We just can’t eat meat every day, no matter how good it tastes
RIVER COTTAGE CHEF GILL MELLER TALKS TO LAUREN TAYLOR ABOUT SUSTAINABLE COOKING AND HOW WE ALL NEED A CHANGE IN ATTITUDE
RECENT months have been a time of reflection in countless ways, and for many of us, food has factored in this. Since dining out options suddenly vanished, you’ve probably spent more time in the kitchen than ever before, perhaps put a bit more thought into what’s in your fridge, and planned your less frequent food shops with greater awareness.
“I think events of recent months are going to be an impetus for change, in all sorts of ways, but specifically in the way we live and eat and think about the natural world,” says Gill Meller.
The chef and cookery writer, best known for his work with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at River Cottage, says: “Our outlook on food is changing; how it’s produced, how it’s grown, how we source it, what we pay for it. At least for people who enjoy cooking, they are asking these questions more often.”
Gill’s new cookbook – Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower: How To Cook With Vegetables And Other Plants – is a real celebration of seasonal, home-grown vegetables and fruit. There’s no meat or fish but Gill prefers the term “veg-centric” to vegetarian.
Don’t think of it as being about depriving yourself of anything though; it’s “nourishment for the body, nourishment for the mind, nourishment for the soul,” he says.
“I’ve always been a big advocate for seasonal cooking and nothing embodies seasonal cooking like cooking fresh fruit and vegetables, salads and herbs,” Gill adds.
With 16 years at River Cottage under his belt as group head chef and cookery school teacher, Gill says Hugh has “massively” influenced his own cooking development.
“He’s been a huge inspiration and the whole River Cottage approach to food and cooking has influenced how I think about everything really, to the point where our views and ethics and principles are one of the same.”
Gill’s book aims to get us to see the many possibilities with humble home-grown fare, like pears, beetroot, tomatoes or new potatoes – think ‘tomatoes in the hole’ (as opposed to toad) or roast pears with shallots, bay, lemon and thyme. It’s about opening us up to ingredients we might not have cooked with before too, like sea kale, lovage and nettles – because when it comes to eating more sustainably, buying local is essential.
“It’s easy to just think avoiding imported unseasonal ingredients won’t make a difference, but actually it will, because instead of buying those you’re going to be buying something that’s perhaps been grown locally, by a farmer in your own community. The money that you’re putting into that is being invested back into the area and into the land – it’s like a ripple in a pond,” Gill explains.
Like many people, he’s consciously cut down on his own meat consumption. “I’ve slashed the amount of meat and fish-based protein, we might only eat meat once a week now, on occasion less than that.
“There’s no need to feast on rich meat when you’ve got exciting invigorating, lively, colourful, crunchy, fantastic vegetables, at the peak of freshness being harvested everyday.”
Besides, he says: “We can’t eat meat everyday, no matter how good it tastes, because our planet is not able to sustain that volume of meat consumption.”
He understands there are difficulties for people struggling financially right now, and advises stretching to organically produced meat and dairy first where possible, while at the same time cutting back on these products, which may then free up some money. It’s all part of a collective responsibility to make demands on the food industry, each time we get our wallets out. ■ Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower:
How To Cook With Vegetables And Other Plants by Gill Meller, photography by Andrew Montgomery, is published by Quadrille, priced £27. Available now in hardback and eBook.