Sunday, 31 May 2009

When Every Little Doesn't Help

This week I was reminded of just how much I've changed over the past few years.

About 10 or more years ago, when my eldest daughter was very young, Sainsburys opened a new superstore on Winterstoke Road in Ashton. I remember being very excited by the prospect and looked forward to my first visit. Our existing Sainsburys was small and didn't offer the range of lines the new store promised.

This week I learned of Tesco's plans to open a superstore on the old Ashton Gate football site and my reaction could not have been more different. Instead of looking forward to its arrival I intend to do all I can to oppose it. I've started by emailing my Labour councillors, the local Green councillor, my MP, my MEP and the prospective Green MEP.

So what's changed? Climate change and the regeneration of North Street.

Supermarkets have a enormous impact on the environment - food miles, energy consumption, waste generation, car usage etc. They are vast impersonal retail outlets in comparison with local shops which are friendly and helpful and more likely to source local produce. There is, in my mind, no comparison and I've been delighted by the gradual transformation of North Street into a vibrant shopping centre with a wide variety of shops, including a long awaited fishmonger.

Now before you ask, I'll come clean and confess that I do of course shop in supermarkets, both online and in person. Nor do I have any immediate plans to stop doing so. I have nevertheless been consciously and deliberately trying to reduce my dependence on them - by shopping local. It's better for me, for the community and for the environment.

Suddenly all this is threatened by the proposed arrival of Tesco at Ashton Gate. I'm afraid that the competition will prove too much for some of our local shops and that they will be forced to close. I suspect that, once they're through the doors, shoppers will be tempted to pick up all the items on their list under the same roof. I'm worried that there will be an increase in the level of traffic. I fear the relentless progress of the multinational retailers.

Besides which, with a Sainsburys, a newly expanded Asda, an Aldi, a Lidl and two Tesco Expresses, why on earth do we need another Tesco?

So thank you, but no thank you, Sir Terry.

Monday, 18 May 2009

The Greening of my Diet

In the campaign to reduce my carbon footprint it has been all too easy to pick and chose my targets to suit my lifestyle. As a non car owner and someone who hasn't flown (except for two family emergency short hauls) in almost three years, I am justifiably proud of my relatively low level of emissions. I reduce, reuse and recycle my waste. I buy local and organic. I've even started growing my own veg. However I have thus far, turned a blind eye on the composition of my diet.

Some time ago I was reminded of the significant contribution livestock farming makes to global warming, accounting for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. These are produced by clearing forested land, making and transporting fertilizers, running farm vehicles and the digestive system of animals.. Transport, on the other hand, 'only' accounts for 13%. The average household would reduce their emissions by more if they halved their consumption of meat than if they halved their car usage.

While I respect the convictions of my vegetarian, and vegan, friends I am not persuaded of the need to give up eating meat altogether. However I am, rather regretfully, coming round to the environmental benefits of eating less of it. I've tried going vegetarian on several occasions with limited success, the chief obstacles being bacon sandwiches and my children. So it will not be easy.

Happily this week is National Vegetarian Week which may kick start me in the right direction.

With toast and marmalade for breakfast and a feta cheese and salad baguette for lunch I've done alright so far. This evening I have been invited to a barbecue (of the indoor variety unless the rain clears) which will prove more of a challenge. I'm taking a Spanish tortilla , but I fear I'll be tempted by the sausages (especially any with sticky burnt skins!). However for the sake of the planet I will resist. Wish me luck.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

I've been Grow Zoned!

Yesterday four members of the Grow Zone project descended on our garden and helped us transform it from a rather untidy yard into a potentially productive mini allotment.

The Grow Zone project is part of Earth Abbey, a movement of people helping each other live more in tune with the earth. Half a dozen or so households have taken the challenge to grow at least some of our own food following permaculture principles.

So to get back to our garden. Two of us dug up the tired looking shrubs from the narrow bed outside our front window and replaced them with hardy herbs - a variegated sage, Russian tarragon, bergamot, Moroccan mint and hyssop. We replanted a rosemary bush from a pot in the back garden and finally added two giant sunflower plants which will look magnificent standing proudly against our new sky blue wall. We filled three window boxes with compost from our compost bin. I sowed mixed salad leaves in two of them and will transplant a couple of trailing tomato plants into the third as soon as they are hardy enough.

Meanwhile out at the back the rest of the team uprooted an overgrown rosemary bush in the rockery and removed a couple of the larger rocks to make space for some runner beans to be trained up the back fence and some spinach and rainbow chard which will nestle among the alpines. The rocks were piled up against the raised rockery wall to enable any frogs who leap down into the back yard to find their way back to the pond. Our old rubbish bin and two large containers were planted with the potatoes we've been chitting in our dining room doorway for the past few weeks. A growbag was planted with a miniature squash and two bush courgettes and various other containers with peas and broad beans. A second growbag awaits three bush tomatoes.

The sun shone brightly, tea and conversation flowed freely and when we were done and tidied up we shared a simple of lunch of soup, bread and cheese and chutney, salad and cake (much of it homemade), before heading off home.

I don't know what it was; the sunshine, the friendship, the labour, the food, the fresh air, but my spirits were uplifted and I spent the rest of the day on a high. This morning I came downstairs and felt compelled to go out into the garden to see how it was. It looked lovely.