Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Respect for the Dead

Last year, I sat, close to tears, in a corridor of the famed Museo Egizio (Egypian Museum) in Turin, Italy and wrote the following notes on a small piece of paper:

"I am gazing at the skeleton of an Egyptian man, barely 5 feet tall.  He is wrapped in brown linen only to his waist, above this is revealed his bare chest- the bones protruding outwards.  His teeth are slightly revealed.  It is a macabre scene.  He is lying in a glass box- like an insect or a butterfly collected by a naturalist.  People stand around me- looking closely at the remains.  All around us are other wooden coffins- torn open to reveal their contents.

It occurs to me that we are invading his privacy.  That somehow he has been disturbed from his resting place and robbed of his humanity.  He is literally left bare in front of me and he is being dehumanised in the process of this ‘exhibition’.
All the effort that was made to pass these souls into the after-world has been destroyed.  It seems odd to me that despite all that we now know (and is being told here through the museum) about these people’s believes, their customs and their traditions; their concern for their dead and their respect for these ancestors, we have dug up their burial places, thrown hammers against their history and flown it thousands of miles away.

The fact that we can still stand comfortably with this disturbs me.  We take pictures of the dead- photographs to take home as souvenirs.  A mother jumps behind the Egyptian man, to frighten her young child.  But he doesn’t stir.  We are bereft of feeling and compassion.  It is as if we are beyond feeling for these ancient people.  It is as if they never lived or ever mattered.  It re-affirms my fears for society.  I am left with a prolonged, deep feeling of sadness."

What can we learn from other societies relationship with the non-human world?  This is not just about ancient Eqypt and their complex society, but about the indigenous peoples, today, all over our world- which co-exist with the natural world and animals in a very different way to Western societies.  What does human life mean in an increasingly rational, scientific, modern world?
Note on photography: I have decided to include, here, several images that I photographed at the museum. I do so with some caution, I did not feel comfortable taking them. However, images are powerful and they can (at times) teach us a great deal more than words. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Small keys can open big doors

I have recently been working on an essay as part of my Masters programme (MA) on urban agriculture in South Africa.  I have been fascinated by Keyhole gardens which are being initiated throughout Lesotho.  Lesotho, is a small, independent, land-locked country, within South Africa, approximately the same size as Wales.
Keyhole gardens are being established, in rural areas, as a way for households to grow their own food.  The Government of Lesotho declared an emergency food crisis on the 9th August 2012 and there seems to be an on-going problem of food insecurity.

Keyhole gardens appear to be a wonderful idea.  I am not certain of whether the science works behind them- but the principle of construction is very simple.  The gardens are generally quite small- you build a circular wall- using bricks or rocks or whatever you can find.  This area is filled with soil to create a raised bed, in the shape of a keyhole, with a gap to walk in to the middle.  In the centre is a hole, to ground level, which enables you to literally 'feed' the soil of your garden with organic matter and water.  This is where the 'science' comes in.
Photograph by Tanveer Badal at
There has been an interest in developing Keyhole gardens in other areas of the world, including Afghanistan.  I can imagine the merits of such a simple technology being used in areas that have been affected by war or natural disaster, which might enable households to become less reliant on food aid.
Keyhole gardens are even making their way into other parts of the globe, such as the USA and UK, where school-children are building their own gardens, growing their own food and learning about organic principles.

Photo by Send a Cow at
Now, I would like to see if Keyhole gardens may be of use to the urban poor in their own activities of food growing in towns and cities throughout the economic-developing world.  For example, within the many townships of South Africa where soil quality is often very poor.  Could this concept enable growers to focus their efforts on achieving small, but fertile gardens?

It may not produce huge quantities of food, however, to many low income families, any financial savings they can make on food expenditure will make a real difference to their lives.  There are also huge social benefits to enabling families (everywhere) to spend time together with nature, nurturing seeds, watching things grow, participating in physical activity and eating what they sow. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

A sense of living

On Wednesday 24th October, I flew to Turin, Italy- to partcipate in Slow Food's International Conference.  I was delighted to have been invited to represent the UK as an official delegate.

Every two years, Slow Food holds Terra Madre, which translates as Mother Earth.  This year, Terra Madre also combined with Salone del Gusto, which is a massive food trades fair show-casing incredible Italian producers, as well as dozens of small artisan food producers or co-operatives from all over the world. 

Salone del Gusto included fresh dates from Libya, several African coffees, Native American rice and Spanish ham- to just name a few of the food and drinks available to taste.

There was an incredible spirit to the proceedings- which began with the official opening ceremony on Wednesday evening.  This took palce in the Palasport Olimpico, one of Italy's largest indoor arenas with a capacity of over 12,000 people.  Each nation selected a representative to carry their flag through the arena and there was even an official song!

Over the next five days, I attended many conferences on international food issues from weaning infants, to food sovreignty for indigenous peoples. 

One of my most vivid memories are listening to Slow Food's founder Carlo Petrini, talk passionately about the advancement of a Western idea of progression.  He likened this march forward, to a "mighty army...which has left behind our women, our children and our elderly...".  There will come a time, when we will look back towards these marginalized, forgotten groups of people and it is them that will help us!

There is so much happening at an international level. Slow Food is not just an organisation for those who care deeply about the food we share (or don't share), it is also beginning to exemplify how we can make the world a better place, through sustainable living.

A sense of living, that within the modern rush of life, begins by slowing down...

Thursday, March 15, 2012


I have enjoyed eating sourdough for some time. Ever since I worked as a Head Chef, near the popular organic Judges Bakery in Hastings- I have been familiar with this rather unusual process of making bread.
There was a time, when all bread had more substance, was slightly heavier in texture. Many breads, today, are almost too light and have so many unnecessary ingredients added to them. We could get technical about this and discuss the Chorley Wood process- however, I am not a baker and will leave that for some-one else to explain.
My understanding is still limited.
Initially, I was a little nervous about how to go about creating a starter, often referred to as a mother or chef. Sometime ago I was first introduced to Emanuel Hadjiandreou, when he was the Head Baker at Judges Bakery. He now works for the School of Artisan Food, Nottinghamshire and recently published a book- How to make Bread.
His explanation of how to make a starter was so straight forward and avoided so many of the off-putting terminology that I had found on other websites and books- that yesterday, I finally began.
Emanuel instructs to place 1 tsp of flour in a clean clear jam jar with 2 tsp of flour and stir. Fix the lid and leave out at room temperature.
Repeat this process- adding 1 tsp of flour and 2 tsp of water every-day for 5 days.
On the fifth day, you should notice bubbles of CO2 appearing on the surface. This is what will help your bread rise.
At this point you will be ready to use your starter to bake your first loaf of bread. Why not join me? Today is Day 2. Early next week, I will up-date this with how I am getting on, accompanied with the full recipe for White Sourdough.
You may also be interested to look at the following blog (they have been lucky enough to attend several days training with Emanuel at the School of Artisan Food)-
Note: I am using Doves Farm organic White Flour. Emanuel uses Shipton Mill organic flour. You could use any flour I think. However, I believe that it is worth sometimes seeking the best ingredients and investing in producers who care for the Earth and the food that they source.