Why Jane is crusading against
I’M REALLY, really looking into our use of plastic. This wonderfully useful stuff is everywhere in a bad way all over the planet, infiltrating our lives and making its way from the land trash of humanity to the guts of whales.
I suspect it is implicated in many health issues and it makes sense to me to minimise its use. I’ve been quietly and personally on this bandwagon for decades, but now I’m getting louder!
This means no plastic bags with the shopping, no buying or storing of food in plastic containers, such as yoghurt, and all those spreads and things. No non-stick pans, no plastic utensils. Food gets stored in glass and old biscuit tins.
Bulk items such as rice and flour are still stored in big plastic bins because I haven’t got anything else sorted, yet. Maybe the answer is wooden boxes lined with paper bags, with insectrepelling herbs such as bay and rosemary scattered at the bottom.
No generic plastic containers, no plastic lunch boxes, no plastic bottles, and no plastic wrap which I’ve always thought was terrible stuff anyway. There were serious debates when I refused to buy it for teenagers who wanted it just because all their mates had their lunches in plastic wrap.
This selective divestment of plastic isn’t new, it’s just reaching another level. I’m all for plastic in the really useful long term, in more stable aspects such as water pipes and tanks and hoses and troughs, fittings etc. It would be difficult to live life without it these days. But that does not mean we need to have so much. I think all the unnecessary plastic and plastic rubbish in the world could be rounded up, stored in an already trashed place on earth – we’ve made more than a few – and used as a recycling resource.
Pre-industrial times, all societies were throwaway societies, but it was natural materials which were returned to the earth as they wore out. We could still do that. Packaging could be plant-based with cellulose products. It’s not, as the saying goes, rocket science, but it does take commitment on a personal level.
Why grow food in a healthy way, then store it in dodgy containers? Food gardening is not about pretty pictures, straight lines and prissy plants; it’s about feeding the household.
Touring through the vege garden of Andy Burnett at Somerfield’s Nursery in Oxford is always fun, and on this day I spotted a palm tree-like, sculptured rosette of heavilytextured, deep green leaves that I hadn’t seen before.
“That’s Cavolo Nero or black Tuscan kale,” he replied.
It’s almost black, sort-of a blackish-blue green really. This intriguing vegetable is related to cabbage and cauliflower but doesn’t resemble either, growing in the shape of a palm tree and meaning you harvest its long leaves from the bottom up.
It’s sometimes called dinosaur or ‘dino’ kale as its blistered leaves were thought to resemble dinosaur skin. They certainly look ancient and this is an old plant, descending from wild cabbage and thought to have been brought from Asia Minor into Europe in 600BC.
The flavour is rich, intense and slightly sweet, and it’s one of the few vegetables whose flavour is improved when plants are ‘kissed by frost.’ As frosts set in the leaves wrinkle, curl and strengthen, becoming more textural and chewy, developing a richer, more intense flavour. It’s the perfect mid-winter vegetable – you can even harvest it in the snow – and now is a great time to start planting it out.
Last May Ken and I were surprised when we were served Cavolo Nero while out on an anniversary dinner in an awardwinning restaurant. The rich dressing wasn’t to my liking but I could see the potential. It inspired me to grow some and I now consider it an indispensable winter green. The dark green foliage literally shouts ‘Eat me, I’m healthy!’ Last month this column featured watercress, officially the most nutrientdense vegetable on the plant, but kale comes a close second, packing in more nutrition for fewer calories than almost any other food. On the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), a scoring system that rates foods on their nutrient content, kale scores 1000, the highest possible score.
During WWII kale cultivation was encouraged for its nutrient value and in Japan kale juice is drunk as a dietary supplement. One cup of raw kale contains almost seven times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K and more vitamin C than a whole orange. The form of vitamin K – K2 – is involved in preventing heart disease and osteoporosis.
Kale contains four times more magnesium and five times more calcium than Brussels sprouts, and unlike spinach, it is low in oxalates (which can prevent nutrients being absorbed).
Evidence also shows kale has beneficial compounds, including anti-oxidants, with powerful medicinal properties. These have been linked to reducing the risk of cancer, macular degeneration and other health benefits. Like other brassicas, Cavolo Nero contains compounds thought to have a protective effect against cancer, including sulforaphane and indol-3-carbinol.
All kale cultivars are rich in powerful antioxidants including beta-carotene,
vitamin C and many flavenoids and polyphenols which counter oxidation damage in cells. Beta-carotene is converted in the body to vitamin A.
Certain flavonoids in kale – quercetin and kaempferol – are also implicated as cardio-protective, blood pressure lowering, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and even anti-depressant
Kale is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, linked to a reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration, impaired night vision and cataracts.
Kale has been found to contain bile acid sequestrants which bind with bile acids and lower the total cholesterol in the body. Steaming kale increases these bile acid-binding properties. One study showed steamed kale was 43% as potent as cholestyramine, a drug which lowers cholesterol.
Kale is a source of indol-3-carbinol, which boosts DNA repair in cells.
An Italian study suggested Cavolo Nero may benefit MS patients through neuroprotective and immunomodulatory effects.