Roald Dahl novels made a big impact on me as a child. One in particular – the BFG – left me ever grateful for the food I enjoy. The novel’s titular character has made an ethically motivated decision about his eating habits, which means he has to make do with the foul-tasting snozzcumbers. He needs and has food to eat but it isn’t a pleasant experience. This story made me routinely glad that I don’t just need food to survive; I enjoy sufficient freedom and access to be able to avoid what is distasteful to me and devour what tickles my taste buds.
I’m grateful that the ethical choice doesn’t have to be an unpleasant culinary one. Ethical options are increasingly available and affordable, and don’t mean a compromise on taste (frequently the opposite). Solutions often overlap, but what constitutes a ‘good choice’ will depend upon your motivations: animal welfare, supporting independent businesses, going organic… One of my primary drivers is reducing our carbon footprint. This lends itself to a diet dominated by locally grown vegetables that aren’t over-packaged in plastic. So we started to order a weekly veg box.
After briefly polling a few trusted people on ethics, quality and variety, we opted for a Riverfordveg box. The fact that Riverford is also organic is an added bonus for us. We’ve received a veg box most weeks for few months now and there are a few things I’ve learned to make the most of it:
- enjoy getting hands on: your vegetables will be no longer arrived sanitised and pristine; they’ll be delightful muddy – a visual reminder that the field isn’t far away. Embrace the texture of your veg as you scrub it clean. After six boxes we received a free veg scrubber (thanks Riverford!) which made it even easier, but sometimes I still like to just use my hands.
- check what’s coming: Riverford helpfully list on their website what you can expect that week. Most of the contents vary week in week out – a real plus point in my book. You might like the element of surprise when unpacking your box, but I like to plan my meals in advance so I only buy what I need (good for a healthy bank account and an empty bin). It doesn’t detract from the sense of delving into a treasure chest once the box has arrived; it builds anticipation instead.
- use your freezer: one thing that hasn’t changed each week is the provision of potatoes. I worried that they would begin to bore me until I discovered that you can freeze potato wedges. (Just cook them like normal, freeze them and then reheat them from frozen in about 20 minutes at around 200 degrees. Much tastier and less packaging than frozen oven chips). Cooking additional portions for the freezer has also ensured we don’t waste our veg and have options available those days when we don’t have the time or the will to cook. I make sure I label everything and list it in our freezer book so I know what’s available without hunting through layers of tupperware.
- be flexible: the shelf life won’t always be as long as the shop-bought variety. This is where your freezer can come in again. When some beetroot went past its prime a couple of days before I planned to use it, I roasted it and stuck it in the freezer. I just had to be willing to change plans a little. The good news is that your freezer also works best when full anyway.
- embrace the new: you can swap out any vegetables that you don’t want but we’ve had a policy of trying everything once*. I already aimed to try a new meal every week and now that’s made even easier. I don’t have to wrack my brains to find variety; I’m led by the vegetables we receive to find something new. This is made easier by:
- always reading the flyer that arrives with the veg, which includes tips on storage, cooking and recipes. Swede, apple and leek bake was a particular highlight.
- searching online: I’m a big fan of BBC Good Food. Riverford’s has recipes on it too. Pinterest is brimming with mouth-watering options.
- flicking through recipe books: I’ve found to my surprise, that reading recipes is a great way to wind down of an evening. ‘A Year at Otter Farm’ has had a mention here before; Mark Diacono’s love and understanding of vegetables is infectious; great for a newbie to the world of veg boxes.
*Our one epic failure was in the first week: Brussel sprouts. When it came down to it, it turned out I just couldn’t get past a childhood incident involving sprouts and sickness. I’m mortified to say they went into the compost bin.
Today’s soundtrack: Charlie Cunningham // Lines