The food debate

local greensThe ethics of food and diet is such a diverse and difficult topic to cover. For every ethical answer to a question, there are other equally valid ethical answers dependent upon differing circumstances, considerations and priorities. I have been a vegan for over a year now, and in the last month have been seriously reconsidering the ethical implications of my diet regarding the impact that I am having on the whole.

It’s easy to find statistics to back up pretty much any argument. It really depends on who is funding the research, for the most part. However, it is up to us personally to make out own choices, and to educate ourselves as best we can so that we make informed choices about our lives and the way we live them. I chose to be vegan because I thought that it was the most ethically environmentally sound option. However, now I’m not so sure.

The first thing to consider is food miles. Much of the vegan’s diet comes from lands thousands of miles away. The carbon footprint of air travel to bring these foods to the UK is considerable. The second thing to think about is what the growing of these crops is doing to these faraway lands and their people. Quinoa and rice are traditional crops for South America and China respectively, however, now that the West’s desire for these foods has grown the demand for growing them has increased drastically. This has caused the prices of these foods to soar, a lot of time to a level that the farmers themselves cannot afford to put what they grow onto their families’ plates. The third thing to think about is what effect these crops are having on the native land. As crops such as soy, rice, quinoa, lentils, etc are all grown “far away” we don’t really have an understanding of what it is doing to the land itself, as we don’t see it. Out of sight, out of mind. Soy is a great factor in the destruction of rainforest, whether through legal or illegal logging to create new monoculture crops. The monoculture crop itself has a great impact on the land as well – the earth loves and needs diversity. Monoculture is not sustainable, and susceptible to a great many attacks that a bio-diverse ecology would be able to fend off. There are hundreds of other factors to consider – these are just a few.

I’ve been studying permaculture these last few months, learning more about it and how it works. Working with the principles, it seems to me personally that the most ethical way that I can sustain myself it to eat local and organic, either growing my own or supporting those who do. I can check on what they claim, how they go about it as they are just down the road from me. What is happening is not happening thousands of miles away. I know that there are laws in place to protect people, land and animals. I feel like I have a little more control over my diet, knowing where it comes from, how it was grown, etc.

It’s not an easy choice. It requires a lot of research and investigation. It would be easier just to be vegan. I have to read food labels for everything. I have to check farms. I have to talk to neighbours and others in the village if I want to eat their surplus food. It requires an actual positive relationship with not only my food, but my environment.

We grow some of our own food, and will have a small vegetable garden this year. However, our garden is mostly a wildlife garden, dedicated to supporting birds, bees and other pollinating insects, hedgehogs, badgers and the occasional deer that come scrounging through. We decided not to grow the majority of our food, as there is an organic farm down the road that we would like to support instead. It’s their livelihood, and we want to ensure that it is as successful as can be. They grow organic crops, but also raise meat for livestock. It is an ethical consideration that must be taken into account.

Studying more and more about permaculture, I’ve found that I was quite ignorant about the keeping of livestock in small, organic flocks. Large scale industrial farming and monoculture crops are seriously threatening the earth, however, small scale flocks that are organic and actually benefit certain ecosystems, especially where crop growing isn’t a viable alternative. There are also ways to raise livestock alongside different crops that are beneficial to all involved – the very essence of permaculture.

While it’s beyond the scope of this blog to go into the details of permaculture, there are many good resources out there to find out more about the subject (see below).

So, after weighing the pros and cons of being vegan, I’ve decided to go local and organic, with a little dairy in the form of cheese from local farms and eggs from neighbours who keep and love their hens. It’s easy to just say that being vegan is the best thing for the planet, but it leaves out a lot of considerations for the planet that are perhaps “outside the box” in the usual arguments for making the switch.

As with everything, there is no black and white answer, no single answer to such a debate. All we can do is to enlighten ourselves with all the arguments, the pros and cons of each side, and make our own choices based upon what we know.

We also have to know that the choices we make are the choices WE make. We cannot make these choices for others. We cannot push our lifestyle on others. We can inform them of why we make the choices we do, but we cannot condemn them for the choice they make – we are not “better” for the choices we make. It is a trap that is easy to fall into, a sense of self-righteousness that we are definitely doing the right thing. No one really knows that the right thing is, really, or even if there is a right thing at all.

I remember being disappointed when my friend (and now Druid College colleague) Kevin made the switch to eating local meat that he had killed himself. I saw no need from my vegan perspective for the killing of another animal. Having spent time further researching the various implications of western diets on the rest of the world, I’ve changed my mind about his choice, and while I wouldn’t eat meat myself I applaud the well-researched and informed choice he made about Conscious Killing .

We all have to take responsibility for our lives. We have to walk our talk and work to make this world a better place for all, in any way that we can. We have to inform ourselves of the issues that our living has upon the rest of the planet. If like me you follow an earth-based religious or spiritual path, that is a major consideration and part of your path – otherwise why follow it at all?

I can say that after I made the switch two weeks ago (while still using up old foodstuffs like soy in the freezer) I feel a lot better physically. I feel like I have more energy. Whether this is because I’m eating food that hasn’t been treated for long world-wide journeys, eating food in season, eating local and organic I’m not sure – although I think that has a large part. I feel more connected to this land, its rhythms and cycles. So this will be the last month that I eat apples until end of August or beginning of September, providing that local UK apples will not be available in April (dependent upon quantities). There are even further issues that I need to look into, such as the amount of energy required to refrigerate apples throughout the winter from the various local farms. Spring greens in the form of soups are a staple this month. The nettles are growing in my garden – the perfect spring tonic. The sheep and goats are lactating – a new vintage of cheese will soon be available. Purple sprouting broccoli and artichokes will soon be out. Rhubarb is growing outside my conservatory, which will replace the apples in my baking and sauces. It makes the next variety of food available a real event, a real marker of the season.

Whatever your path, whatever your decision, I support you in making honourable choices for the benefit of the whole based on intelligent research and empathy for the land upon which you live. Talk to the gods, the ancestors and discuss these issues with them. Walk the land in reverence and find out how you can fit within that landscape with the least amount of impact. An earth-based tradition is all about relationship, whatever the path it is that we take. Let us take it right back to the earth in every shape and form, in every choice that we make.

What’s in season in the UK

The quinoa debate

Local and organic veg box scheme UK

The Earth Care Manual: A Permaculture Handbook for Britain and Other Temperate Climates

Friday Foodies! Best. Vegan. Cupcakes. Ever.

My friend, Sarah, found this recipe for vegan cupcakes, and they are just the best ever.  Moist, lovely and scrumptious – have a go!

Vegan cupcakes
Makes 24

1 3/4 cup plain flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup veg oil
1 cup soy/almond milk
1 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp vanilla

Cake topping
Vegan butter
Icing sugar
Rose water (optional for flavour)

Cook at 180 for 15-18 minutes

Foodie Fridays – Vegan Peanut Butter and Banana Cookies

Peanut Butter and Banana Cookies

Makes: 30 cookies

  • 125g mashed banana
  • 130g peanut butter
  • 70g dark brown soft sugar
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 165g plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 40g plain chocolate chips

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Method

Prep:20min  ›  Cook:15min  ›  Extra time:1hr chilling  ›  Ready in: 1hr 35min

  1. In a medium bowl, stir together the banana and peanut butter until well blended. Stir in the dark brown soft sugar, caster sugar and vanilla until smooth. Combine the flour and baking powder; add to the peanut butter mixture and mix well. Finally, fold in the chocolate chips. Cover and chill dough for at least 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 190 C / Gas 5. Line baking trays with baking parchment. Roll dough into walnut sized balls and place 5cm apart onto the prepared baking trays.
  3. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking tray for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Friday Foodies – Vegan Mac and Cheese

This is a recipe from my cousin, whose daughter LOVES it.

“Aurora has a new favourite meal (she had 3 bowls): homemade mac and cheese. Here is the original recipe. It is a raw recipe. I served it over cooked brown rice noodles instead (making it no longer a raw recipe). This contains a fair amount of nutritional yeast. This is a great source of vitamin B12 which is often lacking in a vegan diet.”

Macaroni and Cheese

Cheesy Sauce
1 3/4 cups cashews, soaked for a couple of hours
Juice from 1/2 of a lemon
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 medium shallot
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Pinch turmeric
1/2 clove garlic
Black pepper

Noodles
4-5 yellow squash (peel and trim)
Sea Salt

Cheesy Sauce
Blend all ingredients in your blender until completely smooth.

Noodles
Using a spiral slicer, create long noodles with the squash and then chop them into smaller “macaroni-size” pieces. Sprinkle with salt and let sit for half an hour.

Mix noodles and Cheesy Sauce in a bowl and then spread into a dish.

Warm slightly in a dehydrator at 115 degrees for 1-2 hours.

Friday Foodies – Vegan Chocolate Brownies

Vegan Brownies

Recipe by: SANDYWIFEY31S

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Ready in 30 mins
Picture by: tahoegirl
These are very gooey, which is a good thing in my book. However, if you want your brownies a little more solid you’ll need to cook them longer than the recommended time. Great for people with egg or dairy allergies. Feel free to add your own additions like hazelnuts, walnuts or sunflower seeds.

Ingredients

Serves: 16
  • 250g plain flour
  • 350g demerara sugar
  • 65g plain cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 250ml water
  • 250ml vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preparation method

Prep: 5 mins |Cook: 20 mins | Extra time: 5 mins

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C / Gas mark 4.
2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Pour in water, vegetable oil and vanilla; mix until well blended. Spread evenly in a 23x33cm (9×13 in) baking tin.
3. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until the top is no longer shiny. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares.