Fruit and vegetables

Last month I attended my first ever Veg Fest in Cambridge. An event organised by Cambridge Sustainable Food, a new alliance of organisations, promoting healthy and environmentally sustainable food. The setting was the fabulous Museum of Technology by the river and I had agreed to volunteer for the day. The forecast was thunderstorms, but as some of the activities would be undercover, no one was too concerned. As luck had it, heavy rain fell nearby but we stayed dry. By lunchtime a sizeable crowd emerged creating an atmosphere more akin to a music festival with the obligatory bar and music.

The event’s focus was a city-wide celebration of seasonal and local produce, bringing people together to inspire them to grow, cook and enjoy a range of vegetable dishes using recipes from all around the world. The aroma coming from the stalls was amazing. One, run by a lady originally from Bangladesh, who served a traditional dish using lots of different vegetables and an array of aromatic herbs and spices, was divine. There was homemade falafel and hummus too and a hot and spicy noodle dish with fresh green beans and it was all free to try! Many dishes demonstrated a new way of cooking and thinking about how we eat vegetables. You could also buy local brew, including rhubarb cider, that I can wholeheartedly recommend, and chutneys and pickles and various pies and quiches. There were homemade breads too, but the main attraction was the inventive ways to enjoy vegetables.

An enthusiastic man dressed as a pea held activities for children, and some adults, to add to the family feel and fun. Local artistes created fabulous theatrical displays using fruit and vegetables and invited people to come and have a go at a bit of still life drawing. The day was a success, and I never heard any intense or deep discussions about being a vegan or vegetarian, nor reasons as to why we should eat less meat or not eat meat at all. People were engaged and asking questions. Families were going home inspired to try something new and consider vegetables as a possible main course rather than something to be enjoyed on the side of a plate.

This made me think about the wider message and connections with our environment and the crucial issue of climate change. Arguments for eating less meat are well voiced. Experts tell us we must re-evaluate what we eat to stop the increase in environmental degradation, biodiversity loss and dietary related diseases. A recent IPCC report states, “Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change.” This report and other evidence reinforces the fact that, whichever diet you eat, the onus is on each and every one of us to strive for sustainable and ethical choices.

I agree that there’s always a place for a strong presence and voice through activism via demonstrations and through sharing sometimes information and images that people don’t want to hear or see. But I also believe there is a place for a different type of ‘low key’ engagement particularly when the whole family can participate. These type of events can flourish in every community and bring people together. An opportunity that many communities often lack. They can chip away at our fixed ideas and ways of doing things and they just might reach some people who are unreachable through other means.

So next time you get the chance to visit a Veg Fest, an allotment get together or people just selling their own local produce, give it a go, you might be surprised and inspired to hold a local community event of your own.