Cooking for Smarties

Surviving as a student can be fraught with difficulty, not least in the realm of filling your belly and avoiding some form of horrific vitamin deficiency. With everything else going on each semester, it can be easy to overlook the impact a poor diet can have on your wellbeing, student performance, and ability to be a functioning human.

We’ve all had that moment of laser-like clarity sometime during our ninth consecutive meal of Mie-Goreng, when the MSG in our system has reached critical levels, that there must be a better way.

Good nutrition is intrinsic to good mental and physical health. The three operate as a system, and a deficiency in one will heavily impact on the others.

The problem is that real food requires a goodly amount of money, time and skill to prepare, and one if not all of these things can be in short supply.

Another niggling feeling you might have in your mind is the grim realisation that eating boxes of inexpensive, pre-made, packaged food that has been produced, prepared, and transported from far-flung corners of the globe may be a little environmentally and ethically questionable.

Then there’s the question of food, and food related waste. Australian’s discard roughly 20% of the food we purchase. We buy and cook more than we need, forget to use leftovers, and shop when we’re hungry and unprepared. Add to that the enormous amount of ‘irregular’ food rejected by supermarkets, and the amount of unnecessary and non-reusable packaging that we discard along the way, and you come to realise our food system and culture is in serious need of repair.

All this sounds incredibly dire, but what if there was a resource you could use if you’re broke, unable to prepare a meal without the siren serenade of the smoke alarm, have concerns about the nutritional value of your diet, or perhaps are worried about the impact your existence is having on the world around you?

Well, buckle up. I’m about to introduce you to such a resource. One made by and for students just like you that you can use to craft inexpensive, flavoursome and super-easy meals, all while reducing your own ecological and ethical impact.

Sweet Potato Hummus

In 2016, UON student Georgia Brown, in league with Code Green, Healthy UON, Champions4Change and Love Food on Campus, compiled the UON Student Sustainable Cookbook: the result of a 2016 competition. The explicit aim was to provide students with a toolkit that enabled them to make eco-friendly and ethically conscious food choices by minimising food waste, concentrating on local, seasonal and ethically sourced food and reducing packaging, while still eating simple, affordable and tasty food.

The cookbook was created by UON students and is far more than just a compendium of recipes. It’s also a wellspring of information on nutrition, handy tips for the cook lacking confidence, a primer for more sustainable food practises – including links to on-campus initiatives, clubs, local markets and community gardens – as well as a handy conversion chart, substitution guide and glossary.

Not only are all the recipes in the book easy to replicate but also easy to adapt to your personal tastes, seasonal availability of produce, or to include what you have lying around. I made the Sweet Potato Hummus (pg. 19) in no time flat, and for zero effort (and for the grand sum of about $4). The only changes I made to the recipe were the addition of a little smoked paprika and toasting the cashews in the oven for 10 mins. It was incredible. Something I will definitely cook again. Likewise, the French Toast (pg. 49), always a favourite in my house, was quickly tricked out with a glob of vanilla extract and some berries tossed in balsamic. French Toast is a perfect way of using up stale bread and makes a good break from a blurry eyed smear of Vegemite for breakfast.

Because all the recipes have fairly neutral flavours they are infinitely customisable. The hummus I made could be easily transformed into a beetroot variant, or spiked with cumin, fennel or fresh herbs. The French Toast could be dusted with cinnamon or topped with whatever fruits are beginning to look depressed in the bottom of your fruit bowl. Likewise, the remaining recipes are readily supercharged with a squirt of Sriracha, soy or fish sauce, and make wonderful vessels for vegetables you might find on special, or nearing death in your vegetable crisper.

Hummus 2

Even if sustainability, ethics and environmental concerns are outside of your radar when planning your next meal, the UON Student Sustainable Cookbook is a fantastic collection of simple, cost effective and tasty recipes that will, at least, prevent you from existing on home brand chips and some form of thin gruel.

The UON Student Sustainable Cookbook is a wonderful toolkit for anyone juggling the need to eat, afford textbooks, accommodation and the occasional box of wine. The recipes are easy enough for those whose culinary adventures ended with mud-pies in their grandparents back yard, yet adaptable enough for those with more of a flair in the edible arts. It’s available as a free pdf or as a hard-copy, which can be purchased from NUSA.