22.7.16

100 Miles and 2 Mouths

In the summer of 2015 Holly Black and Jo Barker decided to only eat food from within 100 miles of their home city Bristol, for an entire year to find out what it truly means to eat local. See if they made it...

A BlackBark Films documentary short, this film follows their journey through the highs and lows as new feasts are foraged, old traditions explored and tantrums are thrown at the loss of comforting eating habits.

30.3.16

Even in 2016, listening to our bodies is a radical idea

Frist published in the Bristol Cable.

Bristol company Coexist have caused a media sensation by discussing a ‘period policy’ for its majority female workforce – the shocking idea that women who need to take time off to deal with menstrual pain should be able to.

While most coverage was supportive or ambivalent, some commentators such as the callers on LBC radio slammed it as ‘a very convenient girly card’, and unfair to men. It seems acknowledging that severe period pain, is, well, painful is still a radical idea in 2016. And that’s not even taking the feminist politics into account.

Bex Baxter, a director of Coexist and facilitator and life coach, is not entirely sure why this story has been so big, but wonders if it could be the phrase ‘period policy’ itself.

“The word ‘period’ represents the core of life – what it is to be a woman, and ‘policy’ represents the patriarchal mechanism to control people to make sure they don’t abuse the system,”  Baxter says. The combination of these two words presents us with an unexpected combination of ideas that seem to be in tension with each other.

Coexist, who manage Hamilton House in Stokes Croft, announced their plan to create a period policy for their staff in February, aiming to recognise and plan work around employee’s natural cycles.

The Coexist policy is currently in process and will address all natural cycles, including the menstrual cycle. Baxter says that even in it’s most basic form, any period policy at all – even voluntary – is radical, “We offer choice. Some women might not want to take it, but we will support women if they think it’s beneficial to them.”

 “It is revolutionary… It’s about truth.”

Headlines latching on to the idea that women could be given time off work due to bad period pains have almost universally missed the wider point. They’ve instead highlighted that capital is the priority as opposed to health, menstruation has been medicalised, and talking about periods in general is still taboo. For Baxter it’s much bigger than one day off work a month.
“It is revolutionary. It is groundbreaking work. It’s about truth. The reality is that women have periods and they shouldn’t be a problem – they’re not a sickness.” Baxter said, “Sickness can occur when natural cycles have been repressed, because women are not being given permission to recognise and work with these cycles.”
Behind this policy is a way of valuing our natural cycles in all aspects of our lives – not just the workplace, suggesting that humans are cyclical beings trying to fit into a linear society.
Baxter thinks we are misinformed about our menstrual cycles:
“Even for women it’s taboo, they are embarrassed and ashamed of their periods, feeling that these natural cycles repress them, making them the weaker sex. This is old debris but still in our consciousness.”
The power of our menstrual cycle can be used intelligently for emotional help. “When this happens,” Baxter said, “women become powerhouses.” Could this be the beginning of a self-care revolution?

As Baxter argues, resistance is an opportunity for change and Coexist are happy to be the first to the party, even if they are not exactly sure why this story has been so explosive. “If we at Coexist can begin to pull it apart, then it might give other people confidence to explore it for themselves.”

Baxter confirms that this could be the beginning of something bigger,  “Women in pain is almost missing the point, but it is a starting point. I don’t mind wherever anyone is in the conversation as long as the conversation is happening.”





20.2.16

Lift leg, place foot down, take a step

First published on Medium.

Recently, whilst I was in India, I had a sudden realisation. It hit me when we were halfway up a huge hill on a forest trek with a group of school children. I was sweating through my clothes, panting slightly from exertion and wearing a pair of seemingly over-the-top sturdy boots (in comparison to the sandals of one of our guides). Each time I paused for a breath or for a swig of water I felt tired, but I felt good. Usually any kind of exercise that is constant for an elongated period of time makes me feel sort of guilty. It makes me feel bad about my health, my low levels of fitness and the state of my under exercised heart. I tend to choose sports like climbing, yoga and silks — which take short spurts of energy and strength, combined with resting positions and moments of consideration. Which way does my body move, where is the fulcrum of my balance? Half of this kind of exercise is about understanding your body and solving the riddle of how to use it to it’s best potential, a form of technique or style. The other half is pure strength.

On my way up the hill I realised something. I felt grateful. I felt grateful for my health — rather than the usual feeling of not feeling quite healthy enough. I felt grateful for my knee which has always caused me problems, but seems to be doing so less and less these days. I felt thankful that actually, I do exercise - cycling every day, climbing and doing yoga, and that my body seems to function more or less in a great way. Aches and pains come and go — I occasionally get a cold, but I haven’t had a serious knock out flu for a long time.

I have never really thought of my health this way before. To be proud of my body — not in an aesthetic sense but in a deeper way. I had that little buzz, the little ripple of excitement in my stomach, that I can remember from way back (over ten years ago) when I reached the bottom of the Himalayas after a two week trek in Nepal. Back then I was in Kathmandu, watching the pouring monsoon rain from my humid hotel room, slowly registering that I had climbed the Himalayas. It felt indescribably good. And it felt good in a deep deep place.

Suddenly, I had this feeling again. I felt indescribably good about my body. My bones, my skin, my nerves and my muscles — they all seemed to be working. They were doing what they are supposed to do and it felt like a fucking miracle. Yet, it’s just the human body doing human body things that it’s pre-programmed to do. Lift leg, place foot down, take a step. But even these minute details blew my mind. It was like a moment in a film when someone is brought back from the dead, or given a new body, or made visible for the first time (there should definitely be a film about this if there isn’t already) and they look at their hands as they slowly turn them over… These are my hands. And they do all the things hands are supposed to do. Aren’t they brilliant? YOU ARE BRILLIANT, HANDS, well done.

I wondered why this feeling had resurfaced. When I arrived in India I told myself to stop worrying about my lemons. I asked myself to not wallow over the negative feelings I’d been struggling with in 2015 and to not focus on what happens when I get back to the UK — instead, to just sit with myself. Be present. Try and see India for what it is — a break. A series of moments to appreciate everything that India may mean to me, without pulling it apart. I found myself just sitting much of the time. Listening. Watching. Just kind of ‘being’ (whatever that means). At the time I didn’t think anything of it, but now, back on my home turf, I feel as though it has allowed me to see the good alongside the bad. I’ve always turned to words, turned into myself when I feel things are bad — capturing descriptions and frustrations in my private notes. Yet, now the staccato moments that I usually have of seeing the spectacular or of recognising this beautiful life we are all a part of — these moments are lasting longer. They are sitting inside me for longer. The sunset last night still lingers in my mind. The beauty of the winter sunlight drowning me as I cycled home past the dock yard this afternoon feels overwhelming. The bright and simple feeling of my feet on my bike pedals driving me across the city that I love. The funny words in the local paper that made me smile. The little girl in the vegetable shop eating a pear with such detailed dedication that she almost made me cry with happiness.

I don’t really know what this all means, and to be honest, I don’t really mind not knowing. As long as it keeps on happening, I’ll keep on lifting up my legs, placing my feet down and taking another step.

18.12.15

When life gives you lemons…




First published on Going Local Going Green and Medium.

When life gives you lemons, don’t worry. Even if you can’t begin to imagine what lemonade looks like, never mind what it might taste like, don't worry. If you lose your lemons, it's okay - they are still out there somewhere, and in all likelihood, they’ll turn back up on your doorstep when you least expect them.
In 2015 I lost my lemons, so to speak. And when I say lemons, I really mean 'my shit'. The past 12 months have been full of ups and downs and roundabouts - a bit like Milton Keynes. It all began with Going Local Going Green.

On reflection

Going Local Going Green is this research project I’ve been working on looking at health, food, nature, economy, land use and food in the city of Bristol - not, as you may have thought, my lemons. As part of our Action Learning methodology we’ve had to meet once every four weeks or so to reflect on the past month and plan for the month ahead. This process is intense. It involves speaking for 20 - 30 minutes in a stream of consciousness about both the things we have achieved and would like to achieve, and also how we are feeling. In all of my 31 years of life I have never been in a situation like this before. To sit with 3 other people and to be given an opportunity to express how I feel about my life. The process began with speaking about work related to the research project, and it ended with a mini life crises. Being allowed an open and supportive space to express myself felt incredibly difficult at first. Although I like to think of myself as emotionally intelligent (or something along those lines) it turns out, when we started this back in April 2015, I was not. I was going through the motions but there was something blocking me, and this became more and more evident as the monthly sessions passed by. Some months I turned up hidden behind a stone cold wall - refusing to get any deeper than a list of actions and events for the past month, avoiding questions about emotions. One month I turned up and pretty much refused to speak because I felt so angry and sad. One member of the group who is much more learned in the ways of Action Learning said that this moment was when they thought they were either going to lose me, or break me. It turns out, I was ready to break. And break I did.

Feeling my way

I had a bout of depression for around 6 weeks, with days full of inconsolable tears and a sense of hopelessness I haven’t felt since I was a teenager curled up on the bathroom floor. I felt as though I couldn’t see the way out of how I was feeling and started to worry that this is how I would feel forever. I started seeing a counsellor who practices gestalt psychotherapy - connecting me with my body and my feelings in a way I hadn’t been aware of before. Who knew you could just feel emotions? I’m such an analytical soul (I blame academia) with an ingrained internal process of; emotions turn up - analyse critically - put in box - file in psyche - never think about again. I didn’t realise that with emotion comes acceptance and responsibility. There is a sense of intention and self care - and most importantly an understanding of yourself and of other people. Who would have thought? Certainly not me 12 months ago.

Pressure points

With this fresh look at my mental health, came a slow look at my physical health. I’ve been having migraines about once a month since my return from Mexico in March. I started seeing another therapist - an acupuncturist, to see if I could alleviate some of this pain. His work has also been around my emotional health, helping to ‘open up some of my channels’ which may have been seriously blocked since I was a wee bairn. Or at least since I was a teenager struggling to handle my emotions (the beginning of the box situation as above). Acupuncture has been a revelation to me. I don’t understand it. I know it works, because I can feel it. Different meridian points have made me feel different things. And the migraines are beginning to alleviate, which is incredible as they’ve been haunting me each month for the best part of a year now. How? I don't know. Sometimes you just need to trust that something works.

Menstrual times

Closely associated with both of the above is my new found menstrual literacy. When I started blocking my own communication in Action Learning, and making a note of when my migraines came, I realised it’s all related to my menstrual cycle. So, as one of my Going Local Going Green pals suggested, I started looking into what this could mean in terms of my menstrual cycle and the changes that my body goes through each month. It would be fair to say this is sort of a positive pandora’s box for me. Everything has been flying out, but it hasn’t all been bad. It’s been one of the most profound experiences of my life. We live in these bodies yet we know so little about them. It turns out we’re cyclical beings in a cyclical world that is pretending to be linear (and wants us to pretend to be linear too). It’s complicated and completely simple at exactly the same time.

So, now I’ve turned into one of those people who talks about lemons. There is a lot more to this, as you can imagine. I can feel my life changing every day. I’m trying to do the things that make me feel good more and to confront the things that don’t make me feel very good. I’m learning about what intention means. I feel like I’m a bit late to the mental health and wellbeing party, but I’m glad I’m getting there in my own time. I’m doing things like this; saying out loud the way that I’m feeling. It’s amazing and terrifying. There are still hard days and there always will be, but now I can allow myself to be honest with when I’m having these days and do the things I need to do to be kind to myself - whether it’s stretching my bones out or challenging my mind. I still find all this openness a minefield and I’m extremely thankful for my friends and family helping me to navigate through this. And I apologise in advance if I verbally vomit about any of this stuff, because I think it’s all brilliant and scary and I need all of your help to make sense of it all - and I hope I can help you in return.

Right now, my lemons are doing alright. I hope yours are too.

6.10.15

pale blue dot


"From this distant vantage point the earth might not seem of any particular interest. but for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us.

On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of - every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate or joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions ideologies and economic doctrines. 

Every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilisation, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer.

Every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician. Every superstar, every supreme leader. Every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there, on the mode of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.


Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters, of a fraction, of a dot." 

Carl Sagan. Pale Blue Dot. 

5.8.15

The Locavore Diet: Week 1 - freaking out.

Wild Geese



You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

By Mary Oliver.


H/T to young mr Nicholas Mulvey. 

29.7.15

The locavore diet: all peaches and cream? Not quite…


First published here.

A quick look at how I felt about Day One (July 20th 2015) of the locavore diet. It wasn’t all peaches and cream, needless to say. In fact, not even close.

Breakfast

Today was Day One of the diet and already I've stumbled and fallen. Me and my partner in crime, Jo, agreed that we could eat any perishables still left from the previous week - a transition week, if you will. All the fruit and veg left over from last week are fair game. Great. I, however, live with a person who is very strict when it comes to commitment - and is especially serious about food. Although we've just returned from a weeklong trip to Pembrokeshire - eating very locally (fish, potatoes, laverbread, cockles, salmon, cheese, butter... the list goes on), on Day One he still refused to eat a breakfast of Welsh bread, Welsh butter and Welsh cheese. So we went without. The hardest part for me was not waking up to a hot cup of tea. I stared forlornly into the tea and coffee cupboard, wishing that we'd worked out how to grow those special plants in our climate en masse. Instead, I found a few measly looking mint and lemon balm leaves in the yard and covered them in boiling water - which, in hindsight, is probably a really good practice for the mornings. Drinking a cup of hot water to flush your system – surely my skin will be glowing in days?


Lunchtime


When lunchtime arrived we ate halloumi, red pepper and cucumber wraps with a twist of lime. Nothing local about that - but it was within the proviso of using up perishables, so we relaxed into the idea of being in a transition week - at least we has a lemon or two left in the veg basket. 


Then, slowly, as our hunger grew, we started to freak out.


I told him not to worry, I had a great idea. A new organic food shop had opened just down the cycle track from us. We put on our waterproofs and got on our bikes (which felt very fitting when visiting an organic food shop). When we arrived it smelled like incense and was full of people just hanging out - which immediately made my boyfriend leave. He's not one for sandalwood. Sweating in the humidity I asked one of the employees for local produce. Just those, he said as he pointed to a pile of 6 courgettes in a basket. We’re about organic, not local, he said. (cue the benefits-of-organic spiel - from which I felt I shouldn't - or couldn't interrupt). When I explained the project he showed me their stock of various fresh produce, all from Lancashire (all organic), just outside the limits of the research. He said they did have some British quinoa, but he wasn't sure where it was from, and there was currently none in stock. He said maybe a barter system would be good, or growing my own. I sulkily pointed out that this was an experiment and it's possible I might fail, to which he sympathetically smiled and told me to wait until August and September when the shelves will be full. The one thing they did have, after a rummage for watercress and bean sprouts, were eggs. Local eggs. I greedily grabbed the last two boxes, wanting to walk out the door feeling triumphant after all. However the overarching dismay was as wet as my rain sodden hair, and the shopping bag felt extremely light as we plodded on.


The supermarket


Next stop - the local supermarket to see how we'd do there. The fruit and vegetable aisles provided surprisingly good results. Mushrooms from Somerset, Strawberries from Herefordshire, potatoes from Suffolk (might need to check that's within 100 miles actually), tomatoes and spring onions from Worcestershire - and lots of courgettes again. I did buy quite a lot of things that are ‘UK produce’ in my desperation; cider vinegar, rapeseed oil, milk, yoghurt and oats - which I will research now and potentially forfeit once the transition week is over.


On leaving the supermarket I hurriedly called the grower from Sims Hill Shared Harvest - the veg box scheme of which I’m a member, leaving a rushed message asking for a bigger box, and perhaps a swap of some produce which isn't local, for those that are – followed swiftly by a call to another farmer friend who runs the salad bag scheme Edible Futures to sign up (life saver) and a last call to a mate who is the Animal Manager on a therapeutic working farm just up the road, Elm Tree Farm.


"I need your eggs," I whispered, "All of them."


Fortunately these good people talked me through the farmers markets and shops in Bristol to get my local food, complimented by encouraging messages of support.


Maybe it's not going to be so bad after all. Only time will tell.
Read more from Holly here.

The Locavore Test


Blog first published here.

As part of the Going Local Going Green research project we’re embarking on a 100-mile diet – or the ‘locavore diet' as I have come to call it. In other words, only eating food that has been grown, processed and sourced within 100 miles of Bristol.

From the moment we start, I will adopt the locavore test to see if what I'm consuming is local or not. When I walk into a cafĂ© I will conduct the locavore test. When I head to a friends house for a cup of tea – I will ask the inevitable (and occasionally annoying) questions of the locavore test. Before I bake a cake – I'll locavore test the ingredients. It may become a thing. (It also may not become a thing because I fear I’m slowly becoming that person – the difficult one that claims to have a wheat intolerance, or not eat animal products, or who can only eat raw, fallen foods from the trees of Eden and so on.)

How are we doing it?


We’re not crazy – although we may appear to be slipping into some version of mildly odd to the untrained eye. We’re undertaking this project to help us work out what we mean by ‘local’. After all, we are doing a research project that falls under the label of ‘Going Local, Going Green’. When we talk about local, be it the local shops or the local area, what is it that actually makes it local? Is it the fact it’s in walking distance, that it’s familiar to us, or is it more than that? When it comes to food it gets even more complicated. Did I buy it locally?  Was it processed locally? Was it grown or bred locally? Were the seeds local/ heritage/ native to the country or region? Where did the soil come from? These are all things we have to think about (maybe not the soil bit for now). Taking inspiration from the Canadian couple Alisa Smith and J. B. MacKinnon in their book ‘Plenty’, and the amazing food hubs emerging throughout the UK with the Open Food Network, we’re slowly developing a feeling of what ‘local food’ means in the contemporary sense of the word.


What have we done so far?

So far we’ve set dates to start the diet. Then changed them. Then set them again, then changed them again. My initial lassaiz faire attitude is starting to back fire on me as the fear and the list of ‘can’t haves’ slowly builds. We’ve been keeping food diaries in order to start thinking about where our food comes from. We’ve been researching certain products, such as flour, oil and tea to try and find UK born and bred versions of these, which we will report back on as we go. We’re going to keep video diaries, blogs and reviews on how we’re doing once the diet is underway. We’re compiling the aforementioned list of ‘can’t haves’, which will hopefully eventually become a list of ‘substitutes to’.  And we’re mainly talking about it. A lot. To anyone that will listen. Friends, family, strangers and people who might know things that we need to know – like Graham from Bertha’s Pizza who travelled the west coast of the USA in hope to find the best blend of flour for his pizza, or Jo Elliot from First Great Western on why they’ve decided to source from 15 miles around the train tracks in the South West for the food supplied on the train.

But - why?

There are loads of reasons to experiment with eating locally from supporting the local economy to understanding where food comes from. I know there are important elements like carbon footprints and food miles – but my main concern is that we’re supporting farmers that look after the soil beneath our feet. And that the food we eat is tasty.


My reasons:

1. I want to support local farmers and growers
2. I want to be aware of the rich diversity of food in our local area
3. I want to understand the implications of globalisation on our food system
4. I want to reconnect with my food

What do we think will happen?

Who knows? Maybe it will be easy. Maybe it will be really hard.  I’m guessing it will be more of the former due to our location – we’re not based in the Sahara Desert after all.  Yet I do still keep getting these waves of fear. What about coffee? What about tea? What if I can’t find any oats for my daily porridge? What about my hangover cure of a Big Mac Meal with a Coca-cola and packet of salt’n’vinegar crisps? WHAT ABOUT BOOZE?

Below you can find a list of rules we will stoically stick by…. and a couple of caveats. There needs to be some exceptions to the rules, right? Follow us on this blog with the locavore diet tag, or on twitter@goinglocalgreen and we’ll let you know how we’re getting on.

THE RULES


    • All food and drink must be grown and/or produced within 100 miles of Bristol
    • Cornwall is included in the 100 miles (it basically is anyway…)
    • All elements of the food or drink product must be from within 100 miles: if it is bread, the flour, water, oil, salt and any other inputs and ingredients must be from within 100 miles.
    • The same goes for booze. All ingredients must come from within 100 miles of Bristol.
    • If we can’t get the information needed to determine where the whole product is from and we’re buying it from a shop – it’s not allowed.
    • If travelling further afield than Bristol, the 100 miles starts with where the individual is located.
    • Household ingredients that have already been bought are not allowed to be used for the trial period of month one (then we'll see...)
    • When housemates or lovers are cooking for us, the meals are subject to the diet.
    • Coffee shops mean consuming strictly only local teas/ coffees/ drinks. Sorry.
    EXCEPTIONS
    • Food at work meetings that cannot be avoided. ie. crew catering at Glastonbury or a work meal provided for you.
    • If you are eating out, try to go for the meal and drinks with the most local ingredients. This doesn't mean we get to eat out every night. We promise. 
    • If we can’t get the information needed to determine where the whole dish is from and we’re buying it from a restaurant, but over 50% of the plate is local – it’s allowed. 
    • Family gatherings/ friends for dinner - try and discuss before hand and explain the project - forfeit some food if you know it's not local. 
    • At the pub - only drink locally sourced beers/ wines/ whiskeys etc – don’t forget all of the product’s ingredients are relevant here – some research of ingredients in advance might help. But it might not.
    Wish us luck - this might be tougher than we think. You can follow us here, or on twitter:@GoingLocalGreen

    Going Local Going Green

    I'm working on a research project. You can find out more about it here or at http://www.goinglocalgoinggreen.info/

    I'll be posting up things we learn, blogposts and other updates. But for now, this is what we're doing. 

    Going Local Going Green is a website and project dedicated to exploring what it means to go 'local' and be 'green' in our home town,
     the mighty city of Bristol.

    On this blog you will find articles and information detailing the various experiences of going local and going green in our city of Bristol. You will hear from Jo, Tim, Cai and Holly about the areas in which we are exploring under the overarching themes of nature, food, land, health and economy. We will also explore what exactly 'local' and 'green' means to us, and using our chosen methodology (action learning) we will amble along, digging up information now and then to share with you, and hopefully inspire and connect you even more with the city around us. 

    Follow us on twitter for all the latest news: @GoingLocalGreen

    12.7.15

    The child has a hundred languages

    No way. The hundred is there.
    The child
    is made of one hundred.
    The child has
    a hundred languages
    a hundred hands
    a hundred thoughts
    a hundred ways of thinking
    of playing, of speaking.
    A hundred always a hundred
    ways of listening
    of marveling of loving
    a hundred joys
    for singing and understanding
    a hundred worlds
    to discover
    a hundred worlds to invent
    a hundred worlds
    to dream.
    The child has
    a hundred languages
    (and a hundred hundred hundred more)
    but they steal ninety-nine.
    The school and the culture
    separate the head from the body.
    They tell the child:
    to think without hands
    to do without head
    to listen and not to speak
    to understand without joy
    to love and to marvel
    only at Easter and at Christmas.
    They tell the child:
    to discover the world already there
    and of the hundred
    they steal ninety-nine.
    They tell the child:
    that work and play
    reality and fantasy
    science and imagination
    sky and earth
    reason and dream
    are things
    that do not belong together.
    And they tell the child
    that the hundred is not there.
    The child says:
    No way. The hundred is there.

    ~Loris Malaguzzi
    (translated by Lella Gandini here. h/t to Mr Key)