Salad days

23 May 2010

As I type, with some difficulty, I’m swinging back and forth on a hammock on the balcony of my new flat. I guess the annoying thing is the fact that the sunlight streams in at about 3.30-5.30pm. It’s amazing. I love it. Sadly, it’s also while I’m sat in an office with a north facing window. I’d love to be out in the sun. Maybe it can be arranged.

The last few days of brilliant warmth and sunshine have been amazing. I don’t understand how anyone could fail to be affected by the miserable weather that permeates our British lives so often. As soon as the sun comes out I change as a person.

With a balcony that catches the sunlight not only have I planted a small herb garden, there’s also salad on my balcony. Although I’ve realised that growing salad from scratch isn’t always so easy. As lovely as freshly cut salad is it doesn’t have the same tenderness as the prepared babyleaf salads. Still, I’m sure I’ll learn how to grow leaves and love the fact – in time – that what I am eating had been growing seconds before. Albeit on my balcony. Albeit next to a main road. Albeit I have really very little idea what I am doing.


Resolutions on food

4 January 2010

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”.


Meat, Fur and Blood

27 October 2009

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.


M-eat and Greet

11 September 2009

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!


Take off the blinkers and see the broader view of Organic food

31 July 2009

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.


My Vegetarianism

1 July 2009

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.


Food: London Tapas

16 August 2008

We finally got around to checking out a Tapas Bar just a short walk from our flat last night, and were very impressed. In some ways I don’t want to post about it as it would be great to say “i know this little tucked away place”. From the outside El Parador doesn’t look like anything very special. Time Out said that it doesn’t look like the kind of restaurant you’d travel across town for, until you try the food, and I agree. Located round the back of Mornington Crescent station, it’s small restaurant interior hides a much bigger outdoor patio. Seeing as it’s “summer” (erm) we ate inside. It’s a good quality family run tapas restaurant – although they wouldn’t book tables for two booking’s not a bad idea for bigger groups.

A wide selection of vegetarian tapas gave me a lot of choice (plenty of meat and fish too). Especially notable was the resfreshing Arroz con Guisantes y Puerros (Risotto style rice with peas, mint, leek, butter and manchengo peas) and Alcachfas al Argelino (Chargrilled artichoke hearts with broad beans, caramelised red onions, garlic & Harissa oil – for a bit of spice). Being used to Spanish prices when I eat Tapas this seemed a little pricey – but not compared to any other decent restaurant in London – the portions were sufficient for four tapas between two people. In fact, eating Spanish Tapas on a cold August Friday evening gave me a feeling of a bit of summer – Cost del Camden!


holiday food: blog 1

29 July 2008

So a step into food blogging. Other than a blow by blow account of a wonderful holiday by train between Paris and Italy how else could I blog a trip like this?

With first stop Paris, and an inability to get seated in our restaurant of choice we ended up at a meat-dominated grill. I say meat, but to a vegetarian this meat was almost walking off my partner’s plate. Or just swimming in blood. They did, however, cook a fabulous Omlette for me. The following day however, we managed to make a reservation at a restaurant recommended to me by a masseur – (!). Le Petit Prince de Paris, pretty hidden away in the Latin quarter with very rich food and flirtatious Garçons, I was very impressed. They made a vegetarian plate for me and the Pistachio Crème brûlée, lit at the table, was probably the most memorable part of any holiday meal…

One of the days in Rome a transport strike meant getting between our accommodation and the city was difficult. We were unsure where to go and ended up at what we think may be a chain restaurant. However unlike the feeling you get when going to Little Chef or Nandos and similar, you realise that Italian chain restaurants cook fresh pasta and use fresh ingredients. And there I tried Trofie for the first time. A short and relatively dense gnocchi type pasta (cooked with saffron and courgette/zucchini) I was so impressed I simply needed to buy a box before returning.

[More food related blogs to come]


Biggotry tastes better when smothered in mayonaise

25 June 2008

In update to yesterday’s post on the Heinz advertising complaints I am becoming more convinced that I should be angered by the decision to pull it off air.

And I am, and have signed this petition. I was number 1,737 to sign. I guess that beats the 200 or so original complaints.

Two comment pieces sum up nicely:

Pushing the boundary:

What makes this all even more bizarre is that if you watch the advert, it’s pretty clear that this advert is no more about an actual same-sex relationship than the Bounty kitchen paper ads are about accurately portraying a pair of cohabiting pre-op transsexuals.

If you’re looking for things to get upset by in this ad, how about the casually sexist stereotyping inherent in wheeling out the cliché of ‘mum’ preparing meals for kids, nagging them and so forth, and ‘dad’ going out to work? Or the fact that a product banned from kids’ TV due to its unhealthiness is prominently advertised being given to kids for lunch.

And a Zoe Williams:

Why don’t lefties complain more? First, we assume watchdog bodies such as the ASA will be on the side of a very old-fashioned respectability, despite all evidence that mainstream culture is more evolved than that. Second, we are lazy bleeders. When an ad featuring men kissing is one of the most complained about, that matters: not as a reflection on the nation’s scattered homophobes breathing their last gasp, but as a sign that the rest of us don’t complain anything like enough.

How can removal be justified on such narrow grounds for complaint? Is the ‘peck’ any different to the husban kissing a large jamacan woman on an advert for jerk seasoning? Would that result in a racist response? Would parents have to explain mixed-race marriages to their kids? The decision of Heinz proves them to believe homophbia is one of the last remaining areas where discrimination is acceptable.

So sign up to the petition now!

Oh and PS, it may be more expensive but Sainsbury’s organic mayo tastes far better and is made from organic free range eggs, unlike heinz.


Madhur Jaffrey update etc

22 June 2008

Madhur Jaffrey update, Florence and Sparkle Motion (random blatherings)

After finding Madhur Jaffrey, tonight was the first opporunity to try cooking her food from scratch, and I must admit to being very impressed…

Three dishes: Neela’s Aubergine and Potato, recepie available here, with an earthy flavour – you can taste what aubergine actually tastes like, Mattar Paneer (recepie here) creamy, sweet and spicy indian cheese with peas, and Mushrooms with onion, garlic and ginger – fabulously tomatoey, savoury and citrussy flavours…

It was a fair amount of work but an absolute triumph for both of us, so I had to update!

Still looking for somewhere to stay in Florence in the meanwhile, have found a few options with Tripadvisor but haven’t had the time to search prices etc yet – the website has a great map function, displaying the top hotels on a map which you can zoom, move and re-load to give the top 25 hotels in whatever area you choose.

I’m busy watching Donnie Darko to entertain myself this evening before another hectic week at work…

Sparkle Motion!


I’m saving the world

19 June 2008

John Harris has written an interesting comment piece for the Guardian about being vegetarian. He raises interesting points:

The decisive arrival of the current food crisis must be making them feel even more righteous. As daily news reports now remind us, there are three key factors behind the rocketing price of the most basic foodstuffs: the rising cost of oil, swathes of agricultural land being given over to biofuels, and the fact that the increasing affluence of China and India is spearheading an explosion in the demand for meat and the feed needed to produce it.

Now, thankfully, there comes this new vegetarian(ish) agenda, and the chance to make the case against meat-eating on more level-headed grounds: that even if meat will remain part of most people’s diet, they are going to have to eat less of it; and that right now, this is actually more about human lives than those of animals.

It’s been known for a while that using scarce resources to breed meat for consumption has a bigger ecological footprint than simply growing crops themselves. According to the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, livestock contribute more to global warming than transport, producing 18% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Toronto Vegetarian Association published a very interesting article too with a lot more detail. As a vegetarian it’s good to think that my diet is less likely to contribute to climate change then prolific meat eating, but the issues are wider.

As poorer nations become richer and diets ever mote meat-focussed it’s important for the richer nations to lead the way in thinking about what impact what we eat has on our environment, as well as ourselves. I’m not going to be a millitant vegetarian and talk of the evils of eating any meat at all, but in doing our bit for the environment we shouldn’t forget about what’s going in our mouths as well as thinking about whether we should drive to the supermarket or fly Ryanair from Glasgow to London. It’s about thinking and reducing meat intake, it’s about local food, organic food. Most importantly it’s not just good for the environment, but it’s good for our short term and long term health.


Finding Madhur Jaffrey

15 June 2008

A great find today from the book stall in Camden Market – The Madhur Jaffrey Cookbook (published 1992) for £6.95 (it was £17 to buy in 1992!) – two-thirds of the book is Eastern Vegetarian Cooking, perfect for me. I’ve always wanted proper Madhur Jaffrey book and you cannot get more proper Madhur Jaffrey than this!

The Madhur Jaffrey Cookbook

The trouble now is actually using it, unless I’m planning what to cook in the morning so I can call in and buy the ingredients on the way home it may sit there relatively unused. I hope not. It’s pictured here outside of the nice organic deli (‘My Village’) on Chalk Farm Road where we ate spinach tortilla and drank coffee in the sun.

Meanwhile I am still wondering about Italy, we may look at hiring a car for the coastal days so we can travel about a bit (thanks nathaliewithanh for the suggestion, would be great to make it up there).


Underrated

10 June 2008

One of the most underrated vegetarian lunch dishes is Spanish Tortilla – so glad i learned to make my own… YUM


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