Green Brexit conference - 'Is a Zero Carbon Future Possible?' I make the case for pricing all carbon equally.

In March 2018 I was a panellist at a Green Brexit conference - our theme was 'Is a Zero Carbon Future Possible?  The video is below. I come in at 8:34 and 24:56 and 39:05 but the whole session is interesting. The point of this conference was to explore how Brexit could be a positive green step away from the distortions, waste and environmental degradation that the Common Agriculture Policy has brought it its wake. The conclusion was the there needs to be an overarching commitment to the environment that legally binds all future UK governments of whatever political colour. My message was that the one thing that makes a lot of wishes come true is to reward people who take carbon out of the atmosphere. The atmosphere heated up at 39:05 when Michael Liebreich called me out for seeking a universal and equal price for all carbon - he called it 'utopianism' and naive. Maybe he's right, in which case we are all going to die.




Harmony in food and farming

The groundbreaking Harmony in Food and Farming Conference explained why a sustainable food culture sits naturally at the heart of an inspiring philosophy for harmonious living, says Craig Sams

In 2010 a book called ‘Harmony – A New Way of Looking at Our World’ was published. Written by HRH The Prince of Wales along with Tony Juniper and Ian Skelly, the book set out a coherent philosophy of harmonious living for communities and society, along with inspiring examples and a roadmap to a better future. It was inspired by the philosophy of the Stoics of Greece, while acknowledging Taoism, Zen and the Vedic texts. The book aims to re-engage the thinking that sought harmony with the order of the cosmos and a reconnection with Nature. It covered subjects like architecture, urban design, natural capital, deforestation and farming.

Inspired by the book, Patrick Holden, former director of the Soil Association and founder and Director of the Sustainable Food Trust, organised a conference in Llandovery Wales on July 10-11. The aim of the conference, entitled ‘Harmony in Food and Farming‘ was to put meat on the bones of the Prince’s book and to map out a way forward for agriculture and food production that resonated with the principles of harmony.

The conference kicked off with an inspirational keynote speech and then looked at a range of subjects, with key speakers from all around the world. Rupert Sheldrake led a session on ‘Science and Spirituality,’ Prof Harty Vogtmann moderated a session on ‘Farming in Harmony with Nature.’

A session on ‘The Farm as an Ecosystem’ saw Helen Browning, director of the Soil Association, describing her new agroforestry project that encourages happy chickens to range free in a productive orchard of apple trees.

A session entitled ‘Sacred Soil, Sacred Food, Sacred Silence’ highlighted the extent to which faith communities put harmony first in developing their food production systems.

A session on ‘Agriculture’s Role in Rebalancing the Carbon Cycle’ was my opportunity to shine with a presentation entitled ‘Capitalism Must Price Carbon – or Die’ in which I showed that if carbon emissions were priced into farming organic food would be cheaper than industrial food and we’d get the extra benefits of biodiversity, cleaner water and regenerating soils – all themes familiar to readers of my column in NPN. Then Richard Young set out the case for livestock farming that could operate harmoniously within our climate constraints and Peter Segger described his carbon-sequestering vegetable growing operation, which was a fascinating field trip that afternoon.

A session on animal welfare sought to see a way forward to keep animals happy during their short lives and to make that final moment of betrayal as pleasant as possible, with reference to examples and a deepening of the understanding of the sacred relationship between the animals we rear with care and then kill.

Patrick Holden learned his farming at Emerson College and is empathetic to biodynamic principles. A session on Harmony and Biodynamic Agriculture showed how the ideas of Rudolf Steiner resonate with the Harmony philosophy. At a reception the evening before the conference I mentioned to HRH that our original Zen Macrobiotic company was called Yin Yang Ltd and that our brand was Harmony Foods and that we had taken our philosophical guidance from Zen Buddhism and Taoism, unaware that the Stoic philosophy or Greece was on the same page. He commented that the Egyptians had laid the philosophical foundations for the Stoics. I wondered at how a way of thinking that had arisen simultaneously in China, India, Greece and Egypt was now guiding the effort to restore balance to our dysfunctional and unsustainable world.

The conference was attended by delegates from every continent and the closing plenary session included individual delegates describing how the conference had affected them. It was very moving stuff and helped us realise how much we all had been changed by two days in Wales. Patrick stood up to finalise the session and received a prolonged and much-deserved standing applause. The conference was a remarkable achievement. It is now the job of the Sustainable Food Trust to build on its relationships with the organisations that were represented at the conference, capture the momentum of the gathering and give impetus to the movement for harmony, regeneration and an end to the war on Nature that has brought us so dangerously close to disaster.

The proceedings of the conference, filmed and edited, can be seen on the Sustainable Food Trust website.

1960s Rebels: Craig Sams, Health Food Pioneer from Victoria & Albert Museum

In conjunction with their exhibition You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 (10 September 2016 – 26 February 2017), the Victoria and Albert have uploaded a series of videos interviewing 1960s Rebels including myself.

The late 1960s saw progressive ideas emanate from the countercultural underground and revolutionise society. Challenging oppressive, outdated norms and expectations, a small number of individuals brought about far-reaching changes as they sought to attain a better world. Their idealism and actions helped mobilise a movement which continues to inspire modern activists and shape how we live today.

Go Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior 3

In 1977 Greenpeace organised a ‘Save the Whales’ rally in Kensington Gardens. Spike Milligan came over to rally the troops with a quirky but passionate speech. We sat on the grass to listen and many people ended up soiled by dogshit. This was just inside the park gates where dogs would dump as soon as they were let loose on the grass. In those days people never cleaned up their dog mess. What’s more dog food was usually made with whale meat. The irony of the moment was not lost on us and I couldn’t help thinking, darkly, that ‘what goes round comes round.’

A few months later in a debate against Jilly Cooper on LBC Radio I said that people should clean up after their dogs. The call-in hot lines nearly melted with outraged dog owners saying I should go back where I came from and generally questioning my sanity. Yet over time cleaning up after one’s dog became normal behaviour.

Greenpeace fought much tougher battles. They were trying to stop nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean and whaling in the Atlantic. At the end of 1977 I went along to Surrey Docks to see a rust bucket trawler that Greenpeace had acquired which they planned to refurbish and rename the Rainbow Warrior. (I had the chance to go on the maiden voyage to Iceland to challenge whaling, but I had court appearances scheduled over Whole Earth jam illegally sweetened with apple juice).

The Rainbow Warrior was sunk in Auckland, New Zealand, on the orders of France’s President Mitterand in 1985. During ‘Opération Satanique’ French secret agents attached explosives to its hull to blow it up before it could lead a flotilla to oppose nuclear testing in Pacific island atolls. This act of terrorist sabotage killed Fernando Pereira, a photographer. The culprits were sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter but released when France threatened to block New Zealand’s agricultural exports to the EU.

Greenpeace converted another ship, Rainbow Warrior ll, and carried on being a pain in the bum for evildoers in the whaling, bombing and oil rig industry. It’s retired and is now a hospital ship in Bangladesh.

When Monsanto’s GM soybeans started flooding the market in 1996 the Soil Association lobbied hard to protect organic food and had desperate meetings with tin-eared ministers of agriculture and environment. While we talked Greenpeace took action. First they sailed up the Mississippi to block the export of soybeans at source. Later, led by Lord Peter Melchett, Greenpeace activists pulled up a GM maize crop in Norfolk, ‘decontaminating’ the field. Arrested and jailed, they were exonerated in court and set free. They had stopped the GM tide, protecting organic farming from extinction.

On November 10 we attended the launch of Rainbow Warrior lll near Tower Bridge. No rustbucket of a trawler this one but a brand new ship that will travel mostly by sail, with engines powering it for perhaps 10% of the time. Its €16 million cost was funded entirely by contributions from tens of thousands of supporters.

Damon Albarn re-formed The Good The Bad and The Queen and played on deck to spectators lining the shore at Butler’s Wharf. Michael Eavis (Glastonbury Festival, £400,000 a year contribution to Greenpeace) had driven the ship on the last leg of its trip. We toured the ship and learned about its revolutionary design – soon container ships could be using its advanced wind-capture principles to cut the emissions from seaborne trade.

Greenpeace has been on the front lines stopping the destructive greed that makes the world a worse place, thereby providing cover for organisations like the Soil Association, Garden Organic, Slow Food and Fairtrade that are working to build a better world. We all owe them a tremendous debt. Joining Greenpeace and supporting their work is the least we can do to repay their efforts.

Macrobiotic Cruise

When I first started out on macrobiotics, in 1965, we all thought its powerful message would sweep the planet - it seemed blindingly obvious that a balanced and nutritious diet based on organic wholegrains and vegetables was the way to a healthy future.

Then, in 1966, came a double whammy: George Ohsawa, the charismatic and inspiring leader of macrobiotics worldwide, died suddenly, not long after Reader's Digest ran a cover story titled "Macrobiotics - The Hippie Diet that's Killing our Kids". The author was America's leading nutritionist - Dr. Frederick Stare of Harvard University. I visited the macrobiotic bookshop in New York on the February day the FBI closed it down in the wake of Stare’s article and pressure from the American Medical Association. A few days later the books were taken away and burned. That’s when I understood how fundamental the way we eat is to the way we live together on this planet and decided to devote my career to healthy eating.

Despite this early setback, macrobiotics soldiered on in the US and Europe. The founding natural foods companies: Eden and Erewhon (US), Whole Earth (UK), Manna (Holland), Schwarzbrot (Germany) and Urtekram (Denmark) were the hard macrobiotic core that ensured that sugar, refined flour products, white bread and white rice were out and provided the foundation market for natural and organic food during the lean years of the 70s and 80s.

So what is macrobiotics? Beneath the yin and yang philosophy and the Japanese ingredients like seaweed, miso, tamari, umeboshi and daikon pickle, there’s a diet that says: eat mostly wholegrains and vegetables, minimise dairy, meat and sugar, eat lightly, chew well, put your health and happiness first. Seen like that it's not so radical and it reflects the diet and lifestyle of an increasing number of consumers. In its stricter forms it’s a cure for cancer and other degenerative disease; in its wider more relaxed forms, it’s an effective way to raise a healthy next generation and stay out of the clutches of the drug & medical establishment. Macrobiotics gives form to common sense, it is not so much a diet for health as a diet for longevity - it takes the very long view, spanning not just a lifetime but generations. Instead of degeneration and hereditary disease, it emphasises regeneration and hereditary healthiness. So when I heard about a macrobiotic sea cruise in the Caribbean I guiltily put down my copy of The Ecologist with an article about the negative environmental impact of cruises and booked a balcony cabin for Jo and myself.

The Costa Atlantica is a new Italian cruise liner, a floating hotel with 3 pools and a 1000-seat restaurant plus buffet bars with permanent megasnacking on offer. To the relief of my eco-conscience, it has a earned the “Green Star” award for clean water and clean air because it leaves no waste in its wake and burns low-sulfur fuel. With a population of 1900 passengers and 900 crew, service levels are high. Of the passengers, 450, a quarter, were with our ‘Holistic Holiday At Sea.’ A typical day would begin with yoga with Kamina Desai, or meditation with John Howell. Then breakfast of miso soup and cooked cereal and steamed vegetables. Lunch was a 5 course affair, a typical menu would be vegetarian sushi, black bean soup, radicchio-hiziki salad, millet pilaf with baked squash and steamed dandelion greens, then a fruit compote with a wholegrain cookie. All followed by kukicha - 3-year twig tea. Dinner would be similar, with an optional wine list and, on one evening, complimentary wine from Frey - the organic, sulphite-free winemakers.

During the day we’d hang by the pool, listen to lectures a la carte from luminaries like Michio Kushi (macrobiotic philosophy), Christina Pirello (cooking), Yogi Amrit Desai (Yoga and meditation), Jami Lin (Feng Shui) and Ohashi (shiatsu). Private consultations were charged extra. Or, if we were in port (Key West, Cozumel, Jamaica, Cayman Islands), go off to swim with dolphins and stingrays or visit other local attractions. At night there was the ship’s disco or the elegance of a life size replica of Venice’s famous Café Florian and, one enchanted evening, a macrobiotic talent show that brought out the best in the group – a total hoot.

The holistic cruisers were a mixed bunch – about one third middle-aged or elderly middle Americans who had become disenchanted with the asset-stripping process that is modern medicine (90% of all money spent in the US on healthcare is spent in the final year of a person’s life) or had been written off by doctors as stage 4 terminal cancer. Their comeback stories at one evening session were the most spine-tingling part of the whole cruise, amazing tales of recovery, tumour shrinkage and total remission after just a few weeks on a macrobiotic diet. About a third of the cruise was yuppies of various kinds who’d adopted macrobiotics as part of a dynamic health approach and about a third were people like me, ageing-in-years-only, long time adherents who were dynamic, skinny and joyous witnesses that the complaints and degeneration of old age can be postponed indefinitely with the right diet and exercise programme. 35 years ago it was all theory – now there are thousands of people who adopted macrobiotics in the 60s and have not needed to see a doctor since then. The proof of the pudding was inspiring to the cancer patients – they just wished they’d figured it out before they got the tumours. It was all fantastically reassuring – macrobiotics is no longer a faith but an experience- and evidence-based reality. In sickness and health it works – its total commitment to organic food, wholegrains, local food, seasonal food, low meat and dairy intake and sugar avoidance all seemed totally whacky in the 60s and we took a lot of flak. Now it’s widely accepted. The ultimate accolade came from the Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Frederick Stare’s old domain, which recently described the macrobiotic diet as a practical example of the way that Americans should eat if they hoped to deal with the burgeoning crisis of obesity, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The wheel has turned completely.

At the end of the cruise most of the participants signed up for next year’s (Feb 27-Mar 6 ‘05) before they disembarked. I’ll be taking my Mom, my kids and grandkids for a repeat of the best vacation I’ve ever had. Great food, great company, great education, great entertainment – “macro” in every way. (This article first appeared in the April 2004 edition of Organic Products News)