The problem with big agriculture
I'll start by saying that good-quality produce is super important to any chef. Since most of the food we prepare in restaurants or at home comes from vegetables and other farmed ingredients, it has become essential that we have a year-round supply of high-quality produce at affordable prices. The agricultural industry has developed increasingly efficient systems for ensuring that supply: with massive single-crop farms that can grow very economically and can easily be protected with specially designed pesticides so that they can grow fast and grow tall.
People are starting to worry that the environmental cost of this model is far too high. These monster single- crop farms crush all competition and leave modified crops susceptible to future unknown diseases that cause food security risks for the whole world. Pesticides indiscriminately kill off all insects in the region (good and bad), and the soil in these previously fertile areas is depleted of all nutrients and now leaches millions of gallons of dangerous chemical run-off into surrounding areas, creating huge dead zones where no life can exist. We are left to pick under-ripe produce from supermarket shelves, which has very little natural goodness and often has done more air miles than a platinum-level frequent flyer!
Make a little change
Like with so many food issues, you truly affect the future of food by how you choose to spend your food dollars. There are farmers’ markets and organic box delivery schemes if you want to support local farmers, but if you want to really make your economy more circular, try growing some food at home.
Over the past year, I’ve been growing my own tomatoes, micro-herbs, as well as more traditional Mediterranean herbs (rosemary, basil and thyme), and I now look at all ingredients in a totally different “how can I grow you?” way. Ideally, food waste goes into compost, but some scraps are destined for much bigger things. I’ve been on a mission to see which of my food scraps I can grow to literally make fresh food out of rubbish.
make grow a Thai curry
After some experimentation, I have pots of garlic, spring onion, chilli, coriander, Thai basil, ginger and lemongrass growing literally from kitchen trimmings. Here’s how I did it:
TECHNIQUE 1: PLANT THE END AND LET IT GROW BACK
LEMONGRASS & CORIANDER
Once you’ve cut it down to the end (where the roots were), pop it into water or soil and it will grow right back. Spring onion and celery can be handled in the same way. This is a great project for kids.
TECHNIQUE 2: LET IT SHOOT, THEN PLANT IT
GINGER & GARLIC
If you open your cupboard to find your ginger or garlic has started growing shoots, just pop it into a pot with the shoots pointing up and the root will grow down. You can use the same technique for potato and onion if you have a bit more outdoor space.
If you want to use fresh garlic for planting, just separate the cloves and leave them in a pot of water until they shoot (with pointy end up), then plant in soil, and within a week or two, each clove of garlic will grow a whole new bulb.
TECHNIQUE 3: GROW FROM SEEDS
PART 1: FROM YOUR SPICE RACK
I’ve had success growing CORIANDER seeds from Nepalese shops. This can also work well with mustard seeds and dried marrowfat peas (for pea shoots).
PART 2: FROM FOOD SCRAPS
Take the seeds out of CHILLI PEPPERS, dry them out, then plant and add water. You can also grow passion fruit vines in the same way, which actually do really well in Hong Kong and have beautiful purple flowers.
TECHNIQUE 4: GROWING FROM CUTTINGS
Take a sprig of THAI BASIL, trim the dried bottom end to help it to drink and pop it into some water. Before you know it, you’ll have roots and new growth. Once the roots are two inches long, you can plant in soil. Also works well with mint and rosemary.
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