Plant based diet? Patatas bravas anyone?

I went to an excellent lecture this week called Eating the Earth: how should we eat to ensure a sustainable future? Stuart White from the Institute for Sustainable Futures at UTS introduced the session. He explained how all food has to use resources in its production. This means it has embodied water and fuel, not to mention some foods having embodied inequality or cruelty. He emphasised the importance of looking at your food as part of a larger system with inputs and outputs. If a system is to be sustainable these inputs and outputs need to be carefully managed. He said food is a very evocative area of sustainability because it is so personal. Our individual food choices can make a big difference to sustainability. The issue is small enough to be approachable, although public policy certainly has a role to play. Food is a great example of how we can think globally and act locally.

The next speaker was Rosemary Stanton, a famous Australian nutritionist in public health (biography here). She spoke about how we can make a difference to our personal food footprints. She also encouraged us to become political activists to change government policy. Maybe it’s time to carry through those letter writing intentions. I’ll give you a list of some of her suggestions below.

Finally Dana Cordell from the Global Phosphorous Research Initiative talked about the importance of phosphate in soils. It is a fertiliser that all plants need to grow and can be added to the soil as manure, but more usually comes from rock phosphate. It turns out that rock phosphate, like oil, is a resource in the hands of few countries and which will probably reach a peak in the near future. She spoke about phosphate recycling in Sweden and the need for a link between the food and sanitation industries (not too pretty, but probably true). I found the discussion on phosphate particularly interesting because I had never heard about this issue before.

While the phosphate discussion was interesting, the information on making sustainable food choices has more immediacy. Recycling phosphate is a matter for public policy, but we have a lot of power over our personal footprints. Here is a list of the suggestions from the lecture on how to reduce your food footprint.

-eat seasonally
-eat a plant based diet (aiming to be vegetarian some days each week)
-when choosing meat favour smaller animals and free range or grass fed animals
-eat less processed food (the funniest example was the 25000 kj needed to make 1L of low kj softdrink)
-eat local organic food (not the imported stuff)
-consider food miles by eating more locally produced food (while considering that crops must be grown in appropriate settings, e.g. imported rice is probably better than Australian)
-write to your local member, or minister on an issue you feel strongly about (such as container deposits for recycling or traffic light nutrition labelling)

Now writing this list is a lot easier than acting on it, and that is what I must do. Acting as locally as possible I started with dinner. I made a yummy vegetarian dish, patatas bravas. This often features in Spanish tapas and is basically baked potatoes and a spicy tomato sauce.


Ingredients for the potatoes
Potatoes (enough for two people)
1 tab olive oil
2 tsp paprika

Ingredients for the sauce
1 brown onion
1 hot chilli
1 tab olive oil
1 red capsicum
2 tomatoes
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried basil

1. Chop the potatoes and boil for 5-10 minutes until tender.
2. Toss the potatoes in olive oil and paprika. Put in a hot oven to crisp up.
3. Meanwhile prepare the spicy sauce. Soften an onion and a chilli in a little olive oil. Add paprika and basil. Next add diced capsicum and tomatoes and cook until tender.
4. Serve the potatoes with the spicy tomato sauce. We also had hard-boiled eggs and olives on the side.


These roast potatoes would make a great side dish for other meals too.


The spicy tomato sauce and roasted potatoes made a very satisfying vegetarian meal. It was my first try at Spanish cooking but it was so yummy I’ll definitely have to try some more Spanish dishes.


6 thoughts on “Plant based diet? Patatas bravas anyone?

  1. Interesting lecture indeed πŸ™‚ I am curious, why are smaller animals preferred? A lot of rice that is available (and promoted) is Australian rice. Is it not as good as imported rice? I think most of the rice I buy is Australian (Sun rice etc).

  2. Intelligent questions NQN, I had to go and look up why smaller animals are supposed to be more sustainable. It seems to be basically a matter of efficiency. Smaller animals produce more meat for the same amount of feed. So 1kg of beef takes 7kg grain feed to produce, whereas pork takes 4kg and poultry 2kg to produce the same amount of meat (Anglea Crocombe, Ethical Eating). I guess your getting more food for the same energy.

    The argument with the rice is about water. Rice requires almost double the amount of water that wheat does (info from the same book). In Australia it’s grown as an irrigated crop, which is a problem for salinity and water consumption. Rice grown in monsoonal SE Asia has a lot more water available for growth, so the environmental concerns are fewer. Since it stores well it can be transported by sea (which has good fuel economy compared to air). This is a really difficult decision to make though, because you’ve got food miles on one hand and appropriate settings for crops on the other. I eat brown rice for breakfast which is usually only available from Sunrice anyway.

  3. Hi Cathy, I can’t find Moveable Feasts in my library catalogue, I’ll have to have a look in another one. I like the idea of combining a historical look at the spice trade with the sustainability stuff. It sounds like a good book.

  4. That is some great advice. Last week I only prepared vegetarian dishes, and I must say it was quite fun and delicious to come up with all the recipes. I wish I had seen your patatas bravas, that would have been a great addition to the line up. And I’m pleased to say so far this week the only meat I’ve consumed is chicken, and according to your post, thats pretty ethical too! I’m not sure I could sustain the vegetarianism forever, but its good to do it from time to time, for health benefits and sustainability.

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