Discussion Group: The Impact of Eating

The New Mills Transition Reading Group meets monthly in someone’s home to discuss a book or, occasionally, to watch a film/video or host a speaker. At the September meeting we discussed George Monbiot’s article in the Guardian on 9th August, ‘Here’s the true cost of eating meat. It’s worse than you think’ together with the piece on Silvopasture in ‘Drawdown’ edited by Paul Hawken and other online articles which deal with related subjects.
The George Monbiot article is here:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/08/ipcc-land-climate-report-carbon-cost-meat-dairy
Links to other articles that contributed to our discussion were:
https://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6392/987
https://greenallianceblog.org.uk/2019/08/20/whats-the-beef-with-beef/
https://www.greenbiz.com/article/6-reasons-why-practice-silvopasture-will-help-save-modern-farming
Monbiot argues in favour of stopping eating meat because of its carbon footprint and to completely cease meat and dairy production in order to increase the rewilding of the countryside. Some thought that these were not the only possibilities and this generated a discussion about land use.
One of the background pieces for Monbiot’s article talks about a variation between best and worst producers of meat by a factor of 50 in terms of environmental impact so it was argued that if the worst producers could be targeted then this would have a far bigger impact than trying to stop production altogether. In addition, mixed farming can use animal manure for fertiliser, reducing dependency on chemicals and associated repercussions like runoff and water pollution.
The discussion included the issue of protein and where that comes from in a plant based diet. Also, referring back to an earlier book (The way we eat now by Bee Wilson) there is the issue of the economics of the food industry and the issues around providing cheap and nutritious food.
The general opinion was that there needs to be a significant reduction in meat consumption and a cultural shift to see a plant based diet as healthier and cheaper. Some of this is already taking place. In addition, it’s not just about personal choice, changes are needed at a government level including the revision of agricultural subsidies to assist the transition and the need for major changes in the food industry. One article mentions the need for a ‘just transition’ for farmers so they are paid properly for the food that they produce.
We discussed food security and the comment in Monbiot’s article about the 55% of UK cropping land being used for livestock feed. Monbiot heavily criticises extensive as against intensive farming of meat but (as discussed with Isabella Tree’s book Wilding) extensive farming can encourage increased biodiversity. Also, the carbon footprint of meat production may conflict with the issue of animal welfare. There are both ethical and environmental grounds for changing to a plant based diet but some may be more amenable to a process of reduction rather than sudden elimination.
Our next meeting is Monday October 21st at 8pm and the book is The Wall by John Lanchester
You don’t have to read the books to come along – someone will give a synopsis and all input to the discussion is welcome. Email transition.newmills@gmail.org for details of venue.

Many thanks to Sue Cooper for the post.

Prisoners of Geography: Discussion Group

The New Mills Transition Reading Group meets monthly in someone’s home to discuss a book or, occasionally, to watch a film/video or host a speaker.

This month’s book was Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall published by Elliott and Thompson Limited. The subtitle of the book is ‘Ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics’ and his premise is that geography plays a determining role in the history and current political situation in many parts of the world. There was a mixed response to this book which generated a vigorous discussion. Some found the book very informative and interesting, it provided a useful background and explanation of current political issues. Others found his obsession with identifying hotspots for potential conventional conflict old fashioned (one person likened it to the game of Risk) and disputed the argument that geography is deterministic, rather that it is one of many factors behind current political situations.

The next meeting is 8pm Monday June 24th and the book is The Way We Eat Now by Bee Wilson. (Hive are selling for £10.69, free postage, if you want to buy it).

We have also agreed the following meeting on Monday July 15th; the book for that is This is an Uprising by Mark Engler and Paul Engler.

You don’t have to read the books to come along – someone will give a synopsis and all input to the discussion is welcome. Email transition.newmills@gmail.org for details of venue.

 

2019 Annual General Meeting

You are invited to come along to the Transition New Mills Annual General Meeting at 7:30pm on Monday 8th April, at the Volunteer Centre on Union Road.

This will be an opportunity to celebrate the successes of the group, learn about the various projects carried out, and look forward to the forthcoming year.

Papers are available here.

We welcome nominations for the 3 posts in the Administration Group (2 generic, 1 Treasurer). If you would like to stand, please let us know at transition.newmills@gmail.com by 6.30pm on 8th April, and be prepared to present a short pitch at the AGM prior to elections.

Fulfilling the Prophecies

Latest blog from Liz Longden:

The first time I remember having what might be called a political thought was when I was 17. Doing a sociology A-level, I found out about self-fulfilling prophecies. About how telling a child that they weren’t clever and sending them off to secondary modern immediately worked upon that child’s expectations of himself (or herself) so that they acted not clever, performed not clever, became in fact, not clever. About how children that this applied to were disproportionately from underprivileged homes, and how that became a pattern repeated down the generations. I remember thinking, ‘that’s not fair’, and I became a life-long left winger, but I think it’s absolutely true to say that it is only 5 or 6 years ago that I realised that just casting your vote, arguing in the pub, and singing choruses really loud at folk gigs, did not an activist make and changed NOTHING.

So a couple of years ago since I started talking to anybody around me who would listen about plastic and the pollution it caused. Since then the research findings about plastic pollution has got worse and worse. The bloody stuff is in just about every waterway, every sea, every ocean. We are breathing it, eating it, and drinking it. I know that many, many thousands of people around the world are working on the problem, but I look around me and see so many more others carrying on as before. Even new ways are becoming fashionable to get microplastic into our oceans. Glitter nails: really? Really?

Meanwhile, the latest news is that we are rapidly killing the insect population on which the entire planet depends. This rated only third place on the BBC news.

And all the while climate change thunders on. I watch the traffic going past my door. About one in six vehicles is a big 4 by 4, or an SUV. Mostly very shiny clean, never been near a farm track or an off-roading experience in their lives. A few days ago I spoke to a lady who was sitting in her 4×4 outside a school with her engine running. I knocked on the window and very politely asked her to turn off her engine. She said ‘WHY?’ ‘WHY?’

I see my friends posting from their holidays in lands far away, where they are having a wonderful time. Now I love my friends, but times have changed. We have got so used to the idea that we can have anything if we have the money to pay for it, but it is apparent now that that was never true. Well here’s the thing: I don’t want to see your posts from abroad, they scare and sadden me, and yes make me angry. I don’t want to lose any friends, and I know that I am far from perfect, but I do want to challenge you, with my heart in my mouth. I want to see how you are not going to fly this year, how you are doing your utmost to cut down your carbon footprint, how you are encouraging everybody you possibly can to do the same thing, how it is the first thing on your mind in the morning and the last at night.

The children that marched this week were motivated partly by anger, but also by fear. They are terrified of the future and we are letting them down. For me, trying to save the future comes before everything. Before personal experience and holidays of a life time, before your little bit of winter sun, and certainly before having baby sweetcorn and strawberries in February. We must accept that our lives have to change, fairly drastically, and if they become a little more limited then so be it. We have used up way over our fair share. We will still have more than enough for happy fulfilled lives, and perhaps, perhaps, so will our children.

Reading Group: ‘The Running Hare’

Blog post by Sue Cooper, Transition New Mills Reading Group

The New Mills Transition Discussion Group meets monthly in someone’s home to discuss a book or, occasionally, to watch a film/video or host a speaker.

Our book this month was The Running Hare (The secret life of farmland) by John Lewis-Stempel published by Penguin Books. In some ways this followed a theme set last time in our discussions of Wilding by Isabella Tree, looking at what happens when land is managed or farmed differently to the modern methods of intensive agriculture – in this case a field in Herefordshire which the author takes on for a year to grow a crop of wheat, using traditional farming methods, and a wide border of wildflowers.

The results are fascinating and heartening, showing the power of nature to recover from the mono-cultures of agribusiness which create quite ‘dead’ environments, as well as a celebration and appreciation of the skills and cultural history of traditional agricultural workers.

This book was a ‘lighter’ read than our usual fare; as well as being an observant ecologist cataloguing and describing the emerging and changing flora and fauna he includes anecdotes of rural life, poetry, songs, discourses on agricultural history, language and literature, a rich weave of fascinating facts and engaging descriptions. Some of us found his style of writing attractive, enjoying the richness and depth, others were less enthusiastic, but all agreed that is was an interesting read and a welcome reminder of the rhythm of the seasons and a celebration of our connection to the natural world.

It is an open criticism of modern agricultural methods; he writes of the ‘chemical brothers’ in the next field whose use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers together with modern farm machinery delivers high yields but a mono-cultural environment, ‘every time one buys the lie of cheap food a flower or a bird dies’. His field produces an abundance and variety of wild flowers, attracts all kinds of wild life including the hares of the title and also produces a decent crop of wheat but at the cost of some heavy physical work. No easy answers. We had a lively discussion on the book which moved on to include a debate on the Common Agricultural Policy, farming subsidies and Brexit, and the worrying issue of modern disengagement from the natural world.

Our next meeting, on Monday February 18th, will look at the 12 principles of permaculture, through song! Contact us at transition.newmills@gmail.com for details.

New Year, New Thinking

Post from Liz Longden:

It doesn’t seem that long since I was writing a blog for last New Year. Looking back at it, I have actually achieved quite a lot of what I said I wanted to do, the biggest one of which was to not let my life be ruled by anxiety any more. I can’t say that I don’t still struggle with this because I do, but the positive is that I have managed to move forward despite anxiety. In terms of the plastics campaign, lots happened last year. We had the One World Festival with plastic as a theme. I have managed to get our local schools involved, and have talked to 2 class loads of children and a hut full of beaver scouts. There is a good chance that we will have an Ecobricks project with the schools in the spring. We have Terracycle boxes for various packaging up and running.( Thank you Penny) We have been in contact with groups in Marple and Macclesfield, and had a stall at Hayfield Apple day. So a fairly productive year.
But this is a new year. Time for some new thinking. Plans are afoot in Transition New Mills, and I want to be fully involved with those plans. The obvious focus for a renewed effort is Climate Change. We have only eleven and a half years as a species to limit the damage to our home planet. It’s not long. So in line with the principle that you can’t talk the talk unless you walk the walk…
I am slowly moving our household towards a low meat diet. I think I could easily be vegetarian, but I am not the only one in the house, so, slowly, slowly. I haven’t quite got my brain around veganism yet, but perhaps I can reduce eggs and cheese slowly.
I am trying to be very disciplined with car journeys, and have been talking about ways to share a car, just informal ways at first, like friends using one car to do all their shopping.
I have been trying to deal with the bits of the house that are not well enough insulated, and will spend a big chunk of a small windfall on this.
I am planning a low consumption year. Not wasting food, or anything else that I can help. No impulse buys. I am trying to shop for locally produced food, and trying not to buy anything from outside Europe. (or wrapped in plastic-haven’t forgotten that.)
These are self imposed limits, and I am happy to accept them. The things that I really value, like the company of my friends and family, like good music, like being in our wonderful landscape, like reading; these are all still available, carbon cheap, and damn near free. These are the things that actually make me happy.

All I Really Want For Christmas

A festive blog post from liz Longden:

Looking back at my blog posts it’s been nearly four months since I last wrote anything. I had been thinking that it was getting hard to find anything to say about plastic that I hadn’t already said. But it’s almost Christmas again, and the season of buying stuff. The Christmas adverts are all there, telling us that we can’t have any sort of Christmas without ‘stuff’. They equate consumption of ‘stuff’ with love, with family togetherness, with children’s happiness’ . That one toy. The fifty inch television, that will do just about everything except wash the dishes. The phone that will connect you, just that little bit better or faster than the last one did. The tables groaning with food. The idea that are somehow uncaring if you don’t get something for every person on your list. Read the George Monbiot article about Christmas present buying.

Meanwhile, climate scientists tell us that it is now or never to save our planet from disaster. Last Christmas, I talked about trying to have a low plastic Christmas. This year, I will try very hard to have a parsimonious Christmas, and I don’t mean that I will try not to spend money, I mean that I will try very hard to try not to spend too much of the planet.

So, firstly, I will try to make sure anything I get is wanted and needed, properly wanted and needed. Maybe this will mean fewer surprises, but so be it.

Secondly, I will try to buy pre-loved things. Books, kitchen stuff, even clothes. This might make my Christmas cheaper than some years, but there are plenty of local charities where I can put any surplus. Local food bank for instance.

Thirdly , I will try to shop local, both for the shop where I buy and for where any item has travelled from.

Fourthly, the low plastic theme still applies. Plastic hasn’t gone away. (It never does, that is the problem.)

Fifthly, I will try to spend my time freely, for my friends, family and neighbours. Time. This is most precious thing we can give. Rich and poor, our time ticks by just the same. It’s what parents want from children, and children need from parents, (even if they don’t know it.), and what our lonely neighbours might appreciate more than any other thing. And it’s carbon free!

Sixthly, I don’t need any smellies, I don’t need any slippers, mittens, gloves, scarves or woolly hat sets. Get me a bottle of (European) red from Aldi, it won’t be wasted, and I will enjoy it. Make me some scones. A CD that you know I will really enjoy, I am more than happy if it is second hand. Or get me nothing at all, and keep your money till Brexit hits. Best of all, come and help me do some of the things I never get done, and I will do the same for you. Happy Christmas, and a fruitful, active, hopeful, greener New Year.