Thursday, 27 January 2011

Pigs Might Fly

Down on the farm animals roam free in green fields, while the farmer works the land with two trusty sheep dogs at his side. The scene complete with cosy farmhouse, veg patch and plump farmer's wife. Picture perfect, or it would be if all farms were run this way. My imagination yet again getting the better of me. The truth, in most cases, is very much the opposite. Hens and pigs crammed into cages and crates so small, there's no move to breathe let alone grow. Cruel measures no human would wish to subject on another or be subjected to. In factory farming, there are no privileges. Animals are equal in only one respect – all fattened up fast and packed off for the chop. Prime cuts, budget mince or pet food their final stop.

Are farmers to blame for imposing inhumane conditions on the animals in their charge? Yes and no. Many farmers are desperately trying to hold onto their livelihoods, bowing to financial pressure and unworkable supermarket demands. I sympathize with their plight, but some farmers have lost their way. Driven to prioritizing capitol gain above the animals entrusted to their care. Correct me if I'm wrong for I'm no country girl, but I view farming as a stewardship. A position of tending the earth – animal, vegetable and mineral. Man and nature coexisting side by side.

A Panorama Special – Supermarkets: What Price Cheap Food? aired towards the end of last year unveiled the true source of conflict. An unequal balance of power pervades the farming industry. Farmers who once had a voice now reduced to barely a squeak. Those not conforming forced to sell their land. The “Big Four”clearly have a lot to answer for. Are we as the consumers concerned? Not enough it seems. The solution – Americanised farming. Taking factory farming to the next level. We already have battery hens, so why not introduce battery cows and pigs. Permanently confined indoors never to see their natural habitat and programmed to feed, feed, feed. We too one day could boast of the fastest growing pork and mega-litres of milk produced in a single day. The future of food, a scary prospect where animals are slave to the corporate machine.

Is this what we want? A more callous mechanised version of the good life? My romantic views of rolling hills and dales obliterated by huge metal compounds and sty-scrapers reaching up to the skies. Tower blocks for pigs, another touted invention, to replace run-down estates in parts of London. “Pigs might fly”, you may scoff, but the world we live in dreams of making the impossible possible. The “Big Four” shaping the reality – farmers will concede to their terms and shoppers will form an orderly queue of homogenised consumerism. Their position of power dictated by a line from Alice in Wonderland, “I've a right to think,” said Alice sharply... “Just about as much right,” said the Duchess,“as pigs have to fly.” Unlike Alice in this warped imaginary world, we have a right to make our thoughts known. Speak up, give animals their wings.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Fisherman's Friend

The Fisherman by P R Francis
Hugh's Fish Fight had me hooked from the start - no bait required. The UK population churned up into a storm of protest at this appalling waste of fish. A feeding frenzy of pledged public support. Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall - champion of chickens and the fisherman's friend, may not be a veggie, but I greatly admire his drive and ingenuity. His passion for food knows no bounds.

To an environmentally aware veggie, Hugh's latest effort to expose the truth about our food came as no surprise. What distressed me more were the scenes of fish gasping their last. Taken from the sea, slowly dying of suffocation. How would you feel deprived of air? Not such a difficult stretch of the imagination is it? Some may dismiss this as veggie over-sentimentality, but the key word here is respect. Fish feel pain. Watch Gordon Ramsay's report on the senseless mutilation of sharks for their fins and I defy you not to well up in tears. An unnecessary and brutal bloodbath of execution. I'm sorry Gordon, but butchering fish is no different to slaughtering animals.

This aside, fellow veggies will be dismayed to learn I am in agreement with Hugh on fishing quotas and “unavoidable” by-catches. Let's stop the nonsense and the once-caught official party line: “it's the wrong type of fish”. Discards are a disgrace, EU bureaucracy gone mad. Dead fish thrown back overboard?? A precious resource wasted all at sea. Where's the logic? I may get annoyed by “fish-eating” vegetarians, but let the people eat fish is my reply.

Friday night fish and chips signifies our Britishness. A national favourite dish. Coming out of the local chippy's with a warm, newspaper-wrapped parcel tucked under your arm. The smell of fat scenting the air. Unwrapped, the melt-in-the-mouth flaky cod and fluffy chips savored bite by bite. Yes, I remember it well. Cod was just the beginning... Holidaying regularly with my Grandparents in a coastal town was a gastronomic adventure. Fish I might not have seen or been persuaded to try at home. Plaice, sardines, haddock, herring and mackerel... I devoured it all, taking note of the sensations that lingered on the tongue.

Becoming veggie later on, naturally my fish days were numbered, but the point I want to get across is – break tradition, the old cod habit. Diversify, try different fish – battered or fried, in a sandwich, with chips, rice or pasta. By doing so you're sustaining your health and the future of fish. Unable to contend with small, fiddly bones? I hate to dampen the mood, but fish have bones, heads and scales, so deal with it! Crunching on soft bones offering a good source of calcium. If you don't like it, don't eat it – simple as that.

While fishy delights for me were over long ago, the fish fight is most certainly not. My parents Coral Wedding Anniversary testing my resolve. What fishy business would fit the bill? Alive or dead? Intact with fins, or pan-fried with a wedge of lemon? The answer to my quandary – fish in a bowl of course. The London Aquarium, the biggest catch of the day. The scale of it is: don't swallow the bait - hook, line and sinker. Join Hugh's fish fight before under the sea turns to full-time fish soup.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Lean & Green

New Year's resolutions – easy to make, tricky to keep. Promises to yourself for the new year ahead. The future you. Christmas indulged, the resolve to lose weight and firm up those wobbly bits has resurfaced along with countless ads and programmes to beat the bulge. Rammed down your throat, this message to be fit, thin and fabulous makes food the more desirous choice. The old adage, “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips”, overpowered by the urgent need for instant gratification. Who can blame the afflicted when programmes promoting self-discipline and body confidence are so inappropriately titled? ITV's “The Biggest Loser” my No. 1 offender. Its incentive lost in the notion that overweight equals loser. A negative connotation urging me to loudly exclaim “Language Timothy!”, while I simultaneously reach for the biscuit tin. The struggle to lighten the load unmissable entertainment.

My gripe a three-lettered word: FAT. Tipping the scales as both a physical and consumptive sin. FAT is not the issue, but our perception of it is. Fit, fat and healthy - well why not? I'm not denying Britain has a serious problem and needs to shape up, but where's the positive reinforcement? That smiley face or star, the symbol of good work - a job well done? As a veggie obsessed with healthy eating, advertised methods to drop a dress size concern me. Inspire to be special, shaped like a “K” and shake off those weight worries with a liquid diet. Said to provide all the nutrients you need – added vitamins, minerals, protein, splash of milk, and heaps of sugar. Great, if you happen to be lost in the jungle, flying to the moon, or dying of dehydration, but as an everyday occurrence it's unlikely. Just your average commute to work? In which case, I salute thee.

Offered false hope by tricks of the trade, to desperate dieters popping pills and minuscule portions are standard fare. A cycle of deprivation, which once set up is hard to dissuade. Education and vegetarianism, according to some, the light at the end of the tunnel. I agree, losing weight is an education, but vegetarianism? Research suggests meat consumption is associated with weight gain. Eating less the key to a leaner waist. I don't refute this, but should vegetarianism be represented in this way ? A fad to fight the flab? Conscripting others to the cause?

This link to weight loss and vegetarianism I find disturbing. Veggies have important dietary considerations too. It can be easy to get it wrong. Your weight, size and shape not a true measure of health. You can be lean and green, but still fail to love the skin you're in. As the NHS rightly suggests, healthier living is a change4life. A matter of FAT – Fix Attitude Therapy.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Mock The Roast

Does a Controversial Veggie celebrate Christmas? If so how? A question prosed by my Uncle in his card to me, including a request for “Answers on a postcard please”. Well Uncle, with a bout of flu is this year's reply. Fever, aches and pains, and an empty rumbling belly. My best-laid plans, like Nigel Slater's memoirs, literally turned to toast. A drudgery of dry nibbles and liquids. Mouthfuls of mashed pulp all I could stomach. Returning to solids and “grown up” portions my New Year's resolve.

Bare plate before me, my thoughts turned to other controversial veggies and how they might celebrate? What traditions would they observe? Every family has them from when to exchange presents to when to eat. A unit of 3 adults – my parents and myself, ours have become a bog-standard affair. No less enjoyable, but a going through the motions. Monty, the pet dog, the star of the proceedings. The baby, his gifts torn into first and squeaked to their death within five minutes of play. Balls of wrapping paper the next best game. Not so much Santa's Little Helper, despite attempts to dress him as such, but a mischievous elf who thinks every present is for him.

Gifts unwrapped and exclaimed over, lunch is usually a late affair, bordering on early dinner. Here however is where tradition falters. With a veggie at the table, anything is possible. Tampering with the festive feast a personal crusade. My Indian theme one year a stretch too far with spicy lentil soup, naan breads, homemade curry and rice. Humored, but now left very much to my own device. On Christmas Day, principles matter. I want different but non-laborious home-cooked fare. The veggie offerings on supermarket shelves deemed inhospitable to both my palate and beliefs. Retailers assume one of two meat-free positions, 1) heart attack on a plate – veg inspired centrepieces laden with fat, dairy, and pastry or, 2) vegan friendly imitation roasts, tasting just like the real thing! My choice this year - a home prepared nut roast with Winter roasted veg, unconsumed, but tame in comparison.

Resisting the obvious, the tendency to emulate the look, taste, and smell of meat, is my battle cry for a true vegetarian Christmas. Shouldn't a meat free Christmas be just that – meat free? Tucking in with gusto to imitation-style meats is not the same I agree, but doesn't it perpetuate the myth? That veggies need meat, even in a fake form, to thrive? A guilt-free indulgence. “No pain, our gain” the new veggie mantra. I come from a different school of thought. A time when mock meats were not plentiful. Quorn, the new kid on the block, aroused my curiosity, but the attraction was short-lived. Doll's house food, like chewing on plastic. The hole they supposedly filled, that desire for “meaty” satisfaction, contradicting the very core of who I was: my veg-essence.

Is the last laugh on us? As veggies, are we committing a mock meat faux pas? Imitating stuffed turkey, roast beef, and haggis, this comedy roast a mock too far?