Darren Henaghan approved

Darren Henaghan 

The public should all eat more fruit and veg. That’s hardly news. What is less obvious is what can be done to make it happen.

Not eating your 5 A Day is often presented as a lifestyle choice: that people toy with the idea of a lovely seasonal vegetable medley, but opt for the economy frozen burgers because they’re too busy or lack confidence to cook. The reality is very different. The food we eat is determined by factors that go far beyond such binary choices. It is affected by our income, by our knowledge and skills, by the places we shop.

Under-consumption of fresh produce is emblematic of a food supply system that is fundamentally flawed, dominated by giant corporations that make far more from processed foods than they ever will from onions and cabbages. It is a system in which food poverty is increasingly rampant, with the wealthiest eating healthily while the poorest rely on tins of beans from the rapidly – and shamefully – growing number of food banks.

As a market, we can’t prevent our high streets from being flooded with unhealthy processed foods, nor can we correct society’s deep inequalities. But we can play our part in promoting alternative structures, ones that increase the availability of fresh, locally grown, seasonal and affordable produce, reward producers for taking a sustainable approach to production, and offer shoppers the knowledge needed to make the best of their purchases.

Rely on imports from overseas, available all year round, and you end up with bland, homogenised produce whose price is hostage to currency fluctuations and harvest failures. Shop for Spanish courgettes in January after a bad winter and a sterling crash, and they’ll prove prohibitively expensive to many; buy wonderfully fresh English courgettes from a market stall in the height of the summer glut, in the exact quantity you need rather than bags of three, and you’ll pick them up for peanuts. You’ll know where they came from and who grew them. And, most importantly, they will taste absolutely amazing. Buy locally and eat seasonally, and your diet will be varied, interesting and economical.

But if we’re going to encourage people to eat more produce, knowledge is as vital a commodity as affordable greens. Microwaving a ready meal requires no skill; making the most of the heaving piles of rhubarb weighing down our stalls demands a little more insight and confidence in the kitchen.

That’s where markets come into their own – our traders can tell you everything you need to know, offering tips on preparing, cooking and storing, ensuring you get the best from your purchase and waste none of it. We offer free cookery demos. We provide access to hundreds of recipes and articles through our website and free magazine. We run a Cookbook Club.

Perhaps most importantly, we host the Young Marketeers programme, which aims to give schoolchildren a better understanding of where fruit and vegetables come from and the pleasures that can be had from cooking and eating them. The effect is stunning: kids who previously couldn’t even recognise an onion end up growing, selling, eating and evangelising about veg.

Eating healthily shouldn’t be a chore, nor should it be the preserve of a privileged few. That’s why we’re supporting the Food Foundation’s Peas Please campaign, which aims to improve vegetable intake by influencing the supply chain. People need to eat more fruit and veg, but the food industry needs to change if that’s ever going to happen. —

Darren Henaghan is a blogger for the Food Foundation’s Peas Please campaign, which seeks to increase consumption of produce with the help of the supply chain. Visit foodfoundation.org.uk/peasplease to get involved.