This Christmas holiday I plan to make a soufflé. Not just any old soufflé, but what is probably the best pudding I have ever eaten, which was made by my dear friend Cya at the last dinner party I had a week before the first lockdown in March. (Recipe at the end of this post)
Because I rarely bake these light, airy, egg white propelled dishes it was no surprise that, when I rummaged through my kitchen cupboards, I couldn’t find a dish suited to its creation. I did however seem to be in the possession of a whole array of other bakeware I had completely forgotten about – muffin tins, chocolate moulds, cookie cutters, an ice cream maker, a flan mould and various baking tins – but no soufflé dish among them. I concluded that I must make soufflés even less frequently than I make muffins, chocolate and ice cream and I clearly hardly ever make those. As I reflected on the amount of space these rarely used items were taking up in my cupboard (which at the rate that house prices are inflating in my area was becoming quite valuable) and considered whether I should add a soufflé dish to this sad cast of minor characters in my personal kitchen drama, my mind turned to the subject of utility.
“No economic interest, under no circumstance, can be above the reverence of life.” – Manfred Max-Neef, Chilean economist, 1932 -2019
Pic by Tim Mossholder
A national conversation has begun which is alarming, yet also familiar. It talks about costs and trade-offs, losses and accounts. It is a conversation about human lives framed in the language of economics.
A recent study by Philip Thomas, professor of risk management at Bristol University, suggests that ‘If the coronavirus lockdown leads to a fall in GDP of more than 6.4 per cent more years of life will be lost due to recession than will be gained through beating the virus’.
Research like this presents us with a terrible dilemma, even leading some people to wonder whether the trade-off for trying to save elderly and vulnerable lives is really worth it, when it would cripple the economy for decades.
In times like these it helps to remember that we are presented with this misleading narrative every time we decide to act on our conscience. We are told we cannot halt the arms trade, because we will lose jobs. We are told we cannot reduce carbon emissions, because we will lose jobs. Now we are told we cannot save people’s lives, because we will lose jobs. For decades governments have used the threat of recession to badger us into maintaining an economic system that has made the poor poorer and the rich richer at the expense of the Earth’s support system. We are told this makes economic sense, but does it? Continue reading →
“As people we have a right to make credit and loan money. We mustn’t forget that. We mustn’t leave that to corporations and the state.”
Duncan McCann, New Economics Foundation
These last few weeks I have been deeply moved by the outpouring of kindness and generosity in my local community and in communities around the world. Support hubs for the elderly and vulnerable are sprouting up everywhere, online courses are being offered for free, people are singing and applauding from their balconies and the internet is exploding with tips on how to manage physically, emotionally and spiritually during isolation. My fellow humans are, mostly, showing how much they are willing to share what they have to benefit the greater good.
At the same time I am aware that many people’s lives are becoming increasingly precarious with businesses closing, jobs being lost and rents and mortgages still to pay. A lot of these people will be the same ones that are able and willing to put their efforts towards making life more bearable and beautiful for all of us. And yet because these efforts are not considered economically useful they do not have access to the means of exchange, to credit. Continue reading →
One sunny afternoon a few years ago, my then 9-year-old son uttered those words every parent or carer will be familiar with: “Mum, I am bored.” I gave him my usual response: “Go outside and find someone to play with.” He went out and returned five minutes later: “There is nobody out there.” I looked out the window to check that it hadn’t suddenly started raining, but no, the sun was high in the sky and not a cloud in sight. And indeed—not a kid in sight either.
Between June and December of 2016 researcher and urban explorer Daniel Raven-Ellison walked “the length of Britain and a bit” wearing an EEG headset that monitored his brain’s responses to the different places he visited. In an interview on BBC Radio 4 earlier this year he was asked to share some of the things that had stood out during his journey. “There are no children playing in the street,” was his first remark, “except in Newcastle.”
According to research conducted by Play England, 71% of adults say they played out in the street every day when they were children. For today’s children that figure is only 21%. Continue reading →
What bright idea might offer a solution to these seemingly unrelated issues? The answer according to Colin Tudge, author of Six Steps Back to theLand, is a million more small-scale farmers.
In his book, Tudge calls for those of us ‘who give a damn’ to get involved in nurturing a vibrant food culture grounded in the practice of enlightened agriculture.
Enlightened agriculture—a term he coined in 2004 and often shortened to ‘real farming’—is defined as, ‘farming that is expressly designed to supply everyone, everywhere, with food of the highest standards, both nutritionally and gastronomically, without injustice or cruelty and without wrecking the rest of the world.’
It involves transforming our current food system of large-scale, industrial, high-input, low-waged to zero-hour labour monocultures to one that is maximally diverse, low input, tightly integrated, complex, skills-intensive and, in general, small-to-medium-sized. Continue reading →
“He could reconstruct all his dreams, all his fancies. Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day. He told me: I have more memories in myself alone than all men have had since the world was a world.”
Funes the Memorious – Jorge Luis Borges 1942
I am holding a photograph of a young woman. She is wearing a white dress and gloves and is sitting on the floor in a bare room. To the left of her sits a man, but only his shoulder and part of one hand are visible. The photograph has been torn in two.
The woman in the photograph is my mother. I have only ever known this image with the second person missing, and when I was little I would stare at the empty space beside her as if staring long enough might reveal the mystery person’s identity. I once asked my mother who he was. “Oh, I can’t remember,” she lied. Continue reading →
Think about your week. Did you spend time with a good friend? Get a chance to stare out the window or look up at the clouds and let your mind wander? Did you share a meal with somebody you love? Was there an opportunity to learn something new, express your creativity or play with a child? If you were fortunate enough to do any or all of these things you may be surprised to discover that your actions made a positive contribution to the economy. Or at least a certain kind of economy. Continue reading →
Imagine finding an opportunity to make a long held dream come true. It would require determination, sacrifice and a hell of a lot of work, but, given the chance, most of us would dive in and devote every waking hour to manifesting our vision.
In 2007 Doug King Smith dreamt of finding a small woodland to take care of and grow into a resource for his community. Not only to develop a sustainable wood business, but also to create a place where people could learn rural skills, celebrate community and connect with nature. He began working as a volunteer on a piece of land in Dartmoor National Park, located between the villages of South Brent and Buckfastleigh. It was a plantation on an ancient woodland site, which had been largely neglected over the years: it was run-down, over-run with invasive species and over-crowded with untended trees. Nevertheless Doug fell in love with what he calls ‘the magic of the place’ – a river running through a hidden valley, deep dark woods and steep valleys with springs popping up here and there. Two years later, through working as a wood sculptor, drawing on his savings, and with help from a friend, he managed to buy it. He named this 45 acre upland farm The Hillyfield (after the original ‘Hillyfield Plantation’) and the hard work began. Continue reading →