Harry and Meghan have chosen a cake made by Claire Ptak of Violet, a bakery well known for using organic and seasonal and "low intervention" ingredients, which highlights what so often isn't the case when it comes to our baked good habits. Cake, some would say, is an extravagance, an excess; and I see two issues with how the cake industry currently operates. One, it involves a mountain of disposable materials: piping bags, clingfilm and packaging for a start. Two, cake can be quite a hard sell on price point (I've blogged about this before), so cake suppliers are often looking for ingredients based purely on cost, rather than locality, quality or sustainability.
A year ago I really wasn't either conscious or particularly motivated to explore and change either of these issues, but I think there's been quite a dramatic national awakening to our use of plastic and also the plight of small British businesses and the farming industry. I've seen so many local businesses shut up shop recently because of big brands squeezing them out of the market - Keighley only has one greengrocer left, and the one in the market has been driven out of existence because of the Morrisons next door) - and I don't want to be part of the reason for this.
So this blog is all about 5 changes I've recently made to be more ethical, local and sustainable in my business practices, and 5 further changes I'm aiming to make soon. I'd really like to hear any ideas you have for how I can continue this and what you've found that works too.
5 WAYS I'M MAKING MY CAKES PLANET-FRIENDLY
1) I'm using local produce which is more sustainable and ditching the plastic
Did you know that some dairies and supermarkets now price milk at less per litre than bottled water? Needless to say, there's no way our dairy farmers will be able to survive if this is how we continue to treat them. Aside from which, supermarket milk obviously comes in plastic bottles and is often cheaper to buy in 4 pint containers than 6 pints, thus encouraging the customer to actually use more packaging rather than less. I've recently changed to a milkman who delivers my milk on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday in glass bottles, from a farm in Eastburn (10 minutes' drive from here), and also delivers bread and trays of large, free range eggs at 30 for £4, which is a great price. I love not running out of milk, it tastes delicious, I'm supporting the milkman's business and the local farm, and the packaging is reusable. I'd really recommend looking up your local milkman or woman and giving it a try.
You may have seen me mention butter recently... just a few times. I never thought ingredients made much difference to cake, rather that it was the baker's skill and experience; I now realise that was because I hadn't tasted proper ingredients. Meggan at Overlaithe Creamery makes delicious butter, with local cream sourced from farms around 10 minutes from where I live. The Overlaithe butter is full of flavour and gives a very rich taste that actually took me by surprise initially, it's that different to Aldi's finest. The outer layer of paper is recyclable and the inner layer is compostable - no foil here! I go through a lot of butter too so it's really handy to just get a big delivery of it rather than running out twice a week and having to have a mini tantrum about popping to the shop mid-bake. If you'd like to order any, Meggan sells her amazing butter at local farmers' markets, and it's also stocked in Eldwick Post Office and Gilstead Post Office. Message her on Facebook for more info.
2) I'm using all renewable energy
I switched to supplier Bulb who only use renewable energy sources for all our gas and electricity. You can usually get a good deal for signing up here.
3) I'm using local suppliers for fruit that comes in way less packaging
I have cancelled my veg box as ironically even that wasn't very local and now use the local greengrocer. N J Holmes at Hospital Road, Riddlesden, is a lovely business that sells beautiful fruit and veg. So I've been getting my limes, lemons, oranges etc. from there. It comes in brown paper bags, loose, so now when I buy our family fruit and veg shop there's just recyclable bags, and far fewer of them rather than loads of plastic wraps and boxes that often have to be put in the bin. It's also great for my children to be more conscious of eating with the seasons rather than thinking you can just buy any product all year round. Where's your local greengrocer?
4) I'm buying anything else wherever possible from local suppliers and collaborating with them
I recently needed a log slice for a cake stand. I had a look on Etsy and then thought, what am I doing, there are loads of tree surgeons around here. So I bought one from a company that is, again, 10 minutes' drive away. If I need fresh flowers to decorate a cake, I try and use a business like The Flower Shop in Keighley, or if I have to buy from the supermarket, I try and buy Fairtrade. I'm also planning to collaborate with the beautiful new shop Gather in Bingley in the next few months for running my decorating classes - watch this space! Wherever possible, why not look local rather than on Amazon?
5) I'm trying to ditch the disposables!
I was going through a lot of kitchen roll, cling film and baby wipes. I still haven't managed to eradicate this, but I haven't bought kitchen roll for weeks now and I don't use baby wipes any more. Instead I have a giant pile of microfibre cloths and a bottle of Milton I make up and I just chuck the cloths in the washer. I've also started trying to use plates on top of bowls to keep them covered instead of cling film, and I've bought extra Tupperware boxes from IKEA so I don't use sandwich bags to put leftovers or portions of buttercream in.
THE NEXT 5 STEPS I WANT TO TAKE
1) Reduce plastic even more
I want to try the beeswax wraps to replace a lot of my cling film with, although they aren't big enough for some things like wrapping up a whole layered cake in. If any of you have any ideas for this, please let me know! I also still use disposable piping bags as I'm yet to find a clean and hygienic alternative. Silicon tends to attract fluff and it's very difficult to effectively clean reusable ones as the buttercream is so greasy. I would be very interested in finding biodegradable disposable piping bags or a better made reusable option.
2) Source my chocolate differently
I'm looking at buying my chocolate in the form of big bags of chips from Callebaut. It means way less packaging, better quality, ethically sourced chocolate and it doesn't contain gluten as most supermarket chocolates do. I go through a lot of chocolate so this would make a difference.
3) Change my cleaning products
I've recently seen some sustainably packaged dishwasher tablets and I'd like to try these as well as being open to less chemicals and more sustainable packaging for cleaning products in general. The Waste Not pop-up shop nearby looks like a good place to check some of these products out. I've also looked at the Eco-Egg for washing clothes / aprons but have seen very mixed reviews of this. I've already switched to Method for our handsoap, but didn't get on with their washing up liquid. It seems like there's often a tension between planet-friendly and efficient!
4) Find out if I can source my buttermilk and cream locally
These are two products I use a LOT of and would love to know if I can get them from local suppliers.
5) Try never to have to throw leftovers away
I'm notorious for putting leftover bits and bobs in the fridge, forgetting about them and having to throw them away. I need to get better at immediately freezing them, labelled, so I can use them another time.
There's still such a long way to go, but instead of feeling so daunted by it I don't do anything, like I used to, now I've realised that step by step you can make changes and make a difference. And as a bonus, I'm really enjoying the higher quality, and even convenience, of all my new products.
What are your top tips for being planet-friendly?
To order a cake that's made with as many local ethical, sustainable and delicious ingredients as possible, West Yorkshire (Keighley, Bingley, Bradford, Saltaire, Skipton, Ilkley, Menston, Guiseley, Silsden & beyond!) visit: