"My sustainable food philosophy is not about being perfect"

Apart from my professional interests, I find myself interested in environmental sustainability in general – food, transportation, waste etc. I’m most passionate about sustainability in lab work, which is part of my everyday life. I take part in LEAF (Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework) project and see first-hand how much needs to be done to transform labs to be sustainable.

My sustainable food philosophy is not about being perfect but instead relates to all aspects of sustainability in our food habits. We don’t have to be all vegan or achieve zero food waste. We don’t have to be all seasonal or all regional, but if we spend some thought and energy on all of those, we will achieve much better sustainability in our food consumption. 

I did the Veganuary challenge last year. This year, since I share a house and cooking rota with five other people, I took a different approach not to impose on my housemates, when things are challenging as it is. When it is my turn to cook for everyone, I cook vegan, but I adjust when someone else cooks. Overall, it balances. One evening when everyone eats vegan is the same as just me eating vegan every night.

I guess it is the same principle with family and events. Instead of advocating, I would offer my own dish or a gift in the form of a special vegan product. I think it is more valuable because it allows people to get closer to the agenda and explore new things. Labels often set people off; this is a way to create interest without flagging it.

Photo of an aubergine, blackberry and mint dish on a dining table

I have been vegetarian for many years but not rigorously. If I crave something, or if I miss a home traditional dish, I will have it.

Food waste is another area that has to change.  It is difficult to plan your shopping, and no one buys food with the intention of throwing it away. But the end result is that about 30% of food that is  produced ends up as waste.

The key thing that I learned to minimise my food waste is that I can freeze everything. I either chop fruit and vegetables that are about to go bad and freeze them for future use or cook in bulk and freeze. 

Another way to prevent food waste is to make something out of what you normally consider leftovers – for example, I learned to make perfect pesto from the carrots’ greens. I initially got it as a gift from someone, loved it, got the recipe, and now I pass it on. 

Another example was the pumpkin carving contest in Somerville college. We wanted to participate but didn’t want to waste food, so we ended up exploring how to use all the parts of the pumpkin – we roasted the seeds and used the pumpkin guts for pumpkin spice latte.  

The amount of food waste is what frustrates me the most.  The fact that veggies without the perfect form don’t even get to the point of sale and end up as waste. I understand if people don’t want to change their food habits, they like meat or get something out of it, and I respect everyone’s choice. But food waste doesn’t have any additional value to anyone.   

My guilty pleasure is everything that is cooked by my mom. Our traditional food is very heavy on meat so it wouldn’t be a part of my day-to-day diet. But this food has a lot of value for me in terms of a sense of home and family.  I think it is especially the case for people who live abroad.

My least favourite food without any question and doubt is coriander!

Two tips for Oxford students – if you get a veg box delivery, you can save a lot of time and plastic.  Most of the services will leave it outside the door if you aren’t home. And at least so far, no one ever stole my veg!

Another tip to cut plastic is to buy in the refill shops – my favourites are OxUnboxed and Flo’s refill shop.

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