Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

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Sunday 5 October 2014

Soap Love

I’m sure you know by now that I tend to avoid cosmetics that have preservatives, artificial fragrances and harsh, petroleum-derived chemicals in them.  I have found alternatives for almost everything, from handwash to dishwasher soap, from washing powder to toothpaste.  On the whole, we haven’t had to make any concessions on quality of the products we use (if anything, the products are often better) but I always keep my eyes open for new and interesting cosmetics or household cleaners for a little change.

When in Hexham last Saturday, I stopped at the stall of Durham-based TOC Aromatherapy.  While their website isn’t great at giving information on their eco-credentials, the man at their stall was only too happy to stop and discuss what’s in the products.  Having tried their soaps, I can tell you that they are lovely.  They only use organic essential oils and natural ingredients, as well as being local (always a bonus).  Sometimes natural soaps can be a bit lacklustre and lacking in smell, but not so with these – they leave your hands (or whatever else you’ve washed with them) smelling amazing for hours afterwards.  I bought four different varieties: Bed of Roses (a sweet but not sickly rose scent); Swinging 60s (patchouli and sandalwood amongst others – delightful); Carnation (one of my favourite smells) and English Garden (full of scents like lavender, rose, jasmine).  I have a feeling that these and other delights from their range will be making their way into Christmas stockings and gift parcels this year :)

Friday 20 July 2007

Ethical shopper

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhilst I’ve been taking my time thinking about what I’d write for this next post, lots of things have gone through my mind about ethical shopping. It can be really easy, if you’re willing to go without strawberries in December and having only English produce where possible. But the government, and in particular, Defra (Department For Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) doesn’t make living – and shopping – locally easy at all. It panders to the wants that everyone has, for a wide choice of cheap, un-local food, rather than stemming the flow of, and independence on cheap imports. But then again, I’ve harped on about that enough! It seems that as consumers we have to wise-up to the way shops are run and if we want to make a change we have to be proactive rather than passive.

The aim of this post is to help those who want to not only shop more economically, but shop ethically as well – and for those who say it can’t be done, I am living proof! Firstly, lets start with supermarkets. Those Meccas of consumerism that we all end up visiting, however much we may try not to…

Supermarkets work on the supply and demand principle, and as green issues have been in just about every single media possible over the last couple of years, it’s a logical step for the supermarkets to want to follow suit and appear, on the outside, to be doing good things. But I am skeptical, where there is money to be made, and gullible folks who’ll fall for it, the supermarkets will always win. Recently Tesco, announcing its brand of “Local Choice” milk landed itself in hot water (or should that be hot milk?!) because it was sourcing its “Heart of England” milk (what most of us would call “The Midlands”) from Lincolnshire and Derbyshire and selling it over 150 miles away in Hereford. Now, knowing a bit about Hereford I can say with confidence that there are plenty of dairies around there (a quick search yielded this), and that it has a long-standing history of farming. This is just one of the many reasons why major supermarkets are out.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketFor the last 3 or 4 months we’ve split our shopping up: we shop for meat and local milk at our local farmshop, do the majority of our shopping at our local Co-Op and get as much vegetables as possible straight from the farm-stall on market day. This works out really well for us, and we won’t be going back to a normal supermarket ever! We chose the co-op because it has a really ethical and ecologically-sensitive outlook. It does everything possible to ensure farming and food production stays in the UK. It was founded by its members in Rochdale, Lancashire in 1844 and has been run by them ever since. It farms over 70,000 acres and is the UK’s largest farmer, and best of all – they do it responsibly. They’ve banned the use of certain pesticides and chemicals, and use others very carefully, preferring to use crop-rotation and disease-resistant varieties. Have a look at their farming website!. Over half of all the own-brand flour it sells comes from their own farms. The labelling on their own-brand products is exemplary, if it sells mayo with eggs from caged (battery) hens, it’ll let you know.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIt’s things like that, which make me believe they are the way to go. And their strawberries? Delicious! There are obviously failings, they do still sell mayo with eggs from caged hens, and they do still sell battery-produced raw chickens, but they are the only supermarket (other than Waitrose) who seriously sell things like free-range cooked chicken breast, free range ham and 100% cruelty-free own-brand products (all of their own-brand block chocolate is fairtrade, and the nicest I’ve tasted!). The products are slightly more expensive, and the range is less than a large supermarket, however we aren’t needy shoppers, and if it’s not stocked in that shop, we’ll find it elsewhere. Simple.

There is also another co-operative chain, available in a few cities, called Out of This World. They are a complete eco-supermarket, and although expensive, they stock things that not even our best healthfood shops stock. Like heavenly Faith In Nature shampoo (we’ve been using the Hemp & Meadowfoam for a few months now, and my hair = stunning!), Kingfisher natural toothpaste, as well as household items like soap-nuts and olive oil. I love this shop for the fantastic range of ecological products which you just don’t get anywhere other than specialist outlets, and usually for a huge price.

Within supermarkets themselves look out for things like Marine Stewardship Council (or MSC) approved fish, this ensures that the fish have been caught in an environmentally friendly fashion, without overfishing and free-range or organically produced meat. Remember the motto that only lamb and fish are meat products which are kept free-range and therefore don’t have to be stamped as such – but beef, pork and chicken is kept in appalling conditions, so if it’s not free-range or organic, you will be buying intensively-farmed, poorly-treated animals. Avoid vegetables that are shipped in from far away – and eat seasonally. Like I said, we buy our veg from the nice man at the market, whose farm is less than 10 miles away. Fresh veg, picked the day I buy it, only slightly less-fresh than if it’d come out of my own garden.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOkay, we’ve got the main bit of shopping out of the way – where next? Farmshops and farmers markets are the way to go if you want to find local, free-range and often organic meat as well as gorgeous fresh, seasonal vegetables. I can attest to our own farmer who sells his produce at the local town on market day, it is cheaper! Farmers who open shops are far more likely to treat their animals with respect, to farm in a sympathetic way and be more open with the public about their farming practises. With many, the farm shops are actually on the farms, and this gives you the chance to see the pigs/sheep/cows firsthand. It’s great to tell kids where their dinner comes from, and contrary to many parent’s opinions, it will not mentally upset your child to be shown that their tasty burger was once mooing.

Ok, that’s meat, vegetables and general shopping… Now comes stuff “other”. The key to buying responsibly is to think about it. Think about the production, how it was produced, where it came from an possible ill-effects from this. For instance I heartily approve of using real wool, cotton and bamboo/soya fibres in clothing rather than nasty petroleum-derived plastics, but make sure that if it’s cotton it’s organic, and not produced in a sweat-shop, and that the wool comes from a local source. Once you get these kind of details worked out, you can go about finding a local source for whatever you need. Try redefining need, do you really need an item? I’m perplexed by those whose motto seems to be “to keep up with the Jones'”, I am an unashamedly un-competitive when it comes to car type, latest clothing or the newest gadget, and where possible we source things second-hand first, rather than buying new, and we go for a green alternative wherever possible! It’s not that difficult, but it does take time and effort, but I think the benefits far outweigh the cons. We don’t have much money, and never really have – but this doesn’t stop us from buying food responsibly, it does mean we don’t eat meat every single day – something that has not only monetary, but health benefits too. Some general tips:

  • Shop locally for everything possible. Try a local source first, and use the web, it is on of the best eco-tools I know!
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle. Be responsible with waste, recduce it where possible and re-use and recycle the rest. Especially when it comes to childrens clothing and toys – give them away to charity or hold a car-boot sale.
  • Avoid man-made synthetics in everything, and do not ever use a teflon pan again. Ever. If you haven’t heard of the damage they can do, find out about it now!
  • What you pay in the supermarket for one ready-to-roast battery chicken is not a ‘reasonable’ price. Usually around the £3 mark is what you’d pay, a mere 3 pence of that goes to the producer, which is why he has to house thousands of these birds in cramped, awful conditions before he makes a living. By adding around £1.50 /kg to that price you can eat one which has had a life, the chance to run around and live a decent life before it ended up on your plate. Not only do they taste better, but don’t you think an animal deserves this?
  • Redefine need – do you need that item?
  • Home-electronics (computers, televisions, mobile phones etc) are bad. Plain and simple. To make the computer you’re sat reading this by, 240kg of fossil fuels have been used, it has involved 20kg of toxic chemicals and the weight of a large car in materials¹. India is currently being crippled by the vast amount of e-waste which is put into landfill, having first been stripped of its useful elements (some toxic) for recycling (UK statistics here).
  • Don’t use another plastic bag! Make or buy reusable fabric ones, you can make fabric ones with old clothes, or buy fairtrade cotton ones from the Co-op, only 99p!
  • When it comes to cleaning products, think about what you use. Normal washing-up liquid has a plethora of really nasty chemicals, formaldehyde being just one. Would you honestly want that on your skin – twice, maybe three times a day?
  • Think about what you buy and try to find alternatives.

¹ Source:  The Human Footprint, Channel4
I hope this has helped – any questions or thoughts, feel free to comment and I’ll add them to the bottom of this list!

Friday 1 June 2007

Supply and Demand: Ethical Shopping and How To Go About It.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIt’s one of the most popular pasttimes – everyone does it, usually once a week, and it costs big bucks. It saps a good chunk of our wages each month, and we really need them to survive – or do we? I am of course, talking about supermarkets and our complete reliance on them as a nation to be our food providers. From the early days of relying on either our own abilities to grow food ourselves and cook it (late 1800’s), to buying from small, local co-operatives (pre-war) we now need supermarkets more than ever. One supermarket in the UK boasts a store in every single postcode barring one (now being developed) and in every £8 we spend in the UK, £1 is being spent in their shops, and as a consequence they now make billions not millions in profits. Though nowadays they are not looked upon as modern-day wonders, people are starting to see their true colours – as the nastier underbelly of consumerism, which as a nation we’d rather not look at. But why, despite this knowledge, do the public still flock to them in their thousands, daily, for their fix of factory-farmed chicken and sweat-shop-produced clothing? There is one very simple reason: the cost. Why pay £10 for a t-shirt which is organic, when you can buy one for £2? Same colour, same look but one is a fifth of the price. And in this sad world, money really is everything. We now buy more than we ever did, yet the money we pay year-on-year for that shopping is actually decreasing.

When I started becoming interested in green issues, it was more about hidden chemicals in products than the wider shopping-sphere at large. I shopped at supermarkets and enjoyed the consumer-driven life as before, I just bought ecologically-friendly items from healthfood shops rather than buying the supermarket equivalent. Interest spurred me on to find out more than just the basics of chemicals in cosmetics – what about chemicals in our food? My finds were again shocking, but not surprising in the slightest, and short of eating completely organically, what on earth could I do? I began making lists of vegetables which weren’t heavily-sprayed with chemicals, I ate seasonally, and was a staunch vegetarian. It was when I started looking at the whole process holistically – from the farm the food was grown at, to the supermarkets and eventually the end-user – that I saw inherent flaws in every step. Farmers weren’t being paid enough to take care of their land and livestock properly, the supermarkets were squeezing every last drop of profitability possible (with as many underhanded methods as possible…) and the consumers were making this happen by supplying the most important thing: demand. There would be no supermarkets at all if there was no demand for them. Supermarkets would close virtually overnight if no-one went to their shops for a week. But the likelihood of that happening are almost non-existant.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketMy friend who made the comment which triggered my Sanity Mechanisms post said that supermarkets by their nature would never be “green” or “compassionate”, as big businesses (or at least businesses who were to succeed) weren’t made big by being kind. It would be foolhardy to think that this wasn’t true – business is ruthless and if you have a compassionate chink in your armour a competitor will exploit this. There is always a bad-guy somewhere. But as in the sanity mechanisms post before, it is the consumers’ ultimate choice as to whether we continue down this route of “cheap is best” or whether we are willing to pay more to get an ethical product.

So with my eyes opened even further, I started looking at supermarkets themselves. If they wouldn’t change their ethical stance, then I’d change mine – and therefore start making the changes that will be necessary for everyone to make if they really do want to make a difference. If you have or want to shop in a supermarket, your choices that you make whilst shopping control the demand aspect. If no one is buying battery-farmed chickens, the supermarkets will stop selling them. Try small things at first, always always always use your own bags-for-life (strong re-usable bags made of anything – jute, hemp, plastic or cotton) and reduce waste created. If you know you’re not going to eat 4 heads of lettuce – for heavens’ sake, STOP BUYING it!

When it comes to buying food (in supermarkets) we have a few basic guidelines that are adhered-to at all times. They are as follows:

  • We don’t buy fruit or vegetables that can be grown in the UK but aren’t – for instance, potatoes from Israel. There is no need for this.
  • We do not ever buy fruit or veg from a foreign country – it’s UK or nothing. No Spanish strawberries in December or Peruvian asparagus in February. This also means an end to bananas and tropical fruits. The two exceptions to this rule are lemons and oranges. They both come from countries which are within the EU (typically Spain, Italy and France), are more than likely to be shipped in by sea rather than plane and pesticide use is small.
  • Source fair-trade and organic food where possible, but buying locally produced food should always trump this – trade is fairer than with a third-world country who are open to exploitation, less food miles (most of our seasonal veg came from 7 miles away!) and less pollution.
  • Learn about the supermarkets’ individual ethical policies and shop accordingly – see below.
  • Avoid anything GM – not because it’ll give you three heads, but because it has been shown to enhance resistance of bacteria to antibiotics, amongst many other things. It is really bad to mess with nature, this is no exception.
  • We don’t buy any pre-prepared food. I cannot remember the last time we had a ready-meal (we don’t have a microwave!), it must’ve been at least 5 years ago.
  • Eat seasonally – in Winter root vegetables, parsnips, carrots, cabbages, potatoes, onions and swedes are the way to go – in Summer let loose, eat yourself silly on strawberries (English of course), lettuces, tomatoes and peas. This is how our bodies were designed to work!
  • Be aware of which animals are naturally free-ranging and which is always intensively reared. Lamb is always free-ranging because it needs to build muscle and eat grass, pork on the other hand is kept in appalling conditions in darkened sheds, living in their own faeces and sometimes attacking each other out of boredom.
  • Stay away from American rice and corn, if it’s not GM (most American corn is GM) it will definitely have been shipped a minimum of 4000 miles. There was afood scare about American GM rice a year ago, the EU has banned its use in many things now.
  • Avoid buying from countries whose political regime is cause for concern – such countries for us include China, Viet Nam, Israel and the US.

I will proceed the list by saying that although we shop in a supermarket, we only do so for a small number of items which are either ethically produced or local (dog food, 100% recycled toilet rolls, tinned tomatoes etc). For the last two years we’ve bought almost all of our meat and milk from our local farm-shop, which we’ve found to be not only cheaper than supermarkets in some cases, but the stuff they sell is of amazing quality. I’ve seen the cows and pigs myself. I know I also harp on about growing your own vegetables, but even making a dent in your supermarket shopping bill has to be a good thing. It is so easy to bung a few potatoes in a pot and cover with soil, even the newest gardeners can’t fail to have a crop of yummy potatoes within a couple of months. Add some tomato plants, some courgettes, salad leaves, peas and beans – the easiest vegetables to grow – and you’ve got a variety of homegrown, organic vegetables to feed your family. It isn’t hard, but it takes a willingness to do it.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
When it comes to the ethics of individual supermarkets, a quick search online will yield results. Apart from recent scandals which usually make the headlines, dig a bit deeper and you can find some rather interesting stuff. One such Interesting Thing is the link between Lord Sainsbury (yes, of the same supermarket chain) and his interests in GM research. Although his supermarket chain refuse to sell anything with GM in it – and were one of the first to rebuke GM in a big way, he has big stakes in companies which are trying to work on some sort of “gene patent”. Now I do not believe that GM is going to give us three heads (although if they thought it’d make money, they’d have a go…) but it has shown that the possibility for new strains of antibiotic-resistant genes to be created, possibly transferring to human beings. All we need is another MRSA or Clostridium difficile type outbreak in our hospitals – except this time it might be more potent and cause many more problems. That is why nature really shouldn’t be meddled with – we are opening Pandora’s boxes left, right and centre without giving due thought to the consequences. So Sainsbury’s aren’t on my list of “ok supermarkets”, but they are much higher up the chain than… Asda and Tesco – Asda for being associated with Walmart, possibly the worst supermarket chains in the history of supermarket chains (they even made a film about it – with a really good website), and Tesco for being so profit-conscious that it won’t do good for its industry, even though it has the power to.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThere are good things in the pipeline though, going green isn’t the hippy option anymore, and you’re considered rather draconian or “backward” if you don’t use energy-saving lightbulbs and ecologically-friendly options, which is a good thing. The un-friendly alternative should always be made as difficult to use as possible, which is why I’m all for taxing of 4×4’s and stopping selling traditional lightbulbs etc. It surprised me no end that shops such as New Look and Evans are both (excuse the pun) cottoning-on to the Organic ideal, and whilst most of their clothing isn’t organic and does come from sweat-shops (but I’m guessing a Nike sweatshop is worse than an Evans sweatshop, although I could be wrong…) it’s a huge step forward to see them stocking this stuff. It means that they know demand is there, and will hopefully start to integrate the organic fibres into their normal lines. Plus looking at the stuff, I prefer the organic designs.

Many are put off by the prices that they perceive farmshops to charge – and this is the bit that gets me the most. I have met people who are completely unwilling to spend any more than they absolutely have to, to get the food they want. It’s not about where it comes from, or what suffering the food or the planet has had to go through to get it – as long as it’s there and it’s cheap. The only way we’re going to make a difference to those people who ignore morals and ethics in persuit of price is to make farmshops and growing-your-own easier and more publicised than the supermarkets. The price they charge is a fair one – and it’s the price we should pay for our food.

But my words here are very much preaching to the converted – those who are educated enough to read blogs, are usually savvy in their shopping and pretty eco-friendly, it’s the people who currently shop at Tesco and Asda who need the kick up their backsides – and short of mounting some sort of publicity-grabbing protest antic, I’m not sure there’s much I can do outside of my words… Which leads me on to ask you all a question – what do you think I can do to get the message across to the people of the world to start being responsible in their actions? Any ideas?

— images courtesy of BBC news and Getty Images.

Friday 4 May 2007

Sanity mechanisms

I’ll be truthful from the outset, if you didn’t read this, then none of this post will make much sense to you. But for those lovely, dedicated people who did, you might find this post interesting… I make no apologies for the images that lie herein (they aren’t horrific).

I was having a conversation with a friend I’ve known for a few years (as long as I’ve known my husband), we don’t chat often so I was updating him about us getting chickens. Jokingly he asked if they were to be for dinner, and I replied that no, they were layers – nothing more. He made discouraging comments at this, which made me ask why – and we ended getting into a debate about ethical food. As everyone here knows it’s a hot topic and it gets debated often in this household. But what my friend was saying genuinely shocked me, because I hadn’t met someone for a very long time who was so bláse about the way food was treated. We got quite heated over this – as much as one can over an instant-messaging system – and it ended up with me feeling quite stunned that someone I thought I knew pretty well, held this attitude. It wasn’t an unpleasant debate – there wasn’t any aggression, and it really got me thinking.

If someone as well-educated and as genuinely nice as my friend is, feels so bláse about cruelty to animals, pesticide use and supermarket monopolys (we got into all of these topics) then how on earth are we going to change the mindset of those who are keeping themselves blissfully unaware? I see lots of different types of people in my everyday life, those who care about the environment, local food issues and the wellbeing of generations to come, and those who care soley about what they can take from the environment, people and the world at a cheap a price as possible. It is the latter half who worry me the most, the mothers who are de-sensitised to the world, they will buy a chicken at a supermarket, battery reared and fed bad foodstuffs – but won’t touch the chicken carcass itself because they can’t stand the feeling of raw meat. Or those who live on pre-processed foods, they just open a packet, heat and voilá – a whole meal, devoid of soul and substance, spoon-fed to them from a plastic tray.

My friend’s argument in all of this is that:

  1. He can’t make a change himself, one person isn’t enough to change the view of millions – so why bother?
  2. If we all worried about everything we had no control over, we’d end up becoming jibbering wrecks.
  3. The problem with ethics is “once you have one, you tend to collect more, until life becomes unlivable”.
  4. He’s apathetic.

My friend calls this his “sanity mechanism”, he openly admitted that he’d rather not think about it than have to accept it happens and do something to stop it. Contrary to popular belief I don’t lie awake at night worrying about the plight of millions of chickens, laying eggs in battery conditions. I will admit though, years before getting chickens, animal welfare in the wider-world has always been at the forefront of my mind. Getting chickens, learning about food production methods and its effects on us and the world at large, has given me the impetus to want to create change. And this is where I find fault with the argument above – we all have a choice when it comes to a rack of battery hen eggs vs. free range. We all have the choice. My family haven’t bought a non-free-range egg since there was such a thing as free-range eggs (my mother had chickens before I came along). But we see middle-aged women with plenty of money buying expensive hair products and the best toilet paper – and then they buy cheap eggs, because to them they just don’t care. I don’t think anyone nowadays can claim that they don’t know just what poor conditions these animals are kept in. Their beaks are cut off, to stop them pecking the other chickens that they are caged with – and they live their one year of life in a cage no bigger than a sheet of A4 paper.

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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I believe that everything has a right time, and a right place. It’s funny that this conversation came very shortly before the airing of a Channel4 documentary, by Molly Dineen called “The Lie of the Land“. It was the documentary’s aim to illustrate what farming in England had come to – farmers paid very poorly for their produce, being squeezed on all sides from the likes of supermarkets and Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). Dineen was firstly shown accompanying a fox-hunt (when it was still legal), something that has been banned in England since February 2005, and then following the hunt back to their Cornish farm. In my ignorance about the general practices of keeping hunting hounds, it showed them being fed. And what they were being fed was a whole animal carcass, raw, from an animal that’d been killed either because it was unwell or because it was an unsuitable breed for beef production. Dineen herself was genuinely shocked by the practise of giving a whole animal to the hounds. It then moved onto the “flesh run” which is when the head of the hunt visits farms with either sickly animals or animals unsuitable for beef production, and shoots them. This is then taken back to the hunt and butchered for the use of the hounds.

Whilst unsavoury to watch, I didn’t find it “awful”, I have seen animals being killed before and I know that all meat was once an animal before it became a sausage or a burger. What unsettled me the most was that the farmers who supplied the hounds with their food were pushed to having perfectly healthy male calves shot because it wasn’t financially viable to keep them. This happens because many dairy farmers cross a Jersey cow with a Friesian to give a better-flavoured milk with high yields. The females are kept to continue the herd, whilst the males being no good for meat production per se, and are shot at a couple of days old. I must admit, it was hard to watch – but I’ve seen it before.

I learnt alot from the programme, things that I wouldn’t have seen had it not been for the documentary. What got to me was the waste. It was a waste of a cow that had been produced because the supermarkets want a lot of good-tasting milk. Usually the males are kept, castrated and fattened to be used at two years old for beef. But because of human interference (with the breeds) it has changed and we are left with a surplus of male calves that the supermarkets won’t touch. Yet that calf would produce beautiful beef, if not sirloin steaks and roasting joints – which is all the supermarkets care about.

As for the fox-hunting issue, I am against all blood sports. If foxes are a problem shoot them humanely, because no animal should be killed for fun. The vermin on farms today, noteably pheasants, pigeons and rabbits are all edible and all very tasty – but those shot for sport often aren’t eaten, and that is wasting a valuable, edible resource.

The programme wasn’t what I was expecting at all, I was thinking it’d be a more holistic documentary showing many aspects of farming, instead it seemed rather focused on one area (and a small demographic of farmers). Something I didn’t understand until the end. It has left me with alot of compassion for the farmers, who do have to live with the worry of not being able to pay bills or feed their families. I think it was a programme that will either leave you a vegetarian forever, or it’ll give you the impetus and the information to leave supermarkets behind for good. Either way, if I could make everyone watch it, I would. Because as it stands, in this country 95% of all fruit and vegetables are imported, animals are being reared abroad in horrific conditions that would not be allowed in the UK, then imported back, and many people either don’t know or don’t care. If it’s cheap, it’s good.

As for Defra, they are fast becoming a joke. A government body who doesn’t care where our food comes from, imposing useless subsidies (based on land rather than livestock) and measures which will not help farmers to survive as farmers. It doesn’t give anyone hope as to where our future food will come from. But I’m painting a rather grim picture here, I know that our farm shop stocks nothing but its own pork, beef and lamb which is all reared on a local farm under very good conditions. I’ve seen the pigs and cows myself. The onus has to be brought back to small producers, we have to learn how to go back to basics and come face-to-face with our food again. Big steps have been made in the media, from celebrity chefs wanting to be guaranteed of origin and cruelty-free status of their food, to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall himself shouting from the rooftops about the wonderful way in which food can be raised. It’s a start, but the next step is getting more people interested enough to change their ways.

After the programme last night, my husband and I did the washing up, and whilst doing so we talked about what we’d seen. He was hesitant about me watching it, stating that I already worry enough for ten people, perhaps I shouldn’t hold all of this on my shoulders. In a rather selfless act of both defiance and humanity I simply stated that, until the state of farming was in a better condition (less cruelty, locally produced), I would fight tooth and nail for a solution. He sighed and continued washing.

My next post will be about a point that everyone makes when I talk about buying locally and organically – cost. I am going to conclusively prove that you can do your shopping locally and ‘ethically’ without it costing alot.

Winston Churchill said “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give“. I know what I’m going to do to try and make this better. How about you? If you found this article interesting, please link to it – and let others know.

Thanks to Factoryfarming.com for the above-images, and also animalfreedom.org for added information.

Friday 27 April 2007

Friday walk around the web

I haven’t done one of these for what seems like ages, even though my husband keeps sending me links that he thinks I’d like to share. Isn’t he lovely? Ok, so on with the show!

  • Firstly my husband sent me a link to a really stunning exhibition going on in San Francisco, which I’d absolutely love to go to, but sadly the airfare would send us completely out of pocket – and I don’t have a current passport. But if I did have those things, I’d be off to see Catherine Wagner’s exhibition of artwork dedicated to antique lightbulbs.
  • If you’re in the UK and looking for a lovely place to do your ecological shopping, then look no further than the Ethical Superstore. Whilst I haven’t bought anything from them yet, I am incredibly tempted by their solar-powered water features and organic fairtrade cotton t-shirts!
  • Could you live on £465 (US$927 / AU$1,114 / NZ$1250) a year? That’s what David Maclement took to doing. A NewZealand resident he created a webpage detailing his dietary needs per day, and as a man of 61 he manages to live rather well – if a tad sparsely on marmite, brown bread and a lot of milk! It shows how little we can live on, and how much we do eat that maybe we don’t need to.
  • On the Eco front – to make one cotton t-shirt it takes 100 litres of water and 40g of toxic pesticides. Not to mention the toll it takes on the countryside, and those who work it – the child labourers and the poverty-stricken farm workers. Once collected it will be dyed with chemicals known as Azoic dyes, harsh and carcinogenic they will be rubbing up against your skin daily – without you thinking about it. Anyone in England will remember a food scare a couple of years ago regarding Sudan 1, an Azo dye that had mistakenly got into chilli powder and caused a media fuoré. And if cotton’s not being sprayed with pesticides, it’s being genetically modified. Fantastic. So from now on I will try my hardest not to buy any cotton that isn’t organic. Hemp is a really good alternative to cotton (and no, not that sort!), and the market for bamboo is growing too.
  • But luckily there are now lots of places selling the most gorgeous organic cotton, hemp and bamboo very reasonably! A quick Google search yielded lots of results, these are just a few of them!
  • Seasalt Organic Cotton Clothing, AllThingsGreen.net, and buyorganics.co.uk.
  • On the old iPod at the moment are The National – gorgeous songs with lots of instrumentation, a bit Calexico and a bit Lambchop, but lighter. Songs to watch out for are 90-Mile Water Wall, Daughters of the Soho Riots and It Never Happened. It’s rare that I enjoy a band this much, instantly. Or even that a song will be on repeat non-stop! So top marks to really enjoyable music that will make a Summer lovely.
  • And also on the music front, The Cinematic Orchestra have been at the top of all my playlists for ages now – their new LP ‘Ma Fleur‘ sounds as if it’s going to be one of my all-time favourite records. They’ve done all sorts over the years, from chillout electronica (All That You Give) to pared-down haunting songs like To Build A Home and Breathe (on the new LP). As soon as it comes out, one copy will be winging its way to me!

That just about rounds my Friday Walk Around the Web up for today – enjoy browsing!

Tuesday 3 April 2007

My future in farming at Four Winds Farm

“The only way that the homesteader can farm his piece of land as well and as intensively as possible is to institute some variant of what was called “High Farming” in Europe in the last century. This was a carefully worked out balance between animals and plants, so that each fed the other: the plants feeding the animals directly, the animals feeding the soil with their manure and the land feeding the plants. A variety of both animals and plants were rotated about the same land, so that each species took what it needed out and put what it had to contribute back, and the needs of the soil were kept uppermost in the husbandman’s mind. Each animal and crop was considered for what beneficial effect it might have on the soil.”

– John Seymour from ‘The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency’.

I have mentioned my garden enough, that by now everyone knows my feelings about gardening, land use and food production. Our neighbours find us funny – they have alluded to us being akin to something from The Good Life many times now – a concept that isn’t far from what I would hope to achieve. But when it comes down to it, would we be ready to “walk the walk” and “talk the talk”?

Farming is now a ‘dirty word’, it brings to mind images of intensive factory-farming, of profit margins and cruelty to animals – and sadly enough in many instances I believe this to be true. But I also believe that man, as a species, was made to live from the land, to be connected with the thing that bore him and will one day reclaim him as it has done for thousands of years. However, intensive methods, cruelty to animals and destruction of land (with the aggressive use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides) won’t ever be the way forward, nor the way of supporting nations. The best way to support a nation is by pulling together and working for one common goal, to better our food and our lives by being in touch with the land and our food itself.

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This is a view that, a mere 5 years ago, I would’ve laughed at – myself as a smallholder. Notice the word smallholder, much preferable to farmer, smallholders tend not to make money (profit) from their produce, but they try to live as self-sufficiently and as sensitively as possible. It’s a big step, and so much hard work going from 100% dependence on supermarkets to having to be responsible for your own food crops throughout the year – and it is just that, a year-round job. I know why many people don’t want to do that, because the work involved is so huge, but even making a dent in your supermarket-dependency has got to be a good thing. If, and this is a huge “if” world war three broke out, how many people out there would be able to sustain themselves and their family through growing their own foods? People now are scared of touching a piece of raw, prepared chicken – so what would it be like if someone had to see that chicken from egg to chicken to dinner? Supermarkets have played a huge role in removing the humanity from food; we don’t see it so it doesn’t happen. And that is like removing a limb – we are now dependent on the supermarkets to do everything for us, and to advise us what’s best. Is it any wonder that now we are a nation of unwell, unhealthy people?

The funny thing is, you don’t have to give up your day-job, leave all of your worldly possessions behind and move into a commune to make a difference to your life. Vegetables can be grown so simply in a relatively tiny plot, or even in containers. On Carol Klein’s Grow Your Own Vegetables programme the girls at the RHS kept a plot of raised beds measuring no more than 3mx3m going for a year, planting things that would sustain a medium-sized family for the year. It showed it could not only be done – but it could be done in a small plot without taking much time at all. Although food-sacrifices have to be made – in winter, when the garden is pretty lean and you may only have cabbages, broccoli, potatoes, carrots and parsnips to rely on, could you go without your Dutch salads, Spanish strawberries, American apples and tasteless Belgian tomatoes? Although we have stopped eating anything that isn’t in season, and anything that isn’t British (including things like melons, bananas and oranges), part of our vegetables do come from a supermarket, because of yet we’ve not been “sorted” enough to have a complete year-round supply of vegetables. Last summer we did manage to do-away with almost all supermarket shopping, something that left us feeling not only very good, but it saved so much money!

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To be a smallholder there are sacrifices that have to be made. It’s only because of our dependence on someone else to do virtually everything for us that we’ve lost our food, our skills and our will to have better. To most people “having better” means more money and faster cars, for me it means being able to have a smallholding, growing our own produce, from pigs to chickens to runner beans. Going back to the roots and living from there.

In my head I have this idea of being self-sufficient, and for me it tends to be a rather black-or-white idea of how I’d like to live. Which is where Four Winds Farm came about, it’s my imaginary smallholding, populated by all the animals and plants that I would grow if I had a rickety old cottage and a few acres. But even though this place is imaginary, I still one day believe it’ll happen, it won’t quite be to my mind’s exact imaginings, but it won’t be much different. It’ll happen when it’s meant to happen – and for now I’m concentrating on making our lives as ecologically-sound as possible. I myself am willing to do pretty much whatever it takes to live from the land.

In his book, John Seymour advocates a self-sufficient way to live. He tells it like it is, and has been living in a self-sufficient manner since the 70’s when one of his most popular books “The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency” was published. In his introduction he states that:

“[…] self sufficiency is not “going back” to some idealised past in which people grubbed for their food with primitive implements and burned each other for witchcraft. It is going forward to a new and better sort of life, a life which is more fun than the over-specialised round of office or factory, a life that brings challenge and the use of daily-initiative back to work, and variety, and occasional great success, and occasional abysmal failure. It means the acceptance of complete responsibility for what you do or what you do not do, and one of its greatest rewards is the joy that comes from seeing each job right through – from sowing your own wheat to eating your own bread, from planting a field of pig food to slicing a side of bacon.”

-John Seymour

His views are echoed nowadays by many. He was happy enough to do everything from weaving his own fabric to making his own beer from his own ingredients. His modern-equivalent, who I suppose is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, openly admitted that his revenues came from his television work, books and article-writing and didn’t come from working at River Cottage and later, River Cottage HQ. But had he not been a minor-celebrity, his life at River Cottage could’ve been a completely self-sufficient one. Every week at our local farm shop I see more and more 30-something women, dripping with children deciding to do their shopping at the farm shop rather than trek all the way to a supermarket. If nothing else, it’s a nicer experience and although a tad more expensive, the strawberries, potatoes, cabbages, swedes, turnips, plums and more have all come from a farm just down the road. The prices that supermarkets charge isn’t the true cost of the food that is sold. The workers who are employed to grow, package and transport the food are underpaid and unfairly treated, from whatever country the food comes from. In England a dairy farm a week goes out of business because the supermarkets just refuse to cut into their profit margins to allow farmers more money – and everyone who buys their milk from a supermarket makes this happen. But no one wants to take responsibility for their actions anymore.

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The sacrifices are more than not eating some of your favourite foods, though. If you aim to be completely self-sufficient, then a lot of thought has to go into the process beforehand. Just how are you going to pay bills, even if you live off-grid through your own renewables – what about council tax, money for emergencies, tools and seeds etc. That is the difficult bit – in our society, such as it is, it’s almost impossible to live off the land and not have to pay money to someone somewhere. There is always the option of bartering, say with a farmer or friends in your area: when you grow your own you almost always have a glut of one particular fruit or vegetable – which should be different to their glut, and you can swap. Or you can become a market gardener. This is my dream, being able to sell baby plants and vegetables from my own completely-organic plot, and make enough money to save for the council tax or an emergency. I agree wholeheartedly that a back-up is needed.

I should really get around to the point of this blog – it’s a hefty piece of reading, and any of you still reading – thanks. I know many have already “turned off” at the first paragraph. I’m not sure there is a point per se, rather a putting of ideas out there. All my life I’ve been told (and laughed at) by people here and there that this isn’t possible, and I started to take that to heart – until I realised something that my grandmother said – that there is no such thing as impossible. From then on I vowed that I would at least give the life I want to lead a chance. We probably won’t get a smallholding for many years to come, but I’m learning through every possible means, just how we’re one day going to achieve this self-sufficient life I’ve put my heart and soul into.

Tuesday 27 March 2007

If this is so-called progress…

Last night whilst flicking channels to get to my new-favourite Australian drama, Love My Way, I flicked past Channel4’s Animal Farm. I noticed Giles Coren, and although I can’t profess to be a fan of his, anything to do with farming always piques my interest. I started watching and to my horror they were discussing using cows blood as a treatment against bioterrorism – all the time they were talking, rows of cows were hooked up to machines, taking their blood. This reminded me of the most awful scenes I’ve seen in sci-fi films. I was aghast. So I stopped flicking channels and I watched as they went onto sheep who had their unborn foetuses removed, stem cells injected, and then be put back so that they would continue to grow into sheep that were 15% human. I called my husband in complete stunned amazement. Since when did we become so blazé about not only doing this sort of stuff – but showing it on prime-time TV?

My first emotion was horror, my second anger, and my third just plain sorrow. I don’t think the programme itself was that informative, and didn’t give a very unbiased view of vivisection itself (it was more “isn’t-this-just-amazingly-wonderful-if-a-bit-freaky?”) – even when Giles Coren said that he wouldn’t be happy for an animal that had a percentage of human DNA inside it, be killed just so he could receive its organs. And that was why they were doing it – so one day we could each have an organ “made” from our own DNA in a sheep’s body, thus negating the need for organ donors. Putting the farm in pharmacy.

The programme went on to say that ‘yay! this is fantastic!’ but there are risks. Apparently when messing with chromasomes at a base-level, and as the scientist put it “copying and pasting” bits hither and thither, something called cellular fusion can happen, meaning that the lamb who is 15% human, could be born with a lamb’s body and a human head, or some mix thereof.

I don’t believe in animal testing, and I’ll go so far as to say that it is one of the worst possible exploits that we as human beings currently undertake. Because the animals that are vivisected have no say at all. There are hundreds of studies saying that animal testing doesn’t work, because animals are just too different to us. And some may even justify their pro-genetic-modification stance saying that a lamb who has been genetically modified to produce a donor kidney is no worse than a lamb who has been killed for food. Which is the age-old question of what is the worth of a human life? But it also raises the question as to whether ethics has any standing anymore – in today’s times, what are ethics? And who controls these studies, who says “That’s not ethical – stop”.

Can the girl they showed in the footage, a teenager with spina bifida who was born without an adequate bladder, and who had one “made” from her own stem-cells, can we deny anyone that? Although her bladder didn’t, as far as I know, have anything to do with an animal – is it ok to “mess with nature” if we benefitted?

I was almost turning the whole thing off when they started talking about giving humans the ability to re-grow limbs after they have been severed. This is my snapping point, when they talked about humans being able to reverse cellular ageing and almost live forever. Then I knew that this had gone too far, way too far. Those who were funding the research into limbs re-growing? The US Military.

I’ll leave you with a little quote from Mr. Coren himself:

With your food critic hat on, do you prefer organic food?

[…]So I was, and remain essentially, organic in terms of animals. But soya is different, for example; although I confess it doesn’t play a huge role in my diet. But in the US, where we filmed, 80% of all soya is GM, and look at the Americans, there’s nothing wrong with them. [laughs][…]

Yes, Mr. Coren, indeed.

I was going to call this post “Whacky Science”, but that title seems to make it sound fun, hilarious. And I fear it is very very much the opposite. If this is so-called progress, then I’d rather not be a part of it.

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