Just a quick update for those who are interested… One red camellia blossom – and a lot of rather battered Ice Follies…. Read on…
Food allergy and food intolerance, freefrom foods, electrosensitivity, this and that...
Just a quick update for those who are interested… One red camellia blossom – and a lot of rather battered Ice Follies…. Read on…
I have written many posts over the years about friends or colleagues who have died – but never did I think I would be writing one about James, my lifelong partner – and our Webmaster.
James died of sepsis resulting from a twisted bowel just over a week ago – after four days on life support in the wonderful Intensive Care Unit of the Royal Free Hospital.
Ours was a very private relationship but, after nearly 50 years we were still enjoying each other’s company on our daily walks around Hampstead Heath – so I guess that says all that needs to be said.
Although James has run all of our IT systems, our websites and our audiovisuals for the last ten years, his ‘real’ job was in the music world where he was probably the most successful classical record producer of all time. You can get some idea of what he did and how he was regarded in the musical world here. We are hoping to celebrate his life in music at a memorial service later in the year.
Meanwhile, we will have to crave everyone’s patience while we try to get our heads around the technicalities with which he always dealt so efficiently. The FreeFrom Eating Out and the FreeFrom Food Awards will both be going ahead as usual although we will need to postpone some judging for the first and the opening date for the second for a couple of weeks. Kathy and Cressida will keep everyone informed.
Monday 3rd. Thank you to all of you who have expressed your sympathy and condolences either in comments or in emails – we really appreciate it.
A Celebration of James’ life and work took place at LSO ST LUKES in the City of London on NOVEMBER 2nd. See the video here.
This post was actually intended for the garden pages but it seemed a shame not share Kew’s splendid tree-top walk with a few more people, so here we go…
I had rather hoped that we would be greeted by a sea of scarlet and gold from the sky walk. But whether Kew’s trees are not as brashly colourful as their New England cousins or whether this is really just not a very ‘bright’ year, I don’t now. Whichever the case, with the occasional exception, colours were lovely but muted. There brightest thing, as you can see in this image, were the long trunk-like iron legs of the treetop walkway.
The walkway has now been open for a few years and, rather splendidly it has a lift soaring up one side so is accessible to all. And it does give wonderful views over Kew’s rolling, tree-filled acres.
And although some parts are quite open, in others your really do feel as thought you are walking through the tree tops. Here you can just see it snaking its way through the branches.
I had set off for Kew equipped not only with my iPhone but with two photographers – one wielding our trusty video camera. So I am very happy to be able to offer you, not just my iPhone efforts, but a ‘real life’ walk through Kew gardens, complete with walkway, palm house, children, sleepy paraqueet – and squirrel!
And although the leaves were falling fast while we were there (as you saw) there were still plenty on the trees so if you want to go and check it out for yourself, if you got yourself along there next week, there would still be lots to see – although there would be fewer delightful children!
And you would have missed the autumn crocuses….
But even if you didn’t see that many leaves, or the croci, you could always go and see the Marianne North Gallery – of which more in a future post….
So now we will leave you with this view from the walkway which does look as though someone has just emptied a massive bag of confetti – and one seriously flaming yellow tree!!
The Food and Drink Innovation Network are usually pretty topical with their seminars but they excelled themselves this week. On Tuesday, not only did they have a regulatory lawyer explaining exactly what the High Court action which launched this morning could mean, but we had the director of the Food and Drink Federation, Ian Wright, warning that it would not be long before the fall in the value of sterling started to feed through into high street prices. And hey presto, this morning brought the first clash of the food titans as Tesco and Unilever locked horns over the price of Marmite!*
The FDIN Brexit seminar was most ably chaired by Tim Lang, founder and first Professor of Food Policy at the City University’s Centre for Food Policy. Despite the understandable desire of delegates to focus on the immediate effects on their industries, he set the Brexit debate within the wider on-going debate about our worldwide food system and its need to be sustainable.
The bigger picture
Climate control and the loss of biodiversity are crucial to the future shape of food production. Over 30% of European carbon emissions come from the food industry – and it is impossible to reduce that without fundamentally changing the way we eat: away from dairy and meat to plant based proteins. We need to focus on the loss of biodiversity world wide, which is now all but unstoppable. Even just looking at the UK we need to worry about water stress (yes, many parts of the UK are short of water) and the poor health and falling nutrient content of our soils. We also need to see food as means to address the huge rise in non-communicable diseases. A big ask but maybe the chaos caused by Brexit might be the catalyst for change?
The industry view
So will it be chaos? Well, the FDF definitely thinks so, as, apparently do 90% of the UK food industry. There are four main issues, as they see them.
The first three are fairly self explanatory but the knock on effect as far as labour is concerned may not be so obvious. There are over 1.7 million foreigners currently working in the food service industry and another 470,000 in food manufacturing. Many of those send money home a weekly basis. But that money is now worth 20% less that it was two months ago so for many of them, it is no longer worth being here – and they are already starting to head home. UK workers do not want to work in the food industry so where is it going to find its labour force? Shortage will force up the cost of labour which will, inevitably once again, feed through to higher prices on the high street.
Then, in the longer term – more uncertainly over trade tariffs. We are currently a member of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) as part of the EU. But if we leave there is no certainty that we would have any standing as far as the WTO is concerned and might need to negotiate membership from scratch.
The longer term effect on the British food industry? Because British shoppers are addicted to cheap food, in order to keep prices down industry will be forced to reformulate to use cheaper and/more local ingredients and will automate production even further in order save labour costs.
And then, of course, there is Ireland… Our dealings with Ireland up till now have been as a single country, even though, effectively, it is two. But what happens if all of a sudden the north and the south do really become two countries once again and there is a lengthy land border just ripe for smuggling products in/out of the EU?….
The legal view
Our relationship with the WTO – and with Ireland – were also discussed by Brian Kelly of Covington, a law firm which specialises in food and beverage practice within and without the EU. As Brian pointed out, we have ‘favoured member’ status as regards the WTO as a member of the EU but once outside, we could find ourselves having to negotiate for that – not with 27 EU member states, but with 192 members of the WTO.
He also suggested that we need to be very aware of what else was happening around Europe – such as in eastern Europe where Visegrad Group want to curtail all free movement of people from outside the EU (which could now include Britain) while maintaining it within the group.
As regards the High Court action which started today: which ever way it goes, both parties have, very unusually, already been granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. The action is, according to Brian, the most important constitutional case since 1066! And it hinges on whether the government, by using the Royal Prerogative, can trigger Article 50 without reference to the House of Commons.
The referendum was ‘advisory’ so has no legal status. Therefore the government has to follow ‘constitutional process’ in how it implements it. But, we have no constitution… Hence the challenge in the High Court to the government’s claim that it can trigger Article 50 under the Royal Prerogative. The ‘challengers’ claim that at the very minimum, the government needs a vote in the commons to invoke Article 50 but that, since our accession to the EU was by statute then, if we are to leave the EU, that can also only be achieved by statute e.g. passing an act of parliament. Watch that Supreme Court…
The pollsters’ view
An interesting presentation from Pippa Bailey from Ipsos MORI reviewed some of the thinking behind the vote and showed that as yet, there was little change in the public’s views.
In the original campaign, as is usually the outcome in such cases, the heart won over the head. In other words, the Leave campaign, by appealing to people’s ‘Britishness’ (regain British sovereignty) and hyping up immigration fears, were always going to win over the Remainers’ purely fiscal/money/economic arguments. Especially if you take into account the ‘optimism bias’ – ‘bad things may happen but they are never going to happen me’.
But she did point out that although there was little change in how people might have voted in the referendum, 37% of the population were now starting to worry about the cost of goods and services and whether they would be affected. One person who certainly does think they will is Dr Tim Dennison, Director of Retail Intelligence at Ipsos MORI:
‘Things will clearly change when retail prices begin to see inflation and retailers decide to pass on higher prices to customers – and these are just starting to come through.’
Despite all this doom and gloom, the day was ended on a more optimistic note by Nicola Thomas from the Food and Drink Exporters Association.
While accepting that the balance of imports versus exports was certainly not in our favour, Nicola believes that the UK food industry is in a very good position to ramp up its exports. She maintains that we are 3-10 years ahead of other global markets in terms of product development – choice, quality etc. For example where German manufacturers may only offer two flavours of crisps we already offer six or seven. And in many specialist markets (organic, fair trade, freefrom, world food etc) we are way ahead. British food is also seen to have the highest food safety standards in the world and to offer a genuine premium quality. So we really are way ahead of the game.
Nor should we just be looking at Europe. There are huge developing markets in the Middle East, in India and in China and although they are not the easiest to access, the rewards could be very significant and we are in the perfect position to exploit them.
So onwards and upwards!
*Sadly, if not unexpectedly, this seems to have been a brief stand off and they have already ‘reached an accommodation’…..
Catching up, as I always seem to be, on last week’s copy of The Week as this weeks’ copy plops through letterbox, I noted a piece on ‘Patient C’ – the 50-year old who was supported by the Court of Protection’ in her decision not to have life-saving dialysis as she was not interested in growing old now that that she has ‘lost her sparkle’. Fine – whether you agree with her decision or not, she is perfectly at liberty to make it and I reckon that the Court of Protection was quite right to support her. What I found objectionable was the views of Clare Foges in the Daily Telegraph. I quote:
‘There is something creakingly chilling about this case – the weight that it adds to the creeping cultural negativity surrounding old age. Getting old is coming to be seen as a disease to be avoided at all costs while the elderly are routinely presented as a burden…etc etc.’
I suppose I could be accused of having a vested interest here, having been happily travelling for free with my OAP Bus pass for quite some years now – but this is really not a picture that I recognise. Yes, of course, there are huge problems surrounding elderly people whose health (both physical and mental) is impaired or whose incomes are not adequate to support them. And yes, care for those elderly who are not able to look after themselves falls far short of what one might desire – but so does care for those in their twenties or thirties with physical or mental disabilities. This is not a problem which only concerns the elderly – it a general problem about how we care for those unable to care for themselves.
Moreover, many of those who now struggle with the health or financial problems of old age, lived much of their lives in the expectation that they would retire at 65 then enjoy a maximum 10 years old age supported by a modest but adequate pension. They never expected to live well into their 80s or even 90s and many were ill prepared for it. We baby boomers, born after the Second World War, now expect to live at least into our 80s and have, on the whole re-adjusted out sites accordingly. The ‘silver market’ is not only alive and kicking, but positively booming. Ask any travel agent!!
And what rubbish to suggest that there are no ‘older role models’. Two of the most popular recent prime time telly programmes have been fronted by geriatrics! Mary Berry (80) on the GBBO and Bruce Forsyth (87) on Strictly. Not to mention Nicholas Parsons (92) who is still fronting the long running radio comedy, Just a Minute. Warren Buffett (85) is extremely active as the world’s third richest man; Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss (83) is only one of dozen of peers and judges in their 80s heading up enquiries and probing very actively into the evils of our time. And I hadn’t noticed that HRH (89) had exactly lost her marbles – even if she has, at least temporarily, lost her sense of humour. (Are you surprised in that outfit?……)
More than 100 top chefs have, apparently, written to the Daily Telegraph warning that the new EU allergen regulations are going to destroy ‘spontaneity, creativity and innovation’ in the restaurant trade because, according to the Telegraph:
The EU allergens regulations that came into force in December require caterers and restaurant owners to conduct a comprehensive audit of every ingredient present within their dishes, which must then be displayed on menus and packaging.
The regulations mean that it is no longer be acceptable for cafes and wine bars to state on menus they do not know if allergens are present, or that they “could” be present. Instead they will have to label any food clearly with a precise breakdown of the allergens they contain. Where it is not obvious from the ingredient the name of the allergen will be stated next to it.
Well, if the chefs are not better informed than the Telegraph, then they might have some grounds for a bit of moaning…. But, no, food service outlets do not ‘have to display allergens on menus….. and label any food with the precise background of any allergens that they contain’. What they do need to do is to know about any allergens that their food may contain and, if they are asked, be able to provide guests with accurate information about them.
But hang on… Don’t chefs know what they put in their dishes anyhow? How else do they create or reproduce a recipe, or even run a kitchen? So what it is the big deal?
The only thing that they are being asked to do is to learn a little more about the ingredients that they use e.g. whether any of these ingredients are one of the 14 major allergens – so that, if they are asked, they can tell an allergic customer whether or not one of those allergens might be in the dish that they are thinking of ordering.
OK, so that may mean that if they have been asked to prepare a dairy-free dish for a customer they have to actually think before slapping a dollop of butter on the veg or cream on the fruit salad but that is scarcely hurting their ‘spontaneity, creativity and innovation’!
The new regulations are a big thing for the food service industry but not because they are in themselves a ‘big thing’ – all they are requiring outlets to do is to be a little bit more knowledgeable about their ingredients. They are a ‘big thing’ because the food service industry knows and understands very little about food allergy and sensitivity and therefore is scared rigid of it. All too many chefs and food service outlets genuinely believe that food allergy is only about nuts and that, post regulations, they risk being sued if they cannot provide all their customers with guaranteed allergen-free meals. This is not what it is about…
The regulations do not require any outlet to provide allergen-free food. Nor do they require any outlet to label every dish with all the allergens that it might contain. All they actually require is for the outlet to be able to tell the customer, accurately, what is in the dish that they want to order, and to be able to back that information up with some sort of written documentation (a recipe) if required.
If the outlet wants to go further and provide specifically allergen free dishes then that is their choice – there is no obligation for them to do so – although obviously, those of us in allergen world hope that an increasing number of them will wish to do this.
So please, Daily Telegraph – get your information right and help educate the chefs, who obviously have not understood what they are being are asked to do. Do not just parrot doom and propagate the myth!