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8 farm stay holidays guaranteed to beat winter blues

9th January 2018

The farm stay encapsulates the holiday many of us crave: an unfettered getaway, remote from the mundanity of office life, that narrows the divide between food and plate. Question is, what most takes your fancy?

Brushing elbows with a farming family in the Italian countryside, or getting lost (but not, hopefully, too lost) in 4,200 acres of lush Tennessee wilderness? Here are a few picks of the best farm stays around the world to get you started.

1. Coombeshed Farm, Cornwall, UK

Tom Adam’s Pitt Cue has been a huge part of London’s charcoal-fuelled barbecue and grilled meat movement since he started with a trailer pitch on South Bank. So it was with great intrigue when Adams and British export and New York restaurateur April Bloomfield joined forces to open a B&B farm stay in a rather remote part of Cornwall. A large portion of ingredients used in the restaurant kitchen are grown and reared on site, including the Mangalitza pigs that made Pitt Cue famous.

coombesheadfarm.co.uk

2. Ca ‘de Memi, Veneto, Italy

Ca ‘de Memi, a 40-minute train journey from Venice, is a family-run operation: Ottorino, who helped establish the farm in its modern incarnation, works the land, while Michela, with her daughters, works the breakfast table. The family’s 14-hectare plot is run on the principles of slow food, growing vegetables and herbs and rearing Paduan hens, Muscovy ducks, and rabbits.

cadememi.com

3. Serenbe, Georgia, USA

Here’s one for the sustainable-minded adventurer. A 900-acre farm ­– one that’s part of an environmentally conscious community, no less ­– with 15 miles of footpaths among untouched forests, wildflower meadows, waterfalls, and all the wildlife that comes with it. There’s plenty of opportunity for exploration, while tours of its working farm are available for those more comfortable with someone who knows where they’re going.

serenbeinn.com

4. O’Vineyards, Carcassonne, France

Somewhere between Toulouse and Montpellier is the town of Carcassonne with an imposing 13th-century citadel, complete with watchtowers, battlements and all. O’Vineyards and it’s working winery is found just north of here and guests are free to wander the Syrah and Sauvignon vineyards before taking full advantage of the produce made on site. Five-course dinners and an ample supply of wine provide the main draws.

ovineyards.com

5. Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Australia

Views of Grampians National Park, close encounters with endangered animals, and tucked-away colonial lodges are abound in and around Royal Mail’s estate. As extraordinary a location as this is, most of the focus at this farm stay is on food and drink. Chefs lead tours of the kitchen’s organic garden, picked clean by resident ducks (rather than maintained with industrial pesticides), the restaurant is headed up by Robin Wickens (regarded as one of Australia’s best chefs), and the cellar, decades in the making, houses around 26,000 bottles.

royalmail.com.au

6. Blackberry Farm, Tennessee, USA

Given its 4,200-acre estate, Blackberry Farm is a farm stay with more than enough variety and intrigue in its natural bounty with which to furnish the bellies and curiosity of its guests. The farm has become a favourite for visiting chefs and producers, not just for the raw materials grown here, but for what’s for lunch too. To top things off, the farm has an on-site World Beer Cup award-winning brewery concocting saisons, pilsners, and pale ales for its guests and the wider market.

blackberryfarm.com

7. Asara Wine Estate, Western Cape, South Africa

Stellenbosch. Arguably one of the prettiest wine regions in the world. Asura Wine Estate, along with its hotel, bumps up against Stellenbosch with some vineyards of its own ­– 104 hectares of mostly red grape varieties are grown here, from Malbec to Petit Verdot. The whole mise en place means it’s a wine lover’s dream with wine tasting, wine tours, and bike rides through local vineyards.

asara.co.za

8. Brown’s Field, Chiba, Japan

Embedding yourself in the Japanese countryside among rice fields, traditional bathhouses, and Ewok-style treehouses sounds almost subversive to Japan’s affinity for the high tech. But there lies pleasure in the simple things. At Brown’s Field, a small farm run by an American ex-journalist and his Japanese wife on the east Chiba coast, everyone from local volunteers to hotel guests are invited to muck in with daily life at the farm. Sound a bit feudal? When rewards of a day’s work are shared at the communal dinner table, you’ll realise maybe Japanese peasant life wasn’t so bad.

brownsfield-jp.com

Bitten by the travel bug? Visit these great food markets of the world on your way.

Prefer closer to home? Don’t miss these six deliciously idyllic UK farm breaks.

Living Thinking

Veganuary: 2018’s latest fad diet or a wider cultural shift?

4th January 2018

This month record numbers of people are giving up meat and dairy for Veganuary. Come February will it be last month’s detox diet or 2018’s biggest food trend?

Following the season of indulgence, the start of the new year is all about abstinence – first came the eschewing of alcohol with Dry January, and now comes Veganuary (Vegan January).

So far this year more than 120,000 people have pledged to give up meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey for 31 days.

It represents a staggering 3,600% rise from the 3,300 people who signed up in Veganuary’s inaugural year in 2014 and almost half of sign-ups are from the UK, where the relatively new campaign originated.  

Google trends show the search term for the word “vegan” is at an all-time high in the UK.

Veganism is now of one of the UK’s fastest growing lifestyle choices, seeing more than a 360% growth over the last decade, according to the Vegan Society. Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton and singer Robbie Williams both declared themselves vegans last year, further indicating that veganism is transforming from hippy to hipster.

The Vegan Society report that there are now more than half a million vegans in the UK, typically city dwellers, aged between 15-34 and motivated by ethical and compassionate reasons.

Globally, it has powerful ambassadors. Beyoncé famously has a stake in the US-based 22-Day vegan diet and popular popstars Miley Cyrus and Arianna Grande are both outspoken vegans.

“We think it’s more of a cultural shift than a trend. It’s here to stay,” says co-founder of Veganuary, Jane Land. “We personally feel it’s the biggest social justice movement of our time.”

Will the consumption of animal products be viewed differently in years to come?

Land and her husband and co-founder Matthew Glover make no secret of the fact their ambition is to encourage lifelong veganism. But, inspired by the success of Movember, they decided to introduce the idea with a less daunting month-long pledge.

“It makes it seem much more achievable for people and they have the comfort of knowing other people are doing it with you,” says Land.

“You haven’t got a fear of failure that you’re committing to it forever. It also makes it a lot more palatable for loved ones – people you’re sharing cooking with become a lot more supportive when they think you’re just doing a challenge, likewise with colleagues.”

Why people are embracing Veganuary

There are three main reasons people become (or consider becoming) vegan – animal welfare, the environment, and personal health.

The most popular New Year’s resolutions revolve around health – exercising more regularly, losing weight and eating better – and this has become a major motivation for people signing-up to Veganuary.

“Research has linked this way of eating with lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and lower rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer,” says Heather Russell, dietitian at The Vegan Society.

A full-on vegan cauliflower recipe from Farmdrop. The popularity of vegan-friendly recipes has increased as more people appear to be ditching animal products altogether.

After the excesses of Christmas, the health benefits of a vegan diet are appealing – it helps to limit saturated fat and, as long as a variety of foods is consumed, provides plenty of fibre, vitamins and minerals.

These points are hammered home in popular Netflix documentaries such as What The Health (from the makers of Cowspiracy) and Land says they see huge surges in traffic following the release of such films.

However, traditionally, the most popular motivation for a vegan diet is concern over animal welfare.

Recent controversies including the 2 Sisters chicken scandal and supermarket’s fictional farms, along with the rise of information shared on social media, are making people realise that the reassuring images we have of pigs wallowing happily in the mud, chickens scratching on the range and cows and sheep grazing in the fields is no longer the reality for the majority of farm animals.

According to Compassion In World Farming a staggering 70% – of the 75 billion animals farmed worldwide each year are raised in factory farms – where animals are kept tightly packed indoors, fed high-protein grains and growth hormones to fatten up quickly, and slaughtered inhumanely on huge production lines.

For a nation of animal lovers, these reports are a powerful incentive for veganism, especially when combined with the third motivator, the environment.

The widely touted UN stat that livestock emissions currently account for 14.5% of global greenhouse gases – greater than transport’s 13% contribution – is highly surprising and concerning for many.

The WWF report factory farmed animals are fed 75% of the world’s soy and maize harvest when one in nine people are starving in the world – and rainforests that are animal habitats are being razed to make room for the crop.

Then there were the heartbreaking scenes of the devastating effects of overfishing pollution in our oceans in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, which inspired many to sign up to Veganuary this year.

Many vegans choose to go plant-based because of the environmental damage caused by industrial animal farming.

Veganuary vs Vegan

But does turning vegan for just 31 days have any benefits?

All evidence suggests the short-term health benefits are pretty impressive. About 87% of the 60,000 people who took part in Veganuary 2017 reported they lost weight and had more energy; 97% of those who took part reported they felt their health was better.

It could be argued this is a strict diet directly following the gluttony of Christmas so it’s not a fair test, but six months later and 66% of Veganuary’s 2017 participants were still vegan and reporting similar results.

Although there isn’t much evidence on short-term vegan diets, it is likely that if people have managed to follow it for a short time period, some of their healthy habits such as increased fruit and vegetables and less meat may be continued,” says Chloe Hall, Community Dietitian at Dorset Healthcare University NHS foundation trust.

Roughly one in 10 new year resolutions is successful. The Vegan Society have run a similar campaign, The Vegan Pledge, since 2008 helping people to become vegan in 30 days all year round. 82% of the people who took the pledge in 2014 are still vegan today.

All indications point to veganism being perceived as less of a drag and more of a force to reckoned with as a mainstream lifestyle diet.

How to be a healthy vegan

“If you are cutting out dairy it is really important to ensure that you are getting enough calcium and iodine in your diet,” says dietician Hall.

Calcium can be found in calcium-enriched milk alternatives, such as almond milk, or dairy free yoghurts, such as soya, plus fortified cereals and enriched orange juice.

On iodine Hall says: “It is difficult to get enough in your diet without consuming dairy products and, therefore, a supplement may need to be considered.”

The only other supplement it is recommended vegans take is B12, especially when new to the regime. It’s an important vitamin for making red blood cells and is only found in meat or specially fortified foods.

While meat is a good source of iron,, an iron-rich vegan diet needs to consist of legumes (such as peas and beans), dark green leafy vegetables, quinoa and tofu.

Nuts, seeds and a daily dose of flax or chia oil are good for Omega 3, which helps to maintain a healthy heart.

And what about vegan protein?

Beans, pulses, soya, and nuts are not only great sources of protein but also valuable sources of iron, zinc, soluble fibre omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12.

And we actually require a lot less protein than the media and fitness industry lead us to believe – world tennis No 1 Novak Djokovic and British former world heavyweight boxer David Haye are both vegans, while former Wimbledon champion Venus Williams calls herself a ‘cheagan’ (a cheating vegan).

Are you giving up or thinking of giving up meat and dairy for Veganuary? Share your experience in the comments below.

Discover the real cost of cheap chicken and 4 facts that reveal the damage done by industrial farming.

Cooking Farming

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

1st January 2018

Ancient grains are back in popular favour. A trend that we reckon will only continue to rise. But what even is an ancient grain? And why should we care? Here’s our guide to why we’ve gone crazy for them, their benefits and how to cook them.

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

Grains make up more than half of the world’s daily calorific intake. Not to mention the vast amount that also goes to feed livestock – which, in turn, we eat too. It goes without saying that without grain we’d have very different eating habits. And if the world’s grain supply were to suddenly stop tomorrow? We’d be in big trouble.

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

“We eat wheat that is dead”

Wheat, corn and rice are the main players – the ones we humans eat the most of. These are crops that have been selectively bred for thousands of years, developed for their resistance to disease and ability to produce high yields. The problem lies with how intensively these main crops are grown, designed to rely heavily on fertilisers and herbicides to grow – damaging not just for our health, but our soils, water and environment as a whole – and to last longer on our shelves. Rather than breeding these crops for their flavour or nutrition, our main source of energy has been bred simply for the quantity it yields, and the economic return it provides big agro-business.

“The problem is we don’t eat true wholewheat. We eat wheat that is dead and denuded so it’s shelf-stable. We lost the taste of wheat and all its health benefits. And for something we eat so much of, it really is a true disaster. If we’re going to change the food system, we have to change how we grow and consume wheat.”

– Dan Barber

What are ancient grains?

And that’s where these so-called ancient grains come in. These refer to grains – like, spelt, barley and millet – and pseudo-cereals – like, quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth – that have been little changed by selective breeding. Meaning, they are genetically very similar, both in terms of flavour, nutrition and yield, to the grains our ancestors would have eaten centuries ago.

Forget superfoods, it’s all about diversity

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

Naked Barley growing at Wakelyns Agroforestry – a research farm run by Professor Martin Wolfe a couple of miles away from Hodmedod’s HQ in Suffolk, it’s the perfect place for organic trial plots. This enables the team to try out new and ancient grain varieties on a very small scale and to look at how existing crops might work in different systems.

It’s not because they’re ancient that they’re better – if anything that tag is meaningless – it’s their diversity and what this can bring to our diets and farming systems that’s the key”, stresses Josiah Meldrum, co-founder of Hodmedod’s, the pioneering British suppliers of unusual and underused grains.

“More genetically diverse farm systems, that include a range of cereals in a long rotation, tend to be more resilient to disease and pests. These older varieties also have deeper roots and are better able to draw more of their water and nutrients from the soil than the input-hungry short rotation monocultures we’ve come to rely on”.

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

After a global search for seed, a couple of years of trials and several months working out how to flake and mill it, Hodmedod’s have welcomed organic naked barley into their range.

These ancient grains are often more nutritious (a little more exciting) too. A good example is naked barley. Named so because unlike normal barley, the grain falls from the ear without the need for polishing. This also means that, unlike polished or pearled barley, when you eat naked barley you’re eating a whole grain.

Naked barley was a popular crop among Bronze and Iron Age farmers because it’s easy to prepare for milling and eating immediately after harvest, but by the mid 20th-century it had practically disappeared, with wheat taking its place. However, naked barley is a crop that requires half as much water per tonne as wheat and needs far less fertiliser. It’s high in complex carbohydrates, especially beta-glucan – a soluble fibre that has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol. Also when compared to wheat, it’s higher in protein – around 15 or 16% as compared to 10 or 12% for wheat.

“It might have been forgotten by modern farmers and millers, but it can really fit into today’s farming systems, and while it doesn’t produce as high a yield as many other cereals, what you do get from it is far more beneficial to both our health and the environment”, says Josiah.

Enter the UK’s first home-grown crop of quinoa

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

Sandoval quinoa crops being grown in East Anglia for Hodmedod’s.

The trick is in getting people to buy it. In the UK, farmers legally have to rotate their crops. Meaning, they alternate between crops that exhaust the supply of soil nutrients with those that replenish them. But they do so on the assumption that anything that isn’t wheat will make a financial loss. There simply isn’t a big enough market for selling alternative grains at a profit.

Thanks to Hodmedod’s and a handful of other pioneering farmers and chefs, change is happening to promote the benefits of unusual and under-used grains, encouraging people to use their purchasing power and incentivising farmers to diversify the grains they sell. Hodmedod’s are selling the UK’s first-ever crop of quinoa, Gilchesters Organics grow and mill grains from einkorn to rye, and Sharpham Park’s organic spelt is sold as flour, porridge and grain.

As consumers, the key is in varying what we eat and supporting the farming systems that enable us to do that – farming systems that are moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach, and rethinking what they grow so it’s more in tune with agro-ecological principles, precisely by introducing a diversity of plants to the land. Helping them to do that could start, simply, with the grains we eat.

Here are a few to start.

5 ancient grains (and a pseudo-cereal) to try in 2018

Spelt

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

Spelt is an ancient member of the wheat family and a hybrid of emmer wheat and goat grass. It grows five-feet high whereas modern wheat has been bred down to a more machine-friendly waist height. Nutty in taste, it’s full of fibre and a tasty addition to stews and soups. Pearled spelt is made by bouncing it over five rotating stones which remove the outer bran so it can absorb water and flavour when making risotto. Try Sharpham Park’s organic whole or pearled varieties, grown in Somerset.

Einkorn

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

Einkorn is the earliest type of wheat that humans grew and ate. Einkorn production completely disappeared in the UK until 2008, when Doves Farm started working with a small group of organic farmers to re-establish the production of einkorn. Higher in protein than commercial wheats, einkorn flour has a nutty flavour and makes great rustic style breads and pizza bases.   

Quinoa

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

Quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain, but it’s used in much the same way. Grown in Peru, Chile and Bolivia for thousands of years, quinoa formed the staple diet of the Incas. It’s a complete protein, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids, and it’s gluten-free. Try its black, red or white varieties in salads, use it to bulk out casseroles or as an alternative to rice or couscous. Try Hodmedod’s pioneering British quinoa.

Millet

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

Millet has a mild, sweet, nut-like flavour. A staple for a third of the world’s population, it’s most commonly eaten in India, China and Africa. It’s another gluten-free seed, a good source of protein and is high in fibre and B vitamins. Use it in place of oats to make porridge!

Amaranth

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

These tiny seeds are yet another great protein source and are also naturally gluten-free. You can use it much like quinoa, or in place of other grains in salads and soups, or try toasting them in a dry frying pan for added crunch to salads or breakfast bowls.

Intrigued? Here’s everything you need to know about amaranth.

Discover Hodmedod’s and Sharpham Park at farmdrop.com.

Living

This supper club will change how you think about food forever

20th November 2017

Here’s what happens when a lab-grown meat scientist turned farmer and Skip Garden’s eco-chef do the cooking. Welcome to a supper club like no other.

London supper club - Sustainable Food Story

Abi and Sadhbh tending to the table at King Cross’ Skip Garden. Photo: Ben Peter Catchpole.

When farmer and scientist, Abi Aspen Glencross, and eco-chef Sadhbh Moore met over a shared interest for future food and farming, it was only a matter of time before an experimental supper club was born. We talk to them about pushing the boundaries of provenance beyond ‘farm-to-fork’ and seeking inspiration in heritage grains, lab-grown meat, foraging and even blood, in anticipation of their upcoming Sustainable Food Story at Borough Market.

What is the Sustainable Food Story?

A: We’re a roaming supper club, telling stories about the origins of food and what it means to grow, source and eat food sustainably, in a fun and delicious way. We’re so much more than farm-to-fork, but we don’t claim to be sustainable either. The supper club is very much an ongoing adventure and we want to bring people along with us for the ride. We grow our own produce and we have close ties with producers. We use surplus or underused ingredients, we forage and we try to demystify the issues and preconceived ideas that surround food and farming.

London supper club - Sustainable Food Story

Sustainable Food Story diners in the Skip Garden greenhouse. Photo: Ben Peter Catchpole.

Let’s go back to the beginning. What inspired you to set this up in the first place?

A: We’re a team of scientists, chefs, storytellers and farmers. I’m a farmer, and previously worked as a scientist, growing meat in a lab. I went into it with a romanticised view of how lab-burgers could feed a growing population, but came out realising that far from solving a problem, it’s distracting attention from all the other issues surrounding our food system. For example, the massive waste of meat industry by-products. We need a mind-shift towards using what we have available.  

“We need a mind-shift towards using what we have available.”

S: We also have a big shared interest in growing and using heritage grains. We’ve both spent time at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill Stone Barns, who’s amazing at embracing biodiversity and growing under-loved grains. I’m an eco-chef at Skip Kitchen behind King’s Cross, and I’ve been using diverse British grains to show how incredible alternative crops are, and teaching kids about it too. We’re really inspired by what Hodmedods are doing to grow and sell different types of British-grown grains to the public.

A: It’s grains, really, that inspired our first supper club.  

Tell us more.

A: The wheat that we eat – and wheat is one of the crops that we humans eat the most – has long been grown for yield. Not only are we seeing a big drop in its mineral density, meaning it’s not so good for us anymore, but the fact it’s grown so uniformly and in such large amounts means it’s a crop that’s much more susceptible to disease and pests. It’s a bit of a crap crop really. We need more diverse grains to nourish the soil, protect our crops from disease and feed our population. By law, farmers have to rotate their crops and not just grow wheat, but the problem is wheat is the only crop that really makes them any income. It’s much harder to sell anything else and make a living off arable farming. There just isn’t a big enough market for human consumption, so they often go for animal feed.

S: For our first supper club, we made dishes that would showcase how good these alternative grains and pulses really can be.

“We served minty peas rescued from going into dog food.”

London supper club - Sustainable Food Story

Each plate has a story: salt-baked beets, goats curd and grains. Photo: Ben Peter Catchpole.

Can you give us a taster?

S: We served whole radish with their leaves, dipped into toasted spelt breadcrumbs, as well as salt-baked beets with goat’s curd and a grain-seed crumb crunch using farro I’d picked up in Italy. We also made einkorn bread, and crispbreads made from the sourdough starter that’s often wasted when making bread, and served them with minty peas that we rescued from going into dog food.

A: People think of wheat when they think of grain, so we’re using farro and einkorn, barley and corn, to show how diverse grains really are. My favourite dish has been carrot and einkorn berry-croquettes, using leftover rye breadcrumbs and surplus cheese rinds from the Cornish Gouda Company – Farmdrop actually supply them too.

S: As you can see it’s not just about grains, it’s about showcasing the alternatives around us. Even those rinds that would otherwise get thrown away, coupled with trying to source seasonally, locally and organically.

Do you only source seasonally, locally and organically?

A: No. We realise the limitations of trying to tick every box. It’s all fine to sit in London and say I’m only going to eat organic food from Wholefoods, but it’s not as black and white as that.  

S: We want to tell a story and inspire debate. For the next supper club at Borough Market, we’re thinking of including an imported ingredient. Trade continues to exist and always will so how can we do this in the best way? Let’s talk about it, rather than shy away from the topic.

Diners share the story over a platter. Photo: Ben Peter Catchpole.

A: Saying that, we’ve used some great produce from within London.

S: We made a tartiflette using dehydrated mushrooms that were grown from old coffee grounds at Mercato Metropolitano by Article No. 25, as well as charred squash from Growing Communities and Wildes cheese made in Tottenham. We also had a Forty Hall white wine spritzer – their vineyard is in Enfield – with rowan berries we foraged on Elephant and Castle roundabout! The foraged ingredients are always complementary though.

“Sustainability isn’t all about doom and gloom, it’s a fun exploration.”

Why so?

S: We forage, but only on a small scale, and only to complement the main event. I did a day down with Miles from the Forager. I love his attitude that the more people know about wild food, the more they can look around and become aware of biodiversity and the value in maintaining green spaces, hedgerows and wild spaces. Of course, over-foraging is never good, but to be aware of what’s around you can only be a good thing. And it’s a nutritious way to supplement your diet.

London supper club - Sustainable Food Story

Abi and Sadhbh plating up in the Skip Garden Kitchen. Photo: Ben Peter Catchpole.

And are your supper clubs always vegetarian?

A: We’re not vegetarian, but we use offal to show that it’s not all about the prime cuts of meat. There are so many nutritious parts of the animal that get thrown because we don’t know or don’t want to use it. We did a workshop on blood recently and were surprised how difficult it was to get hold of fresh blood for consumption! We’re thinking we might introduce it as a surprise ingredient…

What should we expect from your next supper club?

S: We’re going to go back to focussing on grains again, but with lots of delicious seasonal produce and a few surprises thrown in. It’s a fun excuse to get together with mates and enjoy a good meal. Sustainability isn’t all about doom and gloom, it’s a fun exploration and can be really tasty too. That’s what our supper clubs are all about, and if that means people can spend their cash in a way that supports a better food system, then all the better.

The next Sustainable Food Story supper club is coming to Borough Market on 26 to 27 November. Buy your tickets here.

The Skip Garden and Skip Garden Kitchen is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm, with lunch served between 12am a 2pm.

Thinking

6 of the best books lifting the lid on supermarket villainy

16th November 2017

Supermarkets: a means to supply people with fresh, healthy, and affordable food that supports the livelihoods of their producers. Or so they claim. Unfortunately, the reality is a certain ugliness embedded within supermarket culture – one that’s quite representative of the Big Food industry as a whole.

So what really goes on behind the big discounts, boundless imported produce, and highstreet monopolies? These books have all the answers.

6 of the best books lifting the lid on supermarket villainy

Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets

Joanna Blythman

6 of the best books lifting the lid on supermarket villainy

While the supermarkets’ sterile environment may kill off any pleasure or romanticism otherwise associated with food, they’re a hotbed for an industry driven by profit. No matter the cost. In Swallow This, Blythman picks up on the self-perpetuating war on mass produced food. When one ingredient or additive is denounced for its affects on the health of a nation, an even more nefarious substance will take its place (as is the case with sugar and high fructose corn syrup, or butter and margarine). Swallow This should come with a warning that, after reading, there are some things you will never want to put in your mouth again.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Michael Pollan

6 of the best books lifting the lid on supermarket villainy

We need to change the food system, or it’ll change us. That’s one of the running themes throughout The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan’s most recognised exposé on the wider industry which provides us our food. Pollan calls for the intricacies of the modern food chain (he traces the making of a MacDonald’s burger from a cornfield in Iowa to the sandwiched beef patty in his hand) to be reeled back to a more localised way of procuring and consuming food, particularly in the interest of dulling the impact the food system is having on the environment.

What to Eat

Marion Nestle

6 of the best books lifting the lid on supermarket villainy

This is the book Michael Pollan describes as ‘absolutely indispensable.’ Emphatic words for a 600-page tome that is at times not the easiest to read due to its almost encyclopaedic nature. However, Marion Nestle is as – if not more – knowledgeable and informed than anyone in her field.

In What to Eat, Nestle asks the reader (it’s definitely a case of ‘asking’ rather than ‘imploring’) to recognise most food sold to us is more about profit and less about quality and nutrition. In tying to reach a state of happiness with a wholesome diet, this is the book to consider.

Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat

Philip Lymbery

6 of the best books lifting the lid on supermarket villainy

Intensively farmed meat is often dismissed as an exclusively American problem. But anyone thinking the UK somehow escapes all this is reminded by Lymbery, the Compassion in World Farming CEO, that A) the UK does, and will continue to, follow America’s example, and B) this is a global problem in which all countries are interconnected. South American forests, for example, are routinely wiped out to sow the soy bean to feed pigs and chickens in China. Lymbery points out how these are the foundations upon which supermarkets rely, and it’s a basis that will result in a ‘Farmageddon’, if things stay as they are.

Not on the Label: What Really Goes Into the Food On Your Plate

Felicity Lawrence

6 of the best books lifting the lid on supermarket villainy

Since its release in 2004, this book has been changing the shopping habits of those who read it. For many readers, it disclosed the consequences of supermarket food, and for the first time provided the eureka moment as to where our food comes from. The conversations Lawrence has with exploited and benefit-bereft ­­migrant workers hits home the most. Yes, it’s more than a decade old and some food standards have moved on since then. But, the fact we’re talking about the same issues all these years later puts into perspective how things can only improve if we collectively take action.

Tescopoly: How One Shop Came Out on Top and Why it Matters

Andrew Simms

6 of the best books lifting the lid on supermarket villainy

Though expansion has slowed in recent years, supermarkets continue to snuff out the lives of local economies. Villages, towns and city neighbourhoods are becoming homogenised and faceless, and there’s not much communities can do about it (with the odd welcome exception). Simms’ book looks at how supermarkets, Tesco in particular, are erasing facets of British culture that we hold dear. It begs the question – should we really be adding to their profits?

Discover how supermarkets continue to mislead consumers with packaging, so called sourdough breadegg labelling and fresh chicken.

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5 reasons you’ll never find real sourdough bread at the supermarket

5th January 2017
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Supermarket ‘sourdough’ is a con (hear, hear Joanna Blythman). With only three ingredients – flour, water, salt – real sourdough bread is plain and simple, just how bread should be.

The increase in sales of the tangy, complex-flavoured, actually-fills-you-up sourdough made by artisans has prompted supermarkets to produce their own versions. Importantly, they fail to mention how these versions are fake.  The word ‘sourdough’ on a label dupes consumers into thinking buying the real thing. Significantly, these loaves can come with some potential serious health consequences too. Bread is filled with additives thanks to the big baking industry. Now they’re trying to jump on the bandwagon by mimicking the real deal in guise of ‘sourdough’. With no legal definition of sourdough bread and retailers not obliged to list the ingredients of breads baked in-store, it’s time to clear things up.

Here’s the truth about your supermarket loaf and why you won’t find a real sourdough in one:

1. Real sourdough takes time, (we’re talking days)

A true sourdough is never quick to produce, which goes against all the principles of the classic industrial supply chain supermarkets live by. The slow process required to make proper sourdough bread is what helps make the bread easier to digest and can help those with intolerances. By definition, mass-production means making a lot in little time. Big bakers speed up the process by adding commercial yeast, along with other ingredients, to optimise their speedy product. Modern authentic sourdough bread is made in the same way as it was thousands of years ago. This is a process that demands the slow fermentation of a simple dough made with the golden trio of ingredients. Our bakers at BreadBread produce loaves that need 24-hours just for the fermentation part. You could say that all that’s needed is flour, water, salt, and time – imagine the horror in the supermarket boardroom at that.

2. Real sourdough is natural

What defines ‘sourdough’? Sourdough is a method of leavening bread using natural, wild yeasts and lactobacilli bacteria naturally present in ground grain. Not commercially produced yeasts and an arsenal of undeclared additives – aka, ‘processing aids’ that can include: extra yeast for speed; extra fat for softness; emulsifiers for bigger loaves; and preservatives for a longer shelf-life that, importantly, can be used in any type of bread. That’s right, that’s the same stuff that goes into a light-as-air loaf of white sliced. If you’re a supermarket, and you don’t need to disclose your ingredients, then this pretty much means anything. How can you be sure a loaf like this is actually anything that resembles the real thing, when there’s no legal definition? The proof will be in the taste, when you wonder: where’s the sour in the sourdough? Where’s the moreish stoneground flour flavour, the satisfying crust and chewy texture? Where’s the natural beauty behind everything that makes real sourdough bread so bloomin’ delicious?

3. Real sourdough isn’t cheap

There are many reasons why cheap sourdough simply doesn’t exist. The process to make it isn’t fast, so the ‘time-is-money’ approach just doesn’t work here. A loaf naturally contains so few ingredients, any baker who calls themselves artisanal should take pride in selecting the best for the job. Organic British traditionally stone-ground flour is more expensive and flavourful than imported, commercially produced flour used in mass-produced bread.  To make sourdough properly also requires the actual hands of an actual baker (goodbye Chorleywood Process). Which leads us to….

4. Real sourdough demands skill

A true sourdough bread begins with a ‘starter’ – a mixture of flour and water. The mixture is fermented over several days with further additions of flour and water where wild yeasts present in the air and lactobacilli bacteria naturally present in ground grain are left to do their thing. Whilst the process itself is simple – you don’t need a tonne of equipment beyond what’s in your kitchen – it can take a little learning to know what you’re doing. Bakers add this starter to their dough and leave their loaves to rise over several hours, letting the magic come in the creative process of getting that lactic acid tang or rye to wheat ratio just right.

Did you know, thanks to generations of skilled bakers, centuries-old sourdough starters are used in baking today? The team at BreadBread are proud to use a mighty 500-year-old mother starter in their sourdoughs. The starter (when fed correctly and housed in the right conditions) can be lovingly kept alive, it means you’re literally eating a piece of history. Pass the butter.

5. Real sourdough won’t last three months

And thank goodness for that. Andrew Whitley, the Cumberland baker who co-founded the Real Bread Campaign in 1990, recalls the time he “kept a loaf of wrapped sliced bread for three months without it losing its squishy texture, or going mouldy”. He called it: “a defiance of nature: it’s an abuse of language to call it freshness.” Whilst we haven’t conducted our own rigorous testing of exactly how long a supermarket ‘sourdough’ will last, you can be sure that by cutting the long fermentation process, the result will need something to help it have a shelf-life. Real sourdough bread doesn’t go mouldy as such, just a bit hard, and that’s about it. So you won’t see it covered in a blanket of blue mould any time soon.

So there you have it, there really is no such thing as a supermarket ‘sourdough’. Our baker Giuseppe Mascali at BreadBread aptly puts it: “I just don’t think there is a shortcut to making this type of product. You have to have the right ingredients, the right skills and importantly, you have to take the time. I don’t think the supermarkets are able or willing to put any of that in.”

Say no to Sourfaux! Discover real sourdough bread baked by Brixton’s BreadBread bakery at Farmdrop.