Action 82: Improve your cycling confidence. Cycling is good for our health and our environment. There are plenty of organisations who work to encourage and promote cycling, with practical support and through campaigns.
Plant based milks: some have added vitamins, typically A, D, B2, and B12, as well as various minerals like calcium and iron; protein levels are much less than in dairy milk but few western diets are deficient in this; choose milks that are produced from plants grown in Europe as this minimises their carbon footprint; if the milk splits when added to hot drinks, you might want to choose a barista grade milk; you can buy oat milk in glass bottles and reduce packaging – eg from Milk and More. 1 litre of oat milk has a carbon footprint of 0.9kg as opposed to 3kg for dairy milk. Oat milk also uses less water and less land.
Plant based substitutes for yogurt, Greek style yogurt, crème fraîche, double and single creams, are also available and can be used for cooking too.
As well as margarine, you can also buy vegan butter. This has a similar taste and texture to butter and is good for baking where the recipe calls for dairy butter.
Vegan mascarpone can be made by blending a 300g block of silken tofu with a carton of Oatly whippable custard.
Plant based cheeses are varied. Violife feta style cheese has a pleasant taste as does their mature cheddar. The latter can be grilled but tends to shrink as it is bubbles. Nut based cheeses can better mimic the texture of cheese.
Coconut milk adds a pleasant taste to soup and gives a silky creamy texture. Coconut milk also makes for a good rice pudding.
Aqua faba – the water in which dried beans have been cooked – has a gelatinous texture and can be used as an egg substitute. It works well for making mayonnaise and meringues. You may sometimes need to add a little xanthan gum for extra stiffness. To replace eggs in baking, use commercially made egg replacement powder (eg from Super Cook), aqua faba or chia seeds mixed with water (1:3 per egg). The chia seeds swell and become glutinous.
Tofu can make an acceptable substitute for scrambled eggs but needs suitable flavourings such as pepper, fine herbs etc.
Replace meat protein with a variety of beans, peas, pulses and nuts. You will spoilt for choice: in our cupboard at present we have whole and split yellow peas, ditto green peas, blue peas, Carlin peas, black badger peas, split faba beans, green and orange lentils, cashew nuts, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts and pistachios. The beans, peas and pulses are UK grown sourced and sold by Hodmedod’s. Lentils have a carbon footprint of 0.9 per kg compared with 6.9kg for chicken and 27kg for beef – and needs less land and water.
Lentils make a good substitute for mince. Puréed peas or beans make a good sauce to mix with pasta or vegetables.
Combine beans and pulses with grains – eg wheat, rice, corn – or with grain-based foods such as pasta and bread. The different amino acids from each will combine to give a better overall quality protein intake.
Replace meat or fish with tofu (made from soya beans) or seitan (made from wheat protein). These products offer a variety of different textures to meals.
Include yeast extract and yeast flakes in your cooking to ensure a good intake of vitamin B. Opt for ones that include B12 which is hard to obtain from plant sources. For iron eat beans and legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, and wholegrain cereals and breads. For calcium eat nuts (especially almonds) and seeds (esp. chia), figs, leafy greens, beans and pulses.
For vitamin D you may wish to consider a supplement. Sunshine is a good source of vitamin D but even so many people in the UK are deficient.
Vegetables and fruit are always important for flavour, texture and nutrition. But not all fruit and vegetables are equal. Out of season strawberries, blue berries, and asparagus for example are not sustainable and are often brought in by air. Avocados and mangoes, amongst others, consume vast amounts of water as they grow, and such crops divert water from other essential uses.
Eat food that is in season and try out unusual items such as salsify, cardoons, quinces etc.
Organically produced produce is preferable to non organic if only because the the excess nitrates from fertilisers runs off the fields and polluted water ways. And insecticides and herbicides are a real threat to biodiversity – including in our own gardens.
Locally produced food is again preferable, reducing air/lorry miles and reducing the length of the supply chain.
Action 80: Autumn is a good time to enjoy spicy cakes such as gingerbread and Parkin. Parkin is a traditional cake made in Yorkshire and Lancashire using oatmeal and treacle. Also known as tharf cake or, in Derbyshire, as Thor cake – the latter is more a biscuit than a cake. Here is a vegan recipe for Parkin: if you are not a fan of treacle, use extra syrup instead. https://littleveganspice.co.uk/home/veganparkinrecipe
If you have a patch of bare earth, dig it over before scattering a thin layer of seeds. If the seeds are too close together they may not grow so well. Water and then leave to slowly grow during the winter months. It may help to cover with netting or a cat’s cradle of string to stop cats and foxes digging up your seeds.
How true! God’s word is sharper than a two edge sword! It can probe that join between the bone and flesh, it can pierce the gap between thought and deed, it can lay open the difference between dream and reality. God’s word strikes at the heart of the matter. And so it is when the rich man comes to a Jesus for advise.
This man wants to inherit eternal life – which almost sounds as if he wants it to be something he can receive as of right rather than by effort. In response to Jesus’s questioning, he confirms he has lived his life according to the law, he has not done anything that steps over the line. Yet when Jesus questions him about his wealth, it seems that his love for his wealth is more than his love for his neighbour.
Curiously Jesus doesn’t ask if he has kept the first of the Ten Commandments, those that relate to our relationship with God.
And the man goes away disappointed, with no assurance of gaining eternal life. Jesus comments how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God: for that is to have eternal life. And I think it is not just wealth here that is meant, but also power and privilege for the three are interlinked. Those with privilege are more likely to acquire wealth and power. Those with wealth are more likely to acquire power and privilege. Those with power to gain wealth and privilege. It is as if there is a set of rules that makes this so. We have heard so much in the news about people with money who can access government ministers to push their causes; of multinationals who can use their power to promote use of products that harm the planet; of people who can hide their wealth to avoid paying taxes; of wealthy nations who can privilege vaccines for their citizens over those of poorer nations; of economic systems where the top 1% holds 25% of all wealth (that’s in the UK) or 46% of the wealth when measured globally; of the longer life span that accrues to those who live in wealthier areas; or of privileged pupils who could access better education during the covid lockdown.
From what we read in the gospels, the kingdom of God is radically different from any other kingdom, any other world-order, or any other culture. In God’s kingdom life is lived according to God’s ways, God’s logic, God’s culture. And even if squeezing a camel through the eye of needle seems impossible, for God, says Jesus, anything is possible.
Why is it that the rich man could have so strictly followed all the rules, and yet been unable to share his wealth? Was it – and indeed is it – that wealth insulates us from the problems that other people face, that it blinkers our eyes so we don’t see the poverty that is out there, that it prevents us from understanding how hard life can be without power or privilege?
Things were no different in the 8th century BCE in the days of Amos. Amos lambasted the people with the message God gave him. “Seek the Lord and live! … hate evil and love God, establish justice.” Amos warns that those who gained their wealth through taxing the poor and trampling on them, who deny the truth and scorn justice, who take bribes, rubbish the righteous, and push the needy aside. They will get their comeuppance and will not live in the grand houses they have built, nor drink the wines from their vineyards.
I wonder what it would look like today to hate evil and love God and to establish justice?
Would it be in truthful journalism that exposes tax avoidance and wealth havens? Would it be in demanding the insulating of homes so that those least able to pay rising fuel bills can keep warm? Would it be in demanding government policies that would actually reduce carbon emissions? Would it be in ensuring equal access across the globe to covid vaccines? Would it be in avoiding goods produced by cheap labour? Would it be in ensuring we don’t buy products which involve the destruction of rainforests and mangroves? Would it be in curbing our carbon footprint to ensure a safe future for our children?
If all this sounds impossible, let’s ask God to help us. If giving up our wealth, our power, our privilege seems too hard, let’s ask God for help. If following Jesus seems too demanding, let’s ask God for help. For all things are possible for God.
May God prosper the work of our hands – not to garner wealth, but to build God’s kingdom.
Action 78: UK housing contributes 19% of our carbon emissions. With better insulation this could be significantly reduced whilst at the same time making homes cosier and cheaper to heat. Why not sign this petition calling on the Government to invest in this project.
Last week’s Green Tau weekly began a mini series looking at biodiversity. We noted that despite the relative smallness of humanity in terms of global biomass, we humans are dramatically and drastically altering the planet’s biodiversity. This week I want to look at the impact food production has on biodiversity.
Over the millennia humans have domesticated both animals and plants, selecting and breeding species, and developed farming practices that would best provide food. In the process, humans extended their control over land that had previously been wild, which in turn has limited the land available for wild animals and plants. 1000 years ago, less than 4% of habitable land was farmed. This increased over the centuries, and particularly so from the mid 1800, when the area of farmed increased from under 25% to the current 50%. (Habitable land is land not covered by glaciers, 10%, nor barren land such as deserts, sand dunes, bare rock, salt flats etc, 19%). In Europe the area of farmed land is now declining slightly, whereas it is continuing to expand in Africa, Asia, China and parts of South America.
Currently there is much media coverage about the clearance of the rain forests in Brazil to create new agricultural land plus accompanying access roads. This process destroys unique habitats with the loss of many plants, animals, birds and insects etc. It also destroys the millennia old way of life of indigenous people. It is easy to see how such expansion of farming land exacerbates biodiversity loss. The same problem also arises in Africa, Asia and China. Mangroves have also been cleared to make way for shrimp farms, palm oil plantations and rice fields.
A perhaps previously ignored consequence of expanding farming into previous areas of wilderness, is the increased contact between wild and domesticated animals. This allows diseases to spread more rapidly between the different species. What might be an insignificant virus infecting a wild animal can become a highly infectious virus in domestic animals. These virus can then spread to humans. Such zoonotic diseases include the Ebola virus, SARS and the current Covid 19.
Over the millennia, much of the UK has also been deforested to make way for farm land. Tree coverage in the UK stands at about 12% which is much lower than most other countries in Europe. Top of the league is Finland with over 50% tree cover; Spain and Portugal are around 35%; France, Germany and Switzerland around 30%. As trees provide a great many habitats for other plants, birds, animals and insects, as well being good stores of carbon, the government’s climate advisers now recommend tree cover should be increased to 17-19%. As well as planting new trees, it is also important that existing trees are protected: it takes many years for a tree to reach maturity and whilst they are still saplings they do not provide much habitat for other wild life.
It is not only trees that have been cleared to make way for farming in the UK. Wetland areas such as marshes and bogs, have been drained. This destroyed the unique habitats of many different plants, insects and animals. In the same way, clearing hedgerows has had a detrimental affect on biodiversity. There is now a growing awareness of the importance of restoring and maintaining a diverse range of habitats to support different plants and creatures. Where the area of a particular habitat becomes too small, it may fail to maintain populations of plants and creatures at a viable level. However creating a corridors between habitats enables larger populations to be supported. Hedgerows perform this task on a small scale, as can railway lines and road verges.
Not only has farmland been expanding over the centuries, but what is farmed has changed. Increasing global trade, colonialism and the intensification of farming, has produced a agricultural system that now grows a very limited number of plant species. Two thirds of the world’s food comes from just nine plants: sugar cane, maize, rice, wheat, potatoes, soybeans, oil-palm fruit, sugar beet and cassava.
Such a concentration makes our food supply vulnerable to the effects of climate change and diseases. This year’s durum wheat crop has been much reduced because of exceptionally dry conditions in Canada (the harvest is down by a third) and wet ones in Europe. Nearly half of all the bananas grown in the world are one variety, Cavendish, even though there are approximately 999 other varieties. The Cavendish banana is now threatened by a fungus which could wipe it out.
This over concentration on a limited number of species has meant that many local and older plant varieties have been marginalised – another form of biodiversity loss. However the value of such plants is now being recognised. They can provide alternative crops better suited to local growing conditions and/or changing climatic conditions. Such species include quinoa, which can be grown at high altitudes, teff which like quinoa can be grown at high altitudes and where water supplies are limited, millet which can tolerate high temperatures, and einkorn which needs less nitrogen – ie can grow in less fertile soils – than wheat.
The same pattern of concentration occurs in animal farming too. Nearly all the world’s diary cows are based on one single breed, the Holstein. As with arable crops, there are advantages of protecting and promoting rare and ancients breeds of farm animals. But in terms of biodiversity what is more incredible is the sheer biomass of farm animals. They account for 60% of all mammals on the planet (of which cattle and buffalo account for 40%); we humans account for 36% whilst the remaining wild mammals a mere 4%.
Globally 77% of agricultural land is used to raise livestock. This includes land used to grow animal feed. Yet this 77% produces less than 20% of the world’s calories. Land used for livestock could be better used to produce plant based food that would feed a greater number of people and/ or rewilded to increase biodiversity. Factoring in the carbon footprint of livestock, especially cattle, there are even more benefits to be gained from reducing livestock levels.
Action 77: Plant cuttings. It is not conventional but I take cuttings of plants in the autumn: rosemary, sage, and penstemon. I find a soft side shoot and pull it away from the main stalk so that it has a ‘heel’ – ie a bit of the harder stalk comes away with it. I then remove any leaves from the bottom half of the shoot and place it in a bottle of clean water. I keep the water topped up/ and or change it if it looks green. After a couple of weeks, roots will begin to form. When there are several long roots, I pot the new plant up and over winter it indoors ready to plant out next spring.