by John Parkin
C.S.Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, suggests that the sin of gluttony lies not so much in over-indulgence as in an excessive concern with food. There is gluttony in the mother's insistent preference for "a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled, or a slice of bread properly toasted". "What," asks Screwtape, "do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern?" "Mere excess in food," he maintains, "is much less valuable than delicacy." How valuable, then, must the devils find our successive food scares and obsession with dietary health? How well they have done their work to bring about a situation in which the citizens of western societies eat the fullest and healthiest diet in their history and are morbidly convinced they are being poisoned by their food.
Observing the hypochondriac tendencies of his contemporaries in 1711, Joseph Addison advised them not to "engage ... in groundless fears, melancholy apprehensions, and imaginary distempers, which are natural to every man who is more anxious to live than how to live". Despite the nutritional and medical advances of nearly three centuries, we apparently stand in need of much the same advice. After all, we are aware today of so many more issues: questions not only of health but of animal welfare and environmental impact begin to impinge upon the hitherto simple choice of what to have for dinner. "Is it organic? free-range? Farm Assured? Freedom Food? Fair Trade? Has it been transported thousands of miles, polluting the globe with jet fuel? Will its packaging end up in a land-fill site? How many calories? Saturated fat? Did someone say olive oil was good for you? Was there something in the newspaper about claret and heart disease?"
So how are responsible consumers to avoid this gluttonous obsession with food as they plod along the supermarket aisles studying the small print? After all, not all our fears can be dismissed as groundless: genetic modification gives rise to real concerns, and, even if the connection between BSE and Creutzfeldt Jakob disease is now being questioned, the beef crisis drew attention to some pretty revolting practices in feeding animals. We do not need a committee of EEC experts to tell us that cattle are herbivores and should not be fed the remains of dead sheep.
Actually, there may be comfort in this reflection: we as cooks and shoppers may feel bewildered by the technicalities of the debate, but we retain an instinctive idea of what is wholesome. As a consequence of this same sorry episode, we were told of the parts of the carcass which were no longer to enter the food chain: most of us were instinctively horrified that anyone should have thought to make food from the bits in question at all. The industry euphemism is 'recovered meat', but one does not need to know the gory details to adopt a sensible attitude. As Jennifer Patterson has straightforwardly observed, "If you can't cut it from the carcass with a knife it isn't edible."
She and her fellow television 'Fat Lady' have done much to restore one's faith not only in food but also in the ordinary consumer's capacity to buy, prepare and serve it safely and responsibly. They largely eschew supermarkets, especially for buying meat, and instead repeatedly recommend seeking out a 'proper butcher' with whom to 'make friends'. This is important, because to have faith in our food we must have faith in the people producing and supplying it, a truth which earlier generations necessarily knew better than we. The following advice on buying pork is from a hefty 19th-century volume, The Book of the Household: "The meat is so proverbially, and we believe dangerously, unwholesome when ill-fed, or to any degree diseased, that its quality should be closely examined before it is purchased. When not home fatted it should be bought, if possible, of some respectable farmer or miller, unless the butcher who supplies it can be perfectly relied upon." I do not suppose many pigs have been 'home fatted' in Britain since the War, when necessity made the practice more appealing, but the late John Archer was not the only farmer selling pork (or indeed other meat) directly. One farmer near Cambridge, who rears and butchers his own free-range meat, has seen such an increase in custom recently that he asked for his name not to be mentioned here for fear of being overwhelmed.
Another piece of Victorian advice from the same source shows how closely farming, shopping and cooking used to be linked: "Rumps and aitch-bones are often bruised by the blows given to the cattle by the drovers; therefore, as those parts are liable to taint in such cases, be careful not to purchase joints where bruises appear." The source of our meat, by contrast, is hidden from our view by the vast infrastructure of modern mass retailing, just as its substance is obscured by shiny cellophane and polystyrene; until, that is, a catastrophe like BSE reveals just what horrors were being perpetrated while we pored over the neon-lit labels in the chilled cabinet.
Gawthroup and Sons, the long-established Cottenham family butchers who have a busy stall on Cambridge market, rear their own beef. Long before the BSE crisis and publicity about growth-promoting drugs, they put up a notice reassuring customers that their home-reared beef was "your best guarantee against chemicals"; and Mr Gawthroup would explain at length (given half a chance) the technicalities of meat production, traditional and industrial. One of his most popular lines is calves' liver, utterly fresh and tender in a tub on the counter. When Marks and Spencer opened their so-called 'butcher's counter' they too offered calves' liver, though at four times the market-stall price, and they had the nerve to label it 'exclusive'. When I asked the woman at the counter what was exclusive about it she couldn't tell me because the answer was not written down in the file of backgound information to which she had to refer. One Cambridge butcher told me the only notable thing about Marks and Spencer's liver was the fact that it was imported from Belgium. I have been unable to verify this (not in the file!), but I did notice that the liver has mysteriously disappeared from the display in the wake of the Belgian dioxin scare.
Of course it is hard to have faith in our food when that faith must be placed in supermarket labelling, government quangos and media reporting. But there is a simpler way of finding out about the meat you are buying: seek out a 'proper butcher' (there are still several in Cambridge) and ask him.
Above all, don't be unduly anxious: common sense goes a long way. There is a comforting proverb, dating probably from the middle ages, which reassures us that "Meat and mass never hindered any man." This seems a good text with which to end, although perhaps with the qualification offered by R.L.Stevenson in 1893: "Meat and mass never hindered any man. The mass I cannot afford you, for we are all good Protestants. But the meat I press to your attention."
The Revd Jeremy Clark-King
Before and after every Thursday formal meal at Girton College the senior fellow present says a short form of Grace. The recitation of those simple words has the dual function of marking the beginning and end of an important time in our week and setting our meal in a much larger context. It is an occasion when almost all the members of our college eat together, a chance to meet friends, as well as those we don't know so well. A meal together is a meaningful event because it is simultaneously created by and creates a community. For those of us in Hall who believe in God, the saying of Grace sets the meal in the much larger context of God's gift to us and our response of thanksgiving.
I heard recently someone say that the best way to live is to act as if everything you do was for both the first and the last time. This is a hard discipline that may not be permanently possible, but Grace before a meal can remind us to reverence every morsel of food. Imagine what wonder it would be to taste each mouthful for the first time ever. Imagine what importance you would give it if you knew it to be your last ever meal. Wrapped up also in that moment of saying Grace are our thanks and respect for all who work to make and prepare our food. Those short words allow us, however unconsciously, to value each other, our meal, ourselves, and God.
In a place where a shared meal is a regular event, being thankful for it is a bare minimum in order not to take it for granted. Others eat alone - a true solitariness. Others do not have the resources to eat a well-balanced diet - one of the major factors causing the huge health differential between rich and poor in this country. Others do not have enough to eat at all. All people have the responsibility to co-operate in the just distribution of the resources of the world that we share. It cannot be left to the 'Market' to regulate fair exchange of goods, because the Market is not neutral: it favours the powerful and rich. It cannot be left to Agri-Business to decide the issues surrounding the genetic modification of foodstuffs, nor to Economics to decide who has access to possible benefits. The responsibility is ours to become informed, aware and active.
God "opens his hand in due season" and invites all to share in the preparation, serving and enjoying of the feast.
Joanne Garner has been elected Master of the University Guild of Change Ringers for the coming year. Joanne is at Clare College and is a first-year research student in geology. She learned bellringing at Solihull when she was 14 and was Master of the Society of Change Ringers at the University of Durham, whence she graduated. The University Guild works closely with the GSM bellringers, ringing for the 6.30 pm service and University Sermons. The Guild (including former members) will be going to Devon for a week of bellringing in August.
Eight walkers (and two dogs) from GSM took part in the sponsored walk for Oxfam on 16th May and, with the help of their sponsors, raised a considerable sum for Oxfam.
The Choirs sang at the top of the tower at 7.30 in the morning on Ascension Day (13th May).
The GSM Choirs will be giving a concert on Saturday 17th July at 7.30 pm in church. The programme will include some of the music from the forthcoming CD and will raise funds for the recording. Tickets cost �00 (including a glass of wine or fruit juice in the interval) and are available from the church office.
The choral evensong at 6.00 pm on Mondays will be resumed when the new academic year starts in October.
Everyone is invited to the service at 8.00 pm on Tuesday 6th July, when the Revd Kerry Ramsay will be licensed as curate at Great St Mary's by the Bishop of Huntingdon.
A picnic and rounders match will be held at Girton College on Sunday 25th July from 12.45 pm onwards. All ages will be welcome for the bring-and-share picnic lunch and for the rounders games.
There are many people who work behind the scenes to keep GSM running smoothly. Eric Adcock has been counting the money from the pledged giving envelopes every week for over thirty years, and we record our thanks to him for this loyal service. As Eric retires from duty this month, a new rota system will come into operation.
The GSM library is now housed in a new bookcase in the Narthex and is available after Sunday services and during the week. To borrow a book, please enter the date, your name and the title in the book provided; then enter the date when you return the book borrowed.
We welcome Eileen Devonport to the Gift Shop staff. Copies of 2,000 Years (Pitkin Books) are available in the shop, priced at �50. This is an interesting and well-illustrated account of Christianity in England and would make a useful gift.
Don Broom is Professor of Animal Welfare in the Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, and a member of GSM.
A genetically modified virus, bacterium, plant or animal has one or more genes removed or inserted from another organism. Although gene insertion can occur naturally, for example by the action of viruses, it is very rare, so genetic modification is fundamentally different from normal breeding. Some people consider that no genetic modification of any organism should be allowed, while most think that GMOs should be carefully controlled. What are the risks and what are the benefits?
The breeding of new strains of cereals is one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century as, without it, there would have been no food for at least half of all people. Genetic modification provides new opportunities for production of more and better food. Insertion of a gene from a drought- resistant plant means that a crop plant can survive and produce more in drought conditions. If a gene which protects rice against nematode worms is inserted into a vegetable, the very substantial losses caused by nematodes are reduced. Genes which produce natural insecticides can be put into maize to protect it against insects and reduce spraying with insecticides. Herbicide use after insertion of a gene for herbicide resistance into a crop plant minimises weed competition. Food quality can also be improved, for example by producing tomatoes which ripen more slowly, so flavour is improved and shelf-life is longer, or plants with less saturated fats or more proteins.
Genes can have many effects in an organism, not just the one intended, and some changes can have wide-ranging effects on the ecosystem. Clearly we should know about all effects before permitting widespread use of GMOs, and there is a system for checking this via the government's Advisory Committee for Releases to the Environment. However, during testing, cross-pollination of unmodified crops is a risk which is not fully investigated. Toxic effects on humans should be easily discovered, but testing should last long enough for slow-acting effects to be identified. New proteins in a plant could cause allergic responses, e.g. asthma attacks, perhaps in only 2% of people. If there is an insecticidal property in a plant, will harmless insects be killed, as when monarch butterflies were killed by pollen from genetically modified maize on the leaves of their food plant? Such maize should be modified so that the insecticide is not in the pollen. If a gene for herbicide resistance is inserted into a crop plant, will it get into weeds so that the herbicide no longer works? Too much herbicide usage could reduce biodiversity.
There has been much less genetic modification of animals which are used for food. Early attempts to insert human growth hormone into pigs produced animals whose welfare was so obviously very poor that the study ceased. Current work is directed more at medical objectives. However, products from genetically modified bacteria may be used in animals. The best example is bovine somatotrophin (BST), a protein which is only slightly different from the naturally occurring cattle growth hormone. It is injected fortnightly into cows to make them produce more milk and its use is licensed in the USA. In the EU there is a moratorium on its usage until the end of 1999. I helped produce scientific reports on the effects of BST on animal welfare and humans who drink the milk. The evidence was not fully available when the USFDA approved BST usage. BST-treated cows had about 40% more mastitis and 100% more foot disorders, both painful conditions, and increased reproduction problems as well as prolonged injection site swellings. Milk from BST-treated cows has considerably more insulin-like growth factor (IGFI) in it. Some IGFI is absorbed, and people with more IGFI in their blood are slightly more likely to have breast cancer or prostate cancer.
The financial advantages of BST use, mainly to the producers of it, do not justify its usage in my view. However, consumption of genetically modified crops does not affect human genetics and some benefits are great. Testing of GMOs should cover direct and indirect effects, including effects on the environment and effects on susceptible minorities of people and on other species. Where animals are affected, thorough studies of animal welfare should be required. Tests on GMOs will take several or many years. Meanwhile, studies of how to contain them effectively are important. I believe that the benefits of GMOs should not go disproportionately to the companies producing them, so patenting of a plant or animal should not be permitted and the use of terminator genes to prevent reuse of seed should be forbidden if it is for solely commercial purposes.
Bill Chowings on the National Institute of Agricultural Botany
Bill Chowings was formerly Head of the Vegetables and Ornamentals Branch of the NIAB. He is a member of GSM.
Food shortages during and following the 1914-18 war required a national production target of 8 million acres of grain, but good-quality seed was very scarce. In 1919 the National Institute of Agricultural Botany was established by seed merchants, crop producers and breeders as an independent trust "to promote the improvement of existing varieties of seeds,, plants and crops in the UK and to aid the introduction or distribution of new varieties".
Its first Chairman coined the slogan "Better Seeds - Better Crops", which is still appropriate 75 years later. The Institute set out to encourage farmers to "Grow More", an exhortation which appears on its crest. It did so by testing seed for the industry, growing trials of traditional and new cereal varieties to establish and publicise their yields, and trialing potato varieties.
In 1939-45, war again brought with it a demand for UK farms to produce the maximum yields of food. Whilst variety trialing ceased, seed-testing continued to ensure that the land was sown only with seed which would germinate and produce good crops. The multiplication of state-bred varieties, which had begun between the wars, also continued and the Government asked the Institute to supervise the home production of agricultural and horticultural seeds. The seed production supervision worked well and was continued after the war as a scheme for ensuring that seed produced and sold was true to variety.
Its founders never intended that the Institute should breed new varieties and, by 1967, it was also agreed that, to ensure impartiality, it should not multiply and sell seed of varieties it had assessed in trials. This part of its work was therefore transferred to a new organisation, the National Seed Development Organisation, set up at Newton Hall, south of Cambridge, and now a part of Monsanto on the old PBI site.
Training in all aspects of the Institute's expertise has been a major preoccupation in the post-war years. In recent years training and consultancy work has taken staff to Moscow, Southern Russia, Moldavia, Uzbekistan, Poland, Pakistan and China. Visitors from many developing countries have also been trained at Cambridge.
Work on vegetables was given impetus by the release of new varieties by the state-funded research stations. The National Vegetable Research Station had taken over the plant-breeding work of Cambridge University and bred disease-resistant lettuces and parsnips, and winter cabbages free from rosetting. Trials showed that crops grown from these varieties gave less wastage, increasing total edible yield. By the early 1970s, NVRS breeders had developed the first F1 hybrid brussels sprout, which led the way for a complete changeover to hybrids in this crop within 15 years. All plants within the variety were identical and there was little or no wastage. F1 hybrid brussels sprouts, accompanied by improved husbandry, more than doubled the yield per acre. This story was repeated for cabbages, carrots, cauliflowers, onions and parsnips, whilst the first hybrid leeks are being grown in trials at the moment. It is interesting to note that F1 hybrids of parsnips were bred by transferring male sterility from the wild species through crossing - an example of gene transfer by traditional breeding methods.
Hybrids have ensured that growers can more than meet market requirements for our traditional vegetables. Supermarkets are increasingly demanding: they require not only a plentiful supply at the lowest possible price, but also blemish-free vegetables evenly graded and packed in polythene bags. Varieties are now assessed in Institute trials for their size potential - not too large to fit the bag. They are also pre-packed and held in a room simulating supermarket conditions to assess shelf life.
Over ten years ago trials were started on organic farms, and this year has seen a new publication advising growers on choice of variety for cultivating without chemical application, making use of varieties' inherited resistance to pests and disease. This work should help growers who are converting to organic food production, which is an increasing consumer demand. In spite of a radical reduction in government support in recent years, requiring the Institute to raise funding from the industry, its work continues and it is hoped that it will play an important role in screening varieties for food production in the new millennium.
Tina Fox puts the case for vegetarianism.
Tina Fox is Chief Executive of the Vegetarian Society.
Although some people consider the adoption of a vegetarian diet to be a trendy new fad, in reality it has a long history: Brahmins, Buddhists, Jains and Zoroastrians are all followers of long-established religions which advocate abstention from flesh foods, as did many of the early philosophers such as Pythagoras, Socrates, and Ovid. Christian tradition, too, has its famous adherents. John Wesley, co-founder of the Methodist movement, was vegetarian and the Reverend William Cowherd, founder of the Bible Christian Church in Salford in 1809, asked his congregation to refrain from eating meat and was one of the early activists whose efforts led to the organised movement of vegetarianism, culminating in the founding of the Vegetarian Society in 1847.
So why are approximately 5,000 people a week in the United Kingdom adopting such a diet? The reasons split broadly into three groups - moral/ethical choice, health concerns and concern for the environment, although many people are motivated by a combination of all aspects with one or two predominating. In the UK, from results of our own surveys of members, the Society has found the ethical reasons to be the most prevalent, but even within these there is a range of views. Some, like myself, have taken the view that it is morally abhorrent to end the life of an animal unnecessarily or to cause someone else to do so on our behalf. This decision is all the more sustainable today when there is so much vegetarian food available in our shops, supermarkets and caf閟. It is no longer required that anything is 'given up' to adopt a vegetarian diet. Even someone who loves the taste of meat can still have it without the cruelty, as so many substitutes are now readily available. Others feel that it is acceptable to kill to eat but not to subject animals to the cruelty of factory-farm conditions and the stress of modern live transport and abattoir procedures. As free-range, home-killed meat is not readily available, they turn to a vegetarian diet. A further group believes that a vegetarian diet is a more spiritually pure one and essential for proper meditation and other spiritual or ritual practices.
Further afield, however, and particularly in the USA, health is more a motivating factor, and even in the UK this is often an important factor for older members of the population. At one time it was felt that protein from vegetable sources was second-class protein. This has all changed now as research continues to point to the high risks linked with meat consumption - BSE, E Coli, high fat content leading to increased heart disease risk, increased cancer risks, etc. A vegetarian diet has also been found to be very beneficial in controlling weight and in limiting the effects of some diseases such as diabetes and arthritis. Vegetarians have generally decreased mortality rates from all causes and tend to live longer and more actively: attendance at our AGM would confirm this!
Another important factor is concern for the health of the planet and for our brothers and sisters in the third world. Millions of hectares of land the world over are utilised for growing grain or for rearing of livestock, leading to deforestation, acid rain, increased production of methane gas which contributes to the greenhouse effect, pollution of rivers and soil erosion. Such livestock farming is an inefficient use of limited resources, as 10 kilos of vegetable protein are required to produce just one kilo of meat protein and 11,250 litres of water are needed for each pound of meat as compared to 13 for a pound of wheat. Instead of growing cash crops, third-world farmers could grow appropriate food crops to feed their own families and communities. The position is made worse by the prevalence of intensive factory farms, which contribute to all the above problems and add more in the shape of non-renewable energy usage and very unhealthy and unpleasant conditions for animals and human workers alike. Finally, on the environmental front, our seas are being fished to the point of collapse and over half the fish caught are being used for animal feed or fertiliser. Today we have a new environmental danger to add to the list - genetic modification. The Society does not approve the use of its logo on any products containing Genetically Modified Organisms or ingredients because of concern for both animal testing and the long-term effects on the environment.
When I first became vegetarian in 1972 it was a very difficult diet to live with: all food had to be home-cooked as no ready meals or frozen dishes were available, and when eating out the choice tended to be omelette or omelette! Now we have moved a great way from this, all supermarkets offering a wide choice of not only chilled and frozen ready meals but also exotic ingredients, sandwich fillers and p鈚閟, vegetarian cheeses and even vegetarian wine. Any restaurant or caf� worth its salt has a vegetarian selection, and even the majority of pubs have now recognised and cater for the increasing demand. Take a pinch of compassion, sprinkle liberally with concern for animals, humans and the environment, and you have a perfect recipe for a happy and healthy planet - vegetarianism!
For information about a vegetarian diet or to assist the Society (a registered charity), write to
Tina Fox, The Vegetarian Society of the UK Ltd, Parkdale, Dunham Road, Altrincham, Cheshire, WA14 4QC. Tel. 0161 928 0793.
Stephen Massil on food in Jewish practice
Stephen Massil is a Hebrew specialist
It is widely known that the Jews have distinct practices with regard to their food and, through the wider dissemination of our western culture, there is general familiarity with their 'nosh' and bagels. The term 'kosher', primarily the designation of fit and proper and correct Jewish food, has entered the language as a general term of affirmation and rightness. The term 'treif', its opposite, has yet to do so, but the term 'parev' designating foods which are neutral, is noticeable on some supermarket labels.
The dietary laws of Judaism and the wider applications of the Jewish sense of food, nourishment, conviviality, fasting and feasting certainly underpin Judaism in its everyday manifestations. It is a commonplace in the catering trade that Jewish hospitality is expressed and appreciated through food rather than drink. As with most other cultures, food has a central place in Jewish life: sabbaths, fasts and feasts give the annual Jewish religious cycle its momentum, and give its rites of passage their social impetus.
The gamut of social and cultural influences have affected the components of Jewish sabbath and festival meals, but religious injunctions have also dictated some elements; for example, the fact that food for the sabbath has to be prepared in advance has led to the development of certain dishes cooked overnight (different in different places and under varied influences) which became characteristic. The prohibition on pork has led Jewish cuisine to develop the use of chicken, duck and goose fat, as well as corn oil, in northern and eastern Europe and olive oil in southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
The two matters that historically made up the oppugnancy of Jews and Christians so far as social interaction was concerned were the eating of pork, so widespread among all gentile cultures, and the serving of wine (affecting commensality). Jewish concern about purity of sources of wine arose because of its ritual applications in Christianity and the fact that it might have been given a Christian blessing before being served to a Jew.
The blessing over bread and wine (the 'kiddush' - sanctification) which is the formal start to any Jewish meal is balanced by the Grace after Meals (the 'benching', which is a Yiddish word derived from the Italian 'benediction' - so it can be said that our semantic shifts are non-denominational), which has equal importance at its end; indeed, the scope of the Grace encapsulates at table the importance of food in Judaism and its extension by way of incorporation of thanks to God for all of life's blessings and worldly goods.
The laws give clear guidance and presuppose strict adherence but do not encapsulate all that can be said about Judaism and food. In the absence of strict adherence, historical dimensions of food as culture (where immigrant Jews have come from, the foods they favour, their cuisine) also display Jewish characteristics, and the celebration of food, fruits in particular, also gives colour to the wider sense of Jewish food values.
It would be easy to say that the dietary laws are concerned primarily with health, hygiene and preservation of meat in the climate of the Middle East. That may be so. It is also easy to see that Biblical taxonomy identifies the permitted animals as those that are themselves vegetarian (herbivores); a structuralist approach can see that the animals concerned are those that are, as it were, of their element (i.e. animals that walk on the land and not those that crawl in the earth; fish that swim and not those that cling to rocks; birds that fly); an anthropological approach can see in the laws how the Jews were to avoid the animal-gods of their neighbours or deliberately to flout their taboos to underpin separate identity. These perspectives are valid, but the faith of Judaism, as such, discounts them. The regulations are laid down in the Bible and have been elaborated by the Rabbis and cannot be explained away.
The separation of milk and meat means that the orthodox Jewish home makes provision for two sets of utensils, even of two kitchens amongst the wealthy. This law stems from an injunction "not to seethe a kid in its mother's milk" and thus shares in the compassion for animals expressed also in the injunction "not to muzzle the ox" at threshing time. It is of a piece also with Biblical adumbrations of crop rotation, first fruits and the fallow of the seventh year and the jubilee, as well as the regulations of gleaning and the like. Attitudes to food are thus closely linked to an agricultural context and a sense of environmental tenure.
All events take place in Great St Mary's unless otherwise advertised.
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Since this is the same from issue to issue, we have included a single copy of it on the site, as our Who's who at GSM page.
Majestas is edited by John Parkin, Sheila Cameron, David Hollier, Andy Martin, Philip Oswald (proofs) and John Sturdy (HTML) and published by: Great St Mary's The University Church, Cambridge CB2 3PQ, Tel (01223) 350914, Fax (01223) 426555.
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