Feasting and Famine

Like many people, I’ve heard with increasing horror about the latest emerging famine in Somalia. Tales of children starving to death after more failed harvests have shocked us in a country where food is bountiful and often, wasted. It has only been six years since the last major famine in Somalia which left a quarter of a million people dead, a shocking statistic in these supposedly advanced times that we live in. What I can’t get over though is the huge gulf between ‘us’ and ‘them’ when it comes to food.

On one side of the world, a drought occurs and the consequence is so severe that millions of people are displaced, left hungry and searching for food whilst their loved ones die along the way. There is obviously no significant store of food, no back up for when the weather or nature doesn’t behave accordingly. And on the flip-side, here in the UK (and most of Europe), we have food coming out of our ears. Our supermarkets, lit by their bright lights, are eternally stocked, drawing us in with their bargains and offers. The average family in the UK throws away around £500 worth of edible food each year (a staggering 7.3 million tonnes nationwide). Our cupboards are often stacked to the hilt with tins and packets and perishable goods. We have the luxury of choice and not just a little choice but a veritable smorgasbord of delicious edibles are on offer. We can cook from scratch, we can buy ready meals, order take out, eat at restaurants. We can feast on Italian cuisine, Indian delicacies, Mexican street food, seafood…anything our hearts or bellies desire.

We’ve come a long way from the ‘meat and 2 veg’ of earlier decades and even longer since food was simply a necessity for survival, something that was consumed for fuel with little more thought beyond where the next meal was coming from. Obviously I, like most people, am a big fan of food and love the fact that we can enjoy it more than we used to. But when I think about how primitive (and not guaranteed) it still is for millions of people all over the world, I can’t help but feel guilty. As always, I have no answers. Of course there are charities that I could donate to and I intend to try and find out who is able to directly help those suffering the most.

However, I suspect the problem is bigger, it’s systemic. I’m sure I’ve read that there is enough food for everyone in the world to survive and more. But it is not distributed evenly, not at all. And I don’t know how we can change that. It can only happen if led by governments and international governing organisations. I don’t think though that that is an excuse to bury our heads in the sand, ignore and carry on though. We can at least try to adjust our own consumer habits to make our tiny difference to things. We can stop buying food that we don’t need, stop throwing away things that we can still eat. We can try to buy food that is in season or produced locally. It’s not always possible but perhaps if we were all just a little bit more considered in our approach to food, we would start to see things shift for the better. Call me a naïve optimist if you will but I’d rather try than not. There must be a healthy mid point between feasting and famine.

Behind Closed Doors

Ever since Sophia entered the world, my children have been splashed all over the internet. Pictures on facebook, funny ancedotes on my blog, I’ve not been shy of sharing their lives to all and sundry on the world wide web. I’ve come across parents with a much more conservative approach to posting pictures of their children online and although have respected their opinion, have never had any issues with doing so myself.

However, having watched the Snowden documentary recently, a request from Dan and with the introduction of the Snoopers Charter, I’m starting to rethink  personal privacy policy for my children when it comes to sharing their lives online. What I learnt about the sophistication of facial recognition technology and the lengths that security agencies can go to to keep an eye on you scared me. Although me and my family have nothing to hide, surely we have a right to privacy and living how we like without being watched. Call me paranoid but I’m starting to trust governments less and less in light of recent political events.

Even if you put aside potential secret surveillance, I started to think about how I would have felt if, when I reached my teenage years, I had discovered that my early years were broadcast publicly for anyone to see. I think I probably wouldn’t have been best pleased. Sharing an embarrassing story with family members when you see them is one thing but your future employer knowing about the time you ate a rabbit poo thinking it was a chocolate raisin (one of my children but I won’t say which one!) or how long it took you to stop wetting the bed is a whole ‘nother level of privacy invasion.

I’ve read about bloggers who stop writing explicitly about their children when they turn five or others who ask older children to vet what they’ve written. For me, I’ve spoken to the kids and they’re quite happy for me to keep writing about them for now. But we have decided to reduce or stop posting photos of the kids online where you can obviously see their faces and I’ll keep checking in with them in regards to writing about them. Call us paranoid but I’m always trying to embrace a step back from technology and it’s pervasive creeping into our lives and think this is a good way to make moves in that direction. Now if I could just work on my compulsive facebook checking…

Closing Thoughts

The presents have been put away, the mince pies are almost gone and as we quickly approach the last day of the year, it seemed only fitting (or perhaps a bit of a cliché?!) to pull together some thoughts about the tumultuous year that has been 2016. To be fair, on an incredibly selfish and personal level, it’s not been half bad. It’s not been particularly eventful either but if I cast my mind over the last 12 months I mostly have positive memories and they definitely override the few bad ones (walking out on Mothers Day wasn’t my finest moment but we can talk about that another time). On a global scale though, it’s been a bit of a stinker hasn’t it?! Brexit (regardless of which side you were on, I think we can all agree it was a bit of a drama), Donald Trump, the escalating war in Syria, a plethora of well loved celebrities leaving us, an increase in terror attacks across Europe….I could go on. It’d be hard to argue that this year was an average year when you think of all this.

But (and I’m so glad there is a but!), I came across an article the other day which listed 99 positive things that occurred this year with little or no fanfare in the mainstream media. The list included such wonderful news such as the facts that this year more than 20 countries pledged more than $5.3 billion for ocean conservation, that for the first time ever, the amount of money it would take to end poverty dropped below the amount of money spent on foreign aid, that world hunger reached its lowest point in 25 years, that a new survey showed the ozone hole has shrunk by more than 3.9 million square km since 2006 and the news that humpback whales, green sea turtles and white-tailed deer were taken off endangered species list. And that’s only to mention a handful!

So I guess that whilst I completely understand the thoughts of those wishing that 2016 would hurry up and end, I also think that if you look for it, there are a lot of good things happening that you can get behind and celebrate. It’s easy to fixate on the negative news that dominates the headlines and our newsfeeds but I reckon that next year, we should all try and make a little more effort to search out the things that will lift us up and start sharing all the amazing things that mankind is achieving instead. If I can say this without sounding cheesy (and I probably can’t!) let’s build each other up and get inspired for all the good that we can do in the world around us, both on a local and wider scale. Let’s make 2017 a year that is remembered in history, not as a year full of political turmoil and deaths (sorry 2016!) but as a year where we all worked together to help each other, protect the environment and generally were bloody brilliant.

An alternative reality…

As I woke up this morning, I suffered a horrible case of dejavu as I asked Dan to pass my phone so I could see the outcome of the US election. An ominous feeling, almost a physical manifestation of dread, sat in the pit of my stomach, like a twisted gleeful troll. The unthinkable (to most of us) had happened, the absolute joke that is Donald Trump has been elected to be the next President of the United States of America. For the third time in two years, politics has taken a surprising and wholly unwanted turn. 

Of course, it’s not actually unwanted by everyone or even the majority. A flawed democratic system it might be but it is still a democracy, the votes were cast that led to this result. If anything though, I find this even more depressing. That a significant proportion of the American electorate chose to back a sexist, racist, homophobic, inexperienced thug of a man over a woman who, whilst admittedly has many flaws of her own, is at least experienced with some semblance of moderation and equality. Misogyny is alive and well it seems.
Comparisons to the rise of Nazi Germany are rife, social media is (as it was post Brexit and after our general election last year) saturated with bewilderment, satirical memes, general despair and fear at what might happen next. I won’t add to the fray with my similar thoughts. I’m taking it as a given that many of us are outraged by these results and feeling even more stirred to action than we already were. But, will we follow through? Will our rage and desire for change grow and incite us to action? Or will it simply dissipate, returning us back to our lives as they were before in a matter of weeks? 

I will ashamedly put my hand up to the latter. Since last May I have done nothing more than sign petitions, go to the odd demo and complain loudly about the state of affairs. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what else I can do. I alternate between burying my head in the sand and focusing on trivial, personal matters and being your typical disillusioned middle class hippy who simply complains a lot. My ability to actually do anything more than that is somewhat hampered by the three small beings I seem to have almost permanently in tow but I’m sure there is something I could do. I just don’t know what.

So for now I’m sticking to my theory that you’ve got to start small and that doing something (anything!) is better than nothing. I am committing to building up the culture of love and inclusivity that already exists in our society at a grass roots level. We need to carry out acts of kindness and wherever possible, promote equality and acceptance. We need to teach the next generation to be better, to make better choices. We need to talk to our children about politics, about being brave and standing up to hatred. We can turn this result into something positive and I think it’s imperative that we do. 

E+E Column: The Big Picture

I’m lucky enough to have been given a fairly free reign in this column but sometimes choosing what to write about can be tricky, I don’t want to be too serious or evangelical but at the same time, I feel there should be a point to what I’ve written. I’m not a fan of aimless writing and although I’m aware that an anecdote about unintentionally teaching my toddler to swear is quite amusing with your cup of tea on a Monday morning, I feel obliged to try and provide some more substance. Over the last few weeks, the news has been consumed with the increasingly bitter EU Referendum debate, interspersed with tales of tragedy and human loss, the mass shooting in Florida, the horrifying death of a toddler at Disney World, the unbelievably heartbreaking death of MP Jo Cox.

In the face of such sadness, anger and loss, I am reminded just how important it is to think about the bigger picture in our day to day lives. It is far too easy to get consumed in our own spheres, to focus on small, trivial issues that really will have no lasting impact on ourselves or anyone else. We can spend hours agonising over the most insignificant of things and forget about the things that matter more. We need to step back and remember what’s important. Being kind to each other, fostering good relationships in our wider community, looking after the environment that we live in, standing up for the downtrodden and mistreated. It can feel overwhelming at first though, how do we start to tackle so many big problems? How can one person make any difference at all?

But they key is to start small and build up. And if every person spent just a few minutes each week focusing their attention outwards, soon all the small things would build up to something bigger. Today I was at an African drumming workshop organised by the local home education community and felt really blessed by the network of friends and acquaintances there. Whilst taking a break from drumming, I momentarily lost sight of Eli pottering on the grass in front of the hall. There’s a fairly busy road through the trees, he can move at a surprisingly fast pace for someone so small and I started to panic. Several other parents instantly started to help me look and within a few seconds (though it felt like much longer) a friend called that she’d found him just inside the edge of the woods. It’s a small example of people helping in a situation that doesn’t affect them but it stuck with me. If there were more moments like this, perhaps there would be less tales on the news that make your blood run cold. Perhaps instead, we’d be seeing stories of people joining together to do incredible things, of people affecting change, of a more peaceful world.

Thoughts On Unity

After months of bitter campaigning from both sides, I woke up this morning, smugly confident that the vote on whether we should leave or stay in the European Union would have gone the way I voted. I rolled over, asked Dan to pass my phone to check and loaded up BBC News. Shit. I was actually rendered momentarily speechless. Although I knew there were a lot of folk wanting to leave, I didn’t think they’d actually get a majority (though 1% is such a measly majority, it doesn’t quite seem to count in my head). It seems like a lot of the Remain campaigners had felt the same, I think we became complacent in our confidence that people would see through the lies and propaganda and make the best decision for our country. (Or at least, the decision that we think is the best for the country, can’t ignore the fact that 17 million people thought different although, after today, I have seen many saying they regret their choice).

Fast forward a couple of hours, Cameron has resigned and Farage (git) is on breakfast TV backtracking already on campaign promises, namely, that the NHS would get £350 million a week if we left the EU. A mistake he claimed, can’t be helped I’m sure. I won’t bother list the rest of the initial fallout, no doubt you’ve read about it over and over again on the news and your facebook feed. I’ve read more stories than I’d like to about people who will be losing their jobs, about families who future here is looking uncertain. A friend summed it up perfectly this morning when she said she kept getting hit by waves of sadness. I think that’s my overwhelming feeling surrounding the whole affair, sadness. Sadness that this issue has so bitterly divided the country, sadness that people chose to believe lies from the far right rather than do their own research and find out the truth, sadness that so many people don’t know what to expect regarding their residency or businesses in the coming months and years, sadness that far right groups around Europe are congratulating us and calling for the same, sadness (and straight up fear) that we might end up with Boris Johnson as our PM in October, sadness that this decision seemed to be fuelled by misplaced fear and ignorance.

All day I’ve been pondering on whether to add my two cents to the fray. Words seem meaningless at this point and besides, I’d just be preaching to the converted. The fact that everyone I speak to is so angry and dismayed goes to show they’re all on the same page as me already. (Although I do feel blessed to be surrounded by such a group of sensible, compassionate people). But I did want to say something. Because as several wise folk have said, the challenge now is to pick ourselves up and make the best of what we’re left with.  Much as I’d love to go and hide somewhere pretending none of this has happened, that would achieve nothing. Now, more than ever, we need to be united. United against fascists, against hate and fear and discrimination. We need to be united in our thoughts and actions, in challenging those that do not have our best interests in mind.

We will not be downtrodden or ignored. We will not accept this culture of anger and prejudice that has swept over England. We will not let the fat cats in Whitehall control our lives. We will continue to show empathy, love and understanding to all. We will promote multiculturalism, inclusivity and tolerance. We will fight, for what is right, and just, and fair. We will not let them take our country and break it.

E+E Column: Should I stay or should I go?

I tend to apply the same rule to column writing as I do to friendships, avoid talking about religion and politics. Although actually, when you think about it – that’s a rubbish rule! True friendships should be able to withstand some healthy debate and it’s certainly more interesting to have deeper conversations with people than the usual platitudes and pleasantries. Anyway, I digress. So, no politics. Except on this occasion I’m kind of breaking it as I want to talk about the upcoming referendum on the EU. But, I will preface it by stating that I am completely on the fence at the moment.

I tend to be a fairly impulsive person, that’s how we ended up shedding all our wordly posessions and moving onto a boat less than 3 months after the thought first entered our minds. Dan briefly mentioned the possibility of moving abroad earlier this week and by today I found myself about to register our ‘expression of interest’ on New Zealand’s immigration site. I tend to follow my first gut reaction when faced with a decision and actually, as things go, I haven’t found myself regretting those choices very often. When it comes to political leanings I’ve been the same. I’ve always chosen a more socialist, environmental option when it given the choice and in my personal blog, have been positively evangelical about the Green Party.

However, this time I am stumped. I have no gut instinct. I am confused by the sheer volume of propaganda being shoved down our throats and am struggling to wade through it to find out the truth. On one side, the bremain team are claiming the average family will be worse off by the tune of £1000-3000 a year if we leave and on the other, the brexit followers are claiming it would save us billions in tax and would give us more accountabiliity. I’ve just discovered fullfact.org which claims to be an impartial source of information on topics regarding the EU and our membership so am currently scouring it to try and make things clearer in my head so I can make an informed decision.

One thing is clear to me though, it is massively important that we do all utilise our democratic right and go and vote on June 23rd. We all love to moan about the state of affairs (me included!) and regardless of which way the country votes, it seems inevitable that big changes will be coming. So I would urge you not to be apathetic but to go and take the few minutes it does to vote in a few weeks time. Make a decision, put a mark to it and then whatever the outcome, at least you’ll know that you had your say, you did what you could to have your say in the future of our membership in the EU.

25.05.16

Update

I wrote this for the Express and Echo almost a month ago and since then have concluded that I am most definitely voting to remain in the EU. I’m going to take this opportunity to say please don’t get sucked into the sensationalist claims of the brexit camp and their smoke screens. I won’t ask you to vote to stay (athough let’s face it, I basically am) but if you are voting to leave, please please make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.