Written by Felicity
Happy Sustainable Gastronomy Day!
Less than a month after the first ever International Tea Day, the UN has caught our eyes again with Sustainable Gastronomy Day. This one dates back to 2017, when the UN decided to make 18th June all about the celebration of ‘cuisine that takes into account where the ingredients are from, how the food is grown and how it gets to our markets and eventually to our plates’.
That is very nice in theory – I wholeheartedly agree with all of it, actually – but what does it mean in practice?
The short answer is it depends on where you are in the world. Here in the UK, for example, there’s no such thing as ‘local tea’, but there are still things we can do to drink more sustainably. Most obviously – as Ed discussed in his piece for International Tea Day – we can all make the switch to single origin teas that have much more potential to improve the communities that produce them.
Chatting with other members of the team over the last few months, it has felt like we’ve also been embracing some of the wider gastronomic trends beyond tea that have emerged during lockdown. That’s why, this week, I asked a few of the team what sustainable gastronomy means to them, and how they are putting the theory into practice.
Here’s what they said…
“I moved back to my parents’ farm for the lockdown and, with Covid-19 coinciding with the start of asparagus season, this year’s harvest has been a hands-on, family only affair. Weekends (and some early mornings before work) have been spent picking, cutting, bundling and delivering asparagus to villagers and local farm shops alike.
“Talking to our customers has really reinforced so many principles we hold true to at JING: the discernible difference in the quality delivered by individual farms versus mass production; the importance of seasonality to deliver amazing flavour notes; and the role of freshness in delivering a great gastronomic experience.
“It’s been wonderful talking to people who constantly reiterate the simple joys of great food and drink, and feeling their appreciation and support of the small producer. Tea or asparagus, that’s what keeps farms going for the next generation.”
Olivia, Social & Content Manager
“To me, sustainable gastronomy ultimately means caring about what you are putting into your body and really thinking about provenance and the value it gives to the quality of produce, but also the environment and the people who make it.
“I believe one truly positive thing that has come from lockdown is that it’s given us all time we felt we never had. I have been lucky to spend lockdown at my parents’ house in the countryside and I have thoroughly enjoyed using this time to cook and help my dad (who until last year only really knew how to boil an egg!) to cook and shop more sustainably. A zero-waste shop recently opened in their village, which I was delighted by! I do think this is the future of grocery shopping.
“I have also been encouraging my parents to reduce their waste by swapping tea bags for loose tea. They were amazed when I told them you could re-infuse loose tea more than once – and that second and third infusions usually taste better anyway!) Like a lot of people, myself included, they were a bit intimidated initially by the concept of making loose tea, but once I was able to show them how simple it is with the right tools, they now love the ritual of making it every day.”
Will, In-Store Tea Guru
“I've been spending lockdown at home in south London, drinking plenty of tea and doing my best to keep up with the tea world online during this all-important spring season.
“When I looked deeper into a definition of sustainable gastronomy, what struck me was the importance of maintaining the traditional craft of food. In the context of tea, that is the craft of the tea farmers, but also the craft of preparing and making tea.
“Studying the many ways of making and enjoying tea, developed over centuries, has given me a deep respect for those whose lives revolve around tea. By learning about the communities and cultures at origin, I feel I can better communicate and support their priorities for sustainability.”
Lucy, Head of Marketing & Sustainability
“For me, sustainable gastronomy is about enjoying food that has been produced and prepared in a way that respects and protects our natural resources. Growing crops and cooking them simply – with minimal intervention – brings the best outcomes for producers, the environment and the consumer.
“Eliminating food waste is another key consideration. I’m particularly interested in how circular economy principles can be applied to food and food waste. Since I’ve been drinking so much tea at home recently, I have started sprinkling my used tea leaves on the soil around my tomato plants – The Spruce recommends tea leaves as a great natural soil enhancer. I think sustainable gastronomy also means considering the full potential of all ingredients and finding creative ways to eliminate food waste.
“I believe we can learn a lot from looking back through the generations: when our ancestors were closer to the land, how did they farm and cook at home? Today, we have a duty to ensure food enjoyment and security for the generations to come. I hope we come out of this pandemic with a renewed appreciation for natural resources, and use our power as global citizens to make considered, positive choices in everything we consume.”
“Sustainable gastronomy for me is firstly about finding food and drink which is delicious without having to do much or more than apply heat and secondly that its production and decomposition doesn’t harm people and the environment (and ideally brings some benefit).
“At home this means trying to produce as much as I can from my own garden, and I then trying to find most of the remainder from local organic farms and other good sources.
“There are always some exceptions and tea is one - I can’t yet find any tea which is both delicious and produced locally. So I drink loose teas which are produced without agro-chemicals, have minimal packaging, and provides a good return and lifestyle for the good people that produce it. Although I wish it didn’t have to travel round the world to get to me, I remember that the tea plant is an evergreen shrub that absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen all year round, and that the tea leaves end up on my compost heap.”
Tom, Head of Tea
“Seasonality is something that resonates for me. In lockdown, we’ve gone from early spring weather to a heatwave. My drinking habits have changed accordingly – from more black and roasted teas to spring greens. One of the joys of knowing the broad category of tea is being able to pick exactly which tea fits your need at a given point in the day, in every season.
“As we move forward, I hope to keep the habit of making tea gongfu style at least once a day, because of the extra layers of experience it brings. It’s sometimes feels hard to prioritise the time for it, but it is nonetheless important - I never regret a gongfu session.”
Tamara, Restaurant and Hotel Account Manager
To me, sustainable gastronomy is really about valuing food.
“A few years ago I spent most of my downtime – and most of my budget - exploring the incredible food culture that London has to offer. It paid off in an unexpected way and for the last four years I’ve been living with a chef! Planning the food we buy and deciding where from and how to cook it are a big part of our conversations and routine. It means that food costs more for us compared with lots of our friends, but I think that’s right – in so many ways high quality, high welfare and traceable food (that will cost more) needs to become the norm and those of us who can need to invest in ingredients and food systems that support the planet. It can balance out too – cooking from scratch can be much cheaper - and I know now that seasonal vegetables offer the best value.
“During lockdown, time preparing food and eating together has become even more meaningful – with me working from home every day, we’re together for many more meals but not necessarily with more time; and we’ve been the lucky recipients of ingredients and food from the restaurant that when they were forced to close would otherwise have gone to waste – often brand new things I’ve never cooked with before – so I’ve had to be inventive! It’s our weekly veg box delivery that I’ve been most grateful for though. Having the opportunity to cook with fresh, seasonal vegetables without having to leave the house has been great.
“I’ve noticed the change in the habits of lots of people in my area– seeming to opt to shop more locally. It made me happy to see long lines outside the greengrocers and butchers that we’ve used for a while and that are usually quiet compared to the supermarkets – and I’m really encouraged that these lines are still continuing today. We’ve all had to improvise at mealtimes and with the routine of ‘popping to the shops after work’ a somewhat distant memory I hope long-term all of us who can will, having seen the value, continue to shop locally, seasonally and reduce our food waste.”
And from me, Felicity, Head of Tea Experience
“I’ve embraced most of the lockdown food trends. I’ve grown my own vegetables in a tiny London garden, I’ve baked banana bread and I’ve fought for delivery slots to get ingredients direct from producers that have been redirected from hospitality. All these things have been positive outlets for this time – and have encouraged me to think more about where food comes from – but they are not sustainable gastronomy. They rely too much on me having time, space and budget.
“In the UK, I think sustainable gastronomy can only happen when we demand more information from government and businesses about where our food comes from – the land and the communities. It’s the only way we’ll really know what’s in what we’re consuming, who is making it and what effect its production has on them. Then we can start to make informed choices about which food systems we want to support. During lockdown I’ve been speaking to the Chens in Taiwan – the family behind our Ali Shan oolong. They’ve taught me a lot about organic farming and I do believe truly sustainable gastronomy cannot involve agrochemicals.
“For now, I can also tell you that purple kale is easy to grow; citrus peel is a great way to protect your crops from ants; day-old banana bread is delicious toasted with almond butter; and Ali Shan oolong made directly in the mug with a small sprinkling of leaves is a wonderful drink.”