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

 AllRecipes

 

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.

Eating Vegan and Locally – the ethical debate

“Is it more ethical and sustainable to eat a vegan diet which relies on the oil industry or a vegetarian diet with small amounts of eggs and dairy products from locally produced organic sources where one can make a relationship with the creatures? Do you disagree that a balanced vegan diet relies on imported food and that I am just creating problems for myself?”

(Taken from the Meat Eaters, Vegetarians and Vegans Ethical Debate on The Druid Network’s Ethics Pages Here)

Some very good questions were raised during this ethical debate, which I have been pondering ever since I went vegan. With the world’s dwindling oil supplies and the other costs to food travel – ie. carbon emissions, it has played largely upon my mind. Is it more ethical for me personally to eat lentils and quinoa grown in a country far away and imported at the expense of the environment (and other factors) than it is to try and eat vegan locally? Is such a thing even possible where I live?

I live in a very small village. We do have a village shop, which stocks the basics. None of what it stocks is labelled organic. There is some local produce, but even the people who work there cannot tell me for sure which is and which isn’t. Some produce is labelled as ‘Heritage Farm – locally sourced’ but I cannot find out just who this company actually is. As far as I’m aware, the most local food I can honestly say I have eaten this winter has been the onions scrumped from the fields after the harvest was taken away and handfuls that had not been picked up by the machinery were left to rot or be eaten by the deer.

Now that Spring has sprung, and new foods are available in my very own garden (nettle, mint, spinach, dandelions – strawberry are already in flower!) I am thinking more and more about sourcing local food. There are a few farm shops in the area, but these seem low on actual produce over highly packaged goods such as cakes, cookies, biscuits, chocolates, etc. They’re not so much farm shops as they are ‘farm boutiques’.

It raises another question as well – how local is local? 1 mile? 5 miles? 10 miles? Food grown in Britain?

Take for example my work lunch today, brought in from home. I have some Munchy Seeds, a Suffolk company that does delicious seed mixes. I have scoured the packet and website and nowhere does it say whether they are sourced locally or not (I have sent them an email enquiry). My banana was not grown in the UK, and has many, many food miles behind it. My apple is from Italy. The Twinings tea I am drinking has cucumber, aloe and nettle. There is no information about sourcing of ingredients. I also have a bag of mixed nuts that I dip into – they say ‘produced in Germany’ but can you grow cashews in German soil, or is it that the end package was produced in Germany? My decaf coffee has lots of food miles behind it, and other ethical considerations; the workers pay, the rainforest, etc. The almonds in the almond milk that I drank with it were not grown in this country.

I am seriously going to have to rejig my eating habits if I am to reduce the food miles in my eating habits. Having already made the switch to vegan, it’s been difficult enough already – eating out is an especial challenge in the rural countryside around here. There is usually always a veggie option, but it always contains cheese. One cannot live on chips and salad alone (provided the chips are fried in oil separate to the fish that is usually served with them).

Living on the coast, you would expect that you could get valuable vegan goods like seaweed rather easily. Unless you wade into the ocean yourself though, they are not to be found on any supermarket or local shop shelf, nor even in the ‘health food’ stores. I can find samphire on the beaches around here, but that’s all the local coastal veg that I know of. I think a Food Safari is in order! I also need to look into mushroom foraging workshops – I’d like to eat more foraged food. I will always remember one canoe camping trip in Sweden, when we helped a lost local with his basket of chanterelles who stumbled across our campsite get back to the village via our canoe in the failing light. Europe are much more aware of foraging, of what can be eaten and what can’t. However, considering the huge population of Britain, not everyone could forage without a devastating effect on the local flora and fauna.

So many, many questions, so many answers that need to be sifted through in order to find out what works best, ethically, for me personally. This blog post is not a sweeping statement to all that “This is the Way It Should Be” but how I need to make it work for myself personally in accordance with my principles and worldview.

My own vegetables will be planted shortly in my garden – lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. Beans will also be planted, as well as peas. This coming winter I’m looking at growing potatoes, onions and carrots in pots or bags right up against the house where they will be warmer and hopefully keep going all winter long. It’s far from sustainable, but I don’t have the time to operate a fully sustainable food garden right now in my life. If my working hours are reduced, and most definitely upon retirement, things will change (if the planet is not totally screwed up by then).

So, is it more ethical for me personally to support the oil industry in my vegan eating, or to eat more locally sourced food that may include eggs from the farm down the road? I’ve already had to adjust my diet with a vegan vitamin and mineral supplement for health reasons; these are from the Vegan Society. Yet when you break it down, what industry or industries is that really supporting? Are we getting into the pharmaceutical debate here? I still don’t have an answer to this question, but I am aware of my eating habits now, and will use that to make the final decision.

Am I creating problems for myself? I would say no. What I am doing is sacrificing ignorance in order to be aware as much as I can of what I eat, why I eat it and what the result to the world is in my consumer habits. As a Druid, I have to scrutinise my consumerism in order to see if my relationship with the environment is an honourable one. For me, there is no other option – I could not live with myself by being wilfully ignorant of the various choices I may have. This is not a problem, per se, but the way that I already live my life. It’s making me consider choices more and more – problems arise when there is no choice to be made. As long as I have options, I do not have a problem. It is up to me to address it correctly in accordance with my beliefs.

There is still much more thinking and research to do…

 

 

 

 

Friday Foodies – Raw Vegan Lemon Meltaway Balls

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/3 cup organic raw coconut flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon pink himalayan salt
  • 1 – 2 tablespoon organic maple syrup (or raw honey for non-vegan)
  • 3 organic lemons (fresh squeezed juice)
  • 2 teaspoons organic vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup organic coconut oil (melted/liquid)

Preparation

  1. Put all ingredients into a food processor and process until well combined.
  2. Take out about a spoonful at a time and roll them in the palms of your hand into a ball shape.
  3. Leave them plain or roll in shredded coconut flakes, almond flour, or powdered sugar (not raw).
  4. Put them in the refrigerator to firm for about 10 – 15 minutes.
  5. Keep them in the refrigerator until ready to serve because they will get soft if left out at room temperature as the coconut oil melts.
  6. Enjoy!

(taken from One Green Planet’s website!)

Friday Foodies – Truffle cream and Courgette Pasta

pasta

 

 

 

  • 30g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 150ml warm water
  • 4 courgettes
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 seeded and diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbsps capers
  • 2 tbsps minced fresh parsley, for garnish
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove crushed
  • 200ml Rice Dream Original or Calcium Enriched (almond milk works too)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp tamari
  • 2 tsps raw sugar (optional)
  • 2 tsps truffle oil
  • Black pepper
  • 1 tbsp cornflour made into a paste with a little water
  • Freshly ground pepper to serve

Method

  1. In a small bowl, combine the mushrooms with the water, and allow them to soften for 20 minutes.
  2. Using a swivel potato peeler, cut long strips of the courgettes and carrots to form the pasta. Place in a large bowl and mix in the chopped tomatoes, capers and parsley.
  3. Drain the mushrooms and chop well.
  4. Sauté the onion and garlic in a little olive oil in a pan. Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 2 minutes.
  5. Mix the Rice Dream with the cornflour paste, lemon juice, tamari, sugar and truffle oil. Pour into the pan and simmer to thicken the sauce.
  6. Toss into the courgettes and sprinkle with black pepper. Serve immediately.