Archive for April, 2009

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.

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?


April 27, 2009 at 9:12 pm 3 comments

Slightly red-faced (and sore-backed)

Aw crap, I really shouldn’t have left the allotment to its own devices for THE WHOLE OF APRIL. Dear God, it’s worse than it was when I got it now.

Lots of digging and dandelion tea for me!

April 25, 2009 at 8:15 pm Leave a comment

Long weekend

The long Easter weekend got off to an unpromising start – when I finished work on Thursday evening, there was nothing in the house to mix with gin except flat Lilt from our cocktail party a month ago.

It got better. On Friday, I woke up with a huge surge of enthusiasm for doing all the things I normally don’t have the time or energy to do and spent the day finishing the i-cord on my cardigan and sewing the jacket I’ve been working on for a year.



Then on Saturday I woke up and felt absolutely exhausted, thanks to a busy previous couple of weeks, and spent most of the day lounging around not doing very much. Well, I made some bread and went shopping, but that was about it.

On Sunday, we went to see Scientist Fiancé’s family and ate too much roast dinner and played silly games. And Monday was gorgeous and I spent most of the day in the garden. I had breakfast outside and then did some ms6001735uch overdue weeding, as a result of which you can now see the gravel. I also rescued the peas, which have been in need of potting on some days now, and planted squash and more peas and lots of basil. And probably some other things. Also, my coriander is still looking reasonably healthy, which is good news as I have a terrible track record with coriander.

And here are some pretty Easter flowers:


I hope you all had lovely weekends.

April 15, 2009 at 10:09 am 2 comments


Ack, sorry folks. I had a lovely post all planned. I even started writing it. It was a lovely story about my relaxing yet productive long Easter weekend, full of photos of my finished cardigan, a jacket I’ve half-made, my gardening efforts and the pretty Easter flowers that adorn my dining room table.

And then, at 9.30 this morning, work rang and I was called in to go to an event IMMEDIATELY and I then spent 4 1/2 hours in an HR meeting watching some vile sleazebag of a senior manager* try and weasel his way out of being held accountable for repeatedly groping his junior female colleagues while he was drunk and I am now filled with feminist/socialist/human ire and no amount of pink tulips or alpaca cardigans shall calm me. Indeed, half a bottle of rosé has not had the desired effect. I am simply furiouser. So I shall leave you with this eloquent comment on the state of the world:


Tomorrow there will be pictures of happy things. I promise.


* Not at my firm, I was minute-taking for one of our clients!!

April 14, 2009 at 7:32 pm 1 comment

This week I would like to rant about… fish!

The i-cord is probably going to take longer than I initially thought, because it is boring as hell and there’s 48 inches of it in total. Yawn. RSI. Yawn.

So to distract me from that, I am going to rant about fish. I really should turn this into some kind of weekly ‘food in the news’ feature – that would make me feel like a proper, grown-up blogger. But I keep getting distracted.

Anyway, pollack is being rebranded. As Colin. ‘Colin’ is to be pronounced ‘co-lan’ (nasal vowel rather than proper ‘n’ – even I think blogging in IPA is geeky). To their credit, Sainsbury’s want to sell more of the stuff, because it is virtually indistinguishable from cod and, although this is not difficult, more plentiful, and they want to do it now because we eat more fish over Easter. I suppose that makes sense. Even people who don’t eat much fish the rest of the year often have it on Good Friday. I have nauseous memories of the yearly fish pie my mother would make for the benefit of my very traditional grandparents, even though as a family we hardly ever ate fish at any other time of year.

For an island nation, Britain doesn’t eat a lot of fish, for which Henry VIII bears a great deal of the responsibility. After the break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries, eating fish became seen as a rather Catholic practice and good Protestants were supposed to eat lots of red meat. This is, given that being an island tends to lead to having a lot of coastline, somewhat silly. Personally, I have tried (especially since moving in with my Viking) to overcome culture with logic, but my taste buds are surprisingly resilient.

But perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies – it may be as well we don’t eat as much cod as we could.

However, I would suggest that the reason why pollack is ‘unpopular’ and we buy cod instead is less because we think that the name is silly* and more because, well, it just isn’t available very often. And you have leading sellers of processed fish products boasting about their products being ‘100% cod’ as if it’s something to be proud of, and you always get cod in restaurants. Cod, like much post-war food, is paradoxically both the default choice and the aspirational choice.

Hence, I suppose, the name change. And, yes, removing the rather ordinary, slightly comical English name in favour of a fancy French one does attempt to give it connotations of affluence and French cuisine, but it isn’t exactly the most straightforward name. I suppose they couldn’t just make something up out of thin air, but deliberately choosing something that is spelt like a common English name but is pronounced differently and uses a sound we don’t even have in English isn’t the easiest thing in the world either, which makes me think there’s something else going on here.

Firstly, it reinforces the idea of sustainable food choices as being associated with well-educated, middle-class ‘foodies’. Following T*sco’s pseudo-populist response to the first Chicken Out programmes, I’m half expecting one of the more budget supermarkets to start marketing ‘Just Plain Cod’, the normal, everyday, wildly unsustainable food for people who can’t be doing with this fancy-schmancy French malarkey and would just pronounce /kɔlɛ̃/ like the name ‘Colin’.

It also allows the food industry to shift the blame onto us. We don’t buy pollack because we aren’t mature enough to eat something with a silly name. It has nothing to do with the fishing industry, the processors, EU subsidies, the supermarkets that offer an illusion of choice which is really just uniformity in different-coloured packaging: in short, the cod-industrial complex. It perpetuates this myth that the global food system is responding to our choices and our preferences, and allows them to say, ‘Ooh, look at this magnanimous gesture we’re making to help you, poor ignorant consumer, to choose your fish more responibly!’ when in truth we didn’t choose to be ignorant about food and didn’t choose to have such restricted food access and so little real choice. We had it forced upon us.

Right. I have another 36 inches of i-cord to knit. Photos to follow when it’s done.


* I mean, really, when you buy fish in a supermarket, how often do you actually say the name out loud to another person anyway? Usually you just pick it up off the shelf and put it in the trolley, requiring no silly names to pass your lips.

April 7, 2009 at 8:41 pm 2 comments

So much to knit, so little time

Having all but finished the Perpetual Pink Cardigan (just the i-cord tie to go, will do that this evening), I am looking for a new knitting project. Coincidentally, I am also going to a friend’s wedding in the summer and need something to wear over my dress. Methinks I shall knit something.

However, I can’t think what would be best. I want something reasonably quick and am reluctant to do another cardigan, but I generally find bolero/shrug-type things look terrible on me and I was hoping to have something a bit more substantial than a wrap or shawl – the wedding is on the west coast of Scotland, you see, so not only might it be quite chilly, but I also don’t want to be constantly hoiking up whatever-it-is during the ceilidh. Something that will stay put would be ideal!

Picture of dress is below. If anybody has any inspiration, I would be extremely grateful!


April 7, 2009 at 3:45 pm 2 comments

Most recent ramblings

April 2009
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."