Category Archives: Food Sourcing
There is a school of thought that advocates eating seasonal produce , this is an interesting dietary and ecological idea. As it reconnects us with food and the land and alerts us to the reality that different crops such as pumpkins, are produced at different times of the year.
It also cuts down on the carbon footprint of importing and transportation. So for us in the UK, this represents a viable option.
We live in a temperate climate but with the assistance of technology; we can grow many exotic crops in the UK which would otherwise perish in the climate.
It’s easy to follow this in summer as we can feast on a wide range of fruits and vegetables. We can literally eat the rainbow with a broad spectrum of colourful fruit and vegetables as possible. Think strawberries, tomatoes, radishes, blueberries, summer leafy salads; but as we enter autumn, much of the more delicate foodstuffs start to disappear. This is when the roots come into their own, with carrots, beetroot, potatoes, swede and parsnips; as well as the leafy brassicas such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.
Going Back to Our Roots
And that brings us to pumpkins! It’s very nearly pumpkin time and luckily for those planning to spend hours of frustration carving a hideous and unrecognisable face out of a solid block of fruit for Halloween, the fruit is now well and truly in season!
Although the UK doesn’t have as much history with pumpkins as in the Americas, where pumpkins actually originated over 9,000 years ago, there is no doubt about the value of the fruit. In fact, worldwide, the production of pumpkins exceeds 27 million tonnes, with China and India the main producers.
Pumpkins are part of the squash family. When cooked, the whole pumpkin is edible from the skin to the pulp and seeds. The nutritional value is undisputed; a great source of potassium and beta-carotene, and containing minerals including calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamins E, C and some B vitamins.
Another root vegetable that has accelerated in UK popularity in recent years is the sweet potato. This is also about to come into season. With a creamy texture and sweet-spicy flavour, this food has become the norm on menus to replace the humble chip. And its nutritional value is also high, as it is rich in fibre, vitamins A, C and B6, and an excellent source of carbohydrates. There are two varieties and the orange-fleshed one is also rich in beta-carotene.
Other fruits and vegetables reaching their peak in autumn include apples, aubergines, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, dates, figs, turnips and marrow.
Pronounce It Keen-wah
October is harvest time for quinoa! Quinoa is fast becoming a staple food among vegans and vegetarians for its incredible health benefits. This is a bead-shaped grain with a slightly bitter flavour and firm texture, and unlike wheat or rice, quinoa is a complete protein.
It contains all nine of the essential amino acids and has been recognised by the United Nations as a supercrop for its health benefits from dietary fibre, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. It is also gluten-free. Initially grown in the Andes in South America, it was known for thousands of years as the ‘mother grain’. High in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, it is potentially beneficial for human health in the prevention and treatment of disease.
All of the above-mentioned foods are now grown successfully in the UK. Once considered exotic and relatively rare, they are now acceptable commonplace foods. At the risk of mentioning the B word, who knows how self sufficient we will need to be in future? The rewards of a seasonal food supply are exciting, especially with the contemporary emphasis on health and environmental benefits. After all, variety is the spice of life!
There’s been constant activity in the global media over the past few years regarding climate change and the effect that it is having on the food we eat. We may be in danger of losing some of the food we are familiar with; due predominantly to the changes that are taking place in our climate.
This year, the British brassica has been affected by unusually heavy summer rains bringing flooding to the UK’s main growing region for cauliflowers, Lincolnshire. Elsewhere, the record-breaking heat-wave wilted fields of cauliflowers across the whole of Europe. This left a shortage in not only cauliflowers, but also cabbages, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
America’s organic apples, mostly grown in Washington State, are also in trouble. As is coffee, with at least three-fifths of current coffee species facing extinction, according to a recent study. More worryingly is the decline in wheat crops, a staple global food which is sensitive to temperature changes. Places like India could see a reduction in wheat harvests of between 6% and 23% by 2050.
Even the humble sushi roll is under threat. Japanese farmers are blaming warmer, cleaner seas for a decline in nori seaweed production. The nori production fell to its lowest level in 2018 since 1972, pushing up prices and decimating supply.
The 2019 maple syrup harvest has also been affected. According to The New York Times, 2012 saw production of maple falling by 12.5% overall due to an unusually warm spring. This impacts negatively on syrup production because the process depends on specific temperature conditions.
More recently, in 2018, production of maple syrup fell by 21.7% throughout Canada. The culprit was Canada’s warm weather during the winter with later than normal snow. Sugar content is determined by the previous year’s carbohydrate stores with sap flow depending on the freeze-thaw cycle.
The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers has even had to tap into its strategic reserves this year to avoid any shortages or price spikes for maple syrup. Quebec has put in place additional harvest areas to meet with high demands, and they are now being used widely.
From High to Low
In Vermont in America, sugar maple harvest has witnessed a renaissance in the 21st century following decades of decline. The revival comes as many Americans are turning their backs on refined sugars for natural products such as maple syrup, agaves and honey. Production of maple is now one of Vermont’s pre-eminent industries. In 2018, the value of Vermont’s maple syrup production exceeded $54.3M. This accounted for 38% of the maple syrup produced nationwide.
Producers are doing what they can to avoid any shortages; such as collecting the sap later in the season and introducing technological advancements. These cut down on traditional collection using buckets and replace it with miles of vacuum pump-operated tubing.
As Keith Thompson of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation says: “It’s not just about keeping the individual trees healthy, it’s about keeping the entire forest healthy.”
The maple syrup industry is currently keeping abreast of the problem. It’s initiating solutions to combat the inevitable changes in climate. It urges other industries to follow suit in order for our favourite foods to remain available. At AC Services, we thoroughly commend that approach.
In a week that saw the highest temperatures ever recorded in July not only in the UK but in other parts of Europe, talk has turned to peanuts and other crops that might be at risk.
Global peanuts consumption has grown at the rate of 2.53% and expected to grow further during 2019-2024. China and India are the largest consumer and exporters of peanuts in the world, accounting for more than 36% of the global consumption.
But according to reports, peanuts might be extinct by 2030. The reason is that peanuts are considered “fairly fussy plants”, and need five months of consistent warm weather, along with 20 to 40 inches of rain. If there is not enough rain, the pods won’t germinate. If there is too much rain, the plants will wilt making the peanuts inedible. We know from America’s peanut production that droughts and heat waves can destroy entire peanut crops. With the weather getting record-breakingly warmer, this is a worry.
Last week, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands recorded their highest ever temperatures. Several cities in France broke previous temperature records with Bordeaux and Paris exceeding 40 degrees. Here’s the science: the latest heatwave has been caused by an omega block which is a high-pressure pattern that blocks and diverts the jet stream, allowing a mass of hot air to flow up from northern Africa and the Iberian peninsula.
All of this climate change is putting crops at risk in harvest yields worldwide. It’s not just the heat however, crops are affected by unusually cold nights, weeks with no rainfall and storm-driven precipitation. All of which account for up to 49% of yield losses for maize, rice, spring wheat and soy beans.
Extensive studies have been carried out in Europe, the US and Africa to measure the cost to the grains, pulses and tubers that feed 7.7 billion people. These now have the aim of isolating the factors within climate change that might affect harvests.
Researchers have found that the maize yield in Africa is in a dire situation. Africa’s share of global maize production is not large, but the largest part of that production goes to human consumption. When compared to just 3% in North America, it is clear why maize is critical here for food security. Consider also that in the UK and Europe, maize is a key foodstock for cows, milk and beef and so indirectly human consumption.
Crops at Risk
The climate is crucial to most growth with food items such as avocados and chickpeas needing an awful lot of water to be produced. 72 gallons in fact to make just one pound of avocados. More than 80% of America’s avocados are grown in California, where there’s a drought. Similarly, chickpeas need almost the same amount of water. Global production of these legumes has gone down 40-50% due to worldwide droughts.
And what about coffee? The unimaginable could happen. Most coffee comes from Arabica beans, which grow best between 64 F and 70 F. If the temperature rises above that, the plants ripen too quickly, which affects the quality of the yield.
The bottom line is that climate change is happening and will affect the food we grow and eat. The extremes of British weather over the last week emphasises our vulnerability and allows us to reflect.