The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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Learning from traditional cuisines

This month of January is ‘Veganuary’.  People are being encouraged to eat vegan foods, or if they can’t bear that, at least vegetarian foods. A vegan diet involves cutting out animal products like meat, fish, dairy, cheese and eggs. According to the Vegan Society, conducted in 2018, there are around 600,000 vegans in Great Britain, most of whom are women.  There are also ‘life style’ vegans- people who won’t wear leather, or using cosmetics made from animal products even if these are organic or use eco-friendly methods of production. Being Vegan has been even declared a philosophical belief- this month a court in Norwich ruled that it had been a violation of the UK’s 2010 Equality Act after a worker said he was fired for raising concerns that his employer’s pension fund was being invested in companies involved in animal testing.

An environmental writer and campaigner, George Monbiot, says that ‘the protein content of beef  is just 25%. And beef generates more carbon dioxide per kg than a return flight from London to New York ( Beef creates 1250kg per kg of protein as opposed to 986kg of CO2 per air passenger)  There other environmental costs of beef such as livestock feed, packaging, transportation, disposal of waste, etc. So were the Indians on to something when they declared that the cow is ‘holy’ and that beef should not be eaten?  In fact, one third of Indians are vegetarians and most of the ones that eat meat, do not eat beef.  Did that belief have some practical consideration because livestock also need large areas for grazing?  Land management is a crucial issue for the 21st century- at present, most countries have more areas set aside for grazing than for forests. In Africa, this is causing havoc and on a planetary scale, it is causing desertification, climate change and changes in the water tables.

Eating meat is considered a move up the social and economic scale, so when people become rich they start eating meat.  But eating too much meat, especially red meat, is also creating health problems. In the Philippines, the social attraction of eating meat is so high that poor people will eat recycled meat- called Pag Pag, this is meat that has been thrown out from restaurants and homes, eaten by rats and contaminated by other waste. It is washed, cooked again and sold. Why should people eat such meat? Where is the desperation? Filipino food is actually quite healthy with a combination of meat and vegetables and combines the cuisine of the East with the West.  When I commented about this, I got so much abuse from people that I had to leave the facebook group.

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Another aspect of healthy eating is portion size. In my village, rice, legumes and other grains used to be measured out using this wooden cup. When I first saw it as a child, I thought it was a bit mean!  But now, having measured the container, I realise that a portion of that cup is the same size as the cupped palm. That is amazing! So again traditional wisdom knew that portion sizes needed be cut down and created this wooden cup for measuring exact amounts per person.

 

There must be other traditional wisdom in ancient cultures all around the world. If you know of other aspects, please write in the comments below.

PS: So considering their traditional diet, would Indians be more environmentally friendly than a European who is consuming beef and flying as well?


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new types of food to combat world hunger

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Given the state of world hunger where more than 13% of our fellow human beings are hungry, i.e., nearly a billion people!  The irony is that our world produces enough food to feed all 7 billion people who live in it.  Some people do not have the access or money to buy food, access to land to grow on it, some are hungry due to droughts or famines and some due to man made causes of war and violence. The difference between hunger and malnutrition is that malnutrition means the body does not have the necessary nutrients necessary to grow or fight off disease while in the state of hunger, people have little or no food, never mind the nutrition aspect of it.

Food is also being grown or sourced unethically (the recent highlight of fishing) or by polluting the environment, whether through pesticides or through genetic modification.  Bees which work tirelessly, pollinating our plants and thereby helping to feed us, are being killed off through use of pesticides or through destruction of their habitats.  By growing similar food year after year, not only are we reducing bio-diversity but also our own ability to digest different types of foods and our immune systems.

I recently had the chance to taste another type of food- food that could be produced plentifully without harming the environment, is nutritious and has protein.  This is insect food.  The photo above shows the insect pate I ate made from crickets.  Now that may sound rather strange but the truth is that insect are the most abundant terrestrial life form excluding bacteria. Today, 80% of the world still eats over 1,600 species of insects, from Jing Leed in Thailand to Escamoles in Mexico to Casu Marzu in Italy.  Even the prawns, lobsters etc that we eat are really a type of insects.  Cricket protein is supposed to be 20 times more efficient as source of protein than cattle based protein and typically need 5 times less feed than animal protein and produce 80 times less methane than cattle.  Insects are high in protein and low in saturated fats and sugars. They are a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids, and have higher iron, calcium and B-vitamins content than beef. They are easy to raise and reproduce quickly, using minimal resources.

Cricket flour is being used for produce energy bars.  Having tasted the pate, I do not think it is any different than eating a prawn.  The most difficult aspect of ending world poverty by eating differently is not about economics, imagination or distribution but a change in our mindsets.