One positive take-away from the chaos and uncertainty of the last 14 months, is that it has really amped up curiosity – and demand – for better, more responsible, more sustainable food.
There is no doubt that people want to eat better, drink better and importantly, do more good for their local environment in the process. Those values seem more important now than ever, but how can we make it a reality, right here in Wales?
This is a sponsored post, in collaboration with the Welsh Government.
The desire for a much deeper connection with the food we eat is clear; people want to know where their food comes from, and learn more about how it’s produced, and who produces it. Fourth-generation, regenerative farmer and butcher Shaun Jones chats about this in more detail in Episode 11 of the Hank Cardiff podcast.
In Wales, a new campaign from The Welsh Government’s Food Division aims to highlight the fact that good food begins with good ingredients, and we have our local farmers, growers and fishers to thank for it.
In fact, some of our food and drink is so important, it has its own special status. The Geographic Indication (GI) scheme celebrates and protects some of the UK’s most iconic produce: food and drink that is unique to the place it comes from, the way that it’s made, and the part it plays in traditional communities and cultures. In Wales, we have 16 protected food names. These include PGI Welsh Lamb, Welsh Wine (PDO/PGI) and Traditional Welsh Caerphilly (PGI) cheese. The latest addition is The Vale of Clwyd Denbigh Plum (PDO) which has been grown for hundreds of years (and in hundreds of orchards) in north Wales.
But there’s much more to be done.
A Sustainable Food Future
Recent research work has highlighted that when people think of food and drink from Wales, people think of the words ‘natural’ and ‘quality’. Whilst this is excellent news for producers in Wales, the Welsh food & drink industry can do more on its journey to secure a truly sustainable food future.
So how will we get there?
In 2019 a Sustainability Cluster was established encouraging food and drink businesses that are committed to sustainability to share best practice and collaborate in order to lead the way in sustainability practices.
And earlier this year, the Welsh Government launched their vision of how the food and drink industry can be grown in Wales post-Covid, which starts the process of looking at areas such as productivity, environment and raising standards.
Ultimately, the vision is to “create a strong and vibrant Welsh food and drink sector with a global reputation for excellence, and one of the most environmentally and socially responsible supply chains in the world.”
Other ongoing work includes encouraging businesses to think about their carbon footprints, decrease waste, and create new innovative products from past ingredients/by-products which may be otherwise thrown away, or underused.
For more information, visit: https://businesswales.gov.wales/foodanddrink.
Case Study: Conwy Mussels
It has been argued that bivalves (like oysters, mussels and clams) are among the most environmentally friendly food sources, and the least worrying when it comes to welfare. They have a very low ecological impact, and in fact, can even improve the water quality in areas where they are farmed.
Conwy mussels (PDO) are sustainably harvested by hand-raking the natural mussel beds of the Conwy estuary in North Wales. This gentle, traditional method allows the mussel beds to recover, and means that smaller mussels which are not mature enough to harvest yet, will simply fall through the gaps in the rake.
Small shallow-draft boats traditionally used for fishing (called ‘Dorys’) are used to collect the mussels. The hand-raking is carried out on these boats, which are just large enough for one person to board at time. The raking of the mussels takes time and skill – it can take 5 or 6 seasons to truly master the art of mussel raking; there are just four families that use the traditional mussel fishing methods in Conwy, a technique passed down through two generations over 150 years.
The care and tradition and unique environment of Conwy mussels all contribute to the quality of the final product. Conwy mussels are known for being meaty and juicy, with an impressive meat to shell ratio thanks to the deep water where they grow (deeper water = more plankton available for the mussels to feed on). The unique balance of salty sea water and sweet river water in the estuary is also reflected in the delicate taste.
Sound good? Try this recipe for Conwy Mussles (PDO) Moules Mariniere.
How To Support Wales’ Sustainable Food Future
There are a few ways that we as consumers in Wales can help accelerate the move towards a more sustainable food future.
- Look for Welsh produce with UK ‘Geographical Indication’ (GI) status. It’s a modest term, but one that literally makes a world of difference – Welsh products with GI status can claim the distinctive quality, authenticity and heritage of their natural place of origin.
- Get to know your local producers. For the lowest possible food miles, look for farmers and growers in your local area and find out if you can buy direct, or whether they supply any of your local shops.
- Go independent. Indie farmer’s markets and food shops (like these) often have developed close relationships with local producers, and can help you discover new ones you’ve never even heard of.
- Spend a little more (if you can afford it). Truly ethical, sustainable food can sometimes (but not always) carry a higher price tag; this is because it is priced fairly, so that everyone involved in producing it is paid a fair wage. Cheap, unsustainable food often carries a hidden cost to both the communities who make it, and usually the planet.
- Waste a lot less. About 6%-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food. Work on your meal planning and cooking skills, and try some food-waste busting recipe ideas to ensure that you eat, and enjoy, every last bite of what you buy.
For more inspiration, check out this recipe for Fresh Egg Tagliatelle with Onions, Peas & Organic Welsh Asparagus.