The Wonky Parsnip

Well, now that I’m not due to fly out until the start of December, I thought I’d go back into work for the remaining two weeks. But, I’ve found myself with the most horrideous (yes, I know, but I like it) sore throat and chesty cough combo which has floored me for a week. As a teenager, when I would wander about with my friends in the bleakest of Scottish winters with nothing more than a midnight blue velvet jacket to keep me warm, fashion daahling, I was plagued with chest infections. As an adult, every time I think I’m getting a cold, it usually turns into laryngitis. Nothing a bit of honey and rest won’t cure and my nearest and dearest are even given a bit of respite from my Katesong as it was once described!

This time, just when I thought I was getting better, I started sneezing and along came a runny nose too. I know it’s still November but I could pull off a cracking Rudolph! What has this got to do with anything? Well, unable to move from my bed since last Friday without incurring a pounding headache and dizziness, I’ve managed to watch the first series of Black Books, the last three seasons of 24 and numerous I’m a Werido Look at Me type programmes on my laptop. Just when I thought I was scraping the bottom of the barrel, I discovered Hugh’s War on Waste.

It was a great series but what a shame it was only two episodes- although  it made for some uncomfortable viewing. I’m not sure whether it was because I am guilty of some of this too or whether it was just watching the sheer volume of food that is being wasted by the supermarkets – sometimes before they even reached the shelves, but I urge you all to watch and then sign up to #wastenot. I couldn’t help but feel for the Norfolk family who, after more than thirty years of growing parsnips for Morrisons, have downed tools for the last time because cosmetic standards for produce, yes that is an actual thing, means that any oddly-shaped, slightly bruised, wrongly sized or “wonky” parsnips have to be discarded or the supermarket will return them. It is criminal that so much food, and it’s not just parsnips, are being turned back into the ground before they reach the shelves because according to the supermarket we, the consumers, only want food that looks “perfect”. When there are so many starving people in the world it is scandalous that millions of tonnes of surplus, still edible, food is being binned by supermarkets each year. But why has it come to this that farmers are going out of business due to the supermarkets?

Once upon a time,  England was a green and pleasant land- or so writes Blake in his poem which has become the unofficial National Anthem. Back in the day, this country was a nation of farmers with roughly 75% of the population making their living off the land at the turn of the 18th century. Cottage industries sprung up which enabled families, or individuals, to make things at home such as weaving cloth, making pottery or lace to tide them over the harsh winter months. Then along came industrialisation and the dark satanic mills and boom! many cottage industries couldn’t compete with the big boys and they closed down.

Apparently, just a short leap from Blake’s home, the ‘Albion Flour Mills was the first mill to be opened in London and, being steam-powered, could produce 6000 bushels of flour per week which would make about 438,000 1lb loaves of bread, if I’ve done my maths correctly. Opponents to this mill called it “satanic” and accused the owners of using cheap imports at the expense of the British producers. This mill could quite easily have put the traditional millers out of business, except for the fire which destroyed it in 1791.

Now, I’m not advocating burning the supermarkets, but their rise since rationing ended in the 1950s have slowly killed off the high streets and are killing off the farmers too. Supermarkets wield enormous power and there is something seriously wrong when it costs more for a bottle of water than four pints of milk. Trends come and go, but the recession has seen a resurgence in recent years of the Make Do and Mend type attitudes and allotments have once again become quite fashionable as more people see the benefits of growing their own produce.

Donald on his croft

My great-grandfather was a crofter. I was once a member of the Young Farmers club. I was also once married to an agricultural engineer, whose parents bred highland cattle- in East Anglia. Most of us can trace our ancestors to farmers. But farming is so far-removed from the majority of us these days that some people don’t even know where our food comes from! Our farming heritage is slowly suffocating and most of us don’t seem to care.

Milton Keynes Museum is currently attempting to address this. Sited on five acres in a former Victorian Model Farm, as part of the Expansion Project, it is exploring the ways the museum can show just how important farming was to the people of Milton Keynes in the past and how farming is still relevant to the community today. It’s a tall order when many agricultural museums have closed down, but the Director is determined that we can find a way to make this important story fun and exciting. Farming heritage is just as important in Ras Al Khaimah. Many people there are still employed in the traditional occupations of pearl fishing and agriculture and the National Museum is just as keen to promote and preserve this important part of its heritage.

The internet is a good source of information regarding the variety of supermarkets RAK has to offer and it seems like I shall be trading my Sainsbury’s for a Spinneys. I wonder if cosmetic standards for produce has found its way over there? I really hope not because a misshapen vegetable is always good for a laugh!





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