I just read this about food miles campaigns hurting African suppliers.
The truth is there is no way to determine all the consequences of all that we do, I don';t mean we shouldnt think about it but perhaps it works best if we just do what we feel like. The thing about eating is that no matter what way you cut it, we are taking something. Something has to die, usually, except in the case of salt which isn't really food. And although plants arent said to feel pain they are still dying for our plates. And also the space they take up is space that could be used by some wild creatures instead but we use the space for our own purposes.
The point is, by existing, we are bound to deplete other being's resources. We kind of just have to have faith that there is a general balance maintained, and I suppose you can also try not to be really deliberately selfish and greedy. But beyond that, I really dont think that you can base your actions on whether someone or something else might lose out. Of course it will - that is the nature of life and the universe. Dont beat yourself up over it. Just show some respect, and when its your turn to give yourself up to the universe, give thanks that you had your turn and offer yourself freely to the next lot.
Not that I particularly want to do that you understand. I am sure I will wriggle (am wriggling) as much as possible to get out of it. But I guess that is in the nature of life - it is a bit savage and one thing does well generally at the expense of another.
Seems to me you can only try to minimise the damage and take what you need not what you want.
Regarding the problem of emissions i do agree with the point in the article about the fact that a few beans from Africa dont add up to much compared to all the local driving and holidays we take for example. I have also heard elsewhere that (its fairly obvious actually) food transportation is much more efficient when done in huge bulk via supermarkets than for lots of people to drive round the countryside looking for bits of food here and there.
I dont actually think this local food campaign is just about food miles although that is what people might think is what it is about. I think there are nationalistic threads to it and also in a more positive light, it's about people wanting to feel a connection with their land and local communities. There is probably some nostalgia and romanticism thrown in and a dose of food fear.
Anyway - more on this later
Monday, January 29, 2007
I just read this about food miles campaigns hurting African suppliers.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Being on a 100 mile diet is turning out to be incredibly interesting in so many ways. I want to discuss that in more depth over the next few weeks, how i'm changing how I think and how I feel physically.
For example, I never used to believe that 'you are what you eat' - I had a sense that it doesnt actually matter that much what you eat, its all broken down to calories and vitamins right? But I have been off caffeine, chocolate and every kind of processed food for a while and I feel different. I feel clean and creamy. I am eating a lot of cream.
That is coming to an end now as we went to Sussex for the weekend, checked out about five farm and local shops, and as we were heading back to London in a foul gale as what patheitc little bit of sunlight there had been in the day was dragged screaming to its destiny, the way of all flesh, i turned sharply and dangerously into a little farm shop near Fairlight. I was rootling around and asking the farmer what he had that was really local and not just looked like it, when I remembered cream... and then ... there it was.... on the top shelf of the chiller cabinet....
I had actually forgotten all about butter, its become such a fruitless search. Which is silly because I am sure there is plenty of butter being made in the radius. We just couldnt seem to get our hands on any except by making it at home from cream (hence the high cream consumption).
So I went a bit mad and bought three large packets. They are really charming. The butter is a big lump wrapped in greasepaper and then popped into a little white paper bag with a sticker saying 'Home Made Butter' and a phone number.
If only they delivered to Kew....
Friday, January 19, 2007
Today, unlike any other day of my pampered life, I made bread. Neccesity, of course, fuelled my desire to partake in such a fool-hardy venture, even though I was well aware the odds of success for the first-time bread-maker ran to approximately one meeellion to one. My hunger was deep, my lament obvious, my absent daily loaf a bitter reminder that I maybe wasn't putting quite enough effort into this diet of enlightenment.
Indeed, Sarah, to emphasize beautifully my point, has been conjuring butter from cream on an almost daily basis this last week, in a way that is both mesmerising and utterly gorgeous.
Alas, I had to make a stand.
So I decided that if I couldn't find bread in the UK made only from ingredients found within our 100 mile barbed-wire fence, then I would have to instead make my own bread from legal ingredients found within our small and cluttered London kitchen.
Fealess, I proceeded to mix the Hampshire flour, the Berkshire yeast, the Essex sea-salt and the tepid Richmond tap-water into a fine, delightfully elasticated, goo-ey dough. I then kneeded it for ten minutes, greased the tin and and cling-film with sarah's butter and left my messy sculpture to rest for an hour while I went for a walk to get chocolate out of my head.
On my return, with chocolate harpies still tormenting my every step with their teasing dances, I popped the expanded dough into a hot oven and waited for the impending moment when all my endeavours would come to a predictably tragic end.
It didn't happen! The bread came out fine! I cut open the middle, still expecting some sort of hideous mis-hap, an un-cooked centre perhaps, or some terrible facial scarring caused by burning, bubbling, spitting dough, but all was calm around our flat. The kitchen smelt of H.E. Bates!
I sniffed, tentatively, at my cooling masterpiece, and purred. It all gave me a huge head-rush. At least it would have done if my head hadn't already been full to burst with catarrh and the unctuous remains of a charmless cold. Yet there was still room enough to give rise to the wonderful feeling of connection with the food I would soon eat.
Next, I am going to grow my own cocoa beans.
This has been a very productive week, in which we made our first butter (from the cream off the top of the milk - amazing how little cream you need to get enough butter for pancake making - thanks to Suzanne for your helpful demonstration of how to vigorously beat the cream until it turns to butter),
I got to use the wooden butter pat makers I bought in Stroud four years ago when I had romantic notions about my domestic destiny (now being fulfilled!!)...
Rob made bread for the first time ever,
and luckily he called to check that yes, it is better to remove the cling film from the risen bread before baking it, so the results were amazing ( I can honestly say its the best bread I've ever eaten, at least that I can remember eating, I don't even normally like bread)
and I got to eat home made bread with home made butter and home made blackberry jam for the first time ever, eating bread at all was wonderful treat after weeks of pancakes , porridge and potato
I also found English wine at the market and discovered that [allegedly] there was more Pinot Grigio sold in the UK alone last year than was officially produced in Italy (you do the maths)
Ulrike brought us pure filtered Hammersmith water (filtered through generations of londoners this pure fresh Tap water with a unique taste is bottled at source by handcrafted ancient London tradespeople) - see Rob's post below for full details -
and Sarah from the office brought in the most amazingly fragrant and uplifting home grown veggies for us...
(beautiful Rainbow Chard - I adore it just for the glamorous and unvegetable-like colours)
....which took a little while to clean but it was very satisfying and interesting.
For the benefit of those of you, i.e everyone in the world except me, Sarah and a certain female German book-seller trading in Kew, who haven't read Ulrike Bulle's comments concerning my mineral water tirade earlier in the month, the picture you are idly gazing at whilst reading this latest blog entry is that of a bottle of bone fide Hammersmith tap water which has been filtered clean of stomach gremlins and presented us sweetly as a gift. Mmm!
Now rumour has it there is an inexaustible supply of this particular variety of H2O flowing under the surface of southwest London, so both Sarah and myself look forward to toasting Ulrike's very good health with the stuff for as long as the diet continues.
Does it taste different to Richmond tap water? I hear you ask.
Buggered If I know!
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
I went on the River Cottage website because of their hempseed oil and got help in the forum from some nice person.
Apparently Hillfarm Rapeseed oil which is sold in Waitrose is IN at 97.37 miles from Richmond. Hooray!
And thanks to the UK Postcode Distance Calculator
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
This week, what with a bout of flu and a general mallaise brought on by a lack of sunlight, I have been eating little else but Pertwood porridge oats.
And they are helping to cure what ails me.
Until Sarah found this cereal last week whilst trawling the deep, rich waters of the internet, we had been living off a less-than-healthy but utterly indulgent breakfast of pan-cakes, washed down with local apple juice or hawthorn tea - whatever was our poison. ( And, trust me, hawthorn tea is utter poison of the taste buds.)
But now we have a choice of early morning treats and not one of them is chocolate. Still, there is something about these thick, chewy, giant oats from a Wiltshire farm that teases my tongue like the sweetest dessert and nurtures a tiny realisation in me that I have been consuming absolute groul for the past thirty-five years whenever porridge has been served me. For, unlike the flour-like substance of most mainstream brands, you open up a packet of Pertwood oats and the intoxicating memory of flapjacks immediately infiltrates your nostrils, reminding you that life is good and that chocolate isn't the only cake. It looks like the winter just got a little sunnier!
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Monday, January 08, 2007
Our local health food shop (Oliver's) has ordered Pertwood porridge oats specially in for us. They were already stocking some other products from the same farm but not the oats. The other products all have added ingredients, so even the barley flakes are out as they have salt and malt and we can't guarantee the origin of those ingredients.
The shop were very helpful and interested and they asked us to tell them about any suppliers of local organic food we discover.
I should add the local corner store/grocer are also very helpful and interested and let us know in quite good detail where their UK products come from.
Wow! That was a very interesting weekend.
The first week was admittedly an easy ride and it was on Saturday after getting to the farmer's market and being laden with as much produce as we could carry (we can't top up mid-week remember) that hunger started to kick in. Not real proper hungry-people-hunger, but still, enough to make life become rather uncomfortable and to make us think we should go home and cook something rather than continuing to try and find butter. No stopping off at the many cafe's and snack bars, no dropping into a newsagent for a bottle of energy juice. Just feeling really tired and hungry and not being able to eat anything as its all raw and needs cooking. When you take it for granted its hard to really imagine what that will feel like. What I found interesting was that it was actually really easy to see it as not an option. I mean it would be so easy to just think 'well i must have something to eat' and break the rule. But now that rule is there, its like an invisible wall between me and Starbucks. Which I think might be a good thing but I am sure it could be a bit dangerous to make up rules and then completely believe them even though they are only made up. Probably if was really genuinely hungry and not just having a sugar crisis I would throw the rule out of the window. Still I was surprised by how completely I had closed off from the possibility of eating outside the diet. I am sure everyone who was at D and K's on Sunday will beg to differ (more on that later).
Finding Local Food in Richmond
We went to the farmer's market and found lots of meat and veg as expected. However, the dairy people weren't there, and the bread people weren't sure about the wheat and anyway the chances of the salt being local too were too low so we didn't get that either.
Then we realised we really needed dairy so we tried Waitrose, which was quite productive. They sell (and so do Tesco) some pastel coloured eggs at an exorbitant price which are IN. They also had several types of flour from named farms, a couple of cheese suppliers and milk from Prince Charlie's place in Gloucestershire (its REALLY REALLY YUMMY even though it costs three times as much as milk) but NO BUTTER. Lots of fancy lovely home made butters - from France, from Italy, from everywhere but IN. And no English wine (local health food shop Elderflower wine sufficed!) and all the cider was from Somerset which I think is OUT.
We also tried M&S, which label their food with sources helpfully apart from the fact that they are all ISRAEL, ARGENTINA, PERU, MEXICO, FRANCE, SPAIN, etc.
In Tesco everything is from 'Produced for Tesco' - sometimes they do give 'UK' but mostly nothing unless its a non-Tesco branded product.
The health food shops actually seem to be the vaguest. All the packaging there is about 'Organic' and 'xxx-free' so once again we suffered a lot from NEI (Not Enough Information).
We tried the Chiswick market on Sunday for butter but still no luck. I am now saving the fat from fried bacon and saving the tiny weeny little piece of butter to cook pancakes, which have been our breakfast for the past few days as the oat farmers don't seem to have tapped in to the Farmers Market phenomenon yet and the shopkeepers have no idea where they come from.
You wouldn't believe how long it takes to work out where everything comes from. I was going to do some sales shopping and use all those nice vouchers people gave me for Christmas but somehow Butter became the focus of the weekend and took up hours of my time. It still is actually.
I propose that the next shopping trip will take the following form:
- Get up before 11am
- Eat as much as possible for breakfast
- Go to Richmond
- Get out a huge bundle of cash (local food is often considered fancy and is thus very expensive)
- Go to market
- Get whatever we can carry
- Go really quickly to another market eg barnes is quite good
- get as much as...again
- go to waitrose if desperate
- crawl home, cook large quantities and eat it. Nap then go on the internet to try and identify sources of food.
Actually that is pretty close to what happened last week except I wont be going back to M&S - all from Abroad - or Tesco - NEI. Which should save a precious hour or two which we can use for things like saving goose fat.
The local corner shop has actually turned out to have more useful locally produced goods than anyone. We can get eggs (Kent), apple juice(Kent) and potatoes (Essex) and that forms the basis of a healthy diet. In fact, that solves it. Egg and potato for a week sounds good to me, if it means I can go sales shopping before they put the prices back up again!
Sunday, January 07, 2007
O.k, so there are a few of you out there with slightly more discerning tastes than mine - sensitive souls who can indeed differentiate the subtle flavours of water into categories of good and bad, hard and soft, wet and not-so-wet and so on. I am willing to be educated on this subject by anyone patient enough to teach me. After all, this is a diet of discovery and I am humble enough to suppose the possibility of enlightenment.
But the more important point I was attempting to make, though it was seemingly lost in all my spitting, is that, although it is fine to have these pleasantly packaged foreign brands on our shelves, Perrier in particular seems to have become a national institution, a mainstream favourite, and that emphasises beautifully mine and Sarah's argument that people in this country are not emoting with what is being grown and produced in their own corners of the world. Clear, crisp, unadulterated mineral water cascades over the rocks of each and every range of hills in the British Isles and is duly captured, bottled, named and sold throughout the land. So why is Perrier so popular? When it should really be a treat, like Brie or Parma ham, which are gastronomic delights, utterly delicious, that do not affect the popularity of Cheddar or other English meats.
Not that I consider Perrier to be particularly delicious, you understand!
Friday, January 05, 2007
Water, water, everywhere, and it's all a lot of poncey crap from Italy and France, beautifully packaged and carefully marketed, that wends its way into the receptacles of Londoners who use it as prop to help them make believe their city is chic like Paris when it is nothing of the sort, it is just the grubby old capital of a country that obtains its water from across the sea.
The point I am trying to make, through this un-dignified rant, is that water is indeed everywhere and it all tastes the bloody same. Perrier, for instance, though I could have easily picked out Badoit, Barisart or Pellegrino, arrives on the shelves of our abundant supermarkets in sexy looking, stylish bottles that are pleasing to the human eye. There is little wrong with this, beauty has its place. The home should be filled with gorgeous things. But it's the human tongue that counts here and mine says the only dissimilar thing its buds can gauge between the continental waters and our very own mountain spring collection is that the former seem to have a little more fizz about them.
So buy a soda stream and fizz your own tap water.
Or better still, if it's the purity of the mineral water you are after, go on a bike ride to Buxton and bottle it at source, using, perhaps, an empty Perrier bottle that has already travelled 400 miles or so anyway.
No, I don't know where Perrier is.
Another restaurant adventure yesterday (excuse: business lunch) drew out some very interesting conversation but sadly, once again, no local ingredients.
This time it was the local pizza restaurant where they didnt really know anything about the ingredients. And this time the waitress definitely wasn't shy, and definitely seemed offended by the enquiry into the origin of the food being served. "What's on the menu, that's what we sell, eat that - like it or lump it" was the gist of the response. Once I had explained that I would eat the food, I just wanted to see if anything came from England, I was told it was 'all imported from Italy'. Admittedly she apologised gently after she realised i wasnt being fussy about my food or about the restaurant.
The conversation turned out to be much more enjoyable and fertile than the communications with the waitress. Bob let us know that the Economist had analysed the green-ness of farmer's markets and concluded that more transport petrol was used by all those people driving all that way to the market and home than would be consumed if they went to the closer supermarket and bought food that had been efficiently transported in large bulk. I said that i thought that most people are not motivated by the efficiency of food transport when they choose to go a farmer's market. Dad goes faithfully every week to the Richmond one and seems to enjoy it for similar reasons I myself, and I suspect thousands of others, do: you get to connect with the food and its makers, you can have a conversation with the producer, you can smell and touch and taste things and its got life in it. Vegetables are not packaged and they come in different shapes and sizes. A supermarket is to me a grim, sterile battleground where you fight with the trolley, with the queue, surrounded by the sounds of mechanical bleeping and squally children whilst being bombarded with assaults on the senses designed to trick/seduce/bully you into buying more gubbins than you need, wrapped in lots of pointless, sanitising, wasteful plastic shiny things to make sure you wont be infected by any of the other grubby people struggling around the fluorescent wasteland, or by the bored, despondent, floating people who have to stand around dressed in ridiculous faux-olde-england puffy hats and butcher's pinnies and pretend to be Passionate About Food, or something.
The very fact the supermarkets try to emulate the trappings of a real shop with a real, local grocer or baker in it just reveals how important that still is to people. Its only sad that they are, en masse, willing to settle for this ghostly, ghastly imitation for the sake of 'convenience'. Its only convenient because they are spending their precious time working long hours in jobs that pay them too much so they can buy lots of things they dont need (or too little, so they cant find any alternatives), and pay for diversions to distract from the absurdity and grind of it all, for the sake of, on the whole, someone else's profit margins. If they made more time by working less, buying less stuff and going on less holidays they could have more time to go to different shops (on their bikes, so they dont have to spend time in those equally empty places, gyms) and talk to the shopkeepers and prepare their food at home.
Anyway I was very proud of myself for avoiding pudding and sticking to peppermint tea which may have some small possibility of having come from somewhere in the UK, although it's not that likely, I admit, and I didn't dare to ask.
If this keeps up I will have a year of fine dining interspersed with starvation fended off by snacks of apples and strange herbal brews and whatever random assortment of food our friends get for us.
PS We came up with Rule Number Two which relates to eating with friends, but i cant remember what it is so will get back later with it.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
My first proper day as a 100 mile dieter began when I returned home following a 24 hour shift at work (I kid you not) and realised I couldn't take a lovely hot mug of Earl Grey into the bath with me.
Bollocks, I thought, I'll have to make do with a refreshing mug of Hawthorn leaves that our dear friend, Barbara, had picked for us, instead.
A strange sort of brew, Hawthorn leaves. I sank back in the water and stirred to the aroma of fruit and freshwater fish, leaving me with a curious sensation, a taste in my mouth that made me wonder if I had just consumed apple juice and trout oil in equal measure.
I duly fell asleep and dreamed of rosehips.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Well the day has finally come to begin the diet and we are not as prepared as it would be nice to be. eg we have a random assortment of allowable items in the house and we haven't decided all the rules yet. But we are making a start, and even if its a bit shaky its already proving interesting.
It started with a new years day trip to a chinese restaurant in Richmond with a friend who was staying. We quickly had to come up with the first rule, which is for eating out:
Rule One - Eating Out
We aren't foregoing eating out altogether because it is an important social activity. We will avoid it where it wont affect social relations, and we will use it as an opportunity for finding out about food and raising discussion with co-eaters.
The rule is we have to ask where the ingredients come from and choose the most local item available on the menu.
Day One, Continued
I duly asked the somewhat taciturn waitress where the chicken and beef from the Szechuan Spicy Chicken of Beef came from. She didn't know, and seemed nonplussed. It being New Years Day she said the chef wasn't in and when pressed she said it probably came from "the supermarket".
I concluded that probably all the food on the menu came from the Supermarket and this was suitably indeterminate not to prevent me from choosing whatever I liked. I extended this principle to include the sake, which almost certainly came from japanese rice, or at least from somewhere in Asia, but I figured I needed the heat and since everything else was from the supermarket - ie all over the world - it was kind of too late anyway.
The conversation centred for a while on deciding whether the waitress' quiet, get-it-over-with manner was due to a hangover, or incredible shyness. We flirted briefly with the idea that she was offended by our enquiries, but it seemed unlikely that she had any personal interest in the matter since she didn't know much about it in the first place.
This inauspicious start was followed by an evening of using up everything left in the fridge and cupboard with help from some friends, so we can begin properly.
Fortunately my brother and his girlfriend have given us a hamper of local food to keep us going for a bit until we get organised enough to go to a shop.
Life After Tea
Living without tea is going to be very tough for me as it is my cheerful companion and warming consolation throughout the day. I am not relishing the problem and although I've spotted some lemons growing locally and am plotting to find a mole to help me get at them, I haven't any hopes yet of finding a locally grown tea bush.
We do however have some Hawthorn tea (well actually its just some dried out hawthorn bush with tea-making potential) collected from an estate in Oxfordshire and donated by a colleague. Its actually delicious (although it smells pretty bad when you make it) and there is a satisfying pleasure in sitting and picking all the leaves off the prickly stems - one of those wholesome old fashioned activities that helps to clear the mind and make room for soothing, nourishing meditiations. So much more interesting than Tele. Apparently hawthorn tea is good for something but I can't recall what. Watch this space for an update. I think it might be for the lungs, or maybe the blood.
In fact so many friends and family have shown an interest in the 100-mile project and given us goodies that I have decided I can stay in and needn't worry about the food until the saturday farmers market when things all get much easier. So to all you generous and helpful contributors, many thanks and I hope we can provide you with some interesting stories and results over the coming year.