Put more veggies on the table for health and to counter climate change

Belfast Food Network launch the Love NI Veg 7-Day Meal Challenge...will you join the campaign?

Families here are being urged to give priority to more fresh vegetables in their diet because eating ‘greens’ is good for personal health and also for the wellbeing of our planet threatened increasingly by climate change.

The plea comes from local vegetable advocates, a voluntary organisation that’s mounting a major campaign this month to encourage more people to improve their diets. The campaigners, part of the Belfast Food Network, want people here to pledge to add more vegetables this month.

Portia Woods, vegetable advocate NI, explains: “Our campaign urges people here to support a 7-day meal challenge to look for, seek out and support the daily purchase of fresh vegetables grown locally and in season here in NI. 

Michael Gillies, course director culinary arts University of Ulster, Portia Woods, vegetable advocate support officer NI, Lord Mayor of Belfast Cllr Kate Nicholl

“Increasing vegetable consumption is the overall aim, but it is much more than that. It’s about realising the high quality and availability of local vegetables, the value for money, the health benefits and the variety of meals that can be enjoyed. We’ve focused on how easy this is, the fun that families can have, and how some surprises might be found such as locally grown pak choi in Ballymena and Japanese Wasabi in Tandragee.”

Consuming fresh vegetables, Portia continues, would make a significant difference to the life local families and aid the local community, especially farmers and food processors, and, of course, to the overall environment.

Backing the ‘green’ pledge, Lord Mayor of Belfast, Kate Nicholl, adds: “The Love NI Veg 7-Day Meal Challenge is a fantastic initiative from the Belfast Food Network and I’m looking forward to taking part. We have such wonderful produce right here on our doorsteps in NI and supporting local producers and traders not only helps to boost the local economy, but also contributes more widely to helping the environment.

“During my term in office, I want to encourage residents across Belfast to do #OneWeeThing to combat climate change. Eating locally-grown vegetables is a great way to do your own one wee thing; it’s healthy, it’s delicious and eating locally grown veg doesn’t carry the same environmental impact as vegetables imported from other parts of the world. We need to look after our planet and taking small steps such as this can make a huge impact.”

Peas Please campaign was developed to encourage children and young people to eat more vegetables to counter obesity and other health threatening conditions

And Michele Shirlow, chief executive of Food NI, the NI food promotion body, has also endorsed the campaign: “Our support for this worthy initiative is a reflection of our focus on supporting all sectors in the local food industry and also for activities showcasing the importance of sustainability to address the growing and worrying challenges of climate change.

“This support also reflects our vision of a balanced local food and drink industry, as seen in the Our Food: Power of Good promotional campaign which appears on television, radio and social media. We are dedicated to encouraging and assisting all sectors of food and drink here prosper.

“We’d certainly like to see a sharper focus on measures to promote greater production and wider availability of vegetable crops. We’ve been very impressed by the initiative of VegNI and their Parful Produce campaign and the imaginative Source Grow system of matching growers and restaurants.

“We have also endorsed the drive to promote local vegetables especially in local schools by the successful Peas Please TV campaign ‘Eat Them to Defeat Them to promote the eating of vegetables to overcome obesity and other conditions’.

“It would be great to see local vegetables embraced to a much greater extent by public procurement bodies particularly those supplying schools and colleges across NI. Such support would benefit the health of our young people and the wider economy.”

The challenge can be taken at your own time and pace up until the March 31 2022. It is to include a variety of veg ONLY grown in NI, in at least one meal per day for seven days. 

Culinary Arts Management Students at Ulster University have enthusiastically pledged the support the challenge. Under the guidance of course Director Michael Gillies they will be taking part in Love NI Veg workshops dedicated to the challenge. 

The recently opened Academy Restaurant on the Belfast campus in York Street has created a delicious and innovative lunch menu from vegetables during the challenge. Vegetable Advocates is part of a UK wide Peas Please project which was launched in 2017 by the Food Foundation in a focused engagement with local communities, farmers, retailers and manufacturers to achieve a common goal of increasing vegetable consumption especially among children and young people.

Portia adds: “The impact of the climate crisis demands collective action: it requires system and society behaviour transformation. As individuals we cannot stop climate change alone so working together particularly as household units we can increase our vegetable consumption, benefit our health, environment, and local farming economy.”

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