Saturday 27 August 2016

Green beans: why pulses are the eco-friendly option for feeding – and saving – the world

Caroline Wood, University of Sheffield and Wayne Martindale, Sheffield Hallam University

We all know the score: current trends predict there will be 9.7 billion mouths to feed by 2050. Producing enough food without using more land, exacerbating climate change or putting more pressure on water, soil and energy reserves will be challenging.

In the past, food security researchers have focused on production with less attention paid to consumer demand and how food is ultimately used in meals. However as developing nations aspire towards the “Western diet”, demand for meat and animal products is rapidly climbing.

This is bad news for the planet. Meat is a luxury item and comes at a huge environmental cost. Shuttling crops through animals to make protein is highly inefficient: in US beef, just 5% of the original protein survives the journey from animal feed to meat on the plate. Even milk, which has the best conversion efficiency, has just 40% of the original protein.

Consequently, livestock farming requires huge amounts of water and land for grazing and feed production, taking up an estimated 70% of all agricultural land and 27% of the human water footprint. Much of this land is becoming steadily degraded through overgrazing and erosion, prompting farmers to expand into new areas; 70% of cleared forest in the Amazon, for instance, is now pastureland. Livestock production is also one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, including 65% of man-made nitrous oxide emissions (which have a global warming potential 296 times greater than CO₂).

Nevertheless, millions of people in developing countries still suffer from protein malnutrition. The burden, therefore, must fall on people in richer nations to reduce their meat consumption and embrace other sources of protein.

Pulses are a healthy alternative

Enter the pulses: beans, peas and lentils. Although generally cheaper than meat, these are rich sources of protein and also come with essential micronutrients including iron, zinc, magnesium and folate. As low GI (glycaemic index) foods, they release their energy slowly over time, preventing surges in blood glucose. Naturally gluten-free, they are also ideal for the rising numbers of those with coeliac disease.

Besides being rich in goodness, pulses are also low in many undesirables including cholesterol, fat and sodium, which all contribute to heart and blood issues. In fact, pulses seem to actively protect against these maladies. Numerous studies confirm legume-rich diets can decrease cholesterol levels and when 50g of lentils were added to the diet of diabetic patients, their fasting blood sugar levels significantly decreased.

Meanwhile, populations with the greatest lentil consumption also have the lowest rates of breast, prostate and colorectal cancer. This may be partly due to the high fibre content of pulses: increasingly, a high-fibre diet is associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. Fibre content may also explain the satiating effect of pulses: for example, incorporating lentils into energy-equivalent meals causes greater fullness and leads to a lower calorie consumption later in the day.

Green beans

Just as they are good for us, beans, lentils and peas are also good for the environment. As they work with bacteria that convert atmospheric nitrogen into useful ammonia or nitrates, legumes actually improve soil fertility and reduce dependence on energy-intensive fertilisers.
Pulses are also highly water-efficient; for each gram of protein, the average global water footprint of pulses is only 34% that of pork and 17% that of beef. Meanwhile, the carbon footprint of pulses is less than half that of winter wheat and on average 48 times lower than the equivalent weight of British beef cattle.

Despite all this, the potential of pulses is largely unrecognised. Currently demand is dominated by India and Pakistan, however poor yields mean the two countries import more than 20% of global pulse production. Even big exporters like Australia and Canada remain inefficient, achieving barely half the yield per acre found in Croatia. This “yield gap” exists because these countries typically grow pulses as animal feed or to break up crop rotations. Optimising pulse harvests in both developing and developed nations could thus be an easy way to boost global protein production.
Nevertheless, pulses face traditional barriers in the West, including the need for overnight soaking, unappealing tastes and potential flatulence from a high-fibre diet. To overcome these, ingredient manufacturers have developed pulses into new functional ingredients that provide all the benefits of eating whole pulses. These already include pasta, crackers, batters, flours and egg/meat-replacement products.

Even so, we should all consider how much meat we really need. A more plant-based diet is a winning strategy for our wallets, our health and the environment.
Falafel, anyone?

The Conversation
Caroline Wood, PhD researcher in Plant Biology / Food Security, University of Sheffield and Wayne Martindale, Senior Research Fellow, Corporate Social Responsibility, Sheffield Hallam University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday 9 July 2016

My Experience of Meat Free May

I know it is some time since Meat Free May but I wanted to share my thoughts with you on how it went for me. I would like to say that it went brilliantly but it didn’t.

Day 1. Sunday 1st May. I was full of determination but I had a house full of visitors who expected Sunday dinner, including roast. OK so this was going to be difficult but I carried on with the normal roast meat with three or four veg, Yorkshire puddings followed by desert. I must say that I really missed the meat with the rest of the meal. Does gravy count? In this case yes it did as it was made from the juices of the meat. And so this was a sharp learning curve. Meat Free should really be nothing to do with meat so I failed at the first hurdle. Never mind let's learn from this and move on. Usually we would use the leftovers from Sunday to eat during the next few days. So Monday was a bit of a trial again. Let’s move on.

Tuesday was much better as the meat was out of the way and I had planned lots of meals with cheese, eggs, lentils, beans etc. And I really enjoyed salads. I had one big bowl of lettuce, cucumber and tomato then another with a different salad as an experiment. Couscous with apricots, pasta with chopped mixed veg, beetroot and cucumber with yogurt dressing. By the end of the month I was getting pretty adventurous. Planning has to be the answer. It is so tempting when you come home from work, tired and grumpy just to reach for the convenient meat option in the freezer so making sure that I had sorted out what we were going to eat beforehand helped enormously. Sunday though was always a trial. I have now embraced a flexitarian diet where I have reduced drastically the amount of meat I have but I don’t feel too guilty about the odd Sunday roast.

Beatrice Greenfield

Sunday 8 May 2016

Why I've Gone Flexitarian

I love food, everything about it just makes me so excited and wanting more. I like the convenience of food, I like it to be there and ready to eat. I am a person who has fallen for the convenient capitalist ideology of quick food (or ready meals).

I have not always been like this, I was brought up making fresh food with a  limited amount of sugar and salt, and also for much of my childhood I was a vegetarian.

It is due to my childhood and drive for wanting to change my habits that I started to wonder about the food I was getting and eating. Questions going through my mind: Where does my food come from? Is it cost effective? Do I really need it?

Since I started campaigning with Sheffield Friends of the Earth, I have had lots of ideas of what to do; things I believed would change the world. Most of these ideas I will safely say were discounted and discarded until one meeting I mentioned food and looking at the sustainability of food. Suddenly the group went fantastic! Bring a plan to the next meeting. ‘Oh my what have I done, an idea needs foundations structure’.

But over the coming months we have brought this amazing idea forward to where it is now. Using our dynamic and wide range of skills we are looking at tackling one of the most important topics we should be focusing on to help not just ourselves but our environment around us. Meat!

The campaign we are running is more around reducing meat consumption and shopping around for better quality (and more sustainable) than going for the cheaper supermarkets cuts.

Every month we will be posting about our inspiring campaigns and looking at different parts of food to help everyone to help the health of the environment.

John has gone flexitarian by eating more vegetarian meals and choosing to eat less meat. The meat he now eats is better quality, locally produced and more environmentally friendly.

Friday 6 May 2016

Yellow or Green Split Pea Soup

Serves 2
Preparation time:  No more than 5 minutes
Cooking time:  55-60 minutes, or 30 minutes if using tinned mushy peas

  • 1 onion
  • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
  • 2 rashers smoked streaky bacon 
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stick celery
  • 100g green or yellow split peas, washed under the cold tap and drained 
  • ¾ litre chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf (not essential)

  1. Chop all the vegetables into slices, chop the bacon into smallish pieces and chop the garlic fine.
  2. Heat the oil in a medium sized saucepan. Add the bacon to the oil in the pan and cook for about 3 minutes or until it’s beginning to crisp. 
  3. Remove from the pan and set on one side. 
  4. Add the onion to the oil and fat in the pan and cook on a fairly low heat for about 5 minutes until it starts to soften. 
  5. Add the garlic, carrot and celery. Cook this mixture gently for about 5 minutes. Add the split peas, the stock and the bay leaf. 
  6. Bring to a boil then turn the heat to low and simmer for about 45 minutes. 
  7. Remove the bay leaf when the soup is cooked, liquidise it and garnish with the bacon. If you don’t have a liquidiser, mash the vegetables with a potato masher. The result will be just as good.

Alternative with tinned mushy peas
This soup can also be made with pre-cooked mushy peas, which cuts the cooking time considerably. Follow the instructions given above but don’t bother with the celery (which can take a while to cook). Cook the vegetable mixture in the stock for about 20 minutes, then add the tin of mushy peas and heat through. Finish off with the bacon, as above.

Most of us buy bacon vacuum-packed in plastic. The instructions on the pack usually tell you that once the pack is open it must be eaten within 2-3 days. This is very cautious and in my experience bacon can be kept in an open pack for several days in the fridge. After this time it’s a good idea to freeze it. If you are not going to eat the remaining bacon at one sitting, divide it into servings of 2 or 3 rashers and wrap each serving in cling film, then store the servings in the original packaging in the freezer. Take them out to cook as you need them. They can be chopped and cooked straight from the freezer and will only take a little longer to cook.

Friday 1 April 2016

Crunchy Topped Aubergine and Pepper Bake

Serves 8

  • 2 large aubergines
  • 2 large onions
  • 6 red peppers (or mixed colours)
  • 8 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp capers, drained
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 100g brown breadcrumbs
  • 4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese (or vegetarian). Leave off the cheese to make it vegan.

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (fan 180°C)
  2. Chop the aubergine into bite sized chunks. Slice the onions and peppers.
  3. Place the vegetables on separate trays and drizzle with 4tbsp of the olive oil.  
  4. Roast the aubergine and onions for about 45 minutes and the pepper for about 30 minutes. Toss the vegetables halfway through cooking.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, fry the garlic briefly in 2 tbsp olive oil.  Add the tomatoes and puree then fry for a few minutes until the sauce thickens (adjust the thickness with water or tomato puree as desired).
  6. Add the mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon zest/juice and seasoning. Cook for a further few minutes adjusting the seasoning as necessary.
  7. In large mixing bowl mix the roasted vegetables with the tomato sauce. Add the capers if using.Mix the remaining 2tbsp olive oil with the breadcrumbs and cheese then sprinkle on top of the vegetables.
  8. Bake for 25–30 minutes until the topping is golden.

Artichoke Red Onion & Rosemary Risotto

Serves 4

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 red onions, sliced into thin wedges
  • 2 red peppers, sliced
  • 2 tbsp rosemary needles
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 6oz arborio risotto rice
  • 150ml white wine
  • 850ml vegetable stock
  • 400g tin artichoke hearts in water, drained and halved
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan or vegetarian alternative
  • 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • Salt and pepper

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Cook the onions gently for 6-7 minutes until softened and browning. Add the peppers and rosemary and cook for a further 5 mins. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.
  2. Add the rice and stir well to coat with oil.
  3. Pour in the wine and stir until absorbed.  Gradually add the stock a bit at a time, stirring all the time.  This takes about 20-25 minutes.
  4. Add the artichokes 3-4 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
  5. Season and stir in the Parmesan and ½ the pine nuts.6. Serve in dishes, scattering the remaining pine nuts before serving. 

Thursday 31 March 2016

Bruschetta with Guacamole or Red Pepper Hummus

To make the bruschetta, slice a baguette or ciabatta into 1cm thick slices and grill both sides until golden.  Allow to cool.  Just before topping, rub a clove of garlic over one side and drizzle with olive oil.  Delicious with guacamole or hummus!

Red Pepper Hummus (Vegetarian)
  • 1 400g tin chick peas
  • 1tsp runny honey
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ 200g jar of grilled peppers drained
  • Chilli powder to taste
  • Seasoning

Add all the ingredients to a food processor and blitz until smooth, adding a bit of olive oil to ensure a smooth consistency.

Guacamole (Vegan)
  • ½ an onion, very finely chopped
  • 1-2 chillies chopped (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 3 ripe avocados
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • Black pepper

Halve the avocados and scoop out the flesh into a bowl and mash with a potato masher to form a rough paste. Mix the chilli with some salt and crush either with a knife blade or a pestle and mortar. Add the lime juice, seasoning, onion and coriander. Serve on top of bruschetta or enjoy with some nachos and a drink of your choice. This is best eaten fresh.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

The Problem of Food Waste

In the UK alone, 15m tonnes of food is lost or wasted each year, with consumers chucking away 4.2m tonnes of edible food. The foods most commonly found in British bins are bread, vegetables, fruit and milk. If food waste sent an annual bill, the average household would be looking at £470 or £700 for families with children.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Asparagus Spanish Omelette

When British asparagus is in season (May) this is a perfect, quick, mid-week meal.

Serves 4

  • 2 cloves of garlic 
  • 4 eggs 
  • 50g of goat's cheese 
  • 100ml milk 
  • Cheddar cheese 
  • 50g of frozen peas 
  • A bunch of asparagus 
  • 2 handfuls of spinach

  1. Beat together the eggs and milk and set aside 
  2. Fry the garlic and asparagus in a small amount of oil in an oven-proof frying pan or cast-iron dish. Once the asparagus are a little soft, add the spinach, frozen peas and egg mixture. 
  3. Cook on the hob for a few minutes, until most of the egg is set and covers the base of the pan – remember to keep moving the egg while it cooks to make sure that it doesn't burn 
  4. Spread the goat's cheese over the top, and cover in grated cheddar cheese. 
  5. Put the whole pan under the grill for a few minutes until the rest of the egg is cooked and the cheese starts to brown. 

Monday 14 March 2016

Shetland Crab and Tomato Linguine

A fantastic light, early summer recipe that highlights the wonderful flavours of the Shetland crab. Choose MSC certified sustainable seafood by looking for the blue MSC label.

Serves 2

  • 1 echalion shallot (the big ones) - very finely chopped
  • 1 small garlic clove - crushed, peeled and finely chopped
  • A large handful of little tomatoes - sliced in half
  • A small bunch of flat-leaved parsley, roughly chopped
  • A pack of MSC certified Shetland crab meat
  • A handful of dried linguine (don’t use fresh pasta for this dish).
  • Lemon - 2 wedges

  1. Put a large pan of water on to boil and add salt and a dash of olive oil. Add your linguine
  2. In a large pan, gently cook the shallots until they are starting to soften
  3. Add the garlic and the tomatoes and cook until starting to soften
  4. Take half a cup of water out of the pasta pan and reserve
  5. Drain the pasta and put it back in its pan with the brown crab meat, a dash of olive oil and half of the reserved water, stir well
  6. Tip your linguini into the pan with the shallots, garlic and tomatoes and stir in half of the white crab meat. You may need to loosen the mix a little with some of the remaining reserved pasta water
  7. Serve with the remaining white crab meat and the parsley scattered over the top, the wedge of lemon on the side and a good grind of black pepper.

Mexican Style Chicken Fajitas

Make a quick healthy Mexican style meal in less than 30 minutes

Serves 4
Time 30 Minutes

Seasoning Ingredients (or purchase ready made packets)
  • 1 tablespoon chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Main Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2  pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced into strips. By going flexitarian, the money you have saved should allow you to go for organic or free range chicken. If you want to make this vegetarian then use Quorn chicken pieces instead of chicken.
  • 2 peppers, sliced
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 8 small tortillas

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Make fajita seasoning: Whisk together chili powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside. Alternatively, you can buy packets of ready made seasoning. 
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a cast-iron grill pan or frying pan over medium-high heat.
  4. Add chicken and sprinkle with 3/4 of fajita seasoning. Mix together and cook for 6 to 10 minutes, or until browned.
  5. In a second pan, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add peppers and onion. Stir in remaining fajita seasoning. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. While the vegetables and meat are cooking, warm tortillas in the oven or on a griddle pan.
  7. To assemble fajitas, fill warmed tortillas with chicken, peppers, and onions. Top with favourite garnishes.

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Cashew Nut Roast with Apricot Stuffing

Nut Roast Ingredients
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • ¼ pint water
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 4 oz wholemeal breadcrumbs
  • 8oz ground cashew nuts
  • Pinch of mixed herbs
  • Pinch of salt, black pepper and nutmeg1
  • ½ egg, beaten

Apricot Stuffing Ingredients
  • 6oz dried apricots
  • 1tbsp lemon juice
  • 1oz margarine
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ tsp mixed spice
  • 2oz wholemeal breadcrumbs
  • ½ egg beaten

For preparing the tin
  • 1oz margarine for greasing
  • 1oz sesame seeds

  1. To make the stuffing, cover the apricots with water and soak for 4 hours.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes until soft.  Drain, chop and mash and add all the other ingredients – mix well.
  2. For the roast, dissolve the stock cube in water.  Fry the onions in the oil for 6-7 minutes until soft and then add the tomatoes and continue cooking for a few minutes longer.  Add the stock and remove from the heat.  In a large bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, cashews, herbs and seasonings.  Add the onion mixture and the egg and mix well.
  3. Grease and line a 1½ lb loaf tin and sprinkle with sesame seeds to prevent the roast from sticking.  Spoon half the mixture into the tin then add the stuffing. Spoon the remaining mixture over the top and smooth with a fork.
  4. Bake at 190°C/gas mark 5 for 40-50 minutes until brown and firm to the touch.  Leave to stand for 10 minutes before turning out.

Tagine full of vegetables

  • 4 carrots, cut into chunks
  • 4 small parsnips, cut into chunks
  • 3 red onions cut into wedges
  • 2 red peppers, deseeded and cut into chunks
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp each of cumin, paprika, cinnamon and chilli powder (or add the chilli to taste)
  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 400g tin chickpeas or kidney beans
  • 2 small handfuls of soft dried apricots
  • 1-2 tbsp runny honey

  1. Heat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.  Scatter the veg over a couple of baking trays drizzle with half the oil, season and rub the oil over the veg with your hands to coat.  Roast for 30 minutes until tender and starting to brown.
  2. Meanwhile, fry the spices in the remaining oil for one minute.  Tip in the tomatoes, apricots, honey and a can of water.  Simmer for 5 minutes until the sauce is slightly reduced and the apricots plump, then stir in the veg and season to taste.  Serve with couscous or crusty bread

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Pasta Penne

Serves 4-6

  • 500g bag penne pasta 
  • 4oz (125g) grated Parmesan (vegetarian is available) 
  • salt 
  • 8oz (250g) grated Mozzarella
  • 2 tbsp olive oil 
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1x 14oz (400g) tin tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 or more tbsp tomato puree 
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 4 tbsp water

  1. Place the tinned tomatoes in a saucepan along with the tomato puree, water, olive oil, herbs and seasoning.  Bring to the boil and remove from the heat.
  2. Add the Mozzarella and ½ the Parmesan to the tomato sauce and stir well to melt the cheese.  Heat very gently for 2 minutes.  When the cheese has melted, remove from the heat.  Don’t cook for too long as the cheese will stick to the pan.
  3. Place the pasta in a saucepan, add boiling water (and salt to taste) and return to the boil.  Simmer for 10 minutes and drain.
  4. Place the pasta and the tomato sauce in a large oven proof dish.  Mix well and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese on top.  
  5. Bake at 180ÂșC in a fan oven for 10 minutes.Serve with warm fresh bread and a mixed salad.(Note:  The dish can be topped with grated Cheddar if preferred, but Parmesan works best.)

Sunday 31 January 2016

Pizza - Thin and Crispy

Serves 4


For the dough
  • 1½ lb plain flour 
  • 1 tbsp of dried yeast
  • 1½ tsp salt 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • ¾ pt luke warm water 
  • 1 tsp sugar
For the tomato sauce
  • olive oil 
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 14oz tin of chopped tomatoes 
  • 2 or more tbsp tomato puree
  • salt 1 
  • tsp of oregano
For the toppings
  • 3 x 200g bags of grated mozzarella
  • salami, ham and mushroom, anchovy and olive, tuna and onion etc. Leave off the meat and fish if you want a vegetarian pizza.
  1. Add 5 fl oz boiling water to a measuring jug and top up to the 15 fl oz mark with cold water.  Add the sugar and yeast and leave for 15 minutes for the yeast to start to form a head on the liquid.
  2. Place the flour, salt and olive oil in a large bowl and mix well.  Add the yeast mixture and stir with a fork.  Pour a glug of olive oil onto the worktop and rub in with your hands.  Turn out the mixture and knead for 5-10 minutes to form an elastic dough. 
  3. Return the dough to the bowl, cover and set aside for about 1½ hours to rise.  When the dough has doubled, divide into 4 and roll out each piece on a lightly floured surface to fit a pizza tray or baking sheet (greased with olive oil).
  4. To make the tomato sauce, place all the ingredients together in a bowl and mash with a potato masher to make it smooth.  Spoon the tomato sauce onto the pizzas and spread out with a spoon.
  5. Sprinkle the grated mozzarella on top of the tomato sauce and add toppings as desired.  Cook for 12-15 minutes with the oven as hot as possible (you may need to experiment with the times).

Sunday 3 January 2016

Vegetable Paella

Serves 4

  • Splash of olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, diced finely
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 1 red and 1 orange pepper
  • 10oz risotto or paella rice
  • Small handful of French green beans 
  • 2oz frozen peas
  • 2oz frozen Sweetcorn or handful of baby corn 
  • 24 Black olives
  • 750ml veg stock made with saffron, salt, pepper and bay leaves
  • Handful of cashews
  • 6 sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • 180ml of white wine (vegetarian)
  • Fresh parsley to serve
  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the onion and peppers.  Fry for a few minutes until starting to brown.  Add the garlic and cook for a further minute stirring to prevent it burning.
  2. Add the rice and stir well to coat with oil.  Add the wine and cook until absorbed.
  3. Add the stock, beans, peas, olives and sweetcorn and cook until the rice is cooked – about 20 minutes.
  4. Add the sundried tomatoes and cashews, cook for a couple of minutes to warm through and serve

Caramelised Onion Tart with Cheddar Cheese

Makes 12 tarts

  • 2 red onions
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp salted butter
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ lb short crust pastry
  • 2oz mature cheddar cheese, grated
  1. Peel, halve and shred the onions. 
  2. Heat olive oil and butter in a saucepan and add the onions, thyme and garlic.
  3. Cook for about 20 minutes. Add the sugar to caramelise the onions followed by a splash of balsamic vinegar. Allow to cool.
  4. Roll out the short crust pastry and allow the pastry to rest for 30 minutes in the fridge.
  5. Remove from the fridge and using a 5cm (2in) round cutter, cut 10 discs of pastry.
  6. Place each round of pastry in a 12-mould shallow bun tin. Put back in the fridge for a further 10 minutes. The pastry should just cover the base of the bun moulds.
  7. Once the onion mix is cool, place a heaped teaspoon of the mix in the pastry. Flatten the mix down a little and sprinkle each tart with grated cheese. Bake in a preheated oven (180°C, 350°F, gas mark 4) for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Antibiotics, Food and Superbugs

Cause of death: scratched knee. What sounds like fiction could soon be reality. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that if we continue our reckless use and abuse of antibiotics in animal husbandry, we could enter a post-antibiotic era in which health conditions that are now easily curable will again become lethal. In spite of this, few countries have addressed the use of antibiotics in livestock raising. Antibiotics are used to ensure that the animals endure the conditions in factory farms until slaughter. A large part, however, is also used to increase and speed growth. Pigs that are given antibiotics, for example, need 10 to 15 percent less feed to reach their market weight.

Although the European Union prohibited antibiotics to promote growth in 2006, this did not lead to a significant decrease in their use on farms. Systematic inquiries have recently revealed that 8,500 tonnes of antimicrobial ingredients were distributed in 25 European countries in 2011. Germany has the highest (overall) consumption at 1,600 tonnes a year. However Denmark, where veterinarians are subject to relatively tight controls, reports only a third of the German per animal head level.

In other parts of the world, the use of these valuable drugs is subject to hardly any regulations or restrictions whatsoever. In China, it is estimated that more than 100,000 tonnes of antibiotics are fed to livestock every year – mostly unmonitored. In the United States, livestock production consumed 13,000 tonnes of antibiotics in 2009, and accounts for nearly 80 percent of all the antibiotics used in the country. With resistant bacteria and food-borne illnesses on the rise, the US Food and Drug Administration recently recommended restricting the application of antibiotics in livestock production “to those uses that are considered necessary for assuring animal health”. It is doubtful whether these gently worded, voluntary guidelines can limit the overuse – and the demise – of antibiotics in the future.

Industrial farming has intensified at a rapid pace during the past decades and antibiotics have been one of the main driving forces behind this process. They perform two functions: they help animals survive the dismal conditions of livestock production until slaughter, and they make the animals grow faster. According to WHO, more antibiotics are now being fed to healthy animals rather than to sick human beings. The use of antibiotics as growth promoters is legal in large parts of the world, and until recently, nearly all largescale meat production in developed countries involved the continuous, low-dose administration of antibiotics in animal feed.

Livestock are usually given the same antibiotics as humans. Every time an antibiotic is administered, there is a chance that bacteria develop resistance to it. “Superbugs” – pathogens such as Escherichia coli, salmonella or campylobacter that can infect humans as well – are resistant to several different antibiotics, and are therefore particularly difficult to treat. The imprudent use of antibiotics in livestock production exacerbates the resistance problem. They are usually administered to whole herds of animals in the feed or water. It is impossible to ensure that every single animal receives a sufficient dose of the drug. Diagnostic tests are rarely used to check whether the right kind of antibiotic is being used.

Resistant bacteria can pass from animals to humans in many ways. An obvious link is the food chain. When the animals are slaughtered and processed in an abattoir, the bacteria can colonize the meat and be carried into consumers’ kitchens. But that is not the only way that humans can be exposed to such superbugs. Resistant bacteria can be blown several hundred metres by exhaust fans of livestock houses. The bacteria are abundant in manure, which is spread on fields as fertilizer. Once in the soil, the bacteria can be washed into rivers and lakes. Bacteria interact both on farms and in the environment. They develop further and reproduce, exchanging genetic information. In doing so, they enlarge the pool of bacteria that is resistant to once-powerful antibiotics.

The production of animals and meat is globally connected with trade and transport links spanning the globe. These links enable resistant bacteria to spread rapidly. Superbugs are, in the words of the WHO, “notorious globe-trotters”. The imprudent use of antibiotics in one part of the world thus poses a threat not only to the local human population, but endangers the health of people in other parts of the world as well.

What can I do about this problem? In organic farming systems the routine or preventative use of antibiotics is banned so we'd recommend eating organic meat.


Land Use