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Fish

Fish and seafood are excellent sources of protein, and if of the right varieties, also of Omega 3s (DHA and EPA), Vitamin D, B vitamins, selenium, iodine and potassium. As such they can contribute to our immune system function, our brain function, our metabolism, our thyroid function, our nerve functions and our bone strength. Eating fish is widely considered good for us. (British Nutrition Foundation)

However fishing … and in particular the commercial and large-scale fishing industry … is fraught with difficulties surrounding sustainability (wild catch), animal welfare (fish farming) and the general destruction of our vital marine habitats that both of these can cause.

And so I often find myself asking the questions “should I eat fish?” and “should I eat other seafood?” It’s a shame I need to ask these questions. I love fish and seafood. I would like to include them in meals many times a week – although even looking for just ‘dolphin friendly’ or ‘MSC certified’ / ‘ASC certified’ in the hopes this will do the job of keeping me ‘ethical’ the price is a bit prohibitive. However, I don’t even know if these labels mean anything substantial. I recently saw pre-pack of cod labelled both “trawler caught” and MSC Certified! Maybe I’m behind the times, but when I was in school and just starting to think about these things in the 1990’s “trawler caught” was about as bad as it got – on a par with “battery eggs” – pictures of whales, dolphins, turtles all caught up in the nets, dead.

Now obviously not all seafood and not all fish are equal – Even within the bounds of MSC / ASC certified, and especially if we consider all animal food from the seas. Just as a battery raised, super-speedily fattened, antibiotic filled (and soon even possibly chlorine -washed) chicken can not be lumped together with a slow grown, naturally raised calf-at-foot, pastured-cow beef joint when we consider the ethics of meat eating, we also cannot lump together rope grown Scottish mussels harvested at the right time of year with trawler caught cod. But underlying that, there is a valid broader question … Can our seas, in their current state sustain any further loss?

Small fishing communities around the UK had thrived for years on small day-boat catches until the supertrawlers and large-scale industry really took off after the second world war. Although commercial fishing had started in the 19th Century, it was the technological advances, particularly in materials that led to the huge scale up in the 1950’s … and this included not just the ability to fish by trawl and seine but also the use of plastic netting. .. Both it seems may have had devastating consequences. (https://www.britannica.com/technology/commercial-fishing/History-of-commercial-fishing) Unfortunately many small fishing communities are now struggling – not just from the financial implications of large scale economics, but also because in some areas fish stocks are so depleted that there is nothing there for them to catch.

Because of the current state of our seas there is a concerted effort amongst environmentalists to create truly protected international ocean zones to help the seas to re-establish. Campaigns such as the “30 x 30” campaign, which are officially endorsed by both our government and the EU. .. with the UK government actually leading the official global alliance. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-creates-global-alliance-to-help-protect-the-worlds-ocean

Obviously our seas need protection, and so maybe we should not eat seafood was where I was starting to get to. And then I got an email from Greenpeace…

It asked me to sign the petition to prevent Supertrawlers from pillaging international Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) (Greenpeace Press Release, Greenpeace petition). It states that in 2019, in international waters off the UK coast supertrawlers spent 2963 hours (equiv. 123 days non-stop) fishing in MPAs, without any admonishment. I was a bit baffled as we in the UK are leading this alliance. …

I went onto the Greenpeace website and found the articles above and several others. I also found an excellent article on why Greenpeace supports local fishing and why it can in the long run be good for our planet. (https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/why-greenpeace-supports-local-fishing/). This makes sense to me. It shows that once again we are looking at a nuanced question. It reminds me again that thinking about our world as ‘we’ the humans and ‘they’ the animals, plants, biomes, habits etc that are not human is a ridiculous division. We, humans, are part of our planet. In animal terms we are top predators who have outstripped our natural population ceiling and continue to do so, but maybe we can do so in a way that works, if we are careful.

So I think I will continue to eat fish – but maybe not fish bought from a supermarket, and maybe not when I’m at home in “Hertfordshire-far-from-the-Sea”. I think I will choose to support local fishing, and buy it if possible straight off the boat when we visit family and friends in Devon and Cornwall, and the North coast of Norfolk. It won’t be frequent, but I’ll really relish it when we go.

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Eating Cheaply, Healthily and Sustainably part 4 – When dinner didn’t get planned!

I have already written about Dinner and how I plan it out, in my Real Food post last November https://ecogreengp.home.blog/2019/11/28/real-food/, but since then, the kids have grown and the leftovers don’t appear so often – I haven’t quite managed to up the quantities enough on the Sunday veg yet! .. So I am finding that at least once a week I am having to make it up more on the spot.

As I mentioned in my Real Food post, I believe dinner should consist of lots of vegetables, enhanced with herbs and spices, and filled out with some protein, fat and carbohydrates. … in that order. It should be real food – not processed, fresh (in the main, although I use tinned lentils and pulses mostly), ideally local and organic.

However because of the need to cook unplanned – which used to be because I’d invite people over without thinking about the food, but now is due to hungry teens eating things up – we also keep quite a good store cupboard. I have always loved herbs and spices so have a drawer of them, and will try to make sure we have a good collection of lentils, pulses, tapanade, sauerkraut, tinned tomatoes etc. This makes ‘make-it-up dinner’ easier.

So on days when the food I was planning is no longer in the fridge I will usually start by deciding what ‘regional flavour’ I want for the evening – English (think apples, ham, cheddar, beef mustard, gravy), Mediterranean (garlic, oregano, tomatoes, mozarella, feta, lamb), North European (sausages, salamis, pickles, smoked cheese), Indian area (turmeric, chilli, cumin, coriander, ginger), East Asian (ginger, soy, lemongrass), Mexican (chilli, lime), Caribean (Coconut, pineapple, fish) or African (peanut, chilli, coconut, yam).

I am aware these are large regional areas, with huge diversity of flavour and cooking style – that one cannot really compare Nigerian food to Moroccan, nor North Indian to South Indian, nor Tibetan plain to Szechuan to Japanese … but this is just my way of thinking about things when cooking ‘on the hoof’. Once I’ve decided that I will see what veg we’ve got and decide if it is quick cook or slow cook (stir-fry versus stew) and so work from there.

Common go-to’s are:

Peppers stuffed with a mixture of grated veg (courgette, sweet potato, carrot, parsnip, depends on the season and what I’ve got), herbs, cream cheese and egg

Pancakes – we have plenty of eggs, and use a combination of non grain flour and ground almonds to make the batter, then stuff with cooked veg, cheese, a bit of ham etc.

Souffle omlette – really easy, and if you’ve got enough pans you can even let everyone put their own together…. separate 2-3 eggs per person and whisk up the whites. Then whisk the yolks with a small amount of melted butter (makes them thicken more easily) until a bit thicker than double cream. Add “fillings” to the yolks (my favourite is defrosted frozen spinach with a bit of nutmeg and a grating of parmesan) and stir to combine, then fold in the whites. Transfer to a skillet and cook on the hob for a couple of minutes, then put in the oven for 10 mins. Once cooked leave to cool for a bit (it will sag) and then cut into slices. Serve with salad / cooked steamed veg etc.

Sliced potato and veg bake: I slice then steam potatoes and layer them into my oiled skillet with whatever veg, a bit of bacon if we’ve got it (or mushrooms in my husband’s bit as he’s veggie), and cheese on top. Stick in the oven for half an hour or so – This can be made ‘mediterranean’, with summer veg, tinned toms, oregano, a bit of feta stirred in maybe, some parmesan on top; or ‘north european’ by using more robust veg, some cabbage and a bit of paprika, topped with anything from cheddar to Jarlsberg, and served with sauerkraut on the side.

Meat and 5 veg – I try to keep some chicken / turkey pieces and some beef mince in the freezer, so that I can if necessary get them out and create with them at short notice. I will again decide on the ‘flavour region’ and cook the meat accordingly, then cook whatever veg I’ve got (usually steamed / fried) and serve them all separately, maybe with some noodles or a jacket potato for the kids, and usually with egg as the protein instead for hubbie.

Black bean chilli (which at it’s most basic for 4 of us uses1 onion, 3 tins of black beans, 1 tin toms, a squirt of tomato puree, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp chilli powder, 1 tbs peanut butter) served with whatever salad and carbohydrate we’ve got – it really is very versatile – on toast, on fried cabbage, with rice, with cornbread, even just dumped onto some simple lettuce and cucumber.

Coconut vegetable soup: A recipe in the Quick and Easy Primal Blueprint cookbook is my start point for this, however it is hugely and wonderfully adaptable. Start with chopping onion, garlic and chilli, sweat in a big pan with some coconut oil, then add coconut flakes or flour, some turmeric, a few tomatoes and coconut milk (I buy the dry blocks of coconut that you add water too – better packaged for the transport, so less CO2). Bring up to a simmer whilst you chop any other veg you have – On different occasions I’ve all of these … cauliflower, courgette, cucumber, carrots, parsnips, celeriac, celery, green beans, broad beans, peas, potatoes, spinach, cabbage, kale, swede, sweet potato … Add them to the pot and cook until tender. Ladle into bowls and maybe add some roast peanuts, more chilli or even some yogurt to the top.

I feel maybe I ramble a bit talking about food. I like to be organised – yet am not – so my posts are a bit reflective of that. What I am hoping to do is to inspire you and others … that cooking nutritious, healthy sustainable food can be both affordable and fun … and doesn’t have to take all day! I hope you enjoy.

Nutrition versus Nourishment

So, firstly a big apology for being off-line again for a while. This whole COVID thing was getting on top of me, and I’ve been vacillating between wanting to write about it and not. …. in the end decided I would just be ranting and it was unlikely to be helpful…. so took some time out instead.

So today I want to look at the ideas of good nutrition, and nourishment, and how they are different…. and may not sit easily together. I feel that we need to get a balance between the two, and I guess I am trying to gently take on the fundamentalist versions of the nutrition beliefs I would generally hold to.

I’m sure you will have seen on twitter and other media the sorts of posts I am referring to … the ones who put forward a view point that nutritionally may well be good / right / helpful, but who do it in absolute terms. … which makes it suddenly not so good / right / helpful.

I, as I’ve mentioned before, hold loosely to a paleo type diet: low carb – particularly no grain; no refined sugars; good amounts of meat, fish, nuts, eggs etc. My husband however went vegetarian a couple of years ago, and so I have had to adapt. I refuse to cook different meals for each member of the household. …. and it was actually this that got me thinking about ‘nourishment’.

Nourishment, as we can tell from it’s use with other preceding words such as ’emotional’ and ‘spiritual’ means more than just the chemical nutrients provided by a food. The Chambers dictionary describes it as “to foster or encourage growth of …. ” whilst the online Oxford dictionary (Lexico) says “the food necessary for growth, health and good condition”.

Nutrition may be concerned with the chemical constituents we need to thrive, but nourishment is more concerned with how those chemical constituents fit into the bigger picture of our well-being. Good nutrition would never allow me to eat a big piece of icing covered birthday cake, or a bright blue ‘raspberry flavoured’ ice-lolly…. The idea of nourishment however might say that on occasion it is just what is needed! … Let’s have a look.

A quick trawl through google reveals that there is significant evidence that where and how we eat changes how we digest and absorb our food …..

All of these show that there is more to what we eat than just what we eat. How we eat it matters, how we feel matters, and so by extrapolation who we are with, expectations, traditions and what we need emotionally also matter. I would also surmise (in this changeable British climate) that the weather matters. (Certainly for me I want stew and maybe even a doughnut on those cold dark rainy November days, but a Greek Salad is wonderful and filling and feel-good on a hot sunny day in the garden)

I have long held with the premise, in my nutritional leanings, that I don’t want to inconvenience others – so I eat spaghetti if I’m served it, and pudding if someone has made it for us. But now I have also started again to make cake … and eat it. … and give some to my family. And we are all better for it. We sit around the table on a Saturday morning and eat cake (or pastries if I haven’t made cake). We talk about the week, we plan out the day, we take time together, we chew slowly and we absorb all the nourishment this cake provides – physical and emotional.

As we think about good nutrition, and as GP’s I believe we must lead in this, let us not lose sight of holistic nourishment.

Poorly People, Poorly Planet

It is not new or inventive or original to suggest that the health of our planet affects the health of the human population. In fact the way we measure the health of the planet is to look at the numbers and fertility rates of numerous species around the globe … so pointing out that they are related almost counts as a tautology. .. and we are global planetary species. However what is new is the current situation we are in. A situation where on the one hand we have had unprecedented interest in stopping and reversing climate change; in cleaning up the oceans; in stopping use of plastics and the throw-away culture, and on the other hand we are seeing a global pandemic where single use is being encouraged, and oil and car companies are trying to water down the climate treaties.

These 2 things cannot continue to sit alongside each other. We need to show the world that sustainability and hygiene are not polar opposites, but are good bed-companions, and that healing our world will heal our populations. We can in this age as never before add our voice into the the voices of the many on social media. I would argue in fact that we must … there has never been a better time to show that we can put 2 and 2 together, and to help others (particularly those in authority either in government or corporation) to do like-wise.

I am a GP and at the moment the public .. and more surprisingly even the press .. like us. Not just GP’s, but anyone in healthcare. This is unusual… and unfortunately unlikely to last. SO now more than ever we must speak out and show that the climate crisis IS a health crisis. We must tell the facts – yes many have died and are continuing to die from Covid19 – a disease that we still don’t understand the occurrence of – but many more are dying from floods and the illnesses they bring, fire, earthquake, drought. … and these things we do understand. We know why floods, fires, droughts etc are increasing. If it is thought criminal not to run into extreme action against something we don’t know the cause of or cure for, how much more criminal is it not to act against something we do know both the cause of and the cure for?

I will not stay silent, and I will use the current good opinion of the NHS and health workers to make sure that the momentum of climate change action is not lost.

I hope many of you will join me.

For now I join these wonderful Doctors across the world….

Dr’s poem for Earth

Please watch the above on YouTube, and take note, and support us as we aim for a better future for all.

Eating Cheaply, Healthily and Sustainably – part 3. Lunch

So, we are 4 weeks into Covid-19 UK lockdown, and I am keen to get back to the series I was doing before this outbreak, on eating well without a big wallet. My initial though was “urgh, I’ve had enough of everyone talking and writing about coronavirus, I’m going to just go back to writing the stuff I was writing before, and not mention the new C word, and not worry that maybe I’m not being topical” …. but it turns out that in fact eating healthily and cheaply seem to be very topical, with more and more evidence suggesting that metabolic health (and in particular low glucose load) is a predictor for better Covid-19 outcome.

I have already looked at breakfasts, and taken a small look at lunches with my ‘Soups’ article, but I will now look more at other lunches that can be easy, cheap and healthy. Initially however, here is a word of advice … Don’t try to change your lunches if you haven’t changed your breakfasts. You will be setting yourself up for a very hard time, and probably hungry or grumpy afternoons if you fill yourself with carbohydrate (cereals and or toast) for breakfast, and then don’t give in to those carb cravings again at lunch. Start making the breakfast changes, and you’ll find the lunch changes almost follow automatically!

So my favourite 2 groups of lunch foods are soups (previously discussed – see soups post) and salads. Sometimes I make up a big tossed salad, sometimes I just do something I label ‘crunches and dips’. These do take longer to eat than a sandwich, but do not have to take longer to throw together.

As most of us are currently home-based I will however also give you ideas that do take maybe an extra 5-10 minutes, but are “super-meals” in a bowl (I use pasta bowls for most things) that you can eat outside – or if you don’t have an outside space then at your open window, for extra well-being!

Simple salad bowls – in general:

The trick for lowering costs is to use seasonal ingredients…. And to buy the cheaper varieties. I often buy winter round lettuces for about 50p each, and use about ½ of one as the base for most winter and spring salads. I grow some mixed leaves in pots that I can add if and when I want… but only really in the summer. I would also highly recommend a veg box scheme – they are often a cheaper way to buy organic veg, and will force you to branch out, be adventurous and experiment. I’m pretty sure that most people’s veg intake also goes up with this sort of scheme as you get what you get, and can challenge yourself to get through it!

To start any salad bowl throw washed (and chopped if you want) lettuce leaves into your bowl until it sort of looks full. … I will use approx. ½ a round lettuce, ¼ iceberg or 1 little gem per person. Add other seasonal veg on top, then add a small handful of nuts, and same of cheese, fish or meat. I often also throw on some pickled onions / gherkins / sauerkraut from a jar. … that really is the simple basics of it.

Add a non-sugary dressing.

Eat.

Vary what veg you use, don’t be afraid of cooking some, using fruits or using the leftovers from yesterday’s dinner. Below I have put some of my favourites, but the only way to make this a sustainable way to eat long term is to experiment yourself. Have fun with it… it can’t go very wrong.

Example ideas:

Simplest: Lettuce, 1 tomato chopped up, ¼ cucumber chopped up, 1 carrot either chopped or left whole to bite separately, a handful of peanuts (I like dry roast, but they can be more pricey) a slice or 2 of ham chopped up, a dollop of mayonnaise (NOT low fat) or tablespoon of olive oil and dash of vinegar (I use cider vinegar usually)

Ploughmans: Lettuce, 1 apple chopped up, ¼ cucumber chopped up, 1 or 2 sticks of celery either chopped or left whole to bite separately, a few pickled onions / gherkins / cornichons or a spoon of sauerkraut, a handful of peanuts or cashews, a chunk of cheddar (I tend to use about 30g) chopped up small.

(Tinned) Salmon / Tuna (MSC certified of course!): Lettuce, 1 apple or tomato chopped up (depending on which dressing I am using – see below), ¼ cucumber chopped up, 1 stick of celery chopped up, some grated or pickled beetroot if I’ve got it (for the salmon, I don’t like beetroot with tuna personally, but might use pickled onions / gherkins instead). ½ a small tin of salmon (about 80g) and either dressing 1a or 1b (with the apple) or dressing 1c or 2 (with the tomato).

Personally I tend to mix the tinned salmon into the dressing and just dollop it all on top, but totally up to you. If it’s not too expensive ½ an avocado chopped into this salad is excellent.

Chicken (free range, RSPCA assured, organic etc): Good ethical chicken is expensive, so this is something I don’t have often…. But where to start … so many options!! I will nearly always buy a whole chicken, so I am using left over bits after the Sunday roast… it is already cooked, although it can be cooked again …

As always start with the salad leaf base, add in some other veg and top with the chicken / dressing….

  • Make a coronation chicken with lots of mayonnaise and curry powder, by all-means use the mango chutney, but don’t add the sultanas / raisins as it just increases the sugar content too much
  • Add chicken to any of the Dressing 1 variants
  • Fry up chicken with carrots, courgettes, any dark green veg in the fridge and some seasonings – I would go Asian with sesame oil, ginger, chilli, 5spice, soy sauce; or tex mex with chilli, smoked paprika and onions…. But be inventive.

Leftovers: Probably my favourite – and never 2 the same.

Start with the lettuce base, usually I also add in the cucumber and tomatoes. Open the fridge and pull out whatever is left over from yesterday’s dinner. Decide whether these things will be nicer cold or hot… and whether you can really eat all of it! If I want them hot I will usually put on a frying pan with a little olive oil, and gently fry them all up together until hot. If it’s just vegetables I will probably add an egg and scramble it around. Tip out onto the salad, dollop with mayonnaise, olive oil, dressing or leftover gravy and enjoy.

Some leftovers that work especially well are:

  • Sunday roast veggies
  • Chicken casserole
  • Beef stew
  • Cold sausages
  • Stir fry veg
  • Bean chilli

Dressings:

Dressing 1: mayonnaise with …

  • lemon and dill – Put a dollop of mayonnaise into a small bowl, mix in the juice of about ½ a lemon (you can use the bottled lemon juice if it’s easier. I always keep some of this in the fridge) and a shake of dried dill (or fresh if it’s in season and you can get it from the supermarket!)
  • tomato and paprika – Put a dollop of mayonnaise into a small bowl, mix in a squeeze of tomato puree and a good teaspoon of paprika / smoked paprika. If it’s a bit thick you can just add a few drops of water to make it more like a dressing and less like a dip.
  • garlic and yoghurt – Put a dollop of mayonnaise into a small bowl, mix in the same quantity of plain live yogurt and clove of garlic / squeeze of garlic paste. Add herbs (eg parsley) or lemon juice as variations.

Dressing 2 – My Asian fusion dressing:

1tbs sesame oil, 1 tbs rice (or cider) vinegar, a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, 1 tbs tahini, some ginger and chilli (fresh or ground of both) to taste

Crunches and Dips:

Literally this is any crunchy veg that I can dip into some kind of nutritious gloop. I will usually take this if I’m going into work as I can just lift things out of the fridge and into a bag. My bag will tend to contain a combination of the following, and i might chop them into sticks and put them on a plate if time allows, when I am about to eat. … or not!!

Apple or pear, carrot, celery sticks, radishes, tomato, 1/4 cucumber.

paired with …. humous, guacamole / avocado dip, mayonnaise and dukka, homemade dips of butterbeans, cooked and pureed veg with added olive oil (eg another use for the leftover roast veg), cream cheese / cottage cheese with added herbs or spices (or occasionally some mashed in blue cheese or smoked salmon), or even the tinned salmon / tuna from above.

I will often also have a stick of cheese, or slice of ham and a handful of nuts with it, depending on the protein in the dressing.

Personally I can’t stand them, but adding a hard boiled egg to this would be great too if you like them!

I hope you enjoy experimenting. Eat plenty, don’t scrimp on the mayonnaise, ensure you have enough good fats and protein. … and remember, start with changing breakfast. For most people this sort of lunch will be a struggle after a sugar-loaded start to the day.

News at the forefront and on the backbenches

I keep seeing articles that in various ways link the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change. … whether it is about how the solution for one could be a solution for the other; or whether it is about diet and it’s impact on one or both; or whether it is that maybe those in power will start to realise that the state of our world has a direct effect on the diseases that we see. … all of them seek to either link the 2 greatest threats to humanity of our time, or show how one is overshadowing the other.

There are some very encouraging articles and ideas out there. … unfortunately there are also some very depressing ones.

I thought I would link a few below, for you to peruse and then maybe we could discuss how to get the best out of both situations rather than the worst, and how we little people can use our voices for positive influence.

My first link is this from Greenpeace – linking solutions for one with solutions for the other. … a positive and hopeful read.

Then we have the CarbonBrief – which shows us where industry is trying to undermine climate action via the Covid-19 outbreak. … and as I write this there has been a headline in the last few days about the bailout of EasyJet by the government.

The Conversation warns us not to forget climate change issues as we face Covid-19 and Intellegencer goes one step further by noting that maybe this is a ‘fire-drill’ … a warning we need to heed about our climate-changed future if we don’t change. The UN says similar things, but with a more positive twist that we can do it! … I really hope so.

So, as always nowadays, we have a plethora of conflicting news and stories. But from it we can pick the things we want to latch onto, and we can use them to remind ourselves that there are thing we can do to make a difference.

I hope that gathering together some of the stories I have seen (and tried my best to absorb in a wise and mediated fashion, without too much hysteria, fear, posturing etc) is helpful for you. I would love your comments and your ideas on what we can do – whether those are general ideas applicable to everyone, or whether you like me are a GP and maybe have ideas we can use more specifically in practice.

Hope in Dark

This is my second post since the start of the corona Covid-19 outbreak in this country. I wanted to write this as it has struck me how many people are talking about things in a way that suggests an external force or higher power; using words like “sent”, “pray”, “show”, “meant”.

  • “It is sent to remind us…”
  • “This is meant to help us gain perspective”
  • “I can only pray…”
  • “I just have to pray we get through it”
  • “We’re being shown we have our priorities wrong”
  • “some wisdom from above would be good”

Now I am aware not everyone using those phrases will have a belief in God (or any god) or even the spiritual realm. I am also aware that our English language has grown up through a heritage of Christianity, and that simply the way we phrase things sometimes reflects that. However as both a practising Christian and a GP, I do think that many of these things that are being said are likely to have more than an element of truth to them. We do need to be reminded of the need to love our neighbour; we do need to serve the last first (look after the vulnerable, poor, sick, homeless and needy); we do need to bring a light of hope into a dark situation; we do need to live in community; and I believe we do need to pray to get through it and we do need wisdom from above.

Whether you have any faith in a spiritual realm or not I think that these phrases are a good reminder that we must address the whole person in any response we make to any patient / friend / neighbour / family member / former enemy / colleague / employer / employee etc. All of us are finding these days dark and difficult. We all need to be handled with care, we all need grace to be allowed to make mistakes, and we all need to forgive ourselves and each other when we do. We need love, wisdom, peace, kindness, gentleness, joy … and we gain these by sharing what we have – materialistically, physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually – with those around us.

I am grateful for the light I know at these times. It brings me hope. And I pray that through my work, my writing, my phone calls to friends, my home life, I can share it.

This is our war

So, we are in the middle (or possibly unfortunately still near the beginning) of the Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (commonly currently known as Covid-19) pandemic. As I write (in case you are looking back at this in 50 years or so) it is a new virus, not seen before December 2019. It is causing a range of respiratory symptoms and it is killing some people. The estimated death rate seems to be maybe 1-2% but may be as low as <0.1% and may be as high as 5%. We don’t really know.

In fact we don’t really know much about it … because it is new. It is so new however that anything we know is actually know quite a lot. Unfortunately, on the ground as a GP it is not enough to be currently very useful. Last week we were told we need to advise (insist upon) 14 days isolation for anyone (and their entire household) with a fever or a cough. So far this week this advice has not changed, but in the interim we have gone from slight changes to some activities, to virtually all activities being shut down. This is sensible scientifically with the information we have to date … BUT the sun is out, the birds are singing – it is a time we usually come out of isolation … no-one wants to be isolated for 14 days … it is March, Spring is here in the UK. Also, in March in the UK fevers and coughs are a normal part of life – the pollen count is increasing as blossom is out, so hayfever symptoms are starting; the usual spring time peak of chicken pox is starting to be on us (Fever and cough often precede the spots); the old cold viruses from the winter haven’t quite left us and often seem to surge as the whether starts to warm in the day, but is still cold at night. Because of all this a lot of people are being told to isolate. I just wonder how long it is practicable?

I find this whole thing difficult. I have, until now lived a pleasant, and to be honest privileged, life. I have a loving family – both close and extended, nuclear and natal; I have never been truly short of money; I have generally good health (or I consider that I do… although when I saw the size of my medical record I was quite staggered!); I have a job; I have friends; I am mobile; I live in a country that has some sort of democracy and a reasonable amount of freedom of speech / expression / belief; I live in an age of relative safety … and I am living during national ‘peacetime’.

We have been told that “this government will do whatever it takes” and that “these are unprecedented times”. We have been informed that GCSE and A-Levels are cancelled and that this is also “unprecented”. We have been told that “never before have so many production businesses been asked to change what they produce”. Well I think that if we look back to around 1940 we can probably see exams have previously been cancelled and businesses have changed their production. Some of my generations Grandparents have no O-levels / A-Levels … because they were cancelled and I’m quite sure many businesses were commandeered for munitions work. This is not the Second World war by any means and it would be wrong to suggest the hardships we face are anywhere near those faced by people in any true war … but we are in a challenging situation that requires sacrifice, and sacrifice is something that due to our peacetime upbringing, many of us are not very practiced at.

However I am hopeful for this situation. I am hopeful that we will all learn to make sacrifices, and to practice doing it better. The sacrifices we make now – be they larger ones such as those of home lock-downs and social isolating, or smaller ones like giving the last packet of pasta on the shelf to the lady next to you who couldn’t reach it (saw this, was lovely) – will make us better people and I think will help us to grow in love for our neighbour.

I am hopeful that also we will learn what we can do without; that we will start to ‘make do and mend’; that we will become more in tune with the nature around us, as the crowded man-made entertainments are not available to us. I am hopeful that we will realise we can travel less, pollute less, consume less. I am hopeful that the world will be given a few months in which planet earth itself can start to find balance.

The one thing we can’t do is to physically come together to talk and fight. To me that is the biggest struggle we face. Wars are fought and won within communities. We must find ways to keep our communities together – and hopefully make them stronger. I think we will, we are a resourceful species. .. but I hope we do it with an element of necessary sacrifice, and not in a way that bleeds even more from our fragile earth.

Pondering my ways in the modern hectic world

I came through this morning feeling quite stress-y after stupidly having put my phone in the bedroom rather than downstairs over-night. This meant that my first 30 minutes were spent browsing twitter… and because my twitter feed is geared to health, nutrition and environment, this obviously meant that I was subjected to arguments about meat / vegan diets; new evidence on saturated fats (not so bad of us after all) and eggs (good all round); various health related / medical feeds on Corona Virus (still spreading, still the same outlook, still panic, still taking up more space than the bigger global health threat of climate change); suggestions to petition the government or take part in further consultations on HS2, the ocean treaty, increasing the energy into the national grid in various ways, increasing cycling paths, improving public transport, and the transition of petrol to E10 at petrol pumps.

It made me think about a) how I spend my time first thing in the morning – lack of intent leads to lack of time management leads to stress, and b) the fact I can’t change the whole world.

However it also made me think about the fact I can change me and I can influence those near to me. And if I don’t over-stretch myself I will be more consistent, I will actually live the priorities I claim to have, as they won’t be crowded out by everything else I am trying vainly to do … and over a fairly short time I (or we, or anyone who does similarly) can expand our influence to others.

Of course in my GP role I know this well. I use my training, knowledge and position to empower others to make changes. I do brief interventions, I work with the patient in partnership – 1:1, and sometimes through that I see changes in an entire family.  I need to put this to use in other parts of my life.

We currently home-school our children. This means I get a lot of input into their lives, their developing personalities and their belief systems.  I am always telling them that the environment and climate change are the most important issues of our time; that our health depends on the food we eat, the exercise we get, the attitudes we have; and that being kind and good should trump being right or clever … But when it comes to day to day life, what they see is that their educational attainment is the most important priority in my life. It’s not that that shouldn’t be important, but in the interests of their academic education I drive them places (in an electric car, but still it uses energy), I buy coffee and a sandwich so we can get on to the next thing, I shout because I’m stressed, and I stress that I am right in what they need to do, rather than showing kindness and goodness. … I am not living what I am preaching.

So, if I did, what would life look like?

I’m not quite sure.

I know I’d spend more time in the garden, I know I’d spend less time driving to things in other towns, I think I’d spend more time with the people who are nearby, whoever they are, rather than the people who are ‘like me’ but further away. I hope I would talk to these people about the climate, about their diet, about growing their own. I might eat 80% paleo rather than the current 50%. I’d probably be fitter – from the gardening and the not-driving. I’m pretty sure I’d still be a GP. I think my children would learn less academically. … But I wonder: Does that matter if they learn to love the land and the people we live with?

Eating Cheaply, Healthily and Sustainably – part 2: Soup

I love soup. My kids will confirm this. I would happily eat soup every day, sometimes twice a day. I make hundreds of different soups … some smooth, some thick, some creamy and velvety. Broths, chunky soups, vegetarian and not. If I like the ingredients, I will in general love the soup. … Just don’t give me mushroom soup – ever. I hate mushrooms, and turning them into soup does not, in my opinion improve them.  Other than mushrooms I put almost anything into my soups.

There are 3 tricks to making failsafe soups:

  1. Always start by sweating an onion (and potato too if you are using it in the soup) slowly in some BUTTER, lid on, heat low, until it starts to go translucent. (I occasionally use virgin olive oil instead, but only for really Mediterranean soups or soups with beef in, where I just don’t like using butter)
  2. Don’t have too many competing flavours. … 1 or 2 strong flavours only.
  3. Use a good stock – nearly all of mine are made with Marigold Vegetable Bouillon – my husband is vegetarian. A few are made with chicken stock or ham stock – sometimes Kallo, but I will occasionally boil a gammon joint which gives the most amazing stock, and if I do roast a chicken I will boil the carcass.
  4. ….. I know I said 3 tricks … but just a suggestion – don’t put carrot and dark green veg in together if you are worried about what it looks like. … tastes good but so weird to look at – is it green or is it orange???!!!

Vegetable and legume (lentil and bean) soups are the easiest and cheapest.

The method for all of them is roughly the same.

  • Large knob of butter into pan (around 1oz) – melt
  • Add chopped onion, any fresh herbs or spices (and potato if using) – sweat with lid on (at least 7-8 mins)
  • Add other veg (except spinach and other things that go mushy and slimy), bouillon powder and splash of water (or 1 ladle meat stock). Stir and sweat another 3-5 mins
  • Add any lentils or tinned beans and about 1-2 pints stock / water and any dried herbs or spices.
  • Simmer for 15-30 mins
  • Add ‘last minute ingredients’ – such as spinach or tinned sweetcorn
  • Decide whether this is a smooth or chunky soup and blitz in liquidiser or with stick blender if appropriate.
  • Taste and add cream / cheese / seasoning / nuts / herbs / croutons / Chopped cold meats …. As the mood takes!

Meal in a bowl 🙂

Here are some of my favourites combinations:

Smooth, Liquidized Soups

I don’t like mine too thick, some people do. Texture is totally up to you.

  • Sweet potato, carrot and parsnip
  • Butternut squash with ginger and turmeric (I used dried spices for this)
  • Carrot and Coriander Leaf (just be aware this is one of the weird green / orange ones)
  • Sunflower Red Lentil Soup – onions, a touch of garlic, red lentils, stock, cumin, turmeric and bay leaves. … lovely yellow colour and one of the easiest. This one actually isn’t blitzed, but is quite smooth anyway – a bit like a dahl.
  • Broccoli soup with croutons ( I bake stale chopped up bits of bread in the oven for about 10 mins) and melt plenty of cheese on top

Chucky soups:

  • Mediterranean bean – onion, garlic, tin of tomatoes, carrot, red pepper, loads of herbs, tin of beans – I usually use flagelot or pinto and a small tin of butter beans. Really doesn’t matter though. At the end you can stir in spinach to wilt, (or as my son does add chopped cocktail sausages!) and then grate over some parmesan to serve. Sometimes I add in some rice or tiny pasta shapes to this too.
  • Pale Minestrone – Ham stock, tin of toms, celery, carrot, herbs, green beans (another ‘last minute’ ingredient) and maybe pasta shapes.
  • Vegetable Chowder – lots of root veg chopped small in a vegetable bouillon stock. Remove up to half and blitz. Add some cabbage and some cream, and pour back the blitzed soup. This is really nice with a side of polish style sausage and some pickled vegetables.

I rarely eat my soup with bread. I don’t eat much bread anyway, being more of a Paleo inspired girl …. and also my soups, being full of root veg, have plenty of carbohydrate for one meal. I would suggest that increasing the soup quantity and any salad or protein with it, is much better.

Most of these cost between £2 – £4 to make and will make enough for 3-6 people, depending on recipe and appetite. All of them will freeze, or keep for a couple of days in the fridge. After a hearty breakfast as described in previous post, this is a glorious set of winter lunch options.