Tag Archives: Guy Watson

the mud debate

muddy carrots

There is no doubt that unwashed roots retain their protective skins and keep better. I live a muddy life, but having cooked in some of your kitchens I am wondering if I have been excessively dogmatic about the stuff; would it be better for us to do a quick wash (as we have the last few weeks when the carrots have been very muddy)? If kept in the fridge and eaten within two weeks I think the effect on flavour will be negligible. It would also help us to reduce packaging because there would be less need to contain dirt and the boxes would stay clean(ish) for more trips. If you would like to share your views on this topic, we would be very interested to hear what you think.

Guy Watson

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Did you see us on Jimmy’s Farming Heroes?

In the final part of the BBC2 series, Jimmy Doherty travelled west to meet some of the region’s most innovative farmers. His final stop was here at Riverford to meet Guy Watson. We really enjoyed the programme and feel it raised some interesting issues. Did you see it? Let us know what you think.

If you missed the episode on television, it can be seen on BBC iPlayer, where it’s available until 8.59pm Tues 26th Aug.

we’re off to Womad

we’ll be at the Taste the World stage where artists cook and share food from their countries – Guy Watson will be doing a few cooking sessions here. He’ll also be signing copies of The Riverford Farm Cook Book that isn’t out in the shops until September

Time for a radical re-think?

Cheap, freely available food has been taken for granted for so long that few journalists and politicians would have expected to see global food prices and supply dominating our news as they have recently. Spiraling food prices and accompanying riots in over thirty countries, the European and American bio-fuel fiasco, a rash of reports questioning the yield benefits claimed for GM crops and now a 2500 page UN and World Bank backed study of the options for world agriculture. The conclusions of the five year study written by over 400 leading scientists were so unexpected, and for some outrageous, that the biotech lobby walked out in disgust, unhappy that this does not fit their commercially motivated agenda. Suddenly, the phone is buzzing with journalists wanting an organic farmer’s perspective culminating in our appearance on Newsnight last week.

The UN and World Bank study investigated science, technology and farming practices in the face of pressures created by growing world populations. The agrochemical companies seemed to expect the researchers to give a resounding thumbs up for pesticides, fertilisers and GMOS as the future for feeding a growing world population. Instead the project led by Professor Bob Watson, an eminent environmental scientist who was part of the team that discovered the hole in the ozone layer, called for a radical re-think. In the face of diminishing fossil fuel supplies, declining soil quality and unfair competition from subsidised western production, the group concluded that localised solutions are centrally important for a sustainable future. Feeding a growing world population is clearly a complex socio-political issue and goes beyond the farm. However, the group appealed for a future where farmers in the less developed world are not reliant on expensive agrochemical inputs from western multinationals. They also called for major changes to the farm subsidy system that makes it so difficult for poorer farmers to compete on a world market.
For many years, the Right Honourable Michael Meacher MP has been a lone voice in government calling for a saner, more holistic approach to food and farming – first as our Minister for the Environment and more recently from the back benches after he disagreed with Blair over GM crops. The removal of such a good man, with his principled stand, from the inside is a great loss. Last week my father and I, along with some eminent, if radical, scientists joined Michael Meacher at the House of Commons to speak at the launch of yet another comprehensive study of the challenges and options for global agriculture and food production. The report, entitled ‘Food Futures Now’ was compiled by the geneticist Dr Mae-Wan Ho and an international group of scientists and agriculturalists. The study is well researched, surprisingly readable and optimistic in its assertion that proven, practical techniques already exist to solve many of the agricultural and associated social and nutritional problems in the developing world. In the developed world, we have a mountain to climb as our agriculture and food distribution is far from sustainable. At 177 pages the report is more accessible than the UN sponsored tome but reaches similar conclusions, perhaps most contentiously that GM crops and their associated high tech, high input, globally traded agriculture are not the answer to the world’s food, energy and environmental problems; solutions are more likely to be found in complex, integrated, locally based organic farming systems. If your interest in these issues goes deeper than my rants and the normal, mainstream media coverage the report is available at £15 from www.i-sis.org.uk.

Guy Watson

What works for you?

From September we will have to feed the contents of the meals we cook for our local school into a computer which will tot up the nutrients and tell our cook if they are fit to eat. I am sure this initiative is full of good intentions, and may even help to reduce some abuses at the lower end of school catering, but it strikes me as depressingly reductionist, culturally degrading and an intrinsically unhealthy approach to food.

In a recent edition of Radio Four’s excellent Food Program, Michael Pollan author of “In Defence of Food”, gave some simple guidance on how to eat a healthy diet and enjoy it:

1. don’t eat anything your great grandmother would not recognise as food
2. don’t buy anything with more than five ingredients
3. only eat at a table; eat slowly and communally
4. distrust any food claiming health benefits

This all made so much sense that I bought the book, the gist being that your granny is a better source of dietary guidance than science and nutrition experts. Having spent five years studying natural sciences I am wary of unquestioning adulation of native wisdom but when it comes to nutrition, science has earned a bad name. Our relationship with food is far more complex than simply summing up the known,nutrients and multiplying by their known effects on our bodies – there is just too much that we do not know. Judging from a recent article in the New Scientist we are still far from understanding the relationship of appetite, diet and weight gain but this has not prevented the proliferation of highly processed functional foods marketed on their ability to fight coronary heart disease and help weight loss.

Science will not solve a cultural problem; namely a collapse in the willingness, confidence and skills needed to cook and enjoy real food. There is no one healthy diet, no silver bullet that can better the knowledge, accumulated over generations, of how to use predominantly locally sourced ingredients to sustain us through happy and healthy lives. Pollan’s advice is, that unless you suffer from a specific illness like diabetes, the best thing to do with a nutritionist’s advice is to ignore it.

Guy Watson

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food additives by Guy Watson

A combination of cola and certain orange processed foods make my youngest son quite uncontrollable. It can be entertaining for a few minutes but I would hate to have to deal with him in a classroom. Mostly he is deprived of the junk he craves by a puritanical father but I sometimes relent at the cinema with the result that he once had to be physically restrained in the aisle half way through Lord of the Rings. The Food Standards Agency deserves some credit for sponsoring Southampton University to do the research that confirms beyond doubt what many parents and teachers have known for decades; certain additives in highly processed foods send certain children up the wall. Perhaps more disturbing is the finding that these foods can cause a “deterioration in behaviour in the general population”.
How can it be ok to knowingly feed our children unnecessary colourings and preservatives that radically alter their behaviour? How can we be expected to trust our government and its regulating authority the FSA when, after consultation with the food and drink industry but no one else, it refuses to act on its own research? Why has it taken thirty years for science to “prove” what many parents know from their own living experiment of raising children? Isn’t it an abdication of governmental responsibility to suggest that we make our judgements based on labels read by few and intelligible to even fewer?
Very few issues are so black and white and call so unambiguously for government action, NOW. It is all too reminiscent of tobacco and cancer, asbestos and asbestosis, BSE and CJD and more recently the continuing abuse of antibiotics in agriculture, the rise of MRSA and general antibiotic resistance. Commercial interests, protected by cynical PR and intense lobbying, have built expertise at delaying legislative action so that a profit stream can be maintained for a few more years. There is no doubt that these additives will be banned but when the evidence is so clear why does it have to be such a painstaking process, subject to delay at every turn? The FSA was set up after a collapse in public confidence in the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food after BSE. It was supposed to be independent of commercial interests. The problem seems to be that the name might have changed but the spineless nature of the bureaucrats hasn’t.

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leaves vs. plastic – no contest when it comes to packaging

Did any of you see Guy Watson on last week’s Money Programme Special: How Green is Your High Street?

Less eye catching than presenter Fiona Bruce’s eyebrows, we admit, but Guy had a good chunk in the programme and talked about Riverford’s approach to reducing packaging. We liked the bit about the outer leaves of a lettuce being “nature’s packaging”.

Packaging is at the heart of the carbon footprinting study we are conducting at the moment and we will be publishing the preliminary results in the next couple of weeks.