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Farm Week Column 18 October – Michele Shirlow Chief Executive

Why it’s good to say more Peas Please for a healthier diet

 

Consuming more plant based foods is now widely accepted as a route to better health especially gut health which may contribute to better mood. There’s growing concern too about obesity and diabetes from diets based on overly processed foods laced with too much sugar.

 

Food NI was delighted, therefore, to lend our support to the new Peas Please initiative that’s focused specifically on vegetables. It aims to persuade families to include more ‘greens’ on a regular basis in meals especially those for children and young people. It also asks food processors to include more vegetables in their ingredients. We have been working on this initiative with Belfast Food Network and have been appointed as the official Peas Please partner in Northern Ireland.

 

It occurs to me that as well as including more veg in our diet, there are opportunities to grow more plant based crops here. While we have a number of very successful veg farmers and processors we have the fertile soil and climate for these and others to produce much more.

What are the health benefits of eating more veg? Research suggests that veg can help to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol and contributes to better blood sugar levels. Vegetables are also rich in minerals including potassium and low in fat.

Mash Direct, for instance, is now a hugely successful and innovative processor and exporter of vegetable and potato products, most of which are gluten-free and others also dairy-free.

 

Flavour First, which has also developed a successful business sending out veg boxes, are also leading the way. And we have several mushroom producers, such as Annaghmore, Benburb and Northway. Other good examples are potato packer Wilson’s Country, Glens of Antrim Potatoes, Horner’s Farm, Colin McKee and Windwhistle Farm.

 

Peas Please is certainly not advocating that everyone becomes vegan. What we support is a more balanced diet with more veg consumed along with meat, dairy and fish.

 

The UK currently imports much of its consumption of vegetables. There may be scope for import substitution, especially post whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

 

We’ve also seen other and much smaller enterprises developing business in exotic plants, such as wasabi, pak choi and shiitake mushrooms, grown in poly tunnels and using leading-edge hydroponic techniques.

 

Current research indicates that our consumption of ‘greens’ in particular is falling. What Peas Please aims to do is to bring farmers, retailers, fast food and restaurant chains, caterers, processors and government departments together in a common goal of making it easier for everyone throughout the UK to eat veg.

Food NI sees the immense value of the project shaped to pinpoint levers along the supply chain to increase vegetable production and consumption in a sustainable manner.

The campaign recognises that, to date, education programmes have not been as successful as originally hoped. So, the innovative project will focus on the wealth of opportunities there are, in the supply chain, for improving vegetable intake.

This involves chefs creating tasty dishes from the best seasonal, plant-based ingredients currently being grown here. And it requires retailers to promote veg, especially seasonal products from local suppliers, to a much greater extent.

Food NI is partnering with Peas Please as it seeks to secure commitments from industry and government to improve the availability, acceptability (including convenience), affordability, and quality of the vegetable offer in shops, schools, restaurants and beyond, and in turn stimulate increased vegetable consumption among the UK public, particularly children and those on a low income.

What are the health benefits of eating more veg? Research suggests that eating vegetables can help to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol and contributes to better blood sugar levels. It’s evident that for the health of society we need to embrace the ethos of Peas Please and I hope that consumers support the campaign. And to all those food producers and processors out  there, the call to action is to be one of the first Northern Irish processors that it signs up to the initiative and invests in public health.