A Life is a Life

deer-on-front-lawn-3One of the things about running a market stall is that a lot of conversations go on around you, and you can’t help overhearing them.

Although my stall is entirely vegan, one of my neighbours sells venison. The venison comes from legitimately culled deer by a licensed stalker. Deer culling is a regrettable part of countryside management, and I don’t like it any more than the thought of any animal being killed. I’m more tolerant of it, however, because the deer in question get to live their entire lives without interferance from man, and their death is instantaneous.

The conversation I overheard was from one of my neighbour’s customers, who rushed up to him, delighted to see that he had fillet steak on his stall. The instant she realised the steak was venison, however, she became upset, ‘Oh no, I couldn’t,’ she said. ‘Because of what it is, I just couldn’t.’

What a pity she can’t apply that mentality to the piece of beef she thought she was about to purchase – or indeed to any meat?

It got me wondering. Why is a cow’s life less valuable than a deer’s? Is it because a deer is prettier? Cuter? Somehow more helpless or vulnerable than a cow?

Beef cattle spend their entire lives in an artificial environment. Conscientious farmers will make sure that life is as good as they can make it, but it’s still a long way from the life they would live if left wild. They are grown like a crop, and when ready, they are harvested.

Deer have choices cattle do not. They can go where they want (with the attendant risks from traffic, fences and the hunt, of course). They can choose their mates, raise their offspring themselves, and eat freely from their environment.

cows-befriending-a-dogIn contrast, cattle are enslaved from birth, told where and when to eat, made pregnant or forced to give sperm according to a business agenda, and, in the case of females, milked dry twice a day. They are gentle, intelligent and conscious creatures who get scared, care about and worry over their young, and enjoy spring grass and sunshine in the exact same way as deer.

Yet some people still think eating beef is okay, but eating deer is not.

Eating meat, and its byproducts, involves the taking of a life, whatever its source. If you want to eat meat, then surely your choices should be based on the animal’s welfare during its life, not about how cute it is?



Environment Foraging

Jewels of the Hedgerow

cropped-blackberries-300x3001.jpgFrom ancient times, humans have had a hunger for gems like garnets, rubies, emeralds and diamonds.

There’s another type of jewel our ancestors hungered for, which has been sought for far longer than gemstones. Millenia before we settled the land, back when ‘wealth’ was not measured by possessions or the abstact and arbitrary concept we call money, people sought another kind of treasure. In many ways, this particular ‘gem’ was just as rare as the mineral ones we value so highly today.

The hedgerow’s seasonal bounty could be gathered only when it appeared on the bush, during a very short window of opportunity. The rich prizes were highly sought when in season and people would go into the forests to fill bags and baskets for the tribe to enjoy. Without refrigeration, though, they could only be eaten when they were available in the wild.

When you see fruits such as blackberries and elderberries ripening on their branches, it’s easy to understand why humans have come to consider dark, glittering gemstones so attractive. It’s in our nature to desire them, because evolution has programmed it into us. They represent wealth and security.

Even today many folk make use of this seasonal treasure. At the modest expense of a Sunday afternoon, the whole family can explore the river or countryside lanes and gather more blackberries than they can reasonably eat. Fortunately, unlike our ancestors, we have freezers. We also have some delicious recipes, developed over centuries, to preserve the fruit and keep us going until they are next in season.

Freezing soft fruit can take a bit of patience. Chucking them onto the shelf in a plastic bag or box will produce a solid black mess you have to chip at when you decide you want to use them.  Here’s a tried and trusted method for successfully freezing hedgerow fruit.frozen-blackberries-artimg

  • Wash the fruit thoroughly to get rid of dust and insects.
  • Allow to drain, then dry with a tea towel or kitchen paper.
  • Spread one layer over a baking tray, making sure it’s not over-crowded and the berries are not touching.
  • Place flat on a freezer shelf until the fruit is frozen. Repeat if you have sufficient berries.
  • Once frozen take out of the freezer and place the berries in a bag.
  • Return to the freezer

Using this method, you will have a supply of berries that are not all stuck together, which you can dip into whenever you want to use them. You can select the exact number you need (not a messy lump), and return the remainder to the freezer for next time.

When foraging for berries, though, remember to leave some for our furred and feathered friends. They don’t have supermarkets.


Reduce Your Shoe-Size (The Carbon Footprint One)

carbon_footprint_lowresBack in the days of WWII, when British people were faced with adapting or starving, they came up with ingenius ways to cope. From drinking coltsfoot instead of Ceylon tea to girls using gravy-browning and eyeliner on their legs to fake seamed stockings, our grandparents were nothing if not adaptable. Without knowing it, they became the first environmentally-friendly generation.

To eat healthily during rationing, many people turned their gardens into vegetable patches and kept chickens.  Food waste was collected and used to feed pigs, and any surplus harvest was pickled, chutneyed or dried. Anything that could be re-used, such as bottles and jars, was. Even scraps of paper were kept, neatly folded, for some unspecified future use.

The resources to replicate their environmentally-friendly lifestyle haven’t evaporated.  Things just got easier for us. With anything we want available online, with disposable packaging so freely used in manufacturing, and water, energy and fuel so ‘on tap’ that we don’t even think about it, it’s understandable that we take it all for granted. But it won’t be here forever.  If we use all these resources at the rate we are, they will eventually fail. No news there.

When we think about the number of people, and industries, putting pressure on the planet it’s hard to imagine how one individual can change anything.  And we can’t.  Not one individual.  But if a large number of individuals make small changes to their lives, and think about how they use everyday resources, then change can happen.

The point is, we are all, individually, responsible for the future of the planet, and there’s a lot of advice online about just how to do it.

As well as these useful tips, simple things like re-using packaging can help.  I use fruit punets as planting trays for my herbs. Microwaveable take-away containers can be washed, kept and used over and over.  Re-using things is the best solution for packaging, recycling is the next. The landfil bin is the last resort for any of your waste.

Re-use carrier bags, or better still, purchase dedicated bags for your shopping.

Re-use foil trays as baking or freezer trays.

Put your grass clippings in a corner of the garden, so it can rot down to form mulch to feed your flower/veggie patch.

Plant insect-friendly herbs and flowers.


Don’t buy more food than you can use.

Buy local grown.

Get a dehydrator and dry any surplus fruit or veg to keep for later.

Eat more fruit and veg.  It takes less energy to grow vegetables than to grow an animal for food.

With these changes, you reduce your carbon footprint, and every little step will eventually turn into a long, fruitful journey.


Environment Products

Non GMO Tofu

tofuFrom Nature’s health bars and leathers are popular with buyers, but at around £1.00 each, I have to sell a lot of them to make the business thrive.

That being the case, I’m always looking for new things I can create to promote nature and animal-free cooking, which will also offer something awesome for my customers. I also have to bear in mind that, being on a farmer’s market, I don’t want to put pressure on other traders by duplicating what they sell and setting up unecessary competition.

This week, I’m thinking fresh Tofu. Freshly-made tofu created from whole soya beans. Shop bought tofu simply can’t compare. I’m aiming to start with firm tofu, as that stays fresh for longer, and can freeze should my customers want to do that. It also gives me the option to make something I love – tofu jerky. Yup.  Smoky and chewy strips of tofu to add to dishes or eat on its own.

Research into the world of Tofu making has brought home the fact that a large proportion of the world’s soya beans are now genetically modified. The constant need humans have to ‘improve’ on nature to make a bigger buck is astonishing. Why screw with perfection?  Nature has spent billions of years making the best products it can and, within a couple of decades, humans have managed to render all that time and effort pointless. I say humans.  In reality, it’s the massive corporations who, like all bullies, want to be the biggest boy in the playground.

I’ve managed to find a souce of soya beans which claims to be GMO free.  I can only trust to trading standards to guarantee that the claim is true.

It will take a little while for me to get the equipment together, but come and visit my stall in Taunton’s High Street on Thursdays to check on my progress.


Taunton Sustainability Show 2015

From 2011 Gallery
From 2011 Gallery

The British summer weather did us proud yesterday at the Taunton Sustainability and Food Fair show, hosted at Queen’s College in Taunton.  After a threatening and gloomy start, the weather picked up and so did the pace.  Everything was green, from the awesome BMW i8 (electric and super-cool)  to the Taunton Farmer’s Market with its variety of locally-produced products. Not only all that, entry was free, so there was absolutely nothing to stop individuals and families coming along to see what was there: watch the goose-dog trials, roll around in Zorbs, make indian roses or check out the luxuriously- appointed Bell Tent (festival goers, I’m looking at you).

Zorbing (could be some new fetish)
Zorbing (could be some new fetish)

The Sustainability Show is a terrific project, pulling traders, producers and craftsfolk together to prove just how achievable sustainable living is.  It’s not rocket science (although you might think so, looking at the fantastic solar energy products on display).

Particularly encouraging was the turnout.  Not only was the venue well-attended, but the diversity of people who visited our stall alone just goes to prove that the environment, and sustainability in general, is on the agenda right across the demographic board.

People are concerned about nature, about the environment, and, as Julia Roberts points out, we need nature far more than Nature needs us.

We had a couple of new products on their first outing today – Elderflower tea and cordial.  (Guess who’s been out foraging!)  We had our hedgerow drinks out for the first time, too.  Rosehip, Sloe and Elderflower.  Delicious!

Considering we were selling a lot of our regular items at half price, we made a tidy sum over the day, and our fruit leather was getting quite a name for itself.  As one lady commented – ‘People are talking about you’.  Under other circumstances, I would get paranoid about that, but in this context it was extremely encouraging.

Sadly, my phone is ‘OUT OF ORDER’ so I couldn’t take any pics.  A missed opportunity, as there were so many amazing things to do and see.

If you couldn’t make it to this year’s show, don’t worry.  Given the popularity of the event yesterday, there will be another one along next year, and I urge you to get there for a terrific family day out.