Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman
Gizzi Erskine has some exciting news to share with Twisted.
After sadly closing The Nitery, her flourishing London restaurant, the 41-year-old restaurateur, author and all-round food superstar is launching a new cookbook – with a twist.
Here, we sit down with Erskine to discuss her new book, concerns about our relationship with food and why veganism isn’t the only solution – despite what documentaries like Cowspiracy might claim.
Gizzi Erskine tackles sustainable eating in her new cookbook (Credit: Benny Robinson)
Gizzi Erskine unveils new cookbook
However, it’s clear from the outset that there are also other factors at play.
Each chapter opens with an examination of a particular area of the modern food industry, going into great depth on issues such as food waste, monoculture agriculture and the intensive farming system.
It’s as much a manifesto for food mindfulness as it is a place to find dinner-time inspiration.
As you might expect from a book that analyses modern food and diet, plant-based living comes under the microscope. But unlike many of her contemporaries, Erskine offers a slightly more holistic view of veganism.
Part of the background to the book involved Erskine learning how traditional farming techniques ultimately help rejuvenate the soil and replenish lost nutrients.
Through this research, she came to understand the central role that animals play in any healthy agricultural system and why veganism isn’t the solution when it comes to sustainable eating.
Gizzi Erskine’s Restore: A Modern Guide To Sustainable Eating is our now (Credit: Issy Crocker)
The problem with Cowspiracy
Although the highly respected chef is a huge supporter of plant-based eating, she tells us veganism is not the answer. In fact, she’s found vegan documentaries such as the viral film Cowspiracy problematic.
Erskine explains: “I’ve been very frustrated with things like What The Health, Cowspiracy and Gamechangers, which were really shouting out to support veganism and plant-based eating – which I really believe in too, by the way.
“But I knew that this wasn’t the full solution, because (through plant-based agriculture) the soil becomes monoculture. Then you’re looking at GM farming, which kind of defeats the purpose.”
Despite her scepticism of some aspects of veganism, Erskine certainly isn’t naive about the meat industry.
Although she has her differences with some high-profile documentaries, she also makes it clear that “we do overeat animals”. She goes on to add: “The biggest thing that any government can do is look at the laws around that kind of agriculture.”
Of course, the solutions to complicated issues are themselves incredibly complex.
Gizzi Erskine’s green shakshuka recipe (Credit: Issy Croker)
Gizzi Erskine on how our food relates to Covid
In many ways, Erskine’s new book couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks to the pandemic, the world has become acutely aware of what we’re eating and where it comes from.
During our catch-up, the culinary star explains that there is a direct correlation between our current crisis and our attitudes to sustainable eating more generally.
She explains: “The reason we’re in this situation is because of mass production. Knocking down the rainforest has meant that wildlife has been forced into the city (and) started eating sewage.
“The animals become ill, humans eat the animals and then we get the diseases. If we want to support our own health, we have to be as engaged as we can (with where our food comes from).”
Of course, this connection helps explain why Erskine feels so passionately about the importance of sustainable eating.
During lockdown, she noticed an incredible change in people’s attitudes towards food. She continues:
“It was kind of amazing, I think, the beginning of lockdown and seeing how everyone started making their own sourdough. People really got back into the understanding of where their food comes from.”
Gizzi Erskine’s prawns with Mexican pinto beans (Credit: Issy Croker)
Why write about sustainable eating?
Restore: A Modern Guide To Sustainable Eating opens with a direct reference to Covid-19. However, it’s obvious both from the writing and from our conversation that coronavirus is just part of a much bigger picture. As Erskine explains:
“All of this (thinking about the sustainability of food) happened way before lockdown. We started writing the proposal for this book based on what we started learning about agriculture.”
“One of the things we started asking was what would we be saying if suddenly all the borders did close and we couldn’t get food?
“Because certain foods aren’t inherent to this country I started wondering, ‘would I be able to cook with fish sauce, miso and gochujang?’
“So, I thought I should probably learn how to make this stuff!”
This broad focus is evident from the outset. Inside, readers will find a mouthwatering collection of recipes for dishes as diverse as Accelerated Gochujang and Cheats’ Activated Kimchi.
There are sections dedicated to sustainable meat and fish recipes. In addition, Erskine provides fascinating insights into the impact our food has on the environment. Dishes like Guinea Fowl all Diavolo will enamour meat eaters while veggies will revel in recipes like Erskine’s delicious English Garden Antipasto.
It all makes for a compelling combination.
Black lentil and beetroot larb by Gizzi Erskine (Credit: Issy Croker)
Cookbook with a twist
Given the relationship between increased food awareness and the subject of her latest book, you might assume that Erskine would enjoy having the opportunity to carefully consider everything that’s on the menu.
However, lockdown definitely hasn’t been a picnic.
“I’m not very good at being bored,” she explains. “I’ve got chronic ADHD and I can’t sit down. So, being forced to sit down makes me feel pretty oppressed!”
Although Erskine’s book has been completed in a crisis, the whole story is actually even more complicated.
Food connects every aspect of our lives. Erskine’s book shows how our dietary choices go well beyond what’s on the plate in front of us.
We’re all reassessing what we eat and our impact on the world. In these circumstances, a book like Restore: A Modern Guide To Sustainable Eating couldn’t really feel more essential.