The Austerity Pantry Revisited

About a year and a half ago, I posted on an an experimental approach to food in Austerity Measures and the Simplified Pantry.

I had challenged myself to pare the contents of our pantry down to 35 items including herbs, spices and beverages. It still seemed extravagant in the face of this family’s meagre week’s worth of groceries.  Having switched to a vegan diet for ethical reasons with comparative ease and a minimum of fuss 20 months earlier, I was keen to see what other possibilities opened up:

  • To eat a nutritionally sufficient, wholesome diet at a much lower cost
  • To eat a delicious diet without recourse to rare and exotic ingredients
  • To align our diet to global norms rather than those determined by our gluttonous society
  • To prove it possible to eat well on £15 per head per week
  • To save money by buying ingredients in bulk that would definitely be used
  • To cultivate an enjoyment of a simpler palette of tastes
  • To remove fatty and processed foods from the menu altogether
  • To flirt with the tantalising possibility of going fridge-free
  • To minimise trips to the supermarket

Well …

I have to admit a number of additional ingredients and indulgences have crept back onto the shopping list in the intervening months due to bad habits and convenience,  but not due to necessity. I also discovered a couple of new delicious dishes that didn’t fit the restricted pantry. Nevertheless, there seemed to be something attainable here that just slipped away.

Three particular areas were especially challenging:

Bread – I wanted to commit to only consuming bread that I had baked myself. The plan was to get a sourdough going that would not require yeast to be replenished as one of the 35 items. In reality, sadly my life is too hectic for sourdough and bread products on supermarket shelves proved irresistible.

Spices – These are relatively cheap and add instant variety, and 25g of most things lasts a good while, so the spice rack was never really reduced.

Staples – Under the heading of  “rice”, I managed to sneak in four different varieties (that’s cheating), and I  started exploring quinoa. I have since decided that quinoa is a “no-no” because it has become stupidly expensive and the poor Bolivians who grow it can’t even afford it.

However …


Bean Slop and Polenta

Bean Slop and Baked Polenta

I was recently summoned to view the multicoloured spreadsheet of household finances that my wife painstakingly keeps in order. It was there in black and white (or rather pink, green and blue) that I have failed on numerous promises to bring the wayward grocery bill under control. A few hours later, my reflection in a shop window provided an unwelcome reminder that the mirror on our landing is unreliable and distorts my wayward girth in a flattering way, too.

It is time to recommit to “The Austerity Pantry”.

This time, I am anchoring it to a rolling menu of eight or nine basic evening meals with porridge for breakfast and  soup or jacket potatoes for lunch. For the curious, this is how it looks at the moment:

  1. Lentil hotpot
  2. Pasta and sauce (generally prepared with leftovers)
  3. Chilli beans with rice
  4. Savoury rice (pilau)
  5. Chick pea curry (type and strength varies)
  6. Roast vegetables with polenta or couscous
  7. Bean slop (this is somewhere between a soup and a casserole and goes well with leftover polenta)
  8. Lentil dal
  9. Risotto (with mushrooms or whatever vegetables are to hand)

In theory, this regime can be sustained on a monthly bulk-buy of pulses, staples and spices, supplemented with a weekly selection of local organic veg … and a fridge is not really needed …



Barefoot Colleges

In spite of the fact that we risk information fatigue as we are overloaded with data from the web and other media, I can’t help noticing that sometimes something I see among the hundreds of pages and pictures and clips that I view every week “sticks” and begins to embed itself on another level. This TED talk from Bunker Roy is one such sticky thing. It fed my soul, reawakened something, pulled some threads together. I’ll let it speak for itself for this is one of the most inspiring and heartening things I have seen for a long time:


Milk Monday: Thoughts on a Calf Killing, Carbon Footprints and Consumerism

Calf roping

Not to mislead you, this is a calf being roped at a rodeo, not shot at a dairy. (Image via Wikipedia)

Last week was interesting …

For a start, the Daily Mail published a story about a deformed calf being taken from its mother and shot on a farm in the Bristol area that supplies milk to Cadbury’s. It was just one of the many cruel details uncovered by a Viva! investigation. This was “shocking” enough to make national news, heart-rending pictures of a helpless baby animal being dragged away from its mother and killed. However, as many commenters on the article pointed out, this sort of thing happens every single day and it is an unavoidable practice, necessary to the continuing production of milk, cheese, yoghurt, and chocolate that our nation is so addicted to.

Implicit in the practice of taking milk from cows for human consumption is the need to remove their calves. The fate of these calves depends on their sex. If they are males, they will be slaughtered in one way or another. If they are females, they can look forward to a fraction of their natural lifespan which will consist of 4-5 pregnancies before they are exhausted and only good for pet food – either way, it’s “shocking”.

Comments on the original article in the Mail have been locked, as I imagine it quite quickly descended into a shouting match. I got to read a few on the day it was published and they certainly seemed to be going in that direction with the same tired views being wheeled out. It is certain that issues such as this have an extraordinary potential to bring out very strong feelings. people commenting on the article seemed to fall into one of three categories:

The Compassionist

This is a meat and dairy consumer who is outraged, “I think it is awful, how could they do that to the poor calf, this has to be stopped“. This person may or may not change their buying habits and seek out “ethical” sources and they may or may not seek to apply pressure on producers and retailers by political methods. They hope that things might change so they can continue to consume with a clear conscience.

The Farmer

These are the people who I have personally had the most anger from, “you have no idea how hard it is to make a living out here, you city people are so soft and sentimental, we love our animals, you have no right to comment.” This is like a shop keeper shouting at a customer, “you have no right to ask stupid questions about my wares, just shut up and buy them and leave the selling to me!” At the end of the day I know farming is a hard way to make a living and our farmers are like public servants, working against the odds to keep the country fed, but I’m the customer. In some ways it doesn’t matter if the producer agrees with what I do or don’t want, nobody is obligated to buy the product if it disgusts them, and everyone has a right to know about and hold an opinion on where something they are going to eat or drink comes from.

The Vegan

Smug sometimes but generally exasperated in tone, “yeah, this is the exact reason why I don’t consume animal flesh or secretions, there is no way round this except to stop consuming as I did 20 years ago.” This person is likely to believe that putting pressure on suppliers through various means is a waste of time and that the real power lies in reducing demand through abstension and educating others so they can make reasoned choices.

I’m sorry, it’s obvious that I am biased here. I love vegans, I admire them and I feel at home with them. They frequently strike me as people who don’t have time for excuses and who are prepared to change themselves before they try to change others. They come from all faiths and no faiths and all walks of life, they are (in my experience) generally pretty unsentimental about animals, too, believing that non humans don’t need our pity, they just need their dignity.

In Other News

The Environmental Working Group  published analysis of the “food footprint” of the western diet, based mainly on US data, revealing (not unexpectedly) that lamb, beef, cheese, and pork have the most extreme carbon footprints per kg produced. The analysis included production and processing costs for these foods. Dried beans, milk, tomatoes, and lentils found their tiny way into the bottom of the graph.

The report states:

By eating and wasting less meat (especially red and processed meat) and cheese, you can simultaneously improve your health and reduce the climate and environmental impact of food production. And when you do choose to eat meat and cheese, go greener. There are many environmental, health and animal welfare reasons to choose meat and dairy products that come from organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed animals. It may cost more, but when you buy less meat overall, you can afford to go healthier and greener. (A Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health: by Kari Hamerschlag, EWG Senior Analyst)

It’s a shame that this report was very much aimed at promoting the “go on consuming, folks, just make sure you do it greenly” approach. It makes me aware of a growing discomfort I sense in myself over the whole “ethical consumer” thing; and I am just about to unfashionably question everything in this area from “happy” eggs to Fair-Trade, so cover your ears now …

The Jugular

What if the answer is not to try to swing the whole consumer paradigm around to something that is more “ethical” but to actually boycott the game and find something that goes a lot deeper. When I “went vegan” I suddenly found that I had not escaped this, I had just transferred myself into another niche market and suddenly I was the recipient of, “BUY this, it’s vegan.” As a Christian, I am likewise a nice little category of consumer, “BUY this it’s Christian, it will change your forever and revolutionise your spiritual life.” As someone who wants to be ethical, I haven’t bucked the system at all I’ve just made myself open to “BUY this, it will enable you to continue to live as you always have but with a clearer conscience.”

BUY fair trade coffee and bananas? Shouldn’t I be asking, “do I really need coffee and bananas in my life” and “do the people who grow them need my nice money so that they can become consumers like me?”

I’m thinking out loud, here, so please don’t shoot me down. Constructive engagement is appreciated if it will help me (or us) to work these things through.

Milk Monday: Why Aren’t You Vegan?

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes I get asked why I am vegan. This was more common when I first transitioned into abstaining from animal products. Nowadays I am more likely to get what seems like polite and accommodating indifference. I sit at tables longing for someone to pop the question and give me permission to discuss something that is very close to my heart. I don’t know why the opportunity is so rare, I get the impression that veganism is still considered to be a bit extreme and I also live in fear of putting people off by claiming a moral high ground – which it is hard not to do.

If I’m feeling belligerent I want to throw back the question, “why aren’t you vegan?” It seems odd to me that I should justify choosing not to consume certain things rather than asking others to justify why they do consume certain things.

On the rare occasions when I do get asked, I feel as if I have just a sentence or two to summarise a multi-faceted and very profound lifestyle choice and hook people into the fascinating conversation that may follow. The door is open for a moment to talk about non-violence as a way of life, about the glory and riches of a vegetable-based diet, to uncover the moral contradictions that appear on our plates and, hopefully, help that person to come a step closer to deciding to change one thing that will change a thousand other things for the better.

However, since that door opens very rarely I have to store all my openers somewhere, so please forgive me, dear reader, if I dump a few of them here. In all this I need to remember that I was once a fully signed up carnivore and a practitioner of polite indifference myself:

Actually, I’m not “a vegan” and I don’t consider that I belong to a certain category. I am simply someone who chooses as a matter of preference on a moment by moment basis not to participate in all that consuming animal products entails – for all sorts of reasons that I’d be happy to discuss.

Because I am an incurable epicurean hedonist and I have to confess that living animals give me a lot more joy than dead ones, and no amount of mint sauce is going to change that.

Because I am morally opposed to violence and the exploitation of all sentient creatures for the transparently frivolous ends of my own personal gratification.

Because I ran out of reasons not to be.

Because my body can get all it needs from delicious fruit and vegetables and no-one gets hurt.

Because I was vegetarian for a few weeks before I discovered that it was a meaningless gesture.

I don’t like violence in my food-chain or anywhere.

Because being vegan is probably the biggest single thing I can do to reduce my carbon footprint.

Because I can’t morally justify our use of animals.

Because if everyone isn’t vegan in ten years time then the world food crisis will be much worse and society will be sicker than ever.

Because meat is dead flesh, milk is for baby cows, eggs are a chicken’s menstruation and leather is somebody else’s skin.

Because I think consuming animals and animal secretions is wrong.

Because I wouldn’t eat or milk my dog or wear her skin, why should I do that to any other creature that has an equal interest in living and thriving.

Because I live in anticipation of a day when God says “nothing will hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 11:9)

Because I think scripture teaches that the shedding of all blood is an extremely serious matter.

Because I think it is self evident that it is the duty of the strong to protect the weak whoever they are.

Because being vegan helps me to integrate my beliefs with my actions in a concrete way.

I think most people would be vegan if they really thought through what our use of animals involves.

Because it is about a lot more than what we eat or wear. Veganism implies an integral commitment to non-violence and fighting all forms of oppression.

Because the only argument I can find in favour of continuing to consume animal products is that they taste nice and as an anthropologist I am convinced that taste is cultural and not chemical.

For people, for animals, for the planet and for my own health.

Because it is fun.

I guess that’s my starter for ten. Being vegan is very easy and simple, talking about it is difficult and complex. What would be your answer in a nutshell as to why you are or are not vegan?

Here are a couple of good websites about veganism that have some great resources:

Vegan Means

Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach

Milk Monday: Not in my Cuppa receives recognition for creatively changing the face of British farming

On June the 1st, The World Society for the Protection of Animals’ (WSPA) dairy campaign, “Not in my Cuppa” was unanimously voted as a winner in the Public Affairs category at the The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) 2011 Excellence Awards.

Through the Not in my Cuppa campaign, WSPA UK has seen some great successes over the past 18 months.

Springing into action in early 2010, following Nocton Dairies‘ proposals for a massive 8,100 cow mega dairy in Lincolnshire, the Not in My Cuppa crew brought the issues at stake to the attention of MPs and the British public with a thoroughgoing campaign on all fronts. No less than 50 elected MPs got on board to oppose the intensification of the UK dairy industry and the issue was very much on the agenda for the rest of the year.

The judges praised the campaign for it’s creativity and said that, “It would not be an overstatement to say that their work has changed the future of British farming and established WSPA’s reputation as a force for the future.” It is also remarkable how the campaign proved able to grow support through social media and the formation of a powerful alliance with other organisations such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Compassion in World Farming, 38 Degrees, Friends of the Earth and the Soil Association.

Suzi Morris, WSPA UK Director said “We are seeing an increasingly concerned wider public in speaking out against factory farming and are optimistic that together, we can make the right choices for the future regarding how we get our milk in this country.”

This is all great news. Standing back from it for a moment, I am impressed and heartened that it is possible to enlist the hearts and minds of a large proportion of British people to take a stand on their values and make a clear statement about how much we care about where our food comes from and how it is produced. The multi-faceted campaign elicited a firm “No!” to mega dairies on this island that will hopefully be a stance that weathers the future. There will undoubtedly be more battles to fight to keep US style factory farming, that treats animals as machines, out of Britain. I’d like to think that this approach to food production is broadly considered “unbritish” and that we, as a nation, will look for creative ways to meet our needs in the future that are not purely based on turning a big profit with no regard for our traditions or the enslavement of animals.

However, the ultimate withdrawal of the Nocton Plans in February this year was the end of the first skirmish in a continuing battle. In April, the WSPA publicly opposed Welsh mega dairy plans and worked with the Ecologist on their ‘what’s in your cuppa’ expose. A joint report with the Soil Association on the effect of intensive farming on small farmers has also been released.

Well done to the Not in My Cuppa team and I wish you all the best as you and your partners hold the line!

Source: WSPA; Not in My Cuppa

Milk Monday: No Respite in the Battle against Mega Farming in Britain

I thought it was poignant this weekend, as our transatlantic cousins celebrated their “Mother’s Day”, that some took the opportunity to consider “motherhood” in the widest sense of the word and, fittingly, took the opportunity to highlight the plight of the dairy cow. I have had people tell me that dairy cows don’t have mothering instincts and habitually reject their calves anyway. But I feel that, if this is true, it only reflects the extent to which the practice of using cows as machines to feed our own tastes has become a fundamental assault on one of the most primal instinctive bonds in nature (that of mother and child). I have also been told that animals are purely creatures driven by instinct and that it is wrong to read emotion into them. Not only is this unscientific but if it were true, it would still seem to me to be a good reason not to interfere – if all the animal has is instinct, how can we justify setting ourselves against it? (I’m talking about an instinct to nurture young here, if I was faced with a hungry lion’s instinct to kill and eat me I would fight very hard against that.)

A couple of mugs

A couple of mugs, can you tell which one is me?

I’m not a mother and I never will be, I can’t protest a mother’s rights with anything approaching true empathy but in another of those genteel conversations I have with people about why I abstain from dairy (usually while they are tucking into their ice cream) I asked a friend if he was comfortable with a cow being milked two or three times a day so he could drink what was meant for a calf. His wife, who was nursing a sprog at the time, rolled her eyes and said she had some idea of how that might feel.

Well, in light of all that … it just seems to have a rightness about it when I hear this week that the WI (Women’s Institute) in Britain is to vote whether to join the campaign against mega dairies at their June Annual General Meeting. Of course, we’ll have to see how the vote goes but I am expecting that these human ladies will choose to stick up for those non-human ladies?

If they decide to, the WI will be joining a strong coalition, which includes the WSPA’s “Not in my Cuppa” campaign, CIWF (Compassion in World Farming), 38 Degrees, and the Soil Association, that is vigorously opposed to the introduction of industrial scale farming in the UK at the same time as holding out for a viable and sustainable agricultural future. These organisations proved very successful in activating and focussing the efforts of concerned consumers (the public) earlier this year to produce an “overwhelming” public response against the proposals for a factory dairy at Nocton in Lincolnshire. As those plans were finally withdrawn, there was a strong sense among campaigners that the battle had only just begun and that, in the shadow of dark whisperings about a looming food crisis, there were still many others who saw further industrialisation of animals as the only answer for Britain.

Plans are now being made for a pig factory at Foston in Derbyshire, housing 2,500 and 25,000 young pigs and facilities of this scale are unprecedented in the UK although virtually “the norm” in the US. I can only expect that there will be more proposals to be faced down in the coming months so I do hope the WI gets on board, too.

If you are new to Milk Mondays, you might like to read some of my previous posts on the topic of dairy, ranging from factory farming to ancient methods of storing milk. I obviously feel strongly about milk and I write as a concerned non-consumer of dairy products in the hope that readers will give some thought to where their food comes from, the ethical and environmental dimensions of that, and decide whether it is something they want to be a party to. These are my own opinions, although I try to be as informed as possible, and the offer is always open for anyone involved in “milk” to do a guest post from their perspective.

Nocton Cow Factory Update

A Frisian Holstein cow in the Netherlands: Int...

Cows Belong In Fields

Yesterday at a London press conference, the companies behind the US-style cow factory farm propsed for Nocton in Lincolnshire announced that they are pressing on with their plans to build the facility in spite of widespread public concern for the environment and animal welfare. Nocton residents are wondering why London was chosen for the press conference and feel this shows a continuing lack of regard for local people who will be most affected by the plans.

Deborah Wilson of CAFFO (a local campaign group), said: “This proposal poses a grave threat to our environment, particularly the potential pollution of our ground water, with a fragile water aquifer directly under the proposed site … We are also concerned about the health and wellbeing of the residents of several nearby villages, with the potential for airborne particles affecting those with respiratory problems.”

According to The Independent this morning, supermarkets, Sainsburys, Tesco, Waitrose, and M&S have declared their intention not to support the project but to continue using their current suppliers. Morrisons was non commital – shame. A recent Ipsos MORI survey, commissioned by WSPA and based on responses from 2,019 people aged 15+ showed that 61% of the British public would not knowingly buy milk from intensive dairies.

Animal charities, WSPA, CIWF and have vowed to continue fighting plans for the Nocton mega-dairy. Yesterday’s announcement included the promise that the size of the herd would be scaled back to 3,770 but it would still be the largest dairy in Britain and run on the US zero-grazing model. These cows would have extremely limited access to the outdoors, no access to pasture, and would be milked three times a day until useless – living out a fraction of their natural lifespan. Cows forced into these levels of productivity are at high risk of health problems such as lameness, mastitis, severe loss of weight and infertility and require intensive management to avoid very poor welfare.

Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is being called upon to open the debate about the future of dairy farming in britain to all concerned groups, and The Government needs to respond with an urgent review of their welfare code, given that such factory farms have never threatened these shores before. Many are calling this a “watershed moment” in British farming.

At 38Degrees, campaigners are pressing on to grow their 20,000 strong petition against the plans, citing the sucess of public opinion so far in getting them moderately altered. “If 20,000 of us managed to force the factory farm backers to change their plan, imagine what 50,000 of us could do! We could force the businesses to abandon the plans altogether, and make sure councils block mega-dairies like this from ever being built.” The petition can be found at

The future of farming in Britain could be an idyll of Community Supported Agriculture on a local scale, humane and organic, if we want it. The advent of factory dairies in this country is a big step in the wrong direction and not the only option, but if we sit back, the money and the spin will do it’s work and we could be waking up to what can only be described as a miserable scenario for both people and animals.

Please follow the links to get involved in the campaigns and contact your local MP and supermarket with your concerns.

WSPA and 38Degrees.

EFSA’s report on dairy farming (July 2009)