Thursday 28 May 2009


Last night Emma and I shunned the Champions League final to watch a film about Pig farming. Pig Business is set to be shown on More 4 very soon. We were made to wait about 15 minutes for the film to start thanks to the company whose shocking practices were at the heart of it. Smithfield Foods are determined to stop this film going on widespread release, they have threatened the filmmaker, Tracy Worcester, with legal action over some of the claims in the film. Worcester is not phased by this and will not be intimidated by them so the screening went ahead and I hope Channel 4 are brave enough to show it too.

The film itself describes the shocking practice of factory farming that is going on in the poorer regions of the EU. The film is shot mainly in Poland where Smithfield have moved their operations after being forced out of the USA because of changes in animal welfare standards. The EU standards for animal welfare are lower than the ones we have here in the UK, yet supermarkets here are allowed to import pork from the EU, farmed by corporations like Smithfield in these horrendous factory farms. The film described the impacts that the factory farms have had on small scale, traditional farming communities: job losses, break up of community, empty fields and so on. The film has many interviews with people whose health is being effected by the gases coming out of the factories near their homes. There is one scene in which dead piglets are dragged out by trespassing protesters from a foul lagoon of pig excrement, it is not pleasant viewing. Unfortunatley, for libel reasons, Tracy Worcester was not even able to tell us in the Q&A, how it is thought that those piglets ended up there. I cannot imagine they got there legally.

There are wider implications of this film in that it exemplifies how large corporations are overpowering and destroying many ways of life. Small businesses cannot compete with the 'efficiency' of large corporations, proud people who would once have had the dignity of running thier own business are now low paid employees who have little choice but to work for corporations.

My main feeling on this issue is that the heart of the problems lies in the way we have been conditioned to expect cheap food. As was pointed out in the film and is also dicussed in Carl Honore's book 'Slow', people, fifty years ago, used to spend around 40% of their income on food, now that figure is down to around 10%. It would make more sense if it is was somewhere around 20-25%. Factory farmed pork comes cheaper than Farmer's market pork, the reason is that Factory Farms don't pay the full environmental and social costs attached to what they do. To buy non Smithfield, or non factory farmed pork, or any kind of non factory produced meat for that matter, costs more money. Being able to buy food (a basic material need) cheaply, frees up our wallets to spend a larger portion of our income on our wants, wants that have come to be perceived as needs... "I need a new top, I need some new shoes, I need Sky TV, I need that new CD etc, etc"... Buying food from farmer's markets is seen as a bit of a luxury pursuit (it shouldn't, the price differences are really quite small) that only the richer classes can indulge in.

I agree with Zac Goldsmith and the French here, I think the UK should ban imports of food that is produced using methods banned in the UK. The result would be an increase in the price of pork, a price that factors in true environmental and social costs and therefore a real price. If you then want Pork you need to make the decision whether to have an extra 4 pack of lager in the fridge or some very tasty bacon. The price of food produced in environmentally and socially sustainable ways is not too high, our expectations of how much of our income we should spend on food are too low.

Right, its lunchtime, I'm off to make a vegetarian pasta dish, because the easiest way to remove oneself from an industry that treats animals as nothing more than raw materials for processing is to not buy any of its products, ever.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Getting my knickers in a twist

Got this advert in my email today:

Attached was this invitation:

"Come and visit design director, Yvonne Ellis at Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge. She will be talking about our SS09 collection on May 24th - 27th from 12 noon to 7pm. We will be offering an organic silk and Bamboo eye mask with every purchase. We look forward to seeing you there. With love Eco-boudoir x"

The tag line on the Eco-boudoir website is this: 'Luxury materials produced in the most eco-friendly way.'

On thier 'philosophy' pages they say this: "We have made eco sexy" But, what if it doesn't want to be sexy, what if it being sexy is actually a bad thing? I don't think we should be encouraging people to be conspicuosly green, because you're not then asking them to question conspicuous consumption.

Eco-bling drives me up the wall. The most 'eco-friendly' thing to do would be to not make 'luxury materials' in the first place. Companies like this take the attitude that 'we simply must have luxury lingerie for the ladies of Knightsbridge, the world would be so much poorer without it.' How about asking whether we should still be defining luxury in this way and whether the world really needs a company that sells pants for £40 each? More importantly does it need a company that adds to the idea that women should aspire to buy a Bamboo Summer Camisole and Shorts for £149? On the philosophy part of their website they say this: 'Eco Boudoir offers the woman who understands style and extravagance, everything she needs for indulgence and intimacy; from the sexiest and silkiest underwear against her skin to the softest of throws and cushions.' Should the environmental movement be getting pally with people who have 'needs' for indulgence and 'understand', the (assumedly positive) value of, 'extravagance'?

I'm sure the people who run Eco Boudoir are good people with good intentions and they do do a lot of work to raise awareness of the environmental and social impacts of knicker production see this video. But, maybe they should be questioning the the very existence of the product, not just the way it is produced, because lets face it, nobody really needs a £325 printed silk dressing gown do they?

Monday 18 May 2009

HRA Foundation Bangladesh / Curry With Love UK

Through my work with Global Footsteps I have become involved with a Bangladeshi Community Capacity building project called The HRA Foundation. It has recently run into difficulties, I have written a report outlining the problems and I am trying to raise awareness and support. This is what I'm sending out to journalists:

The HRA Foundation, a community capacity building project based in the Bishwanath sub-district of Sylhet, Bangladesh, has been forcefully and illegally closed down by powerful and self-interested local members of the ruling Awami League Political Party. The Awami League promised in its recent election manifesto, Vision 2021, that it is ‘committed to freeing Bangladesh from its current state of crisis and building a country whose citizens are able to live prosperous and happy lives.’1 The HRA Foundation was set up along very similar principles to the Vision 2021, it is supported by UK partners The Rendezvous Society (UK registered charity: 293357) and Martin Horwood MP (Cheltenham, Lib Dem). Its closure clearly contradicts Awami League promises and is an example of the political obstacles standing in the way of economic and social development in Bangladesh. Awami League public representatives with dual Bangladesh and British citizenship are implicated by their non action. They have thus far failed to attempt any arbitration and have willingly and very wrongfully painted the closure of the foundation as a simple family feud over property rights. The reasons for its initial closure were due to disagreements at a micro level, its continued closure highlights worrying truths about the Awami League at a macro level.

The HRA foundation was founded by Arosh Ali and is financed purely by the Curry With Love Bangladeshi takeaway and delivery service in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. I have uploaded a report outlining the origins and current situation of the HRA Foundation and Curry With Love to the Global Footsteps news page. Please read it here

Tuesday 12 May 2009

A Modest Suggestion

Last Friday Emma and I went to a supermarket to do a ‘big shop’ it was an ethically painful process (its not like I was n’t expecting it to be like that by the way! It is also not as if I have never been to a supermarket before, I've been hundreds of times!) I was going to write a normal blog about this 'suggestion' but I ended up writing a poem. I performed it at the Green Party Fundraiser on Sunday night here it is:

I’m looking for a section, with a modest selection of low impact food that might fit the current mood for sustainable change as we move into the age of environment awareness, ecological fairness.

Although I’m perfectly able, I’m tired of checking labels, this sort of shopping should be quick but I stick, stick, stick...

In the aisles of many miles sifting through the over travelled piles of fruit that might just mute my overzealous conscience that diverts me from the nonsense of buying out of season for no better reason that it comes cheap and easy in an attempt to please me, me, me.

The layout of this shop slows me to a stop, because I have to assess exactly how much mess each item bought is likely to have wrought on this fragile little planet just so I can scan it.

So I’m asking for a section with a modest selection of low impact food for me to pick and choose while being safe in the knowledge that a Professor from a college has independently checked that each item has n’t wrecked any lives or any land, directly or unplanned on its journey to my basket, it’s not much to ask now is it?

Now I don’t expect perfection lets have failures and corrections, lets tell no green lies so that one day I can buy a week of balanced meals that fit with my ideals without having to scour, hour upon hour for low impact goods amongst the ones that do not could cause deforestation and the droughts in poorer nations that lead to starvation or at best elimination of a diverse range of species, the world is falling into pieces.

But, until I get my section I’ll keep scouring and fetchin' my low impact goods because I think I should.

The Perfect Storm of the Internet

This article suggests that increased internet use is causing problems not only for its own very existence, but also, because of the copious amounts of electricity needed to run it, the climate! Does this mean I should stop using it, or does it mean what seems sensible anyway, don't use it too much?! It's no subsitute for face to face or even phone contact anyway!!

Leo Hickman, author of 'A Good Life - Guide to Ethical Living' has commented on it as well on Comment is free, for some reason I can't copy and paste the link, why is that? Search for: 'Don't take my internet away' instead!

Monday 11 May 2009

Straw Bales!

I've just done a Straw Bale building course at Hackney city farm. It was such a nice way to spend a sunny weekend in London. I don't know a hell of a lot about construction and even less experience of doing it, but it really made no difference, as long as there is someone on site who knows what they are doing everyone else can learn as they go along. That person was Emma, from Amazonails, a not for profit social enterprise that specialises in Straw Bale building. They have teams dedicated to building straw bale homes and do courses like this one all over the country.

Twelve people were on the course, they were mostly in their late 20s and 30s, some with specific projects in mind and some who, like me, hope that maybe one day they could build their own home on a nice plot of land.

It was interesting to hear the different motivations for wanting to learn this technique. There definitely seemed to be a significant financial motivator, one couple on the course said how they saw this technique as a way for them to be able to one day own their own home. The environmental motivator was probably secondary for most, no one really talked about it and that is an important point. Using natural materials, like straw and hazel is basically good common sense, the sustainability of it is complimentary. It requires very little extra work to make a stake out of hazel rather than using a plastic one. It is more creative, more satisfying, cheaper and actually, construction wise, better. Amazonails certainly promote the environmental benefits of their techniques and they have actively researched and developed the most environmentally sustainable methods, that is brilliant, it is thanks to people like them that the construction industry is changing, it makes the Code for Sustainable Homes more realistic.

I'd say everyone on the course had a pretty good sustainability literacy. There were people there from many walks of life, which was really encouraging, it was definitely not a sandal wearing hippy crew. We didn't spend hours persuading each other to be greener we didn't need to, we were just getting on with it, showing the way and that's what we need to do, we need to show the way, just live sustainably, just get on with it because it makes sense. When you lead, when you show the way and people like the look of it they follow!
Thanks to my Emma for buying my place on the course as a Christmas Present, it was brilliant! x

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Into the Wild

This is both a film and a book. To avoid the cliche I will quickly say, the film is better than the book. It captures the environments through which the maverick/ selfish/idealistic/ wonderful/ tragic (delete as you wish) central character Chris McCandless travelled and ultimately perished quite beautifully.

McCandless, was a disillusioned high school graduate in the USA in the early 90s. On graduating he decided to sever all ties with his materialistic, American dream infected parents and follow the lead of his heroes Jack London, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy and Doctor Zhivago.

The book gives more background as the author travels to meet some of the people who came across McCandless as he hitchhiked around North America. It won't spoil the ending if I tell you that McCandless came to a tragic and very unfortunate death in the wilds of Alaska (this is told at the start). A quote from a letter sent by McCandless to an old man he befriended sums up what the film and he was about:

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.

This story, whether read in a book or watched on film, is brilliant education for sustainability, it teaches us to look way beyond the normalising effects of 21st Century life and to imagine wonderfully different ways of living

Upcoming Film: PIG BUSINESS

This film looks like it might be worth watching:

A shocking exposé of how gruesome methods of factory farming are increasingly inflicting hidden long-term damage on public health and the environment, making a mockery of animal welfare and driving traditional, small-scale, humane farmers to the wall.

Pig Business is the result of more than four years’ fearless research across the US, Poland and the UK by passionate environmental activist Tracy Worcester, who has dedicated her life to opposing these harmful and profit-driven big business practices in food production.

Zac Goldsmith of The Ecologist will be doing a Q&A after the screening at The Barbican on May 27th, more details here:

.....more reasons to be vegetarian.

Friday 1 May 2009

Mogsie Music Returns for the Green Party!

I'm playing a fundraising gig next Sunday, please come along, the Green Party is a cause worth drinking for!

I've played this gig before and it is really good fun and has a really quaint charm!! I'm not sure who else is playing, last time there were two really good musicians, there is likely to be a raffle too!

Green Party Monthly Music Gig
Sunday May 10th
8.15pm onwards at
The Capirinha Jazz Bar
177 Archway Road,

(200 yards downhill from Highgate Tube. Busses 43, 134,263 pass the door)
(143 yards downhill from the Boogaloo)