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My job is to look at the world and wonder... "How can we make things better?"
My wife and I have been kicking around the concept of a “five mile restaurant” for a couple of years now. At its core, it’s about hyper-local eating: a restaurant where every single ingredient has been sourced from producers within a five mile radius.
Choosing local and seasonal food is one of the most beneficial things we can do with our diets: having a far greater impact than eating plant-based for example. If someone’s eating plant-based it’s practically impossible to get all the various foods they need for a balanced diet in any one locality year-round, which means much of what ends up on their plate brings with it thousands of food miles.
I believe the concept can go much further than simply cutting down food miles, waste, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Globally we need a shift away from industrial, monoculture, mechanised farming and a return to small-scale (family-sized) farms that produce both plant and animal products.
These traditional models produce more food per unit of land than industrial systems. And organic farming produces more food per unit of land than chemical-based methods. What’s more, mixed, organic farming is sustainable… and we should not even consider any approach that isn’t at least sustainable.
My idea is to integrate the farm with the restaurant. So customers will not only enjoy fresh, local, and seasonal fare, but they’ll see exactly where it came from.
For most produce there will literally be no middle man. The field-to-table journey is literally a stone’s throw! We’ll harvest what’s in season and use our creativity to turn outstanding organic produce into mouth-watering dishes.
We have lost our relationship with our food. What is now a commodity used to be an intimate part of our lives. From our hunter-gatherer days right up to a few hundred years ago, daily life for most people would revolve around growing, foraging, gathering, preserving, preparing, cooking and sharing food.
I feel a massive and deep sense of reward from growing my own produce, gathering eggs from my poultry, and even the somber and serious matter of harvesting a bird for the table. I would like more people to share that social and reverential experience.
Another important aspect of connection is food through the seasons. Many of our methods of flavouring food have actually come from preservation methods: curing, smoking, pickling, fermenting, etc. The reason we had to do that was so that we could store food from abundant times so that we could still eat through the lean winter months. I would love to rediscover those methods of preparation.
In addition, foraging for wild food helps us to reconnect with our local geography and with the seasons, as well as delivering a greater range of interesting ingredients and tastes.
Feasting used to be a communal activity that many of us have now lost. Instead of preparing and enjoying meals together, now we can microwave a “meal” in a matter of minutes or grab a packaged snack from any number of outlets.
In a Five Mile Restaurant, the focus of the food experience would be communal. Nobody knows exactly what’s going to be on the menu, even on the day. It depends on the weather and any number of factors. So it would break the safe and boring monotony of predictability.
We would build large barbecues and clay ovens so that all the food could be cooked using wood – which is a regenerative fuel, drawing more carbon from the air than it releases. Cooking with fire also has its own deep place in our hearts and in our DNA. We evolved chatting around the campfire, so why not put the campfire back at the centre of our food celebrations?
As I mentioned, farms that both grow plants and raise livestock are the most efficient and productive. Small-scale farms feed 70% of the world’s population today.
The reason why we have moved away from small-scale farming to massive, industrial models is not because factory farming is better at producing food. It is not. It is unsustainable, destroys the soil and pollutes waterways, and delivers less food of a lower quality than the small farm.
The reason why Big-Ag is dominant in the West is simply because that’s the model that can generate the most profit for corporations: the chemical companies, the seed sellers, the grain buying cartels, and the meat packing conglomerates.
We simply cannot continue like this. And we cannot wait for the corporate world (which controls Government) to decide to change tack. WE have to do it. And that means finding ways to set up new small farms on systems modelled after nature.
Nature has already figured out everything we need to grow abundant food, and she never uses monocultures (growing just one thing in one place). Instead, when we grow crops, pigs and other animals can go in to clear the land ready for what comes next. They’re happy to do the work and will turn crop residues and weeds into healthy manure.
After a few cycles of veg crops have depleted some of the land’s goodness, it can be put to grass and grazed for a few years. Grazing perennial pasture not only sequesters carbon from the atmosphere (making it regenerative), it is also the healthiest way to raise anything from cows to chickens. The chickens will even help pick the parasites and their eggs from the cow’s manure and kick it all over the ground as they’re doing so.
And, of course, totally grass-fed (plus forbs and other goodies) meat, dairy, and eggs are the best food you can get. When the animals get to enjoy their natural environment, they’re happier and healthier, have less disease, don’t need antibiotics, and give us products that are similarly healthy, higher in good things like Omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid).
Rich, combined methods of farming like this are labour-intensive and require sensitivity and thought – the antithesis of the machine approach of Big Western Agriculture. That’s why it isn’t profitable for the corporations, who continue to promote bigger and bigger fields worked by bigger and bigger machines controlled by fewer and fewer people.
We need more people farming on small farms. That means we need models that are both sustainable ecologically and economically. I think the self-sufficient microcosm of the Five Mile Restaurant concept could fit that requirement.
Many farmers are responding to the general decline in raw food prices (that’s what capitalism does) by seeking ways to add value to their produce on the farm. So you can turn barley into beer, flowers into perfumes, or beef into biltong… right there on the farm.
Five Mile uses the same principle. By cutting out all middlemen, we would produce, add value, and retail right there on the premises, generating the maximum profit on the produce.
If we can make one Five Mile Restaurant profitable, that could create a channel for getting more people back to the land, probably by putting the Five Mile model open-source so that anyone can pick it up and go.
Local and seasonal food continues to be a growing trend in catering, and there is every reason why it should continue. A profitable business model would help new entrants to secure land (whether purchased or leased) and get the capital investment needed to start up (which could be lower than a traditional restaurant or farm).
Finally, the Five Mile model offers wonderful educational resources for people of all ages, helping them to reconnect with the land that provides our food.
I’m sure schools and colleges will appreciate the opportunity to experience every aspect of a traditional farm in a relatively small space, plus seeing the full journey food takes from earth to table – all on a single site.
Additionally, many people are getting interested in rediscovering traditional, artisan techniques for raising, preserving, and preparing food, which offers additional revenue opportunities for Five Mile Restaurants.
Plus there’s never any shortage of people willing to volunteer on organic farms, many through organisations such as WWOOF or Workaway. Can you imagine what a great, enriching experience a young person could get, spending a summer working on a permaculture farm, learning about produce and food, and enjoying incredible meals every day?
Overall, I really believe this Five Mile concept is one that could help heal many of the aspects of our society that are sick or dysfunctional today: breakdown of family and neighbourhood life, disconnection from food, all the health problems that come from processed food, disconnection from the land, the weather, and the seasons, animal welfare issues, soil loss, water management, etc. etc.
My personal dream is to flesh out this model into a business plan and hope to secure land to try it out in the next couple of years. Watch this space.
The “Appeal to Nature” fallacy comes up frequently in debates about the rights or wrongs of human diet. It is used by those on both sides, but what is it, is it valid, and what light can it shed on the ethics of our dietary choices? More…
I’ve been pondering the ethics of meat, which inevitably involves taking life (unless we’re talking lab-slime, which we’re not).
If you have read my previous blog posts, you’ll know that I think the argument for/against any diet rests on three “legs”…
Note, I’ve focused the first question on the individual, because I realise that various diets suit each of us differently. Some people genuinely seem to thrive on plants alone (not many, long-term, from what I can see), whereas others are intolerant to plants’ defence mechanisms, most often grains and beans. (Yes, it seems plants don’t want to be eaten either.) It’s the responsibility of each person to figure out what diet works for YOUR body.
In this post, I want to focus on the third issue only: What’s good for animals? Can it be “good” to take another animal’s life just so we can eat? I’ll make the case for why I think it’s perfectly okay. More…
In a recent online discussion, someone claimed that “farms everywhere are turning veganic” (i.e. growing food without using any domesticated animals or animal products like manure, blood, or bonemeal.)
He directed me to this video by vlogger “Mic. the Vegan” as proof that veganic farming is both economically viable and sustainable. I agreed to check it out, because I’m interested to know how a veganic model can possibly compare to the best organic, no-till systems that incorporate animals. I’ll post my analysis below. More…
So-called “conventional” agriculture is literally destroying the basis of human life – which is the soil beneath our feet. I believe this constitutes the greatest single threat to the survival of today’s civilisations, and addressing it should be humanity’s #1 concern.
Look at the two photos I took today of a field near me. It is the 23rd of April, springtime in England, and everywhere life is literally bursting out… everywhere, that is, except for fields like this.
There are practically zero visible signs of life in this field! And this is the norm. This is what we call “conventional”. This is what we’re told will continue to feed 8+-billion people. It will not! More…
This piece of vegan propaganda came up on my Facebook feed today, via Moby, the awesome music producer and well-known advocate of veganism.
(Side note: I actually tried going vegan while working away in Sydney, Australia, after reading the sleeve notes on Moby’s CD “Play”. I lasted about 48 hours.)
The post immediately looked suspicious to me, so I thought I’d fact-check it, or at least offer some alternative information to help people make up their own minds.
I’ll tell you what’s wrong with you: You don’t eat enough!
This is totally an opinion piece. I’m no nutritionist, I’m just fascinated with food and thinking about how we can feed the world without further screwing everything up beyond all recognition.
We all know something’s terribly wrong with the Western diet. Most of us are overweight, many are obese. We have type 2 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, lactose/gluten intolerance, addictions, behavioural problems… blah di blah di bloody blah.
All this creates a wonderful environment for nutritionists, dieticians, and healthy living writers to make a good living out of telling us what to eat next. One month it’s Atkins or keto, then it’s juicing, then it’s plant-based, vegan, raw-vegan, then paleo, then seaweed, then quinoa, and that’s not even mentioning the Harry Potter realm of “superfoods”.
Surely life isn’t meant to be so complicated. Our ancestors were fitter, stronger, and healthier than we are. Yes, they were. And before anyone starts arguing, “You know, people 500 years ago were lucky to live to 35!” let’s just say this:
We in the West are not living longer, we’re dying longer.
Who wants a life that’s mostly defined by stress? We worry about money, debt, bills, life, love, career, whether we’re living our potential, whether we’re being a good enough parent, whether our parents were good enough parents… all fuelled by endless advertisements showing us new ways that beautiful people are having a great time.
And, of course, on top of all that, we worry about our food. What food will give us vitality, what food won’t kill us, what food will make us better in bed, what food is carcinogenic, what food is killing the planet… AAAAAAGH!!!
If our hunter-gatherer ancestors were perfectly healthy (until they got killed by something with scary teeth), and we, with all our books and Internet and technology and labelling, can’t manage it, where did we go wrong and – more importantly – how can we put it right? More…
As part of my interest in ethical and sustainable food systems, I have spent a bit of time around animal rights groups on Facebook recently. Usually driven by the quite extreme vegan agenda, there are groups of people out there who genuinely believe that they need to “rescue” animals from human slavery (see e.g. Direct Action Everywhere).
I believe these are all nice, mainly middle class folk who are genuinely passionate and motivated to do what’s best for animals… but I’d like to explain why I also think they’re also misguided. There are several arguments, which I’ll address in turn.
Ultimately, I hope to show not only that the idea of “rescuing” large animals from the food chain has practically zero benefit, but also that it distracts us from a far more serious crime against the animal kingdom being perpetrated by humanity. If animal rights activists are genuinely concerned with protecting animal lives, I believe the meat industry is the wrong area to focus their efforts. More…
This is as much a bookmark page for my own reference as anything else. It will help to counter the frequent claim that “Everyone can thrive on a vegan diet.” My intention is not to bash anyone for their life choice, but to show up that universal claim as untrue.
I’m sure that some people do okay on a whole plant-based diet, at least for a while. Some may even thrive! But I’ve been coming across too many testimonies from people who’ve felt literally driven by their own bodies to go back to a more natural omnivore diet that they cannot all be dismissed as just being bad or failed vegans.
After all, if a vegan diet were natural for homo sapiens, it ought to be really difficult to mess it up, even in the long term! More…
Over the past few years since I got the food and soil bug, I guess I’ve been pondering one big, central, hairy-arsed question:
How can we feed 8 billion (or 10 billion, etc.) people in a way that’s sustainable, healthy, and ethical?
And it seems to keep coming back to one equally big, difficult, and hairy crux question…
Should we eat meat?
I thought I’d publish one post that summarises the arguments on all sides, and where I currently stand.
In an attempt to make the issue easier to tackle, we can probably agree it all comes down to three criteria: