raspberries and rare earth metals

Hidden away among the undergrowth of the manse/house/home  I found a few raspberry canes.
So the past few weeks I’ve been picking them, raspberry by raspberry, setting them on a tray in the freezer and bagging them to see what weight of fruit I can harvest from this piece of land in the garden. (can we reach 500g?)

These canes have been completely neglected and in my excitement I’ve probably been over eager to pick them. They could maybe have been left a few more days to plump up a little. But I was excited to get them picked.

The thing that I am trying to get into my head and visualize is the amount of land that is needed to grow x amount of raspberries. An area of land about 0.5 m sq has so far yield about enough berries to make a pudding. How much land is needed to grow all the pots of raspberry jam that are going mouldy in cupboards all over Ireland?

This is something that is nearly impossible for us to do being disconnected from the land as we are, especially those of us who live in cities or towns. To picture a piece of land somewhere in the world where our raspberries are grown might take a bit of effort.
The same for our wheat, our rice, our potatoes. When we lift a bag in Dunnes Stores we have little reason to think about where the beans for our baked beans are grown or where the sugar for our Coca Cola was grown. But they have been grown and harvested somewhere,in some other community and piece of land.
The metals in that enamel milk jug where dug up somewhere. The rare earth materials in our electronic gadgets came from somewhere.

Thinking about rare metals seems to be something that we need not concern ourselves with and it wasn’t really something I had considered that much until this morning after church when I got chatting to a gentleman from Malaysia who starting talking about a rare earth refining plant in his home town. Our demand for electronics will have consequences for the area he is from.  For him the big concern wasn’t so much the radiation from the processing plant  but the acidification of water from the refining process.  What will people do when trees start dying from the change in acidity? How will the water be neutralized when it costs so much?


He had also mentioned that when you fly into Malaysia you now see unending palm tree plantations to supply the world with palm oil. To plant the palm trees that go into cosmetics and other consumer products the native forests had to be cleared and burnt.  That bar of soap in the bathroom might have come from his neck of the woods and if not it came from someone else part of the world. How many neglected, unused bars of soap are sitting in bathrooms around the UK?

I think talking to this gentleman from this particular part of the world reminded me that buying a new smart phone or coconut milk in Poundland has consequences for real people, not abstract, ghost-like phantoms who’ll just be alright.

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made in ____?

This horse meat scandal has shown how hard it is to trace where your food actually came from and where in the world it was actually processed. It is also a classic case of it being not our fault, oh its not our fault it’s their fault, it’s not our fault, we bought it from them, its not our fault, we got it over there, its their fault, we clearly followed the rules, its their fault, etc etc.

When I was a student I spent one summer working night shift at a large pig factory. My job was to power hose the plant after production in preparation for production the next day.
I used to see the Cookstown products clearly labelled and beside those pallets of identical sausages labelled as well known supermarket own label brands. They would lbe labelled as ‘Made in the UK’, somewhere in the UK. I didn’t care too much about these sorts of things in my younger days but I’m not sure if the ‘Made in UK’ label said anything about where the pigs came from. The sausages might have been made in the UK but it said nothing about the pig or the other ingredients.

I’ve a bag of Tesco own label coffee that says ‘Packaged in Belgium’ on it. I’ve tried to track down where this factory might be in Belgium and who actually processes it, but I can’t find that information out. I bought a bag of Co-Op coffee beans last night and they say ‘Packaged in Belgium’ on it. Is this the same factory processing own label coffee beans for Tesco and the Co-Op?

Another smaller example is of Coleraine cheddar which isn’t made in Coleraine, it’s made in another factory.

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Do these things matter?

It could all considered a 1st world problem, a case of we should  just be grateful that we can go into a shop and afford to buy food freely without having to worry about where our next meal comes from and not be so fussy that what is sold as beef might actually horse.

Or you could take it the other way and say that being in such a privileged position should actually make us think about where our food comes from . In our church each week we pray the lines ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ .
Do  we wonder  enough about how God is actually supplying our daily bread or are we happy enough to think that God is using corporations and supermarkets (who are chiefly concerned with profit) to supply our daily bread without bothering to see what is going on behind the scenes?

Should we be thankful that we can buy a chicken for £3.99 in the supermarket and ask no questions or should we start poking behind the scenes a bit to see how the chicken is so cheap?

I know a man who previously worked with the poultry industry here in Ireland and used to visit various farms with the job. During Christmas he told us that he used to tell farmers that if they found the conditions in a chicken shed unbearable and unpleasant then it was unfair to keep chickens in the same conditions. I was surprised at this as I imagined that back 30 or 40yrs ago nobody cared so much about these issue and where more concerned about selling chicken feed.

But enough of that, I won’t rest easy until I find out where this coffee packaging factory in Belgium might be.

 

rocket stovery

I decided to try a meal on the rocket stove, H___ will go looking for her quick pasta mix one day and not find it because it’s gone, boom! eaten in 20mins, 10mins to get 125mls of milk, 300ml of water and a knob of butter boiling and 10mins to cook the pasta. I was happy with that, it didn’t use too much stick and the smoke died down. I think that less is more when it comes to feeding the sticks. If there are too many sticks the stove will smoke, the trick seems to be getting a steady flame without letting it die out.

I’m also wary of fumes and stuff,  but bear in mind that this is the life for many of the worlds poor. If you’ve ever been to the Ulster-American folk park one thing the sticks in the mind is the smell of smoke and turf from the fires in the poorly ventilated homes of centuries ago.

 

rocket stove II

I finally got my hands on a big tin so tried to make a better version of the rocket stove.It was tidy and smaller than the first effort, I think there was less smoke and less wood used to boil 800ml of water in the kettle but alas I was disappointed by the time – 19mins. Only 1min quicker than the first effort!
It still doesn’t seem very efficient to me, I’m sure it could be quicker than that.  I want it down to 10mins.

Jesus and supermarkets (or something like that)

My mind is swirling about corporations and supermarkets after reading ‘Shopped‘ by Joanna Blythman over the weekend so be prepared for a series of supermarket based rantings. They might be a pile of rubbish but I’m just trying to work out why supermarkets and corporations wind me up so much while at the same time being impotent to escape their clutches and also often enjoying their products and services, or even earning some money from them.

However I find there is something particularly creepy about the way supermarkets conduct their business, something which gets me worked up in ways I don’t really understand.

I realised tonight that it may have something to do with supermarkets dealing and trading with one of the essentials of life, food.  Supermarkets have a huge say in the distribution of ‘our daily bread’, they provide for us and would like to be seen in that way by their grateful subjects. They want to be seen and worshipped as our benefactors, as the ones who provided manna at dirt cheap price, or an artisan olive manna at affordable prices. Which I find a bit creepy, especially from a Christian point of view. Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury, Marks and Spencer literally want us to look to them to provide our daily bread. They want to be seen as our providers, our benefactors. Ultimately they want to take the place of God.  If that sounds a bit melodramatic then you should listen to what a supermarket like Tesco freely admits is it’s core purpose.

‘Our Core Purpose is to create value for customers
to earn their lifetime loyalty.

They want my lifetime loyalty and they want your lifetime loyalty. That is their core purpose in life, to do whatever it takes to make little Tesco disciples.

Is it going to be any different with any supermarket or any corporation? And we probably have to remember that the core values, mission statements, visions of companies are made for a reason, which is basically to make the company as profitable as possible, which more than likely means ‘make as much money as possible for whoever owns the company’. As the introduction to ‘Shopped’ mentions

‘Let’s be clear that large supermarket chains are companies whose aim is not, first and foremost, to meet society’s interests…The bottom line is that they are stock market-driven corporations whose overarching goal is to keep their shareholders happy’

Surely the god at the top is Mammon, or money which drives the whole thing from top to bottom, bottom to top?
At the top you have the supermarket trying to get more and more profit/money each year, growing and growing.
At the bottom you have someone like me who might be impressed that I can save money and get more and more profit by shopping in a big chain. Money is driving the whole thing.  I think Coolio said it best

‘power and the money
money and the power
minute after minute
hour after hour’

Or maybe not. More some other day when I’ve chilled out a bit. Maybe not:)