Ben Richardson, the self-proclaimed forest foodie, is an ecological influencer currently living in South London, and is a must-follow account on Instagram (@bentheforestfoodie). He keeps our timelines packed with pictures of his tantalising home cooked food that always makes us want to get in the kitchen ourselves and whip up something equally scrumptious - as well as the best restaurant recommendations, sustainability tips, and insight into his work at the Forest School, where he is deputy manager.
“Forest School is a holistic education programme, designed to nurture children using nature to promote personal growth physically, mentally, emotionally & spiritually. This includes fire lighting, den building and bug safaris! I’ve done this for 4 years & love teaching children to have respect for nature.”
Growing up by the sea in Eastbourne, exposed to the marine wildlife and beautiful nature reserves in his seaside town, Ben has always had a connection to nature. Even as a child, noticing plastic littered on the beach and glass bottles scattered on the sands and in the waters left him feeling concerned.
This fondness for nature would only grow as he went on to study BSc (Hons) in Ecology & Wildlife Conservation at Bournemouth University in Dorset, where he was once again surrounded by the beauty of nature - from the New Forest to Brown-sea Island and so many more beautiful havens of flora and fauna.
It was here he learned about Environmental Law, Marine Ecology, Wildlife Preservation & issues surrounding Extinction and Deforestation. He describes this time as a “call-to-action” as his awareness and concern for the state of our planet developed.
Among his discoveries, in 2015, Ben learned how much of an impact a plant-based diet has on your carbon footprint, with studies suggesting it could reduce it by nearly three-quarters. From that point on, he decided he was going to take up the plant-based lifestyle.
And we’re so glad he did, because ever since he’s developed the knack for making and finding the finest plant-based grub that jumps out the screen and begs to be eaten. He tells us his secret to keeping his meals both exciting and nutritional is making sure you’re always shaking it up in the colour department.
“A rule-of-thumb I have is making sure my meals during the week are variable in colour. You can safely bet there’s a variety of different nutrients and vitamins in each meal that way. I will eat various varieties of tofu-based meals as I know how protein packed it is. I will occasionally partner vegan meat-alternatives with vegetables to create even more variety, however veggies are so versatile that I try my best to consume them daily. I also top pretty much every meal with chia seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds for crunch, omega, hearty fats and fibre. I love them!”
Well, his tricks are definitely working, as a quick scroll through his page will have your mouth watering in no time, each dish bursting with colour. The variety of dishes you can find on his page is astounding from vibrant breakfast bowls using Forrist’s very own organic ingredients to the most cracking plant based roast dinners you’ve ever laid your eyes upon.
“I particularly enjoy curry-based meals such as Coconut Aubergine Dhal or Thai Green Tofu, and I am OBSESSED with pasta dishes. I love making wholewheat fusilli pasta with vegan green pesto, garlic sauteed tofu cubes & mushrooms, wilted baby spinach topped with omega seed mix. The most satisfying & nutritious meal all-in-one!”
And that’s not all you’ll find on his page. Ben is also a big advocate for mental health awareness as well as environmentalism and does particularly great work in demonstrating how these two things coexist. Most notably, promoting the practice of shinrin yoku – a form of Japanese eco-therapy which, when directly translated, means “forest bath”. It involves mindfully experiencing green spaces - paying attention to your primal senses of sight, smell, sound, touch and taste to reconnect to ourselves to the environment.
“We see communication as solely a verbal practice. But communication also comes from within, it can be felt. Communicating in nature this way opens up an intimate conversation with ourselves, allowing us the time and space to just be present.”
This practice has proven beneficial for many who have suffered from depression and anxiety and is an activity that should be encouraged in all of us, to whatever extent possible, to keep us in check with ourselves. Even if it’s just a walk through the park or keeping a house plant, remaining more in touch with our environment is an all-to-often overlooked form of self-care, and it’s worth reminding ourselves when we get too caught up in the business of our everyday lives.
Of course, this works the other way around, and it is important to protect and care for our environment as well. Just like us here at the Forrist, Ben is dedicated to ensuring he is living sustainably.
“I recycle, seldom purchase new clothes, gently educate my friends, family & colleagues about issues the environment is facing, but most effectively eating a plant-based diet & purchasing ethical products from self-care to homewares is substantially effective.”
“It is beneficial to my health, therefore the NHS. Animal wellbeing, therefore my conscience. The environment, therefore ALL OF US.”
This sustainable approach to life is of course a big part of his work at the Forest School, and inspiring the younger generation to take on their eco-responsibility is a great reminder of how fun and fulfilling a sustainable lifestyle can be.
“I recently turned old milk-cartons (non-dairy of course) into bird-feeders at forest school, by hanging them from a tree with cut out holes and filled with bird seed. Pretty innovative if you ask me and fun for kids to do!”
Ben also expressed an interest in composting and growing produce from home when he has the facilities to do so properly. Like us, Ben believes living sustainably is all about doing as much as you can do, even if at the beginning, it doesn’t seem like much.