Posts tagged ‘food’

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

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

Food in the news 9th – 13th March 09

Since this week’s veg box, once again, arrived just as I was finishing lunch, my own meal was a little short on vegetables. Still, spaghetti with chilli, garlic, chorizo and olive oil was perfectly adequate and I read a couple of interesting things on my break.

Firstly, there was this article about the Michelle Obama championing local food, soup kitchens and community gardens. Whether it translates into actual progress in these areas remains to be seen, but I did love this quote:

“It’s like: How do we keep the calories down but keep the flavors up?” said Mrs. Obama, who also praised a healthy broccoli soup prepared by White House chefs.

“That’s one of the things that we’re talking a lot about,” she said. “When you grow something yourself and it’s close and it’s local, oftentimes it tastes really good.

“And when you’re dealing with kids, for example, you want to get them to try that carrot. Well, if it tastes like a real carrot and it’s really sweet, they’re going to think that it’s a piece of candy. So my kids are more inclined to try different vegetables if they’re fresh and local and delicious.”

(My bold.)

Call me old-fashioned, but I love to hear people talking about food – normal, everyday food, that is, not just fancy-schmancy restaurant/telly chef food – and mentioning words like ‘taste’ and ‘sweet’ and ‘flavour’.

Unlike this story, which made me want to bang my head against a wall repeatedly. Taxing chocolate? Why just chocolate? Why not fizzy drinks, Chorleywood-process bread, crisps? I could go on… I don’t deny that, along with other incentives and public health measures, increasing tax on tobacco played a vital role in tackling smoking, nor that policies to change the fact that our cultural, economic and physical landscape does not encourage healthy eating, or indeed a healthy lifestyle, are desperately needed (and thus far woefully inadequate), but singling out one particular product seems rather… well, bizarre, is the best word I can come up with. And yet more punitive taxes for the general public which ignore the larger forces at work. Have our policy-makers no imagination? You can’t solve the obesity epidemic without hurting companies like Tate and Lyle (biggest receiver of farm subsidies in the UK), Nestlé, Coca Cola, Tesco et al. It just isn’t going to happen, because their business model relies on acquiring cheap raw materials, padding them with water, air, salt and nasty chemical additives and selling them at a huge mark-up, because we humans are hard-wired to crave sugar and fats and the fruit, bread, cheese etc on sale in supermarkets taste like paper. You choose: ready-prepared spaghetti bolognese that is so loaded with sugar and salt it, y’know, actually tastes of something and takes three minutes in the microwave, or simmering tough, tasteless mince for ages and chopping pale pink water-bomb tomatoes for the sauce, a meal that feels vaguely virtuous but doesn’t taste of much and having to wash up afterwards?

Dear god, someone help me write 300 words on why a MA in the Anthropology of Food will help me develop my career to persuade this nice trust fund to give me some money so I can STOP THIS MADNESS. (Or at least, y’know, help.)

March 13, 2009 at 1:31 pm Leave a comment

Jimmy’s GM Food Fight swallows my afternoon whole…

I’ve just spent an afternoon watching Jimmy’s GM Food Fight when I was supposed to be working. Oops.

And it drove me mad, but the funny thing was that I actually agree with his conclusion, broadly that in theory there is no reason why genetic modification cannot have a role in sustainable agriculture in the future, but that the model as it stands at the moment stands to benefit large-scale farmers and the biotech companies while putting the people who live around and eat the crops at risk and that we should therefore proceed with extreme caution. Which is all well and good, and thus makes me slightly annoyed that the previous 50 minutes should have been spent trotting out the same old pro-GM arguments you hear all over the place and portraying anti-GM campaigners’s rejection of biotechnology as anti-science or a product of ignorance. He seemed to be assuming they didn’t know how GM worked and were rejecting it because they didn’t understand it, rather than because of issues around corporate control and markets.

He said his main concerns about GM were the potential risks to human health and the environment. He did admit that some lab tests had shown that GM provoked allergic reactions in mice, but pointed to the fact that people in the US had been eating GM for 10 years and no adverse effects had been recorded, without mentioning that this could be because there is no labelling (despite overwhelming public demand for it) and so nobody can build up a picture of what people are eating and examine the data to see if there’s a link. There was also much emphasis on how good for the environment GM crops were because they needed less pesticide, which had also saved farmers in Arizona money, but then you could easily find other farmers (Mr Schmeiser springs to mind, or see the films The World According to Monsanto or The Future of Food) who’d tell you that resistance built up and meant they had to spray more, or that the companies who sold both seed and pesticide/herbicide put up their prices…

And the point was made that the debate is very polarised, with hard-line extremists on both sides, there is research claimed to support both sides (a lot of it of dubious origin) and there is no proper safety testing regime, but this got lost among what seemed like pro-GM propaganda: we’ve been modifying plants since the dawn of time, GM is just like selective breeding (and compare his rejection of the wild carrot in its natural state to his glee at seeing the brown GM tomatoes that were ‘more nutritious’ than conventional ones); GM will feed the world; GM could be better for the environment; the unspoken idea that it’s okay for white, middle-class, well-fed people in the developed world to reject GM but do we really want to see millions of poor Africans starve? And the idea that it’s a conflict of scientists versus protestors.

His closing statement was that whether you were for or against GM, ‘you’ve got to be for understanding’. Indeed.  Here are some things I am totally in favour of understanding:

Where are these crops that will be drought-resistant or fight cancer? Are they in development, as well as the ones that grab the headlines such as the Roundup-ready or Terminator genes?

How will GM prevent hunger in developing countries? What about all the research and scholarship that shows that famines are almost always about access and markets than due to an absolute shortage of food? Did the Zambian president reject the GM food aid because he didn’t understand the science, or did he reject the way Western agribusiness companies control world food markets? Can we implement changes to world trade policies that would give developing countries greater food security?

Why are all trials of GM crops done against conventional crops? Why can’t we have some publicly-funded research comparing GM crops with organic or agro-ecological agriculture or whatever you want to call it?

Are there other methods of achieving the same thing? Are there less water-intensive forms of agriculture that could take the place of crops bred to be drought-resistant? The tomatoes that were ‘more nutritious’ than conventional ones – are they more nutritious than the ones I grow or the ones at the farmers’ market, or only more nutritious than the tasteless water-bombs in the supermarkets? They have been modified to contain the nutrients and antioxidants found in blackberries and blackcurrants, which people don’t eat much of and which are ‘seasonal’ (unlike tomatoes, of course *rolls eyes*) – why do people eat more tomatoes than berries? Can we encourage them to eat more berries instead?

Yes, it is ‘madness’ to reject out of hand a technology that might prove useful in the future, but surely it’s also madness to adopt it in a hurry when there are other, albeit low-tech and less sexy, solutions like land reform, trade reform, nutritional education or tried-and-tested organic farming that could solve the same problems without the risks. Surely?

Now, is there going to be a series of ‘Jimmy’s GM Farm’ coming up anytime soon, that’s what I want to know…

For further information, please read Raj Patel’s Stuffed and Starved, because unlike me he is a proper writer and has a thorough reference section.

November 26, 2008 at 5:46 pm 5 comments

Hurtling towards winter with no curtains…

Scientist Boyfriend and I have just got back from a lovely week’s holiday in Derbyshire. For reasons best known to himself, my dad has an irrational dislike of Derbyshire and so despite many childhood holidays in various holiday cottages or caravans in various damp counties around the UK, there is a huge Peak District-shaped hole in my experience. I have not yet been able to fathom my father’s reasoning, but he has evidently not visited the farmer’s market in Bakewell. Which is superb. We made a detour to visit the farmer’s market in Belper en route to Hope in order to find the mushroom people and the beer-and-cheese people again. We then spent a wonderful week in a very nicely decorated cottage playing with the woodburner, watching food programmes (Valentine Warner, Jamie’s Ministry of Food and River Cottage: Autumn in one week) and cooking exciting new things like pigeon and beef shin in sub-standard cookware* and occasionally dragging ourselves over a hill to feel a bit more virtuous about it.

I also read Sharon Astyk‘s book Depletion and Abundance and have been happily quoting examples to anyone who will listen to me to prove that the Industrial Revolution was a big con and agrarian societies actually had much more leisure time than we do, and were probably fitter, happier and better fed to boot.

Yesterday I went to a talk by Fiona Reynolds (director of the National Trust) on the future of the countryside and farming, which was very interesting and very sound – I’d been slightly worried (I used to work for the NT, in their first farm shop at Wallington, actually, and am familiar with the… typical demographic profile of their members) that it would be about pretty cows and posh beef and cheese for rich people, but she took a very broad approach, looking at land with regard to food, energy and water in light of climate change and (though she only referenced it briefly in passing, and not by name) peak oil. I was v impressed.

As far as future-proofing my own house goes, I have decided that this year (when I have a job and little time but more money to spend on heating) I will actually make curtains to keep the cold out instead of improvising with blankets (which I never got round to doing last year, when I had intermittent, low-paid employment and thus both an incentive to save money on heating and copious time in which to make curtains). We’ll see how this goes. I’ve decided that we will not turn the heating on till it’s done, which is fine by me as I grew up in Northumberland with a father who went round the house turning the thermostat down and growling at us all to put a jumper on if we didn’t like it and I could probably quite happily go many more weeks with a woolly jumper, my new woolly socks, running up and down stairs a couple of times when I get cold and retiring to bed with a hot water bottle if all else failed (anything not to have to make curtains!!), but Scientist Boyfriend is a (half-Swedish) soft Southerner who grew up in a warm house and has been nagging me since before we went away to put the heating on and close the bedroom window at night.** (I have now relented on the second point.) I have made one curtain (out of four) and feel I might come to regret my rash pledge… You will probably find me in mid-December, ice on the inside of the windows, hands frozen to the sewing machine, repeated muttering of profanities not having encouraged it to stop creating big snarls of top-thread on the underside of the fabric when I try to secure a seem. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I suspect the Victorians would not have put up with it and can only conclude the shortcoming is my own, but repeated unpicking and fiddling with the tension has not helped.


* Actually, most of it was very good, particularly the small wok-ish pan, but the stew kept drying out because there wasn’t a dish with a suitably heavy lid. Due to various bad experiences in previous holiday cottages, we now take salt and pepper, a cafetiere and a knife sharpener with us when we go away, but both feel taking one’s own Le Creuset casserole dish on holiday is a bit excessive.

** My father used to say, ‘It’s good for the soul,’ about pretty much any inconvenience actually, but specifically living in a cold house (often with all the lights turned off if he had his way). I have adapted this to, ‘It’s good for the immune system,’ which probably has more scientific justification but will doubtless be just as irritating to my children.

October 22, 2008 at 6:04 pm 2 comments

Weather, soup and socks

I realise that, as my parents live near Morpeth and now need to replace all their downstairs carpets and floorboards, it seems rather petty to whine about the fact that my tomatoes and peppers aren’t ripening, but


And now here is a recipe for curried parsnip soup, adapted from Appetisers, Finger Food, Buffets and Parties by Bridget Jones (ed.):

Serves 4

2 tbsp butter

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 onion, chopped

1 tsp each ground cumin and coriander

4 parsnips, peeled and sliced

4 tsp garam masala

450 ml stock

450 ml milk

4 tbsp sour cream or yoghurt

squeeze lemon juice

salt and pepper

1. Melt butter, add garlic and onion and cook over medium heat for 4-5 mins. Add spices and cook for further 1-2 mins.

2. Add parsnip slices, sweat them briefly, add stock. Cover and simmer on low heat for appx 15 mins.

3. Remove pan from heat, leave to cool slightly then blend until smooth.

4. Return to pan and stir in milk, heat gently for appx 2-3 mins then add half sour cream (if using) and squeeze of lemon juice. Season to taste.

5. Serve with swirls of yoghurt or the remaining sour cream and chopped fresh herbs (chives, coriander…) and naan bread.

This recipe, from River Cottage, has been the most successful I’ve used yet but you might have your own. The recipe calls for 2 tsp curry paste, but I never have any so I just use garam masala instead. I also sometimes use more stock to cook it and then add a smaller amount of cream at the end instead of milk, or just use yoghurt as that’s what I most often have in the fridge.

In other news, I’ve finally finished the second sock and just need to sew up the toe! I will have warm feet this winter, if no home-made tomato sauce…

September 10, 2008 at 10:37 am 1 comment

Bottled sunshine

“It is all very well to talk about ‘the fruits of the earth in their season’, and very nice too; but it is nice to be able to eat tomatoes in April, or pork in August. Of course if you buy these things from a shop you can eat anything at any time of the year, but then you find you have to catch the eight-thirty every morning and go and sit all day in a stuffy ofice to be able to afford to do so.

If you do not want to catch the eight-thirty what you do is you grow these things for yourself and preserve them.”

(John Seymour, The Fat of the Land, ch 8)

“Jams, chutneys and pickles embrace the seasons, but they also, in an elegant and entirely positive manner, defy them. They do so by stretching the bounty of more abundant months into the sparser ones. We shouldn’t underestimate this achievement. Over the centuries, wizards and alchemists have used all the power and magic they can muster to try and catch rainbows, spin straw into gold, and even bring the dead back to lift. They’ve failed of course. Yet all the while, humble peasants and ordinary housewives have got on with the simple business of bottling sunshine, so that it may spread a little joy in the leaner seasons… They call it jam.”

(Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, introduction to River Cottage Handbook No. 2 – Preserves by Pam Corbin)

The weather is starting to feel distinctly autumnal. I even slept with a hot water bottle the night before last, admittedly mainly because I’d been curled up in bed hugging it for stomach cramps, but the sheets have that crisp chill about them when you first get into bed. Part of me is almost able to get excited about curried parsnip soup, but since the actual summer was moderately dreadful (I am slightly puzzled when at people going around saying, ‘This summer has been TERRIBLE/A TOTAL WASHOUT!’ (delete as applicable) – I find it hard to believe they can’t remember last summer, but I accept it hasn’t been superb) I wouldn’t mind an Indian one as well, just so I can wear that pretty pink dress again…

Scientist Boyfriend’s mum’s new house has a garden full of apple trees, rhubarb and brambles so we went over for Sunday lunch yesterday, on the pretence that we enjoyed their company, but really so we could plunder their garden for edible goodies. I wasn’t sure you were supposed to pick rhubarb this late, but I was under strict orders to the contrary and now have two huge bags of the stuff. I also have lots of green beans that I want to freeze. Right now, I’d be quite happy never to eat another French bean again. But I’m sure that in the middle of January I’ll get some out of the freezer and think, ‘Ooh, these are nice! Wouldn’t it be lovely to grow some beans again next year!’ and get the seed catalogues out and the whole process will begin again.

September 8, 2008 at 3:35 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."