Category Archives: peak oil

22 May 2014: Why I am voting green

I believe in the European Union. No, it is not perfect.

Like most centres of power, the European Union works in the interests of huge corporations – not people.

However, when it comes to working rights and eco-legislation, Europe has been a friend to me.

When it comes to real food, two more examples:

  • EU regulations for organic food – if it says “organic” on the label, it is  thanks to European law
  • The EU has largely held firm against growing GM crops.

Now for Why I am Voting Green bit:

The Greens are very effective at European level. Take finance. They have curtailed bankers’ bonuses, forced banks to disclose tax haven-activities and support the Robin Hood Tax, a tiny tax on financial transactions (the billions raised would support society’s most vulnerable).

Ripped up UKIP leaflet with Freepost envelope ready to return.

By leaving Europe, we would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In addition, Nigel Farage’s anti-migrant worker position is abhorrent. Scapegoating stinks. (Pic: Return UKIP leaflets via its own Freepost address campaign).

Some decent folk are voting UKIP because they want to change the status quo. Do not be fooled, decent folk! UKIP is the status quo, seeking to distract attention from the banking crisis by blaming Europe.

The Green Party believes:

  • YES to a referendum
  • YES to Europe
  • YES to major European reform.

When it comes to real food, the Greens are working to cap the CAP. In other words, instead of huge subsidies going to large corporations, farming subsidies would be capped at €300,000 limit and distributed more equitably to small farms. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should be for the common good.

It also calls to end over-fishing and factory farming.

The Green Party’s European manifesto stands for the world I want to live in. It is, for example, the only UK political party pushing for a complete ban on fracking.

Interestingly, if we voted for policies (instead politicians’ personalities), most people in the south west of England would vote for the Green Party – more than any other party, according to Vote for Policies.

The Green Party can win at a European level.

Because of proportional representation, every vote counts.

Molly Scott Cato

Green economist, Molly Scott Cato, would need only 10% of the vote to be elected as the south west’s first Green Member of the European Parliament (MEP).

Hooray! Greens can win!

PS This blog is about European voting – I am also voting Green at a local level too..

PPS Original title of this blog was Vote Green! but changed it ’cause it sounded a bit peremptory?

Saturday 7 June 2014 update: O joy , o joy! The southwest elected its first Green MEP, the wonderful sane, intelligent and compassionate, Molly Cato Brown.

Green voters in the southwest kept out the third Ukip candidate.

Ukip made no electoral gains in the southwest (still got two MEPs); Conservatives lost one MEP so down from 3 to 2; LibDems went from 1 to zero. Labour = 1 MEP and, as I said, Greens = 1 MEP.

It really is worth voting.

In Bristol’s green heart, we trust

Gus-Hoyt

Green party councillor, Gus Hoyt, says Bristol’s mayoral Cabinet has a “green heart at its core”. (Image credit Bristol 24-7)

Previously city councillors had voted for their leader. But the Coalition government gave ten of England’s biggest cities the option to vote for its own. Last May, Bristol people voted in a referendum to elect their own mayor, the only city to do so. In November, independent candidate, George Ferguson, became the city’s first “directly-elected” mayor.

Does a directly-elected mayor give more power to the people because they (rather than councillors) are voting? Or does the new role give too much power to one person, the mayor? But that’s another story.

Last November, Gus Hoyt, Bristol North’s first Green party councillor, got a late-night call from newly-elected mayor, George Ferguson, inviting him to join the new mayoral “rainbow” cabinet.  Gus Hoyt explains in his blog why he accepted.

It’s a question because the Green Party is opposed to the cuts – yet the Bristol mayoral cabinet is pledged to cut £35 million. The intention of the cabinet is to minimise hardship, says George Ferguson. “I’m trying to minimise the effect on services,” he says.

Personally, I don’t get this cuts business. For a start, the UK is one of the most powerful countries in the world. To my mind, Austerity Britain is a marketing slogan to cover up the reality which is: “Stop giving money to the poor, so the rich can get richer.” But I digress.

Last night at a Bristol Friends of the Earth meeting, guest speaker, Gus Hoyt – focusing on food and energy – described the positive things the cabinet hopes to achieve.

Green Bristol food vision

  • Make it easier for local food producers to sell their produce, building connections with local supply chains
  • Establish a “nuts-and-bolts” food market at Bristol Temple Meads railway station new enterprise zone – if successful it could be replicated in areas of deprivation
  • Aim to declare Bristol a zero waste city hopefully working with green-friendly Labour MP for Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy, who introduced a food waste bill in parliament
  • One fruit tree to be planted for each Bristol child born so apples and nuts can be harvested at will, and children can learn where food comes from (it really does grow on trees.)
  • Edible beds in public spaces and food production in parks so food can be picked for free
  • Turn Bristol into a food capital. The city already hosts several food festivals – let’s host more
  • Enable more schoolchildren to learn how to grow food to eat and how to cook it.

At this point Gus Hoyt referred to the horsemeat scandal, and how we must bust the myth that affordable food has to be rubbish. When people cook from scratch, food can be healthy, fresh – and affordable.

At this point, let me invoke my mother invoking her mother:

“The secret of good cooking is quality ingredients. The first step to learning how to cook is knowing how to choose quality raw materials.”

My grandparents lived in poverty in the East End – but they knew how to cook. The UK media delights in making healthy food a class issue, as it sneers at middle class obsessions about organic food. Hello?! The true class issue is companies producing rubbish food and spending millions on marketing it to poor people.

Back to last night’s meeting. There was a discussion about the Blue Finger, a stretch of local land perfect for growing food. At the start of the 20th century, Bristol was ringed with market gardens which fed Bristol. Now we buy tasteless produce in supermarkets trucked in from far away.

And should the negative effects of climate change and fuel shortages take hold, making Bristol more self-sufficient in food makes a lot of sense. And more pleasant and healthy, too.

At the Friends of the Earth meeting, Phil Haughton of Better Food Company said that plenty of local farmers would be happy to lease/sell a field the land: what is missing, he said, are entrepreneurs. Meanwhile Joy Carey, author of Who Feeds Bristol, said to make Bristol food-secure, eight main things need to happen including composting, growing, learning to cook and supporting small shops and producers.

Involves all of us

Bristol Food Policy Council (the first in the UK) is developing a food plan with those eight components. Bristol, be proud.

Green Bristol energy vision

  • Bristol to become the go-to-city for renewable energy 
  • Make Bristol a truly solar city
  • Bristol can be “a living university ” for green institutions
  • Aim for Bristol to become the European Green Capital
  • Invite aeronautical businesses to use their expertise to create tidal technology (rather than bomber ‘planes) –  a kind of “swords into ploughshares” idea
  • Secure £10 million to make council houses more energy-saving
  • Work with institutions such as the NHS and universities to make energy more affordable with ‘Energy Partnerships’
  • Wind turbines at Avonmouth are due to open in December
  • Bristol to be 100 % “fracking” and nuclear-free.

So, dear reader, does this gladden your heart? It did mine.

London, 17 May: Symphony of the Soil UK premiere

I am a soil lover.

Some see soil as dirty.

What does that say about our relationship with the world?

Love soil – our lives depend on it.

I am proud to be promoting the Symphony of the Soil UK film premiere on 17 May 2012.

With specially-composed music from a Hollywood great, and original animation, Symphony of the Soil is a multi-media film. Read its roll-call of expert interviewees soil scientists, farmers and campaigners including Dr Vandana Shiva.

Organico, the Mediterranean organic food company, is sponsoring the invitation-only premiere. Do Like Organico on Facebook for the chance to win tickets to this exclusive event.

Director and filmmaker, Deborah Koons Garcia (above) will be  talking about Symphony of the Soil with the Soil Association’s Helen Browning OBE and organic farmer.

In 2006, I organised the London premiere of Deborah Koons Garcia’s film documentary The Future of Food. It examined the corporate domination of our food system, sounding the alarm on GM patents, and exposed revolving-door politics between biotetch executives and the US administration.

The Future of Food helped spearhead the US real food movement, currently calling for GM labelling in California.

Deborah Koons Garcia says  that Symphony of the Soil is a positive film because we can all do something, such as make compost or support organic farms.

“I am making a positive film, science presented in an artistic manner [so] that people will fall in love with [soil] and become part of the soil community – because we are anyway. We rise up from it and we go back to it. So we’re part of it and when we are responsible members of the soil community, we give back to it, it gives back to us. …

“When people see this film they’ll actually become even more committed to a positive relationship with soil.”

As I am writing this blog, I hear BBC radio news announce: “Half of Britain is in drought.”

I shout to the radio: “Go organic!”

Organic soils retain more water than non-organic soils, according to long-term research.

If we put back what we take out, the soil can nurture us.

“We don’t grow plants. We grow healthy soil – and the soil grows the plants,” says a grower in the film.

Symphony of the Soil illuminates the complex dynamic relationship between soil life plants – “a dialogue of nutrients.”

It is all common sense. You have to put back what you take out otherwise soil becomes barren.

So why not listen to our common sense?

Follow the money.

Dr Hans Herren co-chaired the IASSTD 400-strong scientific review of agriculture which found that what the world needs now is small-scale ecological farming.

Interviewed in the Symphony of the Soil, Herren says of organic farming:

“…but it does not fill the pockets of the few. It only feeds the consumer and the farmer.”

Symphony of the Soil is a beautiful and moving film – shows how clever and intricate and subtle nature is.

But it will also made me angry and sad because there is so much needless destruction of this natural precious resource.

Sprouts and raw hummus

I was told yesterday that today is the last day of the Mayan calendar.

That means the end of 28,000 years of hierarchy and oppression.

Yippee!

And I have finally found a spouting system that works.

I bought this jar with its plastic perforated lid from Harvest, part of Essential Trading Worker Co-op.

DIY types can make their own. Or use old tights or muslin as the lovely Alys Fowler suggests.

Or buy one like mine (after years of experimentation, I can vouch that This One Works), and get loads of sprouting info from Living Food of St Ives.

First you put the dry (organic) seeds in the jar.

Add water and leave them overnight to bring them to life.

After that first long soak, you wash the seeds daily (or twice, thrice).

The seeds like being clean and wet (not soaked or drowned).

So after filling the jar with water, swill the seeds around then drain away the water (hence the natty perforated lid which makes life so much easier).

And how is this for a virtuous circle? I drain the water on the indoor plants so they get a regular watering.

After a few days, I have produced living things.

Here are some sprouting chickpeas, looking positively Lawrentian.

(DH Lawrence being one of my fave authors because he describes life on its different levels: soul, mundane etc and because: “Lawrence believed that industrialised Western culture was dehumanising…”).

So now I am going sprout-mad. Sprouts in stews. On toast with cream cheese.

Whizzed with Organico Artichoke Spread for instant hummus.

Hold on a minute. Did I say hummus?

I ask myself: WHY make hummus with cooked chickpeas when you can use extra-bursting-with-vitality FRESH sprouting raw chickpeas?

So, I substitute the cooked chickpeas for my Lawrentian darlings, add some turmeric and crushed coriander seeds (must sprout THEM one day) and of course lemon juice, olive oil, tahini, raw garlic, as in my usual recipe for hummus .

And it was delicious.

Fish4Ever challenges big brands

As a journalist and food campaigner, I help Fish4Ever with its communications. I cannot work for a cause or company I don’t believe in.

So, I have the privilege of asking nosy questions and learning about the politics of fish.

Lunch: a fried-medley of Fish4Ever sardine fillets (Steenberg’s Organic online £1.60) on a bed of organic rice vermicelli.

Medly: I fry sliced shallots/onions, garlic and chilli in the organic oil in which the fish are canned – Fish4Ever uses 100% organic land ingredients.

I add the sardine fillets, mashing them (was that respectful?). I snip-in fresh parsley .

Fish4Ever canned fish is in a class of its own, fished traditionally (70% MSC-certified, the rest artisan) and quickly-conserved for freshness.

I am a real food lover and here’s why: you do good – it tastes good.

Why is it important to look after the fish?

Fishing technology is too effective. Desired species are being hunted to extinction.

Its hunting methods are indiscriminate, killing turtles, sea birds, dolphins.

There are too many factory boats and not enough fish. Regulations to control catches are insufficient and often ignored. Out at sea, where no one is looking, rules can be flouted. Poor countries suffer from foreign piracy on an industrial scale.

Hugh’s Fish Fight on Channel 4 earlier this month focused on changing the fishing methods of the big tuna brands and own-label supermarkets.

The food corporations’ proposed changes are far better than nothing.

However, although the big brands may well promise a “pole and line” range, their primary business remains likely unchanged.

Each Fish4Ever can has a story – including the smallest tuna fishing boats in the world.

This is not an eco-add-on. Fish4Ever’s raison d’être is care of land, sea and people.

That’s what I call an ethical company.

Peaceful No Tesco Tea Party


Well, the No Tesco Tea Party has to be one of the most fun, friendly, heart-filled

musical protests I have ever been on.

Here’s a delightful news item from ITV: over a minute of dancing protest.

But it was also possibly the most stressful because – post-riot – it wasn’t just a matter of ringing up our local bobby.

Instead, we were invited to respectful, professional meetings with Silver and Bronze commanders, who supported our right for a peaceful protest but were thinking worst-case scenarios, and asking: how would we deal with them?

I realised the police, like the medical profession, are (bless ‘em) fear-driven.

So, for a few weeks leading up to the No Tesco Tea Party I felt the weight of responsibility. Dreamed of police on horseback bursting through my front door. Worried about upsetting local charities such as Relate and the Salvation Army who’d been damaged in the riots. Angsted about offending rock throwers, too.

(Rock throwing is not my style but anyone caught-up in those two crazy riot nights might need support so please contact BristolArresteeSupport@Riseup.net, mentioned in June’s edition of The Autonomist.

And anyone with unanswered questions about the Stokes Croft disturbances, please sign the petition asking Bristol City Council for a public inquiry.)

Our protest took place in front of Tesco in Stokes Croft. I was glad to talk with Tesco managers because this campaign is not against supermarket employees.

It’s against supermarkets destroying communities in their single-minded drive for market shares.

The truth is I am a communicator.

I find enemy positions deeply unhelpful. I would rather build bridges.

Listen, we are all victims of the same soulless system that puts profit before people. So let’s find our common humanity and work together for a better world.

When Monday 13 June dawned – bright sunshine after Sunday’s torrential rain – I felt confident. Our protest would be – as all our protests have always been – peaceful.

And it was.

I was moved by the joy and the dancing

and the homemade cakes

and cucumber sandwiches (note Princess Diana tea-tray)


and anti-Tesco knitting protestor.

I was moved by Mark who did not agree with our campaign but became a volunteer peace marshall because he supported our right to a peaceful protest.

For goodness sake, there is disagreement even when you are on “the same side”. So, shaking hands with Richard whom I had met online when our political views clashed made me happy: this is what community is all about.

The No Tesco in Mill Road campaigners had come all the way from Cambridge to join our protest. Thank you!

Our Tea Party protest was to create awareness for our appeal for a judicial review.

Our appeal was heard on Wednesday 15 June in Cardiff.

And we won.

Thanks to People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, Jake and peace marshalls

and People’s Supermarket for donating free food.

O and here’s one of me, thanks to Nadia of GRO-FUN.

St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe at Christmas

I took this picture through the stained-glass window of St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe at the weekend.

Bristol is a mega-city but blessed by pockets of seclusion – enchanted sanctuaries such as St Werburgh’s.

This little corner of green near the M32 shields the eco-self-build houses, the Wild Goose space,  the Climbing Wall, the Better Food Company, St Werbugh’s City Farm and Cafe and more, and, as my luck would have it, is a ten-minute walk through the allotments from home.

The icy-cold weather of late has been leavened by such pockets of warmth.

Last night, for instance, we went through powdery snow in the empty allotments to the wildness of a contact dance improvisation jam at the eco-built Wild Goose Space where I lay on the floor watching this compelling film, Baraka, then dropped by afterwards to St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe for the drinks bit of the staff meal.

St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe has Wifi and real coffee, and a splendid selection of heart-warming home-made dishes many made with produce from the adjoining City Farm.

It’s run by Leona Williamson – unassuming, hard-working and friendly. She and her team won the 2008 Observer Food Monthly award for outstanding ethical achievement, calling it the “ultimate green eatery…(using) not food miles but food yards”.

I wrote about the Cafe in 2008, and – see comments – received fierce rebuke for praising the Cafe’s use of animals from the Farm. I am with Simon Fairlie and the Soil Association on the meat issue. Although I passionately believe factory-farmed meat is wrong – over-produced, cruel, unhealthy, unsustainable and unnecessary – a few creatures on a family farm is another matter entirely.

Back to last night: I met Jack, and discovered he is the Ethicurean now running the Walled Garden Cafe at Wrington, Somerset. I remet (I know this sounds like a poncy eco-roll-call but it wasn’t really like that) Andy Hamilton, of the Self-Sufficientish Bible,  who is finishing a book (a brilliant idea and once O.K-ayed it, I will mention here…) (and it is Booze for Free – good innit?), and Jamie Pike from Co-Exist at Hamilton House, currently congregating food people to make creative use of a communal kitchen at Hamilton House in Stokes Croft.

We talked about the recent Tesco planning fiasco and the importance of creating alternatives (as Jamie and co has done at Hamilton House).

As we left, Leona gave us a bottle of refreshing homemade rosemary and apple cordial from (very) local produce.

St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe is now closed for Christmas until 15 January.

Apparently Baraka (the movie) means: blessings in a multitude of languages, and this is appropriate, as I felt blessed indeed as we walked home through the moonlit snow.

Organic Food Festival 2010, Bristol

The Soil Association Organic Food Festival (see Demo kitchen above) now in its tenth year, lifts my spirits.

“79% of food we buy comes from just four shops,” says Real Food Festival’s Philip Lowery at the launch of Europe’s biggest organic food market.

The Organic Food Festival showcases real food producers who cannot be shoehorned into the supermarket-system, with its gargantuan requirement for uniformity.

After a week objecting to a multi-billion-backed Tesco (39th store in Bristol) in Stokes Croft, this is just what I need to revive my flagging spirits.

Somerset Organic Link displays freshly-harvested vegetables grown in carbon-rich organic soil without polluting the land with nitrate fertiliser.

And a variety of pumpkins you won’t find in a supermarket.

Better Food Company (a 20 minutes walk from the proposed Tesco) has a field outside Bristol supplying the shop with much of its seasonal local organic produce.

Better Food’s Community Farm is open to all, including helping in return for a share of the harvest.

I buy a spelt loaf from the Bertinet Bakery based in Bath.

Bertinet Bakery were exhilarated having just been awarded a Soil Association Organic Food award for Baked Goods by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at the awards ceremony held earlier that day in At-bristol.

The theme of this year’s Organic Fortnight is Choose Organic Everyday.

According to the latest Soil Association market report on the recession-hit 2009, 33% of organic purchases are now made by shoppers including manual and casual workers, students, pensioners and people on benefits.

In other words, recession or not, people care about healthy food, where it comes from and how it was grown.

Some organic businesses in common with many non-organic ones were hurt by the recession – overall a near 13% decline in 2009 organic sales.

But  others resisted the downward trend: organic milk sales were up 1%, organic baby food up 21%. By 2010 UK farmland that is organic rises above 5% for the first time.

Junk food high in cheap fat, sugar and additives, or chickens raised in giant sheds  never seeing natural daylight – these are the product of an industrialised and centralised food system that profits shareholders – not the consumer.

Tesco and the other three supermarkets control over three-quarters of our food. They seek market-dominance and make vast profits – Tesco’s profits increased 12% in half-year profits to £1.6bn. [October 2010 figures added after blog was posted].

Supermarkets promise cheapness but it’s an illusion.

The costs are externalised – in other words, they are picked up elsewhere: rivers polluted by farm chemicals are cleaned by taxpayers’ money; obesity from eating junk food is paid for by the NHS. Farmers are squeezed; animals farmed inhumanely.

A shopping survey in Stokes Croft – the Bristol area currently fighting off a Tesco – shows food is cheaper in the local shops than Tesco Express.

Devon-based Riverford farm’s monthly price comparisons show the organic fruit and veg in its delivery box is on average 20% cheaper than supermarkets.

Can you imagine a world where the only food you can buy comes from industrialised food systems?

(Well, that is if oil supplies remain steady because if not we will be stuffed if we are relying on only four suppliers ferrying in food from afar).

Another – local organic – world is possible.

PS Thanks to Juliet Wilson for encouraging this post.

PPS Deadline for objecting to Tesco in Stokes Croft: 14 September.

Bristol eco-village

Welcome to Bristol eco-village.

Welcome.

The squatters moved in on Saturday and already three acres of desolate wasteland in inner-city Bristol have been transformed.

What is dead has been brought back to life.

The beans are planted in the soil – on lined raised beds as the land used to be a scrapyard and may be contaminated by toxins.

The squatters are conducting soil tests.

If contamination is found, the squatters plan some soil restoration, such as feeding with compost tea and planting with nitrate-fixing plants (such as beans).

Here is their reception area where visitors can get more info.

It looks like something out of Mad Max or a similar post-apocalyptic movie – and that’s the point.

Rather than be victims of a future likely eco-disaster, some people would rather prepare positively in the present.

Here is a makeshift green house.

On Tuesday the squatters must got to court.

Why?

Must the land be repossessed by the owners so it may lie unused for another twenty years?

Or can it be restored to life as the squatters are doing, growing vegetables and rebuilding soil fertility?

“We come in peace they said

To dig and sow

We come to work the lands in common

And to make the waste ground grow

This earth divided

We will make whole

So it will be

A common treasury for all

We work, we eat together

We need no swords

We will not bow to the masters

Or pay rent to the lords.

Still we are free

Though we are poor

You Diggers all stand up for glory

Stand up now!”

GM potato? I prefer blight-resistant beauties

I love the look of these potatoes and their healthy interesting purpleness.

They have just had their own launch in London at the sustainable London restaurant, Konstam.

Bred by the Sarvari Trust, these Sárpo potatoes are

  • blight-resistant thus reducing pesticides
  • high-yield
  • deep-rooting
  • have weed-smothering foliage
  • low-carbon footprint
  • and can be stored unrefrigerated.

Vegetable heroes, they are on the front-line of battle against the Genetic Modification industry.

Modification? Too mild a word! Manipulation would be better.

You may have heard. In March 2010, the European Union rode roughshod over the people’s wishes and approved the first GM crop in 12 years.

BASF’s GM Amflora potato carries a controversial antibiotic resistant gene which could enter the food chain.

The EU-funded pro-GM GMO Safety website says of the GM Amflora potato.

“In this potato the composition of the starch has been altered so that it is better suited for certain industrial purposes.”

Lovely. A GM industrial potato.

Crikey. It’s enough to make me want to join anti-Europe UKIP. (Only joking).

Luckily, there is an alternative.

The Avaaz petition aims to get 1 million signatures in order to officially request the European Commission to put a moratorium on the introduction of GM crops into Europe and set up an independent, ethical, scientific body to research the impact of GM crops and determine regulation.

The funding of GM science is driven by multinational agribusiness. GM is a money spinner perfectly suited to control-freaks because once a plant is genetically modified, it can be patented.

Monsanto sues farmers in North America for having unlicensed GM seeds – even if the GM seeds arrive on their fields (as seeds do) by wind, animal or insect.

Some scientists get excited about GM, genuinely believing the technology has the possibility of helping the world.

But GM science is out-of-date, based on the belief that Genes are King.

You can’t take a genetic characteristic from one organism, put it another and tra-la-la, create a GM plant in our best interests.

The Human Genome Project proved life is far more complex than that. We disturb the gene sequence at our peril.

Scientists,  if you want to explore the frontiers of life, there is plenty of mystery in the life we already have.

Defra has to decide whether to license two GM potato trials in England.

Come on Defra! Instead of putting my taxpayer money into unproven, disaster-in-the-making technology – why not put the research money into the beautiful blight-resistant purple potato?

What do you think?