I’ve come up with the idea of this interview series, because I realised how people feel so overwhelmed about all the bad news we are flooded by media outlets. On one hand, the truth is, if we carry on like this, the future will be grim. On the other hand, we also need to read positive and uplifting stories how lots of lots of good people with green heart trying to save the planet – and they are succeeding. But we all have to be part of the change, as I’ve read it lately and totally agree with this statement form the Zero Waste Chef Anne-Marie Bonneau: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
Rosalind Rathouse, Cookery School at Little Portland Street
What or who inspired you to make changes towards a greener lifestyle?
My daughter Kathryn! Nearly 35 years ago, as a 16-year-old, she started to encourage me to buy as much organic produce as we could afford. She maintained that if everyone only bought a small amount, demand would be established for more. She was, of course, right!
This was the first step in my sustainability journey. From there, I started to look at things like seasonality, sourcing, plastics and much more.
Do you have any favourite site or person you follow for inspiration?
I read widely and use a lot of different sites. I also look at our suppliers to see their green credentials. I have a problem in that there does not appear to be anyone that has a complete solution. I think you need to do the background reading and then must make up your own mind about how ethical you can be. Even large organisations that preach sustainable practices have gaps in what they preach and often I disagree with them. I take what is good from whatever I read and use it as best that I can.
What aspects of being an environmentally friendly family did you tackle so far? (Reducing plastic, planet friendly diet, up cycling things etc…)
All those years ago when organic food was expensive and hard to find, we used to buy whatever we could afford and fill up with as much good other products as we could. The next step was recycling. Everyone thought that that was an impossible task until the local authorities started looking through people’s rubbish bins for items that were not recyclable. It was amazing how quickly we all learnt to recycle then. These days, we never think of recycling as a problem, but have now moved onto developing an understanding of what plastic is recyclable and what isn’t.
Fifty years ago, we used all clothing and equipment until each was falling apart. At that point, they were often repaired to further extend their lives. Because of my age, I still tend to use clothes longer than many would and try to have clothing and shoes repaired. My children now have children of their own, but the lessons they learnt as kids are being passed down to a new generation – my daughter Kathryn also doesn’t fly for environmental reasons. In more recent times, we have tried to eat less meat and take on a plastic-free approach.
Such was my passion for sustainability that when I opened Cookery School at Little Portland Street, I knew its ethos had to be grounded in sustainability. Therefore, amongst other things, all the kitchens are plastic-free and run on green energy, we use as much organic produce as possible, we only cook seasonally and produce limited food waste.
What are the changes that you implemented so far?
- Swapped to green energy providers at work and at home
- Limited water use wherever possible, preferring to use our water-efficient dishwasher instead of washing under a running tap
- Removed all single-use plastic from both my personal and Cookery School kitchens
- Stopped use of cling film (and haven’t used for over fourteen years)
- Swapped to eco-friendly cleaners that are stored in recycled plastic (Delphis Eco)
- Changed shopping habits to reduce air miles, emphasising local and seasonal produce
- At Cookery School, we’ve selected local suppliers that also deliver to other businesses in our area, minimising deliveries
- Freeze as much food as possible to reuse later
Did you find it hard to make these changes?
At home, no, it was not difficult to make these changes as we had made up our minds to do so. However, at Cookery School, it was difficult at first to implement changes as there were other parties involved (suppliers etc). Once everyone got their head around it, it became an easy practice.
What was the hardest thing to give up or change?
In the early days, the hardest change was transitioning to organic food as it just wasn’t easily available. With the passing of years, it has become easier as awareness has grown. Now, it’s almost as easy to find organic products as it is to find non-organic ones.
And what was the easiest thing to give up or change?
Probably using green energy as it was a matter of changing supplier only. It was a little more costly but we felt that it was worth paying more to help save the Earth.
Do you feel the changes you achieved so far are encouraging you to do even more?
Yes! We are always looking for new ways to reduce our footprint even further. Even the smallest changes can make a difference and as more people become interested in sustainability, the movement only grows. If loads of people do the same thing, suddenly it joins together to be a lot. Rather like the way that the organic movement grew from early days…
How do you get the children involved?
Children love learning about sustainability. It is surprising how much they buy in to what we have to say when we run classes for schools. We recently had a class that brought in their own herbs, which we used to make cheese and herb scones and pasties. They loved the activity and understood how important it is to look after our planet. You only have to look at people like Greta Thunberg and other young people who are leading the charge and conversation when it comes to sustainability – it’s clear that there is an interest there!
Did you manage to save some money too? Or is this lifestyle change actually proving to be more costly?
At Cookery School, there is no question that it is more costly, but we feel that it is a cost worth paying. At home, there are some things that have proved more expensive – like green energy – while we’ve managed to save costs elsewhere. For example, not using clingfilm and re-using materials over and over again stops us from buying new.
How did your family respond to the changes?
They embraced and encouraged all that we did at home and the staff at Cookery School at Little Portland Street know no other way of working except to respect all of the initiatives that we have put in place to make us more sustainable.
Do you have any tips or trick which really helped you?
I lived through a time before plastic so know what it was like to go through everyday without it. It is possible! I am very passionate about rolling back the clock and embracing some of the things we did back when plastic wasn’t around. If you can embrace this type of thinking, suddenly a whole new world opens up.
Otherwise, I would say decide what you want to do and do it. Once you start an initiative it is far easier than you could imagine it would be. There are also lots of communities both locally and online, where you can find lots of helpful information. Don’t be afraid to test things out and ask questions – we’re all on this journey together!