Food provenance is a hot topic these days with more and more of us demanding locally, regionally and nationally produced food. But with this desire for home-grown grub, comes a multitude of confusing labels.
This week Nikki Edwards looks at what the jargon stands for and shows you how to choose the very best British produce.
In Suffolk, where Deluxe Nutrition is based, we have an abundance of locally produced food on our doorstep.
Thanks to the county’s farmers we live in a part of the UK where we can get meat, cheese, fish, eggs, vegetables and baked goods which are all grown, laid, caught, made or harvested in home soil.
And this is vitally important.
After all, if last year’s horsemeat scandal taught us anything, it was a greater need for transparency and traceability in the food chain.
Provenance is the key to this and something consumers strive for.
But all too often we get caught up in looking for labels that we believe are there to tell us how, when and where our food was produced.
What does it all mean?
My healthy eating lifestyle plan centres on clean foods, good quality proteins and lean produce.
Food assurance schemes are supposed to help us identify which goods are safe, sustainable, ethical, organic and high-welfare.
And yet all too often they make the process complicated.
Here are a number of food labels commonly used in UK and an explanation about what each one means:
The Soil Association stamp
The Soil Association is a charity that campaigns for healthy, humanely raised and sustainable food, farming and land use. Foods are inspected by DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).
The British Lion Mark
This is a symbol of the British Egg Industry Council. Eggs with this mark are said to be totally safe to eat and free from salmonella. It applies to 85% of eggs across the country including free-range, barn-reared and standard eggs. Eggs are inspected by DEFRA to qualify.
Organic certification labels.
Organic farming is a legal term. It means that no artificial fertilisers or pesticides have been used. There are currently nine different organisations that can give this mark but the main ones are the Soil Association and the Organic Farmers & Growers.
This is a legal definition which means animals are not caged and have access to daylight. The label does not mean produce is organic or healthier. Interestingly you do not have to belong to any scheme to produce “free range” and conditions are quite lax. For example, you can have chickens with the run of a grassy field or chickens kept in a tiny barn with a skylight and both will be deemed “free range”.
The Freedom Food Stamp
Freedom Food is the name of the RSPCA’s farm animal welfare scheme and the stamp means the animal has been reared in farms that meet certain care standards.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Eco label
The MSC sets the standard for sustainable fishing. Fisheries who want to use the label are assessed by a team of experts and are only given the accreditation if seafood can be traced back through the supply chain to a fishery that has already been approved by MSC.
The Red Tractor logo
This is a food assurance scheme set up by the Assured Food Standards, a consortium of farmers, retailers and food producers to assure the public of high standards of food production.
What is the right way to source our food?
Food stamps and accreditations are useful when shopping at a supermarket.
They help you identify which foods are ethically and sustainably produced and in some instances, point out where the product was made.
But labels are actually completely unnecessary if you buy locally.
Well if you choose local farms, grocers and farm shops to buy from and discover some of the incredible foods and flavours which are right on your doorstep, you can be reassured by seeing exactly where they come from.
You can see how the item is produced, you can speak to the men and women who make it, you can ask questions from the people who really know the answers and on top of that, by buying locally, you are contributing to the local economy.
I don’t know about you, but personally I would much rather have a paper bag of muddy potatoes pulled fresh out the ground than a tray of tomatoes sweating in a cellophane wrapper.
Reasons for choosing to eat local
- Local food tastes better - After all, who wants to eat food which has been flown in from thousands of miles away, factory washed and sealed in plastic when there is fresh food on offer instead?
- Local food encourages you to try new things - This is because buying locally means you can only eat what is in season.
- Local food has less environmental impact - There is a big carbon footprint to importing produce from abroad.
- Local foods preserve farmland and green space - By buying foods grown and raised closer to home, you help maintain the land in your area.
- Local foods promote food safety - It stands to reason that the fewer steps there are between your food’s source and your table, the less chance of contamination.
- Local foods promote variety - This is true because farmers who run agriculture programmes, sell at markets and provide local restaurants have the demand and can therefore get the economic support to raise different types of livestock and grow different produce.
- Local foods create community - Knowing where your food comes from connects you to the people who raise it. You can’t have this relationship with a supermarket.
For help finding local producers in Suffolk visit the Real Food Guide website www.realfoodguide.com/suffolk
Recipe of the week – Asparagus and Goat’s Cheese Tarte Fine
The Suffolk coastal micro-climate is ideal for growing asparagus and among local producers of this delicious vegetable are Seabreeze Asparagus based on the Benacre Estate in Beccles. This is one of their recipes.
Serves 4 as a starter, 2-3 for lunch
- 8oz/225g puff pastry
- 3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
- A bunch of asparagus, trimmed
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4oz/110g goat's cheese log, crumbled
Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/gas mark 8 and put a large baking sheet in to get hot. On a sheet of non-stick baking parchment, roll out the pastry as thin as this paper. Scatter the Parmesan over one half of the pastry, then fold the other half over the top. Roll again until back to its original thinness. Aim for an oblong that will fit the asparagus in a single layer, with a half-inch border around. Toss the asparagus in the olive oil until it is coated, then arrange it along the pastry. Scatter the goat’s cheese over it.
Cover loosely with clingfilm and chill for at least half an hour (up to 8 hours). Use the baking parchment to lift the tart on to the hot baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes until it is puffed up round the edges and well browned.
This super-simple tart makes a lovely first course or lunch, but do make sure that the pastry is really thin.
As a variation, try thin slices of Gorgonzola or dolcelatte instead of the goat’s cheese. It melts to a delectably soft, almost custardy filling. Either way, eat it with a tomato and basil salad.