… is that our greedy, ruthless supermarkets have got off scot-free
September 2, 2013: op-ed for the Daily Mail
Now, six months after the worst scandal in the history of our supermarkets, the biggest joke of all has emerged. And it is the shops and food manufacturers that are having the last laugh.
The big stores and food suppliers that, for years, have let horse, donkey, pork and who-knows-what other foreign substances into cheap burgers and ready meals have been told what penalty they will face. The answer is precisely none. No prosecution, no fines, not even any new regulation to prevent them pulling the same revolting stunt again.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2409371/ALEX-RENTON-The-real-horsemeat-scandal-greedy-ruthless-supermarkets-got-scot-free.html#ixzz2k3VXVrYO
The Observer Magazine, October 2013:
The basking shark returns to British waters
As big as a yacht and with jaws so large it could swallow you whole – it’s little wonder terrified sailors hunted basking sharks almost to extinction. But now they are being seen in growing numbers from Donegal to Cornwall. Alex Renton goes in search of a gentle giant
This summer, on the western edges of Britain and Ireland, was a time of gentle monsters: great black fins parading sedately off the beaches, leviathans floating in warm sea as docile as Granddad on a lilo. From Cornwall to Donegal, local papers ran stories of swimmers’ and kayakers’ encounters with sharks “Bigger than Jaws!” “The size of a bus!” But most of the reports went on to say that the fish – which can indeed grow to 11m, a double-decker’s length – were strangely blasé about the panicky, flapping humans. In fact, they didn’t seem interested at all.
The basking sharks (or the cearban, the muldoan, hoe-mother, the brigdie… every Atlantic coast has its name for them) were back. They were late this year because the sea was colder than usual. They usually appear from May in the southwest, June in the Isle of Man and July in the Hebrides. But when they did turn up it was in great numbers. By August the sharks were swarming up the Scottish coast. Fishing boats and Ribs reported near-misses. On the Oban to Barra run, the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry had to keep a special lookout so the ship could avoid schools of giants cruising the seas at a sedate 3mph. TheShark Trust, which logs sightings, announced record-breaking numbers for Scotland.
Basking sharks are Britain’s elephants, our biggest animals. They’re also our most mysterious. They arrive in herds and then all but disappear for decades. For long periods in the 80s and 90s it was thought they had been fished nearly to extinction. (It wasn’t until 1998 that hunting them was outlawed.) Behind most of the Atlantic coast’s myths of water monsters and sea snakes lie basking sharks, with their weird snouts and confusing skeletal remains. The long claspers – the male sexual organs – can look like a pair of legs, and decomposing baskers fooled several 19th-century naturalists into announcing the discovery of new species.
Read the rest of this article at Guardian Online (free)
The Times (UK) Magazine, 28 September 2013:
Should red meat carry a health warning?
Alex Renton investigates the link between what we eat and the increased risk of diet-related cancers
We’re hard-wired to eat meat: all we can get of it. Research shows that if you give a diet of unlimited meat to omnivorous animals, whether a fly, a mouse or a chimpanzee, they will go on gorging until they are fat and ill. And that is precisely what has happened to humans.
For most Britons meat is cheaper than at any time in history, and we have tucked in. Annually, we consume more than our own body weight in animal flesh: nearly twice as much as health guidelines say we should. But that’s still puny compared with the meat feast going on in Australia and in the US. There, each person eats 120kg or more a year. It is not doing any of us any good.
In fact, long-term studies of hundreds of thousands of people in rich countries now show that the more meat, especially red and processed meat, you eat, the shorter your life will be. One of the key diseases associated with meat eating – bowel cancer – has risen swiftly to be the second or third biggest killer in most developed countries. Even the most conscientious carnivores can’t dodge the statistics: the new dietary killers don’t give any credit for shopping organic. The chemicals in bacon will get you even if the pig was bred by the Prince of Wales himself. And the dangerous proteins in economy beefburgers are just as present in the most expensive grass-fed, rare-breed beef steak.
Read the rest of this article – including the sceptical bit! – on The Times website (£)
My Observer magazine story and an editorial calling for government action on sugary drinks gathered lots of interest: 170k web hits, 850 comments and a feeble response from the British soft drinks industry.
The tin of 7UP rolls to a stop at my feet. I pick it up, scowling at the kid on a bike who’d tossed it and missed the litter bin. The can is green and shiny: “Put some play into your every day,” it says. “Escape to a carefree world… Don’t grow up. 7UP.” And underneath, in tiny print, the real info (though you need a calculator to get to the truth): the lemon- and lime-flavoured drink contains a trace of salt, no fat, no fibre and 34.98g of sugar – eight teaspoons. The sugar delivers 135 calorie; enough energy for about 15 minutes’ cross-country running. It’s cheap, too. Half the price of milk.
If the stats are right, this teenager in Leith, who threw the empty tin, drinks 287 cans, or the equivalent, a year: more sugary drinks than any other child in Europe. Not to mention a whole lot more sugar, in breakfast cereals, bread, and even chicken nuggets. That is in part why Scottish children’s teeth are the same quality as those of children in Kazakhstan. And perhaps why a 2010 survey of 17 countries found that only Mexicans and Americans were fatter than Scots.
I’ve been talking about my forthcoming book on the future of meat eating with Sheila Dillon and Mark Bittman on BBC Radio 4′s The Food Programme – you can listen to the show here.
And here’s a link to pre-order the book - short, shocking and downloadable – from Guardian Books. Out at the end of August.
Wrote three stories for the Observer (links to each one below) this weekend around the G8 discussion on food security and child hunger. Interesting comments, particularly on the piece on the Gates Foundation’s work; boy, do some Guardian Online users hate the corporates. Often with good reason.
But when government has done so badly at tackling hunger among the poorest, we’re not in a position to refuse any ideas. Don’t you think? According to new research, 3.1 million children are dying every year, largely because of malnutrition – in a world with more food than it needs.
Here’s a good Economist note on the problems around using the likes of Nestle to tackle child hunger.
Eight ways to solve world hunger
Millions of people are starving, despite the world producing more than enough to feed everyone. What can we do about it? Read more
How lack of food security is failing a starving world
Starvation is a symptom of a larger problem involving land, health, power and ecological damage, say experts. Read more
Bill Gates: UK leading the way in tackling world hunger
Microsoft mogul addresses London rally to praise British efforts on fighting starvation
Feeding Frenzy – The New Politics of Food, Paul McMahon
New books by Paul McMahon and Jay Rayner. Published in The Observer, 3 June 2013
Food got bigger than DIY about a decade back, but publishing took a while to hoist its tired old frame on to the bandwagon. Now the food books tumble out, unstoppable, in a startling range of sub-genres. There’s the cookbook with jokes. The memoir with recipes. The polemic about food system apocalypse. The cookbook (with gardening tips) for that apocalypse. The part-time vegan diet book with anti-capitalist polemic, recipes and jokes (just reviewed that one, actually). And all of the above, with celebrity attached.
Paul McMahon’s is a straight food apocalypse book, no jokes, one recipe: a four-ingredient plan to feed the planet. McMahon admits that there are an awful lot of books in his genre. Since the food price spikes of 2008, he’s seen many titles “all warning of an impending food collapse”, including The Coming Famine, The End of Food, World on the Edge and Climate in Peril. (My shelf is even bleaker: So Shall We Reap, Eat Your Heart Out and Food Wars– and, full disclosure, I’m writing a little one myself.) But gloomy though his own title is, McMahon wants to put distance between him and the “professional doom-mongers”. He wants to offer some hope and so, with 100% more jokes, does this paper’s restaurant critic, Jay Rayner. Continue reading