In September the Sustainable Food Places Network invited communities around the UK to host a food and climate day of celebration and action! At Limborough Hub, in the heart of the Burdett estate in Poplar, we celebrated with a Low Carbon Lunch!

We wanted to ensure that we really understood what it meant to make a meal that reduces our carbon footprint in the world, so we considered things like;

  • How far has the food travelled? Should we source food hyper locally?
  • Do we make the meal plant based and why?
  • Do we buy ingredients that are low on packaging?
  • Do we source ingredients produced without chemical pesticides and choose Organic?
  • Should the food be ‘in season’ and home grown from community owned spaces?
  • Some spices can’t be grown in the UK, what options do we have?
  • Do we cook the meal using gas or electricity or should we consider keeping the meal raw?
  • Should we source food that would otherwise have gone to waste?

We considered our budget and how much we could spend, as well as how accessible low carbon food was for us in Tower Hamlets.  

The results of our mission to source local food were impressive!

Mushrooms grow brilliantly in the UK – we sourced King Stropharia mushrooms from East London Mushrooms  

Dried peas only £2.50 per 1Kg – sourced from Poplar Union via E5 Bakehouse  

UK grown Fava beans – sourced from Poplar Union via E5 Bakehouse 

Veggies and salads (all Organic) 

Chinese Pumpkin, Nasturtium leaves and flowers, Kale and Cucamelons grown at Cranbrook Community Food Garden off Roman Road   

Onions, carrots, lettuce, chilli’s, potatoes and Worcester apples from St Hilda’s Food Coop in Shoreditch, supplied by Sarah Greens Organics Farm in Essex  

Garlic grown at the E5 Bakehouse farm in Suffolk via Poplar Union via E5 Bakehouse 

Onions that were surplus from a Lizzy’s veg box via Tower Green Hamlets 

1kg Tomatoes grown at Spitalfields City Farm  

250g various colours of dwarf beans grown at Spitalfields City Farm  

Chard grown at Mile End Community Garden  

Herbs and Chilli’s grown at Cranbrook Community Food Garden off Roman Road   

Herbs grown at Mile End Community Garden 

Fig Lead Syrup grown at Spitalfields City Farm  

Flour and bread – Shipton Mills UK grown, harvested and milled flour sourced from Poplar Union via E5 Bakehouse  

Tea – Fresh Lemon Balm, Mint and Sage grown at Cranbrook Community Food Garden off Roman Road 

Next we needed to source a chef! Meet Selva Martinez, Selva loves food, cooking, growing and most importantly, working with people. Selva brought along her expertise in cooking with large community groups, using leftover foods and making magic from the ingredients she finds on the day. Selva was such a perfect match for our low carbon lunch event. The menu she designed was plant based. Selva introduced a few extra key ways to lower the carbon emissions from our lunch;  

  1. We soaked the dried peas and the fava beans overnight – this meant far less cooking time. 
  2. Using leftovers to make a pesto, kale and roasted sunflower seeds. It was one of the most popular dishes of the lunch. Selva puts herb stalks and anything green into a pesto, using roasted seeds instead of cheese and any herbs or leaves that look a bit tired and weary – don’t throw them out – pesto them! Even carrot tops!
  3. We roasted the fava beans on one tray and the Chinese pumpkin on another tray – making a meal for 15 people but only using the oven for a short amount of time. 
  4. Fermentation and pickling – both brilliant ways to preserve food for longer, save on waste and eat things that only grow in one season. We pickled the cucamelons to eat on bread or on the side of our meal. 

In our persistence to keep the low carbon theme alive, we scurried around charity shops looking for second hand plates, cutlery and table decorations. We rummaged through our own cupboards at home to find things like acorns to dress the Harvest themed table with harvested fresh rosemary, bay leaf and lavender from the Limborough garden to decorate and celebrate entering the autumn season. We set up a tea making station using only what was already had there left over from events previously and some nice posh tea bags shared by The Food Store who won them as a prize for being a brilliant community food project!   

The Low Carbon Lunch guests arrived at 11am and we started at a leisurely pace, drinking tea and getting to know one another.  By midday, all 12 of us were chopping, washing, blending, roasting and flavouring and eventually trying our hand at making fresh homemade pasta – first by hand and then with Selva’s pasta- maker!  

Two hours and 15 minutes later, we sat down to eat together at a banquet table of no less than 7 dishes and wow how delicious the food was!  

Our Menu made 15 portions and our ingredients worked out at £5 per person;  

  • Hearty hot Pea Soup with Chinese pumpkin – topped with roasted fava beans 
  • Hand-made tagliatelle with creamy sauce, mushrooms, dwarf beans and nasturtium leaves  
  • Gazpacho style tomato and chilli dip  
  • Garlicy dark green kale, purple basil and parsley pesto  
  • Mixed salad decorated with apple slices and nasturtium leaves /flowers  
  • Cucamelon Pickle  
  • Bread

Our Low Carbon Lunch was a good opportunity to think about what it means to eat “low carbon”.

There is a variety of local and organic food in Tower Hamlets and finding exciting, nutritious and tasty food that works with the climate and doesn’t require intense farming, heavy pesticides or global travel is totally possible. We do think that low carbon food could be more accessible – if every street market sold organic or local veg for example, or if there were more community gardens and food coops across the borough, many more people could find lower carbon food just a short walk away.  


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