NEWSLETTER Jan - Mar 2009


Acute mastitis, with "enlarged supramammary lymph nodes"

Lent is a time to try the cruelty-free alternatives in the dairy-free range. The modern British dairy cow averages yields of about 25 litres a day during her foreshortened life, during which she will give birth to 3 calves. She is gestating and lactating for about 6 months of each year and under the threats of mastitis, lameness, and reproductive failure and the corollaries of succumbing to milk fever and other signs of 'downer cow syndrome'. BSE originated and persisted in an intensive system relentlessly exploiting this cruel perversion of motherhood.

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Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer just after WW2 was Sir. Stafford Cripps, a vegetarian, as were many members of the leftist lentilists of the Fabian Society; other exponents were Gandhi and Bernard Shaw (whose Doctor's Dilemma alluded to some of the social and medical challenges Colin Blakemore and his predecessors have faced).

The RSPCA is lacklustre in recognizing the importance of vegetarianism while nearly a billion livestock a year in the UK are slaughtered - massacred would be an apter word - "humanely", but with numerous violations in breeding, rearing, and killing of the Farm Animal Welfare Council's Five Freedoms; and the RSPB's protective function counts for nothing for the less equal birds confined in battery cages or produced as oven-readies and is demonstrated fitfully for "managed wildlife".

In the early 1970's the Oxford Vegetarian Study used human volunteers in comparisons of healthy lifestyles, and a subsequent project, begun in what is now the University of Surrey, assessed relative ages of onset of degenerative diseases and consequent costs to the NHS of vegetarians and human omnivores...

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Melanie McDonagh, Journalist, Master of the Keys, Catholic Writers' Guild, declares: "I'm trying to give up meat. It's easier than giving up drink. Sundays don't count. Neither do feast days, especially St. Patrick's Day. And Sundays, I need hardly add, start on Sunday Night," she confides (shriving, as in Shrove Tuesday, represents a conventional confession and feast or mardi gras before a period of self-denial).

Paul Woolley, Director of Theos, "will be giving up meat this Lent. I will be reading The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller. He shows how the parable reveals God's extraordinary and prodigal love towards the irreligious and the moralistic," he writes.

Among other declarations of abstinence Paul Handley, editor of the Church Times, writes: "For some years now I've given up alcohol and sugar during Lent. Each year I try to wriggle out of it, and maybe this year I'll succeed. But God seems to think it's what I need, so who am I to argue"?

Luke Coppen, editor of the Catholic Herald, indicates adherence to advice given him by a Lebanese monk, who told him that "he was giving up eating breakfast for Lent." But don't worry, "the monk added: you couldn't possibly do that because you're English." Luke Coppen says: "This Lent I hope to prove him wrong."

Messages from the "health-police" are beginning to enter Lenten observance: Robin Baird-Smith, Director of Continuum Publishing states: "I am giving up 'grazing'- picking at the contents of the fridge outside mealtimes. Discipline in small matters encourages discipline over greater issues."...

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Last week the Institute, together with Russia's federal consumer protection agency, published a comprehensive meal planner advising Russians what to eat. (Other reforms are overdue too, e.g. in smoking, alcoholism, and lack of exercise - all themes familiar to followers of Britain's reactions, expressed by its Food Standards Agency, on the nations woes of overeating and ill health).

The planner recommends a healthy breakfast of oatmeal porridge and fried eggs, washed down with a budget chicory coffee. Lunch includes borscht, a famous beetroot soup popular in Russia and the Ukraine, with a salad. Dinner is fried fish, (chocolate, crisps, pizza, and fizzy drinks are all out - but the frying pan remains).

So Russia is not the only country to find the beginning of Lent as an opportune time to proselytize and practise the need for dietary reform. The debate begins at the start of Lent in the Orthodox Church. Father Alexei, a priest in Polenovo, a village near Moscow, explains, "The first 2 apostles, Andrew and Peter, were both fishermen, The Church therefore has a positive attitude towards eating sea and river inhabitants", they were quoted in the "best selling" Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.

Russia's economy is "in big trouble, unemployment is rising and the rouble is sinking fast" (Guardian 03/03/09), so porridge may be the secret weapon to tackle the country's worsening economic crisis. After years in which Russians have indulged themselves in too many fatty sausages and mountains of pancakes, the country's health agency has produced a crisis diet to improve their recidivist eating habits. Officials have published a low-calorie meal schedule, aimed at those on marginal incomes as well as the rich, "grown tubby during the boom years" Alexander Baturin extols the virtues of fish: "Fresh fish is ideal, fish is marvellous, people should eat fish 2 or 3 times a week. Unfortunately, Russians prefer sausages to fish", he says...

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Haggis is, of course, the centrepiece of the traditional Burns Night Supper, held each year on January 25. It is served amid much pomp and ceremony - not to mention whisky. It is usually eaten with mashed potato and neeps (swedes, turnips, rutabaga), the two vegetables often being mashed together with a liberal dose of ground pepper.

Our recipe last week for rumbledethumps (bubble and squeak) aptly precedes this veggy version of the big event next Sunday. Curly kale or cavolo nero (dark kale) may be used as a leafy veg component in these dishes. A seaweed (such as dulse) from local shores, swirled into a soup can give a reminder of a marine element (seaweed vegetables may be obtained dried from some supermarkets or health food stores or from fishmongers' (or, tinned, from Parson's Pickles)...

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The dish in its simplicity reflects the frugality expected in the forthcoming year, with eating plans endorsed and exemplified by his own Agriculture Ministers and in dietary advice proffered a few years ago by the Economist ("a healthy diet is built on a base of grains, vegetables and fruits, followed by ever-decreasing amounts of dairy-products, meat, sweets, and oils"), as well as in the Food Standards Agency's Eat Well advice. The celebrity charity cookbook was compiled by the congregation at All Saints Parish Church in Ilkley, West Yorkshire.

The name is said to refer to the noises made as the tatties and cabbage (or kale) are rumbled and thumped in the preparation. Addition of bacon and neaps (turnips or swedes) are all ways of elevating the style of rumbledethumps, the original being just a greasy refrying of the previous night's leftovers.

VEGA's Portfolio of Eating Plans already includes a recipe for colcannon, an Irish version of bubble and squeak and we have sent our latest version of the dish (which incorporates vegan bacon) to Sarah Brown at Number 10 Downing Street. We hope the family approve, as well as many other people ready to cook up a nice winter warmer...

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  1. Defra consultation: Implementation of the EU School Milk Scheme
  2. Going With The Grains
  3. Fishy Tales and Politics
  4. Try the Milk of Human Kindness Instead
  5. History Repeats Itself
  6. Turning Biomass and Waste into Manufacturing Commodities
  7. Resolution, Reform, and Recovery Begin in Earnest








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