July 17, 2023


What’s for supper? The eternal evening question from those with whom I live, however old or young they are. In addition, not far away from the kitchen area, the puppies are also just as vocal on the subject of food. All the earlier meals have no bearing on their tummies at this point in time – in fact the importance of a Labrador’s tummy is present from their very first days of life.

I think most of the team at Highclere are also quite partial to their food and hopefully little goes to waste. Any remaining quiches, soup or scones from tours are shared out amongst offices or builders. Caitlin in the estate office, despite her neat figure, lights up with excitement and plates quickly find their way close to her desk.

However, both the existence and the extent of food waste is a problem which is “new” to our time. We used to have to work hard to source our food from the land and it was a precious and essential commodity that was carefully measured out just as it still is in many parts of the world. In the UK, figures show we all throw away up to 30% of what we buy which is not only poor in terms of wasting resources but also rather expensive in terms of our pockets. The mass of food available everywhere you look makes it hard not to over buy whilst over-vigilant “use by” dates encourage us to keep replenishing our stores.

There are have never been so many people on this planet, nor such an age of consumerism allied with such a casual attitude towards the earth, its climate and wellbeing. Modern political systems, with their inherent need to garner votes for the next election, mean that those in power often have a shorter-term view than is needed for a broader vision of the planet’s long term good and makes then susceptible to the demands of big business and vested interests. “Sustainability” may be the in-vogue word but all too often it is what is sustainable for us and our lives, rather than the world around us.

Perhaps a better and more accessible word, certainly at least in terms of cooking, should be “seasonality”. It would be nice if, once again, the majority of what we eat in the UK is grown here as well. It cannot be right to ship food from the other side of the world which we can grow ourselves. Trade is good but more economic with near neighbours than friends far away.

But it is not only food miles that should concern us but the content of what we eat as well. Over 50% of a typical shopping basket in the UK pre Covid contained either processed or ultra processed food items and I suspect there was possibly a similar story in the USA. Yet if you read the list of ingredients on these items, there seems to be nothing that is added to processed foods which might add to our health and a great deal which is more likely to detract from it.

So, I am back to the cry of what’s for dinner? A  salad of some sort  in the summer or a risotto at any time, pan-fried chicken in tomatoes and olives, new potatoes and a salad of fresh garden leaves with a little fish or omelette.

I wrote my book “Seasons at Highclere” during Covid about growing, gardening and cooking here at Highclere over the centuries. Those 2 or 3 years were an extraordinary period which will be remembered as a time when, in some ways, the world seemed to stand still. A time which brought many of us fear and tragedy with both mental and physical challenges but also a time of quietness and contemplation, a time of re-assessment of what was important to each of us. Hopefully, it will also be a time we can learn from, to make both ourselves and our world healthier.