Steve Sobolewski is a data analyst by day, and a writer and food fanatic by night. He’s also a regular contributor to our blog where he’s chronicling for us his journey into the world of sustainable food. In his second blog post, Steve talks about his food philosophy.
This week I’m going to be talking about an obsession of mine – food. Of course food is an obsession for a lot of us, just look at the variety of restaurants in Newtown and you will see we are a community that loves to eat. The exciting thing about Newtown is how many places cater to vegetarians, vegans, conscientious meat-eaters and everything in between.
My personal philosophy on food has changed quite significantly in the past 5 or 6 years. I grew up in a family that loves eating, whether it was my mother’s home cooked meals, a Friday night takeaway or going out to a restaurant. My sister and I were unusual children, quite happy to sit quietly and calmly in a restaurant, presumably because we wanted to keep being taken out!
But we never spoke about where our food came from and how it was produced. I saw my mother purchasing prepackaged items from the supermarket: meat came in little polystyrene trays covered in cling film, salad came in sealed bags, vegetables were pre-prepared and packaged, cereal boxes covered with the beaming faces of the Rice Bubbles’ elves and Tony the Tiger. All of it went in the trolley. This was normal. This was how we fed ourselves with meat and two vegetables on a daily basis. The supermarket was a filter, separating what I was eating from the reality of where it came from. I didn’t care because it didn’t register. Our primary concern in what we chose was taste and enjoyment.
As I got older things didn’t change much. I was a huge fan of the doner kebab (and as a student in London this was a standard dinner out after a few beers). I loved McDonalds and Hungry Jack’s, I’d pop into KFC whilst out and about to get a box of popcorn chicken without a second thought. Not once would it register about how this food was being produced and at what cost. Into adulthood my tastes changed but my attitudes didn’t. I was eating at better quality places but where my food came from was simply beyond my concern.
When I met my partner I was still eating like this. I wasn’t as unhealthy as I sound, I ate a lot of restaurant food and take-away but I also ate a lot of vegetables and home cooked meals. I was omnivorous but most of all thoughtless.
My partner explained to me that she had been thinking more and more about her environmental impact. She wanted become a more conscientious consumer and had decided to take her first step towards this. It was a simple thing; from that point on she was only going to eat free range chicken. She didn’t try to make me do the same thing, she simply explained her reasons (animal welfare and the effect of meat farming on the environment) and that slowly set off a chain reaction in my own thinking. How had the animal been killed, how had it lived? Had it suffered? My partner opened the door for me to begin seriously looking at where my food came from. In terms of energy consumption, water and land use, greenhouse gas emissions and wildlife, meat farming is proven to be much more damaging than the equivalent in non-meat agriculture.
My partner led the way and I followed. We followed eating free range chicken to only eating meat if we could guarantee it was responsibly and ethically produced. We cut down the amount of meat we ate by 95%. As a result over the last few years we have essentially become what I like to call “mostly vegetarian”. Our primary sources of protein are vegetable based, I learned to love tofu and, more recently, by discovering the range of things available at Alfalfa House we’ve replaced other items with vegan and vegetarian alternatives. Vegan mayonnaise, made from chickpeas, is better than I ever could have imagined.
As I’ve changed my approach to what I eat, I’ve realised that I don’t have to compromise on enjoyment – smoked tofu salad with roasted broccoli, beetroot, pepitas, and tahini and honey dressing is one of my all-time favourite dinners. (Shameless plug: season dependent, all of the ingredients are available at Alfalfa).
Everything we get from Alfalfa House is delicious. A weekly veg box encourages us to experiment and try new things with what’s in season. They have a huge selection for such a small shop and you can be sure that everything you buy has been produced with reducing waste, maximizing health and helping the community in mind.
I am still a meat-eater but it’s a rare occasion, and I only buy from places where I know that the animal has been treated with respect and with care. Perhaps that will change in the future; I know there is more that I can do. I worry about dairy and what milk cattle are put through to produce milk but I haven’t stopped eating cheese yet. Some might say that I’m not doing enough, and they would probably be right, but this is a journey that I’m still taking. One thing I have learned is that places like Alfalfa House offer people food options they can enjoy knowing that they have taken a small step.
And if my own experience is anything to go by, a small step can be the first of many.