Emotional food

25 November, 2016

Day 5 of the Breadline Challenge.

We start shaping our relationship with food so, so early. It only takes one bad memory to put you off something for good. I am lucky to have grown up in a house with emotional stability and always food on the table- even if it at times was a tad scarce.

My only traumatic food is pan fried breaded herring (like the Swede I am). It wasn’t something we ate often, in fact the first time it was served my mum declared “it’s because it’s cheap, and we have lots of expenses this month”. It was also the same month my grandmother died (the expenses were related to her funeral), thus I now affiliate this devil’s food with my grandmother’s death. It doesn’t take more psychology than that, seeing my mother so very sad at an age of 10 obviously shaped a lot of memories.

Anyhow, this Breadline challenge is not a walk in Sara’s childhood though I must admit that in my own adulthood I have shaped many luxurious food habits that I’ve had to kick for the challenge, remembering times when I didn’t quite have this much (hence the post below, too).

The point is that although the food was perfectly wholesome and nutritious and in some regard also sustainable (herring is one of the few fish we can still eat every now and again), it was my mother’s grief that put me off it. We all have emotional relationships with food and no matter what your safety- or comfort- food may be, the very lack of this is going to send you wobbly at a time when you’re probably already wobbly. I read this bit in here:

“Meat is so expensive these days. When I was growing up we’d only have fish fingers or something once or twice a week, and proper food the rest of the time, now it’s the other way around. We only have proper meat once a month now.”

Regardless of opinion on meat eating, I for one know that so many problems would be solved if we all adapted a more vegetarian- in fact mostly vegan- diet, I can’t help but interpret Tracy’s remark as despair for not quite being able to provide what she once had. The Trussell Trust have so far this year handed out some 200,000 food parcels to children. How many pan fried-herring traumas are being shaped on people who have slipped below the line just now?

I think that all charities who empower people through food- such as Foodcycle or London’s Made in Hackney– will play a bit part in ending food poverty. But ultimately, I have this paragraph from the Food Ethics Council in my mind:

“The government has a responsibility to identify and address the structural inequalities in household income and access to food that contribute to food poverty. Minimum wage and benefit levels should be sufficient to ensure that all households have a living income, not merely a survival income. And food retailers should proactively seek to ensure that that the healthiest foods are affordable and accessible to all.”

Another relatively sustainable and healthy fish to eat is anchovy, which suits me very well as this old classic recipe by my colleague makes a mighty fine dinner (several times, and lunches, for about 40p a portion, if you omit the parmesan): img_7486


Back to basics

20 November, 2016


Today I went to Lidl to get a few more supplies for the challenge. I remember being a student in Stockholm and making bi-weekly trips to the nearest equivalent (Lidl hadn’t reached Sweden back then) and how I determined I was to only purchase basics, and no processed foods. I remember the feeling of wanting to eat wholesome food, and not quite being able to, I remembered it as I was walking between shelves of salty, insubstantial bargains. Sometimes slipping, back then. But this time I didn’t, for I knew this is only for a week.

And I remember just how distracting it was from my actual studies, to have to think of how to feed myself as wholesome on as little as possible. I had the time and freedom to do this, which often isn’t a luxury those truly on the breadline have. This phenomenon is called the poverty premium, the notion that those who can’t hunt for bargains are worse off.

I have managed to purchase some basics to a mighty sum of £14- leaving me with £3 for food emergencies for the rest of the week.

Caveat: I had decided that for this challenge I’d go vegan, as I simply couldn’t face the thought of buying non organic animal product. For the sake of the souls at stake. I’ve now given in to some eggs though rather than buying the Lidl “free range” I have put my organic ones to the challenge, deducting the Lidl price from the total bill- if I truly was on the breadline I of course wouldn’t and perhaps would avoid eggs altogether. I have done the same with a cabbage and some garlic simply as I had some at home and don’t want these to go to waste.

Wish me good luck, and support me here:  http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=SaraHaglund

Reality and food poverty

2 November, 2016

Jeez Louise it’s been 6 years since I last felt the need to throw words out in the ether (or onto the web) in blog form. I’m not on my way back to start blogging with the same passion as before. No, rather consider this an interlude in my silence to talk about a problem that isn’t going away.

I’ve decided to partake in Foodcycle’s Breadline Challenge again this year, I learned so so much last time I did it and regret not talking more about it.

What I found last time around was that although I recognised that I eat very well I thought I could just switch off some luxuries to achieve this budget. Though tinned tomato based stews may be okay sustenance for a week, I swiftly realised that food is more than just food. It’s a reward, a comfort blanket, a way to socialise, a break to get out of the rain, a cup of coffee somewhere when you’re early for a meeting. Take away the food and you take away these things from a person’s life. Not to mention the inevitable slugglishness you get from eating just the bare basics.

Jack Monroe says it better than I do and if you haven’t yet had a chance to see the portrayal of those who fall into our welfare cracks, make your way to the cinema soon .

Hence the revival of the blog, and the link here for your chance to help, too.

Back soon,


I’ll be back!

30 August, 2010

I’m now back in London, where it all began. The journeys have ended for now; it feels weird not having a timeframe anymore.

I’m home.

This means it may be some time before I post another blog. But I will, I promise, once I’ve figured out  the story I want to tell.

In the meantime I can recommend the following blogs:

Abel & Cole

Transition Town Tooting

Hopp, motstånd och kardemummakärnor

Rob Hopkins’ blog

An acidic gift

25 July, 2010

What do these things have in common? A clue: the urn to the right is used to make surkål, which is called by it’s German name sauerkraut in English. The herrings to the left may look harmless enough, but if you could smell them there would be little doubt in that they are fermented, or sour as we say in Swedish.

What these two things have in common, in my opinion, is not only a tiny bacteria but also that they both prove how incredibly clever our ancestors have been, and how important is is for you and me to try to preserve (pardon the pun) an important craft.

It’s harvest time at the farm. The first vegetables are ripe and I sense a couple of great months ahead. So far we’ve harvested salad, tomatoes, courgettes, kohl rabi, cucumber, chard, spinach, dill and a few strawberries. Eating freshly picked stuff like this is new to me, even if organic vegetables have been a major part of my diet for a few years now. I feel like a queen!

The spaceships have landed

Name the good things that last. These few weeks are the result of a full years’ labour, and soon it will be winter again. Nothing is possible to harvest under a thick layer of snow, so the need to preserve all this goodness is and has always been essential. We all know a few ways of doing this. Freezing parboiled vegetables is one method. Drying them another. Pickling in various ways a third. Then you can ferment them.

Many of the foods that we eat contain within them an outstanding way of preserving them: the lactic acid, also known as milk acid (mjölksyra in Swedish). This bacteria is present in obvious foodstuffs such as yoghurt and kefir; curdled milk is just another word for fermented milk. Kvass was once upon a time preferred by hard working laborers; it didn’t cause nausea such as a sip of cold water when you’re too hot can do. Another common food using this process is actually salami.

A bit of a forgotten art in food preservation is the use of lactic acid in vegetables. Borsjtj, the famous Russian beetroot soup, is made on acidified beetroot. One reason this method of preservation is less used today could be the relationship between healthy soil and a slowly grown vegetable; an impossibility in an industrialized agricultural landscape. The process of fermentation requires a certain level of minerals (salt which the plant extracts from the ground), a certain temperature and an oxygen free environment (hence the urn above).

If you get this process right there are two stages the food passes through. First the food, let’s say we’re  acidifying cabbage in order to make sauerkraut, starts degrading. If the requirements mentioned above are not met there would most probably be a development of for example acetic acid or butyric acid (which smells pretty bad). The cabbage rots. However if the circumstances are the right ones the cabbage will degrade until a certain point, until it turns and starts building up again. Just like their fresh parents the lactic acidified veggies are bursting with nutrients and are easy for the body to digest. Because you and I carry lactic acid in our intestines, on our skin and in our mouths.

The presence of lactic acid is indeed a gift which, as Annelies Schöneck writes in her book on the subject, is bestowed on all higher beings on this planet of ours. Big words for a tiny bacteria perhaps, but if you remain unconvinced, have some lovely warm sauerkraut with your next frankfurter…

Courgette lovin’

17 July, 2010

Carl Linnaeus, 1707-1778, means a lot to the world of botany and ecology. His life can only be summarised in books, but the outcome I’m interested in covering is his work and research into plant sexuality, namely the discovery of the stamens and pistils.

I highly recommend reading about him on Wikipedia. There you can also read that he in 1738 married a Sara Elisabeth in Falun. (He has also called Falun “Hell’s Suburb”, something highly understandable considering the mining that have left traces in my hometown’s flora still visible today.)

Basically the stamens and pistils are what helps fruit bearing plants reproduce. They are the plants’ sexual organs, if you see things that way (like I do). Some have them both within the same flowers, others in separate ones. Regardless of which the thing about these two organs is that they need to touch, in order for pollen from the stamen to reach the pistil, or the gynoecium which effectively becomes the plants’ ovary. This is why bees are so important, by the way. It’s estimated that a third of the food we eat comes into existence through this process.

Anyhow, even though the farmer keeps some bumblebees for this very purpose in the greenhouse, nature needs a helping hand and I’m always willing to lend mine! “Pollinating the courgettes” have quickly become my favourite task of the day:

This is the stamen…

…this is the pistil…

… and this is how they meet. Not very arousing but definitely exciting.

If you have courgettes and they tend to rot and die before they ripen, you now know why. Go on, give them a helping hand! And as always, very little needs to go to waste:

The petals looks beautiful in a salad or can be used instead of vine leaves in your dolmades.

On a side note Carl Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné as we know him in Sweden, left another significant imprint in my life. My grandmother and my niece bears the name of his favourite flower, the Linnéa Borealis:

The battle has begun

5 July, 2010

Spot the carrots.

Last week I came to experience a new layer of organic growing, which is the problem with unwanted germination in the fields. In other words: the battle against the weeds have begun.

The Farmer tells me about his fathers’ constant struggles with the weeds. He, like all other farmers of the past (and indeed the present), were at war. Then suddenly a nuclear bomb came around, and sooner or later the vast majority of the farming community were using it. The chemical herbicide.

Otherwise known as weedkiller the chemical herbicide comes in many ways, shapes and forms and I have no intention to account for them here. I am however very willing to understand why these chemicals were an attractive option. It’s just a shame that there are side effects such as ground water damage, indescribable disturbance of the soils’ health and cross contamination with crops intended for ingestion!

There are many ways in which a farmer can protect  her or his crops against these thieves of light and important nutrients. Tilling the soil regularly, for example. But the sensitive area around the fragile carrot shoot cannot be tilled. This is where an army of teenagers enter the arena.

I have already met a few people from the city nearby who tells me about their early experience of this very farm: their first job was to weed the fields.

It’s sort of considered a last resort for youngsters wishing to earn a bit of dosh for ice cream. The youngest of them are 13. It’s not exactly the age where you cherish lying in the mud, if ever you do, but I can see the Farmer’s wife’s efforts in making these young citizens feel proud. Without you I couldn’t farm organically, she tells them, I would have to spray herbicides and  that would make me devastated. There are definetely worse places to have your first experience of working life, and I’m always up for new ways to engage youngsters perhaps not with the land but at least with their food… The social awareness of the Farmer and his wife sure shines through here. Oh and I didn’t get away either- of course I’ve been weeding just as much which sure is lovely on a sunny day. It’s like, you work really hard and get lots done AND you get an even tan at the same time. Double win!

According to SLU, the Swedish Agricultural University, weeds account for 40% of the global total loss of crops because of pests, disease and weeds. This equals about 380 million tonnes of wheat, which would have been half of the global annual production in 2009.  Weeds are by no means a mere eyesore, and the teenagers really are important. Once they’re done the heavy artillery is called upon to till the earth between the rows:

Tractors are after all the younger siblings of tanks, just as weaponry and dynamite were the predecessors of chemical fertilizers…

At ease, soldier.