Category Archives: Food and Drink

Prosecuting people for taking food from bins is an attack on common sense

It is thought that up to 50% of edible and healthy food is wasted across the EU

It is thought that up to 50% of edible and healthy food is wasted across the EU

When you put something into a bin you disown it. You’re saying that you no longer want possession of the item you have just placed into the rubbish. When someone else finds value in that item, and takes it from the bin, it is not stealing as there is not an owner to be stolen from*.

This simple sentiment has been missed by the Crown Prosecution Service who are pushing ahead with the prosecution of three men charged under an obscure section of the 1824 Vagrancy Act for taking food that had been thrown out by the supermarket Iceland.

For those of you unfamiliar with the 1824 Vagrancy Act, it is the piece of legislation that outlaws ‘Persons committing certain offences to be deemed rogues and vagabonds’ and specifically prohibits the ‘intent to insult any female’.

Hilariously, the CPS has judged this case to be ‘in the public interest’. I think it is clearly not in the public’s interest and here is why:

Perhaps most importantly there is a clear moral case for not prosecuting them – what they did was totally harmless. The only people it may harm are those who eat food past its use-by date. That’s fine, it’s their choice. As a rule of thumb, I think people should be free to do what they want as long as it doesn’t harm others (hat tip J.S. Mill).

An attack on those who seek to enjoy this free food is in actual fact an attack on our freedom. The state has no place prosecuting someone for doing something that harms no-one else.

This isn’t to say the state doesn’t have a role to play in tackling this problem of supermarket waste. Last year Labour MP, Kerry McCarthy, tabled a bill that would force supermarkets to donate excess food to charities. A great idea that should be welcomed!

In the words of Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley, “Food waste is not only an environmental concern but a social problem too. It is morally right that large retailers should make available food that would be dumped anyway to those most in need or struggling.”

But as this Bill is still a long way from becoming law though let’s hope that the same MPs speak out against this preposterous proposed prosecution that is so clearly not in the public interest.

*I am fully are that the law of land says otherwise but the law of the land is often wrong – as it is in this case. I also accept that there are some cases where the ‘thrown away’ items still hold value – for example glass in recycling bins, or clothes to go to charity shops.

UPDATE:

Good on the founder and CEO of Icelands, Malcolm Walker, who earlier today tweeted this:

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Filed under Food and Drink, Politics, Social comment

I look forward to the day when a local newspaper headline reads: “New ASDA opens driving down local jobs and driving obesity levels up”

My local paper, The Citizen, has today reported on the opening of a new ASDA in Gloucester and once again ignores the cost to the local economy and quotes industry figures with no critical eye.

The Citizen reports:

Store manager Russ Elkins said there are still plenty of jobs up for grabs and is encouraging people from the area to apply. “This store has employed 130 from this area, and it will help deliver healthy eating at competitive prices,” he said.”

Well, if the story manager says it…it must be true.

So let’s explore Russ Elkins’ claim: “[ASDA] will help deliver healthy eating”.

In 2005 a report was published that stated that despite improvements, supermarkets were “undermining public health goals” through price deals that “promote unhealthy food”.

In 2008 a report was released showing that supermarkets had doubled the number of promotions on unhealthy foods since 2006.  At the time Saranjit Sihota, of the charity Diabetes UK, said: “Increasing the promotion of unhealthy foods in supermarkets clearly fuels the ticking time-bomb of obesity in this country.”

In 2012, a three year study was published that found supermarkets, like ASDA, guilty of “over-promoting fatty and sugary products using special offers and price reductions”.

The trend and sentiment of these reports are damming.

For balance, I tried Googling ‘ASDA healthy eating’ and all that came up were stories on ASDA’s website (you will excuse me if I don’t trust that source) and Daily Mail articles about ASDA’s bagged salads being linked to poisoning cases (again you will excuse me if I don’t trust that source either, but still…not exactly a ringing endorsement).

So, some questions for store manager Russ: Does your supermarket disproportionally promote unhealthy foods through special offers and price discounts? If yes, how would you say this fits with your statement, “[ASDA] will help deliver healthy eating”?

And then secondly, his claim about the store creating jobs.

Again, some questions: How many of the jobs provided will be part-time jobs?

I have read statistics to suggest that about 2/3 of all jobs in supermarket jobs are part-time. Is this reflective of the new store? Then, how many of these jobs will pay the Living Wage – the minimum someone needs to live off?

A report by the Fair Pay Network (FPN) suggested that only 1 in 7 jobs in the big four supermarkets get paid a living wage. Will this be reflective of the new ASDA store?

Lastly, of course, there is the Friends of the Earth report that found that local stores employ more people within a local community than superstores do, concluding, “The simple conclusion is that small shops are better for employment than having a superstore”.

In other words, even if ASDA did offer stable contracts and decent pay, the undeniable conclusion is that less people will be employed in an area because of the opening of a new supermarket.

Russ, do you really believe ASDA has created 130 new jobs…or just taken 200 and minced them into an own-brand 130?

At some point, it would be nice to see a local paper asking store managers these sorts of questions.

Rant over!

 

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Petition: Stop further out of town supermarket developments in Stroud

Please head over to change.org to sign this petition. Why? Well, as the petition says:

“Supermarkets claim that they offer us choice, value and convenience but they are actually powerful corporations who bully their suppliers and crush local economies. We think that Stroud has enough supermarkets and that we should be supporting our local shops and opposing the building of more supermarkets in our town.

SASS is not against change or development and fully supports new investment and regeneration in the local economy in line with the ‘Local Plan’. However, we maintain that these developments will harm industry, including small and medium sized enterprises, as well as putting pressure on diversity of livelihood and overall employment rates.

Stroud has a thriving town centre that is full of vibrant local independent retailers and a hugely successful nationally acclaimed farmers’ market. Its unique mix of shops, cafés and bars provides an excellent retail setting for tourists and residents alike. Stonehouse too has a diverse mix of independent shops, and is well-served by the co-operative store on the High Street.

These distinctly positive and attractive elements in the retail settings could change very significantly if these supermarket developments are allowed to proceed.

Developers propose to locate one supermarket on a flood-plain at Ryeford and another on a historical industrial site in Lightpill. Each site is on a key gateway route into Stonehouse and Stroud. We should fight to conserve the historic built fabric and the established infrastructure investment, and thus to enhance the integration and cultural identity of the district.  This is what gives Stroud its rich and varied attractive characteristics. We already have four large supermarkets operating in Stroud district and SASS argues strongly that there is no need for any more.”

Need more convincing? Read my blog on the proposed new ASDA here.

Then please do sign this petition.

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Interview: Rorie Scott, the Manager of Stroud’s ‘Bisley House’

“when it is good and if it’s right for us and our customers, we like to choose local.”

Bisley House 2Stroud’s ‘Bisley House’ has just reopened as a family friendly bar/restaurant. Steve Hynd recently caught up with the Manager of The Bisley House, Rorie Scott, to find out how the first few weeks of business have been going.

Can you tell us a little about Bisley House and what your vision for the future is?

Bisley House is Stroud’s oldest Ale House. We’ve changed it though from being a rundown brewery owned boozer to a family friendly bar-restaurant.  

Feedback from our customers told us that Stroud needed a great place to eat out, and this is our focus for the Bisley House in the coming months. Our food focuses on Mediterranean flavours and is already developing a bit of a reputation.

But Bisley House also has a long standing history as a great drinking place and we wanted to keep this. That’s why we stock a selection of local beers and European wines.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became the Manager of The Bisley House?

The Bisley House is a family run business, owned by my Mum, renovated with the direction of top Project Manager,,,my Dad, and is managed day to day by myself and my wife Ania.

We’ve been contemplating the move from my 10 year career as a snowsports coach to get settled back in Stroud. Quite simply, it was an offer and opportunity I couldn’t refuse.

When a customer walks though your door for the first time – what’s the impression you hope they will get?

The new look Bisley House is much brighter and cleaner than how people might remember it. Returning locals marvel at the work done, while new visitors compliment us on it clean and modern look. Also, the “meet and greet” from myself and the team is genuine and friendly. The service is relaxed and not over fussy.

We want people to feel relaxed and at home at Bisley House.

You put a lot of emphasis on local products – why is this so important to you?

There are several reasons for this. The easiest answer is the environmental aspect. It’s simply much better for our world if we use products that haven’t travelled too far. Secondly, the service tends to be better. Small and local businesses tend to look after each other. To give an example, if we miss our order day with Stroud Brewery, they deliver anyway or we can pick it up.

Last but not least, our customers like it. It’s not always possible, or affordable, to use local products though. Local isn’t always the best quality either. But when it is good and if it’s right for us and our customers, we like to choose local.

You put a lot of emphasis on your selection of drinks – do you see yourself as competition to the local pubs?

Competition is such a strong word. There’s no doubting though that we are a great place to come for a drink. We serve 2 local ales from Stroud Brewery, with a guest ale on the way. We use Cotswold Lager and Cotswold Cider and no less than 11 wines by the glass. The beer garden has served us well these first 2 weeks since opening. Long may the English summer continue!

Lastly, what’s your favourite dish/drink at Bisley House? 

My favourite of the moment is Leon, our chef’s, Chickpea and Pancetta stew. It’s been on our specials board a couple of times but we’d like to make it a permanent addition to our autumn lunch menu.

To drink, the Cotswold Brewing Company’s 5% Cider has been a lovely summer tipple.

Visit: http://www.bisleyhousecafe.co.uk/
Follow: www.twitter.com/BisleyHouseCafe
Like: www.facebook.com/BisleyHouseCafe

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Filed under Beer, Food and Drink, Gloucestershire, Interview

Do we need a new ASDA in Stroud?

ASDA is planning a new megastore in Stroud with promises of jobs and greater consumer choice. But is yet another megastore really what the people of Stroud need?

The diverse independent food retail sector in Stroud is part of what makes this Cotswold market town what it is. Stroud boasts an award winning farmers market and a bunch of quality local traders.

It is a unique vibrant exception to the generic supermarket dominated towns that have sprung up across the UK.

Stroud is noteworthy in this respect as it is still fighting against what the New Economics Foundation refers to as, ‘Clone Towns’ – the homogenization of the high street driven by chain stores. The British Independent Retailers Association estimates that 98% of the UK’s £150bn grocery industry is now controlled by just nine stores.

This homogenization has already resulted in out of town Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose stores in Stroud. Stroud’s quality, if quirky, independent retail sector is struggling under these conditions but, for now at least, surviving.

It is unclear how it would respond though if  a new ASDA store that is planned for Daniels Industrial Estate on the A46 gets the go ahead.

But what cost will Stroud pay for this new development – is it really as simple as more jobs and more consumer choice?

The first point to make is the, ‘we are losing part of what makes Stroud special’ argument. This argument says that we value something more than profit and three quid chickens and that a sense of community and creativity which is currently created by the craft food retailers found in Stroud’s bustling independent shops is something worth protecting.

The second point to make is to ask if another new supermarket is really good for the consumer’s wallet and choice of produce.

Taking the issue of choice first, you have to ask why there is so little local produce available in supermarkets. If I want to choose to buy fresh locally grown produce, this is often close to impossible in big supermarket retailers. Why? Because this is not what profit dictates, we know that supermarkets stock food for appearance, longevity and value, not for the things I value like taste or seasonality.

So even if supermarkets offer a wide range of choice around the colour of different washing up-liquids on or the colours of toothbrushes, it does not offer me the choice that I want – good, tasty, locally produced food.

Then there is the issue of cost. Isn’t it good for consumers and the poorest that we have access to three quid chickens? Aren’t independents just for the liberal middle-classes? To a degree this holds weight, but again only so if we see ourselves as nothing more than consumers.

We can see that when supermarkets come to town, local businesses beyond the retail sector also start to suffer. Money starts to leak out of local economies into multi-nationals with no steak or interest in re-investing into what most people think to be important – local businesses (or put another way, the jobs we all rely on).

Choice is removed from the food retail sector and local wages decrease (either through unemployment of reduced wages and working conditions) and as such the spending power of local communities decrease, which further drives them into the hands of the cheap chicken retailers.

And thus the spiral of poverty is perpetuated by those claiming to be on the poor’s side – the supermarkets. And again let’s be clear about why this is, because profit dictates it.

Of course people shop where the prices are cheaper and the products more consistent, but this takes no account of community cohesion or local employment, let alone the dangers of a monopsony.

So when ASDA comes to Stroud proclaiming 250 new jobs for the area and a greater consumer choice, I want people to seriously consider the New Economics Foundations opening remark:

“We can choose to take action that will lead to thriving, diverse, resilient local economies across the UK; or, we can do nothing and condemn ourselves to bland identikit towns dominated by a few bloated retail behemoths. The choice is ours. “

Read this report and then please do respond to the Stroud/ASDA consultation – the future of the high street might depend on it!

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Filed under Economics, Food and Drink, Gloucestershire

Beers of Israel and Palestine…

During my time in Israel/Palestine I got to taste some wonderful beers. Israel especially has a impressive and growing craft-beer scene.

You can read some of my comments on two of the widely produced (and consumed) beers in Israel/Palestine – Goldstar and Taybeh – in this CNN article by Orlando Crowcroft.

You can also have a read of my visit to Taybeh Brewery in the West Bank – here.

Cheers.

Steve

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Filed under Beer, Food and Drink, Middle East

The EDL is like the fluff that collects in my belly button

Dwelling on the EDL instead of Englishness as a whole is like meeting someone who is interesting and beautiful but only being interested in their belly button fluff.

English Defence League supporters protest against Islam after the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich

Photograph: Rob Pinney/Demotix/Corbis

The week’s papers have been filled by that notorious minority that have so abused the term ‘English’ – the English Defence League (EDL).  The same merry band of men who purport to defend ‘Englishness’ whilst with no sense of irony, exerting – and I use this next phrase carefully – a degree of ‘fuckwittery’ that most people in England find as repulsive as they do alien.

Watching a video of one of these men taking to the streets of Newcastle to tell “the Black cunts to go home” I felt a small bit of my soul crumble.  Watching it I desperately waited for someone in the crowd to pipe up with a retort such as, “What about Ashley Cole…or Oona King, or…Kelly Holmes, Lewis Hamilton, Lennox Lewis or John Barnes? Do they all have to ‘go home’?”

Alas, it never came.

However much we would like to pretend otherwise though, this merry band of fuck wits who fall under the sloppy title of the EDL to regurgitate their hatred and hyperbole are also part of ‘English culture’ – a culture that we all part of.

To deny them their place in contemporary English culture is to play into their idiotic rhetoric that ‘Englishness’ can somehow be defined by one group or persons’ understanding of morality.

Like it or not, the EDL are (a small) part of contemporary English culture.

We don’t however, despite what the front pages of the tabloids would have you believe, have to dwell on this one nasty bit of our culture.

Let me illustrate…

If I was to go on a first date, I probably wouldn’t show my date the little bit of fluff that seems to habitually collect in my belly button. That would be as disgusting as it would probably give my date the wrong impression of me.

In the same way, we don’t have to constantly project our far-right thugs into the international limelight.

On this hypothetical first date however, I might, if I was feeling lucky, flash my date a quick smile. Again, it doesn’t define me, but it is much more likely to set a good impression than picking the fluff out of my belly button.

In England, I think we have thousands of cheeky smiles that I would love the world to see more often. So, in a week where the world has focused in our metaphorical belly button fluff I thought I would show you one or two of our cheeky smiles.

The first example comes in this heart-warming story from York. After hearing news that the EDL were planning a protest outside the local mosque, people scrambled to…make tea. The Guardian reports:

“A York mosque dealt with a potentially volatile situation after reports that it was going to be the focus of a demonstration organised by a far-right street protest movement – by inviting those taking part in the protest in for tea and biscuits.”

The story gets better with the little details. The report goes onto say:

“tensions were rapidly defused over tea and plates of custard creams, followed by an impromptu game of football”

Football and custard creams – how very very English!

Carrying on the food based theme (who says that the English don’t have a wonderful cuisine!), the second story comes from my home shire – Gloucestershire – and is based around the county’s finest product – Double Gloucester Cheese.

While hundreds of EDL supporters rallied outside 10 downing street to blame Islam for the Woolwich attacks, a few thousand Brits alongside a few hundred “foreigners” turned up to Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire to chase after wheels of Double Gloucester cheese.

I struggle to think of a more wonderful juxtaposition of illustrations of ‘English culture’. One on the capitol’s streets with half-pissed middle-aged men shouting slogans that condemn a faith that some 3 million fellow Brits peacefully follow with all the anger and arrogance they can muster; while the other sees thousands of people running down a near vertical muddy slope chasing a piece of cheese with nothing in their cider confused mind other than to have a good time.

I know which part of these contrasting glances at English culture I want the world to see.

The question then is simple, why do we focus in on, worry about, and obsess over England’s belly button fluff when it has such a winning smile?

England doesn’t just have a nice smile, it is also has a rich history, a melting pots of faiths, languages  and cuisines that collectively contribute to what makes it the country it is today. We should celebrate this.

Read my poetic take on Englishness here

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Fish and Chips in Uganda

Think you know about fish and chips? Think again. I used to think I knew about fish and chips, that wonderful institution of the British diet, until I visited Uganda that was.  

“This is good, I mean really good”, said my partner glancing up from the massive plate of fish and chips that sat between us.

I however was not wasting crucial seconds with peripheral tasks such as talking; after taking another swig of my ice cold beer I was straight back in, my fingers pushing together the crumbling bits of perfectly cooked Taliapia.

As we scoffed down our freshly cooked food, the smoke from other barbecued fish drifted through the packed restaurant and out into evening sun. We were sat with views out onto the very northern tip of Lake Victoria just outside of Kampala.

The restaurant in which we were sat was lined with charcoal barbeques cooking that day’s intake from the lake. All around us small groups of local guys were huddled around old rickety wooden tables on which large shared platters of fresh fish rested.

We had been lucky, when we arrived after a day’s walking, all the tables were taken. Within seconds of entering into the shade of the restaurant though, what looked like a full table had been rearranged and we had been squeezed onto the end.

We shared our table with three Ugandans, two locals from Kampala and another just visiting from the Karamoja region in the east.

All three of the men sat with that happy contented look on their faces that gave away the culinary experience they had just enjoyed. Looking around I could see this same look on faces of men all around me. Each sat leaning back on their plastic chairs, one hand on their belly and the other around a cold beer bottle.

I struggle to think of an image that better embodies the Ugandan understanding of contentment.

As I ate, I listened to the guys sat at our table chat about how Ggaba had the best fish and chips, not just in Kampala or even Uganda but, so their beer induced conversation went, in the world.

As they spoke I found myself thinking though, “What about British fish and chips – our national dish?”

Then it dawned on me, these fish and chips were, by far, the best fish and chips I have ever had in my life. No country pub, inner city chippy or homemade meal from the UK had ever come close. They were simply delicious and they were supported by the most wonderful of ambiences.

In a conciliatory backlash to my own thoughts, I joined in the conversation with the comment, “these fish and chips are even better than in the UK you know.”

The guy on my left responded, “Really?”

I half joked, “yeah, and we invented the dish.”

My new Ugandan friend from Karamoja, a restaurant worker himself it would turn out, swiftly responded, “ahh, I am afraid that is a common misconception my friend. Fish and Chips were bought to the UK by a Jewish immigrant in the late 19th century.”

I responded dumbly, “oh”.

A later Google search would tell me that there is at least an element of truth in his assertion. Who would have thought that it would take a Ugandan to educate this Brit on his supposed national dish?

I left the restaurant that evening with the sun slipping behind the hills. The air was light and there was a low level of noise in the fruit and veg market that surrounds the harbour.

I don’t think I could imagine a nicer place for a wee Ugandan style culinary master class.

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Filed under Food and Drink, Travel, Uganda

An Open Letter To All Breweries About Branding

This is a letter from the wonderful Melissa Cole to all those in the beer industry.

Dear Brewers, Brewsters, Marketing People and Art Departments,

I love our industry, I really do. I feel blessed every day to work in, what is undoubtedly, the warmest, most welcoming and fun business in the known cosmos.

But I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with you… in fact, I’ve got a whole skeleton’s worth… and it’s about the sexist imagery some of you use to promote your beers.

Just in case you haven’t noticed, in the last few days there’s been a bit of a furore about the issue of rape, some bloke called Julian, a mahoosively ill-informed American politician and some loud-mouthed idiot who has remarkably managed to manipulate a whole section of society into voting for him.

I’m not, for a single moment, saying that pump clips or bottle labels incite rape – that would be equally bone-headed – but you only have to look at the enormous backlash such idiotic comments have evoked to see that sexism has no place in modern society – so why do you still indulge in it?

As business people can you honestly not see that it does PRECISELY NOTHING to encourage intelligent people into drinking beer? And I’m not just speaking for women here, a brief comment on Twitter, and the resulting responses, shows that many men find it equally disturbing.

And just in case you’re wondering whether this is merely an intellectual objection, I’d like to give you an example of why branding and sexism is a real issue. At the Great British Beer Festival this year I was happily minding my own business, waiting for a mate to return to the bar, when I was approached by a man who asked me what I thought of the pump clip next to me.

It was a nonsense ‘slap & tickle’ style image and I said I thought it was stupid. Cue said ‘gentleman’ launching into a full-scale rant at me that started with: ‘Yeah, I know who you are. You’re that joyless cow who complains about this all the bloody time. It’s harmless fun, what’s your f*cking problem.’

And much as I enjoy a spirited debate from time to time (for those of you who know me, feel free to snigger), I walked away. Why? Well, as a wise man once said to me: “Don’t argue with idiots, they’ve had way more practice.”

But I was targeted, in a very aggressive manner, by someone who wanted to use my stance on sexist marketing as a big stick to beat me with for being a woman in the beer industry – is this something you want to encourage or that you want your brand associated with?

And if that one anecdote, and sadly I have a number of them, doesn’t do it for you, perhaps I could draw your attention to the fact that research by Molson Coors shows that 42% of women are put off beer by the macho marketing…

From a professional standpoint I also get more than a bit ticked off when I seek to engage with you about this issues quietly and politely in the background (I’m looking at YOU Marstons) ignoring my efforts is pretty rude to be honest, so I’m going to say it publicly instead!

Some of your range of seasonal pump clips for the Wychwood and Jennings brands are depressing at best and, at worst, simply puerile. Are you honestly proud that your products have joined the beer equivalent of the rogue’s gallery over at Pumpclip Parade? (BTW, kudos to Jeff Pickthall for running this site.)

If smaller companies like Hart Brewing, which has previously been a particularly bad offender, has recognised that it needs to change its ways, how come one of the largest regional brewers in the country seems incapable of doing so?

And can we just take a moment to look at the Slater’s range and the frankly pathetic out-dated, out-moded and tragic pump clip for the equally tragically-named Top Totty that hit the headlines earlier in the year after being banned from the Strangers Bar in the House of Commons?

All else aside, from a purely aesthetic point of view, how can a successful and genuinely good brewery not see how appalling cheap, nasty and tacky it looks against the rest of the brands?

These are sadly just a small selection of the awful dross out there which is damaging our industry’s image and making life difficult for women to get into beer, let alone those of us who are already in, what I’ve said before and will say again, is a truly wonderful business.

You may think I’m making a fuss about nothing but, I’m a firm believer that any aspect of society that fosters intolerance is created of thousands of elements, none of which are too small to challenge, and this element should, most certainly, be called time on.

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Brixton Village – “Pizza, but not as you know it”

Brixton Village

As a rule of thumb, when a chef wears sunglasses you know you are in for something different. Heritage Deli’s pop up restaurant in Brixton Village didn’t let me down.

As is customary in this covered food hall I walked a couple of laps to check out what was on offer before finally settling.

In the evening Brixton village is filled with wonderful authentic cooking. Aromas of blended Pakistani spices waft from the Elephant whilst just around the corner there is the unmistakable smell of quality cooked meat  coming from Brixton grill.

As I walked there was a low level of chatter and laughter coming from the young affluent and slightly alternative diners who seem to frequent Brixton village nowadays.

As I rounded the corner to Heritage café I saw a sight that convinced me to stop my wanderings.

Firstly there was a sign that simply read “Pizza, but not as you know it”. I was intrigued…I thought I knew pizza, we had been on many dates together. I saw Pizza as a partner that I could always rely on. Was I wrong?

The second thing to catch my eye was the staff. Wearing shorts and t-shirt our waiter was sat eating a slice of Pizza scratching his heavily tattooed leg. Stood behind him was his chef wearing a baseball cap and shades.

I hovered for a second before asking if it was OK to sit and wait for my partner to arrive. The waiter, who I later found out was called Dan, looked up from his pizza and beamed an “of course man” and nodded me to a free table. The chef slipped back inside to the kitchen without saying a word.

I cracked open my bottle of wine (it is bring your own drinks) and watched the medley of people meander pass. Sat sipping my wine I couldn’t help but to notice the number of beards and thick rimmed glasses walk pass.

I was snapped out of my people watching though by the arrival of my partner. We sat together as Dan explained to us Heritage Deli’s “Pizza system”. We were left with a note pad and a pen and had to write out the base type, cheeses and toppings we wanted (unlimited for £7 or £6 for unlimited vegetarian toppings).

I sat considering their promise “Pizza, but not as you know it”. I realised that of late, pizza and I hadn’t been on many dates together. I knew pizza, it was safely stored in my freezer alongside my friend’s ice cream and oven chips. When was the last time pizza and I had sat in a restaurant together?

I realised that of late I have come to accept pizza as a mediocre substitute for when I can’t be bothered to cook ‘real food’.

Selling nothing else on Thursday evenings, Heritage Deli’s homemade pizza was simply suberb though. The ingredients were fresh and full of flavour and the base and toppings were cooked to perfection.

There is much to praise Heritage Deli for, the price, the quality of their food or the friendly ambiance. But what finally won me over was the fact that we were allowed to sit at our table for well over half an hour after we finished our food without being rushed or hassled.

Whether or not this is company policy or just Dan being one of the most chilled out waiters I’ve come across I don’t know. All I do know is that I had a great food in a wonderful ambiance all for less than £10.

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In praise of the Euston Tap

The EustonTap

“Why did you chose here – we are stood on a main road”. My partner was once again spot on with her observation. We were indeed on the edge of one of London’s busiest roads, Euston Road to be precise. Significantly however, we were not just standing, but holding a drink and no ordinary drink at that.

I went on the defensive, “the thing is” I started in a reassuring tone, “it’s not just about the beer, there are some other very good reasons why one might frequent the Euston Tap that has nothing to do with beer”.  She looked at me as if I was bullshitting again. I sipped my pint and tried to justify taking my non-beer drinking partner to the best beer drinking pub in London.

Few people would choose to drink at the Euston Tap for its location – that much I will concede. During the two hours we were stood outside I counted well over 10 sirens scream pass. Combine this with a healthy dose of London’s finest air pollution and I will confess there are nicer places to enjoy a pint.

A few punters might be interested that the bar is housed in a Grade II listed building, one of the few relics from the original Euston station built in the 1830s. A few, but let’s be honest, not that many and I suspect not my partner.

The reason, I (and one or two others) chose to frequent the Euston Tap is simple – an unrivalled selection of varying quality beers.  When I visited they had 19 beers on tap (8 cask ales always on rotation) – a feat which, to my knowledge, is unmatched anywhere in the capital.

I went for Mallinson’s ‘Danger Hops’ – a hard headed pale ale with a sweet nose followed by an (exceptionally) long hoppy finish. I mention this purely to illustrate how the bar can open up your world of beer drinking….when else would I sample and ale from a micro-brewery in Huddersfield?

As if this isn’t impressive enough they have an additional 150 bottled beers from around the world in stock at any one time. Even the most seasoned of beer drinkers would struggle to not find something new here. Every time I have visited they have had at least one beer on tap that I have not tasted before.

As I said however, this compelling beer argument is not enough to attract the likes of my partner.

There is more to the Euston Tap though. It is a combination of little quirks which gives the place some character. What other bar would only have one toilet? What other pub marks all of its (constantly rotating) beers up on chalk boards above the bar? What other bar staff will take the time (regardless of the length of queue) and talk you through the beer they have on tap? Few, if any I would suggest.

Clutching at straws? Maybe.

This article is a virtual clink of glasses from me to the Euston Tap. A bar that dares to do it differently, that has broken out of the “next to a train station and all we sell is Carlsberg conformity”. I and other London based beer lover will continue to flock there. Whether or not it has done enough to attract non beer drinkers like my partner remains to be seen – I got a sneaky feeling it hadn’t.

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2000 Trees 2012 – bringing you the best new and underground music, despite the weather

‘Happy Campers’ – Photo by James Popel

Stood with my hood up, rocking the full waterproof image and ankle deep in mud I met Claire, a happy camper at Gloucestershire’s 2000 Trees festival. From under her waterproof cape she wipes off the water running down her face and comments, “to the untrained eye, this mud might look as bad as Glastonbury in 2007, but it really isn’t you know. You can glide through this mud without worrying about losing your wellies”.  Looking around, it was clear that the mud and rain wasn’t dampening spirits. I asked Claire if she was having a good time and she responds with a wink and a smile, “the best”.

I spent the last weekend at Upcote Farm, the home of 2000 Trees, trying to pin down exactly what makes this festival not just good, but bloody epic – despite the weather.

2000 Trees has become an integral part of the alternative festival scene and has consistently attracted me back. Founded in 2007 and selling just over 1,000 tickets it has grown in the last six years to four stages and attracting just under 5,000 festival goers.

At the heart of the festival is an ethos to do it differently, to not succumb to the same old festival formula. In their own words, “as cheesy as it may sound 2000trees genuinely started with six mates sat around a campfire complaining about the state of UK Festivals…and their ever spiralling ticket prices, poor facilities and pursuit of profit at all costs”.

This ethos of ‘doing it differently’ transcends the baseless words of small festival rhetoric into an exciting reality that can be seen penetrating every corner of the festival.

The food is varied but it is nearly all local, sustainably sourced or organic. This commitment to great local food and drink permeates right through to the bars who stock Cotswold Lager. Their policies on using bio-fuels and their great recycling record have meant that they have won “A Greener Festival” award for their on-going commitment to environmental sustainability. Last but certainly not least is their commitment to booking the best new and underground music Britain has to offer.

2012 alone boasted a diverse line up varying from Lucy Rose to Pulled Apart by Horses. In addition, there was a continued emphasis placed on the local music scene in and around Gloucestershire. Local independent labels such as ‘I Started The Fire Records’ were strongly represented throughout the weekend and enjoy a close working relationship with festival.

These artists join the likes of Frank Turner, Bombay Bicycle Club, King Blues and many more that have graced the small stages in the festival’s short six year history.  Personally however the highlight of the whole weekend came in the form of a band that was completely new to me, the Bristol based trio ‘The Cadbury Sisters’. The three sisters blend a three part harmony with ease to create a melancholic but beautiful mix of contemporary folk.

The festival’s commitment to bringing the best of new and underground British music, all of which has been personally scouted by the event organisers, has resulted in the festival becoming a firm favourite with the artists as well as the punters.

As Chris T-T (Xtra Mile) commented to me, “The best bit was the family feeling that Xtra Mile artists had through the weekend; especially with Lockey and Marwood playing almost every year, Trees feels like the label’s home festival”.

Pushed for a ‘worst part of 2000 Trees’ Chris T-T commented, “The worst bit was the plastic hexagons they laid down to help people get across the site; they had tiny holes in, so as you squelched on them jets of mud spunked up through the holes, right up your legs”.

I think most festival organisers would take that if that was the worst criticism thrown at them.

Late on Saturday night, by chance, I bumped into Claire as we were both walking down the hill back to the main arena and we talked some more about the festival and what we thought made a good festival epic. It was one of those pleasant festival conversations you have with complete strangers. As I walked away I wished her a good weekend.  As an afterthought she shouted after me and said, “Isn’t everyone having fun though”. I responded honestly, “yeah, they are”. She then did my job for me summarising perhaps all that you need to know about 2000 Trees and said, “perhaps that’s what makes 2000 Trees epic?”.

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Where are all the blokes? Boys and men get eating disorders too…

This is a Guest blog by Martin Davies who is the Specialist Services Manager for Care UK Eating Disorders. Martin is an expert on eating disorders and is hoping to raise awareness about related issues that are not always in the media spotlight.

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week runs from 20th– 26th of February, and you may have noticed recent media rumblings about this illness, which is reported to affect 1.6 Million people in the UK alone. A few weeks ago, ITV screened Dying to be Thin, a documentary on teenage anorexia. After the documentary was aired, there was something of a backlash on Twitter and in the blogosphere. People were asking: Where are all the blokes? And, where are the older people suffering from eating disorders, men or women? Are teenage girls the only ones suffering from anorexia? Come to think of it, what about other eating disorders, such as bulimia or binge eating disorder – why are these disorders never reported on even thought they are more common? (Anorexia nervosa is the least common eating disorder).

Eating disorders do not discriminate and a growing number of males are being treated for eating disorders. A  66% rise in hospital admissions for men has been reported over the last 10 years.  At our treatment centre for under 19s , we have seen a marked increase in the number of boys being admitted in the last few months alone. In fact, towards the end of last year we were treating more boys than girls. That’s never happened before.

So what is the true scale of the problem for guys? B-eat, a nationwide charity that supports people affected by eating disorders, estimates that 10-20% of eating disorder sufferers may be male. Here’s a few famous people who are on record as having battled an eating disorder: Marcus Brigstocke, Rory Bremner, John Prescott, Craig Revel Horwood, Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid.

So before we go any further, let’s talk about what an eating disorder actually is (or isn’t…). A common misconception is that eating disorders are about dieting and wanting to achieve a better or perfect body. If someone is dieting and unhappy with the way they look, that is called body image anxiety. And while that is still a massive and important issue for both women and men – it is not the same thing as an eating disorder. An eating disorder is a mental illness. It is about using food to try to cope with feelings or painful situations. Many people develop eating disorders during times of sadness, anxiety, loneliness or stress. This might be after a relationship breakdown, bereavement, issues with school work or exams, or being a victim of bullying or abuse.  There is probably not one single cause. B-eat sums it up perfectly: “it’s not about food, it’s about feelings.”

So what types of eating disorders are there? Typical characteristics of Anorexia are a morbid fear of fatness, even though underweight, a distorted image of their body and denial of being underweight. Anorexia sufferers are typically 15% below their ideal weight. Bulimia Nervosa is more common than Anorexia but is more difficult to spot. Sufferers are often of normal weight because they are consuming vast quantities of food that is then offset by vomiting, or “purging”. Then there’s Binge Eating Disorder, where the large quantities consumed are not purged, often resulting in obesity.  Two things that won’t surprise you: the bingeing and purging are secretive practices. Secondly, all these can lead to serious medical consequences, such as organ failure.

So back to men and boys…

One of the most common symptoms of an eating disorder in males is compulsive exercising and excessive interest or concern with fitness.  You may not have heard of Bigorexia, or muscle dysmorphia, which commonly affects men. It gives a distorted understanding of their body, feeling “skinny” when they are actually above average for muscle weight. A person with bigorexia may do some or all of the following:

  • Have a strict work out regime and spend hours every day in the gym
  • Frequently compare themselves with others
  • Spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, but feel constantly unhappy with their reflection
  • Become distressed if they miss a workout session or one of their many meals a day
  • Have an excessively strict high protein diet

So, how do you know if your boyfriend/brother/Dad/friend is just trying to get fit, or if their behaviour is showing the early signs of an eating disorder? The short answer is you probably won’t- at first – but if you do have concerns you can get advice to find out more. Men Get Eating Disorders Too and B-eat can point you in the right direction. As part of National Eating Disorder Awareness week, we are running a 5-part blog special which aims to give a wider understanding on the issues surrounding eating disorders, and the different kinds of people affected. We are also running two “Ask an expert” sessions via Twitter– on Monday 20th February, 7-9pm and Thursday 24th February7-9pm where we will be answering questions on anything and everything to do with eating disorders. So please join in the conversation if you are concerned about any of the issues in this blog post.

We hope that 2012 will be a turning point in the media portrayal of this illness. Through education and greater understanding, we hope more people – both male and female, young and old – will get the help they need to recover from this illness, and the bravery of everyone overcoming  an eating disorder, will be reported on. 

Interested in learning more? Have a browse around our blog, or email us at eatingdisorders@careuk.com- we’d be happy to hear from you.

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Dale Vince has scored an own goal at Forest Green Rovers

Dale Vince - Chairman of FGR, environmentalist and business man

Red meat is now off the menu at Forest Green Rovers FC. This is a massive move announced with a certain degree of glee by environmentalist and Chairman of FGR, Dale Vince (of Ecotricity fame). I have blogged before about the myriad of reasons why meat and dairy consumption is so bad and it is heartening to see these ideas being implemented into football. The manner in which Dale has pushed ahead with this idea however risks it back firing.

Firstly, there was little consultation with the fans. I am of the old-fashioned belief that a club should broadly reflect the will of the fans. This is not to say the Chairman and the board cannot take the lead on issues but they must, at the very least, take the fans with them. You can see from the fans forum that the one consistent message seems to be that the fans do not feel consulted on this issue.

Secondly, I wonder whether removing the red meat option completely is the most effective way forward. This move will reduce the clubs environmental footprint, but will it affect the fan’s health? I doubt it. What it will do is alienate a certain section of the fan base. This could have been avoided if they had introduced a less controversial,  more ethical menu (for example introduced free range meat instead of factory farmed) and priced red meats at a higher price to the poultry and fish (partially reflecting that red meat has a higher impact on the earth the poultry, fish or vegetarian options).  Without realising it, the supporters who are currently up in arms might have just started eating the cheaper chicken burger and not missed the red meats they habitually eat.  Once again, this move smacks of the absolutism that has characterised the “vegetarian Vs meat eater” debate. It is not only stupid, but also detrimental to the environmentalists cause.  

This move has generated a huge amount of media attention, from Eurosport through to Sky Sports. It has also been met with the usual dull, badly thought out opinions (see comments at the bottom of the Eurosports link).   These responses had a degree of inevitability about them. I just wish this move had been a little more subtle, and a little less media orientated. The result is a clear illustration that the Chairman is putting his business and media plan above the will of fans. This approach will not bring long term prosperity to the club.

For more information on ethical considerations of meat consumption see here.

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Real ale and big business

Stroud Brewery's bottled organic selection, it's worth fighting for! Photo thanks to Stroud Brewery

The Campaign for Real Ales (CAMRA) launched back in July 2009 a “super-complaint” to the office of fair trading (OFT), stating that there is a need to “reform beer tie arrangements to prevent large companies exploiting tie arrangements that prevent tied publicans from buying beer on the open market at fair prices”.  They argued that anti-competitive practices are inflating pub beer prices by around 50 pence a pint, restricting consumer choice and leading to chronic underinvestment in the nation’s pubs.  I have blogged before about how 39 pubs a closing every week in the UK.  If what CAMRA alleges is true then we need reform of an entire sector. 

The appeal has been put on ice by the OFT until August 1st.  OFT, stated that they needed more time to hear evidence from large pub owning companies. Mike Benner, CAMRA chief executive welcomes the investigation however considering it an opportunity for all parties to get involved and submit any evidence they have of uncompetitive behaviour. 

Mr. Benner goes on to argue quite effectively why we need such an investigation; he states: “It is enshrined in EU law that consumers must get a fair share of the benefits arising from exclusive purchasing deals such as the ‘beer tie’, but this is often not the case. We hope that the OFT will act to deliver a fair share for Britain’s 14 million regular pub goers. Reform of the ‘beer tie’ along with a framework of support from Government is urgently required to save the pub from extinction.” 

We will now have to wait and see until the summer what comes out of this process.  All we can do is ensure all those involved in the industry (not just the large companies who are set to lose out) are made aware of this review.  The future of one of Britain’s greatest treasures relies on it – the pub!

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This month I will be mostly eating…

Parsnips - best eaten in late winter! Photo thanks to K.sawyer (flickr)

It’s that time of the month again.  The time when all you excited readers gets to hear what and what not to eat! It’s that ethical fruit and veg fashion show where you get the low-down on the latest in season fruit and veg.  This month however, I am adding a little extra.  I thought I would give you an overview of one truly great vegetable (a little history and a little how to use it).  I hope you enjoy.

Try eating:

Beetroot, Brussels sprouts, Carrots, Kale, Leeks, Onions, Parsnips, Rocket, Swede and Turnips.

For your fruit salad:

Apples and Pears!

Of course, if you want that chunk of animal:

Chicken, pork, rabbit and Turkey

This month though I want to get you to try a personal favourite of mine: The Parsnip!

This vegetable, I think is fantastic; the sweet taste you get when you roast it is incredible.  They can last for two – three weeks in the bottom of your fridge (which means you don’t have to make emergency “stews” to use up all the mouldy veg in the bottom of your fridge).  

To Buy:

Look for solid and dry parsnips.  I have found that the larger they get, the tougher they are (and can have bad cores).

Preparing and Cooking:

Wash and peel them and then slice as you wish (easy).  Avoid boiling parsnips (ends up losing all their flavour).  I really recommend roasting them (about 20 minutes at 180).  They are fantastic with Roast dinners, in soups, or simply roasted and seasoned to be eaten with Pasta.

If you ever have too many, slice them paper-thin and fry in season olive oil for a lovely crisp like snack!

Want to know more about Parsnips (slightly odd but hey)…check out:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jan/20/seasonal-food-parsnip

Bon appétit!

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Bill Bailey – alcohol is no joke

So Bill Bailey says that ‘alcohol is no joke’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/video/2010/jan/14/alcohol-comedians-no-joke )

The problem is, it is actually quite funny (not the people being hit by cars/stabbing people in the face/ending up with STI’s) but the good light-hearted time you have when you are “merry”.  For as long as government and campaigners paint a picture of alcohol that does not fit in with “normal people’s” perception, the negative side of alcohol consumption will seem like something distant and alien.

It was a bit like FRANK (the governments drugs advice agency) advert (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/video/2008/dec/04/advertising-drugsandalcohol ) that has David Mitchell doing a voice over of a dog discovering cocaine.  Exceptionally funny (that’s a given because it’s David Mitchell), but equally almost guaranteed not to stop anyone from trying Cocaine. 

By painting a realistic picture of alcohol consumption (most people have a lovely trouble free time but some people have a horrible time or make themselves really ill), they fear being painted as not strict enough.  ‘Soft on alcohol’ (cue moral panic).

How can we ever get over this situation when all drug usage (including alcohol) is surrounded by such political hysteria (“I once tried cannabis as a young student”). 

The way the government approaches this issue just makes me want a pint!

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This month I will be mostly eating…

A lovely bunch of Carrots - Thanks to color line (flickr)

This is a new “feature” on this blog.  I will try at least monthly, to provide you with a list of “in-season” foods that are available to buy.  In an era when we are increasingly disconnected with our food supplies we can easily become confused about what we should be eating when (and when different foods taste the best). 

Eating seasonally can:

  • help support local economies
  • reduce your indirect CO2 footprint
  • be cheaper

It also tackles that incredibly silly thing of eating things from the other side of the world.  I am not saying it is the most important issue out there, but “every little helps”!

So this month I will be mostly be eating…

Beetroot, Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower, Carrots, Celeriac, Kale, Leeks, Mushrooms, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes, Radish, Rocket, Swede and Turnips.

For my Fruit salads:

Apples, Clementine’s and pears

To make things taste lovely:

Almonds, Brazil nuts, Chives, Coriander, and Parsley

On that rare occasion when you want a good chunk of meat:

Beef, chicken, duck, goose, pork and rabbit. 

Bon appétit!

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Gloucestershire Ale Trail

For those of you who have expressed an interest. I would like to draw your attention to the Gloucestershire Ale Trail web-site (http://www.glosaletrail.org.uk/). Apart from telling you where your nearest micro-brewery is, it also tells you where you can enjoy their beers!

Or, you can check out CAMRA’s initative of locAle.  This accredits any pub that stocks beer that is brewed within a 25 mile radius. http://www.camra.org.uk/page.aspx?o=281521

Enjoy!

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The dark side of real ale

This is a matter close to my heart.  The slow death of the local pub and the real ale drinking that goes hand-in-hand with this.  In the UK around half of our 60,000 pubs are owned by just 10 operators.  This is not a healthy situation to be in.  39 pubs are closing every week!  The names of Green King and Fullers are becoming household names and yet micro-breweries are reliant on government subsidies to survive.  Meanwhile medium sized breweries such as Harvey’s in Lewes have neither the government support nor the operational capacity to compete with the giants at Green King. 

We can see from the Lewes Arms controversy how Green King is willing to put profit above consumer demand.  It is only after petitions and a strong campaign did the pub revert to stocking the local beer (Harveys).  This example however, also highlights what real grass-roots pressure can do.  If you are sick and tired of being offered the same old generic beers then do something about it!

The British beer culture (different to the drinking culture in general) is something that we should all be very proud of.  We produce some of the best quality beers in the world.  I currently have the pleasure of living in Belgian and people often ask me what I think of the beers here. The simple answer is that they often rely on crass flavours and offer none of the depth and subtlety that some English ale holds.  It is only when you don’t have something do you really miss it!

If you are like me and enjoy spending a considerable period of time (and money) in your local then choose wisely.  Follow my golden rules:

1) Choose a free house.  Green King especially is in danger of creating a monopoly over the pub industry. This has negative repercussions for the diversity of real ale that is being produced (and consumed).  If a pub has a big green sign hanging outside of it stay well away!

2) Choose a pub that stocks its beer from a local micro-brewery.  You might think this is hard to find, but increasingly micro-breweries are popping up left right and centre.  If your local free house is not stocking the local breweries then ask why!

For those of you based in Gloucestershire (my beloved shire) here are a few ideas for you to check out if you haven’t already!

  • The Woolpack in Slad (Stocks Stroud Brewery and Uley)
  • The Blackhorse in Amberley (Stroud Brewery and changing guest ales)
  • The Prince Albert in Stroud (Stroud Brewery)

For more information check out the good beer guide or the CAMRA web-site (http://www.camra.org.uk/home.aspx)

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