Category Archives: rant

Good food needs land

I love working with the Biodynamic Land Trust. Then the dream thing happened and I went to Brussels for a few days for work. I am grateful to the Access to Land EU conference organisers for supporting my travel.

[Brexit rant: It took two hours by train from Kings Cross, London to Brussels – of course, am in Europe. I apologise for Brexit. In a loo in Brussels, graffiti proclaimed “I voted Remain” to which several had added, “me too” including me (always have felt tip for such occasions).]

Back to the conference: it was held during June heatwave in the peaceful and collegiate setting of the Franciscan centre, Notre Dame Chant d’Oiseau.


We held some of the workshop sessions outside under the comforting shade of a beautiful tree.


If you care about real food, you have to care about the land. 

But land is not valued as a place to grow food. Land is seen as an investment – a place to lock in-money. The EU subsidy system distorts the market further, favouring rich landowners over small ecological farmers delivering healthy local food, and protection of soil and wildlife. (The EU is not perfect. Obvs. It needs reform.).

Brexit is a messy, expensive pain but it is also an opportunity to reshape UK farming, and many organisations are seizing the day.

26 June 2017: Brexit negotiations began, and 80 food and farming organisations released their food policy plan for agriculture, A People’s Food Policy.


The Biodynamic Land Trust was one of the 80 organisations supporting the People’s Food Policy.

The Biodynamic Land Trust’s current community share offer is for Huxhams Cross Farm in Dartington, south Devon (near Totnes). Below, is a picture of the farm’s magical wooded area where local children come to learn about land and farming, and be outdoors in nature. They love it.


I invite you to look at the Huxhams Cross Farm community share offer and hope you will be inspired to support this grassroots investment in community-owned farms for our sustainable future.

Home-made mayonnaise and Brexit

Elderly woman's hands around a jar of thick, yellow, unctuous home made mayonnaise
I arrive the day before the EU referendum vote. London is hot and sticky, under a heavy grey cloud. Later, there is lightning and Biblical rains.

My 93-year-old mother and I agree not to talk about Brexit. It would be too painful and divisive. She believes the Daily Mail. I think it is the politics of hate.

So, I watch her making mayonnaise, Zimmer-framed yet resolute. I admire her spirit.

My mother Fay has been making home-made mayonnaise since the 1950s.

She would not dream of having shop-bought mayonnaise in her home. Ever.

My mother uses a food processor these days but says nothing (‘scuse pun) beats mayonnaise made by hand, using a fork as a whisk.

My sister Gee (see  pics of her 1974 mayonnaise recipe below) eschews a food processor because it makes the mayonnaise too dense, and uses an electric mixer with the balloon whisk attachment instead. She also (I love this refinement!) whisks in the olive oil by hand, with a fork, at the very end of the process.

Gee also adds a teaspoon of warm water to lighten the mixture, if, she says, she is feeling French.

Fay’s home-made mayonnaise 

The risk factor is curdling – when the oil and egg separate. So make sure the eggs are at room temperature. Emulsify the egg yolks with mustard, then add the oil very, very, very, slowly, drop-by-drop.

Then – once the risk of curdling has passed – pour oil in a thin stream, whisking all the time. You can speed up the streaming of the oil. Add lemon juice or a dribble of vinegar to thin.

If it curdles, do not despair but start again with one egg yolk and add the curdled mixture, again – s l o o o o w l y!

My mum uses 1/2 pint of oil, which equals 10 fluid ounces, of which 7 or 8 fluid ounces is sunflower oil, and the remaining 3 or 2 fluid ounces is olive oil. My sister Gee (who makes mayonnaise without such exact measuring) says in other words: use mostly sunflower oil.

I use organic oils because organic certification guarantees oils have been cold-pressed by mechanical (not chemical) means, ensuring maximum nutrients and top taste. 

Ingredients

2 egg yolks
Two egg yolks is the minimum whether for 1/2 pint or 1 pint of oil. Keep the egg whites in the fridge (or freeze them) for future meringues or cocktails. 

1/2 pint of oil of which most is sunflower oil, with top-up of olive oil

1 heaped teaspoon dry mustard powder (my mother thinks ready-made mustard is sacrilegious but Gee, free-thinker that she is, believes this makes the mayonnaise bitter and swears instead by Dijon mustard.).

2-3 or more garlic cloves cut-up

Using a food processor, electric balloon whisk or a fork, start by combining the egg yolks and mustard. Add garlic. Add oil SLOW-BY-SLOW until the mixture emulsifies. Then, once there is no risk of egg and oil separating, gently add the oil in a thin stream – whisking all the time!

Juice of half – one lemon, as little salt as possible to taste and a light shake of cayenne pepper. (In another departure from the status-quo, Gee adds seasoning – salt (1/2 teaspoon to 1/2 pint of oil) and paprika which is less spicy than cayenne – at the very start because otherwise, she says,  the salt does not mix in properly).

I cannot end this post without adding, for the record:

I am European. I am international. We are one family.

If money and weapons can move freely around the globe, why not people? Especially people displaced by war.

I am not saying the EU is perfect (obvs). It needs reform. But, hey, the UK has its own unelected bureaucrats and neo-liberal project. Surely reform (like charity) starts at home?

The Brexit campaign was led by vile hate-filled propaganda which has legitimised hate, unleashing a rise in racist crimes

Many who voted to leave are angry, and this anger (zero hours contracts, underfunded public services and unaffordable housing) is correct. But to conclude the problem is caused by the EU and immigration is a severe misdiagnosis resulting in the wrong medicine, which will only make conditions deteriorate.

Leave is the operative word. I feel the grown-ups have taken leave of their senses. I feel left in the hands of an irresponsible parent consumed by their own crazy agenda.

I am “returning” to the comfort of mayonnaise. 

Hand written mayonnaise recipe

Hand written mayonnaise recipe

Animal welfare: fox in charge of henhouse

Is there anyone – apart from a fox – who thinks this is a good idea?

From 27 April 2016, the poultry industry itself will be in charge of writing and upholding its own welfare codes, says the Metro. 

And that is just the start.

“Conservative ministers are planning to repeal an array of official guidance on animal welfare standards,” says the Guardian, whose Freedom of Information request helped reveal the government’s plan to deregulate animal welfare. 

Deregulation is a terrible backward step for a better world.

Campaigners for animal welfare and safe food systems have fought long and hard for regulations, and the battle is by no means over.

Regulations need to be strengthened further – not weakened, in this blatant move to please Big Farma. (Or perhaps it is the current government showing how it can get rid of regulations quite easily without having to leave Europe).

Conservative types (whether anti-Europe or pro-Europe) like to portray legislation as tedious red tape that stifles the entrepreneurial spirit of business.

Poppycock! 

We need legislation and regulations because (sadly) humans with power and vested interests cannot be trusted.

The Metro poll asks its readers to vote yes or no to: 

“Should the meat industry regulate itself?”

What do you think?

PS So far, 97% voted “No, the system could be abused”. 

PPS I stole my title from the New Economic Foundation blog on poultry deregulation by Stephen Devlin. Read his excellent co-written piece on so-called “better regulation”, in whose name “a large and unaccountable bureaucracy has been created to…mak(e) it more difficult for government departments to pass laws which impose costs on businesses.”

PPPS  Sign the Change.org petition to stop the repeal of animal welfare codes.

Stop press

Campaigning works! It looks as if this controversial deregulation will not go ahead. According to the BBC:

“The government has abandoned a controversial plan to repeal animal welfare codes.
The plan would have put standards into the hands of the livestock industry.”

However, the “price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

So, remain vigilant.

 

 

 

 

 

Radical Tea Towel Company rocks

Plate of grub, green and mauve original Art Nouveau suffragette designed oven gloves held by smiling woman in dark glasses in red dress

The Radical Tea Company offered me an oven glove with a suffragette design.

How could I say no?

Firstly, I could not resist the humour of a traditionally-female object, an oven glove, depicted with a powerful feminist message.

Secondly, I salute the suffragettes who suffered to win women the right to vote.

 

Feminism liberates us all – male and female – from soul-crushing expectations of how we should behave.

The Radical Tea Towel Company started when founder, Beatrice Pearce, tried finding a gift for a family member celebrating his 91st birthday. David Finch, part of British socialist history, was not much of a materialist.

Beatrice wanted something practical, that he could make use of, daily. And also reflect his passion for politics.

“And that’s when I thought – a tea towel! But not just any old tea towel. One with a radical or political theme,” says Beatrice.

T-shirts with a message were a-plenty on the Web, in 2011, but not a tea towel to be found.

Beatrice recalls thinking:

“Well, if I want a political tea towel and after an hour of googling can’t find a single one, I wonder how many other people want the same and can’t find one either? Clearly a gap in the market!”

Thus the Radical Tea Towel Company was born.

The Radical Tea Towel Company features the progressive voices of my allies from the past.

I am who I am, thanks to them.

"We have to free half the human race, the women, so that they can help free the other half."  Quote by Emmeline Pankhurst and her and image OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

The Night is Long Without a Home

Blanket in doorway by EW

The Night is Long Without a Home is an exhibition of photographs by Ian Usher, documentary photographer and artist of homeless hostel residents and workers – in their own words.

In fact, the title is from a description by John of the loss and sorrow of homelessness.

The exhibition is organised by a few of us on behalf of Bristol Foundation Homeless Residents’ Association.

Due to drastic council cuts, the hostel residents may lose their hostel homes, and be made homeless again.

How many people would you say are homeless in your city?

According to Bristol city, only nine (this sometimes rises to 11).

This does not make sense. Alan Goddard, who runs a soup kitchen feeding about 600 every day in Bristol, says the number must be over 100.

I see evidence of people sleeping rough every day. Image

I remember before the 1980s, the only people you saw sleeping rough, were tramps – gentlemen of the road. But since then it has all changed – we see young people on the streets.

How can this happen in one of the richest countries in the world?

The UN makes visits to two countries every year to report on problems. This year, it was the UK’s turn because of its housing crisis. Here is the UN rapporteur’s report.

Empty offices lie empty, testaments of investment – while our youth sleep in doorways without prospect of employment or home.

If ONLY our society believed in kindness.

If ONLY our society understood that prevention is more effective (and less costly) than cure.

Give vulnerable people a stable home and a bit of support, and you cut down on other, more expensive, services, such as hospitals and prisons.

How we treat our homeless tells us all we need to know about the world we live in.

What has this to do with food? I mean, this is a food blog, right?

Plum compote and yogurt with expresso at Canteen by EW

Well, here is a breakfast (stewed plums and granola and yogurt with an expresso) I had last week at The Canteen in Hamilton House in Stokes Croft, Bristol.

OK, quick diversion as I explain link between Hamilton House and homelessness.

Hamilton House was a defunct office block the council planners wanted to demolish – now turned into a groovesome hub of creative activities run by Coexist. (I am proud to say my office is here, along with 200 other tenants, including Afrika Eye Film Festival, and Tribe of Doris).

Hamilton House’s visionary social landlord, Connolly & Callaghan, is also the key benefactor of Bristol Foundation Housing homeless hostels.

Bristol Foundation Housing houses and supports single people who would otherwise fall through the net, people who need support to break the homeless cycle but are not considered sufficiently ‘high priority need’ for emergency accommodation by Bristol City Council.

Working with the Probation Services and others around Bristol, BFH has reduced re-offending rates by more than 50%, probably saving the taxpayer some £20 million each year.

These are the hostels that had their funding lifeline cut in August. This (free) photographic exhibition features BFH hostel residents and workers, in their own words.

Hope you can get along to the exhibition in Hamilton House, Stokes Croft, BS1 3QY which opens tonight and runs until 9 pm, 5 November.

And please do sign the Bristol Foundation Homeless Residents’ Association petition at Change.org.

THANK YOU!

Best week in Bantry, County Cork

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I won a literary prize. Published in the 2013 Fish Anthology, and launched at the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry  7 – 14 July 2013.

I do not usually go to literary festivals (preferring music/dancing ones) but hey, how many times do you win an award? I had always wanted to go to Ireland so I made a week of it.

And what a week. For a start, I hit the heatwave. Instead of being bent over laptop while sun shines, I was at leisure, in nature, by the sea. I could not believe my luck.

I had booked a hotel half-an-hour walk from the town. Built in the 1970s, the Westlodge hotel was the first of its kind with a spa. So I started the day in the hotel pool.

In the grounds, I found a place to meditate (word used loosely – basically try to to sit still for five mins.). Pic below.

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Then I found a hidden back-route towards town via the grounds of Bantry House (just visible in distance, below).

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Ancient trees line this magical route

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as I headed past the back of Bantry House, a Jacobean statement of oppressive English might-is-right.

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I preferred its ruins, below.

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Or I could divert to the sea to a corner of the bay, beside the Abbey graveyard on a hill, where families swam every day in the Mediterranean-hot July.

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And friendly women to look after my bag, and give me the local low-down.

Food-wise. For breakfast, soda bread. Real bread.

Raw carrot salad in Bantry House cafe. Delicatessen take-aways from The Stuffed Olive to eat on the steps of Bantry Library in brilliant sunshine.

And joy of joys, an organic cafe and store.

Organico is one of Europe’s pioneering organic shops. Founded in  the 1990s selling wholefoods to hippies, it now caters for the increasingly mainstream demand for good food grown properly.

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Organico Cafe also had the latest copy of one of my favourite eco-magazines, The Land

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Tangent-alert as I praise The Land: a publication that believes social justice lies in access to the land, gives eye-opening history on Britain’s 500-year-old land-grabs, and reports on current efforts to access, and work the land, sustainably.

Back to food: fish and chips in the hot evening sun in Wolfe Tone Square. The Fish Kitchen looked nice but I never got there.

Festivals can be stressful if you suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). A lifetime of this disease has taught me coping strategies. I lie down a lot and breathe, and accept I spend my whole life missing out. Here is the West Cork Literary festival programme, a long list of events I missed.

When I did venture out, things happened: I made good friends, had four strangely synchronistic conversations about getting writing help with mentoring from Fish Publishing and/or a Creative Writing MA, and caught some great speakers including:

Executive director of Amnesty International in Ireland, Colm O’Gorman, and the author of Beyond Belief – his story of sexual abuse by a priest, how he successfully sued the Roman Catholic Church, thus making way for fellow survivors to break their silence.

Colm O’Gorman was joined by a young man transitioning from the female gender he was born into, whose mum spoke from the audience, fierce with love for her son, causing some audience members to sniffle, so moving it was.

I also went to the best talk-ever on oceans ever by marine conservation biologist, Professor Callum Roberts. Clear, articulate and accessible speaker. Get his book, The Unnatural History of the Sea.

Callum featured in the powerful film on overfishing, The End of The Line, with eloquent descriptions of the destruction wreaked by the fish’s most efficient predator (us). Memorably, Callum had said: “The amount of fishing power we have at our command far outweighs our ability to control ourselves.”  Talking about bottom-trawlers which dredge the sea-bed:  “the signs of destruction brought up on deck by the trawl would make an angel weep.”

The high-point was Wednesday and holding a copy of the 2013 Fish Anthology in my hands. Thank you, Fish Publishing (thought-up by then-fisherman now publisher, Clem Cairns, hence its name).

It was a mixed emotional time because my winning memoir was about my late husband, the author Adrian Reid. He died 27 years ago, but love is not linear, and loss does not obey the passage of time.

On Friday, a sell-out talk by former president Mary Robinson – what a woman! I rose spontaneously with the massive audience to give a standing ovation. Yes, she has  privilege, but she is on the side of the angels, as far as I am concerned – including raising awareness of climate change. Mary Robinson said: Ireland must follow Scotland, and create more renewable energy – wind, solar, and especially tidal. 

In 1971, she told us, she campaigned for the legalisation of condoms, and was reviled by press and clergy. Archbishop McQuaid called her a “curse upon the country. Mary Robinson said: Nothing has been as bad as that experience. (Not exact quote as audience was asked not to use mobiles and I use mine for taking notes).

The interviewer was journalist Alison O’Connor – acute, sober, intelligent. More, please.

Then on Saturday (after the ferry ride to Whiddy Island and poetry) a talk by Jane Murray Flutter on her late mother, the author Rumer Godden whose books I read and re-read as a child.

I always meant to write to Rumer Godden and thank her for writing the book for adults, The Peacock Spring. Her compassion for a teenager’s unplanned pregnancy helped me when I was expecting my first-born – then, in late 1970s, I was “unmarried” and my child was “illegitimate”.

I do not take feminism – or indeed any respect for human dignity – lightly. “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”, a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson.

My Bantry week  took place against the backdrop of the Irish government debating whether women whose lives are at risk should be allowed a legal abortion.

No one wants an abortion. I know from my own experience it can be devastating. But surely, this must make it more imperative to treat a woman who has an abortion with kindness.

Thankfully, the de facto practice (allowed but not legal) of abortion became law on Friday 12 July. Nevertheless women who cannot prove their lives are at risk will still travel to England to have abortions, and poor women will get into debt to do the same.

So many significant meetings.

Deirdre whom I met on the aeroplane from Bristol who drove me to Bantry even though she lives in Cork, taking me up-to-speed on Irish politics, giving me insights into a country’s painful past transmuting to healing; Bogusia, poet (thanks for quirky humour and pics!), and Debra, Core Process (Buddhist psychology and mindfulness-based) psychotherapist and life-skills mentor, who gave me a great swim in a deserted bay, a bed for the night (her bookcase had few books not on my Bristol bookcase) and drove me to Cork the next day. And Carole (Bristol connections), and her friend who told us about Alexander technique for swimming.

More memorable conversations: talking about abortion with an Irish farmer (he thanked me keeping my first-born), and a gentleman on the bus to Manch Bridge who explained how Ireland (unlike England) largely escaped invasion by the Romans, and the Anglo-Saxons, leading me to conclude: its Celtic roots more intact, maybe that’s why the church came down so hard on Ireland’s earthy spirit.

And to wind-up the roll-call: journalist, Paul O’Donahue, who MC-ed the open mike, a true encourager of writing (and author of this great line: “I long to be your kissed”) plus comic poet, Martin Daly who had the open mike audience in hilarity – and songwriter, Steve Millar…Gad the list continues.

Here is the last food I had in Ireland:

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Irish soda bread at Cork airport, just like I’d had every morning in Bantry.

One of the best weeks of my life.