Tag Archives: food

Poverty, food and transport

Something that is often overlooked when talking about how poverty leads to hunger, is the role transport plays in all of this. If you have a car and can afford to travel a few miles, you can access food that is better value for money. You can bring home those big bags of veg, the cheap tins of soup, the multi-buys and the other clever things that will help you stay on top of your food budget.

Buses are rare to nonexistent in many places, unreliable and they cost money. If you can use a bus, you are still limited with your shopping in terms of what you can carry in your hands and on your back. It makes it much harder to stock up or to take advantage of better prices on bigger packs.

If you walk or cycle to shop, then where you can go depends entirely on how far you can walk or cycle while carrying a load of shopping. Do you have decent waterproof gear? How good are your shoes? Do you even have time for a five mile round trip to the supermarket? Add in small children, or disability, or having to do multiple jobs and the pressure mounts considerably. This may mean you’re stuck with whatever is within a few minutes walk of your home, and the odds are that will be as limited as it is expensive. 

Being in poverty can be a lot more expensive than being affluent. The impact on your food choices, and the cost of your food if you can’t afford transport, can be huge. Being clever with your budget only becomes possible when you have access to enough resources.

What are the Druid issues here? Justice is the most obvious one, as I try to push back against the ways in which we blame people living in poverty for being poor. There’s also an issue of the connectedness of things – how we structure towns and cities, the assumptions about car use in where the resources are, and the implications of inadequate public transport. I think it’s important to flag up the way people who have to walk are often ignored and forgotten. 

Food, nature and time

It isn’t especially natural to eat three meals a day. If it was, then trying to get children to eat at the ‘right’ time and not eat at other times would not be an ongoing struggle for parents. In the usual scheme of things, we don’t get to eat when we feel hungry, we get to eat when our work patterns, and the school patterns that reflect work patterns let us.

How well your opportunities to eat suit your bodily needs may be just sheer luck. Part time work and shift work can be timed such that it really doesn’t suit your body. If you work in catering, you’re going to be working when most people are eating. Our mealtimes are decided primarily by the convenience for our employers, not for our health or wellbeing. That’s a rather large thing for many people to have no control over.

Eating when you’re not hungry because this is the time allowed to you for eating clearly isn’t going to do anyone any good. Equally not being able to eat when you are hungry isn’t helpful. We are to suppress nature as it manifests in our bodies, and most of us have grown up with that being totally normal and expected. You eat when someone else says you can eat. Your first meal of the day has to happen – if it happens at all – before your presence is required somewhere. Your last meal of the day happens after work time, plus commuting and food prep time. Even when you aren’t at work, the odds are work or school is determining when you eat.

Since my son left secondary school and I stopped the office job I had for a little while, when I eat is purely a negotiation with my household. I note that if I don’t have to go out, I often don’t want breakfast first thing. I may need an hour or two awake before I feel like eating anything. I’m finding increasingly that I don’t do so well with one big meal and that I’m better off doing smaller meals and snacking. How and when I want to eat is likely to change in warmer weather because I don’t like eating when it’s hot and would prefer to shift mealtimes to allow for that.

These are not things conventional work permits. However, covid changes mean a lot more of us are doing differently with food.

Having our meals regulated by work-time and clock time means we can’t respond to seasonal shifts, to our circadian rhythms, or our own specific needs. In order to function we have to ignore messages from our bodies about hunger or food disinterest. I’ve never seen any studies into what happens when we eat when we feel like it and how that compares to eating when we’re ‘supposed’ to but I do know that three meals a day doesn’t suit small children, and that small children are some indicators of what people are like when their bodies and minds haven’t been socialised into assuming anything is normal.

Poverty Diets

I get intensely annoyed when I see middle class people online announcing on the basis of one cheap meal they made once, that not being able to feed your family cheaply is just the poor being crap. That it’s lousy budgeting, lack of cooking skills, laziness. Let me start by saying that it is possible to feed a family adequately for less than a pound per person per meal, but it is hard, and problematic.

I’m an intelligent, well educated person, I know about nutrition, I know how to cook, I know how to shop and how to budget. In this, I am better off than many people who end up in difficulty. I got into difficulty because I was dragged through the family courts for a couple of years and it was terrifyingly expensive. As is often the way, the flexibility in a budget is often around food.  This same budget also has to cover clothes, cleaning products and anything else you might need unexpectedly. As children tend to grow and require school uniforms, there are extra costs.

While it is possible to feed a family cheaply, it’s not possible to feed a family at no cost. If you’ve had your benefits sanctioned, or are in the long waiting period before they start, you may well have no money at all. Universal credit leaves many families with far too little money to begin with – I’ve seen this happen to others. It doesn’t matter how clever you are, you can’t buy food if you have no money.

To eat cheaply, you are going to make compromises. Cheap low nutrition starchy foods are good to fill up on and for avoiding hunger, so probably one of your meals each day will take this shape. It is really hard to do five portions of fruit and veg per day on a very tight budget. I usually managed three, and there wasn’t as much diversity as I wanted.  Carrots are indeed cheap, so you need to like carrots and be happy to eat them as part of many different meals. This is, frankly, hard on children who tend to suffer more with food boredom. Also it’s not actually that healthy – diversity matters in nutrition. Protein is expensive. Even if you do a fair bit of it through pulses, and you give up meat. Getting enough protein into people affordably is hard. Without enough protein, your brain struggles to make some of the happier chemicals, and your body will hurt when you active. I’ve done this and it sucks.

You have to pay attention all the time. You have to shop carefully, budget carefully, be super careful to use things before they go off. You probably won’t be able to afford to have snacks, and your meals may be smaller than is ideal. You will, at times, be hungry. Especially in the winter if you can’t afford to run extra heating and your body is trying to burn calories to keep you warm. Feeding a family on a tight budget is hard work and insufficient food is exhausting and this is a bloody awful combination.

Mistakes are expensive. Reduced to clear food that goes off is a disaster. You pick the mould off the bread and eat it anyway.  Mistakes can lead to debt, and once you’re servicing a debt your disposable income is reduced, pushing you closer to the edges.

Being poor is bloody hard work and there are no days off. It can be done adequately, but you won’t eat well, you won’t have a highly nutritious diet, you will never have treats, and it will make you feel like shit. What you can do as a one-off as a person with resources is not an indicator of what it’s like dealing with this stuff every day.  It is not possible to be clever, frugal or skilled enough to make food out of thin air, and I wish more people understood that.

Druidry and Food

Eating is one of the most fundamentally natural things we do. It is an everyday opportunity to engage with our bodies, and to be alert to the relationship between our bodies, and the natural world. For a Druid this is territory rich in potential.

Like many people, my lifelong relationship with food is problematic. Fat-shaming featured heavily in my childhood, although having dug out some old photos, I was never especially fat. I was encouraged to feel guilty about enjoying food, and fearful of the threat of fatness. I ate badly in my teens – poor nutrition, failed attempts at starving myself in a desire to be thin. I became fearful of eating around other people. In my twenties, food became part of the power balance in a truly unhealthy relationship. I’ve also had my relationship with food undermined by poverty and sourcing issues.

It’s really only in recent years that I’ve been able to eat exactly as I please and feel safe while doing so. I’ve discovered how much I enjoy raw, fresh things, how much I prefer a diet dominated by plant matter. Wholegrains. Diversity, experimentation and messing about have become options for me. I’ve started to enjoy cooking. I’ve done a lot of cooking – as a matter of duty. Only in recent years as my relationship with food has changed have I been able to enjoy thinking about meals, planning food, and I’ve come to truly enjoy making and sharing food as well.

Food can be a creatively expressive form. It can be inspired, and we can bring our sense of the sacred to what we eat. Meals can be a good basis for social connections and for family life, so if community is part of your Druidry, food is a way of approaching that. People who eat together form bonds. Companions are, etymologically speaking, people who share bread. That can be a ritual thing, but is just as powerful in other contexts.

Food can be part of how we do our activism – in our dietary choices and how we source what we eat. It brings us into contact with the soil, with other living beings and with the state of the planet.

Eating engages us with our fundamentally animal selves. It gives us opportunity to honour nature in our own bodies. To be embodied in your nature based spirituality is to resist body-shaming, food shaming and fat shaming. It strikes me as inherently Druidic to seek the balances between personal health, environmental health, joy and celebration when it comes to food.

Greener Eating

In recent weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make the household more environmentally friendly. The most obvious actions for us to take are around food – reducing the animal products in the diet (one omnivore, two vegetarians) and cutting back on plastic waste associated with food.

Limitations of both sourcing and budget mean that the only way we can do this, is to make more from scratch. Between us we do a fair amount of meals from scratch, but it’s the extras that need looking at especially. Snacks, puddings, biscuits, and bread.

There are in turn implications about comfort, wellness and energy levels. I make my least good food choices when I’m ill, exhausted, overworked and uninspired. At that point, making everything from scratch is a push too far. We walk for transport, shop on foot – there’s a lot of greener things going on that mean spare energy is not always available. I’ve also learned that it pays to eat with an eye to mental health, and that means carbs – often toast. Low blood sugar causes a lot of mood problems and if my mental health goes to the wall, nothing else is going to work out well.

So I’ve been experimenting a bit. There are issues around how and when I plan the food, and what breaks I get between food-making and other jobs. Tom is finding that having managed to bring work-related stress levels down, he has more energy resources for this sort of thing, too. It’s clearly possible to get into vicious cycles where a poor diet adds to body weariness and makes it harder to get on top of things and do better around food. There would be all sorts of benefits to getting this right. Mass produced food is always more bland and less nutritious than the stuff you can make for yourself.

But, convenience food exists in a culture that puts us under a lot of pressure to work. If you’re mentally exhausted, even thinking about what to cook can be overwhelming. Energy is required to be making bread and biscuits and whatnot. Having the kind of day jobs that requires massive amounts of concentration over long periods, Tom and I both tend to snack to keep going. There’s a complicated relationship already between how we work, how we shop and how we eat and it’s something I’ve had to think about carefully.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that making good changes depends on seeing the bigger picture. It means examining how we’re living to see what, overall, could shift us. This also requires time and energy. The key place to start is to ask why things are as they currently are, because without exploring that, any changes are likely to be brief and superficial, or counterproductive in some other way.

Making the connection

A guest post by Avril A Brown


Statistics from the oxymoronically-named Humane Slaughter Association (https://www.hsa.org.uk/) indicate that every year in the UK approximately 2.6 million cattle, 10 million pigs, 14.5 million sheep and lambs, 80 million fish and 950 million birds are slaughtered for human consumption.

That’s an awful lot of blood on human hands.

I was prompted to research these statistics on animal slaughter after a recent visit to the Tribe Animal Sanctuary Scotland (https://tribesanctuary.co.uk/).  After following them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/updatesTASS/), I knew that I wanted to visit the sanctuary.

Nestling in Scotland’s Clyde valley, the 11-acre site is home to around 100 ‘food’ animals rescued from slaughter, neglect or abuse. The sanctuary was set up 2.5 years ago by tattoo artist Morag and her husband John as the culmination of a long-held dream.

Morag told me that she has been vegan for 25 years. Her activism has matured in that time. Less the ‘angry vegan’, she prefers now to help people make the connection between the meat on their plate and the animals that she cares for.

Making the connection is the TASS mantra. Morag and John firmly believe that the pigs, sheep, goats, Highland cows, chicken, turkeys and donkeys have just as much intelligence and personality – and therefore intrinsic value – as all the cats, dogs, rabbits etc that we currently celebrate as pets. However, most people never get to meet one of these creatures, let alone see those sides to them.  That’s why TASS encourages visitors to come and meet the animals in the hope that by being able to look into the eyes of a sheep or a chicken, then people will be able to make that connection that will allow them to forego meat in future.

TASS is a peaceful place, relaxed and full of love.  None of the animals are required to ‘perform’ or to earn their living; they are simply allowed to ‘be’.  The joy and the satisfaction that they bring is obvious as Morag’s face lights up when she talks about them. I asked her if she had a favourite species or animal among her crew, “They are all so different, so special in their own ways that I love them all and couldn’t possibly choose just one. Every animal at TASS has a name and they all have their own story.”

My visit to TASS certainly left me with a lot to think about.

Being neither vegan nor even vegetarian, I have no particular axe – metaphorical or otherwise – to grind over how or even what other people eat. What I have been increasingly conscious of, however, is the impact of animal husbandry on our increasingly fragile ecosystems.

Whatever your own stance may be on meat consumption, I doubt that anyone can argue that much needs to be changed in the world of the intensive agriculture industry that so damages and wastes as much as it produces. At the very least, food animals must no longer be considered as ‘product’ so that they can enjoy better lives.

The rewilding project at Knepp in West Sussex (https://knepp.co.uk/home) shows how ecosystems can recover if left to nature. However, in the short term it is unlikely that such projects will feed populations, particularly in areas where poor soil quality (eg the Scottish Highlands and islands) has led to a dependence on animal husbandry that would be hard to justify let alone unpick.

In the meantime, the very least we can do as individuals is to significantly reduce our consumption of animal products, to support compassion and welfare in farming and to purchase ethically wherever possible.


Food for politics

Every hierarchical society has depended on the labour of an underclass – slaves or peasants, or both. This tends to go with a reliance on cereal crops, or potatoes – cheap carbohydrates that will keep your underclass alive and productive, but won’t do much else for them. What it gives us is an approach to farming that does the land no good at all – diverse crops mixing trees, horticulture and animals clearly works best for the land, but it doesn’t give you a cheaply fed underclass. Diversity also makes food harder to control.

Brendan Myers pointed out in his excellent book – Reclaiming Civilization – that once you have a granary, you have an essential resource that can easily be controlled by a few armed men. Storing cereals allows some people to become the ‘protectors’ of the cereals, and by that means they get power over everyone else.

People who mostly depend on one crop are much more vulnerable. One bad harvest spells disaster. One hike in the price of the key foodstuff and many are pushed to, or over the edge. Frightened people living in scarcity are easier to manipulate and control than happy people who experience sufficiency.

What if we were able to eat more broadly, and more locally? What if food wasn’t traded internationally for the profits of those who only get their hands dirty playing the markets? What if we had more food security around the world, and less dependence on the big companies that control seed, pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers?

What if the food you eat is a key underpinning of capitalism? What would changing people’s diets do to the world’s political structures?

Food and identity

What we eat is part of our sense of self. For anyone who has made a significant food choice either to protect their health, for religious reasons or for environmental ones tends to feel very invested in that food identity. Food choices can play a big part in your cultural identity and may inform who you spend time with.

Food impacts on our bodies in all kinds of ways. What energy we have has a lot to do with what we eat. Our diets shape our bodies and other people’s assumptions about who we are as a consequence of our bodies. To be in poverty, malnourished and consequently overweight is an experience that will get you blamed for your size all too often. The assumption that being larger goes with being lazy can have huge impacts on a person’s life, most critically around how the medical profession responds to larger bodies.

What we put into ourselves impacts on our mood, and our perceptions. Sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed food, raw food, empty calories, wholefoods, things that suit us and things that don’t all shape our experiences of living in a body. How that works also depends on where we are in life and what demands are being made of us.

We make our body chemistry from the food we take in. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year or so looking at the foods that encourage progesterone and estrogen production. Information online suggests that western diets may cause or aggravate many of the menopause symptoms, so I’ve been poking around in this. I’ve radically increased my fruit intake, amongst other things. I feel better in my body in ways I had not expected.

I’ve struggled with my body ever since hitting puberty. I don’t feel properly female – the only time I did was when I was pregnant. I feel out of kilter with my body but not so out of kilter to think I’d be any better off as a chap. My flesh has never felt easy on my bones. I’ve experienced it as a disconnection and a wrongness I have inadequate language to describe. However, in the last six months or so with a diet that supports female hormone production, I’ve felt better in myself on this score.

I spent my teens through to my thirties with a diet that was either inadequate, unsuitable, or both. I knew this at the time. In recent years I’ve been able to afford to eat whatever I want to eat, and there’s been no pressure to do otherwise. The more I go after the food that works for me, the more easy I feel in my own skin. I’ve still got all my androgynous psychology, my thinking hasn’t changed at all, but my experience of my own body has shifted, may well still be shifting.

Identity can be such a changeable thing. Who I am if I eat a lot of fruit. Who I am with, or without coffee. Who I am if I’m not mostly living on cheap sources of carbohydrate. Who I am if I am allowed to choose what I put into my body. Everything about us exists in relation to what of the world we are exposed to and what options we have, and how our experiences shape us.

Living without a fridge

I’ve mentioned many times that I live without a fridge or freezer. It’s not something everyone can do, but I thought it might be helpful to give a sense of the things that make this feasible. If you need a fridge to keep medicine, clearly this isn’t for you.

You need a cool box or other cool storage space – older houses sometimes have these. If you put frozen things in cool boxes, they can stay cool for some time (depending on outside temperatures and what else you have in the box).

I’m in the UK, which is cold or mild for most of the year. I manage in hot summers, but it can be a challenge. If you live somewhere really hot, this may be too difficult. However, it’s worth seeing what traditional solutions are/were for your part of the world.

I don’t think you can do this and store raw meat. If you are an omnivore and want to do without a fridge, you’d have to buy meat and cook it pretty much straight away. This is possible, but you’d have to be organised.

You can’t do big weekly shops in the way people do when they’re able to load up fridges and freezers. You have to buy less and more often and stay alert to what you have and how long it will keep. If you can’t do this without a lot of extra car use, it may not be a sensible trade-off.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but I hardly ever have food go off – I don’t buy things that won’t keep unless I’m intending to use them straight away.

Many things don’t need a fridge. You only need to refrigerate plant matter if it’s been cut already. Fruit and veg keep well. Dried goods – pasta, rice, oats, flour, beans and fruit etc do not need a fridge. Things in tins and jars do not need a fridge. Bread is perfectly happy in a cool box. Margarine, I have learned by experimentation, keeps a disturbingly long time. Mammal milk can be kept overnight if it’s not too hot. Plant milks will keep indefinitely when they haven’t been opened, and last a couple of days when open. Cheese bought in modest amounts will keep for a couple of days.

You can’t do a vast amount of storing leftovers for later use. If you need to prepare food in batches and store it, you can’t do it this way. If you live somewhere that makes bulk shopping/delivery a practical necessity, fridgelessness won’t work. If you are able to produce and store food you may find it makes more sense to have a freezer.

As with most questions of greener living, the answers are complicated and depend on other factors in your life. However, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or occasional meat eater, if you are urban living with easy access to food, and you can sort out your food on a day by day basis, you might not need a fridge. Doing without one can save space – a significant issue for those of us living in small spaces. It will save you money both on the fridge and the electricity it uses. Your reduced energy use, reduced materials use and reduced use of environmentally harming chemicals is all better for the environment. It’s not for everyone, but it might be for you!

The narratives of meat

Diet is a very emotive subject, so let me be clear – this is not a blog post about food choices, this is a post about the stories we tell around our food choices. It’s about a set of perceptions that are so normalised, so taken for granted that we might not even notice them. We tell stories about what it means to eat meat, and those have a powerful effect on us, even though we have more up to date stories that suggest high meat consumption isn’t good for your body or for the planet.

Meat is high status food. It costs more to produce, and always has, so we can go all the way back to the Celts and the hero’s portion at feasts. At any period in history, the poor have tended to eat little or no meat while the rich have eaten a lot more of it. Meat equates to wealth, meat consumption equates to wealth. Eating meat is part of the story our culture tells itself about what it means to be wealthy. It is feasts with whole roast swans, still with their feathers on, or Henry the 8th throwing bones over his shoulder for dogs to pick up.

Meat is seen as macho – red meat especially. So eating red meat is to be seen as masculine. To not eat meat is often seen as effeminate. Meat consumption is associated with sexually powerful heterosexual masculinity. It’s also associated with muscle building and physical strength, even though you can do that with any kind of decent protein sources. I think some of this has to do with the way our feudal history has constructed both masculinity and hierarchy. We’re back to that Henry the 8th image again.

Part of that macho red meat narrative taps in to ideas of man the hunter. Now, most men are not hunting down wild cows in order to get their steaks, but even so, there’s an emotional association that suggests to people that if they are eating red meat, they are the sort of person who could have hunted it. It’s an emotional effect that links feelings of power, competence and mastery with the consumption of meat, perhaps especially potent when the person in question has done nothing to earn those feelings.

How we feel about something often has more impact on us than logic or evidence. What we eat is part of our sense of self. The stories we tell ourselves about what our food means reinforces our food choices. The stories around eating meat are stories of strength and power, of dominance, and importance. I suspect that the less actual power you have, the more affecting those stories are.

Vegetarians and vegans tell stories about being healthy, living kindly and having less impact on the planet. There’s a different kind of power here, it’s about the power to make change rather than power over other beings. These are stories that help a person feel kind and virtuous, and worthy – all of which is also very attractive.

I find it interesting the way ideas of what is ‘natural’ enters these stories as well. As far as I can make out, everyone views their food choice as natural, but does not necessarily think everyone else’s food choices are also natural. Everyone thinks their own food choices are good and appropriate, but may well not hold the same beliefs about other people’s food choices. Food choices that supposedly make you powerful can result in some very fragile and defensive behaviour. Food choices that supposedly make you kind can result in some pretty aggressive and unkind behaviour. Our food stories can divide us into tribal groups, feeling conflict with those whose stories are different.

While we stay focused on the stories and the emotions, we aren’t looking properly at the science, the evidence and the climate impact of how we live.