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Most of my recipes start from trying to eat locally. However, this is quite hard to do at this time of year unless you eat a lot of smoked salmon and turnip. I exaggerate, of course, but early spring is a lean time for eating from the garden. Locally produced food is of such wonderful quality, but the reliability of supply means that it is hard to stock to local food only.
And now, here is the reason for loving my freezer. I still have broad beans, home grown from last summer, and tonight I had a most delicious stew made with local beef. Both of these were only available for a limited period last year. We also picked boxes of brambles at a secret location possibly near you, and I have these stashed away, ready for when I am inspired to use them.
In fact, there’s not much that can’t be frozen. I also cook large portions of food, and we regularly eat half and freeze half for another time. It is also a good way of stashing food that is cheap at the co-op: what to do with reduced cost punnets of fruit and no jam jars? Freeze until you have time to make jam! You can also freeze yoghurt, and many other co-op specials. The Scottish Co-op is very good at pricing to sell rather than throwing away, and it is one of the supermarket chains that has done the most to reduce waste: as a result, some things are cheap on the day they expire and they can still be frozen for later.
The website ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ has an excellent freezer section with ideas on how to get the most from your food and your freezer. I have started saving the breadcrumbs that used to get swept away: in freezer bag in the fridge, they are ready for use in a second. They also suggest freezing all kinds of things like portions of mashed potato, or grated cheese.
But the reason why my freezer is my best friend, first and foremost, is because it brings me one step closer to eating local food.
Freezers and the environment
To everything, there are two sides. A freezer may help me in my quest to spend my money locally and invest in the local economy. However, they also account for around 20% of the energy used by domestic electrical appliances. The EU has helped us improve our buying habits and also our waste management for old fridges and freezers. The energy labelling system was introduced as a consequence of consumer and political pressure. As a result, over the last 15 years, the energy efficiency of domestic appliances has increased by up to 20% every four years.
The EU energy label has been in place for over a decade. It rates efficiency in colour bands from A to G, with green A being the best, and G being the worst. There are now additional classes called A+ and A++. It is now the law that the label must be shown on all refrigeration units. Generally, chest freezers are not as efficient as upright models. A freezer bought before 1999 could be anything up to a G rating. New laws state that labelling information should also state energy consumption; remember that a larger appliance may use more energy, even if it has an equivalent rating.
There are several features to look out for to make sure your freezer is even more environmentally friendly. Some relate to the kind of freezer you buy, and other features are more to do with how you use your freezer. So-called ‘Frost-free’ freezers are more efficient, as defrosting and refreezing uses a significant amount of energy. The frost-free models do not use any more electricity to run, and save time. Look out for fast freeze settings; these use extra energy, and should be used cautiously. There is also a trend to buy bigger and bigger freezers. A big freezer, however good the rating, is going to use more power than a smaller model. Also try to buy a freezer that is CFC-free (check the label). For the most efficient and ethical freezer purchases, try looking at www.which.net or www.sust-it.net. I also looked at the ethical consumer website. Then try and buy locally.
As for using your freezer more effectively, let me dispel one myth for you straight away: a full freezer uses just the same energy as an empty one, no difference. On the other hand, a door left ajar, a damaged or dirty door seal, these really rack up the energy consumption. Look out for freezers with door alarms to prevent the door getting left open by accident. Some features of freezers can minimise heat loss when the door is open: transparent drawers let you see what you are looking for quickly. I also use a lot of labelling for stuff in the freezer for the same reason. It is also a good idea to invest in a freezer thermometer, and adjusting the settings to keep the freezer around -18C. Try not to install your new freezer in a hot place; that won’t help it work at all. Avoid direct sunlight as well, for the same reason. It seems obvious, but don’t put hot food into the freezer; let it cool first.
New freezer, old freezer: Is it ethically OK to chuck out an old freezer that works OK and get a new one? Not easy to answer. It is not just about comparing the energy efficiency; this about the environmental cost of getting rid of the old one, and the materials and energy consumed in making and transporting the new one. For a fridge that is greater than five years old, replacement is often the best environmental option, as long as your new freezer is rated A+ or A++.
Under EU regulation, shops must help customers recycle old freezers, amongst other things. This may be that they support the council’s recycling scheme, or offering something similar. When buying a new appliance, see if they will take away your old one. CnES has its own appliance ‘recycling’ site at Market Stance. I’m not sure how it works, but they are not being added to the general landfill site, and hopefully they are managed to ensure that CFCs do not leak out into the atmosphere.
You could always freecycle your old freezer, offering it to someone who would not be able to purchase their own. However, I wonder… if it was too inefficient to justify using it yourself, how can you then justify allowing someone else to use it? Oh, how I lie awake at night, fretting! But on the plus side, think of all the wasted food that has been avoided, and all the local food that has been consumed.
In the Hebrides, we have a problem with greylag geese eating the grass on the machair. Occasionally there are goose culls, and we have goose in the freezer. I’m on a quest to find the best wild goose recipes. The last recipe, for goose stew with barbeque sauce was not good.
Please send your favourite wild goose recipes by typing into the comments box. The best versions will get posted here, and credited to you (if I know your name).
There’s been a short hiatus while I have been on leave away from the Hebrides. I’ve been in Brighton for the last ten days, and we’ve eaten out like kings and queens. I had the opportunity to take my mother out, as well as my husband and two daughters, and we spoke about food. These are discussions we have had many times over the years. This Christmas, out of seventeen people, five of us will be looking to reduce our meat consumption in some way. One vegan, one occasional vegan, two vegetarians and a lapsed vegetarian.
SO we talked, about definitions and choices, about misconceptions and fallibility, about the times we have been offered fish as the vegetarian choice, about the vegetables roasted in duck fat, about the reasons for our choices.
Why reduce meat consumption? One of our vegetarians has chosen to reduce meat consumption for animal welfare reasons and a rejection of the meat industry. This includes battery farming, high intensity breeding, high antibiotic use, transport of animals to large slaughter houses, as main factors in the European meat industry. I know this doesn’t apply to croft-raised animals, but it does apply to the meat on the shelves of our shops.
The vegans amongst us are arguing that the focus on animal protein is overlooking the origins of hunger, about sustainably feeding our world population of seven billion people without destroying environments. The land required to be turned over to agriculture to produce animal protein is far higher than that required for vegan diet. Hebridean livestock are fed imported sheep-nuts and other feedstuffs, and contribute to this dilemma.
What about fish? Sustainable fishing and the use of fishing quotas is a hot topic – just consider the fall-out from the book ‘Shetland’. The authors raise the issue of the commercial trade in fishing quotas, and allude to practices that evade true control of sustainable fishing. I find it so hard to weigh up the politics and impact of the fishing industry that I feel guilty if I don’t know the provenance and fishing method used when I eat fish. Was it farmed? And what was the farmed fish fed on? Has this contributed to falling stocks of sand-eels, falling populations of sea birds? What about the antibiotics, the environmental fall-out on wild stocks? Was my fish line-caught? Or trawled? What was the by-catch; was it dolphin, or an endandered species? What about the ropes and gear that remain in the sea, shedding plastic and entangling larger animals? Were our scallops dredged, with massive collateral environmental destruction?
How should we support local economies? There are many people in our communities who depend on food for their livelihoods; the crofters, the fishermen, the salmon farms, the restaurants and shops and cafes. The people who prepare our food, who choose local produce, whose artistry makes sublime meals, their skill deserves attention.
Personally I don’t think there is one answer that fits every situation every time. Better, more independent information at the point of purchase seems sensible, but this would need to be well-researched, easy to understand, quick to read. More widespread debate about the politics of food at every level of our society would help drive change.
Some changes have already taken place: eating veal has become less popular over the last fifty years, and food labelling has also improved. Most menus include at least on vegetarian choice for each course, and these choices are more innovative than they were. Fast food restaurants indicate which dishes are vegan or vegetarian, and we are encouraged to speak to staff if we have questions.
I am encouraged that we can continue to raise the agenda, to improve our understanding of the environmental impact of what we eat, and how to eat well without compromising our principals.
Once upon a time, I was the treasurer for the Uist Wholefood co-op. For ten years, I put a couple of recipes a week on our site, as well as passing on information about local food, and related information.
The local shops caught on, and started supplying wholefoods, and gradually we became unviable. For a while, we just had the website, and then that got hacked. All the recipes and articles have gone, and I am starting again.
This is now just a personal website, so that I can keep a note of favourite recipes online, and so my relatives and friends can use my recipes. Some of the recipes are made-up, others are from recipe books which will be attributed – perhaps you’ll be inspired to buy them.
I’ll tag the recipes according to main ingredient, style, and type, so for example, a vegan tomato soup will be tagged for #vegan, #tomato, #soup etcetera.