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Week 46: 23 July 2012

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Chef, writer, broadcaster and campaigner

A Welcome Feast for Nowhereisland

With seven billion humans and counting, nothing defines the surface landscape and ecology of our entire planet more than how we choose to feed ourselves. If we all want fish, the seas will soon be empty. If we all want meat, the rainforests will soon be cleared. If, on the other hand, we all want vegetables and fruit – lots of them, all the time, every day — then we might just be in with a chance.

Incidentally, we’re not scything down those forests because we need the space to graze our animals. That’s not how it works. We’re doing it to grow more soya and grain to feed not ourselves, but the factory farmed animals whose flesh we want to eat by the hundreds of millions of tonnes. Already, a third of all the cereal crops grown in the world are fed to animals. In the US, it’s over half. And that doesn’t include the millions of acres of maize now being grown for biofuel.

We’re just beginning to recognise – well, some of us are — that the earth’s resources are finite. Not just that, but many of them are close to being fully exploited (if they’re not already over exploited). It’s prima facie bonkers to allow fuel production to compete with food production on our fertile farmland. And it’s equally mad not to be taking most of our energy from naturally renewable resources (wind, sun, sea).

But even if we get the energy right, we need to think fantastically carefully about how and where and by what methods we grow and extract our food. I would stop just short of saying that we all need to become strict vegetarians. Meat and fish are both outstanding foods. The irony of meat is that it is actually, when naturally reared and consumed in moderation, a very healthy food, supplying a well-balanced and digestible package of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. Yet we are overeating meat to the point of epidemic obesity.

Fish is arguably an even better food than meat. Those omega 3s have helped evolve the human brain – and still play a vital role in the development in a growing individual. And despite all the wrong we are doing in its waters, the sea still has an extraordinary capacity to provide huge amounts of fish for us to eat. The fish irony is that, sustainably harvested, the oceans could actually be giving us more, not less, than they currently do, that’s why it’s so unforgivable, as well as plain stupid, to eradicate whole ecosystems from our seas, by insanely destructive fishing methods.

So let's not give up on meat and fish. Let’s concentrate on getting them right – keeping them healthy, and sustainable.

Last year I stopped eating meat and fish for four months. It was a calculated attempt to recalibrate my diet and my cooking skills. I loved it, and I love the legacy – that I no longer eat meat every day. Sometimes not even every week. But when I do I savour every morsel and I relish the good it is doing me.

I particularly like to serve meat and fish on feast days. It’s one way of recognising just how special and precious these foods are. That’s why my menu for the arrival of Nowhereisland into Weymouth includes line caught mackerel from Lyme Bay, and Dorset lamb grazed on the rich grasses of nearby fields. And of course comes alongside great platters of the finest locally grown veg and fruit. These foods are all local, but not exclusive. They are no more expensive than the meat, fish or veg you’ll find in your supermarket.

Nowhereisland has become a crucible for fresh thinking about the way we live now, and in the future. I relish that challenge, in all its myriad contexts. And if, as it floats along the fish-rich, but not untroubled waters of our southern coast these next few Olympic weeks, it gives us all a little nudge in the direction of smarter food choices and more thoughtful cooking, I for one will be cheering loud.

A Welcome Feast for Nowhereisland

Radishes and young carrots with beetroot hummus and flatbreads

Barbecued Lyme Bay mackerel with wild thyme and garden herb gremolata

Salad of carrots with herbs and seeds

Chargrilled rump of Dorset organic lamb with salsa verde

Green bean and hazelnut salad

Herby new potatoes

Chocolate brownies with Dorset Jersey cream and summer berries

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is widely known for his uncompromising commitment to seasonal, ethically produced food and has earned a huge following through his River Cottage TV series and books.

His early smallholding experiences were shown in the Channel 4 River Cottage series and led to the publication of The River Cottage Cookbook (2001), which won the Glenfiddich Trophy and the André Simon Food Book of the Year awards.

The success of the show and the books allowed Hugh to establish River Cottage HQ near Bridport in 2004. In the same year, Hugh published The River Cottage Meat Book to wide acclaim and won a second André Simon Food Book of the Year Award.

He continues to write as a journalist, including a weekly column in The Guardian and is Patron of the National Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association (FARMA). River Cottage HQ moved in 2006, to a farm near the Dorset/Devon border, where visitors can take a variety of courses.

During River Cottage Spring (2008) Hugh helped a group of Bristol families start a smallholding on derelict council land. The experience was so inspiring he decided to see if it would work nationwide, and Landshare was created to bring keen growers and landowners together. The movement now includes more than 50,000 people.

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Nowhereisland is a Situations project led by artist Alex Hartley, one of 12 Artist Taking the Lead projects for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad funded by Arts Council England. We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the University of the West of England, Bristol; Bloomberg; Nicky Wilson Jupiter Artland; the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Royal Norwegian Embassy and Yellowbrick Tracking.

Identity designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio and Wolfram Wiedner, website by Wolfram Wiedner.