There’s more to #cookery books than recipes – an interview with Dr Eileen White

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Pictures of some of the cook books discussed. Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library

You can learn about a lot more than recipes from studying cookery books through the ages as I heard from Dr Eileen White recently. She has been studying the books in the special collection of Cookery Books at Leeds University’s Brotherton Library for over 40 years. Their collection includes books from the late 15th century to the present. Some are reprints of old manuscripts such as “A noble Boke Off Cookery FFor a Prynce Houssolde or Any Other Estately Houssolde” to original editions such as that from 1664 “The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth, Commonly called Joan Cromwel, The Wife of the Great Usurper, Truly Described and Represented, And now Made Publick for general Satisfaction”. Many books include recipes for medicines and foods and give an insight into the mores of the times as Dr White explains in this interview recorded in a rather noisy room.

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Don’t copy failed US #foodbanks model in UK warns Andy Fisher, author of Big #Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-hunger Groups”

Do not create a hunger industrial complex in the UK as has happened in the USA. That’s a key message from Andy Fisher, author of “Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-hunger Groups”, who is touring the UK this month. The unholy alliance of his book title has failed to solve hunger in the US for over 30 years.


In this interview, he explains how the US system ignores the causes of hunger, benefits the givers and demeans the recipients. He talks about lessons the UK might learn and warns the country not to follow the US path of institutionalising food banks. “We have pretended that the problem is hunger and not poverty. We’ve pretended that the solution to hunger is charity, not ensuring the right to food or increasing the political power of the poor,” he says.

He sees real hope in Scotland where he was last week and where they are seeking to end the need for foodbanks and ensure people’s right to food is met.

I heard him speak last Friday at Huddersfield University – along with Chris Moller from Huddersfield University and Maddie Power from the University of York (see my Twitter feed @GeoffTansey  for reports from the meeting with various slides from the presentations). You can still hear him this week in London on 14th and 16th and Cardiff on 17th November.

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‘#bittersweetbrexit: The future of #food, #farming, #land and #labour’- Time for a big debate, says Dr Charlie Clutterbuck

I’ve known soil zoologist Dr Charlie Clutterbuck for years. He’s passionate about the need to understand the vast array of living organisms in the soil. He’s also always been deeply concerned about the people who work on the land and throughout the system that brings us our food. So when he decided to write a reflective book on his experiences it was clear that relating these to the biggest change coming for the UK’s food and farming made sense. This book – Bittersweet Brexit: The Future of Food, Farming, Land and Labour – is the result. In it he discusses great number of tariffs – some 17,000 – involved in food and farming products and what to do with the subsidies that currently go into farming. I interviewed him about it at the launch in Manchester on World Food Day, October 16th. There’s also a website where you can join the debate here.


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Cutting #livestock consumption to prevent further wildlife extinction

There was a major conference on Extinction and Livestock in London last week, 5-6 October 2017.  The contributions will be put up on line in due course but I took the chance to interview some of those present. Here’s a brief sense of what was discussed. You can follow what was said on Twitter at #Extinction17

Livestock consumption and the extinction of other species are interconnected. That is why Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming, was determined to have a conference that brought animal welfare groups together with those concerned with the conservation of wildlife. In this interview, recorded at the conference in London 5-6 October 2017, he explains how working on his book Dead Zone: Where the Wild things Were shocked him into action on this.

Duncan Williamson, Food Policy Manger for WWF UK, a cosponsor of the conference, explains the need to link the food on our plates to biodiversity loss and the demand for animal feed. He discusses the need in the rich world to eat less meat and dairy. WWF’s Livewell project demonstrates that a healthy diet can be sustainable, Eating for 2 degrees – new and updated Livewell Plates.

Ecologist Carl Safina discusses how animals think and feel, that they too are sentient beings. He also explains the gradation between empathy, sympathy and compassion – some animals have all three and most vertebrates exhibit empathy.

Katherine Richardson, professor in biological oceanography at the University of Copenhagen and leader of the Sustainability Science Centre is one of the core authors on the planetary boundaries initiative. She explains just what these are and how livestock consumption affects our capacity to live within them.

Jimmy Smith, the director of the International Livestock Research Institute, called for a nuanced discussion that took into account the different needs and circumstances of the rich and poor nations. In the latter, the bulk of production was by small farmers, many of whom are women, and livestock are important for their livelihoods. He says ILRI’s research shows that some of the data on emissions in developing countries from livestock is extrapolated from rich countries and overestimates them.

Martin Palmer, secretary general of the Alliance of religions and conservation, urged the conference to recognise we humans are working with a false story that we are the most important species. We need to extend compassion to all species and recognise humans have no right to extinguish others. He also discussed how the religions could use their money to influence more sustainable practices.

Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens and Home Deus, in a video message to the conference urged scientists to accept greater political and ethical responsibility to speak out about the way animals feel and behave to correct misunderstandings. Two key questions where science can show the answers is whether animals are conscious sentient beings – they are – and can they experience emotions – they do.



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Transforming #agriculture to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (#SDGs)

Hans Herren, CEO of the Millennium Institute, Washington DC and founder of Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development in Zurich, argues that the Sustainable Development Goals offer the way to reshape agriculture in a way that will help meet these goals, in an interview I did with him at the Extinction and Livestock Conference in London last week, on October 5-6, 2017 (brief report on the conference with interviews to be published tomorrow). Goal 2 on Zero Hunger and sustainable agriculture connects to all the other goals. He argues that a report from the International Panel of Experts in Food Systems (IPES) From Uniformity to Diversity shows the way.


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Tim Lang warns of dire disruption to UK’s #food and #farming with #Brexit

In an interview I did last week with Tim Lang, professor of Food Policy at City University at the Extinction and Livestock conference in London (more of that in a later blog), he explains why he feels Brexit will cause a major disruption to the UK food system. He discusses some of these effects on a food system that relies on just-in-time deliveries to keep food on the shelves and why they will hit the poorest hardest.

The report he refers to in the interview is ‘A Food Brexit: time to get real’ by Professor Tim Lang (City, University of London), Professor Erik Millstone (University of Sussex),  and Professor Terry Marsden (Cardiff University) and is available here.


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Getting the facts straight about #foodinsecurity

I just wrote this blog for the #EndHungerUK campaign, prior to its national conference on 17th  October in London

In September 2015, the British Government committed itself to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition. It was then that the UK, along with most other governments, signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations. These goals apply to all countries, including the UK. The second of these goals is to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. The first commitment under this goal is:

“By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.”

As the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) argues, there is something relevant to meeting the end hunger goal in virtually every other goal of the 2030 Agenda – the first one being to end absolute poverty, others cover clean water and sanitation, climate action, reducing inequality, peace and justice.

SDG's-GraphicNow while most focus goes, quite rightly, on the urgent need to tackle these challenges in the poorest countries, these goals also apply to the UK. The End Hunger UK campaign is one contribution to tackling hunger and poverty here. As one of the world’s richest countries we should be far more ambitious about ending hunger here well before 2030 – whilst at the same time supporting programmes, governments, businesses and civil society organisations to do the same elsewhere around the world.


Last month FAO, along with 4 other UN agencies, published the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2017 – and it is well worth reading. Shockingly, the latest figures available show that from 2015-2016 the numbers of those going hungry in the world went up by 38 million to 815 million people.

One of the measures they use in the report is the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) which showed that nearly one in 10 people in the world suffer from food insecurity. This is based on interview data from adults around the world to measure people’s access to food. It relies on direct yes/no responses to eight questions about access to adequate food. “Respondents are asked about experiences associated with the inability to access food, including whether they have at any time during the previous 12 months, due to lack of money or other resources: been worried about not being able to obtain enough food; been forced to decrease the quality or quantity of the food they eat; gone for entire days without eating,” says the report


The report notes that “The ideal source of FIES data is large population surveys conducted by national institutions, enabling more detailed, policy-relevant analyses of the food-insecurity situation by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location, or other policy-relevant characteristics.” Unfortunately, few countries, including the UK, collect such data in national surveys. Yet we need to know it, if we are to be able to say we are meeting the goal of ending hunger.

This is why one of the panels, which I am chairing, at the EndHunger UK national conference on October 17th will be on ‘Measuring the scale of the problem’. The three speakers – Rachel Loopstra (UCL), Anna Taylor (The Food Foundation) and
Elli Kontoravddis (Nourish Scotland) – are working on this, and how knowing the level of food insecurity helps both reach our goal in EndHunger UK, hold government to account, and support the Right to Food. Do join us.


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