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'Pep Kitchen' reinvigorates ready meals



Ready meals have a poor reputation when it comes to sustainability. Studies show that they can have a global warming potential of 35% higher than the equivalent home made meal*. The contributors to the harmful impact of ready meals include packaging, manufacturing, ingredients and waste. But when life is busy, is there a way around this to still achieve a warm and filling dinner in less than 10 minutes?


'Pep Kitchen' may have the solution. Joe and Ben are two London chefs with experience in high end restaurants and street markets, who have re-designed the frozen ready meal in their production kitchen in Clapham. Their motive was finding a solution to the question above, and are attempting to tackle every environmental issue with a ready meal.


To start, the dishes are all vegan. As researchers continue to uncover the effect of meat and dairy production on the planet, Joe and Ben have committed to using only plant-based ingredients. They are passionate about proving that plant-based food can be equally, if not more, delicious than meat dishes, and so take inspiration from cuisines far and wide to offer a punchy line-up. Dishes include 'Spicy Szechuan Mapo Tofu' and 'Jerk Gungo Bean Curry'. Their motto is 'Battle the bland and get inspired to eat more plants', and after tasting their 'Jackfruit Massaman Curry', I can confirm that their food is certainly not bland! Joe and Ben are not aiming exclusively to vegans however, they advertise that their dishes are 'Suitable for carnivores', and are encouraging meat eaters to reduce their meat intake by taking a flexitarian diet - of which 1/3 of the UK already do**.


For those meat eaters that still have the concern about protein content in plant-based foods, Joe and Ben ensure that all of their dishes have a high protein ingredient. For example they advertise that their gungo beans have a similar protein content as chicken per gram. In detail, the beans (also called pigeon peas') have a protein content of 22g per 100g, while chicken thighs have 24g, so not far off at all. They also use tofu, chickpeas and pinto beans, and are currently having their dishes tested to get precise nutritional labels.


In terms of sourcing locally, the chefs said that since many of their recipes are inspired by international cuisines, its hard to source everything locally. What they do do is buy tinned ingredients in the hope of reducing food going off during transportation and are continuing to look for ways to source ingredients locally.


In the major retailers, packaging is a huge issue for ready meals. Black plastic is still used despite not being widely recycled, however the 'Pep Kitchen' ready meals are packaged in trays made of sugar cane pulp, which will naturally biodegrade in your compost or could be recycled. The trays are suitable for the oven and microwave, so this could certainly be a way forward for the mass market. The pair were also confident that the packaging retains and protects the food just as well as plastic.


The chef's have also chosen to sell their meals frozen, with the thought process being that the meals will last longer and are far less likely to be wasted. Since more than 1/3 of food produced in the world goes to waste (approximately 1.3 billion tonnes)***, food waste must always be considered as we continue to develop new food products. Freezing meals is a great way to reduce your own food waste, so next time you have a left over portion, don't leave it to go off at the back of the fridge. Put it in the freezer where it will last until you need it!


Let's hope that big retailers can start to learn from the small suppliers like 'Pep Kitchen'. From the packaging to the ingredients, companies like this are certainly leading the way in a food category that may seem impossible to make environmentally friendly.


If you'd like to try 'Pep Kitchen''s dishes, you can buy them from Venn Street Market every Saturday. Online sales will be available soon at www.pepkitchen.co.uk with listings in small retailers to follow - so keep an eye out!


* 'Life cycle environmental impacts of convenience food: Comparison of ready and home-made meals', Ximena C.Schmidt Rivera, Namy Espinoza Orias, Adisa Azapagic, 15 June 2014

** Waitrose food and drink report 2018-19

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