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Fast Food, Slow Fork.

  • Posted by howies
  • 23 October 2008


Fast Food, Slow Fork.

The average fast food meal lasts around
10 minutes or so.
The plastic cutlery that comes with it lasts
somewhere between 500 years to forever.
If we take the best case, that's roughly 499 years,
11 months, 3 weeks, 6 days, 23 hours and fifty
minutes longer than the meal it was originally
made for. Mad, huh.
So what's the answer. Well, to design things
better. To think about their second life as much
as their first.

In 1990 we threw away 2 billion items of
disposable cutlery. They were made from oil that
took 180 million years to form. Oil that is a finite
resource and one day will run out.
The fork featured here is made from potato
starch. The potato crop takes around 180 days
to grow. And then takes around 180 days to
Which, give or take a few millenniums, is 179
million years less than it takes to make some oil.
To buy some fast forks for your slow food go to:

Half geek - half luddite

  • Posted by howies
  • 23 October 2008


I am a contradiction.
On one hand I love broadband, but I also love food the old slow way.
I love apple computers, but as for the apples I eat, well, I don't want them to be sprayed with chemicals.
I love the fact that e-mail lets me to talk to the world, but I like to shop local for our vegetables.
I love digital photography but as for my daily bread I want that to made without adding fat just to make it last longer on a supermarket shelf.
I love wireless technology, but I don't want us to take more fish out the sea than the sea can support.
I love my bike that lets me go so fast down a mountain, but I don't want us to plant the land with GM crops.
I love texts on my mobile, but I wonder where all the sparrows have gone.
I guess I love that geeky stuff that makes my life easier, as we all do.
But I think there's a place for technology and science.
Yup, let it be in our computers, our cameras, our gadgets etc.
But I don't think technology or science should be in the food we eat.
I think they should leave our food alone.
Keep our food simple, old fashioned and good tasting.
There goes the Luddite in me again

How much does cheap cost?

  • Posted by howies
  • 23 October 2008


Apples have rarely been cheaper.

But what is the true cost of cheap?

Not so long ago all our apples came from orchards.

There were no or little chemicals used.

Now apples are one of the most intensive users of chemicals.

There are over 2000 types of apples to choose from, with names like Poor Man's Profit and Marriage Maker, yet, in my local supermarket today I can choose from 5 types of apple.

The orchards were a great source of wildlife. Now the huge scale of single crop production supports very little.

Our apples are now stored anywhere from 3-12 months before we get to eat them.

The growers choose apples that are the heaviest croppers rather the ones with the highest vitamin counts. Quantity is preferred to quality.

The supermarkets choose apples that store well and look good over ones with the best flavour. Even to conform to EC grading criteria apple growers have to match many criteria, but there are no criteria for flavour.

We used grow all our own apples. Now 2/3 are imported.

In order to preserve apples during storage and transport they are treated with post-harvest chemicals.

These are intended to stay on the fruit. These do not have to be labeled. Waxed apples do not have to be labeled either. Most are.

The supermarkets don't have to answer to the land. To the rivers. To the farmers. To the environment. To the local community. They answer to their shareholders.

Our food chain is for the most part in their hands. And their business is all about profit maximisation.

We have to accept that. Or change it.

Which brings us back to the original question: can we afford cheap?

Go organic, go local,
or even better - go local organic.

Below is an email we received in response to this piece from an apple grower from Kent called James Smith. He highlights what we can all do to support British fruit growers. Thanks James.


After reading the piece about, 'How much does cheap cost' I thought I would drop you a quick mail to give you a bit of information from an apple grower in Kent, namely Me!

As well as growing apples and pears on 3 medium size farms I am also a keen mountain biker, kayaker, triathlete and Howies customer. I am lucky enough to live and work in a truly beautiful place, our farms are in the Garden of England and the fruit we grow is fantastic.

When I saw the title I thought excellent, my thoughts exactly. but as I read the article my heart fell a little. So many of the points made are correct. I face the sad situation where I may have to stop growing apples because I cannot afford to supply the main supermarkets. Not only are they devaluing food in general they are making life so difficult for those of us who strive to provide a quality (in all aspects) product.

I will try and put this together in a coherent way as it is too easy to ramble on this subject which is so dear to my heart.

True facts:

Supermarkets devalue food and are not loyal to anyone but themselves and their shareholders.
Food is not cheap and should be priced realistically.
All apples still come from orchards, the shape and size of the trees has changed to increase production.
Chemicals have always been used. Growers used to use chemicals such as Bordeaux mixture, lead arsenate and tar oils to control pest and disease.
Most modern products are specific in their action so help maintain biodiversity in the orchards.
Commercial organics use a lot of chemicals such as copper and sulphur to control pest and disease, they are not chemical free.
Orchards can be as friendly to wildlife as ever before, we have had bird surveys carried out to show more that 40 species of birds on our farms including rarer species such as tree sparrows.
You are lucky to have 5 varieties to choose from.
Apples are stored anything from 0 days to 12 months.
Growers can only grow varieties that they have a chance of selling. The supermarkets determine what should be grown.
There are few alternative markets for growers to sell any volume of fruit as the supermarkets control a huge percentage of all food sales.
Supermarket specifications demand certain sugar levels to ensure good flavour for each variety.
Two thirds of all apples are imported. In five years time it will be nearer 90% unless things change.
Not all apples are treated with post harvest chemicals. Imported fruit is more likely to be waxed and polished that's why they shine on the shelves and customers buy them instead of not so pretty English Coxes.
Food labeling in general is very inaccurate. There is no requirement for any food to be labeled with pesticide application info, does an organic label tell you what has been applied to it?
Supermarkets all insist on certain standards of production to ensure that water courses and the environment are safeguarded against pollution. These protocols are supposed to be enforced globally.
Most farmers do more than required to ensure that the environment is looked after.
On our farms we conserve habitats for as much wild life as we can, we put up nesting boxes for owls, Kestrels and small birds.
We select crop protection products based on their suitability for the job and only spray if necessary.
In the summer the noise of birdsong wakes me up at 4.30am and is all you will hear through the day.
Supermarkets are killing my business. So in the future all food will come from agribusiness where food is produced on massive and industrial scale.
The UK produces thousands of tons of apples, if we don't store some of them so they all get sold to our customers then what should we do? Grow 5% of the crop and only sell them when they come off the tree? What fruit do you eat for the rest of the year?
If you don't want stored UK fruit then you better be happy to burn a few tons of diesel to get them up here from the southern hemisphere on a huge smoking container ship.

The challenge for me as a smaller grower (I still farm 200 acres of fruit), is to find ways of supplying locally to people who appreciate the beautiful fruit I grow. We sell at the local farmers market and people travel miles to buy our fruit. The problem that we face is that we grow over 1000 tons of fruit and need to sell it to millions of people in the South East of England. At this time there is only one way of doing that and it is currently unsustainable.

I would urge people to shop locally, I am in the process of setting up a website where people can see what we do and purchase fruit that can be delivered locally or collected. You will be lucky to find fruit in the supermarket that tastes as good as it does from my farm, even if it has been in store for 3 months or so. That is because fruit has a hard journey to the supermarket shelf where is mauled by shelf stackers and fussy customers.

To give you an idea of how hard it can be for us here is an example of what happens all too often.

A grower spends 12 months of the year growing a beautiful crop that he/she then picks to the highest standard, with over 90% of the fruit perfect in appearance. They then send it away to be stored for a while until the supermarket calls for it. When they do it goes to a pack house where it is graded for colour and size and packaged to go to the supermarket shelf. After everyone has taken their few pence a kilo, for transport, packaging, grading, marketing commissions, promotions ('buy one get one free' sound familiar?). The farmer could get a bill for selling his/her fruit. How then do they pay for the 12 months work and the harvest? The answer is, they borrow until they can't anymore then have to sell everything. That is the cost of cheap.

If food sells for a realistic price then all farmers can invest in their businesses and ensure that birds continue to sing. At this rate there won't be any fruit growers left in the UK. You can then choose between tasteless Red Delicious from the USA and French Gala.

I stand by my business and can say that the growers are not at fault. We are trying to ensure that our operations are as environmentally neutral as possible. Organic products are more expensive because the yields are far lower, not necessarily because they are more friendly to the environment. An organic grower needs to spray more often (more diesel) and can only use a few simple chemicals (copper is not good for the soil or for earthworms) so commercial organics are not the answer in my view. As we strive to do things in the best possible way our income is taken away from us in the drive to make food cheaper still. We need customers to demand English fruit and to be happy to pay for it. If they don't then they will have to be happy to buy from overseas where people may be less worried about the environment. At the moment the average supermarket customer will pick up cheaper imported apples over English everyday of the week because they believe that food should not cost them anything. It used to be that food took up 30% of the average households income each week. I should think that it is nearer 5 or 10% now.

I hope this has not bored any of you too much. But apples are my life and I want to keep growing them so I can keep living here, ride my bike and walk my dog through the orchards.

Your catalogue is ace but I felt a bit demonized by this article.

I will stop there.


James Smith"


(No, we haven't made that up.)

21% of Americans are obese.

65% of Americans are overweight.

10-20% of British people are obese.

Europe is catching up fast.

3 slices of some bread has the same fat content as a Mars Bar.

Bread didn't use to have any fat. Fat is good for shelf life, for sponginess and, of course, for fat profits. But not so good for us.

'Doh Boy' model design: Wilfrid Wood.

buy a Doh Boy

I Accept Ugly

  • Posted by howies
  • 23 October 2008



I accept that fruit and vegetables come in all shapes and sizes.

Like life, it takes all sorts.

I accept apples that don't have perfect skin.
(Remember being a teenager?)

I also accept scary looking carrots, over-sized swedes and onions so ugly they make your eyes water.

I accept blemishes on cauliflower leaves especially as we don't eat that bit anyway.

I accept rhubarbs that are taller than corporate policy.

I accept potatoes come from the ground. I have also come to terms with the fact they may well have dirt on as a result.

And as for turnips, well, they were never meant to be one of nature's good-lookers.

You see, nature grew them all. Nature gave them the OK. And, this is the important bit, nature gave these ugly critters as much goodness as the pretty ones.

These are shallow times, I know.

Even so, to throw away 20-30% of the food we grow on the grounds that it's not pretty enough, seems like we have lost the garden plot.

You say your customers demand it this way, well, just so you know, this one doesn't.

By A Customer that accepts ugly


All Rise

  • Posted by howies
  • 23 October 2008



Things have changed over the last few years. There used to be a paper shop at the end of the road, but now it's closed down. I went on a walk the other day with some friends, which we planned to end at a village pub, but when we got there, that had closed down too. (We were very pissed off. We'd walked for miles.) And I can't remember how long ago it was that the local baker's shut down for good.

It's a crying shame. Every neighbourhood needs a baker. Just about everyone, at least in our part of the world, needs bread, because of course, without bread, there is no toast. And without toast, life as we know it becomes warped.

Anyway, a few years ago I decided to sort out this no bakery thing. To be honest, I'd started getting fed up with the sliced stuff I'd been buying. Especially fed up when I found out that most of it contained added fat. Fat. I'd always thought of bread as the stuff you made from flour, yeast and water. Not fat. But when I looked into it, I found that fat was a totally unnecessary ingredient. It's only in there to make the bread last a bit longer on the shelves. There's no nutritional benefit in fact, some manufactured breads contain as much fat in three slices as you'd get in a chocolate bar. Which is pretty rubbish really.

So it was time to open a bakery. Admittedly this one would have a limited customer base (me) and no till, but I figured it would make decent no-fat added bread. First of all I needed a recipe. And as I asked around, it seemed that everyone had a different way of making bread. The variations weren't wild, and the basics remained the same. But over the years people have added tweaks and twists to the foolproof mixture of flour, water, yeast and a little time.

In the end I nicked a recipe from Jamie Oliver's website. The amount of dough you get from this recipe is pretty big if you halve the amounts you'll still get a medium sized loaf.


I've ended up tweaking this recipe to suit my own doughy taste. And what I get is deliciously dense wholemeal bread that isn't anything like the flaccid stuff you buy in plastic bags at the supermarket. It toasts like a dream you can give it a good long blast and it will take the pain. It also makes my house smell special when the baking is being done.

Best of all, my bakery is still in business, open from the hours of 3-4pm on a Sunday afternoon when I've got a couple of hours to spare to make the world's finest bread. Pop in for a slice if you're passing.

by Dan Germain


Expensive urine?

  • Posted by howies
  • 23 October 2008


Oh I was just wondering why companies make those mega-dosage vitamins that contain more than the body can physically absorb. To me it's pretty dumb, but hey what do I know?

Maybe they are more interested in selling pills than giving you what you need. Thankfully, the human body is a clever old thing. What it doesn't need, it quite simply rejects in the only way it knows how. 

But knowing the cost of these things, it seems like an expensive way to spend a penny.

So what about this for an idea. Let's eat some good food instead. You know, like fruit and vegetables.

Stuff you have to wash or peel.

Stuff that comes from the ground, not a chemist. 

Pretty crazy, huh?

A recipe for disaster

  • Posted by howies
  • 23 October 2008


Firstly, add four pinches of insecticide. Two pinches of fungicide. And two measures of herbicide.

After picking, store in conditions that reduce the oxygen from 21% to 3% and replace with the corresponding amount of CO2 . This is perfect for stopping the aging process so the salad still appears fresh, but it can't stop the goodness being lost with each day that passes.

Keep in this state for anything up to a month.

Then take some chlorine, 50mg per litre should do it, a measure the equivalent of 20 times the strength of your local swimming pool. And gently rinse.

Then simply bag, ready for sale.

Supermarkets. Now wash your hands of that.

6% of food poisoning outbreaks were associated with ready to eat salads in 2000.

www.graigfarm.co.uk one of the best organic retailers.

www.planetorganic.com almost an entire supermarket devoted to good slow food.

www.farmersmarkets.net gives you a list of farmers markets near you.

www.bigbarn.co.uk type in postcode to find good local produce suppliers.

Shop local. Shop organic. Grow your own.

Number of different types of salad leaves growing in Andrew's garden from May to October: 12.

We can't build a wall high enough

  • Posted by howies
  • 23 October 2008


A spin-doctor's job is to make the good news heard and, just as importantly, the bad news to be well and truly buried. So when a report that is meant to allay our fears about the safety of GM technology contains findings that will actually reinforce those fears, the spin-doctor makes absolutely sure it will never make the headlines.

Which explains why a report was quietly put out on a Government website late on Christmas Eve. There were, of course, no papers the next day. And the TV news was for once only looking for happy smiley feel good news. From a spin-doctor's point of view, it is the perfect day to dump bad news. (Disasters are pretty good, too).

Embarrassingly for the Government was the fact that this report was conducted by their own governmental body. So the source could not be discredited, which is another tool used by the spin-doctor. The report was the result of the field tests conducted over a number of years and it concluded that GM crops had contaminated neighbouring crops. It seems that man can't build a wall high enough to stop the spread. It was an important piece of research.

It raised (again) the question of the safety of GM technology and whether it could ever be introduced without risking contaminating all our food.

Another report on the farm trials which was designed to discover whether GM crops affect the environment has been delayed, and potentially controversial findings cannot now be discussed in the debate that has been promised for later this year to try and appease those worried about GM food. Even ministers have declared the debate is no more than a 'PR offensive'and the decision to introduce GM has already been made.

To put all this in context, you have to understand the Government's position on GM Food. They are Pro GM Food technology and they would like Britain to lead the world in this new science. 

But the unintended consequences of this technology are not known and cannot be known for now. They will take their time to reveal themselves to us. It may be that this technology will spread disease or make people ill or even create super weeds. No one knows. But what we do know for sure is the Government won't be able to reverse this decision in the event of it all going wrong. There is no going back. And there certainly will be no refund policies from the GM companies. At present they can't even be sued for contaminating other crops.

In the pursuit of progress (and money) what the scientists and the GM technology companies have forgotten is that nature is impossible to control. The winds don't listen to Government regulations. Nor, for that matter, do the birds and the bees either. The GM food debate is too important an issue to be left to politicians and their view of what the future should be. We should all be a part of this decision.

Both silence and indifference will be taken as acceptance, so we need to make our views known. 
After all, any Government has to reflect the views of the people. It is not the role of Government to reflect the views of powerful American and Euro-pean GM corporations. Nor is it the role of Government to buckle under pressure from America to follow suit. 

From where we stand, we do not know of a single person in favour of introducing GM food. Not a single one. How about you, do you know of anyone? Thought so. And our feeling is this will be true throughout Britain. All we need to do now is to tell the Government what we really think. That the people of Britain are against the introduction of this technology. So spread the word.

Just like GM crops, it can spread like wild-fire.


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