Thursday, 28 February 2013

Pink Goo and Bute

The very day I posted regarding Horse Meat, the media started reporting that instead of wasting food, a German minister had said “it should be given to the poor”

While I agree that good food should not be wasted, not least because of the environmental costs, the real reason this “Food” is being thrown away is that it is not fit for human consumption.

If it had just been a case of mislabelling, then I would not personally have any issue with eating the food myself, even if I were playing a lottery of; Is it Beef or Horse? But this substitution has come from dubious sources and may not be legally fit for human consumption. Be that because of disease or chemicals from veterinary treatments.

Therefore this was not food fit to eat. So feeding this Crap to the poor would be adding insult to injury. As it was the major Retailers and Food Processors insisting on products being made at a price where no one can make them from decent ingredients at these prices.

The supermarkets have shot themselves in the foot over this as the public just do not believe their claims any more. They, the supermarkets, are playing a blame game at the moment and are now saying they will source from closer to home. It gives me a Deja vu feeling, all over again to hear that. They have been saying they would do time after time, in fact every time an issue comes to light.

However there could be other issues that are yet to come to light here. As the reassurances from government(s) remind me of the other major “Substitution to reduce Costs” issue; That of BSE. Long before BSE even emerged, I read a book that spoke of the issue of animal protein going into cattle feed. As they pointed out this was the meat and animals that were unfit for human food and they even said the most frequent of the fallen stock that was going into this was sheep suffering from Scrapie. This was back in 1977 and made me decide to become a vegetarian. I remained one for 25 years too, until sectors of farming started producing and selling meat that was not fed on crap and could prove it too.
So the reassurances made by Government and the food industry, ring rather dull. As we do not know for how long this has been going on, as no one was actually looking. It remains true that had not the Irish Food Standards people carrying out a thought experiment where they would try to think like a criminal that this came to light. As the standard tests would not have revealed this adulteration. Hence the equine veterinary compounds were never looked for until this came to light. So it could be and is even likely that chemicals that are banned from human food has been eaten by the people least able to refuse.

Add to these empty reassurances are criticisms made of European Union policies. Particularly the ban that was introduced, in regard to the DSM Desinewed Meat or Pink Goo. As it has emerged that some are getting around the ban by using other methods to continue to produce this rubbish and by calling it 3mm mince or Baader meat (named after the machine that is used to produce this rubbish). This looks more like a few trying to find loopholes and do more of the same. Even though Europe banned Pink Goo for heath reasons.

If the supermarkets had been buying on short supply chains, then none of this would have happened. Government has a very important role here in making these retail giants provide good nutrition for all and not just those that can afford it.

Stop the scapegoating and get to grip with real issues.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Can We Trust our Food?

Working in the food industry, I am very aware of the potential for adulteration of foods. With the herbs and spices I supply, I check and test the products I buy, and will reject anything that is suspect. I know that my suppliers feel that I am a pain in the Butt for being fussy, but currant scandal highlights, problems that are actually rather common in the food industry.

Also the reaction by the press, especially in the early stages of the story emerging, was little more than a joke.

While eating Horse meat is not the taboo across Europe, in the UK it is rather rare. Thus most of the coverage has been rather jokey and ignoring the real issue of unfit meat being added to the food chain.

Additionally the press has predominantly pointed the finger at who ever was their pet prejudice. For example when it emerged that Romania had been where the horse meat that was in the Findus products, the press blamed the Foreigners Equally the British press pointed the finger to the European Union because they had banned the use of “Desinued Meat” (a form of mechanically recovered meat) from foods. Again blame the Foreigners and Europe.

The reality is that its the Cheap Food Culture in Britain that has allowed this criminal activity to flourish. The real problem is the the retailers and the food processors turning a blind eye to where the product comes from, as long as its cheap and profitable.

Yet it is a myth that the major supermarkets perpetuate that they are cheap, as often on a like for like basis, a local high street shop will be cheaper. Yet because the quality is often better on products like Meat, Fish and some Fruit and Vegetables in local high street stores, for the same level of spend the consumer gets better quality away from the supermarkets. The problem is that most people are very time poor and do not have the time to shop around nor spend the time cooking.

This applies to the poor especially, the main market for these cheap food products. As they can not
afford the decent food, they has been the real victims in this whole scandal.

This whole situation of cutting food costs to the bone has left us with just the bone, and it turns out not to be a beef bone either. While the Supermarkets and Food Producers are victims to a lesser extent, they are also just as guilty as the criminals who adulterated these cheap foods. As these major retailers have imposed low cost, low quality food on the consumer for so long that the rest of the nation is paying the costs of health problems such as obesity.

There will be plenty of other ways that the Supermarkets are adulterating our food, it is just that most will be legal and hidden. This is not the first time that we have had dubious items in our food, nor will it be the last. There has been a serious failing by this government when they cut back on the funding of policing food production. Further this government and previous ones, have left food and health policy to the supermarkets.

If it had not been for the Irish Food Safety folks trying to think like criminals, non of this would have been discovered. It is likely that this has been going on for at least a year before it was discovered. Although there were people flagging this up even before then.

So how can we trust our food? There are no simple answers to this. Ideally I would say boycott the Supermarkets, especially those caught with their pants down. But that is only realistic for people that can afford to do that and have other choices. The reality is that most people do not have that choice. So actually the real way of solving this issue and preventing it happening again is to break up and limit the size of these retail giants. Then there will be real competition and the consumer will have real and genuine choice. While it may mean that cheapest rubbish will disappear from the shopping baskets, making food prices rise a little, it has only been the fact that making cheap rubbish has been profitable that made this scandal happen in the first place.

If this government can only see beyond its ideology, then they will see the benefits of greater competition, better quality food and better health, and more jobs created. The only short term down side will be that the poorest people may need support for a small increase in prices as the cheapest rubbish is removed from the shelves and support in learning how to cook using real food rather than pre-packed junk.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Strangling the Economy

I know that I have been rather quiet for a while, but I did not want to add to the hysteria that built up regarding the end of the Mayan calender. As while many of the topics I wanted to discus, debate, were and are critical of the currant status quo, I personally see the future as potentially very positive. If we can all learn to start adjusting the way we carry out our economic activities.

The news yesterday is a rather apposite illustration of problems with the currant economic model, the video rental business Blockbuster going into Administration. This follows on the heels of HMV the record retailer, and Jessops the photographic retailer. Had each of the nearly 1000 stores been smaller independently run shops, rather than big chains, then there would not have been the sudden loss of ten thousand jobs.

While I am genuinely sorry for the people who will loss their jobs, these companies were quite ruthless in eliminating the smaller competition when they were growing to become dominant players. Now each complain that it was competition from online retailers that undermined their businesses.

While this is true, it is far from the whole picture or story. Back in the late 80s I worked for Jessops, and even then I could see that there were aspects where the business was not that well run. For example the shops stock carried in store was dictated by head office but with no real flexibility. Thus when institutions such as the two Universities in the city wanted premium equipment, it became a fight to let them get their hands on it, even though these items were carried in stock within the flagship stores. Therefore sales were lost to a small independent retailer. I know of £50,000 worth of sales that were lost in that manner while I worked their.

However the biggest factor that is seriously damaging all retail businesses is the level of rents. Last year another regional business went bust (Into Administration), and in the local press a couple of months latter the administrator was trying to pass on the leases of some of the shops that were closed. Others were sold on. What shocked me was the rents that the business had been paying for the shops. Many were not exactly in premium locations, yet the average rent had been £800 to £1000 per week. It was clear why the bakery business failed if they had to pay those sorts of rents.

It seems to me that when it comes to rents, Business Managers just seem blinkered about the levels that are reasonable. Often just accepting what ever demands a landlord asks. This is the real reason why our high streets are full of empty shops. The unrealistically high and unreasonable rents for retail premises have also been adding to inflation as well as cutting jobs and more importantly preventing new jobs from being created.

In far to many High Streets there are empty shops. Yet when you look at the rents being asked, they are totally unrealistic. In most cases the quoted rents are 75% to 100% higher than any business can be be expected to pay and sustain the business.

There is the need for a reality check regarding rents. As this factor more than any other is stopping new businesses start, existing businesses from growing and jobs being created.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Lose Ends

I know that I have been very remiss about posting of late. But I have been busy, also I have not really had that much to say. I am sure that my long suffering reader would have got very bored with me just saying it raining yet again. While the village is over 2000 feet above sea level, I have been expecting the beach to arrive any day now for weeks.

However, the moist weather has been good for amphibians. I have seen far more Frogs and Toads about than I have seen anywhere. Part of that could be that the insects that would normally feed them have been lacking simply as when it is wet and raining the insects can not fly. Therefore the extra moisture makes foraging easier for the frogs and toads.

Another effect of the wet weather has been the number of slugs and snails that I am seeing on the paved path alongside the road when walking between villages. It was while walking there on Saturday morning, I was keeping an eye on the path. While mainly to ensure I did not end up with my shoes coated with slug purée but also because the species mix here is different to the mix where I used to live. While walking I had to double back a couple of steps as I realised that what I had initially registered as another slug was in fact a tiny newt. By tiny I mean the body length was less than an inch about 20mm. It was the slow realisation that the slug had legs that made me realise it was actually a newly emerged newt.

While I was looking at this, a car slowed down and stopped and someone I vaguely knew asked if I was all right. I think it was a look of pity I saw on their face as they drove off. I already knew that my interests and personal attitudes were not shared by some in the village, but I was told I should just step on it and get rid of it.

Perhaps my reader will understand why I have been slow in posting here, when I have attitudes like that to contend with.

On a different topic, the Ring Ouzel. For my American reader, they are migrants from Africa that nest here. They are very similar to a Blackbird, but with a longer body, kind of like a blackbird with a long wheel base. Also the male has a bright white ring around the throat. They are also quite shy, so while distinctive they are not always that easy to see. The name Ouzel comes from old English and means Thrush. Therefore its actually a Ringed Thrush.

On a serious note, the rain that the shifting of the gulf stream has brought to Britain is an effect of the changes that Climate Change will be bringing for many Decades. If the folks in my local pub is anything to go by, I am alone in understanding that the climate is changing. As this is a farming community, I would have thought folks would have been better informed. But all I hear from them are the same old arguments peddled by polluting industries and the Right Wing Press. Yet when I suggest that they only need to look at the weather patterns and the extreme levels of rain, but this doesn't change their minds. As the village is located in the middle of a wind farm, I would have thought that people would at least be more open minded, but the beliefs are entrenched.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Curlews And Kestrels

I know its been a while since I posted here, but there is a good reason for this, the need to protect a rare nest.

As my regular, well only reader will know, I moved to an upland area nearly two years ago. I arrived in the Winter so the first spring and summer I was just finding my feet here. As the landscape could be used to film Wuthering Heights, it should tell you exactly what it looks and feels like. Also where the village I live in is rather exposed the default setting for the weather will uncombe your hair the moment you step out of the door.

I rather quickly discovered that there were Curlew in the area. This is a bird of concern and the RSPB estimate there are less than one thousand pairs nesting in the UK. So this spring when I realised I was seeing at least a couple of pairs that appeared to be nesting, I started to investigate.

While the weather has been less than clement this summer, the spring started out as being rather good. Therefore, early in the year I was rather surprised to find three definite nests and another possible nest. But then came the rain, and a bit more rain, and more than a bit more rain, so much that I was waiting for someone to open a beach resort here.

When I was able to look again, I discovered six Curlew nests. With its curved beak made for probing in wet mud, the rain had delayed breeding but it also made spotting the Curlews feeding rather easy, and tracking them back to the nests was relatively easy. So I had over a half a percent of the British breeding population on my doorstep.

However, while looking for one species of bird and its nests you inevitably notice other things too. The Lapwings and the Hare being two of the most numerous sightings. But sight is not the only sense used and I was hearing a bird that I could not identify. I am always cautious about identifying any bird just from its song or call, as Starlings can and do mimic.

The effect of the weather, had its effect most noticeably on the Kestrels as the rain was effecting the activity of the mammals they feed on. They moved to the higher parts of the land and locally that is often the road verges. After having had several days of rain, walking into the next village and back, I saw three individuals hunting over the verges. Then the following day, while on the top deck of the bus retuning from a food shopping trip I had a close up view of a Kestrel that had to manoeuvre out of the way of the bus. It was a brief sighting but a spectacular one. When a week latter I saw a Kestrel drop to the verge, I thought of that sighting and I thought I would never see anything closer than I had on the Bus. But as I crested the hill and walked along the road I saw the Young Kestrel covering, trying to hide its meal from me, with its wings as I walked past it less than four feet from the bird.

It was possible to tell that it was a newly fledged bird as it still had the last traces of the gape visible and there was another Kestrel very close by that could have been one of its parents. It was when I had passed this that I heard the call that I had been wanting to identify again, but this time actually seeing the bird. A Ring Ouzel.

As I had things to do I could not stop and watch but as I walked back I kept my eyes and ears open. It was funny, but that day I had three offers of a lift back to the village that I had to refuse. I am glad I did as I did see the bird again. He was picking caterpillars off the vegetation at the road side.

I did try tracking the bird but lost sight that first time. But over a couple of days I repeatedly saw him and what I latter realised was the female, and discovered where they were nesting. It was because of this nest that I kept quiet here, as had hoards of bird watchers descended on the area, the nest of a very rare bird would have been disturbed, as well as the nest sites of the Curlew. Further, by keeping quiet about this until “The Glorious Twelfth” as I was asked to do by the Farmer, across who's land I had to cross to get close to the nest, I got to see a seventh Curlew nest as well as a Little owls nest too.

Friday, 8 June 2012


I just had to let all my readers, okay on person and four cats, that on Tuesday I had a sighting of a Buzzard over one of the fields near my home. It was rather brief but was quite near. It disappeared over the crest of the hill. Then yesterday, Thursday, I was walking to the next village and as I neared the top of the hill that I climb on leaving the village, if I went the other direction there is another hill too, I saw a Rook that suddenly too to the air. Then right at the crest of the hill this Buzzard glided over the crest of the hill. It was no more than four or five feet from the ground and as it passed me it was no more than fifteen feet from me and the edge of the field. It is the closest I have ever been to a Buzzard and the best sighting I have ever had.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Cheap Food Divide

One of the great benefits of the internet is we can all discover a different view or approach to obtaining a similar goal. The talking Trees comment on my previous posting shows that we are all trying to achieve the same thing. While also highlighting a different set of problems.

The neighbour who sees anyone selling any food as unfair competition, although I might suggest that hot-dogs etc, might not be real food. Although perhaps that is the real problem as selling real food highlights the problem that far to often it is cheap “Junk” food that is what is most often sold.

It is this often the low cost of the cheap junk that distorts the market. Making real food appear more expensive. In the convenience shop in the large village close to my village, there are no shops in my village, it is possible to buy a pack of sausages for £1.00 that’s about $1.60 us, for eight of these things. I call them things as they should not be called sausages as they only contain 9% meat the minimum the law allows. Often if you eat in a café it will be this type of sausage that is served. So even if folks make a contentious choice to avoid this type of food in their shopping basket, you can get caught out when eating out.

However, when there are sausages like this, the high quality products that are sold at Farmers Markets and Food Festivals, will look expensive. But the point I was trying to make in the previous post, was that many Producers and Farmers are often reliant upon the advice of a small group of advisor’s that will say “charge more for your product”. While they do need a fair reward for their time, effort and product, far to often the prices are just to high. I have seen Sausages at £6-7 per pound ($10-$11.50) at Farmers Markets. Yet I have also found a couple of local butchers who are using local animals, making their own sausages and selling them at a reasonable cost. They are still getting a premium, but they understand their customers and that folks do not have unlimited funds.

Further, I would love to see the diversity that the talking tree has at her small market. There is nothing wrong with having several Farmers selling similar products, but so often it ends up being the premium products. Such as Venison, Game, or premium cuts of meat that are fine for restaurants, but most people can not afford to buy that often.

Apart from one or two exceptions, there are very few of the farmers that will bring along any part of the fifth quarter, the offal. I know that here there is a cultural divide between the US and the UK, but offal can and does make some wonderful dishes. In fact it has just occurred to me as I write, I did not see any liver pate. Something that can be a great product and one that earns a decent premium especially if done well.

Yet the main point is that most of the farmers at the Food Festival were not really selling everyday food, nor at prices that will garner them regular sales. While Farm Shops can be a great Tourist Destination where you can also do a bit of shopping, they have very little to do with the real food shopping that we all have to do. Most of the Farm Shops also have a Café, and are frequently away from the places where people normally go shopping. Thus the Farmers are often turning their farms into a visitors centres, rather than a place where people would want to go food shopping. It is this disconnection of Farming, Food and the Consumer that is being perpetuated by ignoring the vast majority of the population.

Bishop Auckland Food Festival

Yesterday, I went to a Local Food Festival. I was fairly lucky regarding the weather, as while it had rained earlier, while wandering around Bishop Auckland Castle, the home of the Bishop of Durham, the rain held off.

It was a very well attended event and while I made some wonderful discoveries, there is a sameness to many of the exhibitors. While I am very much in favour of good well produced local food, often the farmers are making and producing rather similar products. Sausages, Cheese, Bread.

Part of the problem seems to be that Farmers have been encouraged to diversify and add value to the food they produce and sell. However, as the people providing the advice and guidance are a small pool of people, all the farmers are often given the same suggestions. Therefore, the farmers and producers end up creating products that are very similar. As long as there is a demand for these products then the Farmers will have created long term businesses. But I am often left wondering who buys, or should that be who can afford to buy many of these products. As frequently there are healthy premiums placed on these foods.

While there are plenty of people that are interested in good food, this was evident by the 30,000 people who attended the festival. However, while folks were buying the foods and products, I was also constantly overhearing people complaining about the prices. As people will buy many of these products as an occasional treat, or for a seasonal festival such as Easter or Christmas, these are far from everyday foods.

I am well aware that markets like the Bishop Auckland Food Festival are a place to showcase what the Farmers and Producers create, there was no one there selling or promoting everyday foods. There was no one selling locally grown Vegetables as an example. Most were promoting their Farm shops. As the name imply's, these are shops that are based on the farm. Therefore, to sell their produce requires people to travel to them. With the price of travel going up as well as people starting to genuinely reduce their travel for environmental reasons, the logic of having a “Farm Shop” on the farm starts to look less logical. This comes back to the same small group of farm business advisor’s “Selling” everyone the same ideas.

Sooner or latter there will be a farmer or a group of farmers that will see the logic of opening Farm shops in towns rather than on the farm. And not just looking only at the premium end of a saturated market but the majority market products that most people can afford.

I personally love Farmers Markets and Food Festivals, they are far away from the food(s) that the majority eat regularly and the way the majority shop. While Farmers Markets and Food Festivals are a great way for Farmers and Producers to meet the public and their customers, far to often the people that will visit a food festival are the affluent. The normal person can not afford these foods. I can see a growing gulf between the Farmers and the real consumer rather than these markets and festivals closing the gap.

There were a couple of exceptions at this Food Festival and one of them was a company supplying Pink Veal and you can read my posting on them at

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Migration and Immigration

One of the problems of working for yourself, especially if you work alone, can be simply that you do not have someone to bounce ideas off. Additionally as I have been working like a Chinese worker in an iPhone factory, I don’t often have the time to think ideas through.

Therefore, I took some time out yesterday to get out and away from the core work and just mull over a few ideas. As the business has been growing slowly but steadily, I wanted to try and work out what my next goal needs to be. While I have a few options, I wanted to think the ideas through.

So I headed into Bishop, as I wanted to look critically at the option of taking a shop. While there are a number of empty retail units about, the owners of these premises are totally unrealistic about the rents they expect. This frequently is why they are empty. Thus, I wanted to see if there were any gaps in the types of products I am selling or in allied areas. So I decided to just wander all along the main shopping area and even further along.

This brought a rather wonderful discovery for me. First was a very good “Greengrocer”. While I have found some good ones, this stood out as being a couple of steps better. It was while in there that I started to talk to the woman who was managing this shop. Anyway, when I mentioned that I was selling herbs and spices, this was just in conversation, she was asking for my contact details to pass on to the owners. It also emerged that they had a butchers shop opposite and I went across there after I left there. Again I was impressed by the quality I saw in there. Further, as they were emphasising that the meat came from local farmers, they were ticking the right boxes for me.

Anyway, with my shopping completed, I made my way home and by the time I got home I had a clear plan of what to attempt with the business. As well as a couple of meal ideas for the next couple days too. The sausages from this new butchers were excellent.

Now in true Monty Python fashion, here’s something completely different. When I got home, I had not been in for ten minutes when the phone went. I had spotted an Osprey a few days before and it was such a close clear sighting that I had been able to partial reading of the rings. This was important as there are now Two Pairs nesting in Northumberland, and it looks as though this was one of the females that I saw.

I was strange how this sighting came about, as one of my fellow villagers had said they had seen an Eagle. I was told it must be a youngster as it was still small, and it look shabby and tired. Well if it was a bird on migration the shabby and tired could apply, but as juveniles are the same size as the adults, I had my doubts about it being an Eagle. Also the general location just did not appear to match my understanding of roost sites. So early the next day I went out to look and see if I could spot the bird. I was all but ready to start heading home when I thought I would look at the sort of locations I would have expected an Eagle or a Hawk would have roosted. Within ten minutes, I had spotted the Osprey. It was not tatty or shabby, in fact it looked in quite good condition. I had about seven or eight minutes of good observation before the bird stretched its wings and took to the air from the tree it had roosted in. I was not really in a good position to observe the flight away, but at one point it did look as though there were two of them in the air. Now that would have been very unusual as the male and female normally make their own (separate) migration. Meeting up at the breeding site. However, I am now informed they may have joined together and were looking for potential nesting sites. So I don’t know if this is what I had observed.

Going back online and looking for the news story again, I spotted a new news story. This one was about a Hawk that had been rescued from a tree. I had to read this as in my mind birds are often found in trees.

However, it was true. As it was a captive bird, and the Jessie that are fitted to the legs of Falconry birds had become entangled in the tree. Further it was a Red Tailed Hawk, not a native British Bird but an American one. As I knew the location and I had lived very near there.... Well if I had not moved that would have been a new sighting for me. But at least the headline made me smile.