Life in the foraging lane
Vegan Life's Gemma Tadman goes on a forest foraging journey with Polestar, the new, vegan-friendly electric car maker
In our current under-pandemic world, adventures are difficult to come by. But back in October, the Vegan Life team were invited on our very own quest, to try out an electric car, and go sustainable mushroom foraging with The Wild Room's Finn Casey and vegan chef and co-founder of Plates London, Kirk Haworth.
The special venture was part of a series of foraging experiences curated by Polestar - the automotive company behind the new, fully-electric and vegan car, the Polestar 2 - to celebrate their new Polestar Space launch.
To get to our foraging destination, we were invited to try a Polestar 2, charged on renewable energy and manufactured using only vegan materials. It certainly provided a smooth and comfortable ride, with its regenerative braking that actually harvests energy while coasting or braking back into the battery, conserving charge (more about the car later).
Let's talk mushrooms
Hainault forest in Essex made a gorgeous setting for a socially-distanced foraging session. I parked up the Polestar 2, and donned wellies to traverse through the muddy woods, surrounded by tall trees with goldening leaves.
In October through to November, wild mushrooms are plentiful in forests and fields, as are a number of other edible plant-life. More people are starting to discover the wonders of foraging, with 2020 seeing a rush of newcomers to the scene, and more expected this year.
However, if you'd like to get involved in searching for edibles, you must stick to some guidelines (check out Wild Food UK's foraging code, at wildfooduk.com). Our goal of the day was to find an assortment of recognised, edible mushrooms that could be used by vegan chef, Kirk, to make powerfully flavoured crisps for the Polestar Space launch.
Mushroom specialist Finn directed us through trees, leaves and foliage; across the forest and around fields, and taught us as we searched. Did you know that many mushrooms form symbiotic relationships with trees?
These relationships can be both beneficial and damaging to trees, depending on the type of fungus. This means that deforestation is not simply bad for animals who live in and below the canopy, but it is disastrous for mushrooms that also depend upon trees - the more trees cut down, the more fungi species lost, so existing trees suffer even more.
Finn also amazed us by revealing that scientists have only identified around 15 per cent of all fungi so far. If you've been out for a walk during the months of October and November, you will find that hard to believe - with mushrooms carpeting forest floors and spread abundantly through fields.
By midday, we had filled our box with mushrooms of all kinds - puffballs, amethyst deceivers, ceps and beefsteaks (which I assure you are vegan!) - collected from all over Hainault Woods and adjacent meadows.
We took them back to the Polestar 2, before driving to The Wild Room in Bermondsey, London, to check out more of Finn's finds and wares, cook and taste the beefsteak mushroom, and bid each other a socially distanced farewell.
After the adventure, I found out more about why Polestar had curated such an event and chatted to Polestar experts about the company's aims and ethics.
\"It's clear that we must act now to protect the environment\"
Let's talk cars
At the end of October 2020, following our foraging trip, Polestar launched their first ever 'Polestar Space' in the UK - in London Westfield. The 'Space' is not quite a salesroom, since you cannot actually buy cars there, but it enables people to see and find out more about Polestar's electric vehicles.
To celebrate the new Space, Polestar sent out boxes packed with vegan goodies to virtual launch evening attendees' homes, including crisps made from the very mushrooms that the Vegan Life team helped to forage.
All of the snacks in the box were vegan, made from ingredients that had been sustainably foraged on three other unique Polestar excursions. You've likely heard about electric vehicles in the news - recently, they have featured a lot in discussions about lessening environmental impacts of travel.
Of particular note, is that the UK's 2040 ban on petrol and diesel vehicles has been brought forward to 2030, as part of the government's '10-step climate plan'. So, in a few years, electric cars and vans will become the norm.
Despite this, in the past, the majority of electric vehicles have been designed and released with maximised monetary gain as the main driver behind them, and less for the goal of actually trying to change the automotive industry for the better, protecting the planet.
However, newly established company, Polestar, say they are different. They want to move the automotive industry away from the currently unsustainable and polluting business model that sadly, harms our Earth.
As the world learns more about the damaging impacts of running fossil fuel-powered (including hybrid) vehicles, attention is turning more and more to entirely electric cars.
New car on the block is the Polestar 2 - it's 100 per cent electric, can be run on renewable energy, has a vegan interior (yay, no leather!) and is made from mostly recycled materials.
This is the car that Vegan Life was lucky enough to drive to get to and from our foraging escapade. The Polestar 2 features no animal derived products in its materials or construction.
The interior material (WeaveTech) also almost completely eliminates toxic phthalates found in vinyl commonly used in car interiors (to just 1 per cent from 45 per cent). WeaveTech is also recyclable, representing Polestar's commitment to improve recycling in the automobile industry.
I asked head of Polestar UK, Jonathan Goodman, how and why Polestar has such a strong emphasis on sustainability. Jonathan told me: \"As we believe our role is to accelerate the change to a fully-electric, climate neutral future with sustainable mobility, it has to be core to our offering.
This is centered on our core principles of climate neutrality, circularity, and transparency and so our sustainability strategy defines what we want to achieve.\"
When it comes to transparency, Polestar is certainly following through - they publish all material related to the production and lifecycle of their vehicles, so that eco-concerned individuals can look up if and how they harm the environment, and decide if they still want to drive a Polestar car.
There's no hiding, no lying and for once, no green washing - Polestar are clear on why they are 'good' and where they need to improve.
Polestar's CEO Thomas Ingenlath commented: \"Car manufacturers have not been clear in the past with consumers on the environmental impact of their products. That's not good enough. We need to be honest, even if it makes for uncomfortable reading.\"
Polestar even state in their lifecycle booklet that, yes, the manufacture of electric vehicle (EV) batteries is currently worse for the environment than most injection combustion engines' (ICE).
However, Polestar is trying to change this. Jonathan explained: \"We are taking action to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, leading the development of new technologies and embracing solutions for a circular economy.
We are pushing the automotive industry to embrace transparency in carbon footprint reporting, supply chain ethics and materials traceability. And we're doing our best to conduct our business in an ethical and responsible way - not just for our business, brand and people, but also for society as a whole. It's clear that we must act now to protect the environment.\"
\"We believe our role is to accelerate the change to a fullyelectric, climate neutral future with sustainable mobility\"
Polestar also use blockchain sourcing cobalt for batteries - a digital register of records linked via cryptography. It creates transaction records within a supply chain which can't be altered. It also guarantees that the info contained can't be changed without detection.
This transparency means that sources of material, and the methods by which they're extracted, processed and transported, can be regulated. In other words, Polestar can insist upon responsible and sustainable standards throughout the entire supply chain.
Whilst Polestar concede that manufacturing an EV has a greater initial impact on the environment than the current crop of ICE vehicles, they stipulate that, eventually, the overall impact of an EV is lower.
This is because EVs do not produce tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions or particulates, and, when powered with renewable energy, do not contribute to fossil fuel-caused environmental harm. When EV batteries can be made in an eco-friendly way, the cars they power should, in theory, surpass ICEs, environmentally speaking.
Whilst it's tempting to assume that we can achieve a sustainable and emission-free future by simply getting everyone to drive EVs (as the government seem to believe), the truth is a lot more complicated.
More needs to be done. Promoting supply chain traceability is essential to avoid human rights violations and environmental damage from mineral mining. And communicating openly about the true environmental impact of the entire life cycle of electric cars, from production to end-of-life.
As I coasted back home in a Polestar 2, following a jam-packed day of learning about mushrooms and electric cars, I reflected on what I had discovered.
Certainly, Polestar's decisions - to make cars using plant-based materials; to be transparent about EV pros and cons - with intent to improve, and to only send out sustainable vegan snacks for their Space launch - reflect well on them.
Time will tell if the brand will continue to put these values into practice, but so far, so good.
It would be easy to recommend that everyone forgo driving, and whilst we should all aim for this, as a society, that's unlikely to happen on a large scale and for some people, it is impossible. Therefore, we must be realistic and invest in improving the automotive industry.
If you can walk more and drive less, please do so, but let's hope that in years to come, that if we must drive or use public transport, we will be able to do so in vehicles that are better for us all - people, animals and planet.