Holidays

As further evidence of the link between communal living and reduced dependence on fossil fuels, Scientist Fiancé and I have just, essentially, spent all the money we would otherwise have spent on a holiday on train tickets to Copenhagen, a state of affairs made possible by the fact that his mother is generously bankrolling the rest of the trip. It was an eye-watering £240 for the two of us, but we do get to go on a sleeper train, which is one of my most favourite things in the world. And, most importantly, we don’t have to go with Squeezyjet, for all the myriad environmental, political and aesthetic reasons that I won’t bore you with here.

So, yes, folks. You can shrink your carbon footprint, but you have to be nice to your in-laws.

I’m going on a less exciting train to Northumberland for the long weekend, so shall not be around for a few days. I shall be hauling my pile of exciting books, my knitting, a week’s worth of Farming Today podcasts and an enormous bottle of gin* up the East Coast main line this evening and will indulge in a few blissful computer-free days.

In the meantime, I have to find someone to take away the chilli seedlings that desperately need to be potted on. Damn Freecycle non-collecters.

Have a good bank holiday weekend!

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* My parents are hugely pissing me off this week, but I am aware of the indignity of wailing into the internet about how my parents are SO HORRID and NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME!!! and therefore shall not rant about it for I am not, any longer, 15.

May 21, 2009 at 9:13 am 2 comments

Faith in humanity somewhat strengthened

I offered some seedlings on Freecycle. A lady just came to pick them up with her son, who wanted them for his school garden and who was very polite. (Oh dear, I appear to have inherited my mother’s quasi-idolatry of polite children.)

My faith in humanity is somewhat strengthened.

May 14, 2009 at 4:17 pm 1 comment

Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children???!!!!

From the Telegraph – Pigs reared and killed at primary school

From the Daily Fail – Anger as pigs raised ‘as pets’ by primary school children are turned into sausages and sold to parents

From the Sun – ‘Pets’ for tea: Fury as pigs reared by kids are sold to parents as sausages

Oh dear lord god. I do not know where to start with this one.

From what I can glean from the meagre facts interspersed between the manic hysteria (“Won’t somebody please think of the children?!”), the school in question has been keeping pigs as part of a small farming project, which also includes sheep, poultry, fruit and veg and aims to teach children where food comes from. It won a prize and, according to the headteacher, the children all love it and it’s attracting parents to the school.

Then, a few parents complain – ‘Children have to learn where food comes from, but this seems insensitive.’ ‘It’s too young to tell kids they can eat things they grow to love on a sandwich or with a fried egg.’ – the press get wind of it and idiocy ensues.

‘It’s too young to tell kids they can eat things they grow to love on a sandwich or with a fried egg.’

I’d like to unpick this sentence a bit more, because it seems to demonstrate so many of the issues that are going on here.

‘Too young’ to tell children – It’s an interesting question. I don’t have children myself, and I can’t remember consciously learning that meat comes from animals. I’d actually be interested to hear how (more sensible) people introduce the idea to their children. Does age come into it? How old is old enough? Do you tell them out of the blue? I appreciate it’s easier if you live in the country, as I did, as it’s easier to incorporate it into discussions about everyday life going on around you; but if you don’t, and the only animals you come across are pets, it must be harder. However, I couldn’t help noticing that none of the articles referred to any instances of the children being upset or traumatised by this. It was the parents who felt it was upsetting and inappropriate.

‘Eat things they grow to love’ – There are other references in the articles to children feeding and cuddling the animals and giving them names. I don’t deny that it is difficult to come to terms with the idea of eating something that used to be alive, and lots of smallholders do talk about having conflicting feelings about sending their own animals to slaughter, especially the first time. I recently read Lark Rise to Candleford in which Flora Thompson talks about ‘Laura’ being upset when their pigs were slaughtered and not wanting to eat an animal she had known when it was alive, so even back when it was more usual to produce your own meat, some people still felt uneasy about it.

Many people have valid ethical or philosophical objections to eating meat, and it’s an individual’s prerogative to decide what they put into their body. The difference is that they’ve actually thought about it and reached their own conclusion. The implication of the statement above is that these children, who would be so traumatised, are routinely eating pork ‘on a sandwich or with a fried egg’, but couldn’t handle knowing where it comes from.

This is exactly what the school is trying to correct. These animals weren’t raised ‘as pets’, they were raised as food; they weren’t in ‘pets corner’, they were in a farm. The children appear to have taken the difference in their stride and as a result will probably end up being either informed meat-eaters or informed vegetarians. But to the parents, this is a challenge to their curious, teetering balance of sentimentality and unthinking consumption of meat. If you think your children would be traumatised by the idea of eating pigs, why are you feeding them bacon sandwiches?

Death is something it’s natural to want to shield children from (but something they will have to confront eventually), but mightn’t they be traumatised in part because we don’t encourage the general public to see animals in other ways than as pets? Because we raise animals for meat in horrific, stomach-churning conditions out of our sight and buy it in anonymous packets from giant fridges in supermarkets? Is it ‘insensitive’ to tell children where their food comes from because we’ve made the truth so much worse and so much more inhuman than it needs to be?

Frankly, if you eat meat, you should be honest about what you’re eating. And if you don’t like it, you’re at liberty not to eat meat. But you can’t have it both ways. And encouraging children to think about it is a Good Thing. Hats off to the school and those teachers.

Lastly, why the bizarre fixation in the Fail and the Sun on the fact that they were selling the sausages to parents? Oh, yes, to make it sound much more callous. Not only are they TEACHING CHILDREN WHERE FOOD COMES FROM, they’re also COVERING THEIR COSTS and SUPPLY GOOD-QUALITY FOOD TO THE COMMUNITY!! SHOCK HORROR!!

(Now that I’ve attempted to make some intelligent commentary, who’d like to join me in a sweepstake on how soon someone comments on the Fail website that: ‘Oh, well, the loony liberal left will soon ban this because it’s offensive to religious minorities who don’t eat pork or against ‘elf and safety’… political correctness gone mad… this is why I live in Spain…’)

May 13, 2009 at 5:54 pm 6 comments

yarnyarnyarnyarnyarn

The postman has been kind to me this week. (I say that as if he’s bringing me all these lovely things out of the goodness of his heart, rather than because I bought them online and paid for them and it’s his job.) I have bought five interesting books and am now fondling some deliciously luxurious yarn.

Mmmmmmmmm……. yarn…………..

On which subject, I have One Sock Syndrome, with a glove. I decided to use up some of the pink yarn I’d made my cardigan out of by making a pair of fingerless gloves that would keep my hands warmer than the fingerless mittens I have at the moment (which have started to curl back at the edges) when I was typing and knitting and stuff in the winter. Unfortunately, I decided to proceed on the basis that wool was stretchy and it therefore didn’t matter if the needles I knitted it on were smaller than the ones recommended by the pattern. I mean, they were only two sizes smaller…

I now have a glove that is going to be… rather snug. And little inclination to knit its twin. Ho-hum. Though I knitted the last one dead fast, and it wouldn’t take long. Should get on with it. Promised self would not start socks for my dad until I had (as need needles for that). But the sock yarn is all stripy and lovely…

May 8, 2009 at 11:00 am Leave a comment

Randomness

Spent a lot of time down at the allotment this weekend and am finally getting on top of it. I really wish I’d done this in November and hadn’t had to learn the hard way, but it’s starting to look tidier and we’ve planted lots of potatoes. Kudos to Scientist Fiancé (a.k.a. He With The Upper Body Strength) for copious digging and ferrying around of bags of mulch.

I’ve decided to make this cardigan/bolero thing, in white, for my friend’s wedding and have now acquired requisite yarn and needles. bolero

(By the way, why do knitwear models always look so ethereal?)

We also think we might change our veg box. We’ve been happy with Riverford so far, but they’ve just put up the price of our box and started importing aubergines and tomatoes etc to get through the Hungry Gap. Yes, I’m getting sick of winter veg too, but we’ve just found a new supplier who is more local, has a box the same price as ours has just gone up to and appears to be able to supply salads (and other marginally more interesting things) without resorting to trucking stuff in from Spain. I’ve ordered one for next week and we’ll see how it goes.

In other news, I’ve been reading Silent Spring, listening to Farming Today and watching a documentary about bird flu by Dr Michael Greger (his book and other info available here if you dare) and, quite frankly, it’s so bloody depressing I just want to go and lie down in a dark room. We are so doomed.

May 6, 2009 at 11:13 am Leave a comment

Food in the news – 27th April – 1st May

Article from the FT suggests that the record profits announced by many supermarkets since the recession hit might have come at someone else’s expense. Why am I not surprised?

Tesco are making suppliers wait 60 days to be paid, rather than 30, and ASDA have, among other things, brought back e-auctions, where suppliers bid for a contract in a blind auction (“While the lowest bid might now win, it may be used as a starting point for the negotiations.”) and the NFU says farmers are noticing contracts are being altered retrospectively more often.

I needn’t tell you that this moves me to murderous fury. I remember visiting a certain large supermarket last summer, during the peak of the food crisis, which proudly boasted that they were magnanimously cutting prices on fruit and veg. I couldn’t help thinking that there were sound economic and ecological reasons why food prices were rising and so if retail prices were being cut, someone somewhere along the line was taking a cut. I suspected this might be the suppliers rather than the retailers themselves (although I believe fruit and veg is often priced quite highly, in order to balance out the narrow profit margins on things like milk and bread, so there might be some room for manoeuvre) and now, guess what, I was right. (Such cynicism in one so young…)

————-

This, on the other hand, is more reassuring. Apparently, if you make things from scratch, at home, from raw ingredients, instead of buying them ready-made, not only is it almost always cheaper but the food almost always tastes better. Gosh. Crucially, she doesn’t factor your time into her analyses, which is, I suspect, what puts most people off, and it was very revealing that no-one in her family liked the cream cheese because it wasn’t bland enough, but, still, it’s nice to see an article on credit crunch food that doesn’t essentially say, ‘Ha ha, people can’t afford to buy organic any more, they’re all eating at Domino’s!!’ (Which doesn’t even make sense.)

“It’s one thing to eat runny yogurt and flaccid bagels because they’re a bargain; it’s another entirely to pay for the privilege.”

—————–

Finally, more seriously, Grist is investigating the possibility that swine flu might be linked to an intensive pig farm in Mexico. http://www.grist.org/article/2009-04-28-more-smithfield-swine/

April 30, 2009 at 9:35 am 5 comments

Silent Spring

I’ve just started reading Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, which is one of those seminal books I can’t quite believe I haven’t read yet. I feel I’m going to enjoy it. My sleep cycle is too messed up to permit any sensible comment on it, but I was struck by this sentence (p28 of the Penguin Classics edition):

Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good?

Discuss.

April 27, 2009 at 9:12 pm 3 comments

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The Heritage Crafts Network

Rob Hopkins, Transition Handbook

“Environmentalists have often been guilty of presenting people with a mental image of the world’s least desirable holiday destination – some seedy bed and breakfast near Torquay, with nylon sheets, cold tea and soggy toast – and expecting them to get excited about the prospect of NOT going there. The logic and the psychology are all wrong.”

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

"Food is that rare moral arena in which the ethical choice is generally the one more likely to make you groan with pleasure."

Carlo Petrini

"A gastronome who is not also an environmentalist is an idiot. An environmentalist who is not also a gastronome is, well, sad."

Sharon Astyk

"I am, of course, firmly opposed to consumerism and corporatism in all its forms, and I believe that we are deeply confused about material needs and wants. Now let me explain how books and yarn are totally different than the material things that other people want ;-)…."

Raj Patel, at Slow Food Nation

"Biofuels, which is the preposterous policy that we should grow food not to eat it but to set it on fire."

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