Food

Purim Disqus

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It will soon be Purim; a Jewish Festival of enjoyment and celebration. I wrote about this very same festival last year around the time I celebrated with friends in North Manchester, great fun. But what is Purim? What is the story?

Purim is the story of Esther and how she saved the Israelite people of Persia:

There once lived a King by the name of Achashverosh, who ruled over Persia in the third century, BCE.

The story begins with a grand feast that the King was throwing at his palace. Irreconcilable differences propelled the King to divorce and seek a new queen. In search of a new queen, the King commanded his men to travel throughout the kingdom in search of the loveliest of maidens so that he could view them and choose the most beautiful to be his wife and the new Queen.

Around this time there lived a gorgeous woman named Esther. She lived in a small province with her uncle Mordechai. She knew that being the Queen of Persia would be good for her people, so she prepared herself to be brought before the King.

Once the King saw Esther he stopped looking and she became the new Queen of Persia.

One day while passing by the palace gates, Mordechai overheard two guards plotting a revolution with the intent to kill King Achashverosh. Mordechai informed Esther, and the militants were captured and executed. Mordechai saved the King’s life.

The King had an advisor named Haman. This advisor was power hungry and conniving. Haman disliked the Israelites, especially Mordechai. When Haman would travel throughout the towns, he expected the people to bow down to him, as he was second in command to the King. Mordechai refused to bow.

In order to gain favor with the King and rid himself of Mordechai and his people, Haman devised a plan to kill them all. Haman used his sharp tongue and twisted the thoughts of Achashverosh, alleging that Mordechai’s people would cause a problem for the King and that the King should lend his seal to a petition to have them destroyed. The King authorized the genocide and letters were written and sent to all the provinces of Persia bearing the King’s seal.

Haman drew lots to pick the date upon which the genocide would begin. The thirteenth of Adar (the month of Pisces) was the selected day for the mass extermination of the people. Remember this date.

When Mordechai caught word of this, he tore his clothes in mourning, dressed in a sackcloth and cried before the King’s gate.

When Esther was told about her uncle’s behavior she sent him new clothes, but he refused them. He sent her a message telling her to go to the King and plead for the lives of her people.

The law in Persia at that time was strict; no one was to approach the King unless they were summoned. To disobey was punishable by death. Esther sent word back to her uncle that the townspeople should fast for three days, she would do the same, and after the three days she would approach the King.

After three days, Esther went to the King who was so pleased to see her that he held out his scepter and asked her if he could grant her a request. Esther asked the King and Haman to join her in her quarters for a banquet that she would prepare on the following day.

As Haman left the Palace that evening he saw Mordechai. So full with hatred was he for Mordechai, that he resolved the next morning he would ask the King’s permission to hang Mordechai in a public spectacle on gallows fifty feet high.

That same night the King could not sleep and he asked to hear the daily chronicles, which recorded the events of the palace. There the King learned that Mordechai informed the King about a scheme to overthrow the kingdom and kill the King. Mordechai had saved the King’s life, but had not been rewarded for his loyalty.

When Haman arrived in the morning, the King asked Haman’s advice as to the appropriate manner to honor a person that has found great favor with the King. Haman, assuming that it was he who was to be honored, said that the man should be allowed to wear the King’s crown, the King’s clothes and should be led through town on the King’s horse, proclaiming that this man is favored by the King.

King Achashverosh accepted the idea and told Haman to give this honor to Mordechai. Enraged, Haman followed the King’s orders. That night was the banquet that Queen Esther had prepared for the King and Haman. The King was so pleased with her, that again he asked Esther if he could grant her a request. This time Queen Esther asked her husband to save her life, the life of her people, and her uncle, Mordechai, who the king had honored that day. The King was horrified that the life of his queen and his devoted Mordechai were threatened and demanded to know who was responsible for this. Esther replied that it was Haman.

Haman fell to his knees before the King and pleaded for his life, but the King ordered that Haman be hung on the very gallows that he had intended for Mordechai. Mordechai was then made the new advisor to the King.

However, the order of genocide could not simply be revoked, so the King ordered that the Israelites be informed and armed to fight in their own defense. Due to their awareness of the kabbalistic tools of unity, the 72 Names of God, and their understanding of the cosmic cycles of the kabbalistic calendar, the Israelites of Persia triumphed over the Persian Army. They awakened the power of miracles available in the month of Adar/Pisces. And moreover, they were able to alter their destiny.

(Story c/o livingwisdom/kabbalah.com)

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So what does this story tell us? what does it teach?

The story of Purim is a story that teaches that we must overcome one of our greatest enemies; doubt.

Esther could not affect the destiny of her people until she affected the cause of their impending calamity. By saying her people should fast for 72 hours and give succor to one-another she helped her people come together, to overcome the desire for self alone and awaken the energy of unity through the experience of sharing. The king armed them, they fought and overcame their impending doom.

For Jews the time of Purim is a time of celebration. If you go to a Jewish area wherever you find yourself, in whatever country you are you will almost certainly find a community in festive mood. Parties, cake, drink, face-painting for children and general merriment – a time of joy.

Doubt is an enemy of achievement an enemy of aspiration. Doubt of others is bad, but Doubt of yourself is worse. Be sure of yourself, know who and where you are in your life. Know who and where you would like to be in your life. Do not doubt yourself and go and achieve.

These are the lessons from Esther.

McDonald’s Promise Sustainable Beef

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McDonald’s, the biggest purchaser of beef in the US has promised that it will begin buying beef from a verified and sustainable source by 2016.

There is a but… They don’t know what verified sustainable beef actually is!

There is no definition of beef, for anybody that is, so this claim by McDonald’s is ambitious in more ways than one I guess. On the plus side McDonald’s are working with suppliers such as Wal-Mart to come with a definition they can work within, but this sounds a bit like asking a fox to guard the chickens. It’ll be a definition that suits McDonald’s but which may not actually resemble anything you or I might understand as beef. So on the negative side the players are setting the rules!

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When I go to my local butcher and ask for a cut of beef I fairly well know what I’m looking at is beef. This might not be so clear with a McDonald’s definition I venture. Beef could end-up being something that’s mechanically reclaimed beef which is roughly equivalent in terms of protein content.

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Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president has explained that they are not ready to give a figure for how much beef will be from a verifiable sustainable source in 2016, its an “aspirational goal” he says, you better believe it if they don’t actually know what beef is I reckon. But it has been speculated that the process to get from zero to 100% beef from verifiable sustainable sources could take 10-years.

But think about this for a moment; the route the beef takes – cattle farm – suppliers – slaughter houses – patty makers… burger on a bun.  All parts of the supply chain act independently with each taking a profit and still we have the £1.99 Happy Meal!

How do they do it for the money?

Nonetheless verifiable sustainable beef or not a McDonald’s burger will still be 550 calories, and half the recommended level of fat for a day.

Food Alert!

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If nothing changes by the end of 2014 the TAFTA (Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement) will be in force; a catastrophe for those who believe that food and drink are serious issues not to be messed about with so much.

If the agreement comes into force as planned then you will soon be saying hello to genetically modified milk, beef hormones, and chlorinated chicken, not to mention shale gas and oil… And then you will have to say farewell to managed environments, free-range, freedom foods, and a pleasant and green landscape pleasing to the eye as well as our collective conciseness. The influx of products will adversely affect our European food security for what I ask? A populist agenda and cheap shopping!

This project opens the doors to American domination so that they can make by 2029 $0.03 per person with nothing in it for Europeans I venture. The deal will remove trade barriers and tariffs designed to keep safe our own food supply, our own farms and associated businesses. American companies will enjoy commercial equality with our European companies. European jobs will be lost, a new recession is peering at us over the horizon at the end of the decade.

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European social structures will be damaged, possibly beyond repair by this agreement. Social standards will be diminished, economic standards will be diminished, industrial, cultural, and personal freedoms will be diminished because this agreement will attack our basic democratic freedoms through an unprecedented level of influence that will be exercised by the American mega-companies vying to control our food supply chains.

What gain for Europe? Well its suggested that Europe will gain 0.5% of total European GDP but its also said that this figure should be treated with scepticism, it might not happen!

There is also the further very thorny issue of energy supply. The agreement allows for free trade across Europe of energy supply but there is no universality of agreement between European states on the status of energy supply. In some countries certain types of energy (shale gas) is illegal. This is without question a massive area of concern not currently addressed by the agreement or the EU. Democratic rights will certainly be trampled under the American free trade boot when it comes to energy supply.

The European project seems to be under threat from our American cousins attempts to sell Europe food and energy that it does not need or want in most cases. Do we honestly need more Americanisms? Our food is currently too fast, more not less McDonald’s cannot surly be a good thing.

Ban GM!

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Yesterday; Thursday 1 Aug. 2013 a French court did something I would have thought impossible (if not legally impossible I would have thought culturally impossible).  They overturned a government decision to ban a Monsanto (MON810) GM corn product.

Reason:  the GM corn does not pose a major risk or present an emergency situation.

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A moratorium on MON810 corn — one of just two types of genetically modified food crops whose cultivation is approved by the European Union — has been in place in France since March 2012.  But the Council of State Court said the moratorium had little legal basis.  It said that EU regulations say such a ban “can only be taken by a member state in case of an emergency or if a situation poses a major risk” to the health of people or animals, or to the environment.”

France’s Agriculture Minister M Stephane Le Foll replied that the government “is not in favour of GM, especially MON810 which is a corn that is resistant to herbicides.”

The reality is that MON810 is grown in very small quantities in Spain and Portugal who are more accommodating than the vast majority of other EU States.

I’m not so sure now that the principal of precaution is being fully enacted by the French Courts who seem to have taken leave of their collective senses. French growing GM? Honestly?

Leave GM to the Yanks, they invented the stuff let them keep the stuff. Humans (and animals for that matter) have managed perfectly well for millennia without GM so why have it now.  Monsanto et al want to enslave world farming to their products and GM is the key to unlock (and then lock the door behind the unsuspecting farmer) that particular cell.

My question therefore is:  Where is Jose Bove when you need him? 

Symbols of Success

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For the last 2-weeks my house has been on the market for sale.  No big deal that, you might say but for my wife and I it is actually.  We plan to move out of a house we own and into rented accommodation.  Of course there’s a plan and we will buy a house in the South of France all being well.

For many years I’ve harbored a desire to live in France, particularly the South of France.  From my first visit on a student exchange programme when I was 13 years old right up to now I still have this desire, indeed it is now a burning desire, and for her sins my wife has agreed to putting my plan into action and buying a place, not a big place, but our place in France.  I’m sure initially it’ll be a holiday home and perhaps our extended family and friends will make use of it.  But eventually we will settle there to live our elder years out.

Thinking of this project has led to some personal revelations.  I think the feelings were always there just pushed down within myself.  Career wise I would be classed as one of those ‘self-starters’, motivated to succeed and ambitious.  I began in my current industry (factory applied coatings) 23 years ago as a factory laborer; the lowest employment level in the factory food-chain you could say.  Anyway, a shade over 5 years ago I bought the company I work for (with 3 others that is) for a couple of £M’s.  So I have a successful career by most people’s measures.  I enjoy my work but it’s not the reason I get up in the morning.

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So because of my career I own a nice house, in a nice part of town (very leafy), a new car (Alpha Romeo – very sporty it is too).  I holiday abroad 2 or 3 times per year, at least once on long-haul and my wife doesn’t work (she doesn’t need too).  All these are symbols of success! Well to some people anyway.

But actually what I really like is good food, good wine, being in the sun and fresh air to breath.  But I don’t want or feel the need to pay lots of money for these privileges, these should be just part of life and I don’t think I can get them often enough if I stay put.

Success is too often measured in financial terms, the stuff you own and how much you spend when really its about quality of life.  These are the symbols, the indicators, that a lot of people use to mark-out success and I have been guilty, all too guilty actually of using these self-same symbols as measures of other peoples and my own success.

I’m not saying these measures are bad or wrong at all.  No, they are valid, just no longer for me and I think my wife as well (well I truly hope so anyway).

Success for me means living life through experiences, by meeting people, seeing, watching and hearing beauty.  Success means really good food, wine and a clean environment to live in.

I truly hope I live my life as a success, I’d hate to think I was remembered and measured by the things I own rather than the contribution I made to the community I lived in, the experiences I had and shared with others.

Franken-Food; GM Crops

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Right so I think its probably fair to say from the title of this post right from the off you can guess where I am on the GM Crop debate.

British Environment Secretary Owen Patterson is about to re-open the debate in Britain with a bias toward allowing these crops to be commercially planted, harvested and sold into the food-chain.  Paterson, who has previously expressed his backing for GM, will say that government, scientists and industry “owe a duty to the British public to reassure them that GM is a safe, proven and beneficial innovation” for farmers and consumers.

Well they may, off this reassurance; but frankly I DON’T BELIEVE IT IS!!!!!  I don’t believe they are anywhere near safe to be absolutely clear on the point.

Patterson will claim that there are potentially significant economic and environmental benefits to growing GM produce, including increasing yields, protecting crops from disease and reducing the use of pesticides and chemicals.  I think he might just be blinded by the initial economic benefits but this waffle about environmental benefit I really don’t know how he’s going to sell that one.

The thing with GM is that farmers are forced to buy the fertilizer and pesticides from the same company that sells them the crop seeds and that’s the economic benefit (for the Agi-Chemical business that is).  The intensity of the farming practices will deplete soil quality and structure leading inevitably to more extensive use of fertilizer and pesticides.  Its basically a way of exhausting the soils which can only lead to eventual crop failures or more likely small farm failures.  It will lead to super-farms, homogenized food stuffs, low prices, but high profit margins for the producers and sellers.

The claim is that GM will help in combating the effects of climate change (whether you think its man-made, natural or a combination of the two climate change theories).  He will further suggest that the intensity of GM will allow land to be left undeveloped for wild-life.  If you swallow that one I think they just won the argument, it ain’t gonna happen I assure you!

Patterson says Europe is “missing out” on the technology, which is now used on 12% of arable land around the world, and which globally farmers are growing, governments are licensing and consumers are buying.  “While the rest of the world is ploughing ahead and reaping the benefits of new technologies, Europe risks being left behind.  “We cannot afford to let that happen.”

He will call for the UK to be at the forefront of developing GM technology.

There is just one site in the UK where GM is on trial but many of our livestock are fed on grain and foods from around the globe so GM is in the UK albeit disguised as animal feed.

Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, research and science Mike Childs has said: “Despite decades of research, there are still no miracle crops to tackle the challenges agriculture faces, such as climate change, soil degradation, water shortages and growing demand.”

BASICALLY IT DOESN’T WORK, so I’d say stop doing GM crops and concentrate on something that is worth doing.  The argument is not made, in-fact I’d go so far as to say the argument is lost.  Ask those cash crop farmers in Eastern-Africa how they fair with the Agri-Chemical Businesses.

My bet is the story goes along the lines of:

  1. Had to stop growing real food for local consumption
  2. Got a big cash pay-out up-front (this is the bribe bit really)
  3. Started growing GM cash crops – it was okay to start with
  4. Then had to get fertilizer and pesticides but could only get them from the Agri-Chemical supplier
  5. Fertilizer and pesticides are really expensive
  6. Commodity values of my cash crop have dropped so I don’t get paid what I used to
  7. I sold my land to survive and now I rent the land I used to own
  8. I’m now poorer than ever, my neighbors are starving and cannot afford the imported food prices they now have to pay

Can I suggest that we drop the idea of GM, go back to farming real food locally and feeding the people that live in our nation with good honest food.  The government could help by encouraging the unemployed to learn how to grow food, tax could be reconfigured to make home-grown food more advantageous to buy.  Link these ideas up with other government initiatives and we begin on the route to self-sustainable food supply.

The planet benefits from not being quite so stressed.

People benefit from good, healthy, fresh, affordable food.

The unemployed benefit from having something to learn, do and earn from.

This might sound a bit like a Kibbutz attitude but heck it could work you know.