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Sustainable food news: A brilliant “Pig Idea”

A happy pig.
Out-of-date carrot – nice piggy snack (photo: James Perrin).

It may have escaped your attention, but today is World Environment Day – the annual United Nations-initiated celebration of positive environmental action. Whether we like it or not, food production has a considerable global environmental impact, resulting from energy consumption, habitat destruction, pesticide use, and so on. It’s therefore somewhat disturbing that around one third of all the food produced annually for human consumption – a staggering 1.3 billion tonnes – is either wasted or lost. Cue a new campaign launched to coincide with World Environment Day which sets out to raise awareness of food waste and the role pigs – yes, pigs – can play in addressing this.

The Pig Idea is calling for the many tonnes of food we waste each year in the UK to be put to a more productive use, instead finding its way onto the menu for one of our favourite meat animals – the pig. Initiated by Thomasina Miers – former Masterchef winner, cookery writer and restaurateur – and food waste expert, Tristram Stuart, the campaign is calling for a change in European law to allow for a return to the traditional practice of feeding pigs with waste food. Other high-profile supporters of the initiative – brilliantly describes as “Hambassadors” – include River Cottage supremo Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and BBC Masterchef presenter, John Torode.

The team at The Pig Idea have today started the process of rearing eight pigs at Stepney City Farm, on a healthy menu of food waste collected from around London. From spent brewer’s grains, whey, unsold vegetables and bread, the food that would otherwise have been wasted will be collected and fed to the pigs. The Pig Idea campaign will culminate in a major food event in London’s Trafalgar Square in November, when some of the UK’s best known chefs will gather to offer thousands of members of the public their favourite pork dishes, using the pork reared by The Pig Idea team. This feast will highlight the current global food waste scandal, and illustrate that the solutions to this can be practical, economical and delicious.

Speaking at the launch of The Pig Idea Tristram Stuart, author and campaigner on food waste, commented:

“Humans have been recycling food waste by feeding it to pigs for thousands of years. Reviving this tradition will help to protect forests that are being chopped down to grow the millions of tonnes of soya we import from South America every year to feed our livestock.”

Thomasina Miers, Chef at Wahaca, the award winning sustainable restaurant, added:

“Cutting down rainforest in the Amazon to grow feed for pigs in Europe makes no sense. Let’s save all our delicious food waste and feed it to the pigs. Not only will we be saving the rainforest (and slowing down climate change) but we’ll be bringing down the cost of pig feed and pork. Let them eat waste!”

More information on The Pig Idea and how to support the campaign can be found at the initiative’s website –

Thomasina Miers with "Pig Idea" pigs.
Feeding time with Thomasina and Tristram (photo: James Perrin).

I know I am biased, but this campaign makes great sense in terms of tackling food waste and making food production more sustainable. It’s a simple, logical approach that should be rolled out across Scotland and the rest of the UK. What do you think?

All photos by James Perrin

chicory/ Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall/ kidneys/ Moro/ offal/ recipe/ sherry/ Spanish/ venison

An offal-ly nice adventure – riñones al jerez (kidneys with sherry) with braised chicory

A glass of tasty sherry.
A nice glass of Amontillado.

Inspired by a recent Guardian article by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on both the sustainability, and fantastic flavours, associated with cooking offal, I decided to post about my own recent foray into using these cheap and versatile ingredients. Now I know offal isn’t for everyone – my other half included – but as Hugh astutely points out, “If we kill an animal for meat, surely it’s respectful to make the most of every scrap?”

Last weekend, with my offal-loathing other half out of town, I decided to swing by Edinburgh’s Farmers’ Market on the hunt for some under-used ingredients with which to cook. I was immediately drawn to some tasty looking venison kidneys on the stall of Fletcher’s of Auchtermuchty. Obviously, venison is a great sustainable, free range product and deer offal – such as the kidneys I plumbed for – has a deserved reputation for great flavour.

Having purchased the main offal ingredient for my supper, the next task was to decide what to pair this with. This was a straightforward choice. As I’ve previously mentioned, I am a big fan of Spanish food. My liking of Spanish cuisine has been significantly inspired by the cooking of London’s Moro restaurant, and their first cook book contains a simple yet delicious recipe for “Riñones al Jerez” – kidneys with sherry, to me and you.

Thankfully, gone are the days when – for many people – the word ‘sherry’ conjured up a mental picture of a dusty bottle of the sickly-sweet ‘cream’ variety, that only left the drinks cabinet at Christmas to provide a tipple for Great Aunt Agnes. For a useful beginner’s guide to how great and versatile sherry can be, check out Andrew Sinclair’s blog in The Guardian. For this recipe go for a dark, dry Oloroso, or slightly lighter, amber Amontillado, but in either case make sure the sherry is good quality.

Kidneys with sherry is a dish that is packed with big, bold, rich flavours and therefore needs an accompaniment that can hold its own and provide a nice counterpoint in terms of taste. A vegetable that really fits this bill is chicory. Though approaching the end of its growing season in April, it’s still possible to get decent specimens of this bitter-flavoured leafy veg, and it’s great braised in butter (which adds a nutty tone), a squeeze of lemon juice, and splash of apple juice (which together provide an accent of sweet and sour). The bitterness of the chicory will lessen and take on the flavour of the other ingredients during the course of a slow braise.

So, whether it be kidneys (or indeed any other offal), chicory, or sherry, why not give more common ingredients a day off and try something just a bit different?

Riñones al jerez (kidneys with sherry)
(thanks to Moro – the cookbook for this recipe)


  • 4-6 lambs or venison kidneys
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil 
  • ½ large Spanish onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 125ml dry oloroso/amontillado sherry
  • A sprinkling of sweet smoked Spanish paprika
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Preparation and cooking

Cover of "Moro: The Cookbook".
  1. The kidneys should come with the outer layer of fat removed. Remove any remaining external membrane, slice each kidney in half lengthways, and use a pair of scissors to snip away as much as the white gristle as possible. Then slice each kidney into bite-sized pieces (half or thirds depending on the size of each kidney.
  2. Heat the olive oil over a low to medium heat and fry the onion, stirring continually, until golden.
  3. Turn up the heat, add the garlic, and fry for 30 seconds.
  4. Add the kidneys and fry on all sides until sealed (but be careful not to let the garlic burn, or it will make the dish bitter).
  5. Season with salt and pepper and then add the sherry, reducing the heat immediately.
  6. Simmer for a minute or two to drive off the alcohol, but do not overcook – it is important that the kidneys are ever so slightly pink, tender and juicy in the middle when served.
  7. Check the seasoning and serve immediately with the braised chicory and some crusty fresh bread , to mop up the sauce.

Braised chicory


  • A good knob of unsalted butter (about 25g)
  • 2 chicory heads, cut in half along the length
  • Juice of half a lemon, combined with the same amount of water
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) of apple juice
  • A couple of sprigs of time
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation and cooking

  1. Melt the butter in a wide pan – with a lid – on a medium heat.
  2. When the foaming of the butter subsides, place the chicory in the pan with the cut side to the pan bottom.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and add the thyme and bay leaves.
  4. Cook for a few minutes then check to see if the underside of the chicory has started to turn golden.
  5. Add the lemon juice, water and apple juice, and place the lid on the pan, cooking for a further 15-20 minutes.
  6. Turn the chicory (carefully, as it will have softened) and finish cooking for a further couple of minutes, to ensure it had fully softened, without going mushy, then serve.
Chicory being sauted.
Chicory, about to be finished.

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