I have wanted to work in sustainability for years, but only during my MSc last year did I realise that food should be my focus. Food is essential to life – we all have to eat – but we (most of us) also enjoy food and use it to mark special occasions. We give people cake on their birthday, we visit restaurants to celebrate good news and we feast at weddings, funerals and religious celebrations. The central part that food plays in most human lives highlights the importance of a sustainable food system. We need food production to be sustained, preferably forever, so that we can survive and also continue to enjoy our food.
Food production is connected to all of the major issues in sustainability – it uses up vast amounts of water, land and fossil fuel resources, contributes hugely to global warming and destroys biodiversity by leaching chemicals into ecosystems and turning habitats into farmland. Consequently, the food system is destroying the very resources (water, land, climate, ecosystems) on which it depends. Animal agriculture overall contributes so much more to resource depletion, carbon emissions and biodiversity destruction which is one of the reasons why I chose a vegan lifestyle. Food distribution is also an issue of justice – adequate access to food is a basic human right that not everyone receives.
I wrote my thesis on sustainable food and I am currently working on a project that aims to reduce food waste. The figures on food waste are shocking but it’s also a politically complicated area. Globally, 1/3rd of all food is wasted and the edible food waste produced by Europe alone is enough to feed every hungry person in the world. Ultimately, that means the solution to feeding the growing population is not to produce more food but to distribute it more fairly. Food waste is environmentally destructive not just because the resources involved in its production are wasted but also because food produces methane when it decomposes in landfill and methane produces 21% as much warming as CO2.
The industrialised modern food system uses long supply chains, which means that lots of different firms handle the food before it reaches your plate. This results in lots of opportunities for food to get left behind– at the farm, by the distributor, the packaging point, the storage facility or the supermarket. There are other reasons why food is wasted of course. For example, the cheap food produced by a more mechanised system is valued less, the monopoly of supermarkets makes farmers dependent on them and unable to sell excess produce, and powerful marketing tools convince people to buy more food than they can eat.
In fact, almost ½ of all food waste in the UK is produced by households. Food is thrown away because people overbuy – they shop without checking what they already have and are taken in by supermarket offers. There is also a tendency for people to rely too much on best before dates, rather than using their own judgement. Bread is one of the most wasted types of food, partly because it is cheap to buy and it goes stale quickly.
I don’t really like the ends of a loaf of bread, so I save them up in the freezer until have enough I make them into bread and butter pudding, which means that they’re not wasted! This is also a great way to use up stale bread. So there you go – you can reduce your food waste and eat delicious sticky pudding at the same time.
100g dairy free margarine (I like stork for baking)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
10 slices bread
4 tablespoons marmalade
100g pecans (optional)
1 tsp vanilla essence
800ml soy milk
5 tablespoons cornflour
6 tablespoons brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Use the margarine to grease your ovenproof dish. Microwave the rest of margarine for a couple of seconds to make it soft. Then mix with the zest of the orange, the zest of the lemon, the cinnamon and the nutmeg. Cut all of your bread slices into half and spread with the margarine mixture. Place half of the bread slices into the bowl.
Cut the orange and the lemon into slices and cut off the rind. Place half of the slices onto the bread and sprinkle with half the sultanas. Then repeat this step, using the rest of the bread, orange, lemon and sultanas.
Add the soy milk, vanilla essence, brown sugar and cornflour to a pan. Add 200ml of water and whisk until combined. Simmer over a low heat until the mixture has thickened a little. Be careful not to overcook, or the custard will be too thick to soak the bread. Pour the custard over the bread and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Then cook in the oven for 30 minutes, until the custard is golden and set.
Spoon the marmalade into a small saucepan over a light heat with a tablespoon of water and stir until the marmalade is runny. Then pour the marmalade over the top of the pudding. If using, lightly toast the pecans in a dry saucepan, and place on top.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe! Bread and butter pudding is good old fashioned comfort food, perfect to warm you up as the nights draw in. My friends enjoyed it and hopefully yours will too.