The bottom of the tray…

Cooking oil meets spinach and metal tray…

Indian tray 12.01.13


Related to food…

There have been a few things over the last few days which i’ve noticed relating to food or cooking.

1. Sainsbury’s Basics tuna – pole and line caught only, which means less impact on wildlife which isn’t the intended target.

2. A salad, avocado, tomato salad, with lemon juice – lovely!

3. A recipe from the Guardian Food magazine which i’m going to try out soon.


Food security…

I just read an article about the impact of food supply on security.

There’s a clear definition between the richest countries and the poorest, with the poorest being the sites of major wars and unrest. It’s amazing that with all of our knowledge, technology and food production capacity, this is still a major issue for most of the people on the planet.

Water stress could also be a very similar picture and  I imagine the two are closely related.


Allotment planning…

This is my first attempt at thinking about which plants could go into the allotment (in a systematic way anyway) and I drew out a few plans with some ideas. Part of the idea of the allotment is to get as much from it as possible, including lots of staple foods, such as potatoes, onions and beans. These are all cheap to buy but come with lots of transport miles + it’s far more rewarding to grow things yourself.

There also has to be some variety in there and different people from the two families will have different things they want to grow. This is another reason why raised beds are good, as each one can be given over to a single plant and treated differently, according to what each plant needs. It also makes it easier to set things out and plan what to do. The beds are about 50 cms apart right now but this should probably go down to around 30 cms, to use the space better.

So, the main open area can be for the bulky crops, while also introducing the idea of the three sisters method, which uses a combination of corn, beans and squashes. This comes from native american culture and provided them with carbohydrates, proteins and lots of nutrients.

Mounds are built up, every metre or so, with the corn planted right in the middle. The beans are then planted next to the corn, with the squashes growing in the hollows around each mound. Water will run off into the hollows (and moisture collect there) and provide the more water-thirsty squashes with the water they need. The corn provides a stable frame for the beans to grow up (apparently), with the squashes providing ground cover to stop weeds growing, as well as giving them the roaming space they need.

But, also importantly, the beans fix nitrogen via their root nodules and replace the used nitrogen from the soil, therefore improving the overall health of the soil. The other idea is to use this combination as part of a 3 year rotation, by moving this area along the plot every year, so that the beans improve the soil following the growing of potatoes, onions, carrots and leeks. We’ll still have to use manure etc but this will help the process. The rotation system also reduces soil diseases and lowers the incidence of pests, which cannot get established given the changing plants.

In the open ground area, it could be mainly potatoes, onions, carrots and leeks, combined with the 3 sisters grouping of corn, beans and squashes. If the plot is split into thirds, this would relate to the 3 year rotation idea. The potatoes could be in a block on their own, with the next section being onions, with a split between carrots and leeks. The leeks would relate better to the roaming squashes and because they grow up, as opposed to onions which collapse over the ground, this could lead to less problems with squash leaves blocking light. There could also be a wooden partition between the 3 sisters area and the others, to keep the squashes in their area. Claire’s Dad has built a box type area for his pumpkins which he says works well.

This approach would allow 7 types of plant to be grown in the open ground, with various varieties possible. I’m keen to grow both red and white onions, as well as a couple of types of potatoes. The same goes for the beans and there could be both pumpkins and butternut squash. There could easily be 11 different varieties in there.

In the raised beds, the ideas so far are cherry tomatoes, broccoli & purple sprouting, peas, baby carrots, cucumbers, spring onions, strawberries and courgettes, or others depending on what people want. Each can have it’s own raised bed.

The other part of the planting should be insect-attracting flowers, which will boost the pollination of the other plants in the allotment. These could include English lavender, poppies and English marigolds. On the plan, these are placed next to the open ground, in the middle of the plot, therefore hopefully attracting insects right into the growing space. I also love the look of sunflowers, which can be grown around the shed, as well as the poppies which could be scattered a bit more randomly around the plot.

There is also an area on the right side, by the shed, which could be given over to fruit bushes, such as raspberries.

We’ve also just been given a really good wooden window from my Dad, which will be fitted into the frame of the shed. This will let loads of light into the space and make it useable for a variety of things, such as a kids play house. This will probably go within the space of the old doorway (as there is already a space for it), which is on the sunny growing side of the plot. This will mean more space to grow things by the shed. A new doorway will be made which opens onto the seating area.

I’ll remove all the corrugated rusty metal panels and replace with the KP’s old shed wood panels, which will make the whole thing look great and will be safer, with no sharp rusty edges.


Film – ‘Food, inc.’

Another good film we’ve recently watched from Love Film was Food, inc. It’s basically a documentary about America’s food industry and more widely about food production in relation to large corporations.

There are a number of interesting themes in this and it is amazing how some of the types of food are produced. The methods of production, the business behind the production and the control of the world food supply are all hugely important ideas which most people just don’t consider.

One of the first concepts is the idea that the range of modern foods is somehow linked to what many people would recognise as a traditional ‘farm’. The documentary looks at the packaging associated, in particular, with meats, showing barns, grass, fields, sunshine etc. Then they show what really happens! Most animals never see a field. It’s mostly factory techniques applied to farming to produce the cheapest food, in the quickest time.

You might already have some idea about the way modern food is produced, but it’s worth seeing this film as an inspiration to change the way you perceive food and to maybe change what types of food are eaten.


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USDA food plate…

The Obama Administration and the US Department of Agriculture, have produced a new, all singing, all dancing representation of what people should be eating, and in what proportions.

You could say it’s an overly simplistic representation of what is a very important subject, but it seems very effective, and to be honest, people are in desperate need of the message about nutrition being effectively communicated.

One important area of the graphic is the term ‘protein’, rather than ‘meat’. This is a big step forward and may help to get people to look at nutrition in a different way, without automatically associating protein with meat.

The proportion of food groups is also important, with fruit and vegetables forming 50% of the plate. Grains are another 55%, meaning protein isn’t that dominant. Studies have shown that even a level of 20% protein in the diet, particularly animal-based, has a direct connection with the development of many types of cancer.

The food subsidy issue is also important to consider, with a massive 63% of US food subsidies going to the meat and dairy industry. Fruit and veg get 3%, but are meant to make up 50% of the total plate – does this seem fair?


Oxfam’s latest climate change warning…

Another warning relating to climate change and the food production system, from Oxfam.

‘The average price of staple foods will more than double in the next 20 years, leading to an unprecedented reversal in human development, Oxfam has warned.’

‘A devastating combination of factors – climate change, depleting natural resources, a global scramble for land and water, the rush to turn food into biofuels, a growing global population, and changing diets – have created the conditions for an increase in deep poverty.’

This is what I mean when i’m talking about climate change and sustainability. The poorest people on Earth are on the brink. All of the factors above are able to be altered. It just requires a shift in thinking towards a sustainable way of life.

Two major, major problems at the moment: biofuels and meat production. Both these things need to change right now. We’re diverting valuable growing land into production of food products which power planes and cars instead of keeping people alive, and sustaining a wasteful and inefficient type of food (meat) which again takes resources (land, water and grains) away from hungry people. Meat production on the industrial scale needs to stop.

The thing which I find hard to deal with each day is the fact that we know what the problems are, what needs to change and we know how to do it, it just never happens. Biofuels sounded like a great idea 10 years ago but we now know what the massive negative impacts are. There’s just no reaction to the information and knowledge. We also know about industrial meat production but that’s not stopping either.

It’s almost like there has to be a very clear, very convincing climate event, or massive human impact event for things to change. I would personally hope we don’t get to far before we turn back but i’m not convinced that will happen.

So, de-carbon the energy sector and start producing massive amounts of clean energy. Initiate carbon-saving and efficiency measures across all sectors. Look at lifestyle changes which can be made. Find renewable alternatives to using finite natural resources. Stop producing biofuels and convert transportation power demand into electricity not petrol. Consider initiating population limits (a very thorny issue considering political, religious and social factors). Reduce or stop eating meat – there are positive implications for health, sustainability & climate change and costs.