the planet, but the quality of food you are eating. A quick scan of fruit and vegetable labels will show you where they were grown and you can choose to select products closer to home. As a quick guide, the heartier produce, such as potatoes, beetroot, pears and apples, can be enjoyed in these cold winter months, and when the weather starts to brighten up we can begin to enjoy leafy greens, berries, and peaches again. The cold weather means warmer, more substantial meals, such as stews, soups and pies (which are great choices to begin incorporating some of these foods), and in a few months salads, smoothies and other lighter dishes will have their time in the sun. Making this change will give you a far greater appreciation for the food you are eating, while also saving you some cash.
To warm your hearts and stomachs in your poorly insulated flats this winter, below is a recipe for a simple but delicious shepherd’s pie to show you that eating ethically doesn’t have to be boring or difficult.
2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, sliced
1 tbsp flour
300g carrots, cut into small batons
½ cauliflower, broken into florets
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
½ tsp rosemary
400g can chopped tomatoes
900g potato, cut into chunks
Approx. 50g butter (or dairy-free alternative)
Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a flameproof dish over a medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 10 mins until softened, then stir in the flour and cook for a further 2 mins. Add the carrots, cauliflower, garlic and rosemary, and cook for 5 mins, stirring regularly, until they begin to soften.
Tip the tomatoes into the vegetables along with a can full of water. Cover with a lid and simmer for 10 mins, then remove the lid and cook for 10-15 mins more, until the sauce has thickened and the vegetables are cooked. Season, stir in the peas and cook for 1 min more.
Meanwhile, boil the potatoes for 10-15 mins until tender. Drain, then place back in the saucepan and mash. Stir through enough milk to reach a fairly soft consistency, then add the remaining olive oil and season.
Heat the grill. Spoon the hot vegetable mix into a pie dish, top with the mash and drag a fork lightly over the surface. Place under the grill for a few mins until the top is crisp golden brown.