Eating Is An Agricultural Act
Rosie Birkett is a cook, food journalist and author, and was this year's BOOM Awards ambassador. Find out why she thinks we can all have an impact with the food we put on our plate and why eating is an agricultural act.
I grew up eating vegetables that my dad grew himself in the vegetable patch, and picking wild mushrooms and cobnuts from the fields by our house, so in that sense I always had a clear idea about the connection between food and the land. But as an adult working in food, the more I’ve learned and read about cooking and the food system, the more I’ve realised how important our choices as cooks are to the planet. One of my favourite writers, Wendell Berry, says that “eating is an agricultural act” and I completely agree – I think it’s important and empowering to understand how the way we shop, cook and eat affects the world around us, as well as our own health, and being aware of where our ingredients come from, and how they’re produced, helps us to make better decisions.
When I was asked to support this year’s BOOMs (Best of Organic Market awards) of course I jumped at the chance. I’m lucky at the moment to be in a position where I have a voice in food, and I want to use that voice to encourage people to think, eat and cook as responsibly as possible, and I really believe that organic is a clear and accessible way for people to make better choices.
I’m a home cook, rather than a restaurant chef, so it all comes down to simplicity and honing recipes so that they are the best they can be, and coax the most delicious flavours out of ingredients. I’m completely led by the seasons, what’s growing wild outside me in the nature reserve where I live, and what’s in my organic veg box usually forms the backbone of what I’m going to cook along with some good organic meat for a special treat. I believe that if you go to the trouble of sourcing good ingredients you’re halfway there as they only need to be treated simply to create a feast.
When you buy or grow organic food, you have a guarantee that the ingredients have been farmed or raised in the most natural way possible – in healthy, fertile soils that promote biodiversity rather than chemical-led monocultures. You know that polluting chemical fertilisers have not been used, that animals have been reared with the highest possible welfare standards – without the routine use of antibiotics, with the sun on their back, access to clean water and shade for shelter.
In other words, you know that the farmers and people producing your food are doing it for the right reasons – not purely to turn as much profit as possible as part of a huge, industrialised machine, but to produce nutrient-rich ingredients in a way that has less of a devastating effect on the environment. Those are the reasons why I choose to buy organic ingredients. Organic ingredients are also fully traceable, so if you want to, you can find out exactly where your food has been produced.
Aside from that, I truly believe that organic ingredients taste better, and that’s what these awards are all about. It was amazing on the night to meet so many exciting food producers who are so passionate and engaged with what they do. From Booja-Booja who won out in the organic confectionery category thanks to their dangerously delicious hazelnut truffles, to the legendary Guy from Riverford, and Coombe Farm, whose organic, grass-fed pork I had the pleasure of cooking last weekend for friends, they are a really inspiring bunch.
I’d like to thank the Soil Association for getting me involved with the BOOMs, and opening my eyes to the broader spectrum of organic products.
Check out the winners and shortlisted entries here.