Barcelona is a beautiful city no matter what the season, and Christmas time is no exception.
As most of you know I am vegetarian, so can I write an unbiased blog about meat? I certainly can if my information is based on facts.
I really have no issue with people who eat meat. I am totally tolerant of other people’s choices (as any good Buddhist should be). I choose to be vegetarian for many reasons, one reason being my concerns about the quality of much of the meat that is on sale. I never try to “convert” people, but I think it is important to have all the facts available so we can all make an educated choice.
The reason for my blog today is a couple of reports this week. The first is about the water content of frozen chicken sold in leading supermarkets. A recent study has found that between 13% and 18% of frozen chicken is simply water. That means that people are paying around £1.50 (2€) per kilo for water! So why is there so much water in the frozen chicken? The manufacturers say it is essential to improve the flavour and moisture. Believe this is you want, but the other reason is of cause to add bulk and therefore increase profits.
If this was not bad enough news for frozen chicken eaters, it gets worse. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK are investigating a major UK importer of poultry who it is claimed, imported frozen chicken from Brazil, defrosted it, added water, then froze it again for sale. But the water that was added also included additives to help the meat to absorb the water. It is common for extracted protein to be used to bind in the extra fluid, and some years ago there was controversy as it was claimed that the added protein in chickens also included proteins from beef and pork. The FSA are again today investing new claims that undeclared proteins have been added to chicken.
Also this week there was an official report produced for the UK Government following the horsemeat contamination that hit the UK and Europe earlier this year. This involved several beef products in several supermarkets being found to contain horse DNA. This report concluded that large amount of meat of “dubious origin and quality” is still being sold by a web of international traders. Some gourmet burgers were found to contain offal such as heart. Most worryingly, the report concluded that some of the meat on sale was not fit for human consumption, and was intended for dog food rather than supermarket shelves.
The food scandal extends beyond meat. It is an interesting fact that the UK alone consumed 1,800 tonnes of Manuka Honey, when the only official producers in New Zealand only produced 1,700 in total for the whole world! Also, as pomegranate’s popularity increases as a “superfruit” there are questions being asked as to how 400 new drinks are now available without any way of an immediate increase in pomegranate trees (they take two to three years to start producing fruit).
We are what we eat. Really. It amazes me that some people buy higher quality products for their pets or the cars than they do for themselves. In my opinion we should always buy the best possible food that we can afford, and always try to know as much about the source of the food. Whilst this can never remove all the risks of buying something of a poor quality, it can reduce the risks.
Generally speaking, if something seems too cheap to be true, then it probably is.
This is a very personal and difficult blog for me to write, but one that I really want to share with you all. No pictures, just my honest, heart-felt story.
Dementia, even in 2013, is still a dirty word to many people and misunderstood by many others. It “remains one of the last bastions of stigma and fear when it comes to illness” as the UK health secretary very succinctly put it. This week in the UK press there has been a lot of headlines about it as David Cameron headed a G8 conference on the subject on Wednesday the 11th December. The result of this was that the G8 pledged that they would find a cure by 2025, treating it in the same was as HIV/Aids and cancer
My story is a typical one, nothing special when dealing with this terrible disease. My father started showing symptoms a few years ago. The usual forgetfulness and unusual behaviour. The disease soon progressed to the point where he didn’t recognise me. This thought still makes me cry to this day. If you want to understand what dementia can do, try imagining one of your parents looking at you like a stranger, and worse with mistrust and even fear in their eyes. I witnessed my father not only lose his mental capacity, but also his dignity. The care he received from one of the UK’s so-called leading healthcare providers was a disgrace and only made the whole situation worse. The night my father passed away, I had a horrible dream. I woke up with a sick feeling in my stomach to find that I had slept through a call from the hospital telling me I should get to his bedside immediately as he wouldn’t make it through the night. I will regret missing that call for the rest of my life, but maybe it saved me the pain of seeing him pass away. I can instead remember saying good night to him the night before and kissing him on his forehead as he was in a peaceful, drug-induced sleep.
Labelled the 21st Century Plague, dementia is going to become part of more and more people’s lives. About 800,000 people in Britain currently suffer from it, and this figure is predicted to double by 2050, with cases around the world projected to triple to 135 million by the same date. Currently, there is no cure with health services only able to try to help people live with their disease rather than cure it. This makes it all the more important to reduce the risks of developing it in the first place. Research is increasingly showing that five key components of healthy lifestyle can ward off a range of conditions including heart disease, diabetes and dementia. A recent 35 year study found more evidence to confirm this. So what are the five key components?
1) Regular exercise
2) Eating fruit and vegetables
3) Staying slim
4) Light drinking
5) Not smoking
So not rocket science then, and something that everyone can do. As Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society said “we have known for some time that what is good for your heart is also good for your head….. healthy living could significantly reduce the chances of developing dementia”.
I still cry when I think back to what happened to my father. Whilst the world’s leading countries have finally woken up to this global issue (some cynics might say their attitude has been clarified by the threat of enormous costs associated with treating sufferers), by taking five simple steps, we can all help to reduce the risk of my story becoming your story, or your children’s story. Trust me, however difficult you might think those five steps are, the alternative could be ultimately worse.
Here are some links to recent articles I have written about the connection between mental and physical health, and about depression. New studies are confirming the links every week.
Yesterday the UK Government’s climate change advisory body said that in their opinion, the UK should push on with fracking. They dismissed claims by groups such as Greenpeace that fracking can cause damage to the environment.
What is fracking, and why does it create such strong feelings on both sides of the argument? Fracking involves drilling a vertical well to reach shale formations. When the shale is reached, the drilling becomes horizontal and water, sand and chemicals are pumped in allowing shale gas to be released. The pro-fracking lobby says that shale gas will reduce the UK’s reliance on foreign imports of fossil fuel and some say it will reduce household bills. They also point to the experience in the US where it’s claimed that emissions have been cut because it’s cleaner than coal. Greenpeace claim that gas and toxic chemicals used in fracking could contaminate water supplies and that exploding mineral reserves impairs efforts to cut emissions. But the advisory body are having none of that, they say “it just isn’t true that fracking is going to destroy the environment…”
So how can the two sides be saying what amounts to totally opposite points of view? Who is right? As usual the truth probably lies somewhere in between the two extreme arguments, and your point of view will be determined by the filter that you use to consider such issues. Everything we see in life, every decision we make is based on our particular filter which we create over our lifetime based on our experiences. This is one of the reasons why two people can look at the same event or issue and have opposite opinions. Of course our filter might not be pure, it can be tainted by greed, ignorance, ego, self-interest or many other things, but it is all that some people have. More about filters another time.
Back to fracking. I want to mention a recent study by Christian Klose, a consultant geophysicist, whose research in the Journal of Seismology identified 92 large earthquakes likely to have been caused by humans. Some he claims were triggered by water extraction (such as Lorca, Spain in 2011), others were caused by coal extraction (Newcastle, Australia in 1989 where 13 people died). Klose argues that the earth has thousands of geological faults under enormous pressure similar to those in a coiled spring. When humans pile up vast masses of water or minerals on the surface, or extract them from beneath, the weight of the overlying land can be enough to release that geological tension causing an earthquake. Sounds logical. In fact, Britain’s first exploratory fracking operation, near Blackpool, was shut down for more than a year when it triggered small quakes.
There are more questions than answers when we talk about fracking. In my opinion it cannot reduce household bills and it can only ever been on a small scale in the UK because of a shortage of water and given where the shale gas reserves have been formed. This debate touches on such wide issues. You get much wider than the environment, emissions and future energy programs. And herein lies one of the reasons why fracking creates such an intense debate, with former Page 3 models willing to risk prison to make their point.
I remain uncomfortable with the process of fracking and doubtful over its long-term benefits when compared to the potential problems. The UK needs to solve its energy issues, and I cannot help but look to the policy in Germany, but that is for another blog.
Just when you thought there wasn’t anything left on the earth to put the letter “i” in front of, may I introduce the iKettle, the must have kitchen accessory for this Christmas?
So how have you lived your life so far without a kettle that has WIFI? How many times have you woken up at night in a cold sweat wondering how you can communicate with your kettle?
Wonder no more. Now, using an app on your iPhone or Android phone, you can set your iKettle boiling without even getting up from your sofa. So when that 2 minute ad break is approaching, you no longer have to rush your tea making process. iKettle buys you an extra minute of brewing time to ensure a more rounded cup of tea. Now you’re not laughing at the concept are you? And there’s more, so much more! You can use the app as an alarm clock, so you wake up to boiling kettle, but even more than that, you can even choose how hot your water is by programming the iKettle to switch off at 65c, 80c, 95c or 100c (aficionados are apparently still arguing what is the ideal temperature. Maybe they should get a proper job?)
So, 2 minutes ago you were laughing at the prospect of a WIFI kettle. Now you want one, don’t you?
Here are my simple tips to help you feel that little bit happier. Simple but effective!
I was reading in The Times last week about how Mariana Campeanu, Romania’s Labour Minister, had said that people in the UK should be grateful for foreign labour as they fill jobs that British people are too lazy to do. Whilst I can imagine the blood pressure of some people reaching boiling point, I have to say that I have some sympathy with this argument.
Throughout history, some people in the UK (this is of course not just a “UK thing”) have always looked to blame someone else for any problems, be that with employment, healthcare, housing, over-crowded schools, or even the quality of the National Football Team! Of course “Johnny Foreigner” is a easy target, a good excuse to say “it’s not our fault, it all their fault”. This argument is of course not only flawed, but it is mostly bollocks. To suggest that British people would be doing all the jobs in agriculture and the hospitality sectors if there were no immigrants is of course total nonsense. Also immigrants play a vital role in our nursing and social care systems.
When it comes to employment, before the Romanians and Bulgarians threatened to “flood” the UK, it was of course the Poles who were the root of all evil, taking our jobs, filling up our schools and hospitals. I know several Polish people and in my experience I can say that generally they are harder working, more conscientious, have a much better work ethic, and they are happy to do all this for less money. Generally speaking they are massively over-qualified for the work they do (they have degrees and speak several languages), yet they still do tasks many British people consider to be menial with dignity and pride. As for the old chestnut that they are putting a strain on the welfare system, taking our money and sending it home to their families, this is simply not true. Studies have proven that Polish people actually pay more into our welfare system than they take out. People seem to forget that the majority of Polish people come to the UK to work, not to sponge of the system. So they actually pay more into the system.
The vast majority of British people are sensible, hard working people who are very tolerant of other people. There is a small minority though (as there are in every country) who would rather moan and blame everyone else for their misfortune, when the truth is that they should take more responsibility for their circumstances, create their own Universe. Our welfare state has positively encouraged people in the UK to have a career on benefits, and that (along with binge drinking) is now inbred in our culture, something that the present Government is finally taking measures to correct. With a poor work ethic, in a family where for generations the occupation has been welfare payments, and when you can get more money from the state than you would by actually working, it’s hardly conducive for encouraging people to work for their living.
Whether we like it or not (and most people do like it), we are part of the European Union and there is free movement for EU members. It is also true that we rely on immigrant workers to do work that traditionally UK people are not willing to do. It is also true that immigrant workers bring new cultures to the UK further increasing the already diversified social situation which is a good thing in my opinion.
So rather than wanting to deride immigrants and the words of Mariana Campeanu, I think we should listen to her opinion because much of what she says has an uncomfortable truth for some people in the UK. Life is about balance. We need to continue to reform the welfare state to make sure that everyone who truly needs help gets it, and we need to work harder to give everyone the opportunity to work for their living. We also need to make sure that the UK is not a soft touch for less scrupulous people who think they can come here and not work hard. But most of all, from the Government to the man in the street, we need to stop making excuses and start taking more action.
What can I say about English cricket? We’ve gone from World’s Number 1 to being out muscled, intimidated and out-psyched by a less talented Aussie side who clearly want it more and have bigger balls… 5-0 white-wash? I don’t think so, but soon to be 2 nil down is not a position that I can see England coming back from.
Man Utd…. It’s hard not to snigger at what’s happening at Old Trafford. It just shows what a magician Ferguson was because Moyes is certainly not, and he has an average bunch of players who clearly are not feeling it. There’s little doubt that they will come good eventually, but it’s already looking too late for a title chance this season. And what will Rooney do in January? Speaking of strikers who clearly do not want to be where they are playing, just imagine what Suarez could do for a really decent team and one that he really wanted to paly for! He will not be at Liverpool for more than another 6 months so Mr Rodgers, quite with the “here is the best place for Luis” bollocks, because you, me, everyone else and especially Suarez himself knows full well that you are talking bollocks… As a Gooner, today is another big game for Arsenal. If we can beat Everton and go 7 points clear then maybe a few more doubters will start to believe. But there are bigger tests in the shape of Man City and Chelsea to come.
It’s good to see Tiger Woods back to his best. Whatever has happened in the past, there is no greater spectacle in golf than to see Tiger on the prowl.
December and there were people today on the beach in speedos! I have no issue with people being on the beach in December, but in speedos? This is surely not appropriate at any time of year…