Thursday, 30 September 2010

Eat Up Britain!

Britain is in a quandary – what to do with its leftovers? A throwaway society, we are experts in our wastefulness. No item, big or small, escapes landfill mountain - food, packaging, white and electrical goods. Once considered past its best, nothing is too good to be disposed of, even people. Brand new shiny models eagerly wait in line to take the place of barely used appliances. Granted, there has been progress in recent years. Recycling has become a household word, but the statistics for food waste continue to appall. 8 million tonnes of food is wasted and thrown away each year. Like the health warnings stamped on cigarette packets, figures and percentages however mean little. Britain needs visual images on a grand scale. Could a mobile Museum of Food Waste or Bin Police provide the much-needed solution to this crime?

The biggest culprits, as reported by Financial Times magazine, are single person households. Those living alone apparently waste more than the average family by not using up food or overestimating portion sizes. You can't argue with statistics they say. Fine, but as a single person, I take issue with these findings. You may be independent and contribute to society, but live alone and you're a feckless food waster. The savvy shoppers among us are single people too. Is that really so inconceivable? Being single, I naturally think I have it better. There's no spouse or child pulling on my arm, flailing around on the floor at my feet, or creating a scene down the supermarket aisles. The only pester power I have to answer to is my own incessant mind chatter. Quietening that little voice often presents a challenge in itself. Should blame however be apportioned to any one group? Aren't we all in this together?

As consumers, we have to shoulder some of the blame for the food we throw out. Buy-One-Get-One-Free offers prove irresistible at times, but are they really worth the supposed saving? Do you really need that extra bunch of bananas or loaf of bread? More times than not the answer will be no. Kitchen cupboards and fridges have grown larger and so has our desire to fill these with goodies. Could the scarcity of food during the war resulted in our current need to hoard? More than likely. Irrational as it may be, there is a fear of having to make do like our ancestors before. Survival of the fittest today equates to gluttony and greed. Resourcefulness is for wimps and dissenters.

I am that dissenter. Tell supermarkets to BOGOF and buy less. Buy what you need, not what you won't use. Am I the only one that looks forward to menu planning my week? It can be fun and even involve the whole family. Waste is minimal, leftovers are magically whipped up into soups, salads, and lunches for the next day, and you don't have to think about “what's for tea”. Love food, hate waste. Revel in culinary messiness and forget about perfection. After all, a clear plate is a clear conscience.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Just Another Meatless Monday...

Sir Paul McCartney, environment experts and greener living MPs are calling us to go meat free on Mondays. Driven by Sir Paul, the campaign is quickly gathering public, as well as celebrity and government support, nevertheless I question its unbreakable link to Mondays. Should the emphasis really be given to any one named day of the week? If you fail to have a meatless Monday, do you then wait another week to go meat free? I fear many people will come to this same unavoidable conclusion and like starting a new diet or quitting an addiction put off the inevitable.

To be fair, Sir Paul did address this in a hearing at the European Parliament. His statement that day called on people to adopt one meat free day a week, so why can't the overall campaign reflect this very stance? Yes, Meat Free Monday sounds good, catchy even. A marketing dream ticket to success, but it comes with a negative spin. The families I know still enjoy the traditional Sunday roast and celebrity chefs do little to dispel this. Mondays have been chosen to offset the meat gorging the day before, but this may be counterproductive. Mondays are leftover days – cold meat sandwiches, cold cuts and salad, casseroles, and chicken curry to name a few. I hope I'm proved wrong, but I understand other European countries set a different meat free agenda – usually a Wednesday or a Friday. This seems to me more logical. If you shop just once a week, Wednesdays or Fridays can lead to “bare cupboard syndrome”- you make do with what you've got left. Experimental and delicious meals made from back-of-the-cupboard ingredients. Whichever way you look at it, culinary challenge or kitchen nightmare, surely a middle-of-the-road day is a better meatless contender?

You may assume from this that I don't back the concept. I do and applaud Sir Paul's efforts all the way. I even voted for the recent Early Day Motion put forward by John Leech, an MP for Manchester, that all UK Parliament canteens should go meat free on Mondays, but I think our perception of meat needs more work. Meat used to be considered a luxury and still is in many parts of the world. It's this the West seems to have conveniently forgotten. For some, global warming is not a concern, but if forgoing meat just for one day was re-marketed as a way of giving to others it would offer a whole new perspective. The grain used to fatten meat would feed more than the meat itself. Think of how many third world countries we could help. Instead we offload what we don't want as aid or sell them back the fruits of their own labour. Why should impoverished countries have to rely on this outside assistance? We deny them their right to self-sufficiency and expect them to be humble with it.

The Meat Free Monday campaign for me raises far too many questions and not enough answers. As a veggie it holds little sway, but I think meat eaters could do with more clarity. Are we saying it's okay to eat fish like Christians would do on “fish supper” Fridays? Should veggies and vegans be going that extra step and abstaining from faux meat alternatives? Going meat free for one day is not sufficient to alter the state of the planet, nor is it a huge undertaking either. Like “Ready, Steady, Cook”, anyone can create a meat free masterpiece in 20 minutes.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Would You Eat McFrankenmeat?

Old McDonald's lost his farm to the land of science and white coats. Tinkering with nature is not a new phenomenon, but in the race to resolve the world's obsession with meat, is science pushing the boundaries too far? As it stands, there are two meaty options in the pipeline – the attack of the clones or lab-flesh. Frankly, both fill me with skepticism and horror. Farming consigned to the dark ages and science our new saviour? I've yet to be convinced.

No self-respecting veggie would ever consider cloned meat an alternative. For one, it still causes unnecessary suffering to the animal, such as health problems and birth defects, and two, encourages the continuance of factory farming. Worse than the latter, it's purpose-designed meat with no thought given to the sentient being concerned. Cloned animals, or humans for that matter, can't possibly have thoughts and feelings can they? Science would have us believe clones are little more than robots bred only to combat the shortcomings of humankind. I was therefore surprised to learn of PETA's $1 million prize fund to any organisation perfecting cloned meat to market by 30th June 2012. As far as I can see, there's nothing ethical about the treatment of cloned animals. A different PR spin maybe, but another meat to market all the same.

The latest scientific ruse much talked about is in-vitro meat. Still in the early stages, it's basically a cluster of cells taken from a live animal and growth replicated in a Petri dish. Literally, a lab-grown creation. The initial developments have been promising so we're told, and the whole world, it seems, is debating its merits, vegetarians and vegans included. What does the advent of lab-flesh mean for the vegetarian movement? Are we too in danger of becoming a dying breed? I recently attended a debate chaired by the Vegetarian Society on this very subject. Both sides for and against were very eloquently put. In-vitro meat cleverly uses the same arguments as vegetarianism – reduces suffering to animals, better for the environment and public health etc. Is this not a ploy to rid the world of vegetarianism? I mean if even veggies go for it then man and science has won. An excellent marketing strategy, but I take issue with a number of lab-meat's supposed benefits. The end of animal suffering and poverty being just a couple of them. Can we really trust that “donor” animals will be treated humanely? How will this and the labelling of artificial meat be policed? The idea that poverty will be solved on any scale by this lab-grown monster is also entirely flawed. Like going organic, it probably won't be economically or commercially viable. There's a reason why poverty is still alive in the third world and it's called exploitation. Poverty keeps the masses in line and forces reliance on American aid. If we were that concerned, we could have taken appropriate measures long ago, but even now we are still dragging our feet. The immediate solution is obvious: to face our evident gluttony and reduce our meat consumption. Any food wasted or used to fatten up livestock is a lost resource to millions of others.

Whether you decide lab-flesh is for you or not depends on your reasons for turning vegetarian. If like me, you're not on a crusade to convert others, then Frankenstein food may never be your future. Personally, I could never return to the taste or texture of meat, artificial or not. Sometimes I find even meat-free alternatives voids this belief. The day may come when we have no other choice but to order McFrankement and fries. What will you decide?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Intolerable Acts Of Cruelty

Not a day goes by without a fresh story of animal abuse making the headlines. The sudden media interest and public backlash has perplexed me. Animal cruelty is not new, although the media are certainly portraying it as such. If humans are capable of harming one another, why are we shocked when humans harm animals too? Is it because the animals concerned are domesticated pets and bred for human companionship? Slaughtering cattle doesn't provoke quite the same response. There's no public outcry or hate mail, or if there is we don't hear of it. Why is it easier to divorce the meat on our plates from the cute, fluffy pets at our side? For many this is indeed the case, but I fail to see the logic. The argument I put to them is this: if we don't condone human torture, how can we justify the torturing of animals? Surely any form of cruelty, neglect and abuse is an act of violence, regardless of the being it is performed on.

In contrast to public reaction, BBC1's Sunday Morning Live posed the question: “Are We Too Obsessed With Animals?” as a serious topic for debate. In light of current feeling, it was a foolish question equally matched by an unintelligent, flimsy discussion. My response to the question would be that we're not obsessed enough. Britain,a nation of animal lovers? Hardly! Recent stories emphasise my point. When does it become a good idea to put a cat in a bin, violently abuse a 7 month puppy, or brutalise foxes with cricket bats? The perpetrators under interrogation proclaim their actions were a moment of madness, but is this a good enough explanation? Does it justify the crime? The public voted and in a cruel twist of irony the perpetrators are now the preyed upon. Two wrongs however don't make a right. Inciting violence against another is never justifiable whatever their past actions might have been. Should we take pity on these snivelling, now defenceless creatures? In a word yes. They're more deserving of our pity than our anger. I doubt I will ever fully understand what drives people to such acts of cruelty, but I believe you should try. Our lack of empathy for one another has bred this culture of violence, and its effects, as we are witnessing, are spreading.

Humans, it is said, are the master of animals, but where we would be I wonder if they had dominion over us? That said, as a veggie I feel duty-bound to expose myself to the inhumane and violent acts against all animals – fluffy and wild. Abusive treatment, neglect, intensive farming practices, illicit slaughter etc. etc. I want to understand the actions of others, gain knowledge, and form an opinion. I don't want to assert my authority over animals, assume they're dumb, or treat them in undignified ways, but it helps if I'm able to understand others that do. Are veggies therefore overly sensitive to the plight of all creatures great and small? Possibly, but I think we'd rather be known for our compassion, than have none at all.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Thoroughly Modern Feminist

Labelling myself a feminist had never occurred to me until today. A derogatory term often applied only to the female sex, I envisioned a strong group of women, possibly moustached, with a no-nonsense approach. Despite my sympathy for the feminist movement and its aims, I had certainly never considered myself one of them. A middle-of-the-road kind of gal, neither girlie or tomboy, I preferred to keep my overt opinions to myself or blast them at a few close compatriots. The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer however has opened my eyes. Perhaps I am a feminist after all?

In order to be a feminist I assumed you either had to be staunchly opposed to men or behave like one of the boys. More masculine than feminine, neither act ever appealed. In the second wave of feminism, fortunately this is not the case. Our battle lies not with Adam, but with Eve and the culture we live in. An era where females are more likely to be pitted against each other and themselves. Men will always be blamed for the oppression of the fairer sex, but what about women? Alongside men, we also work in professions which exploit and undermine the female species. Fashion, health and beauty glossies celebrate this very fact. Taught how to please from a young age, we continue this trend rather than teach self-empowerment. Exposing your body is deemed the ultimate feminine power. In this at least, women's hands are not so clean. Described as the weaker sex, have we been prepared to do men's bidding for far too long? Isn't it time we broke out of this mold and accepted a more cohesive model of femininity?

Like the suffragettes before us, deeds speak louder than words. Our current actions are letting these early activists down. How can we re-educate men if we fail to re-educate ourselves? Men and women will never be equal – we have different roles and values in life, but we can accept this, agree to learn from each other, and create a more equal environment. I've chosen not to be a part of this conventional struggle for dominance. Marriage and children to me represent oppression. Growing up I witnessed my mother's daily grind to balance motherhood, work, wifely duties, and the accompanying guilt. Time poor with no time spared for herself, her work was never done. A glass of wine after a long day and she'd be collapsed in the armchair sound asleep. A product of the 80s, this was just how things were, but it wasn't a role I wished to emulate. My mother epitomised the working woman who supposedly had it all, but did she? I learnt that the world of work was favourable for women, but you can't have your cake and eat it. As a result, I chose independence over joining the formidable ranks of wives and mothers. This doesn't make me a despicable woman of questionable character, but a woman forced to be honest with herself.

Modern feminism is not about coming out of the kitchen. Stay in the kitchen if that's what you prefer. Nor is it about sisterhood, solidarity, or tearing yourself in two trying to have-it-all. It's about recognising the whole woman - inside and out. Be true to who you are and what you want to be.