As someone with a lifelong passion for healthy eating, I was excited when I moved to the UK five years ago to bring up my children. The UK has never been famous for its cuisine, since wartime rationing and the introduction of highly preserved and processed foods changed British attitudes for the worse. But I knew there is a growing market here for fresh, organic produce that I would be able to tap into. I could explore giving my children the grounding in fresh and seasonal produce and the ideals of sustainability that I wanted for them.
Growing up in rural South East Asia, farm-to-table cooking was not so much a lifestyle choice but simply the natural way of things. My family, like everyone else, produced most of our own food and livestock. Especially my godmother, who played a major role in my upbringing, instilled in me the value of quality and nutrition that has always remained with me in the many countries I have lived and worked in over the years.
Today in the UK, 86% of adults regularly eat ready meals, and over half of the UK diet is now ultra-processed. But there are green shoots of an agricultural recovery showing through the gloom. The other story of British food is one of dedicated farmers, artisanal producers and a rich culinary tradition turning that produce into world-class dishes.
As a culinary nomad, I knew I had made the right decision in moving to the UK when I asked my children what they wanted for Christmas this year. One of my children piped up, unprompted, asking for a cow and a chicken, to be named Poppy and Rosie respectively. This closeness to nature and food production reminded me of the attitude that I have experienced across the world, whether in America, the Mediterranean, or South East Asia, where cuisine is both tradition and art. In the way you hear people in these cultures talk about, source, and make their meals, you can feel and taste the passion they have for what they eat and what they grew up with.
It might still be true that many French and Italians are offended if you offer them British or American food, or to hear that McDonalds and Starbucks faced decades of struggle to make headway there. But these numbers and perceptions hide the potential, and to some extent, the reality of food production in the UK. One of the most endearing and enduring features of this country is its beautiful green, fertile countryside, and the high-quality sustainable farming and agriculture that it hosts, from beef to herbs to strawberries.
Farmers markets are once again popular, if a little pricey, and farm-to-table restaurants are springing up all over the country. Even wine production has leapt in the last few years and is becoming increasingly respectable internationally. Cutting food miles and eating locally sourced, seasonal foods is becoming a trend not only because it is tastier, but healthier. And with the turmoil of Covid and Brexit affecting imports, it is increasingly a necessity. The food revolution we are experiencing is a welcome and inspiring sight.
The vast variety of cuisines and local production that I have seen around the world has impressed upon me the importance of teaching my children about sustainability and nutrition but also about history and culture, encouraging them to experience the best of all worlds. Now at last I have an opportunity to share my passion directly.
This is also why I am bringing a farm-to-table deli to the vibrant heart of London, in Notting Hill. My hope in the long term is that it will be just one of many to join this food revolution. I am committed to sourcing the best quality seasonal produce directly from independent British producers and artisans, and just as importantly, to zero waste.
In the future, my heart is set on running a farming venture that could also provide educational, social, and environmental benefits for the surrounding area. I dream of a place to be close to the food we eat and to reflect on the value of traditional eating and farming. I want my children to share the fond memories that I have of my own childhood, collecting eggs from the garden and picking fruit from trees.
The UK has incredible potential when it comes to producing some of the best food in Europe, or even the world. Nobody really doubts that freshly produced, zero-mile ingredients are better than any meal you might get in a fast-food chain or even many a supermarket. And while not everyone can own a farm, or even an allotment, we can at least bring about a cultural shift in the way we think about food. It is my immodest hope that I will be able to play some part in this revolution.