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The Benefits of Growing Your Own

Several of my previous articles have touched upon various different food sustainability or nutritional health issues. What better way to combine them than to consider what and how we can all grow our own. Some of us may have a large space and be prepared to put quite a lot to food use, others may only have a small space and/or minimal time. There are many articles and ideas in magazines and online looking at container gardening, using small spaces, etc and there are some great books for those with bigger spaces such as John Seymour’s Complete Book of Self Sufficiency I( have a copy. I love it … I don’t actually have a big space or feel able to go self sufficient at the moment.)

So why grow our own?

  • Cost
  • Food Mile reduction
  • Packaging reduction
  • Nutritional benefits of fresher foods that haven’t sat around

If we look back in history and consider the years of the second world war we know that rations were barely enough and that many people needed to supplement their food intake. They did this by growing vegetables and often keeping a chicken or 2. … even in the tiniest of spaces.

We have kept our own chickens for 8 years now. At times we have had 1 or 2, at other times up to 7.   Having made the run, fox-proofed it, and worked out the knack of cleaning the coop easily (our coop is a small shed which the previous owner built nesting boxes and roosting rails into) they are the easiest animals I have ever kept. (We also have a cat, a hamster and a few tropical fish)

The cost of keeping hens is variable depending on your plans for initial outlay, but after that it is cheap and easy. Costs include:

  • Hen house and run – Materials can be expensive if you buy branded hen houses with integral runs, but can be very reasonable if you buy 2″x2″ posts, chicken wire, dowling for roosting and convert some pallets for nesting.
  • Hens – £10-£15 from a reputable breeder
  • Bedding – We buy a full size straw bale for about £5 from a local farm supply shop
  • Food – layers pellets or mash in 20kg sacks are about £15
    • This amount of food and bedding last for around ‘1 hen year’ (ie 2 months with 6 hens, 6 months with 2 hens). 

The eggs the hens produce are larger than anything I can buy in the supermarket and SO much tastier. The yolks are bright yellow and apparently more full of Vit D and Omega 3s than shop bought eggs. If they are happy, the hens lay daily for the first 1-2 years and then reduce to daily in the summer, but a bit less in the winter for the next year or so, gradually decreasing their output, until they stop laying around 5 years of age. From this I have worked out that the eggs cost about 12p each.

As well as laying great eggs, the hens are wonderful recyclers – they will eat almost anything – so scraps of leftover food from the kitchen go out to them if not suitable for the compost heap, as do garden weeds and bolted lettuces. … turning waste into eggs. We also then use their waste (the soiled straw bedding) in our compost … creating a sustainable ecosystem

I am of course aware that not everyone has their own garden, and although hens can be kept in a very small garden, I wouldn’t recommend having them in a flat! … however, if you have even the smallest outdoor space you can make use of it for food crops.

I have a friend who lives in a traditional Victorian terrace with a tiny back yard – you know the ones, shown in “Britishly-British” films such as Billy Elliot and The Full Monty. Her back yard is about 10’x10’, and the middle is paved with pretty York Stone. Around the edge she has ‘flower beds’ – soil for growing plants – and on the edges of the York stone she has further containers. In this space she manages to grow:

Raspberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, seasonal salad leaves, thyme, sage, mint, marjoram (a cool climate version of oregano, and much overlooked in my opinion), parsley, basil, and I’m sure some others. … She also likes colour and flowers, so has nasturtium, calendula, and even a (non-thorny) climbing rose (the raspberrries and rose intertwine rather beautifully). One year she also had potatoes in a canvas bag, but decided they took up too much space, so ditched them for more herbs. In the summer the smell and feel of this tiny space is amazing – we have sat out there on kitchen stools with mugs of hot chocolate and surrounded by a few candles…. And EVERYTHING in it is edible.

I am lucky enough to have a bigger garden, with my chickens and my newly extended vegetable patch.  Last year we grew strawberries, French beans, baby sweetcorn (not enough crop for the space, won’t do that one again) carrots and salad leaves – more than we could eat… even as I have a large bowl of salad every lunchtime! We also inadvertently grew rather a lot of stinging nettles and dock leaves. … Both of which, it turns out are also edible.

If you have not grown things before and are wondering what to start with I have one suggestion: Grow something you really like that is expensive to buy.

For me, this is 3 main crops – raspberries, Spinach and mixed salad leaves.

Mixed leaves can be grown directly into soil, or in containers, or even on the windowsill and grow fast. I usually sow 2 rows of seed, straight into the veg patch in April and then another 2 rows every couple of weeks until it starts to go cooler in early September. I eat salad every day, and don’t need to buy extra. I usually use about 2 seed packets in total. .. which costs about £4 … for the whole summer. There is no plastic, it doesn’t wilt in the fridge, there are no food miles. Also I sow, I water (if it doesn’t rain), I pick. … that’s it.

Spinach is similar, and raspberries are even easier – plant your canes one spring, water in the summer … watch them grow hundreds of raspberries, pick and eat. Cut back in the autumn … wait until next summer … water again, pick and eat again. We started with 8 canes .. they sort of spread and multiply over time … we now pick around 500g raspberries every day or two for 4 weeks … I think in the supermarket this amount would cost me £5 per picking … so a total of around £100!!!

I know I can get quite excited about all of this, and once again haven’t managed to pose any questions. I apologise!!! … I hope however it helps you to think about what you / any patients might be able to achieve. I also hope that at some point, maybe community vegetable gardens, might take off as a health intervention in a similar way to Park Run. … I just need to find some land to start one in locally.

I’d love to hear if anyone has a community garden near them .. and what is grown in it / how it works. .. and whether any of them keep hens. Please let me know.

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Eating Cheaply, Healthily and Sustainably – part 1

Over the next few months I am going to create a series of blogs with ideas for protein rich, fresh, easy, cheap and relatively low carbohydrate foods. I will intersperse this series with my more questioning based, usual blogs. Hopefully I can work out how to group my blogs into themes at some point.

The recipes and ideas are all things I have shared with many patients, and which have been found by a reasonable number of those patients to be manageable – financially, in cooking skill, in keeping them full, and often in promoting other lifestyle changes. A small change can lead to a bigger one…. and I find this to be more true when we change breakfast than with anything else.

A modern British ‘everyday’ breakfast (cereal with milk) is my bugbear of our current issues with nutrition. Starting the day with a massive load of carbohydrate, and then expecting to concentrate and eat well for the rest of the day is frankly ridiculous. You spike your sugar which spikes your insulin, and this sets up a hunger cycle you need to chase with more sugar (and, often then combat the sleepiness effects with more caffeine) for the rest of the day. … as such, the majority of us will put on weight, lose sleep, possibly increase various inflammatory issues, and so head strongly in the direction of Cardiovascular, Type 2 Diabetes, and possibly various other (maybe more contested) health issues.

From a health perspective it is bad, from an environmental / ethical perspective it is not much better. Breakfast cereals base ingredients are in general, from large, monoculture farms – or even swathes of land across the USA – relying on pesticide, fertiliser and the reduction of biodiversity. They are then processed, packaged (in air to protect their pillow or lattice type structures), and shipped halfway across the world. On the Ethical Consumer website, (which doesn’t even account for packaging and shipping) Nestle scores 1.5/20 and Kelloggs 3.5/20. The website looks at more than just environmental issues, but both failed significantly in the areas of Deforestation Palm Oil and water useage/wasteage. – https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/food-drink/shopping-guide/cereal)

On top of this, breakfast cereal is not always particularly cheap. Even in Aldi and Lidl you will pay around £1 per box, and if you buy branded cereals it can easily be £3 or more. The portion sizes recommended on the box are rarely enough to keep anyone going, and most people eat 2 bowls full each morning – with each one being up to 20% bigger than the recommended size. Given this, your cereal habit likely costs you between 30p and 60p each morning. … plus the milk, (from 5-10p per 100ml – which is 1 bowl).

So what can we eat instead? Why would it be better? and is it affordable?

My quick answer is: Eggs – locally sourced, organic, free range eggs …. or even eggs from your own back garden. They may work out a little more expensive than your cereal, but the rest of your day won’t be fueled by unplanned sugar and caffeine buying trips. … so I do know a few people who have found they saved money in the long run.

Plain eggs every day might get boring and some people find their digestive tract can’t cope with it initially – so I personally add in Yoghurt (great if you don’t find dairy too contentious), berries (which you can buy frozen, a lot cheaper and less wasteful than fresh, although usually in plastic packaging) and nuts. (I major on hazelnuts and walnuts as they are UK grow-able – in fact we used to have a neighbour with a walnut tree – no food miles there!)

Below I will outline a number of options that do not take much time, money or effort.

Scrambled Egg:

As easy at it says, I use 2 eggs, a knob of butter, some salt and pepper. It takes less than 45 seconds to put the butter in a pan and heat it, break the eggs into a dish, use a fork to whisk them up, put them into the hot pan with the butter, stir them around until cooked. With the eggs I buy it works out as a max of 50p for this including the butter and electricity costs. I eat it with grilled tomato, or left over veg from the previous night, which I guess adds another 5-10p depending on the veg.

If I’m feeling like it and have the time I sometimes chop up a couple of rashers of bacon and fry them in the butter before adding the egg, or eat my plain egg with a slice of ham.

My husband does a load of “Flavour Varieties” of scrambled egg – he misses out the salt and pepper and makes them feel ‘sweet’ by adding:

  • cinnamon and vanilla
  • cocoa powder (+/- a tsp honey)
  • chocolate drops
  • christmas spice mix and raisins

Other Egg cooking options:

Fried, boiled, poached, baked – none are difficult. All are good with wilted spinach (I use frozen) or sauted left over veg. .. be inventive. I often make it up on the spot, it’s pretty hard to get wrong. … it’s only an egg, and can reasonably be eaten at any cooking stage from raw to crispy and nearly burnt.

Berry Omlette:

Similar to scrambled egg, but I put the beaten eggs into a frying pan and swirl them around to make a pancake thing, then add the berries and fold it over, cooking for another minute to sofen the berries. If you are used to a lot of sweetness you might (as I did) have to start by adding a bit of sugar or honey to this, and gradually weaning yourself off it. Approx cost 70p (scrambled egg costs from above plus berries) Sometimes I feel decadent or extra hungry and dollop some yoghurt (over Christmas I even had it with clotted cream) and / or nuts on top too.

Yoghurt Bowl:

Approx 200g natural (organic) yoghurt with a handful of berries (from the freezer that becuase I never remember in the evenings, I stick in the microwave for 30 seconds) and a couple of tablespoons of crushed / chopped nuts – Approx Price: 90p. Seems more expensive, but this will often keep me going until about 2pm.

Berry Pancake:

I’ll admit this one is a bit of a faff for the everyday, but one we have often on holiday. It’s also hard to make for 1. (taken from Quick and Easy Meals – Primal Blueprint) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Primal-Blueprint-Quick-Easy-Meals/dp/0982207743

Separate 6 eggs, whisk egg whites, then whisk egg yolks with a bit of cinnamon and some vanilla essence, until thick. Heat a skillet with a bit of butter, add berries to cover the bottom and cook for a few mins until juices are running. Fold whites into yolks and dollop on top of berries. Transfer to the oven for 10 mins. To eat, turn out so berries are on top (or don’t and scoop it out more like a pudding)

Paleo Porridge:

There are literally hundreds of grain free porridge recipes out there online. Some are still quite high in sugars as they rely on bananas. Some use egg, some don’t. A lot use coconut (which I don’t really like). Personally I like the ones that use a mixture of chia seeds and other things. … Currently my favourite is to mix chia seeds, crushed mixed nuts, some flax seeds and milk, and then stirred together in a warm pan until thick, maybe adding some grated apple at the end. Given the prices of the ingredients, I estimate a (good sized) bowlful costs 70p. .. Chia seeds swell magnificently, like oats.

Berry Smoothie:

Smoothies have been a bit contentious the last few weeks. But this has saved me from skipping breakfast on days I’m hungry but have no time….

I basically take my Yoghurt bowl (above) but decrease the yoghurt, add some milk and an egg, and whizz it all up in my food processor, then drink on the go!

So there is a selection of what I eat for breakfast, and things I have suggested to patients, that work.

Over the next few months I will look at Lunch, Snacking, Dinner … and I think I might do a whole post on soups – one of my favourite staples.

The Nuances of Food Sustainability

As GP’s we often get asked about health things in the media – the contraceptive pill changes, the HRT scares, the new treatment for this cancer or that neurological illness, the benefits of CBD oil (or not). But what I have noticed increasingly is also a trend on being asked about diet. … and recently, not just from the point of view of the health of the individiual in front of me, but also from the point of view of the health of the planet.

It’s a tricky subject, both face to face, and on social media. I have found myself commenting a few times on twitter threads with things that may sound out of kilter with other things I’ve said. Some things about the environment don’t match up with some things about our own nutrition, and even if they do, they might not match with other things about the environment.

A converesation I had a couple of years ago went like this:

Patient X: “So Doc, you think I should decrease my carbohydrates, especially grain related and fruit sugar, and increase my protein and even some fats”

Me: “Yes I do. I think it is the best way for you to lose weight, start to control your blood sugars better and not feel hungry all the time.”

Patient X: “Sure Doc, but I’m trying to cut down my impact on the environment. I’ve gone vegetarian about 6 months ago so I’m eating lots of soya and lentils and stuff, and anyway, isn’t it better to eat quinoa than beef?”

And here lies a rub … in what ways might it better to eat quinoa than beef? Becuase until we can quantify ‘better’ we can’t really answer the question.

  • Better for Animal Welfare – probably, but that might depend on the beef (personally I am extremely ‘middle class hipster’ when meat buying and only buy organic, RSPCA, grass fed / outdoor bred / free range etc and as local as possible), the quinoa’s growing circumstances and your view on mice / beetles / worms / butterflies and other wildlife that may have been decimated in the growing of that particular crop
  • Better Ecologically / Environmentally -probably – although again it might depend on pesticide use, transport, water consumption, monoculture, biodiversity issues (is it organic, where does it naturally grow, is it from there or grown as an imported crop?) – I’m not an expert on quinoa to be honest!
  • Better Gut Health – who knows – I’ve read reams of evidence saying grains are not easily digested, and for some can cause low grade inflammation of the gut and other parts of the body, but also reams of public health stuff and dietician guidence saying that a significant portion of our diet should be grain based… confliciting evidence.
  • Better for the Weight and Satiety of this patient – no, definitely not, he gets sugar cravings all day on his current diet

Now I need to be clear, having read a significant amount on this, and tried various diets for myself (yes I know a study of one does not constitute good evidence, but we would be foolish if we didn’t acknowledge it effects our understanding) I generally come out in favour of the more paleo type diets, and less in favour of the vegan type diets. I have found with many people I have treated, that decreasing carbohdrates and increasing proteins and ‘good fats’ (yet another definition we need to pin down at some point) really helps – blood sugars, cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep, concentration, skin health. For myself it even significantly reduced my constant thoracic back pain, and increased my range of spinal movement. … I don’t know why, but I’ve repeat tested it 6 or 7 times over an 8 year period and it’s always the same.

And so I am biased. I don’t want eating meat to be worse for the environment. I don’t want dairy consumption to be killing the planet. So I look for things that can back up my stance. … as we all do. Well what I have noticed when doing this is this:

Like in so many things, in getting out a message to the public, the nuances are lost. And when the nuances are lost, the truth is dirtied, twisted or simply confused.

As an example we can think about Patient X’s Beef: without nuances intact we have 2 different environmental truths that we have to assimilate……

  1. That in general beef cattle produce huge amounts of greenhouse gases, and to produce 1kg of beef uses 15,000L of water. (https://www.nfuonline.com) This is bad.
  2. That grass is a better carbon sink than cereal crops and that as deforestation occurs, it may be better than trees in some areas. (https://www.earth.com). So grassland is good.

So we have to come to our own conclusions. Some will say all cattle are bad, some will say grass fed cattle are good. Some will extrapolate to say that all animal farming is bad, or all organic outdoor naturally feeding animal farming is good. On social media we see all these stances.

Some will look further and find reports like this from Carbon Brief: https://www.carbonbrief.org/grass-fed-beef-will-not-help-tackle-climate-change … (a quite upsetting article if, like me you like your steak, but want to help the environment in every way possible)

But no-one (it seems) is looking further still. No one is looking at actually what would be grown (or not) in the areas where cattle are currently farmed? No-one is looking at it country by country or area by area. No-one is really trying to join up the dots with health and the impact of our health care systems on the environment. No-one is trying to find out the ‘true costs’ to the environment of the whole tangled web. Why not? … because it is complicated.

What would Farmer A do in Cornwall if he couldn’t sustain his dairy farm? Would he be able to convert it to arable farmland or would the financial implication be too great? Would half his land be sold off for housing? If it was, would half being turned into houses (with concrete foundations – 1 ton concrete = 1 ton CO2 https://www.bbc.co.uk) and the other half being used for crops, be better or worse for the environement than the dairy farm he started with? and would that depend on whether it was organic and grass fed dairy cattle or not!??? .. and would it depend on whether those houses would get built somewhere else anyway?

Or Farmer B somewhere in Australia with a huge territory and cattle he travels days to find and herd around – nothing will grow on his soil – not really … certainly no carbon sinking trees he could cash crop. .. although maybe with irrigation he could grow soya … it might need rather a lot of pesticide and fertilizer … is that a viable environmental solution?

What about my patient X? … On a paleo diet he actually did very well, came off metformin and gliptins, lost weight, gained confidence and ran a marathon. He no longer needs medical imput – and medical care is environmentally expensive – Does this mean his beef eating gets to ‘net zero’ or does it not? Of course it will depend to some extent on how much beef he eats!

I honestly don’t know the answers. It comes back to the true cost of food (See post 20.12.2019). I don’t think many of us do know the answers, and this is why it is so difficult to engage meaningfully in the big ‘out there’ debate. I want to. It covers my 2 big passions – nutrition and the environmental crisis. .. but it is nuanced, it is specific, it is not black and white …. and these things don’t do well on Twitter.

The Smell of the Air

Firstly I apologise for having been absent so long. The last 6 weeks have included highs and lows with Christmas, New Year, DD’s birthday, a family bereavement and an education crisis. My aim is to write 2 posts every 3 weeks and I hope that I can now maintain this for the remainder of the year.

This morning I was walking along the high street in a pretty, old market town near where I live, trying to take exercise and breathe deeply of the cool damp air. Unfortunately I was severely hindered by the overwhelming smell of diesel and petrol, which despite a reasonable number of trees, (and even some recently turned earth where an area of grass had been reseeded) cut out all the pleasant and possibly wellbeing enhancing smells of nature. I wonder if I am the only person who finds the smell of car fumes unpleasant? Certainly most people did not seem to be walking around covering their noses as I was keen to do. Whether others notice the smell or not, I know I am not the only one whose breathing is effected by it. It is estimated that 110 people die prematurely each day in the UK, due to air pollution, of which vehicle fumes are a huge part. https://www.doctorsforxr.com/news/health-march-press-release

So why, on a day by day basis do we do nothing? Why do we simply ‘walk on by’ as it were?

Despite the fact I was affected both in wheeze and enjoyment of my walk I did not challenge a single one of those drivers: even the ones who’s engines were idling for many minutes at a red light. Am I suffering a sudden bout Britishness; of leaving each to live life as they wish no matter what the consequences for others? Maybe, but it is not something I am renowned for – nor in fact are most doctors, particularly if it affects the health of our patients and our population. No I think it is the fact that driving the car of your choice is seen as a right in this country … and sitting warmly with the heaters (or air conditioning, or both) on at all times is considered part of that right.

As a right it is not something that we, or anyone else is culturally allowed to question. It is this that needs to change. The worse the air smells, the less, I think, anyone will want to walk around in it. … and so the more likely everyone able to takes to their cars,(perpetuating the problem) and everyone not able stays in their home.

Later this week I am going off (in my Nissan Leaf, no fumes, charged on wind power) to the Lake District – where I will be able to take a walk in the FRESH air, and breathe the smells of nature. It will do me good. But those who most need it, those whose health is already most affected by air pollution, are often not able to take a trip to the countryside. The socially and economicallly disadvantaged are mainly found in the inner cities. (CDRC map of social deprivations) The map of mental and physical health needs is known ro be similar. These are the people who most need to breathe the beautiful smell of fresh air, who most need to connect to each other and to nature, who most need to take a restorative or energising walk.

Our towns and cities need to change. We need to start being aware of the smell of the air and minding when it is bad. We need to make everyone else aware we mind, and aware of the benefits of it smelling better. I hope I can start to challenge those who leave their engines running at a red light. I hope maybe others will start to join me.

The True Cost of Food

The Sustainable Food Trust is an organisation I have recently come across which is commited to improve the way we account for and prodcuce food. I urge you to have a look at their site if you are able, and particularly to look at their page on “True Cost Accounting”. If however now is not a time you have for browsing and clicking through to other sites, then here is a small video of theirs to help.

Basically, it seems that accounting the true cost of food looks at more than just the production costs. It looks at the way it effects your body and what that might mean long term on health costs; it looks at the way production effects the environment – and how that might effect public health costs and the future costs of soil regeneration/artificial pollination etc; it looks at the costs of transport of all the various parts of the product – and includes carbon costings as well a basic financial costs. … What is does is give us a true picture of how our eating effects the earth we live in.

And this means that a packet of biscuits, made with refined sugar (from cane grown in the carribean), palm oil (from deforested areas of Borneo), and flour (from grain flown across the Atlantic) suddenly doesn’t cost less than a fresh, organic and locally grown apple. .. which seems logical and right.

Before I started this blog, I hadn’t heard of True Cost Accounting. … maybe I should have. I’m not sure if it is my fault for walking around with my eyes closed, and not reading the Financial Times (being not much interested in financial news) or whether it is not being publicised for (cynical thought warning) ‘big-corp profit’ reasons. I’d love a conversation about True Cost Accounting, and how it works, how it is worked out, whether it is reasonable etc. I will look into it more for myself for now …

I do wonder if NHS England, Public Health England, the food banks, the poverty charities, the health charities, maybe ought to look into it too? … and maybe it is something we could consider campaigning about together for the good of all. Just pondering…

Real Food

The Real Food Campaign defines real food as this:

  • nutrient-dense and delicious  (cooked from scratch if possible)
  • should be grown and produced in ways that support health
  • can nurture community
  • supports and restores our soils, our oceans and our natural environment
  • is about respect for plants, for animals, for nature and for the farmers, growers and cooks that feed us
  • can heal (body, mind, society)
  • is our birth-right and should be affordable and accessible to ALL

These are all things I am passionate about.

I eat real food, I cook real food and I promote real food to my family, my friends and my patients. … and whilst sometimes I do choose to spend a quite a lot on food, I can also do real food on a budget.

Due to packaging issues, and a desire to eat organic veg, I have recently switched to a box scheme. I have found an added benefit of this is that when thinking about a meal I start with the vegetables I am delivered and work from that. .. the end result is that we eat more veg.

Real food on a budget requires planning. It requires eating up the left-overs. It requires some inventiveness. It means probably eating less meat, maybe growing some of your own vegetables, and trying (if they are not yet a staple) nuts, lentils and other pulses. It also means having less food wastage, and enjoying loads more exciting combinations of flavour and texture.

The weekly main-meal plan

I start my weekly plan with a very traditional Roast Dinner which we do, most weeks, eat as the traditional Sunday Lunch. I always and on purpose do too many vegetables and potatoes. I often chop off a portion of the joint before taking it to the table, to be eaten another day. From this I have worked out a dinner plan through the week that works for us. This is it below, in its general form, and below that a specific example. I hope you find them useful. I will discuss ‘lunch-type food’ and breakfasts in other posts.

Sunday – Roast Beef (approx 600g, organic, British) or Roast Chicken (approx 2.5kg, organic, free range, British) and / or homemade nut roast (loads of good recipes online, but my favourite is actually just a mixture of chopped mixed nuts, grated parsnip, herbs, an egg and if possible a packet of ready cooked chestnuts) with roast potatoes and other seasonal route veg, steamed seasonal greens, carrots. Home-made yorkshire puddings if eating beef or if going meat-free (made with eggs from our chickens and we use non-grain flour). In all I aim to have 5 or 6 different veg on the plate, not including the potatoes.

Monday – left overs – veg, potatoes, yorkshires, maybe meat, any stuffing – all chopped up into bite size pieces and fried up in a little butter. Added extra greens to make it go further and increase the veg content, maybe some peas or beans or even a side of green lentils if not using the meat.

Tuesday – Usually a simple or rice dish using further fresh veg and the left over meat and gravy if not used on Monday. Just cut things into bite sized pieces and stir into the pasta or rice with extra seasoning. If all Sunday dinner food is used up then I might do a noodle broth using soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin (or cooking sherry), stock, fresh ginger and chillis (which I keep permenently in the freezer), noodles, tinned bean sprouts, peas, more greens if I have any left, and either some MSC certified prawns or some roasted cashew nuts sprinkled on top.

Wednesday – I call this ‘Paleo day’ … I would personally like to eat paleo all the time, but it doesn’t suit my husband (vegetarian), children (growing fast), budget, or the planet so I make do with just reducing my carbohydrates (especially from grain) the rest of the week and have wednesdays to do what I really like with. This might be a paleo soup, stew, slow cooked meat and veg dish or our staple favourite – steamed brocolli florets and chicken pieces to dip into a nut butter dip (I add tahini, a splash of vingear, some soy sauce and some chilli to spice it up a bit).

Thursday – stew / pie day … my son’s favourite. Making stews or pies allows small amounts of the cheaper cuts of meat to go a long way… or for many vegetarian options to be happily eaten by the whole family. You don’t feel you are scrimping, but for budget and the planet it is good. Some of my go to’s are:

  • Hungarian Goulash – made with lots of peppers, onions, whatever cuts of organic beef I can get (about 300g) and added mushrooms … served with salad and small jacket potatoes as cheaper and cleaner than pasta / rice.
  • Spinach and feta layered with sliced potatoes and pine nuts, with a bit of (organic) cream poured over
  • mixed vegetable and lentil stew .. or soup … depending on the thickness. – any remaining root veg from my box, lentils, a tin of tomatoes, some seasonal greens and a load of herbs.
  • bacon and bean casserole (cassoulet) – 2 tins of different types of beans, a tin of tomatoes, a few rashers of fried streaky bacon all chopped up. bubble together until thick and eat with salad and / bread.

Friday – Vegetable box delight. This is the day my veg box is delivered, so it is also the day I know least what I will have in my fridge. We will eat up anything left over from Tues-Thurs meals and add in a load of fresh veg to make a medley of a meal.

Saturday – is my day off … I might cook if I feel like it, I might get potato waffles and MSC fish fingers out of the freezer. I might just tell the family to get themselves a sandwich (peanut butter (no palm oil), marmite or organic honey) and put together a big salad and some ‘finger fruit salad’.

Most days, despite my husband being vegetarian, me wanting to eat paleo and the kids being typical slightly fussy children, we manage to eat the same thing … or at least from the same pot. (My husband kindly eats just the mushrooms and sauce from the goulash as long as I haven’t mashed / stirred the meat too much). We eat together as much as possible, we cook Sunday lunch as a family, (my favourite time of the whole week!), we take on board some of the culture seen more in France – food is to be savoured and is to sustain body, mind, spirit and family. We also discuss the food we eat and the ethic behind it, the reason we eat left-overs, the pros and cons of our choices. In our family food is:

  • sustainable
  • sustaining
  • nutritious
  • tasty
  • researched
  • fun

Cheap Food?

This is what came in my vegetable box this week (along with the requisite vegetables). Guy, as you can see is worried about food wastage – and I have to agree with him. I’m not saying we should strip everything of all produce it creates, but simply that we should use and eat what is around us, whilst caring for the environment it comes from . It is something I am trying to do better at.

I personally ascribe to the principle of ‘gleaning’… that is taking what you need (off the fruit tree, berry bush, nut tree, etc) and leaving some for others. Partly this is laziness – in my garden I grow a number of crops, and getting every last scrap off them is a bind – it becomes a chore rather than a joy. … and through this I learnt about the principle of gleaning by accident.-

My most successful crop is raspberries. These are ridiculously easy to grow, and ridiculously expensive to buy. They are also a “superfood” – so good to eat in abundance. (low sugar, high vitamins and minerals etc.) I bought a set of ‘canes’ from that garden centre for £10 one September. I planted them, left them to do their own thing over the winter, and Hey Presto come spring they started sprouting. In June, with no further input from me, other than watering for 5 minutes a day, I had an abundant crop – so many that I could not pick them all. So I didn’t. I left some for the for the birds, the insects, the squirrels, and even the soil – to drop and be decomposed by the wonderful detritivores that drive the cycle, so providing fresh nutrients. I didn’t really think about it, but after cutting the old stems back down I left them, and the same happened the following year … and the following, and the following. At this point my dad (a keen and green-fingered gardener) asked how I didn’t have ‘off years’ .. years of less yeild. I told him I didn’t know. … but it got me thinking and talking, and it seems leaving some fruit for other creatures is an old principle, and works.

I wonder if wwe shouldn’t extend this principle – leave some for others of our own species … for the homeless; the poor; the needy. We all know the diet of the British public is widely seen as pretty awful … BUT … the homeless, the poor and the needy – like the rest of us – are unsure about what they can or should eat directly from nature. Maybe this is one of our major problems. We need to retrain ourselves. We need to understand what unprocessed food is. We need to eat what nature provides – cheap or even free. … and we need to make sure that those most in need of it benefit the most.

As such I am planning a series of posts on cheap and free nutritious food, that as a GP I want to tell my patients. Some will have recipes, some will link to other websites. I have some specifics I want to cover but please do comment or message me on twitter @ecogreengp if you have ideas that you either want to contribute or would like me to look at.

Climate Election?

I have just watched a short BBC podcast on whether this is the first ‘climate election’. https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p07tc6pc/this-matters-is-this-the-climate-election The stats and facts on there are sobering and eye opening. For instance I had no idea that a place on the west coast of Wales will have to be abandoned by 2050 due to sea level rises. I also had no idea that the voting on climate issues was this split ….

Whilst I am not going to be overly party political I am frankly apalled by all the blue dots down the laft hand end (not that I have voted for them) … In 2017 before the last election the conservative manifesto stated this:

We will continue to take a lead in global action against climate change, as the government demonstrated by ratifying the Paris Agreement…[The UK is] at the forefront of action against global climate change.

… I really do hate lying, scheming, vote-winning-words politics!

But no matter how much I might distrust the upcoming campaigns, I will be voting. I think this is a ‘Climate Election’ and I want my voice (as much as possible in my blue-rosette area) heard. I don’t agree fully with any one party on everything. I usually want to go for the ‘best fit’ and shy away from ‘single issue voting’ …. but this time I believe there is only one issue that matters in the short term – the rest can be figured out in due time … I will be voting for the single issue of the environment – for the MP or the party that is going to consistently vote to protect the our planet, our human race, our health. I hope you do too.

Climate Emergency

I am so pleased to belong to the first medical college to declare a climate emergency, and even more pleased to read the article linked below which I have already widely disseminated to my (non medical) family and friends. I highly recommend giving it a quick read.

https://bjgp.org/content/69/688/536

The article wonders, as I do, how we will be seen in history. Did we blithely sit back and do very little, or did we fight, and fight until we made a difference?

I decided long ago that I would always keep going until I made a difference.

Making a difference is often what drives me in my medical practice … a particularly useful outlook when working with the drug users, revolving door custody inmates and alcoholics I have spent a fair portion of my career caring for. Making a difference is always what drives me in the fight for our planet.

So what do you do at the moment and what could you add to that?

Different structures and ideas work for each of us … maybe a big change that upsets your equilibrium and moves things into a new realm works for you, or maybe a series of small changes.

This is a brief list of my top 10 changes in the last 5 years.

  • We have changed our car and our transport habits – currently we have only 1 car, and that is electric (a Leaf … very nice, let me know if you’d like a review of it).
  • We have reduced our meat consumption – we eat meat only usually 3 days a week and any I buy is local, organic, and preferably I remember to take my own container to put it in.
  • We grow some of our own veg and now use a veg box scheme for the rest (local, organic and no plastic waste)
  • We switched our electricity company to one which supplies only 100% renewables to the grid.
  • I have converted nearly all our cleaning products, brushes and cloths (household and personal) into environmentally friendly alternatives (look for ‘plastic free’ and ‘make your own…’ online, or let me know if you’d like an article on it)
  • We cycle or walk if it’s local
  • I episodically write to the MP and council asking for better cycle lanes (be more Dutch!)
  • I ask the customer service departments of the supermarkets asking for less packaging – and give them back any I don’t need
  • We have switched all our lightbulbs to LED
  • We have turned our heating down to 18C and wear an extra jumper if needed.

Other than recently adding in joining the climate strikes and setting up this blog to try to inspire and disseminate information I now feel a bit stuck. … So I’d love to hear what you are doing and we can all add extra things into our reportoires. You an comment here on on twitter @EcoGreenGP

How it all began

I recently attended the RCGP Annual Conference … and whilst there had a bit of an epiphany.

Apparently … I have stuff to say that others want to hear.

For those not in the know the RCGP conference is the college’s national conference for GP’s (of which I am one), where we come together to learn from, laugh with and inspire each other.

I spent most of my seminar times in sessions looking at social media – how to use it, whether we should use it more or detox from it, how it effects us, how it effects others, the teenage brain and social media, etc, etc. Far from finding it the scary place of ‘lost in the ether’ I had imagined, I was inspired by what I heard and straight away set up a twitter account (@EcoGreenGP).

One of the few non-social media related seminars I went to was on green issues (@GreenerPractice)- my biggest and most urgent passion – and from that I realised I could use social media positively to make a diffference…and so I made initial plans for this blog. 24 hours later I had 16 twittter followers (2 weeks later it’s up to 40 .. I’m really ridiculously pleased with the fact!) and had some really positive comments – so thank you to all of you involved in that, you have helped me to go ahead and actually get this off the ground.

I plan to use this blog to discuss eco issues … so whether you are ‘interestedly concerned’, already an activist, just want to help change the planet or a sceptic with more pressing concerns such as finishing work on time and your pension, I hope you will read on. I’ll be very pleased for lots of people from all sort of backgrounds to find themselves here, and hopefully even continue reading, but as I write I will be thinking about talking with other GP’s and will at times use a bit of jargon, or talk about things that are going around the medical press.

My plan will likely evolve – as all good GP treatment plans will – and I would like to invite your comments and thoughts – to hear your ideas and expectations (!) to make this as useful a resource as I can for all who are interested already and those who become interested.