Notes from the Green Party MEP for East of England. Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Cycling and energy

There's a long running dispute in our household as to whether it uses more energy to cycle fast than to cycle more slowly.

I don't mean does it take more energy for the same amount of time. Obviously cycling faster is harder work, and uses more energy in a short time.

The question is this: if you need to go from here to the Sidgwick site, and you could go gently at, say, 10 miles an hour, or very energetically at about 15 miles an hour, you'd get there quicker by the latter method, but would you have burnt up all your weetabix more effectively?

Well here's the answer. Suppose the Sidgwick site is 2 miles away. Going at 10 miles an hour it will take you 12 minutes. Going at 15 miles an hour it will take you 8 minutes.

If you weigh 10 stone (which I don't, but never mind: we're trying to compare the results for the same person, not different people), riding at 10 miles an hour uses about 381 calories an hour, so you'll use 76.2 calories in 12 minutes.

The same 10 stone individual riding at 15 miles an hour uses about 636 calories an hour. So you'll use 84.8 calories in 8 minutes.

A serving of two weetabix with milk provides 190 calories, so by riding to the Sidgwick site you'll have used less than half your calories either way. But the difference between riding fast and riding slowly is 8.6 calories, which is about 1/10th of a weetabix. So if you are going to ride energetically, you'll need to eat a bit more breakfast if you're not to get hungry before elevenses (but on the other hand you gain an extra 4 minutes in which to go to the Buttery and get a coffee and a doughnut to keep you going).

Monday, 28 May 2007

What does it mean to be green?

It means that on Bank Holiday Monday you have a choice of either staying at home by the fire all day, or putting on your wellies, waterproof trousers, kagoule, sou'wester and gloves.

I chose the former today.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Shopping Bags

You'll remember the fuss about a month ago, relating to the cotton bags that were promoted by Sainsbury's to try to persuade people not to use plastic bags. The fuss was about the fact that the bags were made using cheap labour in China, were not organic cotton, nor fairtrade, and had been shipped across the world to the UK. I've kind of had it in mind to say something about it for some time.

Besides the issue of whether it's really very green to buy a bag that was shipped across the world, I can't see that it's at all helpful to promote the feeling that we must always have the latest fashion image. Of course I can see perfectly well why Sainsbury's wanted to capture the news headlines, and boost its green credentials (it's all part of the marketing business, and that's always in direct conflict with green initiatives, because the idea of marketing is to get people to buy things they don't need and pay more than is necessary for them). But really we ought to get rid of this whole idea of "having things" in order to be seen to be fashionable (or to be seen to be "green").

How about a fashion for not having things?

That's what would be truly green (as long as it wasn't achieved by throwing away perfectly good things we already have).

Here are some of the bags that we use for shopping. The first is my favourite brown suede bag. I've had it for, maybe, ten years, and I could do with putting in a new thong to tie it up with because the current one is a bit tatty in places, but otherwise it's got many years of service left in it. I bought it second hand in a charity shop, but it evidently originally came from Warehouse, though it doesn't say where it was made.

The second picture shows two leather duffel bags hanging on the cloakroom door. There's a history to these bags. About 25 years ago I went to the craft market in All Saints Garden on Trinity Street and was much taken with a stall where the man was selling his hand-made leather duffel bags and other leather goods. I bought the blue duffel bag on that occasion and gave it to the professor (well, he wasn't a professor then) for his birthday. But he was not at all pleased because the bag was much too small for any useful quantity of shopping. So the next week I went back to the stall and asked the man to make a larger bag, a really large one for doing lots of shopping. The wonderful red duffel bag is what he came up with. I hope the man who made them is able to see this post, because he should be proud of the fact that these lovely handmade local products have been used ever since and are still going strong. In particular the red one is used several times a week for the most strenuous tasks that would quickly break the back of any plastic bag: 25 lbs of potatoes, 8 bottles of wine, 15 lbs of marmalade oranges, gardening equipment and all sorts. Being leather it is indestructible and always protects its contents from the rain and the knocks. And the leather thongs that serve as the carrying strap and the closure never get dirty: they just get polished with use. This really is a bag for life, though you'll perhaps be able to see in the picture the scuff marks that reflect its 25 years of service.
In the third picture is a little cotton bag that came free with a set of table cloth and napkins about ten years ago. I added this picture because this is a bag that folds up so small that it's neater than a plastic bag, as well as stronger, so if you need to take an extra bag besides the leather shopping bag, or take a shopping bag in your briefcase to work so as to do the shopping on the way home, this one is very handy. And it's washable too, so although it doesn't stay clean and grease free, the way the leather ones do, it's easy to restore it to its original condition.

And fourth there's the shopping basket. I used to use this a fair bit when we walked to the local shop to buy loose eggs in Oxford, but I don't really find it very helpful now since we don't have a grocer's shop in walking distance. But it does have an advantage for keeping things flat and not pressing on each other: good for taking a tin of baked goods to a cake sale and so on.

So here's my green tip for the day: don't go out and buy a gimmicky new bag. Find a well loved and well used one and use it again and again and again and again. Let's make it fashionable to have an old well worn bag, the older and more venerable the better!

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Links from Ted Hutchinson

Here are clicakable links to the resources Ted Hutchinson mentioned in his comment: The World's Healthiest food Calcium .
With regards Vitamin D readers should be aware that 80% of our vitamin d comes from the action of sunlight on our skin.
Dietary sources of Vitamin d3 are not good and so it's not surprising that 90% of UK residents have insufficient status in the Winter and 60% remain insufficient through the Summer.

See this research Hypovitaminosis D in British adults at age 45 y:

Our bodies work best with between 3000 and 5000iu daily see Human serum 25-hydroxycholecalciferol response to extended oral dosing with cholecalciferol
The Vitamin D Council have lots more information about Vitamin D3 including on their links page links to cheap sources of Vitamin D3 at an effective strength (not sold in the UK) and at a very good price for sufficient to last one person 2 yrs.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Calcium and vitamin D (further thoughts)

Richard pointed out (in an e-mail) that I had claimed that there were no very good vegetable sources of calcium, and that the only serious alternative to milk was the fish where you eat the bones and all. What I said there had been based on rather popular and inexact reports on the internet, so I promised to check out some facts.

Here (from Denise Mortimore The Complete Illustrated Guide to Vitamins and Minerals) are some figures for quantities of dietary calcium in mg/100g (this is just a selection from a longer list of course, but the top ones are the important ones):

Kelp 1,093
Cheddar cheese 750
Sesame seeds 700
Sardines with bones 550
Dried figs 280
almonds 234
watercress 220
plain yogurt 200
pilchards 105
whole milk 103
cabbage 57
brown rice 32

So what I said was not quite accurate. Kelp is a very good source (but you would probably have to go out of your way to get that in even quite small quantities on a daily or weekly basis. It's not part of an ordinary popular diet available in schools and homes, in the way the milk, cheese and sardines are). Sesame seeds are also a good source, but again not so regular in our local produce. My concern is that one ought to be able to get adequate nutrients from a non-fussy seasonal diet based on local produce. And in that respect, the normal way of securing a calcium intake in this part of the world, where traditional meadow pasture is available, is from dairy products.

As regards vitamin D, in mcg/100g

Cod liver oil 212.5
Herring and kipper 22.4
canned salmon 12.5
eggs 1.6
butter 0.8
liver 0.8
cheddar cheese 0.3
whole milk 0.03
and a trace in dark green leafy vegetables.

Looking at this list, you might think that the butter, milk and cheese was a rather less effective way to get this vital nutrient than the herring and the cod liver oil. But the fact is that a good spread of butter on your bread twice or three times a day and some creamy milk on your breakfast cereal is likely to ensure that you have that smidgeon of a regular daily intake that is needed to add to the glimmer of sunshine that catches the edges of your ear lobes and (on a warm day) the backs of your hands on your way to work. Of course if you have a kipper or a boiled egg for breakfast every day, this will be quite helpful too, and might make up for the fact that we're giving up foreign holidays in sunny places because of the carbon emissions. Instead we can make up for it by going on a brave English holiday, with plenty of walks in the hills to get above the clouds, and staying somewhere where they serve The Traditional English Breakfast.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Norwich and the local election results

I think I should have said something about the spectacular results in the local elections in Norwich, because they didn't feature as prominently in news bulletins as they probably should have done.

In the recent city council elections in May the Green party gained an extra seat, going up from 9 seats to 10. In itself this is not an enormous difference since Norwich already had more Green party councillors than any other city in the UK.

However what's significant about it is that the Greens have 10 seats, the Liberal Democrats have 11 and Labour have 15 (the Conservatives are in fourth place with 3). So although Labour have a majority, it's not very large, and the Liberal Democrats are only just holding onto the second place.

And how near to not holding onto it they are! Their candidate won in Thorpe Hamlet by one vote. The Greens came second, losing that seat by one vote (Jeremy Hooke 953, James Conway 952, after four recounts).

Now, if the Greens had got that seat instead of the Liberal Democrats, the result would have been that the Greens had 11 and the Liberal Democrats had 10, and the Green Party would have been the second largest party.

Now that makes it looks as if it might actually matter whether you bother to vote in a local election...

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Milk cartons

On my way to Norwich this week I picked up a tatty copy of the Eastern Daily Press in the train. On about page three was an exciting article headed "pilot for greener pinta packaging". I immediately assumed it was talking about glass milk bottles but no. "First came the traditional glass milk bottle, then the plastic alternative – and now a Lowestoft supermarket has launched the ‘Green bottle.’"

That's how the article opened. Anyone would think, reading these words, that the traditional glass milk bottle no longer existed. And that the move from glass to plastic to the new sort was progress towards a greener alternative.

Alas no. This is yet another attempt by the supermarkets to climb onto a fake green wagon and persuade us that shopping at the supermarket is some kind of positive contribution to eco-friendly ways of doing things. This time the idea is that there is a cardboard outer bottle, which can be sent to cardboard recycling, and some kind of unspecified (plastic? presumably so) inner bag which evidently can't be recycled, but "is quickly biodegradable".


So you have to pull it apart and put part of it in the recycling box (or, for Cambridge presumably, the compost bin) and part of it in the landfill rubbish. Well, I'm sceptical how much of that will happen.

Part of this report makes sense: "With more than 100,000 tonnes of plastic bottles currently going to landfill each year – the equivalent of 260 jumbo jets ... "

Well, exactly. None of that need happen if people have their milk delivered in glass bottles that are re-used.

But some of it just doesn't make sense: “Designer Martin Myerscough said ‘It's always bothered me that consumers have had to buy milk in plastic bottles that are difficult to recycle.’”

But consumers in Britain don't have to buy milk in plastic bottles. If supermarkets didn't sell milk, no one would buy it in plastic bottles.

In my ideal Greener Britain, all local councils would subsidise the delivery of milk in re-usable glass bottles to people's doorsteps, so that it was the preferred way to get your milk, and they would allow only independent corner shops to sell milk over the counter. No milk available in supermarkets at all, and nothing in plastic bottles. That would cut 260 jumbo jets out of our landfill sites at a stroke. Just like that. And there'd be no cardboard to collect for recycling either. So the council would save money and the milk would be cleaner and greener. And people could have other groceries delivered, bread, milk, eggs, juice, yogurt, probiotic drinks and all the other things the milkman brings. And they wouldn't need to drive to the supermarket. And the Milkies would make a decent living, and they'd have enough families on their round to make their journey less wasteful. And the corner shops would be part of the community. And all would be well.

Monday, 14 May 2007

What does it mean to be green?

It means taking the children to the station by bike.

Here's a picture I took at Cambridge station one evening in the early spring. I don't know who the family was, but hurrah for such families!

Saturday, 12 May 2007

And another one about milk

I realise, after reading some more technical stuff, that what I wrote about the nutritional value of milk yesterday is a little bit misleading. We ought to distinguish more clearly between the importance of vitamin D and the importance of calcium. And, of course, both of these are distinct from the nutritional value of milk in terms of energy and protein (which was part of my point yesterday). So let's talk about vitamin D and calcium now.

Vitamin D is vital for the regulation of calcium. It not only supplies calcium to our bones when it can (so it's vital for growing bones), but it causes us to remove calcium from our bones if there is not enough calcium in the diet for our normal day to day needs. That's why you get osteoporosis or osteomalacia in adult life, if there isn't enough calcium in the diet.

As you'll see from the links I gave yesterday, they've discovered (and are discovering) that vitamin D and the hormones it generates are also important for a whole lot of other things in adult life, including prevention of colon cancer, autoimmune diseases, regulation of cholesterol and various other things.

As well as vitamin D you need the calcium so that the Vitamin D can do its job, keeping the right amount of calcium in your blood stream, and not taking it out of your bones to do so.

Where does milk come in then? Well it's not just a good source of protein and energy (as I mentioned yesterday, vital for diets in places where you can't grow strong grain rich in protein) but it's also a very good source of calcium. So in order to avoid serious bone problems, people need to be consuming a good deal of milk. There are no very good vegetable sources of calcium. The only alternative to milk is the kind of fish where you eat the bones, such as sardines and whitebait. The nutritional authorities suggest that for an adult you need this much every day: one glass of milk (200 mls), one small pot of yogurt, and a 40 gram portion of hard cheese. Anything less than that and you're at risk of calcium deficiency.

The other contribution is in respect of the vitamin D. The best sources of vitamin D are either sunbathing, or neat cod liver oil. If we work indoors and cover ourselves up with lots of clothes we tend to get not enough exposure to the sun (especially during the winter, when the days are too short and the sun barely gets above the horizon, let alone into the city streets). One way of getting more vitamin D, besides cod liver oil, is from the fats in milk products. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, and there tends to be some vitamin D in the milk and the butter from cows and goats and other grazing animals, because the cows stand out in the sunshine all day (well if there is some sunshine they get some of it). This means that even if we work indoors and wear lots of clothes in the winter, we can secure a bit of vitamin D from the milk we drink and the butter, cheese and whole-milk yogurt we eat, because the cow has been getting a better chance to make vitamin D and pass it on in the milk. The milk is creamier in the summer and has more vitamin D then, but even in the winter we can get some from a good glass of creamy milk or a decent spread of butter.

Of course, if you use semi-skimmed milk you'll cut out most of the valuable fat soluble nutrients, including the vitamin D, and all of it if you drink skimmed milk. That's one of the reasons why it's vital that children have full cream milk all through the time when their bones are growing, but actually, given how hard it is to get vitamin D if you're not working outdoors all year. I'd say it's not just children who should be on the look out for damage caused by lack of vitamin D. We may be building up problems in the form of cancer, bad cholesterol management and bone disease, for our old age, even middle age. The myth that semi-skimmed milk is better for you than whole milk needs to be challenged. It's only better for you if you need to avoid fats for some reason, but not if your diet is deficient in all the things it's likely to be deficient in, given the refined and processed foods raised on poor quality soil that most people are eating most of the time in Britain.

Despite a lot of misleading propaganda against dairy products, being put out by Vegan organisations, it isn't actually true that dairy products increase cholesterol problems. Most of the instructions about reducing animal fats in the diet ignore the evidence that dairy fats don't actually seem to be implicated (hard hydrogenated fats may be bad, and so may the kind of fat that comes in meat products and oily chips, but even this is not really securely proven). In fact if you think about why the results are not clear on any of these issues, and think about the fact that they're still only just discovering how the "essential fatty acids" and agents like vitamin D control our metabolism, you'll see that the chances are that when you cut out the dairy products, and especially the fats in dairy products, you cut out the very vitamins and hormones that the body needs in order to regulate its handling of fats and cholesterol. It's long been known that the capacity to manage cholesterol is related to hormones. It's time to stop blaming the fats in the diet and start working out why a healthy body with good hormones turns into an unhealthy one that starts depositing fat in its arteries. The answer to that may be in the diet, but it's going to be in the effect the diet has on the hormones, not in the simple issue of how much animal fat is provided in the daily diet. It's perfectly possible that we need to eat dairy products precisely in order to avoid problems with metabolising fats... For instance dairy products contain monounsaturates (these are kinds of fat that occur in olive oil, and some studies seem to think they help to lower cholesterol in the blood: personally I suspect that most of these studies are still jumping to conclusions by looking at correlations and drawing false conclusions about what the explanatory factors are, but there we are).

is a site which explains the enormous extent of the contribution to adequate nutrition in our society made by milk products.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Milk again

Richard sent me a comment but I'm refusing to publish it because it contains a link to a ghastly piece of rubbishy propaganda by a pseudo-scientist. I'm not sure how that site relates to a revolting piece of pseudo-scientific anti-milk propaganda on a flyer from a Vegan Society, that came with a magazine we received recently—about which I had to write and complain to the relevant organisation that had accepted this piece of nonsense for circulation as paid advertising no doubt (I forget whether it was the Soil Association magazine it came with, or the Friends of the Earth, but one of those). But the web site Richard had been reading is clearly peddling the same bad arguments.

The thinking goes like this (spot the flaws):

  1. Not all human beings have the enzymes to digest unprocessed milk.
  2. In fact in some races and cultures milk is not drunk in its raw state.
  3. This means that for those races milk is not a good food. It makes them ill.
  4. Ergo, milk is not a good or natural food for human beings.
  5. Therefore all of us should stop using it as a source of nourishment.

There's another bit of the argument which appeals to "nature", and I'll have more to say about that later, because it's another very bad argument, but this one should be kept separate from the one given above.

As any rational being can see, the fact that some people don't have the enzymes to digest lactose does not mean that lactose is damaging to those who do have the necessary digestive juices. On the contrary, if you do have them, milk is a source of nourishment.

Also, it is well known that the races that do generally have the ability to digest milk are the ones who live in places where milk is a crucial part of the diet. For instance in northern climes and in areas of mountain pasture, you cannot grow high protein cereal crops. Humans can't digest grass but cows can. Cows are grazed on the grass and they produce a high energy and high protein yield, namely milk, that enables human beings to survive in those parts of the world, and to secure an adequate intake of vitamin D, calcium and protein. This is essential not just to growing children but to adults and elderly people, to prevent rickets and osteoporosis as well as general malnutrition. So it's not surprising that the lactose enzymes were a survival factor in those populations who live in such climates and in places where pasture is the only way to secure a viable diet. This means it's not just normal but vital for people in this part of the world to use milk and milk products as a staple part of a healthy diet from local resources.

Here is a picture of a child with rickets. Go to the location by clicking on the image and there's information there about how rickets is connected to lack of milk in people in northern climes and people with dark skins or those who can't digest milk. It was to prevent this happening that free codliver oil and free school milk was introduced with the welfare state in this country. It's made rickets a thing of the past, but if people start campaigning against drinking milk on specious grounds such as the above we'll have a very sad and unhealthy nation again. Does Richard take cod liver oil? I doubt it. Take care, old thing! Brittle bone disease on its way...

is some more information about the discovery of the importance of vitamin D, and other things you might not know that it helps with.

Saturday, 5 May 2007


This is what our doorstep looks like in the morning.

In Norwich one day a week my doorstep looks like this.

Five minutes after fetching the milk in from the doorstep this is what my glass of milk on the breakfast table looks like.

From the cow to my breakfast, maybe 24 hours? Now that's what I call cold fresh milk. (I suppose it would be even better if I could go and fetch it warm from the cow).

I was thinking of taking a photo of one of my neighbour's doorsteps, with the blue recycling box piled high with plastic milk bottles: bottles which have doubtless been fetched from the supermarket by car, and will now be carried empty to some distribution place and sent back to China or somewhere for turning into more plastic things we don't want, before being shipped back here again.

Now this seems to me to be just mad. We could all have our milk delivered daily in clean glass bottles, clean milk with no contamination from the chemicals they use in plastics which leech into the contents of the containers. Of course the known ones of these (phthalates, which have been shown to cause hormone disruption, and are implicated in breast cancer etc) are now controlled and not permitted in most food packaging, but do you know what else they're putting in the plastic? When did you last think about how milk from plastic bottles always tastes of plastic? I guess people get used to it, and cease to find it disgusting.

But it seems to me highly likely that these kinds of pollution may have quite a lot to do with the increasing incidence of intolerance to milk. And asthma, and eczema. Why is it that so many children today can't drink milk? When I was young every child drank a third of a pint of milk every day at break time, from a glass bottle with a paper straw (no phthalates, no plastic chemicals) and they were healthy and happy.

No one had a milk intolerance. Is that a co-incidence?

Things calculated to annoy a cyclist

As tiger mentioned in a comment on my last post on this theme, one very irritating thing is when you arrive back at your bicycle and find that someone has used the bike basket as a litter bin.

Here is one particularly unpleasant example, found in my bike basket on my return to Norwich last Tuesday. Usually Norwich station is a rather civilised place.

Now what do you suppose the person thought I would do when I found their chips in my basket? Did they think I would go and find a litter bin to put them in? Because if they couldn't themselves find a litter bin, how was I going to do so? And having all the luggage that I needed to put in my basket, I was not in a position to go anywhere to deposit the rubbish. So what can I do except tip it out onto the ground. Do they somehow feel that they avoid the responsibility for leaving litter by transferring it to my conscience instead?

This is, as I say, relatively rare in Norwich (it was a weekly experience at Liverpool Lime Street), but they seem to have installed a flashy new bus shelter on the station forecourt in Norwich, with no litter bins in sight. This seems to me to be ill-advised if you want a tidy and smart environment.