Tag Archives: organic food

Organic September: Eve Balfour

A coincidence. I was planning this post on Lady Eve for Organic September when environmental journalist and historian, Erin Gill, passed through Bristol.

“Eve Balfour,” said Erin Gill, emphasising the word, Eve, as we sat in the Better Food Company cafe today.

Eve is what her friends and family called her. The title was expedient, thought Erin. Certainly useful when campaigning for counter-culture sustainable farming. (Eve’s title was inherited from her childless uncle, Arthur, the first Earl of Balfour, responsible for the Balfour declaration).

But I feel frustrated! Why are these perfectly sane, common sense ideas deemed unorthodox in the first place? As Shell prepares to drill in the melting Arctic, I despair about this terrible struggle for long-term care to prevail over short-term profits.

It’s not through want of vision.

Eve Balfour wrote The Living Soil, published in 1943 – a synthesis of emerging thoughts linking sustainable farming to health – and co-founded the Soil Association in 1946 to spread the word.

Organic historian, Philip Conford, author of The Origins of the Organic Movement, and The Development of the Organic Network: linking people and themes (1945 – 1995), wrote in the Soil Association’s Living Earth in 2003 (when I was editor):

“To the general public, the Soil Association’s name may seem narrowly focused: surely soil matters only to farmers and gardeners. The answer is no, it matters to everyone who eats and all who are concerned with health.”

The reasons, he writes, are given in

Eve Balfour’s book, The Living Soil (reprinted 2006).

The book helped kickstart the organic movement – a rising tide of hearts and minds from both the left and right of politics which questioned quick-fix chemicals, animal factories and the monocultures of factory farming. Their prophetic vision foretold a depleted soil with negative knock-on effects.

The organic pioneers called for biological and ecological sciences to underpin farming, not the increasingly-dominant chemistry one (which sadly gained more sway from developing munitions in two world wars).

To me, these organic pioneers were inspiring, standing up for nature against the increasing industrialisation of the west.

Eve Balfour speaks my language.

In the first edition of the Soil Association’s magazine, Mother Earth (1946) Eve Balfour wrote about those who questioned the status quo:

“…They are beginning to understand, for example, that health is something more than than just not being ill, and that the right approach to health consists not merely in the prevention of disease but in the promotion of vitality in both organism and environment, for the one cannot be studied apart from the other.

“These people have begun to see life on this planet as a whole, and Nature’s plan as a complicated system of interdependence rather than one based on competition.”

Soil health equals human health, as this Huffington Post film review of the Symphony of the Soil (we helped organise its London premiere), shows.

However, despite its benefits, organic farming receives little UK government support compared to other countries in Europe. What a terrible shame – organic food should be available and affordable for all, for the sake of soil, water conservation, animal welfare, bees and other wildlife, wild flowers, and our health.

Everything is interdependent.

Post Script A recent review from Stanford University indicated organic food may have less pesticides but is not more nutritious than non-organic food.

The review  (and the ensuing media frenzy) is rebutted by US scientist, Dr Charles Benbrook.

This article on the NHS website also looks at the Standford review’s methodology.

And, a great response from food writer, Michael Pollan.

I like this rant from Riverford Farm about organic food getting knocked just when it’s never been better.

The Organic Food Festival 2009

Lido couscous cropped again

We met last night to discuss the Organic Food Festival 12-13 September 2009 in association with the Soil Association.

First my starter (above) which made me think: my favourite dishes are mush-tastic. I eat lots of grains and pulses, and, let’s face it, they blob.

Please don’t reject my love because of their apparent lack of finesse.

Nourishing, healthy and economical, grains and pulses lend themselves to many tastes.

I ate the above starter (£6.50) last night at the Lido (saved and restored to its Victorian-swimming-baths-original thanks to a community campaign).

Couscous with yogurt, fresh broad beans and coriander – delicious, soothing.

Even when eating out I am drawn to mushy grains.

But why be ashamed? Eating for substance is the organic way.

“We are about inner quality, not outer appearance – that is our hallmark.”

So said Patrick Holden, Soil Association director, recently quoted in the Independent apropos the abolition of those wonky EU-rules on wonky veg.

Which brings us back to the Organic Food Festival.

Last night’s dinner was the inauguration of two things:

1) I was in my new role as food editor of The Source.

2) The Source is helping produce the programme for the Organic Food Festival 2009. And that’s what we doing, round a table at the Lido.

Every September, Bristol Harbourside transforms into Europe’s largest organic market place. The Soil Association organic festival used to be free but became so popular it got rammed so, there has been a charge. This year £1 of the £5 entry fee goes to the Soil Association.

My message?

Join us!

The Organic Food Festival in Bristol Harbourside on 12 – 13 September 2009

Taste the future

Organic is more than a product

– it is our sustainable future.

Bean salad fast food


I have to eat. Now. Quick and dirty.

So I grab a tin of organic haricots beans, a must-have cupboard staple.

I open it with the ring-pull and drain the health-sustaining beans in a sieve.

I put them in a bowl and snip whatever fresh things I can lay my hands on:

  • wild garlic flowers from a walk a week ago
  • chive flowers from my balcony pot
  • winter chard that kindly reappeared this spring when I thought it was a gonner

I added olive oil, balsamic vinegar and crunchy rock salt.

All of which sounds poncy but make all the difference to a dish so get over it.

What is your most cannot-live-without cupboard staple?

PS Inspired by Lynn who comments here and grows organic produce for vegetarian restaurant in Bath, the well-established Demuth’s, I ate lunch there on Friday. My thali with all its different tastes and textures including dhal and chickpeas cost £10.95 . I also liked my dining companion’s beetroot dish.


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Vegan noodle pie


I dedicate this post to fellow blogger, Meg Wolff, who recovered from cancer thanks to a macrobiotic diet and Donna, a woman who befriended me at a Devon train station, who – it turns out – also cured her cancer after following a macrobiotic diet for ten months.

When Donna first approached me at the brightly-lit station on a dark wintry rainy evening last week, saying: “Hi, I am Donna,” I thought she had mistaken me for someone she knew.

Or maybe we had met…in another dimension?! (I love these stories so bear with me, you rationalists).

Donna asked me: “Are you interested in shamanism?”. “Always” I answered because I love real-life mystery.

To which she replied: “You have good medicine around you.” And I was thrilled.

Donna gave me her card and we are now in email contact – that’s how I know about Donna’s macrobiotic diet, and Axminster’s Awareness Centre, and her parents, the original ‘organic kids’, now 89 and 91. So listen up, you young things, eat your organic greens to get some healthy longevity inside you!

This is all the encouragement I need to eat more organic grains and vegetables, keeping animal-food to a minimum…

Donna and my other dedicatee, Meg Wolff, share many beliefs including the magic of writing things down.

Go visit Meg Wolff’s inspiring blog and I won’t even mind if you don’t come back.

Ah, you are back. OK, so Meg sent a newsletter which included a recipe for vegan lasagna. As a mama, I made lasagna but never considered how to veganise it – until this moment!

So I played around with Meg’s original recipe and here is mine – all ingredients from my local organic shop, the Better Food Company.

I peeled and chopped a big slice of pumpkin, putting the chopped-up pieces gently oiled, in a roasting pan to sizzle away in a medium-hot oven for 40 minutes.

For oil, I used Clearspring organic sunflower seed oil (first cold pressing for a naturally-nutty taste), a new discovery thanks to speaking coach, John Dawson.

While the pumpkin pieces were doing their thing in the oven, I made a vegan white sauce with organic soya milk, sunflower margarine and Dove’s rye flour, adding sliced fennel and mushroom, and tamari sauce, for interest and taste.

Then I drained and mashed 450g of tofu with gently-fried slices of onions and some sprinkling of smoked paprika.

I dunked 50g of gluten-free buckwheat noodles in a pan of boiling water until they softened – about five minutes.

Then I assembled my layers into an oiled-casserole dish, starting with the drained noodles covered with half the fennel and mushroom sauce, followed by the mashed-up tofu and the roasted pumpkin pieces, followed by the rest of the sauce – and baked it for 20 minutes.

I served it with fresh mustard leaves which grow on my balcony in salad pots from Cleeve nursery bought at the Organic Food Festival in Bristol last September – an easy way to have fresh leaves (see pic below)!

It was comfort food-supreme with the baked noodles reminiscent of lokshen pudding from the alter heim.

Happy Obama week!


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Beautiful food grown by us

The inspiration for this blog is manifold.

It owes its line-length to skinny writing

and the vegetables in the picture

to the organic Better Food Company

where I shop, happily, in Bristol.

I also want to multi-dedicate this post

to the planet’s coolest conference, Blog08

and the winner of my first blog competition.

More soon.

And please leave me a comment!

Porridge with heart

Porridge with heart-shaped cinnamon and nuts

I love porridge so much I could marry it – it is good for me and treats me nice.

You know when grown ups say: don’t play with your food? Wrong! Playing is the best way to learn.

There is always a moment in cooking where I think: this looks a mess.

“Be quiet,” I order my inner critic. I know I must persevere regardless, adding a bit of this, a bit of that.

The thing about porridge is it is meant to look like slop.

You can add fruit, nuts and seeds for extra taste and nutrition. I like sultanas, cinnamon, pecan nuts and pomegranate (see pic).

I love raw oats too. They are my top favourite comfort snack food with soya or rice milk, and sometimes, when in a dairy mood, organic cream.

This is how I make porridge. Using a cup – or half a mug – of jumbo oats (organic of course) per person, I soak them in water overnight.

If I forget to soak them (sometimes there are other things on a girl’s mind), I use rolled oats because they cook quickly without soaking.

So you get your oats, put them in a saucepan, add water and gently bring to the boil, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon to stop them sticking to the pan.

How much water? Well, enough to cover the oats, then add about a half a cupful more and keep simmering and stirring. Eventually the oats absorb the water and by trial and error, you can make porridge as lumpy or smooth as you like. Maybe you need to add more water, maybe you need to cook it a bit more (generally takes 10-15 minutes).

I would like to be more precise but it is not in my nature. Cooking is about experimenting.

It all comes good in the end – so take heart.