New Year, New Design, New Diet

by Liz Ashforth

 In China at a Cookathon competitionIt was New Year 2016, and I was on a new diet.

A “putting eastern food back into my life” diet!

I had just returned to the UK after 6 years living in China. It wasn’t the first Christmas I’d come back for so I was used to the glut that the festive season brings but successional changes in my natural gut flora over the years meant I found it very difficult to return to a full-time diet of cold meat sandwiches, biscuits and beer.

It was serendipity that focusing on food choices was the first homework design we tackled during the Permaculture Design Course. Thanks again to my two excellent instructors Angie Polkey and Kate Hamilton at the Centre for Alternative Technologies, Wales.

My first thought on re-incorporate eastern food back into my diet was, “Aaagh, the food miles!!! Quick, choose a different subject.” But, depressed with my current dietary situation, I put aside my initial judgements and pressed ahead, Obtain a Yield style. 

I researched the dreaded food miles as well as investigating my own patterns of consumption, and discovered the way I was eating some food types was different from before – think cold bread vs. hot noodles at lunchtime. I noted that I craved Chinese food when I felt there was a lack of control in my life – most of the time, as I was living with my in-laws and seemed to be catching up on all the colds I had missed while away.

I also came face to face with the fact that I wanted everywhere to be zone 1 - I wanted everywhere to be China. Identifying that limitation freed me enough to realize that I had a great opportunity here to experiment with alternative ingredients. I could truly value that time I had spent eating authentic Chinese food, and that I should re-acquaint myself with some of our British specialities.

I found several ways of implementing my new diet choices that would fit all the permaculture ethics but something that really shone out for me in that first weekend was the concept of stacking. Stacking. Often heard in the context of forest gardening, here implemented in the arena of designing food choices, specifically with the view to putting together a recipe book of my favourite dishes.

Each function has multiple elements OR Each job has lots of workers

Put together a recipe book. Benefits:

  1. Cooking for others (which I love) and getting them to test the recipes

  2. Having all the recipes I like in one place

  3. Discovering alternatives

  4. Sourcing ingredients – connecting with others who share the same passion

  5. As time goes on I won’t forget what I know about Chinese food


Each element has multiple functions - each worker has lots of jobsLiz's PDC graduation group

Getting family and friends to test the recipes

  1. Both educates in Chinese cooking and culture

  2. Reduces fresh food waste - if I leave ingredients at their house they can use them

  3. Cost effective - sharing out bulk bought ingredients

  4. Connects them with my experiences


I’ve now got a new home and the book is about half way through. My aim is to finish it for Christmas 2017 complete with photographs. I look forward to sharing it with my family, my husband looks forward to trying all the recipes, and I hope that you have the confidence to tackle the designs in 2017 that hold great importance you.

This write up is based on Liz's first design of the Permaculture Design Course that she undertook in February 2016. Find permaculture design courses on our listings to learn more about permaculture.