Our diets have a huge impact on the planet. Cherries from Chile, Nuts from Nicaragua - even herbs and spices from Antarctica. The food industry contributes 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and our reliance on it is deepening the climate crisis. But, in his brand new book, The Complete Vegetable Cookbook, chef James Strawbridge shows how seasonal cooking can be a way to lighten our impact on the planet.
The commercial food industry relies on heavy transportation and chemical usage to keep our shop shelves full of food. But, this reduces the natural benefits, flavour and the quality of our fruit and veg. Alternatively, seasonal cooking uses fruit and vegetables in the season they grow best in, often cooking with local or even backyard produce. It can help you lower your carbon footprint, improve your health and bring more flavour to your cooking.
So, we asked James about adjusting to the lifestyle, getting started with seasonal cooking, and the similarities between our relationships with food and fashion.
Firstly, let’s be blunt. What’s the point? Why shouldn’t I just carry on buying whatever fruit and vegetables I want from the supermarket?
I’m not a vegetable preacher, and I don’t believe that being told off is the right way to change habits. But, if you’ve tried eating seasonally, you will know what I mean about the difference in flavour. Locally grown, seasonal veg is second to none, and I love the double-whammy of enhanced flavour and reduced environmental impact.
I always try to question how my weekly spend will make a positive or negative impact on my health, the planet and, as a chef, the quality of the food I cook. Think about what fruit and veg you are buying and you’re halfway there.
James in his natural habitat wearing his Yarmouth Oilskins' Worker Shirt in Khaki.
Your new book focuses on using seasonal fruit and veg. How do we adjust to shopping seasonally?
I’m biased, but you could always buy my book for a seasonal shopping guide! Alternatively, get online and search for what’s in season at any given time of year. Once you know what grows well and when, then the fun part starts where you get to build your own weekly meal plans with seasonal ingredients. There’s a real buzz to trying this, and our bodies know what we need - for example, hydration in the summer with succulent cucumbers and tomatoes, or comforting carbs and vitamin rich brassicas in the colder months.
As a starting point, try leaving out some of the more ridiculous foods like eating tasteless strawberries flown in from the other side of the world in December and, instead, learn more about what’s good near where you live during any given season.
If you want to try growing your own fruit and veg, tomatoes are a great place to start
Do you have any tips for getting started with seasonal cooking?
Get a local veg box and have a go! My dad always taught me that ‘A faint heart never won a fair maiden’... be brave, experiment and challenge yourself to creative with what's available rather than relying on favourite meals that are completely out of season.
Growing our own fruit and veg is a great way to cook seasonally. What fruit and veg would you start off with?
Personally, I’d always start with herbs on windowsills and some containers with tomatoes, cucumbers and chillies. Then, get into the hardcore veg like potatoes, courgettes and pumpkins. Another approach is either to grow your favourite veg or veg that you love but is expensive to buy. Be ambitious and think about using vertical space, companion planting and remember to attract pollinators with plenty of flowers.
We can see you wearing Yarmouth Oilskins’ Worker Shirt in the cookbook. What stood out to you about the Worker Shirt? How did it fit with your values?
I love everything about Yarmouth Oilskins - their story and artisan values. One personal reason I love their clothes is because I spent a long time sailing around the south coast, visiting Yarmouth years back with my dad for an ITV series called The Hungry Sailors. The trip was a food odyssey in a Pilot Cutter sailing ship, cooking up a storm in ports and harbours all around the UK and, for me, their clothing resonates with that rustic coastal tradition.
To me, their range of styles are more than fashionable - fashion is fleeting but style stands the test of time. It also makes fantastic workwear for me as a chef and photographer - I find it practical, comfortable, well-made and durable. The perfect attire to work in the kitchen or shoot in my studio.
Yarmouth Oilskins' Worker Shirt in Khaki, made in the UK by machinists with over 20 years' experience crafting long-lasting workwear.
Do you see similarities in how we can use food and fashion to pursue an ethical lifestyle?
Completely - there’s an enormous overlap on how we consume food and fashion and I feel we all need to address the huge impact of our lifestyle choices. For me, the key is to simplify, waste less and, to be honest, sometimes spend more to gain the value that will be good for us and the people or planet around us.
Cheap processed food or fashion are both the result of trying to drive down margins - it reduces the quality and takes away personality or flavour. This isn’t a conspiracy, it’s sadly just the way things have slipped over generations and I would love more people to buy organic food, choose ethical fashion and give a shit about what they eat and wear.
I know I am lucky enough to be able to afford a more ethical lifestyle but it also comes at the expense of other things like not eating out or getting takeaways much, not flying abroad for a lavish holiday, and making time to cook from scratch rather than taking shortcuts. I suppose I think that basic hard graft and effort can get you a long way towards a more seasonal and environmentally friendly lifestyle. Learning more about where your food or fashion comes from fills in the gaps and empowers you to waste less.
Cut waste, and maximise taste. One step at a time.
We can’t all start growing bananas in our garden, but doing what you can to bring sustainable practices into your kitchen will lower your carbon footprint, improve your health, and bring you more in tune with the needs of the natural world that supports us. Learn what's in season, hunt for locally grown produce, and dip into James’ book for the recipes that will make all the difference to you, your friends and the natural world around us.
You can buy The Complete Vegetable Cookbook here, for a reduced price of £20