The Rurbanist Q&A: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

By Amy Wakeham

1 week ago

Getting to know the chef and climate campaigner

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on finding peace in nature, holding the government to account, and the original dream behind River Cottage.

The Rurbanist

What’s bringing you joy at the moment?

The dawn chorus. In spring and early summer, I love when the noise of it is a little bit louder every morning, and I start seeing birds pairing off and doing their funny little dances.

What’s annoying you most right now?

The government’s refusal to fully understand that the way we eat is fundamental to our health, and offering no help to people in terms of real education about food, or food policies that will make a difference to people’s lives.

How to eat 30 plants a week

Hugh’s latest book is out now

What could you have been arrested for?

It wouldn’t altogether surprise me if I was arrested for protesting about an environmental cause. If we don’t see some real commitment to policies that will change the energy sector and move us away from fossil fuels towards renewables, then, not for the first time, I may well be on the streets again.

Best life hack?

Cold water. I know people love to make jokes about it, but I have a pond at home that I swim in, or I have a cold shower. You feel fantastic afterwards.

A moment that changed everything?

Waking up at the original River Cottage (which I rented to escape from London), sometime in the very early spring of 1999, and thinking, ‘Oh, I wonder if I could persuade Channel Four to let me do a series about downsizing here, and I wouldn’t have to go back to London, I could start my vegetable garden and keep a few chickens and see how it goes.’

River Cottage

Photo by (c) Matt Austin

Where do you go to escape?

For a walk in the woods. We’re lucky to have a bit of woodland here at home, and several times a week, I’ll just wander down to the end of the field and into the woods. So just outside and being in nature generally, but specifically being among trees.

What does sustainability mean to you?

Being conscious of the impact of your decisions on the planet. We’re never going to get it right all the time. Just to be engaged and thoughtful, and conscious of the fact that all the decisions you make will have an impact.

Your greatest triumph?

I’ve campaigned on a lot of issues, and I wouldn’t consider any of them a triumph, even though we changed European law on discarding fish at sea. It’s always a mistake to think you’ve triumphed, because there’s always more to do.

Your greatest failure?

I’ve made TV series about the climate crisis and tried to engage the government to persuade them to think again about their environmental policy. Given they have basically doubled down and backed off their commitments to tackle climate change, you could say that’s a pretty spectacular failure. But I’m not deterred by that.

What does a life in balance mean to you?

That every day you need to take some time to enjoy and relish those aspects of life that nourish you. For me, that’s family and nature.

How to Eat 30 Plants a Week is out now (Bloomsbury, £25).