This is a Specially Significant Harvest Festival for Every Consumer Considering the Provenance of Food and Sustainable Farming and Environment and Lessons Learnt from Seventy Years Ago, with Parallels in Current Affairs
1. Seventy years ago the Battle of Britain ended and a gap of about a month in September 1940 spanned a period of uncertainty about a suspected invasion by the Nazis somewhere along the south coast. At the end of September the German onslaught was changed to a Blitzkrieg beginning with bombing concentrated on London, especially destruction of the Docks, which would add to the terror of the bombing (with suspicions that the Germans would resort to biological means of warfare) and the blockade by U-boats. The retreat from Dunkirk had found Britain alone and weakly protected from fates similar to those that had overtaken most of Europe, and influential political forces were mooting some kind of rapprochement with Hitler – a conditional surrender that would leave the aggressor free to appease the USA while he turned his attack in his quest for Lebensraum for populations with favoured origins and customs that were in disarray in Communist Russia. It is clear from his recent exhortations that our present PM didn’t know the threats to which lonely Britain 70 years ago faced by a coalition of Churchillian resilience and influence.
2. This was the time for Churchill’s clarion rallying the Coalition Government of the day and the British people to fight on. The harvest that was brought in then, stored and left untorched, contaminated, or destroyed was the beginning of the resistance and efforts at sustainability that would be reinforced by redoubled help from the Empire (Commonwealth) and refugees and volunteers from the defeated European countries, as well as countries drawn into the war, especially the USA, who underwrote supplies for British farming and food until the hostilities of WW2 ended. Lifting of this Marshall Aid was a severe jolt as all the world faced years of recession, famine, and rationing. Lentils were really apt essentials for extended Lenten rituals when meat supplies were rigorously rationed and the Chief Rabbi lifted kosher observances for orthodox Jews. Farming policies lurched to a plant based style in Horn v Corn solutions and the meat industry was not freed until 1954 from all government control.
3. The Royal British Legion and Imperial War Museum, with some cooperation with us and perhaps more to come, marked their anniversary D-Day for the end of the Battle of Britain as 15th September. We set the beginning of our main Harvest Day activities by the full Harvest Moon, which shone this year on 23rd September. Harvest festivals must have featured in pagan and druid, as well as most ecumenical religions and in various ways, from feast to fast; more relevantly still the cereal and other arable harvests would have been brought in for processing or preservation. In 1940 prudent householders would have been overhauling their stocks of Kilner jars, sugar and salt.
4. Nowadays much of the arable land is not allowed a fallowing rest (with corollaries on the wildlife) but harvested by late August, cleared of stubbles and gleanings, and next year’s harvest is already sown, and by the end of the year 2010 may be showing its face to the sun. Today’s short-straw varieties are much modified variants, Winter (Autumn) sown varieties of the all-purpose long-straw favourites of old; which would preferably be sown in the Spring to catch a better return for bread-making (but lower yielding) or as a rescue crop, after, say, the Winter-sowing has suffered from adverse weather or flooding. (Some forms of hunting, for instance, are favoured in areas where fallowing is prevalent and hedges for jumping are common, although the barriers were traditionally laid to contain herds or flocks of livestock, but they are applied otherwise now for big fields or prairies.) These are concerns that engage millers and bakers, as well as farmers and landowners, with or without organic persuasions or advocates of silaging and composting (and anaerobic digestion to produce environmentally-friendly fuel crops, such as bio-methane).
Who Are We?
5. We are a registered charitable research trust, scientifically based and descended in the case of one Trustee from the population who moved in 1935 into North Greenford in one of the ‘Homes Fit Heroes’ of WW1. These incomers included one of a group of RSPCA members, whose main concern at that time was banning the use of the pole-axe in British slaughterhouses. Introduction of a captive-bolt pistol was deemed preferable to the pole-axe in achieving a “humane” way of stunning and killing an animal prior to cutting its throat and bleeding it out for butchery. Their campaign, derided by some as the product of “old women of both sexes”, ran into trouble from Jewish interests, whose priests and elders insisted that the conscious (and often terrified) animals be submitted to the ritual cut while being fully sentient prior to bleed out. The reformers’ niceties were interpreted in various ways in the British Empire (and eventual Commonwealth) and in North America and in some of the South American frigorificos, whence came many of the imported canned meats (bully beef and jerky, for instance), where Britain had veterinary consulates.
6. Muslims observances are similar to Jews: In the UK they comprised mainly ships’ crews, who were mostly Lascars (Goans) and took live animals onboard to keep for killing on long journeys at a time before high speeds and refrigeration made possible victualling at ports of ships with foods produced and frozen fit for the journey. (Some liners and naval vessels had apparently supernumerary funnels; they housed the live animals and the killing and butchery). However, the Muslim (Halal) trade has increased enormously and lucratively for the live/dead meat and dairy industries, with controversies – which could ignite into civil strife – in European countries where calls for bans and improved descriptive labelling are now at issue, as in Harrow on the Halal. Ealing may follow suit. Research in New Zealand is proving very useful in calming the arguments. However, while Christians pretend they are above these matters, a Coptish population in Egypt seem to be running into similar unrest involving pigs; and we must not forget that Hindu objections to the coating with animal greases set off some unexpected mutinies (and perhaps bouts of peace) during the Raj. Further, the existence of populations such as vegetarians, Jews and Muslims, showing the will to demonstrate dietary austerities on altruistic “ethical” grounds, illustrate aversions determined by self-control and freethinking.
7. The Jewish Establishment is proving obstinate; like Christians and Muslims various reformed, liberal and non-conformist elements complicate matters and challenge the sacerdotalism. We are a secular organisation, seeing the harvest festivals as a chance to furnish the population with well-researched eating plans in a portfolio to ease dietary change, especially among possibly vulnerable groups. Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians, practise exercises in austerity and rehearsal of principles in considerations of farming, food health and the land.
8. We are seeking support for our pleas to precede all formal and corporate meals and collations with a silent grace of contemplation on “what we are about to receive” and on all those factors and employment that go into farm-to-fork thinking; the Food Standards Agency has, in its 10 years of existence, to cultivate awareness in a population that shrinks too readily into the obscurantism of …… and “I don’t want to know” or “I could never bring myself to do that” when including the slaughterers, butchers, fellmongers, gutmen and knackers in their purview. Our website and portfolio of ‘Eating Plans’ give clues to a kinder, merciful and practicable development to these ends and individual responsibilities in which scientific solutions are prompted by the actions and example set by NGOs and charities such as us bringing to bear the disciplines and objectivity employed by Glaxoids and other local inhabitants in questions of nutrition and well-being, on a national and international scale. Local hospitals, PCTs and screening, monitoring and epidemiological ploys have contributed valuably to this knowledge even when bombs were raining down on Ealing, Northolt was heavily involved in the Battle of Britain. Horsendon Wood still bears craters from the Blitzkrieg era and incendiary bombs lit it up with a brilliance that no blackout material could obscure. Marks of the ravages on the houses and signs of the tragedies of bombing raids can be readily descried in a walk through North Greenford and in most London boroughs.
9. The ‘Glorious Few’ at Northolt numbered in their rosters of pilots, mechanics, riggers and armourers a multiracial and multinational fellowship; some of whom stayed on after the war and became the nucleus of communities such as the Poles. Some of the surviving British pilots returned to civvies, possibly resuming their studies, and sought employment as researchers at Glaxo’s labs. Northolt was a base for the wonderful Mosquito fighter-bomber, greatly valued as the allied forces thrust into continental Europe with Berlin in their sights. Leslie Stephenson was one of these. Les was a quiet unassuming man, whose background was at Glaxo known to few of his colleagues, until they read earlier this year the full-page obituary in the Times telling the story of the daring pilots and crews whose exploits lit up the history of the wartime scenes and scarcity when Britain nearly starved and really had to tighten its belt and eked out rations much more meagre than the excesses common 70 years later.
10. In illustration of current endeavours we must draw attention to the amount of food prepared in the borough, particularly in the Park Royal area. There are several hospitals of national repute in Ealing and neighbouring boroughs. Ealing actually has a food-poisoning bug ‘salmonella Ealing’ to its name. The first commercial production of a penicillin was carried out in three sites in London chosen to reduce disruption from the bombing; one was the old dairy in Wadham Gardens with cultures in collections of ‘bedpans from all over the country’. It was infested with thriving colonies of rats. The elusive pernicious anaemia factor was isolated in the Greenford labs and identified as vitamin B12. Growth factors in mycelia (felts) from fermentations to produce antibiotics turned out to be more than precursors of food yeasts (e.g. Marmite and Quorn) but residues of the antibacterials; exploitation of this finding in farming and veterinary practice and in excessive prescribing by doctors – GPs and in hospitals – has been discredited, but is still practised, legally and illicitly, in some countries. These glimpses of nutritional and medical history informed testimony and witness offered to the BSE Inquiry.
11. Glaxo Greenford still has to live down the enormous success it enjoyed for a short time with the Bonny Babies theme, which is now discredited for its apparent approval of overweight and obesity and undue disregard of the advantages of breast-feeding. However, it followed safer trends with its campaigns on vitamin D and fortified foods, Complan and bran-biscuits, although Farley Foods became an embarrassment that Glaxo was glad to move to Plymouth and ultimately to sell off. It thus became an ethical pharmaceutical house, distinguishing itself from Beecham’s with their pills and OTC remedies. However, in a sequence of takeovers and expansions Glaxo moved much of its scientific work to Stevenage and became GSK – Glaxo Smith Kline, with a major British business address in Beecham’s old headquarters in Brentford, and purveyor of the full range of OTC remedies and tonics. The North American connexion has led to further adjustments and the splendid sports ground and leisure centre in Greenford has been closed in readiness for a new school, but now the future of this project seems uncertain.
12. We can cite these present instances of research and evidence we are working on for “the common good.”
12i. In pursuing the aims of our Real Bread Campaign, which is part of our Green Plans for farming, food, health and the land, launched in 1976, we are involving ourselves with so-called Maillard reactions in foods cooked and baked at high temperatures that yield toxic contaminants, such as acrylamide. The significance of breads (Hovis and Tesco and Asda) in store specifically made from British-grown or French-grown wheat requires much more information to consumers in terms of agronomy and environment. Our efforts with growing oats are bearing fruit. They are being translated by PCT and the caring professions, the food-industry and in our own Portfolio and Eating Plans to improve choice for celiacs and sufferers of wheat allergies (for whom oats, like rice, are not allergenic. Clinics can carry out appropriate tests). Meat heated a high temperature (eg barbeques) undergoes contamination with toxic substances.
12ii. We are also assessing improved breads and breakfast cereals of especial relevance in ensuring good start-of-the-day nutrition for schoolchildren and for school leavers beginning to manage personalized choices of food. The results of FAO-inspired ploys with non-GM varieties of rice (wild, brown, red, and black) suitable for populations in South East Asia are now also on sale in a supermarket in Alperton.
12iii. Taking a positive view of the consequences of the Battle of Britain and the threats to England’s Garden Counties and research into horticultural crops, we are hoping that the Royal British Legion can help us designate a new cultivar of a fruit as, say, the Victory Apple (to add to Discovery, Worcesters, Bramleys etc). We have for some years expressed the 5-a-day initiative in a revival of traditional cultivations and plats (orchards) of Kentish cobnuts, as well as of hops and oast houses. Recoveries are beginning, initially by value-adding the Victory cobnuts with chocolate robing but now as a vegetable oil sold like olive or hemp oil. We shall be sending you a bottle for your Harvest celebrations. We hope we can offer the sample as a taste of Victory nuts and oils for this year end and new year, with cobnut butter and similar products from walnuts and almonds to follow, squirrels permitting and labour being available for harvesting.
12iv. The orchards are usually open for visits, which may interest some coach-parties enjoying an NGRA trip. And, nearer at home, we can mention that the Fullers Brewery, pub and restaurant at Chiswick are usually open for visits and tours and can provide literally refreshing comment on the components and differences in beers, in casks, bottles and tins, and the comparisons with continental ales and lagers, fruit and honey versions, and unfiltered wheat beers bottled champagne-style with secondary fermentation. Some beers now should be classified as barley wines. Beverages must be counted among the foodstuffs, and the brewing process yields co-products and by-products that can be exploited in developments of alternative “meat.”
12v. Developers in North Greenford applied their competence to another of scientific disquiet – experimentation of living animals not just for medical purposes but for trivial and frivolous tests for safety, for which alternatives and replacements could be sought, innocent of the corruption and infiltrations that had beset pre-war groups motivated primarily by anti-vaccination concerns, Lord Dowding, the Victor of the Battle of Britain, and his wife took up the challenges in seeking a constructive approach informed by the 3Rs – Reduction, Refinement, and Replacement. They were teamed up by a pharmacist and nurse living in North Greenford who had been involved with a (twice- bombed) charitable Clinic in London run mainly by refugee doctors from Europe. Lord Dowding, with a range of eminent Britons from a wide range of interests, including Winston Churchill, led a campaign to ban the export of live horses (such as vanners and pit-ponies) for slaughter in France and Low Countries for their meat (although chevaline meat had been consumed in the UK during WW2). Lord Dowding scored another victory, but was shot down when we tried in the House of Lords to ban religious practices for killing livestock for meat.
12vi. Lady Dowding’s group attracted enormous interest with Cosmetics Fit to Eat and the Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC) range developed initially in a jam-making saucepan in North Greenford, resorting liberally into the arrays of oils and herbs known to the old-fashioned type of pharmacist. This campaign, for which the group attracted top models and photographers, eg Jean Shrimpton, Celia Hammond, and David Bailey, with allies among the opponents of furs and seal-hunting and killing on the Canadian ice for meat and skins (augmented by the growing alternative trade in faux-furs) was taken into the real world of commerce and further developed by the Roddicks who founded the Body Shop method of marketing. The BWC products were tested on animals – the family in North Greenford, and the dog’s delight in licking them off fortuitously attested that they really were “pure enough to eat”. This harvest of good things had been much copied, notably as the ideas and products spread to Australia and North America.
13. These people were inspired by the Gandhi-like influences of Hindu satyagrahi that were rapidly, but belatedly expressed in the post-war and reforming Government headed by Clement Attlee Clemency was a virtue needed in plenty as the world addressed the fundamental issues of eating to live or living to eat.