The Canny Gardener

how to grow, cook and use plants, plus some philosophy!


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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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Throw away delights

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Carrot leaves are often left attached to new season carrots to keep them fresh and taste better.  Thanks to a badly researched article, ‘The Toxic Salad’ in the New York Times published in July 2009, people assumed that carrot leaves are poisonous and ought to be thrown away.  However, people in India have been eating carrot leaves for centuries and being the world’s second largest population, a lot of Indians would have been dead and we have had certainly heard about it.

The reality is that they are very edible and loaded with vitamins and minerals. The New York Times article alluded to the presence of alkaloids in carrot tops that could make them ‘slightly dangerous for consumption’.  But alkaloids are a substance found throughout nearly every green leafy vegetable.  Indians use all types of spinach and leaves for cooking.

Having watched my mother cook carrot leaves, this is my easy recipe for carrot leaf dish. Just remember to use the leaves as soon as you can because they turn yellow and inedible soon.

As you see in the photo, I received 6 carrots in my organic vegetable delivery.  I used all the leaves shown here plus two of the carrots.  The alkaloids give a slightly bitter taste to the leaves (just many other greens) so I used the carrot itself to give the dish sweetness.

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Ingredients: A pinch of each of these- cumin seeds, fenugreek and onion seeds. One level table spoon of turmeric. A pinch of sugar. Salt to taste. Water. A tablespoons of oil for cooking.  I also added some chopped potatoes but you don’t have to.

Wash and chop the leaves. Peel the carrots and cut them into sticks (or any other shape you fancy!).

Heat the oil and add the spices.  When they ‘fatten’, add the leaves, the carrots and potatoes, turmeric, salt and sugar.  Add a little bit of the water and cover.  Do watch and add more water if the dish dries up during cooking otherwise the leaves will stick.  When the carrots and potatoes are done, then the greens are done too.

Eat with rice or wraps.  Healthy food at throwaway price!