…we thought a little more and drove a little less?
The Gulf oil spill is a disaster. Environmentally, economically – at least for BP – and socially, for those whose lives are affected. For those of us in the UK who can’t quite comprehend the scale of this disaster this map (from 1st June) is a good comparator (click on image for full size view).
Sarah Palin, Hockey Mum of Alaska, knows exactly where the blame lies. Firstly does she not trust BP, because it’s a foreign company (it’s obviously the fault of those devious Brits!). Now she’s blaming environmentalists. Oh, no, sorry – extreme environmentalists.
Perhaps she hasn’t noticed the non Deepwater disasters in countries that – although some way from the USA – provide 40% of it’s crude oil imports? And she seems to be ignoring the fact that those environmentalists concerned with the environment are not just worried about the land that’s dug up (although sometimes that land is worth worrying about). But will America change it’s oil consumption obsession? Will we, in the UK? The only way to drive this forward is by looking at the issue as a whole – looking at the environmental agenda as a whole – and the impact of, not just spills, accidents, disasters, but oil use on the economy and on society. We fight wars over it. It socially excludes people – not just the cost of petrol to drive to and from work, but the cost implications for food, for example. We need to look at our use of fuel (again, as a whole – the need to travel, local sustainability) not just the source of our fuel (which is essential to look at).
So I’ve already spouted my wisdom on New Year’s Resolutions: nothing too much, relative, bit by bit. I might even be keeping them already (if I can tell). I’ve certainly been working harder, today anyway. And going to the gym has caused me muscle pain, so that one’s working too.
So I thought I’d share something written by a food-blogging Twitter friend of mine (the same one I debated the killing, eating, skinning and general murder of animals with. Like me, he’s the resolution, not revolution kind of guy. And I’m a great believer in his theory about diets “Weight lost on rigid diets invariably returns like a boomerang. ‘Detox’ is bunk”.
“We should be wary of overhauling the way we eat just because we’ve started a new Dilbert calendar. Stripping fat from our food and leaving the sugar tongs unpinched won’t, in themselves, bring us happiness”.
Which is why, despite over-indulging on the stilton and mince pies (there’s still loads of Christmas chocolate, mince pies, panetone and cheese left in my flat if anyone would like to help out), I’m not dieting. Just eating a little more sensible. Sure I’ll cut down on the cheese and fat, maybe out half a sugar in me double espresso in the mornings, rather than a whole one. But I’m not a dogmatic-dieter.
A varied diet is key (OK so I’m vegetarian out of choice, but still have a wide range of culinary delights within that constraint). Not too much fat, not too much low-fat. Whatever makes me happy – holistically (the stuff going in my mouth, the impact it has on my body, my mind and my spirit).
As my food-blogging friend says:
“Tweaking a few manageable things in our food will likely help us more than puritan upheavals, with their threadbare misery, disappointed relapse and bitter stabs of regret”.
So restaurant critic AA Gill has admitted he shot a baboon on safari “to get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone”. For fun. He’s apparently been attacked on Twitter and by columnists for the insensitive way he expressed his desire to feel what it’s like to kill a person. The League Against Cruel Sports. “If he wants to know what it like to shoot a human, he should take aim at his own leg”.
A food blogging Twitter friend of mine rightly said that the Twitter mob out to get him was ‘absurd’: “Can’t believe AA is now [a] trending [topic on Twitter]. The twitmob is absurd sometimes. Yes, it was a cruel, stupid thing to do. Get over it”. But he then went on to link to a piece by AA Gill “arguing fur is a good thing”. You know, he may have a point (I admit, I didn’t read the article). But I Tweeted back – “You have no problem with fur?!” I said, “Maybe if you’re in the arctic – but there’s a difference between ‘fashion’ and ‘practicality'”, then got very riled by his response “Fur predates concept of fashion. Arguments against it based on same class hatreds as arguments against fox hunting.”. I replied that “fur is generally unneccessary, unlike leather (where good alternatives are rare and expensive) – i am fine with it’s use when necessary but not as a fashion extra. [The use of fur] predating [fashion] is a ridiculous argument as [there have] been many advances in fabric technology since”. My friend pointed out that he’d bought a rabbit fur hat in Russia (to which I replied “let the russians wear rabbit fur hats. it gets cold there. you don’t need a rabbit fur hat, or fur trim collar, in London”) which he wears for skiing. Now I have no problem with the use of fur where justified but i think that “if there’s a viable, affordable alternative that works well, fur is unnecessary & shouldn’t be used”.
The debate continued, moving into the realm of fox hunting – the argument being that arguments against fur were based on class hatred, just as for fox hunting – dislike of “arrogant horsey people” by “angry poor people”. The argument was put that recreational hunting is “not pretty, but it’s not evil either, and nor should it be banned” and that “The fox isn’t tortured: it’s ripped to pieces in seconds. And the chase is as natural as anything you could think of”. Now I have no problem with nature, animals chase and kill each other all the time. But they do so for a reason (usually food) – not generally for sport, followed by a bunch of men in red coats with horns. Another friend of mine joined in and pointed out that an official inquiry identified that “foxes were often not killed by bites to the neck but further down the abdomen”. Not only that, but the argument that – prior to the (to my mind, traumatic) kill – the fox is chased counts as torture. I argued that “fox hunting is clearly an unnecessary, cruel and barbaric blood sport”.
There was another, far more important story, in the papers today about animals. It’s not about going vegetarian to save the planet, it’s about the need to think about the implications of your diet on the environment. Climate change expert Nicholas Stern has said:
I think that once people understand the great risks that climate change poses, they will naturally want to choose products and services that cause little or no emissions of greenhouse gases, which means ‘low-carbon consumption’. This will apply across the board, including electricity, heating, transport and food. A diet that relies heavily on meat production results in higher emissions than a typical vegetarian diet. Different individuals will make different choices. However, the debate about climate change should not be dumbed down to a single slogan, such as ‘give up meat to save the planet’.
I’ve posted about this before but it’s worth saying again. Food production accounts for 15-20% of the UK’s carbon emissions, much caused by livestock. One study from 2007 suggested that the CO2-equivalent emissions of global warming gases from beef production could be as much as 50 times the weight of the meat itself. Chris Goodall has pointed out that “the reaction to Lord Stern’s statement has been unpleasantly vicious. People have seen his views as another illustration of how “climate change” will be used as an excuse for the elite to limit the choices of ordinary people. We are already being told to drive less, not to fly and to buy dim lightbulbs. Stern’s comments suggest a future campaign to reduce our hamburger consumption”.
But we certainly need to do something. Perhaps a large climate footprint can become as socially unacceptable as drink driving, as Stern has suggested. Do you really need to eat meat as often as you do? Think of the impact you’re having on the planet (let alone the impact on your own health) next time you’re grilling your sausage or buying a chicken sandwich.
I seriously believe that Jo Davis is an absolute twit. Have a look at this story: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/kent/8248718.stm.
“Parents at a Kent primary school are angry that a sheep hand-reared by pupils is to be slaughtered for meat.” the school council, made up of 14 seven to 11-year-olds, voted 13 to one in favour of slaughtering the animal, using the proceeds to buy more animals (pigs, from which sausages will eventually be made). What a brilliant lesson. “You know that McDonalds burger son, that was once a cow”, or “your Chicken McNugget once clucked” and “that meat with mint saice was once cute and fluffy and went baa”. It’s important to know what you’re eating, where it came from and what it was.
But not Jo Davis: “I feel this is the same as my daughter coming home from school to find her pet rabbit bubbling away on the stove in a stew. My daughter was told it was no different to buying lamb from the supermarket. I really don’t think this is the same thing.”
Erm, why not? Because you have to realise that it was once alive?
I’m not going to get into the question about why this is even in the news (I guess not a lot happens in Kent?), but I am going to repeat what I firmly believe. IF YOU CAN’T BEAR TO THINK WHERE YOUR MEAT COMES FROM, YOU SHOULDN’T BE EATING IT!
Yesterdays newspapers were full of it:
“Organic food is no healthier and provides no significant nutritional benefit compared with conventionally produced food”, it contains “no more nutritional value than factory-farmed meat or fruit and vegetables grown using chemical fertilisers” reported the Guardian & the Times.
How different to the headlines in 2007 reporting that the biggest study into organic food found it to be more nutritious than ordinary produce and may help to lengthen people’s lives.
Shortcomings of the new study
Before I move on to my main argument, about taking a broad view of the benefits of Organic, I think it’s worthwhile pointing out some of the shortcomings of the new study. The Executive summary of the study outlines it’s narrow scope: “This review does not address contaminant content (such as herbicide, pesticide and fungicide residues) of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs or the environmental impacts of organic and conventional agricultural practices.”
It’s not only limited in scope but also, although based on 50,000 studies, limited in it’s evidence base. Looking at the articles excluded from the study one could easily conclude that “only Western studies focused strictly on nutrient comparison were reviewed. That would seem to overlook many studies which might show organic food to be a much healthier option” – and how many of those were undertaken by the food industry themselves? It seems to me as though the evidence chosen, to fit the narrow scope of the study, and the headlines which emitted from the study’s findings presented a very blinkered view of “health” and benefits of organic food.
PPP have also noted that this desktop study, as is the usual way of doing things, was outsourced by the Food Standards Agency to a group within the University of London’s London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who work regularly and closely together. This group includes Dr Ricardo Uauy who has been a paid advisor to Unilever, Wyeth, Danone, DSM, Kellogg, Knowles and Bolton, Roche Vitamins Europe Ltd., and the International Copper Association.
Finally, looking at the shortcomings of the study, the hype and headlines forget that there are plenty of other studies that say very different things. The Guardian pointed out that Carlo Leifert, a professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University and the co-ordinator of a major EU-funded study which recently found nutrient levels were higher in organic foods, said the conclusions of the study were selective. He said: “I’m worried about the conclusions. The ballpark figures they have come up with are similar to ours. I don’t understand why the FSA are not going away and saying, ‘Right, there’s something you can do on a farm to improve food.’ But they are so blocked by not wanting to say positive things about organic farming.”
The broader view
I’m not a scientist, I haven’t undertaken any of these studies, but I am a consumer and I know what I prefer. So let’s take a look at the broader view of organic:
First, let’s look at what other people say: Leo Hickman in the Guardian points out people choose organic for many reasons: environmental stewardship (supporting the natural environment growing our food rather than obliterating it with chemical compounds to push it beyond its limits), the avoidance of pesticide residues, better animal welfare, taste. It’s a system of growing food which conserves soils, encourages biodiversity, eliminates greenhouse gas-intensive nitrogen inputs, conserves genetic diversity, and brings more income to the grower. There have been many studies about the biodiversity benefits of organic farms. And there are health benefits beyond the narrow view of the FSA study such as higher levels of omega-3 and beneficial fatty acids in milk, meat and eggs.
So the narrow, blinkered view of “health” benefits, or not, of the FSA study is misleading. There are far more things that affect human health and well-being, whether it’s in the food or not.
It could be the pesticide residues I don’t want to eat, or the higher levels of omega three and animal welfare in the eggs in my vegetarian diet.
It could also be the fact that I’d like to support natural ecosystems (plant and wildlife that have to co-exist with our farming of the land), see skylarks, butterflies and all those aspects of nature which organic farming helps retain and which add to my general feeling of wellbeing. It could also be that I don’t want to see the environmental destruction of soil compounds (caused by non-organic chemicals), for example, which lead to increased run-off of rainwater into rivers (rather than soaking into the soil) which has proven to exacerbate the speed and intensity of flooding.
I’m not an organic-dogmatic: if there’s a choice that’s not excessively higher in price, I’ll tend to buy it. Why? Because all those things above cross my mind, and, because – physically and metaphorically – organic food leaves a much better taste in my mouth.
I loved reading today the news stories about vegetarianism and research showing that vegetarians have a substantially lower risk of cancer than meat eaters. Vegetarians are 45% less likely to develop cancer of the blood than meat eaters and are 12% less likely to develop cancer overall.
As the Guardian reports:
The Oxford research is the latest in a series of reports to discourage too much meat in the diet. Last year, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – which last year earned a share of the Nobel peace prize – urged giving up meat at least once a week as a way of combating global warming. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has estimated that meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Two years ago, the World Cancer Research Fund found a link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer and recommended that the average amount of meat eaten should be no more than 300g a week. In Britain, the current meat intake is about 970g a week for men and about 550g a week for women.
I have been vegetarian for about ten years now. I became vegetarian for a number of reason, some health, some poverty, some to simply get my own way. But I must say I am glad that I am. My main reason for being vegetarian now is simply that I have no desire to eat meat. If it started causing me health problems then I could eat fish, but really would still have no desire to eat meat. And the fact that I’m helping the planet is a bonus! Apart from cheese and eggs, my diet is very low in animal fats, and I feel far healthier as a result. I’ve recently taken to using Rice Milk on my breakfasts (not for moral reasons, but simply because the human body isn’t designed to digest copious amounts of milk) and feel a lot healthier for it.
It’s easy to be vegetarian – although eating out options are more limited. Some parts of the UK still think that vegetarians will only eat pasta, and other parts of Europe think we eat chicken. I got some strange looks when holidaying in Colombia and trying to explain that I was veggie. I’m not a militant vegetarian – I firmly believe that if you could kill the animal yourself you have every right to eat it – but I hope the latest in a series of reports will show people that, while it’s obviously not the answer to illness or climate change – vegetarianism (whole, partial, or simply by eating less meat) is a step in the right direction.