Thursday, 23 February 2012

Fairtrade Fortnight

Fairtrade Fortnight will soon be upon us, so here is a brief introduction to the concept of Fairtrade for those who are unsure what it's all about.

How we live and how we choose to shop and do business has an affect on how producers in so-called 'developing countries' are able to live and whether they are able to make basic choices to improve their own future and their children's future.

Fairtrade is a guarantee of a fair price and decent working conditions for those people in less economically developed countries who produce food and other products people like us in the wealthy West to buy.

Although we may not realise it, many of the everyday things, such as cotton, rice, tea, coffee and chocolate, are produced by people who are not being paid enough to live on for their long hours of work and who can be working in dangerous and unhealthy conditions.

If you aren't convinced that Fairtrade is necessary read this or some of the producer stories here.

Fairtrade initiatives aim to stop this. Through selective buying, you can ensure that the producers at the bottom of the supply chain, such as poor farmers, get a fairer share of the money you spend on their goods.

All the major supermarkets stock Fairtrade products these days, as do many small shops. Some cafes and restaurants use Fairtrade produce, too. This will give you an idea of the wide range of Fairtrade products available in the shops.

There will soon be lots of offers on Fairtrade products for Fairtrade Fortnight.

Look out for this logo when you next go shopping.

You can find out more about what the logo means here

Fairtrade fights poverty through trade.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

This is a lovely, rich and warming soup for Autumn and Winter.

We had a similar soup some years ago at a family celebration, but I didn't get the recipe and it took me a few years to manage to make a similarly pleasing soup.

Butternut and other squashes are in season at this time of year and we sometimes get one in our veg box, in which case I make this soup, which has become one of our favourites.

  • First of all I roast a medium butternut squash, cut in half lengthways, and probably crossways, too, so that it will fit in my dish.  I drizzle it with olive oil and put it in an fan-assisted oven set to 180°C for about 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and bubbling.  
  • While it is in the oven you can be frying a sliced medium onion and a few cloves of garlic in a large saucepan.
  • Once the squash is well-cooked, scoop out and remove the seeds, then discard the skin, adding just the flesh to the saucepan . Pour in about half a pint of water and simmer for a few minutes to make sure everything is soft.
  • Next puree the mixture with a hand blender. 
  • Then add a small can of coconut cream, a tablespoon of garam masala and a tablespoon of stock powder.

You want the soup to be fairly thick, but if it is more like thick porridge, add a bit more water, stirring well, until it has the right consistency. Heat it through well before serving with a crusty roll or a piece of naan bread.  You could garnish with a few coriander leaves if desired.

Today I made about 7 ladles full, so it depends how big your appetites are, but I would say that was just right for 3 hungry people for lunch. However, it could serve 6 as a starter.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Steps in Reducing Waste (1)

One idea behind this blog is that changes need to be made gradually. Human beings, especially busy 21st century human beings cannot cope with too much change all at once, indeed we tend to find big changes in our lives very stressful.

However, all the signs suggest that most of us need to make quite a few changes in our lives if we aren't going to destroy our environments, run out of natural resources and upset the climate, making many parts of the world uninhabitable. So, the best way to do this, I think, is by making one smallish change and then another, when we've got over the shock of the last one. Otherwise we make wake up one day to find we have suddenly got to change the way we live in many ways, all at once.

Reducing the amount of waste we create is a step in the right direction for all of us.  If we think about how much we really need an item and how long it's likely to last we shall stop filling our homes with impulse buys that are not as essential as the advertising blurb convinced us it was.  This will help us avoid clutter and mean that we are not mindlessly consuming rare resources.  It will also mean we have less cheap, broken, 'five minute wonder' gadgets to consign to the dustbin.

Cutting back on excess packaging is another way to keep precious resources out of our dustbins.  Even if packaging is recyclable, water and energy are still used to recycle the materials, and things like plastic and paper degrade each time they are recycled, so they cannot be used forever.

Karen Cannard is now on week 4 of her Rubbish Diet, but if, like me, you like to take things more slowly, you might want to look at her tips for reducing the amount of rubbish you bring into your house and put into your bin, sending it on its way to landfill, which she gave for week 2.  I find one or two changes a month is enough for me and the people I live with.

I've found that buying fruit an veg from a veg box scheme that uses minimal packaging, such as Riverford, has helped me have a lot less packaging for my bin or for recycling.

A lot of dried goods, such as fruit and nuts, pulses and cereals such as oats and rice have to be packaged. Oats I can buy in a paper bag, but the rest I try to buy from Suma as their packaging states clearly that it is recyclable. Since our wonderful little health food closed down I've found the Ethical Superstore is the best place for me to buy Suma products at present.

If plastic bag style packaging doesn't indicate whether or not it can be recyclable then this tip from Karen Cannard should be helpful,
 "any packaging film that's not labelled, will mostly be polythene (where you can push your thumb into the film and stretch it) or polypropylene (which makes a crinkly sound when you squeeze it). The polythene film is the type that can go in with carrier bags."

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Why Contentment is Better than Entitlement

Be thankful for what you’ve got

Is there something wrong with me that I wouldn't feel comfortable accepting an annual income of one million pounds or more, or even anything approaching that?  Do I just not have enough self-esteem to think I am worth it?

Or could it be that we should view people who accept such inflated salaries as having the problem?  How can anyone reasonably justify being paid so much when  others are paid so little?

Stephen Hester was being interviewed on the Today Programme this morning and did not show any sign of believing that neither he nor anyone else is worth a million pounds in payment a year, never mind several millions more in bonuses.  Rather he seemed more interested in emphasising how important banking is for the economy.

Sadly Stephen Hester is not alone in believing he is worth millions of pounds a year. Why can this man not see the inequity of his situation?  Perhaps he gives a great deal of money to charity to help those less well off than himself, but we haven't heard that he does.

What do people like this spend their money on?  Why can they not be content with a comfortable home and the trappings of a comfortable life, which can be obtained for substantially less than one million pounds a year?  What drives them to require more than they really need?  Isn't this a form of greed, a form of unsatisfied hunger perhaps because they are so insecure they can never have enough put by for a rainy day, or because they are the ones with low self-esteem, so low that however high they rise up the ladder and however much they are paid they never feel it is enough?

Are not people who appear to have an insatiable craving for high position, power and wealth as much in need of psychiatric help as those who despair of ever finding a job and have learnt to survive on the scraps society throws them in the form of benefits? Or is their moral compass so disturbed that they are unable to see the enormous inequity of their situation?  Should we feel sorry for them and send them for counselling or are they criminals who should be sent to gaol?  What is the generous attitude to such a lack of generosity?

This cartoon seemed apposite

Surely the 21st century is the time to stop reinforcing immoral Victorian values such as the large gap between the poor and the wealthy and making our country much more equal at last. Victorian values were generally not that great and should be outmoded by now.

Let us not be ruled by the modern barons of banking and big business with their threats that undermining their power will damage our economy.  Let us stand our ground and see just what will happen if the businesses with high turnovers are forced to pay a fair level of tax and big bosses of all kinds are only paid up to 10 times more the hourly rate their cleaners and other low paid employees are paid. Some may leave, but not all and perhaps not most. Our economy needs to find its proper level.

We need to address the pay of the lowest paid who do not earn a living wage.  In some cases this enables you and me to buy cheaper goods but they are not really so cheap as we must also pay these people housing benefit etc out of our taxes. Taxpayers should not be subsidising stingy employers or tight-fisted customers and besides if someone works full time and to the best of their ability they should be afforded the dignity of no longer needing state handouts.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Meanwhile in the garden . . .

Life remains busy, but I have managed a few posts about our garden recently, partly because I don't need to think about them so much, I can just say a few words about the pictures, and partly because a new planting season is approaching and in some cases is already upon us. I'm also excited about Anna and Bella the new chickens we purchased at the weekend.

Anna and Bella don't seem excited by the snow

Read more about our garden at Notes on a Garden