Tag Archives: food

Future Focus: Food

Hi everyone, and Happy Easter!

I’m too busy to write a proper post about this today but I just want you all to know the second episode of my radio talk show Future Focus is out and ready for you to listen to! Here’s the link:


The show is a positive monthly talk show about sustainability which covers a different theme each episode. This time I turned my attention to food: where the problems lie, and what kind of solutions are already happening. I also interview Meiwah, a fellow volunteer for local sustainable living group HASL, who talks about her experience setting up community projects dealing with food waste and growing food locally.

Hope you enjoy it and as ever feel free to give me your feedback! The sound quality at times is not perfect and that annoys me but I’m working on it. But if you have any tips for better content or delivery then fire away.

Next month I’ll be talking about sustainability and travel so watch this space.

Free the Fruit

I just got back from a field-trip with my university to Morocco. It was an incredible experience. But what I want to talk (write) about today is not the sun or the spices or the camels or snake-charmers, nor the invigorating thrill of leaving Europe for the first time, but the orange trees.

In the city of Marrakech, the streets outside the central medina are lined with orange trees. They’re very beautiful and they smell amazing, like someone passing by has a stylish citrus perfume that lingers after they’ve gone. But what I was more excited about was the possibility of abundant fruit. Seeing as the trees were in a public space and there were many poor people who could do with a free snack, I thought maybe the oranges were free for the picking: a civic resource. Upon asking our guide, I found out that for some ungodly reason they weren’t edible oranges, they were some bitter un-eatable variety.

I have no idea why, and it seems like a lost opportunity to me. I’ve always thought cities would be much improved with a sprinkling of fruit trees, lining avenues and adorning parks. I mean, trees already make oxygen, and you can’t really get anything more useful than that. When you consider they also absorb carbon, look pretty and offer food and shelter to wildlife, it’s a done deal. But while you’re at it, why not sweeten the deal with a bounty of fresh fruit?

In the UK and all around the world, we could have local councils and community groups get on a fruit-tree-planting-mission and tick off a tonne of jobs in one go. It’s really important that the fruit be free for local people to pick and eat though. That’s the beauty of the scheme. People shouldn’t be allowed to hog the harvest or take away bagfuls to sell, but they should be able to have their fill. Allowing something to be free does require bursting out of that sad old everything-is-for-sale mentality that seems to pervade our everyday lives. I realise that would be kinda difficult for some people to get their heads around, but I happen to think it’s a nice idea. It would improve poorer people’s chances of getting plenty of fresh fruit, which as a student I happen to know can be expensive. It’d also cut into our food miles and boost food security. Considering the UK imports around 90% of its fruit*, a little action wouldn’t go amiss.

Free peaches! Not my image.

Free peaches! Not my image.

And could it really be more obvious that fruit trees might as well produce edible fruit?
I don’t know what those Moroccan town-planners were thinking, but I bet if they’d done a survey close to 100% of people would have opted for free delicious oranges over useless inedible ones.

* Statistic from The Constant Economy by Zac Goldsmith.

The vertical urban farm uses a hydraulic system. Not my image.

Urban Farming

For the first time in human history, over half of the global population live in cities*. This urbanization trend is continuing, with estimates that by 2030 the urban population could be five billion**. The staggering seven billion milestone we hit two years ago is just the start… The UN thinks we’ll reach at least nine billion before the global population starts to level out. Cities are currently grossly unsustainable and their resilience to shocks in the energy market, transport and logistics system is poor. A good way of dealing with these challenges is for cities to start producing some (and eventually most) of their own food. Where space is a scarce resource, we tend to build up into the sky. And that’s exactly what innovative company Sky Greens is doing in Singapore. Have a look at this video:

The vertical urban farm uses a hydraulic system. Not my image.

The vertical urban farm uses a hydraulic system. Not my image.


The vegetables we harvested.

Grinning Amongst the Artichokes

Guess what I did on Thursday?

It was the first day of my volunteering placement with HASL, a local sustainability action group in my city. One of the many awesome things they do is the community vegetable garden. I rocked up to the garden at 2:30 in the afternoon, and was greeted by one of the more committed members, who I’d met once before. I started by moving lots of potted plants around, before getting roped in to mending a large wooden tool box. Let me just say now that I’ve never learnt even the simplest DIY, so sawing and hammering away like that was a small miracle.

Next we got stuck into some ”proper” gardening: we harvested sweetcorn, potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, and dug the soil ready for some hardy winter veg. This was really fun. The potatoes had apparently grown there uninvited, so it was a magical surprise every time I dug one from the ground. By this point I had forsaken all attempts at cool interest and was squealing with excitement every time I struck edible gold with my oversized spade – grinning, sleeves rolled up and Converse covered in mud!

Me showing off the artichokes

After all this excitement it was high time for lunch, and quite a few other people had turned up at this point so we ate together at a picnic table. I’d brought a packed lunch, but it seems the custom with these guys is too bring food to share with everyone, which is pretty cute. The other volunteers were all really friendly. Everyone else seemed to know each other so I did get a few ”um, who are you?”s from various people. They were all very impressed when I said I was doing a volunteering placement for a module of my degree. Everyone was at least ten years older than me, which is cool, but I do think it’d be awesome if more students and young people got involved with this kind of stuff.

The vegetables we harvested.

The vegetables we harvested

After a quick seed-collecting mission, I left the garden at sunset, feeling satisfied and proactive.
I’m so keen for next week. Someone promised they’d bring pumpkin soup to share…

What a result!


All rights to whoever took this lovely picture.

Unjust Badger Cull

Cases of the cattle disease Bovine TB have been steadily rising in the UK for many years, and the government have decided to deal with the problem by implementing a pilot scheme throughout the counties of Somerset and Gloucestershire for badger culling. The pilot scheme aims to cull 5,000 badgers, 90% of which will be free-shot and 10% of which will be caged and then shot.

You might think this is a sad necessity. But actually, although badgers have been killed on suspicion of their spreading the disease for decades, the science doesn’t support this suspicion!

All rights to whoever took this lovely picture.

All rights to whoever took this lovely picture.

Bovine TB has been a problem infecting cattle herds since at least 1930, and in 1971 the discovery of a badger carcass infected with TB lead to the assumption that these shy nocturnal mammals were responsible for spreading the disease. After this date, thousands were culled before the government commissioned a proper scientific study to assess the effectiveness of this measure. The Independent Scientific Group (ISG) was set up to conduct what was called the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT). This trial took 9 years to complete (1998 – 2007), cost $50 million of taxpayers money and is considered the best scientific data available on the subject.

This is a summary of what the ISG found:

“Our overall conclusion is that after careful consideration of all the RBCT and other data presented in this report, including an economic assessment, that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the control of cattle TB in Britain.

We further conclude from the scientific evidence available, that the rigorous application of heightened control measures directly targeting cattle will reverse the year- on-year increase in the incidence of cattle TB and halt the geographical spread of the disease.” 

(ISG 2007, Paras 10.92 & 10.93, respectively)

Why the government have decided to completely ignore the study that was commissioned, I have no idea. I can only imagine it’s because they can’t think of anything better to do, and culling badgers makes it look like they’re dealing with the problem.

When I first heard about this, my first thought was that bovine TB is probably increasing because factory farming of cows forces them to live in such awful conditions that – unsurprisingly – they’re prone to disease! I don’t have any scientific studies to back this up, but this article in The Guardian at least shows others are on the same page. It does make sense. Animals that are stressed, malnourished, unclean and cramped are more prone to all sorts of illnesses because their immune systems are weak. In fact in many of the worst farms it’s only large doses of antibiotics that keep the animals alive. Because cattle are kept in such large herds, the disease spreads rapidly and the centralised food system means it’s spread around the country – and beyond – quickly as well.

Intensive factory farming of cows. Not my image.

Intensive factory farming of cows. Not my image.

Many people agree that the badger is simply being used as a scapegoat, to avoid the real challenge of cleaning up our cruel, wasteful and unhealthy meat and dairy industry.

Badgers are one of the most distinctive wildlife species in Britain, and have been living here for longer than the islands have been populated by humans. They’re actually protected by law, as an important part of our biodiversity and heritage, and yet the planned culls would supercede that protection. If the pilot study leads on to a wider cull, the badger population of Britain will take a severe decline, probably causing them to become a threatened species. This would be a terrible shame in itself, but who knows how this could affect the ecology of the badger’s woodland habitats?

Image from www.wildlifeextra.com

Image from www.wildlifeextra.com

From an ecological perspective, this is disgusting. Just because we have a dodgy food system doesn’t mean we have the right to exterminate another species.


Photo credit: capitalgrowth.org ... Not of the project discussed below.

Awesome local food growing group!

I’ve just made a fantastic discovery!

Photo credit: capitalgrowth.org ... Not of the project discussed below.

Photo credit: capitalgrowth.org … Not of the project discussed below.

I basically watched this film about urban food growing and distributing systems and became so inspired that I really wanted to be involved in one of the awesome local food projects exemplified in the film. I sent the link to my friend who’s also into this kind of stuff, and suggested we could try and start something.

I went and made a hummus, tofu and salad sandwich and devoured it happily, thinking about how I really wanted to do something but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. I then realised that my city – being a pretty forward thinking place – probably already had at least one such local food project, that I just didn’t know about.
A very quick Google search confirmed this. The first site I clicked on was this page about a project called VEG – standing for ‘vegetable education garden’ which turns out to be in the exact part of the city that my friend I just emailed is living next year. The garden is run by a group called ‘Hanover Action for Sustainable Living‘. Hanover is the name of that neighbourhood, by the way.

How cool is that?

They run work days every Thursday, 2-7 pm! They also put on educational events.

Next term I have a compulsory volunteering module with my university, where I have to do at least 30 hours of volunteering with something related to sustainable community development. I don’t think you can get more relevant than this group!

It gets even better. As you’d expect, this community garden has compost heaps, and the local residents bring round their food waste to compost. I don’t live in Hanover, but other city residents can do this too and they even provide little compost bins similar to what the council gives out in some constituencies.

If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you might of heard my moaning about how my council doesn’t collect food waste, how I’ve contacted my MP twice and she hasn’t done anything about it, and how much I hate throwing away organic waste.
I finally have a solution!

It may involve carrying smelly boxes of vegetable peelings across the city on the bus and getting a few funny looks from fellow passengers, but it’s still a solution!

It’s a shame I only found this out an hour after this week’s workday finished otherwise I would have been straight down there today, as I’m going away back to my hometown for a few weeks this Saturday. But when I come back I’ll be all over this garden like humous over riveta.

A photo of my first veg box!

The Edible Treasure Trove

A photo of my first veg box!

A photo of my first veg box!

As you may know, I’m a university student. I may be incredibly wealthy compared with many people around the world, but compared with other people in the UK I’m pretty skint. This means that for the last year I haven’t been shopping in my local healthfood store nearly as often as I’d like and have instead been sulking around the crowded aisles of Aldi. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Aldi is a super super cheap supermarket. I know, shoot me now. If it makes it any better I also shop at an independent Indian food shop and I used to go to the farmers market before my lectures started clashing with it. But it’s still pretty poor for an aspiring environmentalist. Also, the fruit and vegetables from Aldi are horrible. Always tasteless, sometimes mouldy.

SO – enter the organic local veg box.
That’s right, I’ve finally got it together and signed up with Riverford Organics.

Above is a photo of my first veg box. Aren’t the colours wonderfully vibrant?

Anyway, they had a stall at the Brighton Veggie Fest last month and the vegetables looked so lush and the guys running it were so friendly that I took a leaflet and decided to sign up right away. After a quick (ok three weeks) jaunt across the country to see my friends and family over Easter I decided to order the Mini Fruit and Veg box for £13.45 per week.

This is going to cause quite a dent in my weekly budget as I’m used to spending only £20 a week on all my food. However, if I was working full time (even at minimum wage) I wouldn’t bat an eyelid at this cost as I know you get what you pay for when it comes to quality.  Aldi was a lot cheaper but the veg box option is better in several other ways:

a) It’s organic, fresher and seasonal, making it healthier and tastier
b) It’s more convenient, as it’s delivered to your door
c) It’s more ethical, as it’s supporting a smaller business rather than a supermarket
d) It’s better for the environment, as there’s much less food miles and pollution
e) It inspires a more varied diet, because you get different seasonal veg
f) It helps you keep in touch with the seasons and with the Earth

There’s also another benefit specific to my situation. I love fruit and will eat it as a snack if it’s available, but the fruit from Aldi was so horrible I never ate it, leaving me tempted to snack on other things such as crisps. Now I can grab an organic apple instead when I’m feeling peckish!

For all these reasons I would really recommend checking out their website or indeed another local veg box scheme that operates in your area or country. Bare in mind that there are loads of boxes to choose from, varying in size, price and contents, so there’s bound to be one that suites you.

For the record, here’s what I got in my box last week:

  • Broccoli
  • Aubergine
  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Courgettes
  • Apples
  • Oranges

All the produce was in great condition and tasted wonderful. The apples were especially good!
I’m planning to juggle around my finances so I can afford to keep this up.
Working on a tight budget is all about prioritising!

Not So Innocent

I’ve always been a big fan of Innocent Smoothies. They taste delicious, they’re healthy, they sometimes come with little hats and they always come with jokes and witty quips on their bottles. What’s not to like?

Well, a month ago I would have simply answered that with “well, they’re pretty overpriced and they’re not organic” but now things have turned a little sour for the fruit-filled favourite.

Bombshell: they’re now over 90% owned by Coca Cola.
Innocent? I think not.

A friend of mine told me this when she saw me drinking one the other week, and I was so shocked complained about it to my mum but she wasn’t that surprised. She said they’d been gearing up to this for a while. The Guardian says Coca Cola bought 18% of the company in 2009, and a further 38% in 2010, so this isn’t really new at all. What is new though, is that they now own over 90% of the company and will now be making all of the important decisions.

The Guardian’s article quotes Richard Reed, one of the founders of Innocent, stating that:

“Our aim was to make Innocent a global brand and take its ethical values to the world’s consumers. We decided that we would be able to do a better job of that with Coke.”

I’m sorry, but since when was Coke any kind of ethical pioneer?

One of my course-mates has been doing quite a lot of research concerning water scarcity in poor countries, and Coke has time and time again come up as a culprit. Apparently there’s plenty of cases of them digging wells in water-deprived areas, taking all of the clean water for their factories and leaving the area polluted – with local people unable to do anything about it.
Not to mention their end product is a disgusting toxic dental bill and addiction waiting to happen.
Or that they make millions of pounds out of childhood obesity. From production to marketing to consumption, this is a company that makes all of its money by exploiting people (and natural resources of course) and none of it by doing anything good.

I have to say I’ve lost all respect for Innocent over this shameful sell-out, and I want everyone to know they don’t deserve their name anymore.

They won’t be seeing the inside of my purse again.