Monday, 24 October 2011

River Cottage:Veg

You know there had to be a book
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's latest foray into food crusading was launched this week amid much advertising and apparent high expectation. Sadly the promised veg recipes and the idea of vegetarian food in this first programme, are a bland  all or nothing affair. 


Ah but to begin at the beginning. Hugh has decided to become a vegetarian for a few months, ostensibly to save the environment and perhaps to shut up his ultra vegan mates. He has however missed a brilliant opportunity to take up the call of those who reasonably ask us to eat vegetarian once a week at least. The scientists and activist are not demanding we stop eating meat, just that we cut down the amount we eat.  Ironically, he and me and we, those of us who don't order out every night or seem to be at Macdonald's every other day, are not the people these environmentalist are asking to curtail their meat intake. We as a rule eat smaller amounts of better quality meat that is where possible and usually is, .locally raised and fed and not factory meat. One might make an exception perhaps for the Brazilians who revel in all meat orgies that would kill an elephant, but I doubt this programme will run in Brazil.  For the most part, we , reasonable people who eat our fruit and veg, partake of fish and poultry without deep frying it and serving it with chips, are not the problem. 


Assuming Hugh is in fact targeting the processed meat deep fried hamburger KFC brigade, he's fighting a loosing battle with his adopted strategy. The best way to show this lot that veg is not vile, tasteless and bland, is to NOT prepare vile, tasteless, and bland food.  His first recipe is a so called, veg soup, consisting of a few things he's pulled out the garden and boiled to death. There is no seasoning as such, no onion, no parsley, no garlic, no nothing... In the bad old days when we mostly lived on the farm, but we couldn't afford to eat too many of our own eggs and had to sell off our best meat to live, this meal was called a Green man  soup and would have been in point of fact ,  a lot more filling  than the miserly unpleasant gruel that Hugh  produced and moaned over  like it was the greatest thing ever.  A recipe that originally included ginger, some kind of rice or noodle or pulse, if it was about, was turned into something my father would would have turned his nose up at when he was a guest of Comerade Stalin in Siberia. 


The next recipe he trotted out to satisfy the savage hunger was something his go to vegan mate in London claimed he personally invented, called Stuffed lettuce. Having been married to a Chinese woman for over 15 years, I can tell you it's nothing new and if you'd have served that to a Chinese family, they would tell you to start again. Not only was it a nearly invisible ( forget pale) imitation of a  brilliant Chinese delicacy served during feasts, it is part of a full meal that includes, fish, seafood, beef, pork and poultry in small bite size pieces, all mixed a huge amount of a variety of well seasoned veg. And just when I thought I'd seen the last of the red menace that is the pomegranate seed, there they were being sprinkled in to the so called stuffed lettuce. In Israel pomegranate is cheap as chips, and yet not a seed in sight, what they do do , is press the stuff into a lovely tasty juice. This bland parody that was pretending to be wholly original could hardly be the super weapon that will prove to veg shy people they should maybe forget their mam's boiled everything with no flavour.


River Cottage Veg is nothing but a rehash of all the old pretentious hippy types who discovered organic food but never did come around to actual flavour and viewed food from other places as something one did as a dare. And by the way, if you're going to give up meat to save the planet, why bother racking up the carbon footprint by flyng in pomegranates from far flung shores???? Better off eating some lovely local pork or beef or poultry which grew up within a 100 miles of you and had a happy healthy life. Honestly, the premise of  this series is so flawed as to be insulting and condescending.  The people we see on screen, are clearly over privileged suburban tree huggers who haven't known hunger since they ate pot noodle that one time they stopped over at a mates at uni. Real poor people are not clamouring to eat 1960's hippie food, they want nutritions meals that taste good and would in fact love to afford a nice piece of meat every couple of days. As it is, there are entire sections of our society that don't see meat for weeks on end.  Even from my own middle class Polish up bringing, we used meat as an accent on our plate and in our soups, maybe once a week it would be the star of the show. From starter to pudding to the tea to wash it all down at the end ,our meals were ( and still are) sufficiently interesting day in day out that we didn't need take away every other day to satisfy both taste buds and body. I suspect if you ask the child of any immigrant, you'll find the same is true. Traditional British cookery is equally varied and interesting but seems to have fallen victim to fast food and flash freezing.


If this show means to teach us about the full variety of fresh delicious veg we can add to our meals and sometimes even eat exclusively in one meal, it is an epic fail. Only Rabid vegans will feel pleased and even then, if any of them are like some of my veggie mates, they will be bored by the uninspired, bland food on offer. The rest will recognize the less than subtle, evangelical, we are right and you are a murderer tone that runs through the entire narrative  and most definitively is the main supporting plank in the experiment  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is running. If he is in fact taking the piss, it's hard to tell,.but if he is, that's too bad. Veg needs to be better explained and served to an entire generation that only know the stuff from a  tin or a frozen bag. At the very time that family produce patches are becoming common and many are now keeping chickens, pigs and other eating animals in the urban and suburban world, this series turns the clock back 20 or 30 years when the only people eating veg were environmentalists  and recently arrived immigrants. 


Suffice to say that if you are a vegetarian, you will not learn anything new, if you are looking for great new or old recipes to add to your table and get your children eating veg, don't bother. The old stand bys like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay will be a better place to look. Both the BBC and C4 have extensive and varied recipe sections that will guide you through a world of food. If you really want to try proper vegetarian food and you like a curry, try southern Indian food, if you like to see what a plate looks like without a steak or a burger taking up a quarter of your plate, try Chinese or or Indonesian food. Veg need not be a punishment, so do yourself a favour, pass on this year's River Cottage.

Monday, 10 October 2011

May you live in intersting times or How the world regularly goes to Hell and back

Ceau┼čescu retires as President
There is a quaint notion running through the west that manifests itself in the philosophies of The Red Cross, Amnesty International and press outlets like The Guardian or Times.  It' a simple idea... All proper democratic right thinking governments and revolutionaries shall never ever , ever, harm people or be mean to it's enemies in the delusional belief that the enemies in question will play by the same rules. The problem with this, is that the bad guys rarely if ever play by the rules and count on the good guys to be trapped in the ethical net, thus stopping them from acting more effectively and in so doing, keeping the bad guys in power a few years more or until the people get so mad they just burn the place down and shoot the bastards between the eyes, not always in that order. Do they honestly believe that on the strength of the Hague's track record , people  will trust them to bring countless rulers, officials and other miscreants to justice?

I start from this premise to expose the biggest problem in World diplomacy today. When it comes time to live up to the idealistic values of the United nations , the occasional time when when idealism and self interest coincide, the big powers still come up against the wall of the veto from the tinpot dictatorships ,and nations East, West and South, that would rather cut off their nose than disagree with a powerful ally or regional tail that wags the dog . Compound this with a collection of barely sane world leaders like Ahmajinedad or Hugo Chavez, and you get some truly strange bed fellows. 


Two peas in a pod
Lets start with Hugo Chavez, a man who feels sympathy and solidarity with the people running Syria and those who used to run Libya.. Best mate with South African president Jacob Zuma, who famously moved at glacier like speed to return legitimate assets to the NTC, which they wouldn't recognize as the government until shamed into it.Men like Chavez represent the delusional leaders who when they are finally faced with an exit from power will not go easely or without fighting back dirty or without taking down as many as the can before they die. And yet these are the people who populate the councils of organizations  like The African Union and the UN. The Venezualan leader is so enamoured of his own publicity he can justify the entire destruction of his economy, the free press and democracy so long as he is successful in his people's revolution. Of course he'd love to export his ideas to other places that are deprived of his special kind of love. Like Mussolini and Hitler before him, he has his good points, but I'm not prepared to endure the other stuff just to make my trains run on time.  It's such demagogues on a single brain cell that embarrass the socialist in me. He is what happens when dogma and insanity meet. Dogma of any kind is wrong as it does not allow for dissent, evolution or compromise.

Zuma is a different kettle of fish. This man works on the principle that South African interests and the interests of his fellow AU leaders will always be more important than those of the actual people of Africa. His ilk seem to think they can prop up blood thirsty savages like Robert Mugabe and Africans won't mind because  somehow, freedoms and responsibilities , such as we know them in the West are alien to them. Think again , South Africans didn't throw off Apartheid to go on and support the same in Israel or to justify and aid other countries to oppress their citizens as long it suits the suits in Pretoria. For the last two years the AU have had one item in the tool chest whenever some President for life has found himself on the wrong end of a ballot box or gun....Why don't you power share? Stability and continuity are always more important than the eradication of a corrupt regime that has killed and robbed it's own populace. The AU is upset that the NTC and Europe have refused to consider the same tired old proposal in Libya. In case you'd forgotten, they wanted the NTC to share power with Ghadaffi, and work on a slow transition or accommodation that would diffuse the situation. The only problem is that exactly like in Zimbabwe, it would have led to a government where the opposition would have had to withdraw and the old regime would have stayed in power with no change at all. Isn't it about time that the World's various powers and power structures recognized that the source of legitimacy, like it  or not, is a mandate from the people? This paternalistic, some are more ready  than others to choose their own fate bollocks belongs to another century. The AU ( U for useless) has been exposed for the private club of dictators who act out of personal self interest if they choose to act at all that it is.

Bromance isn't dead
China and Russia are a blast from the past when diplomacy was more honest, though no less brutal than today. Tsar Putin and his mate the Emperor of China ask first what is good for us and what will insure our continued prosperity and power. I hear you saying what about the USA?  That's for the next paragraph. These two great and ancient countries sit uncomfortably, especially for the Russians, on the fence between reform and old paranoias that cause them to freeze in horror at the very idea off extra national intervention, even if it's a good idea. The Syrian people are the latest victims, how many have died for no good reason while the world gnashes it's teeth and wrings it's collective hands? Short of a freak meteor accident or particularly virulent case of gastro, Bashar al-Assad will be assured of growing old in his job just like daddy did. And yet if we are honest, what is different in Libya or the Yemen or Tunisia? Nothing except that the people aren't as well organized or the Government is much better prepared to deal with dissent. Oh and the fact that the very same tools used at the UN to sanction the Nato mission in Libya worked mostly despite the rule book and because at least this once Russia and China didn't want to look like they were going to allow a bloodbath in Benghazi. 


Besides certain Arab and African leaders, there is at least one other Government that desperately doesn't want to see the Arab Spring, Summer  and now Fall, succeed. Israel wants nothing better than to continue beating the drums of security and national protection to justify it's illegal theft of land in Jerusalem and the West Bank. With each passing day , and with each act of out of proportion retaliation or settlement construction, they believe they are insuring the survival of their vision of a xenophobic, paranoid Jewish state that would make the original Zionists cringe in shame. Reading the new laws that come out every few weeks is like a roll call of shame that harkens back to Nazi Germany. The only difference is the group of people being persecuted. And yet the Peace quartet is daily rocked with accusations that they are not honest brokers and are working for the interests of one party only. The US political and industrial  establishment have made it clear which side they are supporting, right or wrong. It's hardly baffling, The Israeli coalition currently in power are there due to illegal contributions from the US, and the favour is returned with a disproportionate power of the American Jewish fund-raising machine in helping candidates of all parties who will continue this blind unquestioning support for Israeli policy. And don't just take my word for it, but there is a ( pardon the pun) Greek chorus of Jews the world over, intellectuals, journalists, artists, business people, regular folk and powerful religious leaders who have had the courage to stand against the hypocrisy that closes debate in the US among  American Jews and in Congress.  It's no surprise that the voter participation in the last few elections in Israel has been so poor. Most voters have given up on the incredibly failed system that elects a Knesset filled with right wing religious parties and now a Jewish National Socialist party that  to the eternal shame of all true democrats, holocaust survivors and their families, has several seats in cabinet.  If you're wondering where the real gems like loyalty oaths or you loose your citizenship are coming from , it's them, but sometimes the scary stuff is from the so called centre of the cabinet.  Yet again I am embarrassed by the representatives of the people who just a short time ago where the international poster child for a downtrodden nation just looking for some peace and quiet. Oh how things have changed. At this rate if nothing changes, in 20 years there won't be an Israel. Already the smart money is on going back to Europe where Jewish populations that left in 1946 are being encouraged to return by individual European governments. 


No longer the Big bad or the honest broker
The United States of America, no longer the big bad in the world, has lost so much credibility it is too stretched to maintain a presence in more than one country at a time. Held hostage by it's own refusal to tell it's own people they are are no longer honest brokers, if they ever were, and that as a country the opinion of the USA in world councils in regards the middle east and current ongoing banking crisis is worse than not taken seriously, it's rejected out of hand. The recent vote on Palestinian statehood at the UN had only Canada and one other country on board with the US position that despite 20 years of futile talks, the PLO must return to  the table for more abuse. The US is part of the problem now, as opposed to the ones helping sort things at the end of WW2 with the Marshal Plan. What is worse, is they continue to claim they act in the middle east  on the basis of long standing democratic principles. The same principles that justified the deposing of  South American Presidents and the destabilisation of Sweden's left of centre government in the 1980's.  President Obama  a populist, who if he is a socialist makes me a raving loony Trotskyite  Marxist Leninist Mao quoting orthodox  ultra communist, is barely a Democrat . Obama said as little as possible and sometimes nothing at all to win, being all things to all people. The only reason the Tea party isn't poised to take the White house is that ( We hope) most Americans aren't yet prepared to elect a foaming at the mouth religious loony who thinks the world is 6000 years old and that God carries a gun, and so should all of us. As for the rest of the Republican party, they would have us believe that the free market is the only force able to save the world. So sorry, but without healthy educated workers, driving on safe highways and streets having eaten safe healthy food, you would have no factory and no profits. My brother in law, were he living in any other western country would be in a group home for the mentally ill and not forced to compete with fully able unemplyed people who are having a hard enough time finding work. Along with Russia, China and India, the Americans  are doing all they can to stall international agreements on the environment, money speaks louder than the health of the planet it seems. 

Which leads me to my closing thoughts on the home of the free. The occupy Wall Street event is misunderstood by the rest of the World. We think it's a protest against poverty and  greed, well yes it is, but  not the poverty and greed we know in Canada, the UK , Europe or Japan. We expect comprehensive national health care, a decent education, a minimum wage worthy of  the name and should one not be able to  cope or work or be somehow disabled, the state takes it's responsibilities and even in the most conservative of countries, steps up. Oh we may complain, but in the USA, the protesters are up against a system that believes in tiny government and  a Tea Party that thinks that even that's too much.  No comprehensive free national health care, class rooms the size of a respectable theatre attendance, schools  that are closed to questioning and the telling of information that doesn't match the accepted dogma, most Universities have long ago given up on debate and the outside world, and corporate wage packets for CEO's are 475 to 1  to the value of a worker's pay,  compared to the average in the rest of the world  closer to 11 to 1 .  I doubt we'll see this embarrassing spectacle, but maybe it's time the UN saw a resolution calling for sanctions on the USA to force it to align with the norm in at least the rest of the West, maybe then our leaders won't be so afraid to sort out the Greeks who make non payment of tax a national sport or to finally put a cap on the corrupt international banking system that makes life much harder for those of us living closer to the ground.


So how do you get an even break these days?  Here's the list.   


1- Don't have anything China or Russia want so badly they'll prop up a dictator.
2- Don't have anything the USA wants so badly it's willing to prop up a dictator
3- Don't make a move unless you can "Get'er done in a week or two tops" 
4- Make sure the goody two shoes NGOs aren't around when you hand out local justice to people who were never going to be that bothered by the rules themeselves when they were in power. 
5- Make sure you're polite enough not to mention just how cosy your friends from the outside helping you, were with the old fat bastard in charge.
6- Make sure you ignore the PC brigade in the media, the  Non Allingned crowd, the West and the old Communist block. Just do what's right and be sure you're goal and methods aren't nearly as bad the lot  you're replacing. 
7- Make sure you have even odds to succeed and just maybe despite all the diplomatic masturbation and constipation you will win out. 

So where does this leave the Palestinians, the Kurds, Syrians and at least a few Countries too numerous to mention in Africa and Central Asia? Good luck, maybe in a few years you'll be flavour of the week and the dice will roll your way. Till then, never stop fighting, never stop trying, never stop. Maybe  you''l be get a break and enough interests will grow a pair and come to your rescue. It's not all bad, Egypt has, even under the interim military regime, re opened the Gaza Strip to land crossing and business. Saudi Arabia is being dragged into the 21st century by it's own Royal Family, and Hugo Chavez, despite his most fervent desire to do so , still hasn't crossed the line to out and out typical South American despot ( for now at least). 


Till then, to those of us lucky enough  to live in relative freedom , have a government that at least tries  to take care of us and occasionally grows a conscience,  keep your leaders honest and support them when they are doing the right thing, even if it isn't perfect and lily white. More importantly, don't be super critical or expect perfection and Ghandi like serenity from angry people who have had enough waiting around for the rest us to get off our backsides and help them. Lets see how serene YOU are when your abuser of 40 years slips up enough for you to get the upper hand? Here's hoping they get it right and we don't embarrass ourselves too much in the process.