Earlier this week, a survey from Animal Welfare Approved and the Center for Sustainable Tourism landed in my in box. It was designed to gauge how far people are willing to travel for food, particularly cruelty-free fare. If you love food, all your travel plans–whether they’re around the world or to the next county–likely start with researching what to eat and drink.
The survey was timely, since I’ve just returned from a week in England, which is a wonderful destination for compassionate foodies. It’s been awhile since my last trip across the pond, but I’ve certainly been aware of the rise of British cuisine. Still, there was a time–not that long ago–when great food was the last thing you’d expect from a trip to Britain. Aside from high tea, of course, and old-school pub grub (not to be confused with the swankier gastro-pub fare that has washed up on our shores).
We all know how much that’s changed. British chefs are all over American media these days–Jamie with his Food Revolution, Gordon with his potty-mouthed antics, Nigella with her Earth Mother food porn. Their approaches may be different, but they all share a passion for fare made from high-quality, seasonal ingredients. I saw evidence of that everywhere I went, from the heart of London to the ‘burbs.
London’s vast Borough Market may well be ground zero of the British food celebration, with a heavy emphasis on the organic and sustainable. Three days a week, merchants sell the country’s best produce, cheese, meat, poultry and seafood–along with plenty of offerings from elsewhere in the European Union. This is where Londoners can stock up on free-range eggs from the Lake District, wild boar sausage from Cumberland, scallops harvested from local waters and other treasures.
Of course, there are many well-known restaurants showcasing great British food–St. John Bread & Wine, to name just one–as well as top local ingredients used in other cuisines. But I found care for quality and origin is a common theme. Hungry commuters passing though London’s busy rail stations can swing into Camden Food Co. outlets to pick up organic, fair-trade grab-and-go food in recyclable packaging. Then there’s Loch Fyne, a nationwide chain that specializes in sustainable wild-caught and farmed seafood from British waters. (Think Red Lobster, but more upscale, with a conscience and much better food.)
I brought a bit of this inspiration home, in the form of Nigel Slater’s cookbook, Tender, Volume I: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch (Fourth Estate). If you’ve signed up for a CSA and need ideas to use up all that bounty, order a copy of Slater’s book forthwith (along with the followup volume on fruit). You’ll be seduced by Slater’s approach to cooking–usually just a handful of well-chosen ingredients made even better with simple techniques that I think typifies British chefs’ no-nonsense style and love of homey comfort. That’s coupled with the opinionated charm with which he writes about his subject. Slater on Brussels sprouts: “The petit chou has never been a star and we do the best we can to make them palatable.” But he does much more than simply make them palatable. His half-dozen sprout recipes render the much-maligned veggie mouthwatering.