Natural Product News

For peat's sake

peat mines.jpg

2500 years ago Plato wrote about ancient Greece many years before: “... the earth has fallen away all round and sunk out of sight. The consequence is, that in comparison of what then was, there are remaining only the bones of the wasted body, as they may be called, all the richer and softer parts of the soil having fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land being left.”

At a remarkable mid-June gathering at Morvern in the West Highlands I read the above excerpt from Plato, who was describing Greece before farmers totally screwed it up.  The theme of the conference was ‘Soil Matters’ and it brought together leading soil scientists, artists, musicians, government and NFU officials, land managers and others with an interest in soil and sustainability. It was hosted by the Andrew Raven Trust, a trust established in memory of his profound influence on Scottish land management and environmental issues.  Because we were in the Highlands the role of peat in climate change and sustainability was a topic.  Peat has a deep resonance with the spirit of Scotland - I’m not talking about whisky here but about peat bogs. 

The Scottish landscape has seen some hard times - the Clearances led to populated areas seeing the longstanding human residents sent off to Glasgow or America or Australia, to be replaced by deer and sheep.  Now the Scots are recreating the marvellous environment that reflects the levels of rainfall that typify the region and rebuilding rural populations living in harmony with this unique environment.  A surprising number of the new migrants are from England.

Misguided post-war policy gave indiscriminate tax incentives to forestry. Trees were inappropriately planted on peatlands, the bogs dried out, the ecosystem collapsed.  Now there are active peat bog restoration projects all over Scotland and the benefits to environment and climate are inestimable.  A peat bog can compete with a woodland in the amount of carbon dioxide it takes out of the air and stores permanently in the depths of the earth.  Scotland’s peat bogs are making a huge contribution to mitigating climate change and we still don’t pay them a penny for doing it.  With carbon pricing on the horizon that could change.  If the carbon price is £50/tonne CO2 then an undisturbed peat bog could earn its owner £2-300 per hectare per year.  That’s more than you could make by cutting the peat for fuel or compost.

Peter Melchett, the late Policy Director of the Soil Association, dreamed of the day when peat use was phased out completely from organic farming.  A 2010 Government deadline for removing peat from horticulture was quietly extended to 2020 and now neither Defra nor the EU have any concrete plans to phase out peat use - the pressure from horticulture is too strong - tomato and vegetable growers are a powerful lobby.


So, while the Scots are diligently restoring peat bogs the rest of the world is still digging it up to save microscopic amounts of money.  We deserve to die if we can’t do anything about this insanity.  Vast peat bog areas of Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania and Canada are being mined on an industrial scale to supply vegetable growers. There have been attempts to phase peat out of organic and conventional production. ‘Peatless peat’: compost blends of coir, composted shredded bark, biochar and green waste perform just as effectively but cost a tiny bit more. They have a vastly lower carbon footprint.  The organic movement sees itself as superior to other growers and farmers but the use of peat is one area where we must hang our heads in shame.  Every principle of sustainability is contradicted by the use of peat;: it takes tens of centuries to replace; it turns into carbon dioxide within a year or two of being used; and it destroys biodiverse habitats. Growers feel under tremendous pressure from supermarkets to cut costs in any way possible and peat is cheap.

Alternatives that don’t devastate the environment can do the job just as well, they just cost 1/2 a penny more than peat for a seedling plant.  A tomato plant can produce 50 tomatoes, so that’s 1/100 of a penny that is saved by using peat to grow tomatoes.  Screw the planet, let’s save a penny per 100 organic tomatoes.

It is time for the organic movement to revisit its founding principles, look to the Scottish example and drive a worldwide movement to restore peat wetlands and make peat use extinct before peat use makes us extinct.

Time to break the prescription drug addiction cycle

Craig Sams offers an alternative perspective on the culture of prescription drug addiction, saying a natural solution could be more effective in treating depression

A conversation took place three years ago between a good friend of mine and her doctor. Her husband had left her and she was extremely depressed. She went to see her doctor.

The doctor gave her a prescription for a very addictive 30mg pill that she would have to take every day for the rest of her life. She would sometimes be more prone to suicidal thoughts and less inhibited about acting on them. If she ever tried to stop taking them because she couldn’t stand the side effects, the doctor would not be able or willing to help. She eventually went cold turkey and now experiences periodic electric shocks in her head; which other people who have given up call ‘the zapps.’ Some people reduce the level of addiction by gradually reducing the dose level from 30mg to 26mg to 24mg to 22mg, right down to 6mg or 4mg, at which point it is much easier to get off. But no drug company provides that means of escape. If you go on the internet, there are some people in Holland who will provide you with reduced dose pills that make it a lot easier and safer to give up, but neither the NHS nor any drug company or doctor will help you with that.

What the doctor could have said: “Go out to a field and select half a dozen psilocybe cubensis mushrooms and eat them. Sit down in a comfortable spot and let them take effect and enjoy the journey. If that doesn’t do the trick completely, repeat after five weeks and you should be fine.”

Of people who take psilocybe just once, 94% experience a dramatic remission of anxiety and depression. The New Scientist recently called on the government to allow mental health researchers to study psilocybin. They do now, but the subjects have to buy it on the black market which invalidates the clinical results. If everybody who was depressed just took a few mushrooms the drug companies would be out of business.

Patrick Holford, the nutritionist, therapist and columnist in NPN, has just released a compelling rap called ‘Big Pharma Man: it’s a grand scam – he don’t give a damn’. It describes the criminality, fines, fraudulent research and cover-ups that have led to millions of lives being ruined by drugs that don’t work and are addictive. Just Google ‘Drug rap Patrick Holford’ and enjoy.

President Trump didn’t get any money from Big Pharma to get elected and so he has dared to say he’ll take action to deal with America’s opioid epidemic, where four out of five heroin addicts started on prescription opiods; drugs that are more addictive, expensive and dangerous than heroin. Meanwhile, Americans will continue to die at a rate of more than 1,000 a week from opioid overdoses. The makers of the drugs keep a database of doctors. Special attention goes to the ones who run ‘pill mills’, dispensing drugs at huge profit for themselves. These are doctors who swore the Hippocratic Oath: first do no harm. Hah! When Purdue, manufacturers of the opiod medication, ended up in court it paid $600 million in fines, and the executives who were found guilty of the criminal charge of selling OxyContin ‘with the intent to defraud or mislead’ paid $35 million. If someone sold $50 worth of heroin they would go to jail for a few years. These pharma guys get off light; the fines are insignificant compared to the billions of dollars they continue to make.

In my view it’s time to legalize all drugs, make them all available on the NHS, then let informed people choose how they want to get well instead of spending lives of misery hooked on drugs that have terrible side effects, which are treated with more drugs that also have terrible side effects. The alternatives are safer and cheaper.

Is it any wonder that I haven’t been to a doctor since 1965? I just say no to prescription drugs.

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.

Let bodily fluids and solids (and food) be thy medicine

Craig Sams imagines the health farms of the future where ‘super healthy’ humans are raised.

Until just over a decade ago the missus and I would go to Shrubland Hall Health Clinic up in Suffolk, where we’d enjoy vegetarian food, bracing country walks, massage, pilates and other healthful activities and return refreshed and invigorated. They closed in 2006 and more recently we go to Amchara in Somerset, which offers a vegetable juice fast, yoga, massage and colonics. Amchara are big on probiotics, which you have, with psyllium, with every liquid ‘meal.’ Their therapy is designed to break your bad dietary habits and restore your gut flora. But is this enough? What if your gut flora are too degraded to be restored? What if candida or other ‘bad bugs’ are in control? What if the ‘good bugs’ have been wiped out and can’t re-establish?

The average kid has 17 courses of antibiotics before they reach maturity. Doctors carelessly prescribe them to adults too for minor problems like runny noses or tummyache, problems that could be cured by a day or two of bed rest or fasting. Antibiotics destroy your gut flora. So do steroids, some vaccines, stress, alcohol and low fibre diet. The resulting gut dysbiosis is associated with colitis, IBS, multiple sclerosis,autism,anorexia, depression, OCD, migraines and Parkinson’s disease.

A particular dangerous side effect of taking antibiotics is Clostridium difficile. It’s a disease that was practically unknown until the advent of antibiotics. Now 30,000 Americans a year die from it and about 5000 in the UK. Clostridium takes over your gut flora after the 10,000 different bacteria, fungi and archaea in your gut are wiped out by a dose of antibiotics. Some of the good bugs survive, mainly by hiding in your appendix until the antibiotics are stopped. Then they can try to combat the Clostridium. If they fail the triumphant Clostridium leads to diarrhea, abdominal pain and in about 6% of cases, death. The conventional cure is more and stronger antibiotics. This works in about 25% of the cases but has a 50% relapse rate. There is another cure that has a 90% success rate, though. That’s faecal transplantation, also known as stool transplantation. It works for colitis, IBS, candida and other gut diseases, not just Clostridium. Only one hospital in Britain offers it as it’s a bit complicated. First you have to find a ‘donor.’ This is a person who has a completely healthy gut flora with no traces of infectious diseases such as AIDS or malaria. These aren’t easy to find. What’s more, faecal transplantation is a messier business than popping pills. A typical treatment programme would require 10 days of daily transplantation. But when it is done properly it can prevent a lifetime of misery and pain.

What about other person-to-person transfers from the healthy to the unwell? At the Society for Neuroscience convention in November 2016 researchers reported on trials that show an injection of blood from a young healthy person can reverse Alzheimer’s and senile dementia, improve cognition and strengthen the heart and liver.

“Could the health farms of the future be real farms? Farms where the farmer is raising healthy humans? What a lovely way to make a living if you’re the one being farmed”

Could the health farms of the future be real farms? Farms where the farmer is raising healthy humans? What a lovely way to make a living if you’re the one being farmed. All you have to do is live in a stress-free and happy environment, eat a balanced diet of organic food, avoid antibiotics, alcohol and risky sex and earn your living by providing a ‘donation’ 2 or 3 times a day. Sure beats mining coal or driving a mini cab.

Imagine: “Welcome to Poucura Health Clinic, Mrs. Jones. We have diagnosed your problem and advise that your donor is Marlene, an extremely fit young woman who has a 100% success rate in curing Clostridium difficile in her donatees. You will stay with us for 10 days and have 2 treatments a day. If you are having forgetfulness issues (we note that you are in your mid 60s and missed an earlier appointment) we can also provide you with a memory-enhancing transfusion from Arthur, whose IQ of 155 reflects his mental acuity. Your diet during your stay will include high-fibre foods, probiotics and inulin to help accelerate the repopulation of your gut with immune-boosting flora.”

Exchanging bodily fluids has been a big no-no and the years of AIDS have made everyone even more cautious. But the war against diseases of modern diet is being lost and doctors are running out of weapons. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said “all disease begins in the gut, ” adding “let food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” To fast track this we can pay people to be really healthy and then let their bodily fluids and solids be our medicine, along with food. Cures like this only last if they are followed by lifestyle changes. But it’s a lot easier to change your lifestyle when the gut flora that are telling your brain what to eat are the good ones that are always urging healthy choices.


xorganic-farming-640x426-jpg-pagespeed-ic-thzrqz2irqWhen a business sector sees a rash of mergers and acquisitions, it's for one of two reasons, growth or decay. The organic food industry has seen a lot of acquisitions by companies anxious to get in on the ground floor of the 5% annual growth rate in organic food and regenerative farming. Meanwhile, on the dark side, Monsanto is facing takeover by Bayer, not for any positive reasons, but because they are both looking into the abyss. Merger is one way to survive when the farmers they are competing for are spending less. Farmers aren't stupid - they can do the maths. When they see diminishing returns on their investment in seeds and agrichemicals, they reduce their spending. Normally in a situation like this the agribusiness operators would go to the EU or Washington and just wheedle more subsidies out of the national purse, bleating about food security while encouraging biofuels to prop up soy, rapeseed and corn prices. Who cares if you're destroying the earth's precious farmland at 30 football fields a minute? If you were a big landowner, you'd feel entitled to being paid to do this. That's what us mugs are here for. Now that the EU even subsidises grouse moors you'd think the gates were wide open. But the money is running out. Half the EU budget goes to farmers, much of it British money going via Brussels to France. The US spends $350 billion a year propping up agriculture in the US, channeling money through farmers to agribiz.

Let's take a look at who's eating whom. The potash fertiliser price has halved in the past 3 years, from $450 a tonne to $219. So in Canada, Agrium and Potash, two of the world's biggest potash producers, are merging in a desperate attempt to keep afloat while they wait for a bounce in price that may never happen. Bayer and Monsanto are both facing plunging sales and profits. Monsanto have the seed and Bayer have the pesticides to go with them. But again it's desperation. They hope that innovation will save them, but innovation is not something you find in mega corporations.   GMOs are losing support - US farmers never wanted them but were denied choice after Monsanto bought up all the seed companies and forced GMOs down their throats.

The whole ethanol biofuels scam is blowing up, too. It was never even vaguely 'carbon neutral' - it takes more energy to produce a litre of ethanol than the energy you get by burning it. It's more energy efficient to just mix corn with coal and shovel it into a power station, but that would be too obvious and repulsive.

Chem China has taken over Syngenta. They make the herbicides that Syngenta's GM seed can resist. Nobody in China will eat GMO rice but they'll tolerate pork or chicken fed on GM maize. But the real prize for Chem China is Syngenta's strong presence in US market: they're after Bayer/Monsanto's piece of the diminishing pie. Their US competitors are suddenly bleating about food security.   Two other agrichemical giants, Dow and DuPont, also merged recently. They're all like a bunch of drunks spilling out of the pub after a good night out, trying to keep each other from falling down.

If you're a farmer, what do you do? You used to be able to play off one agrichemical giant against the other, but soon you'll just take what you're given. Or look for an alternative and boy, what an alternative is on the horizon!

When the French '4 per 1000 initiative' succeeds at the Marrakech COP22 climate conference in November every hectare of organic farmland will be set to get over €150 a year in carbon credits. A hectare of chemical-dependent farmland will have to pay for its carbon footprint and that could cost close to €100 per hectare.   It won't happen overnight but the French have fixed a price of €56 per tonne for carbon, to take effect by 2020. The world will probably follow, even the US.   If you were a government that was facing huge annual costs to subsidise farmers with money that flows through their bank accounts to Dow/DuPont, Bayer/Monsanto and Chem China/Syngenta and you could instead just let the carbon markets transfer the money from fossil fuel power stations direct to organic farmers, what would you do? Keep on propping up a dying industry or finally recognise that organic food, when the carbon is priced in, is actually cheaper than the degenerative kind that is destroying our available soil at the rate of 30 football fields per minute? (I can't repeat this often enough)

Governments have been holding back for quite a long time because of the immense political power of the agrichemicals industry and of the landowning fraternity. They passionately hate socialism in all its forms, until it comes to their welfare payments.

It's time for a change. We need to bring freedom to farming. Carbon pricing that encourages regenerative farming instead of degenerative farming is the way forward. Organic is good for you and the climate, too.

Let’s hear it for the Jimi Hendrix (and brown rice rissoles) experience

It’s 1967. The Summer of Love. Jimi Hendrix is blaring from the speakers – and Craig Sams is serving up brown rice rissoles to his sensorily-enhanced patrons

The other day someone posted on my facebook page: You hippies have a lot to answer for. My response was: You’re absolutely right and the answer is ‘you’re welcome’.

The belated recognition of how, in 1967, society moved from dull, grey post-war monotony to the bright, enlightened world we now inhabit is becoming a bit overwhelming. When everyone from Atom Retro fashions to the V&A is pumping my memory for details about 1966/1967. I begin to wonder what’s going on … oh, yes, it’s 50 years since All You Need Is Love came out of the speakers of a record shop on the King’s Road and me and my hippie pals all dashed in to buy the single.

Victoria Broackes, curator at the V&A, is putting together a new show called You Say You Want a Revolution. With a series of ‘immersive experiences’ she aims to recreate the heady atmosphere of those times. With your Sennheiser headphones GPS-sensing where you are in the exhibition hall, you’ll get the sound to go with the sights and environment. Imagine being in the UFO Club with Pink Floyd jamming Interstellar Overdrive while patrons munch on my brown rice rissoles and the light show blobs illuminate a Larry Smart mandala painting, and you might get a sense of one of the seven spaces.

The message of the V&A show is that the fundamentals of our culture were irreversibly changed by the revolution in consciousness that happened in the 1967 Summer of Love, mostly in London, San Francisco and Amsterdam, but anywhere LSD was legally available. The way people thought about everything changed. Music reached parts of the brain it had never previously dared to. Exhibit A: Jimi Hendrix. Artists popularized Art Nouveau and Aubrey Beardsley and went all wishy washy – you had to study a gig poster to find out who was playing when and where. People realized that we were delicate human beings that should not be living in a deteriorating environment, and Friends of The Earth, Greenpeace and the Brundtland report all came from that awareness. Fashion broke out of the mould – I imported Afghan coats, kaftans, Tibetan bags and other ethnic fashion and, with Aedan Kelly, produced blobby dyed silks that were used for shirts and dresses. Everybody wanted one of my Afghan coats when The Beatles walked out of Granny Takes a Trip boutique on Kings Road wearing them.

“Everybody wanted one of my Afghan coats when The Beatles walked out of Granny Takes a Trip boutique on Kings Road wearing them”

We realized that war was an ineffective way of resolving differences. The Vietnam War was an entirely stupid and unjustifiable massacre of innocent people on all sides, but it sharpened awareness that peace, love and understanding were the key to a better world. ‘Normal’ sexual barriers dissolved. The pill helped, but repressed gays discovered their inner selves, inhibited women became sexual dynamos and polyamorous relationships were just one example of the resulting experimentation. People who grew up with alienation in soulless suburbs sought community and shared experience.

Religion was rediscovered as a seeking of a spiritual state of consciousness and energy flows that manifested in yoga, meditation and Buddhism, particularly the Zen variety. So we got Zen Macrobiotics, which married a libertarian oriental philosophy with a way of eating that supported the unity of mind, body and spirit.

People saw beyond the hamburger on their plate to the animal, its death, the hormones, antibiotics and whole horrible origin of something they once took for granted. ‘Ugh!’ They thought – ‘I’ll eat something else.’ But what was something else? That’s where we had the answers with Yin Yang Ltd and a macrobiotic restaurant that enabled people to eat in harmony with their consciousness.

Yin Yang became Harmony Foods, the first to offer organic brown rice and foods like miso, seaweed and tamari.
Renamed Whole Earth Foods it focused on healthy processed food, as brown rice and beans became commoditized. Private Eye quoted our price list direct in Pseuds Corner and its readership chuckled at our perceived pretentiousness. To paraphrase Nigel Farage and Ronnie Barker, we can now say “You laughed when we said that diet was the key to mental, spiritual and physical health, but you aren’t laughing now.”

Come and see us having the last laugh at the V&A from 11 September.

How to regenerate organic – privatize it

How can we free organic from its self-imposed bureaucratic box? We could always ask Brussels to privatize us, says Craig Sams

Q. What do Slow Food, LEAF, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Cosmos, Marine Stewardship Council, Red Tractor, Vegan, Vegetarian, Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) and Woodmark all have in common?

A. They all operate trusted authentication symbols that are 100% independent. They can decide what they can certify and how they can certify.

Q. What do the Soil Association, Ecocert, EKO, KRAV, Nature et Progres, OCIA, QAI, OFF, OF&G and 400 or so other organic symbols have in common?

A. They operate trusted authentication symbols that are 100% Government-controlled. They cannot decide what they can certify and how they can certify.

This ‘nationalisation’ of organic certification didn’t happen by accident or by force, we actually asked for it. The independent symbols have grown organically to global respect and stature while the organic ‘brands’ have been stifled in their self-imposed bureaucratic box.

“This ‘nationalisation’ of organic certification didn’t happen by accident or by force, we actually asked for it”

Back in the late 1980s I got to know key players at the Soil Association (up till then we were OF&G licensees). When I heard they were seeking to get the EU to enforce organic standards I was dismayed. Francis Blake of IFOAM and the Soil Association told me that if I wanted to have any influence I should stand for the Soil Association board. I did and didn’t get elected. Boo Hoo. But the Council wanted me anyway and appointed me Treasurer In 1990. I argued from within against letting our precious organic standards go under the control of the agricultural departments which subsidised industrial farming and were 100% behind GMOs. Regrettably the train had already left the station and, short of tying myself to the tracks, there was nothing I could do to stop it.

The infant organic industry was stressed about fraudulent claims and thought calling in big brother would stop that. In fact the opposite happened. When the Soil Association sampled a licensee’s oat flakes a few years ago and found chlormequat residues at quite a high level they told the licensee to take them off the market. Defra and UKAS and the oat processor who supplied them all cried foul. The paperwork was in order, that was all that mattered to the enforcers. The Soil Association came close to being banned from certifying but luckily the horsemeat scandal broke out and the EU said lab sampling of products should be permitted.

Not long ago the most venerable players of the organic world came together, along with the new-kid-on-the-block Regeneration International, to call for “Organic 3.0,” a nice term for evolved organic standards that combine elements of Slow Food, Fairtrade and a less oppressive certification regime for small farmers or farmers who regularly perform well on inspections. It’s a great idea and just the breath of fresh air that the organic movement needs. Meanwhile the EU organic officials are mired in endless delays just to bring about a much-needed update of existing organic standards. The latest review should have been completed long ago and is still years away. The consensus of Organic 3.0 hasn’t helped move things along in Brussels.

Regeneration International and IFOAM are setting their sights on the COP 22 convention in Marrakech in November 2016. This is the follow up to the Paris COP 21 climate talks last November. More than 170 countries have signed up to the Paris agreement, but the detail is still fluffy. Marrakech will focus on how farming and sequestration of carbon in the soil can stop global warming. We are losing 39 football fields of soil every minute thanks to farming – not one of those football fields is organic. The French will be promoting ‘4 per 1000.’ They say if we could increase soil organic matter by 0.04% each year it would offset ALL of our annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Organic farming increases soil organic matter by 0.1% per year, or ’10 per 1000.’ So organic’s the easy route to compliance with the Paris agreement and it regenerates soil for future generations instead of stealing it from them for cheap food today. With composting, crop rotation, fallowing, agroforestry, permaculture, biochar and other organic inputs farming could easily be 100% of the solution to global warming instead of 30% of the problem. But the Governments that control farming are hostages to the agribusiness lobby. If we can’t beat them can we go around them?

All those other independent organisations need the organic movement to join forces with them, indeed lead them. Organic agriculture is at the heart of the drive towards our shared environmental goals. Can we just ask Brussels nicely to privatise us? It works for everything else. Might be worth a go. The existing regulations cover claims like ‘organic,’ ‘biological, ‘økologisk’ or ‘Ecological’, so if privatization was off the menu and we wanted our freedom we’d need to find a new name to break free of Brussels and Washington.

Regeneration International, born out of the Organic Consumers Association, applies organic principles to food, climate, biodiversity, small farmers and health. So, how about ‘Regenerative?’

Brexit – should we stay or should we go?

As the nation ponders the Brexit question, Craig Sams reflects on the EU’s inglorious record on food and health

I was around when we joined the EU in 1973. What was the impact on food and health? Here’s my summation of the good, the bad and the ugly – well the last two anyway.

The first thing was that land prices shot up. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) guaranteed subsidies favouring larger landholdings. Overnight land became an investment asset, its value underpinned by the EU. City money poured in, paying contract farming companies to operate monoculture on vast tracts of land. They cut down the hedgerows, drained the wetlands and sprayed out biodiversity. Pesticide and fertilizer use shot up. In the early 1970s Exchange and Mart listed smallholdings in Britain. When one came up for sale City money would buy it, consolidate the 15-50 acres into an industrialized landholding and sell off the house as a second home. The deck was stacked against small farmers in favour of large chemical-dependent enterprises. The ads for smallholdings disappeared.

Jam could no longer be called jam. The EU list of permitted sweeteners included white sugar, brown sugar, ‘sugar syrup containing not more than 0.2% sulphur dioxide preservative’, glucose syrup and another ten industrial sweeteners. Despite our urgent representations to include ‘fruit juice and fruit juice concentrates’, the EU refused to put them on the list. So Whole Earth had to rename our healthier jam ‘pure fruit spread.’ Lobbyists in Brussels had made sure the deck was stacked in favour of EU-subsidized sugars.

The ongoing suppression of herbal and natural medicine began. The HFMA fights doughtily to protect people’s right to VMS and herbal remedies, but it can be a losing battle with the EU banning much-loved products for obscure reasons, not unrelated to pharma pressures on unelected commissioners.

Hydrogenated fat got a major shot in the arm. It popped up everywhere as a replacement for naturally hard fats like coconut oil or palm oil. This plasticky heart-destroying material was made from rapeseed oil, subsidized to the eyeballs by the CAP. EU levies on imports of palm oil and coconut oil guaranteed that hydrogenated fat was always £50-60 a tonne cheaper than natural fats. Then the medical industry weighed in, encouraging consumption of transfat-rich margarines. By the late 1990s, when the evidence against hydrogenated fat was overwhelming, the EU still wouldn’t budge until and the Danish Government finally made transfats unmarketable. So the EU brought out the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation which required member states to mix rapeseed oil with diesel to burn up this food that nobody wanted.

The EU took over organic regulation in 1993 and bogged it down in bureaucracy. In the US if you want an organic no-calorie sweetener, processed from organic raw materials, to be permitted in organic food, you apply to the National Organic Standards Board which looks at the evidence and decides in a matter of weeks. In the EU you have to go to the Soil Association which consults other certifying bodies, then makes a representation to DEFRA, who makes a representation to Brussels who then consults with the other 25 ministries of agriculture in member states, who consult with certifying bodies who consult with licensees and then feed back to Brussels after a few years, usually with someone dissenting and deadlock. Organic food in the EU has to be full sugar because regulatory constipation bars safe organic sweeteners. US makers of low-calorie products can sell in the EU due to the US-EU equivalence agreement, where minor differences in organic standards are just overlooked.

I live in Hastings, where the fishermen operate small boats. The EU gives 97% of the fish quotas to the big trawlers that destroy the sea bed and 3% to the small boat fishermen who are responsible for 50% of employment of fishermen. Our fishermen have to throw fish overboard or buy extra quota from the trawler operators to whom Brussels lobbyists have given more quota than they can possibly use.

For 19 years the EU Court of Auditors has refused to give the all clear to the EU’s accounts because of money that just disappears out of the CAP, which eats up half the EU budget. Unelected and unaccountable, they just laugh at any attempt to stop the corruption, most of which is in farm subsidies.

I’m not saying that Brexit would be any better, mind. Given the level of competence at Westminster, it could be argued that things would be even worse if we let power and responsibility reside there rather than Brussels. Nonetheless, it’s unfortunate that our food and farming are being held hostage by unaccountable bureaucrats, be they in Brussels or closer to home

Cheer up, we just reversed humanity’s decline

OK, reversing humanity’s decline took 40 or 50 years longer than we thought. But let’s celebrate it anyway, writes Craig Sams

Could this be the Big Lifestyle Turnaround that we’ve been dreaming about and waiting for?

Every year for decades there has been an annual increase in new cases of Type 2 diabetes, which correlates with comparable figures for obesity, which is a factor in cancer and heart disease. That’s the bad news. What’s the good news?

Over the last 6 years (averaged to avoid ‘blips’) research shows there has been a significant DECLINE in incidence of diabetes in the US. Diabetes is still happening, but less and less each year. That means that, going forward, there will likely be less cancer, less obesity and less heart disease. The endless upward graph is going into a downturn.

The researchers, at the US Governments Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), took a shot at what might be behind this encouraging news. Their studied conclusion? People are more health conscious than hitherto and this is reflected in healthy and informed food choices and greater commitment to regular exercise and bodywork, including yoga and pilates. In other words, the message of healthy living is getting through. More people than ever are shopping at natural food stores or Whole Foods Market. Supermarkets are giving more and more space to organic and healthy foods. We’ve always said that this could happen and now the evidence is in that a healthy lifestyle prevents degenerative disease.

So where does that put Coca Cola? Their sales are down in the US, with the international market also weakening.

And MacDonalds? For seven straight quarters up to the middle of last year, their sales have been dropping with no evidence of a turnaround. Big Macs and Coke once seemed invincible – the obesity epidemic and resulting diabetes soared in parallel with their sales. Now their growth has stalled.

So where is the money going? Last year yoga and pilates studios in the US had sales of $9 billion, up 7.5% year on year. There are 30,000 businesses employing 95,000 people, about three per business. It’s a horde of small enterprises that are capturing people’s longing for physical wellbeing, core strength and flexibility. The yoga bunnies and pilates enthusiasts are alive to nutrition, healthy eating, the gut microbiome and anything else that points them towards a longer, healthier and happier life. There’s little opportunity for scale in this market – there are a few big gym chains but most of this healthy stuff is run by sole practitioners or a small local group that might also include nutritional advice, massage and counseling. In the caring, sharing economy of the future there is a lot more peer-to-peer and a lot less corporate-to-consumer relationship.

It’s not going to be easy to get humankind back on track, though.

The junk food decades from the 1950s to the 2000s meant that a lot of kids were born who inherited the epigenetic legacy of their parents’ poor diet and environment. We know that what you eat affects your health – now we also know it affects your genes and is an undesirable legacy to your children. I won’t go into the detail of DNA methylation and transfer RNAs, but suffice to say that if a father or a mother eats too much sugary and industrial food and is exposed to environmental contaminants such as pesticides, food colouring and preservatives their baby’s start in life is clouded and the kid is more likely to suffer impaired insulin tolerance that could lead to diabetes. The good news is that epigenetics cuts both ways. A lot of the crap that used to screw up our genes is now out of the system – things like DDT, lead, hydrogenated fat, toxic dyes and preservatives and high levels of pesticide, fungicide and herbicide residues in our food are all non-existent or much lower. So going forward we could be passing on healthier and more robust genes.

When we launched Yin-Yang Ltd, the macrobiotic food company that would morph into Whole Earth, Vegeburger and Green & Black’s, we thought the healthy eating revolution would be over by the early 1970s. It was so obvious. We naively thought everyone would go for it – after all, who didn’t want to live a long and healthy life? As my brother Gregory said, we were looking at the future through the wrong end of the telescope. We saw the future, we were just out by 40 or 50 years. Boo-hoo about the ruined lives along the way, but hip hip hurrah for the coming reversal of humanity’s decline.


Food and friendship without frontiers

Craig Sams celebrates the role of the natural food industry in helping to nourish refugees in Calais camps

In 1911 Karim Aboud Saba faced a dilemma – stay at home in his Christian hillside village in Syria or go to an uncertain future in America? He had a wife and 2 kids. The Turks were in the throes of the run up to World War 1 and were rounding up men up to the age of 55 to be cannon fodder for their Ottoman Army. The French and the British were already squabbling about who’d get which parts of Syria and Palestine after the coming war. It was most definitely not his fight. So Aboud left his home behind and took his family to America. At Immigration they took one look at his name, written unintelligibly in Arabic, and handed him a piece of paper marked ‘SAM.’ ‘That’s your American name, buddy.’ If you had asked him for an opinion about organic food or the stuff called chocolate his grandson would be marketing he wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. If you would have told him that his great-great grandson Mars Aboud Sams 100 years later would be in a place called Calais in France working 12 hours a day feeding Syrian and Kurdish refugees he would have smiled ruefully – it was the vision of such endless chaos that had driven him to emigrate.

The refugees in Calais and Dunkerque are just a small fraction of the millions that have died or been displaced by the manipulation and exploitation that started in the 1900s with the British, French, Turks, Russians and Germans manoeuvring over who would control the lucrative oil wells of Iraq. Now these lucky survivors are just across the water and living in dreadful conditions in the hope of finding a new life in Britain or joining their relatives here.   Many are starving, having spent all their money to pay smugglers to get them this far.

Mars Aboud Sams, my 18-year old grandson, is on his way back to the Refugee Community Kitchen in Calais after a stint in December. He’s now experienced in field kitchen catering and able to supervise the many volunteers who come over with vans and cars laden with food, willing to work for a few days or weeks cooking, cleaning, serving and washing dishes to keep the canteen going.

“The role of the natural food industry in supporting this field kitchen is admirable”

The role of the natural food industry in supporting this field kitchen is admirable. Wholesalers willingly act as aggregation and distribution hubs for food. Riverford Farms have sent several van loads of fresh organic vegetables to be prepped and cooked by the chefs there. Abel & Cole are offering milk and ongoing support. Infinity Foods have sent over quinoa, Brazil nuts, rice and other dry goods. Suma have supplied a pallet of washing up liquid, rice, oats and catering tins of tomatoes. Gusto have sent over a pallet of Gusto Cola. Organic Lea have come up with a palletload of kale, cabbages, leeks, rocket and other green vegetables. Zaytoun, the distributors of Fairtrade organic food from Palestine, have sent medjool dates. This is just a snapshot of what’s going on.

Most of the volunteers are the kind of people who are committed to eating organic food, to eating less meat and emitting less carbon dioxide. They understand the deep humane connection between the food they choose and the kind of world they’d like to live in. That’s a world where our shared humanity is more important than the opportunistic manouevring that is the most we can expect from politicians. The destruction of stable communities of Christians, Muslims, Jews and other minorities that had lived together in peace for a thousand or more years drove my grandfather to America 100 years ago. It is still going on. The only difference is that America is now part of the problem where, after WW1, people idealistically hoped it would be part of the solution.

We are all people with a shared interest in prosperity, good health and well-being.

The words of Marianne Satrap sum it up perfectly and explain the deep instinct of common humanity, sharing and caring that drives so many people from the organic movement to try to help relieve the suffering of their fellow human beings:

"The world is not divided between East and West. You are American, I am Iranian, we don’t know each other but we talk and understand each other perfectly. The difference between you and your government is much bigger than the difference between you and me. And the difference between me and my government is much bigger than the difference between me and you. And our governments are very much the same."
Marianne Satrap, author of Iranian graphic novel Persepolis, now a film.

Bitter Sweet Insanity

How seriously should we take official exhortations to cut sugar consumption while governments continue to subsidise industrial scale sugar farming? asks Craig Sams

When my brother Gregory and I set up Harmony Foods in 1970 we committed to never using sugar in our business. In 1972, in my book About Macrobiotics, I had written about sugar: “If it were discovered yesterday it would be banned and possibly turned over to the Army for weapons research.” But the same chapter had recipes using apples, raisins, currants and apricots. Our macrobiotic guru, Michio Kushi, even gave his support to candies made with rice malt sugar. We were all a little bit hypocritical.

In 1976 we created a separate brand, Whole Earth, so that if we ever sold Harmony products to supermarkets we had a separate brand that would not upset health food retailers’ sensibilities. Then in 1977 Waitrose and Safeway saw us on BBC News and wanted to order Harmony Peanut Butter right away. They insisted on the Harmony brand. Sales boomed in supermarkets as well as health food shops and Harmony Peanut Butter soon swept away our competitors Granose and Mapleton’s.

Then in 1977 I did something nobody had done before. I invented a jam based on apple juice and fruit. We decided to market it. We couldn’t use the sugar-free Harmony brand as apple juice concentrate is a sugary syrup. So we dusted off the Whole Earth brand and launched a hugely successful range of jams made with apple juice and marketed as ‘100% fruit, no sugar added.’ Sales of Whole Earth soared so much that we eventually retired the Harmony brand and put the peanut butter under the Whole Earth brand. For a while we were the biggest users of apple juice concentrate in the world, apart from the cider industry. My ethical defence was that our jams were only 38% sugar while white sugar jams were 65% sugar. But it wasn’t long before competing ‘no sugar added’ jams also hit the 65% level.

Now the Government has, surprisingly, got a health policy that makes sense: cut down on sugar. All sugar. Beet sugar, cane sugar, apple juice, grape juice, honey, agave syrup, coconut sugar, jaggery, maple syrup, corn syrup and any other product that is 99% sucrose, glucose and fructose. To paraphrase Romeo’s insightful sweetheart Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call sugar, by any other name would taste as sweet.” All sugars are in the sights of Professor MacGregor of Action on Sugar, who is leading the charge. The same thing is happening worldwide.

In the 1980s and 1990s there was a horrifically misguided campaign that urged tens of millions of Britons to abandon butter in favour of margarines that were rich in trans fats from hydrogenated fat. The result was millions disabled or killed off by heart disease. The US has now banned all transfats and it’s almost non-existent in Europe. Then there was the demonisation of salt campaign. That killed off a goodly number of older people for whom salt
was essential to vital functions and made little difference to anyone else.

But the sugar campaign makes sense. 500 years ago Paracelsus wrote: “All things are poison and nothing is without poison; the dose makes the poison.” Most people overdose every day on sugar and that’s why it’s such a major factor in obesity, cancer, diabetes, tooth decay and heart disease. But in smaller quantities can it make a useful contribution to our health and energy levels by enhancing our enjoyment of food and drink?

What’s a safe dose? MacGregor wants a 30% reduction. Others think we consume three times too much: the overdose makes the poison.

When we developed the Gusto Cola recipe we aimed for a level of sugar one third of what you’d get in a can of Coke or a bottle of apple juice. We opted for stevia as a calorie-free sweetener. Ooopsadaisy! EU Organic Regulations don’t allow stevia, unless it’s in a drink imported from the USA. So we canned it in the US, using organic stevia. Oopsadaisy! EU regulations for soft drinks, organic or not, restrict stevia levels, so you still have to use 50% sugar to match the sweetness of regular drinks – or add aspartame. Yuk. So we made the recipe less sweet and it tasted fine.

But it made me wonder why the EU and our Government exhort us to cut back on sugar while enforcing regulations against natural sweeteners that have exactly the opposite effect. Even worse, the EU subsidises sugar farmers and refineries. So does Brazil, to the tune of $2.5 billion a year. Just one French producer has had €60 million over 3 years.

A good start would be to let the sugar market find its own level instead of using taxpayer money to drive down the cost. Then exhort people to consume less.

Real change is coming

People have had enough of corrupt politicians and their ruthlessly self-serving corporate backers. Real world change is breaking out everywhere

Did you get what you voted for in the election? More GMOs from Monsanto? The chance for NATO to bomb another country into chaos? More useless drugs based on junk research sold at extortionate prices to the NHS?  More untested pesticides in your food? More global warming? More fracking? More nuclear power stations? I don’t think so. All you got to be passionate about were the insulting little bribes about pensions, tax allowances, housing and benefits, while the big bribes are quietly discussed in Brussels and Whitehall between lobbyists for industry and politicians, trying to keep a firm grip on power.

But, as Russell Brand says, voting doesn’t matter so much any more – in the real world things are changing, and they’re changing fast. It doesn’t matter what the drug companies and GMO merchants would like to see: if people don’t buy, then their products don’t fly. Solar is outselling fossil fuels for energy, and nuclear is uninsurable and on the way out. More and more people question the value of pharmaceuticals, and fracking is on the skids. Organic food is booming, too.

It’s beginning to look like we’ve reached a tipping point with GMOs. If I was a Monsanto shareholder I’d be dumping stock in the light of how things are going.

Hugely successful fast-food chain Chipotle has announced that its food is now GMO-free. Its sales grew 31% year-on-year last year and profits are up 57%. Meanwhile its GMO-loving competitor McDonalds agonizes over a 2.7% drop in sales and a 33% drop in profits. Chipotle had to work at it: in the US, vegetable oils, tacos and tortillas and cheese are all made with GMOs. But they did it, and it’s watching customers flock to its outlets and abandon the dinosaurs who still don’t get it. Funny thing is that McDonalds owned 90% of Chipotle shares ten years ago but cashed out in 2006 to invest more in its own business. Big mistake.

A federal court has just upheld the state of Vermont’s law requiring GMO labelling, something we take for granted in Europe. The manufacturers who opposed it claimed it violated their free speech rights! Or their right to stay quiet?

Brazil’s National Cancer Institute has condemned the use of Roundup Ready soya, saying: “The cropping pattern with the intensive use of pesticides generates major harms, including environmental pollution and poisoning of workers and the population in general.”  Brazil’s Public Prosecutor has called for a suspension of glyphosate use. Holland has banned it for gardening use and it disappeared off the shelves of French garden centres this year. Colombia’s Health Ministry has recommended a ban on Roundup spraying on coca crops – too many farmers are getting ill.

The World Health Organization has also reported that glyphosate probably causes cancer. Over 30 years ago the US Environmental Protection Agency said the same, then reclassified it as non-carcinogenic right about the time the first of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready products hit the market. Cover-up or honest mistake? We’ll never know as the evidence can’t be released for reasons of ‘commercial confidentiality’.

Let’s not forget that when Roundup Ready soya beans were first planted in 1996 Monsanto promised that it would lead to reduced herbicide use. In the intervening 15 years its sales of Roundup increased tenfold. Just in the nick of time: its patent on glyphosate ran out in 2001 and competitors were offering it for a third of the price, but by then farmers were hooked on Roundup-hungry Roundup Ready soya beans and corn and had signed contracts not to use the cheaper stuff.

Neil Young’s new album is called The Monsanto Years – it is anything but a hymn of praise to America’s most reviled company. Made with Willie Nelson’s two sons, it is a plea to reverse the harm to family farms and the Midwest’s soils of the past two GMO decades.

Jo Wood, ex-wife of Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, recently hosted a screening of GMO OMG– supporting Even my missus, who’s heard it all before from me, got fired up by the film’s powerful message.

In the US Moms Against GMOs is leading the charge with the motto: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” With a little help from Chipotle and retailers and producers of organic and natural foods, things are changing.

Organic food pioneer and polemicist Craig Sams is Britain’s best known natural food pioneer. He is the founder of Green & Blacks, a former Soil Association chairman and the author of The Little Food Book.

Michio Kushi, last of old school macrobiotic gurus, is no more

Modern Zen macrobiotics was created by the Japanese leader George Ohsawa. His leading apostle was Michio Kushi. Kushi died in December, leaving the macrobiotic movement leaderless for the first time in its history in the West. In any belief system there is always the potential to confuse the messenger with the message. The Ten Commandments ban worshipping graven images and Islam prohibits images of Mohammed. This prevents believers worshipping a fellow human who connected with the universal spirit of love and peace (or ‘health and happiness’ if you prefer) instead of seeking that connection themselves. In macrobiotics the tendency to follow the man rather than the practice has been a marginalising factor that has kept it as a cult instead of the universally popular diet that we once thought it would become. Yet macrobiotic principles are now the guiding principles of the renaissance in nutritional awareness that is gathering pace worldwide. It looks like we’ve won, just not under our flag.

The Zen Macrobiotic diet originated as a reaction to the introduction of American food in Japan. In 1907 The Shoku-Yo-Kai association was formed to educate the public in healthy eating and to encourage a return to the traditional Japanese diet and avoid the meat, dairy products and sugary refined foods introduced from the West. Japanese were beginning to succumb to hitherto unknown diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The President of Shoku-Yo-Kai was George Ohsawa in the 1930s. He was jailed and nearly executed because he opposed Japan’s militaristic and imperialistic adventures that led to World War 2. One of his students was Michio Kushi, who took the message to the US in 1949. He was not the only one. Another was a Hollywood-based Shoku-Yo-Kai practitioner called Dr Nakadadi, who in 1947 cured my father Ken, who suffered debilitating intestinal disease for years after fighting as a Marine in the Pacific war. But it was in the 1960s that Ohsawa’s book Zen Macrobiotics lit the fuse under the macrobiotic rocket. It married the Taoist philosophy of Yin and Yang to diet and lifestyle. Taoism, like Zen, ideally seeks to achieve states where you transcend earthly day-to-day worries and become a mover and shaker while playing and staying in a state of constant bliss.   This is why macrobiotics appealed so much to the Sixties hippie generation, who experienced those states temporarily and sought something that could bring them there without having to rely on psychoactive substances.

Ohsawa died suddenly in 1966, leaving the macrobiotic movement leaderless.

Michio Kushi on the East Coast and Herman Aihara on the West Coast, took up Ohsawa’s mantle. Kushi set up the East West Institute in Boston. It was a mecca for burned-out hippies who would make the hajj to Boston and work in the study centre or the associated restaurant and food wholesaling business Erewhon, while learning the philosophy and how to cook the food. Kushi’s lectures to his followers were published in The East West Journal and the Order of the Universe magazines, reaching more than 100,000 subscribers worldwide. His students became the missionaries of macrobiotics beyond Boston. Many of them came to London, where we welcomed them and gave them jobs in our restaurant, bakery and shop. We rented them a house in Ladbroke Grove where they could promulgate Kushi's message, give shiatsu classes and teach cooking.   They disdained our free and easy approach to macrobiotics and advised us to go to Boston to study with Michio. We thought they were too ‘straight.’ They wore suits, smoked cigarettes and drank Guinness and coffee just like Michio. But the rest of their diet was much stricter than ours, allowing little in the way of sweeteners or dairy products. It was a bit alienating, but we thought 'each to his own' and were grateful to be introduced to shiatsu and to have active missionaries spreading the message.

A few years ago I wrote here about our macrobiotic sea cruise. It included late stage cancer sufferers who had, thanks to Michio Kushi's teachings, been clear for five or ten years. It was moving to hear their stories and their gratitude that macrobiotics had given them life beyond their doctors' expectations.

Will macrobiotics thrive in Kushi’s absence? The philosophy is now everywhere, the basic principles of making healthy diet the foundation of your physical and mental well being; eating whole unrefined cereals; exercising actively; always choose organic; avoid sugary refined foods; prefer sourdough over yeasted breads; avoid artificial preservatives and colourings; no trans fats; eat locally and seasonally… these were once quirky macrobiotic precepts but are all now well-established and the stuff of Sunday newspaper supplements. George Ohsawa once commented that as long as you were in a state of bliss it didn’t matter what you ate, you were macrobiotic. Kushi’s messaging was more prescriptive, but it reached a lot more people. These great men are no longer with us, but thanks to their teachings the quality and variety of food we can easily obtain is better than it has ever been in human history. There is no excuse for eating crap any more. For this we should be eternally grateful.

Seed Magazine 1975

To create real change in the world sometimes you have to compromise

Last week four Soil Association trustees resigned from the charity accusing it of lacking conviction on organic. But to create real change you sometimes just have to compromise, says Craig Sams

In 1946 two pioneering women, Eve Balfour and Dr. Innes Pearce, founded the Soil Association. Eve was a farmer who developed organic principles by creating healthy soil on her farm in Essex. Dr. Innes Pearce ran the Peckham Project in one of London’s most deprived neighbourhoods and showed that good nutrition led to healthier families, better academic achievement by kids and fewer men deserting their wives. The Soil Association’s founding principle was that a healthy diet, supported by nutrient-rich organic food, would change the world for the better.

In 1966, the doctors, dentists, nutritionists and veterinarians who were members felt the Soil Association had become too farmer-oriented and resigned to set up the McCarrison Society, named after Sir Robert McCarrison, whose 1926 book on nutrition and health inspired both Balfour and Innes Pearce. This was a sad moment as it marked the divorce between the advocates of healthy soil and the advocates of healthy eating. A year later we founded our macrobiotic business Yin Yang Ltd (to become Harmony Foods and later Whole Earth) which brought together, at a commercial level, organic food and healthy eating.

Happily the Soil Association has rediscovered its roots. At a conference in 2002 titled ‘Education, Education, Education’ I gave the keynote speech that highlighted the few examples at the time of how better school food could improve kids’ behaviour and academic performance. Then the Soil Association, with Garden Organic, Focus on Food and the Health Education Trust got a £17 million Lottery grant to make it happen.

The grant money was well spent. Not only have over 4500 Schools enrolled with the project, and started to teach children to cook and grow and also taken them to visit farms, but the Soil Association Catering Mark has been developed too.This starts with the Bronze standard (75% freshly prepared, no GMOs, no hydrogenated fat, free range produce). Then they graduate to the Silver standard (a proportion of organic, a larger proportion of locally sourced, Fairtrade, MSC, LEAF). Then they go for Gold which takes it to even higher levels. The migration is only ever one way, from Bronze to Gold and the impact on organic suppliers is spectacular. The Gold holders are now asking the Soil Association for a Platinum category. More important is that schoolkids become aware of organic food, go home and challenge their parents. 950,000 school meals a day  are served with the Catering Mark and it’s now also improving food served in nurseries, hospitals, care homes, offices and industrial canteens. By this time next year there will be 2 million school meals a day served to the Catering Mark standard – half of all schoolkids in the UK. This all sounds pretty good to me and if Dr Innes Pearce were alive she would be punching the air with triumphant joy that her dream back in the 1930s and 1940s was finally being realised. And this is just the beginning. The Catering Mark is the fastest-growing activity of Soil Association Certification and is sucking in more and more organic food as the biggest national foodservice companies get behind it.

“We compromised on organic, we compromised on sugar-like sweeteners, we compromised on restaurant food (where organic regulations don’t apply). We never compromised on GMOs. We are winning because we were pragmatic. And how we’re winning!”

But concern about the Catering Mark is the main reason why four trustees resigned from the Soil Association Council at the beginning of December. They felt it was an ethical sell-out to allow non-organic food in meals that bore Soil Association approval. They were unhappy that the standards permitted organic food that was frozen or canned, as this was not ‘fresh’ even if it was ‘freshly prepared’

I got into the world of organic food from the standpoint of the macrobiotic diet. We ate natural and wholegrain and organic whenever possible, which wasn’t often in 1967. But we mapped out a route that helped us get to where we are today. The reason the marvellous macrobiotic diet that has been the mainstay of my health and happiness for five decades never went mainstream was because it got hijacked by people who were rigid and restrictive. The macrobiotic guru and author of Zen Macrobiotics, Georges Ohsawa, was horrified to see this and just before he died he tried to correct this by writing that, thanks to macrobiotics he could enjoy whisky, chocolate and other taboo foods, as long as he did it in moderation. We compromised on organic, we compromised on sugar-like sweeteners, we compromised on restaurant food (where organic regulations don’t apply). We never compromised on GMOs. We are winning because we were pragmatic. And how we’re winning! The tide is turning. Finally clinicians are recognising that food is medicine and the Hospital Food Standards Committee have recommended Catering Mark as a scheme that can improve hospital food.

You might have missed it, but School Meals Week was in early November. The Minister of State for Education, David Laws MP, praised the Soil Association’s Food for Life Catering Mark, commending it as a scheme that allows school leaders to choose caterers who are committed to providing school children with high quality, nutritious food. He said: “My message is: ‘Quality really matters’. This is our challenge for 2015. I would like to see all schools and their caterers holding – or working hard towards – a quality award like the excellent Catering Mark.” The evidence is compelling – kids at Catering Mark schools have better attendance rates, better academic performance and better understanding of food and nutrition, the key to avoiding obesity.

The three journalists and a baker who resigned from the Soil Association cited the Catering Mark as the main example of how the Soil Association has lost its way. If that’s what losing its way looks like then perhaps the Soil Association should ‘lose its way’ more often.

The future is meat less

People everywhere are reducing meat consumption. Craig Sams argues that organic farmers are well placed to adjust to the coming low-meat scenario

My late great aunt Sophia was very religious and faithfully observed all the fast days of the Orthodox Church’s nearly 2000 year-old religious calendar. When you totted up every Wednesday and Friday plus Lent, Dormition and Nativity Fasts she had about 180 days as a vegan, two with no food and another 40 that were ovo-lacto vegetarian. Two thirds of the year. She would never have described herself as a vegetarian, though. She once killed, skinned and cooked a rabbit when I came to lunch.  She cooked broad beans, chickpeas and wheat for protein on meatless days. Her generation’s view was that you weren’t a proper Christian unless you adhered to the fasting rules, purely for spiritual reasons.

When Japan went Buddhist  and vegetarian 1400 years ago it was made easier by having tofu and ‘seitan’ wheat gluten and meaty-tasting miso and soya sauce – the same meat-replacing foods that help people transition to the macrobiotic diet. Michelin 3 star chefs Alain Passard and Alain Ducasse  both now have successful restaurants in Paris that are almost entirely vegan or vegetarian.

In 1981 my brother Gregory came up with an idea for a vegetarian burger mix. He registered the name ‘Vegeburger’ as a Trademark because it was such a novel term –(just imagine trying to do that today).  Set up under the Realeat brand the Vegeburger took off like a rocket and Gregory hooked up with Gallup to launch an annual survey on ‘Changing Attitudes to Meat Consumption’ that revealed the dynamic growth in the market for vegetarian food that continues to this day.   It shook off the ‘beards and sandals’ image that some backward folk still had about vegetarianism and made meat reduction hip and groovy. Pirate radio stations ran the first ever rapping food advertisement. That cemented the Vegeburger as cool.

The VegeBurger made the transition to vegetarianism much easier and more tempting for people at a time of rising food awareness in the 80s. Some people were critical – ‘Why imitate meat dishes with a veggie substitute?’ they’d ask. Why not? Most sausages are about 90% breadcrumbs.  Rissoles and patties have been around for as long as hamburgers. If putting something savoury in an appropriate roll or bun is delicious, who says it has to have been a mammal or bird previously?

Last August I attended a conference titled “Reversing The Trend” organized by Plantlife, Wildlife Trusts and Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Attendees mapped out a strategy to raise the profile of pasture-fed meat as opposed to intensive factory farmed animals.  The Prince of Wales dropped in and emphasized the arguments for biodiversity and reducing global warming.   The conclusion?  The same message that Slow Food and the Soil Association repeat: “Eat less meat, but eat better.”

People everywhere are reducing meat. There’s good reason. Eating meat is cruel to animals, in excess leads to degenerative disease, environmental degradation, accelerated climate change, the theft of food from poorer countries and widespread starvation.

What about organic vegetarian alternatives to meat? In my 25 years helping out at the Soil Association I have worked alongside conscientious meat and dairy farmers whose commitment to the environment is unchallengeable. Many, however, mistrust vegetarianism as they think organic farming systems cannot function without animals to supply manure for fertility building. But if we were vegetarian we’d need less than half the land used for food production now and if we were vegan we’d need just one fifth of the land – we could farm more extensively, and grow more clover.

Meat alternatives have never been more convincing. The Nordic countries are leading the charge in creating organic high quality alternatives to meat that convincingly satisfy the need for meaty texture, savoury flavour and concentrated protein. What’s more, they’re successfully marketing it as hip and groovy. So can organic farmers adjust to the coming low meat scenario?  With modern developments in composting, green manures and overwintered crops there’s no need to be dependent on animal manures.  The future is probably never going to be vegetarian but food processors are coming up with some very competitive alternatives to meat, lower in price and higher in flavour.

I wish my Aunt Sophia could see how far things have come, but she’d be 115 by now  – even 222 days a year as a vegetarian can’t swing that.


• The Nordic Organic Food Fair, the leading organic food event for the Scandinavian region, takes place in Malmo, Sweden, on 26-27 October 2014.

Nordic thriller

The Nordic Food Lab fuses the finest gastronomic traditions with cutting edge science to thrilling effect, writes Craig Sams

You have to hand it to the Danes.  They took over Britain in 1066 and have ruled it with a firm hand ever since.  Now Nordic Food is where it’s at with food technology. This isn’t the food technology that destroyed the health of a couple of generations when, back in the 60s hired liars in white coats assured us that hydrogenated fat, DDT residues and carcinogenic flavourings and colourings were good for you and that sugar was a vital source of energy. This is food technology that takes the best of past tradition and combines it with cutting edge science. The heart of this progressive movement is the Nordic Food Lab, sited atop the Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen.

Voted World’s Best Restaurant year after year, Noma is the only restaurant in the world to have 2 Michelin stars despite not having tablecloths (OMG!).  I chose the vegetarian options but with egg and dairy and paired juices.  Then the fun began.  I sipped a thyme-y herbed apple juice as we awaited the first of 20 courses. Highlights of the petite starters included rye flatbread with rose petals, crispy deep fried cabbage leaves sandwiching a filling of chopped samphire held together with a watercress puree, reindeer moss with ceps, smoked  pickled quail’s egg, a boulet of blackcurrant and roses and a lovely baked onion in walnut oil. My accompanying juices included: cucumber with yogurt whey; apple with Douglas fir pine needle; celery and seaweed; nasturtium; salted grape and lingonberry; each pairing perfectly balancing the course it accompanied.

The ‘mains’ were also superb, I haven’t eaten beechnuts in years because they’re such a fiddle, but they were perfect with butternut squash and kelp ribbons. The roasted and braised lettuce root was a revelation, served with St. John’s wort – opiates and tranquilisers in one dish.  Puddings included aronia berries with an ice cream centre. Oh, did I mention the ants?  Wood ants, of course, served on a charcoal roasted green bean.  I mentioned to our waitress Cat that I’d shove my hand into wood ants’ nests in Burnham Beeches (where I used to forage for beech nuts) just to enjoy the unique physical pleasure of ‘formication,’ where hundreds of ants’ feet run up and down your arm (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it).  She responded that was how their forager harvested them.

After a four-hour gastro-journey, a Geordie called Stu took us into the front kitchen where we saw how the person who served your food also took the final steps of preparation. Then we visited Lars, the enzymologist who makes fermented sauces out of almost anything and has bred cultures from Japanese koji that perform miracles when added to fermentable carbohydrates. We bonded when I told him about how I started using enzymes at Ceres Bakery back in 1972 – they are the key to making good sourdough breads. We also looked at his garums, savoury sauces historically made by Romans from anchovies, but his included beef and other protein sources.  We went upstairs and met Rene Redzepi, the creative force behind Noma. We chatted about Slow Food, school meals, how kids can be raised on good food at home and then be corrupted on the first day at school, cooking with burdock root and eating biochar.  I’ll send him some of my biochar oatcakes

To enlist science in the interests of human health, local integrity, artisanal quality, organic production and, above all, total and unalloyed deliciousness is a dream we’ve all dared to imagine from time to time.  At the Nordic Food Lab I have seen the future, and it’s wild, wholesome, fermented, smoked, cooked, raw and yummy. It is reinventing food culture and marking a path that anyone anywhere can follow.  You don’t have to be Danish to do it.  Noma is a university that is turning out chefs and artisan food biotechnologists who are going to change the way all of us eat.  The Nordic approach will work anywhere – it’s about building gastronomy on a foundation of local geography and protecting your natural environment by eating it.

I asked Stu if some of the people who worked there had ambitions to open their own restaurant or food business. He replied “All of them, if they don’t then they shouldn’t be working here.”

• The Nordic Organic Food Fair, the leading organic food event for the Scandinavian region, takes place in Malmo, Sweden, on 26-27 October 2014.