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Three people you should know about if you care about food

September 13, 2014

Three important people in foodJust a short word (for me) but I just had to share this. While walking over the rugged moors of Dartmoor and picking my way through the breezy countryside of Gloucestershire, catching up with family and friends and juggling work while in the UK, I missed loads of my favourite Radio 4 programmes on podcast. Driving back from dropping KP at Heathrow, I listened to a series of Food Programmes and couldn’t stop thinking about three people and the impact they’d had on other people’s lives through food. If you missed their stories, they need to be told:

Steve Glover – the Severn Project

“I really love growing salad, but I really love seeing people develop into fully fledged members of the community, because I had to do that myself, it’s not that far from my own story.”

Steve Glover set up a business that seeks to address, in a very practical way, the reason why ex-drug addicts, ex-offenders and those who have fallen out of mainstream society, often go back to their old ways in a circle of dependency. The Severn project is an urban, community farm growing a wide variety of salad leaves to supply to local restaurant businesses.

Steve, a former addict himself, obtained a degree in addiction counselling and worked in residential units. He became frustrated that people left with good intentions, goals and resolutions but once they returned to their original environment without any real support or provision they went back to drugs or offending. His motivation for setting up a horticultural business was not about creating employment but rather empowerment for people to support themselves – to encourage people to be dependent on their own initiative not subsidies.

His rationale behind choosing horticulture is that exercise and outdoor work stimulates systems that you have in your body which provide endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. These are the three neurotransmitters that are artificially stimulated by substances, so growing things replaces a chemical high with a natural one. They grow salad because it’s quick. Steve knew from experience that addicts want instant gratification, they don’t have the patience to wait through a long growing cycle and want to see instant results.

This is a sustainable business on many levels and receives no grants or funding. The product is in demand by local chefs; The Severn Project supplies fifteen varieties of seasonal organic, salad leaves which can be on restaurant plates in 24 hours or even less.

The impact, simplicity, integrity and sustainability of this community food business makes you wish there were many more people with such a vision as Steve Glover. Read about The Severn Project here…

Steve Glover

Steve Glover ©thesevernproject

Clare Millar – Eat for Victory

Eat for Victory is an idea and campaign by nutritionist Clare Millar to bring back some of the eating and lifestyle habits adopted during the Second World War in the UK. It may have been a time of perceived deprivation but actually we are much unhealthier now than we were then. She espouses slogans from the time of rationing such as Grow Your Own Food, Don’t Take More Than You Can Eat and Don’t Waste Good Food which are still useful today. When Clare started talking, she really got my attention with the way she articulated her mission and with these words in particular. She may be harking back to the past but she’s addressing issues that are bang on right now.

“There isn’t as much mindfulness in our eating”, says Clare. “Eat for Victory is all about inspiring people to shop, cook and eat more healthily and sustainably. I saw a need for simplicity. I think now that there’s a lot of information and not all of it is being fed to us from the right sources. Nowadays we get a lot of our education about food and diet from people like advertisers, food products and marketing and we used to get it from our parents.”

Clare’s simple messages are in tune with the Michael Pollen school of thinking i.e. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants but with a wider look at where we source our food and how by working as a community we can regain control of our food supply, live better and more healthily.

It’s not all ‘make do and mend’ doom and gloom as this recipe on Clare’s website demonstrates:

Eat for Victory

©Eat for Victory

Diana Kennedy

A British woman who has dedicated her life to Mexican cooking, Diana Kennedy’s life reads like an adventure novel. After leaving the UK to visit some interesting parts of the world, she first moved to Mexico in the 1950s to marry Paul Kennedy, the New York Times Mexico correspondent, and has spent the past 30 years tracking down traditional recipes from every corner and small outlying village of Mexico. At the age of 91 she lives for most of the year in an adobe house in Michoacan and still has the avid zeal of a collector to record and preserve a culinary heritage which has become almost unrecognisable since she first moved to the country. She was initially driven purely by curiosity and wanted to recreate the dishes she was served in people’s houses. She was often referred to cooks who in turn referred her to their villages.

After moving to New York in the 1960s, she was widowed within a year and started teaching Mexican cookery classes as a means to support herself. Her reputation grew and she published the first of nine cookery books, five of them written before she moved back to Mexico in 1976. A stickler for absolute authenticity and attention to detail in the preparation and ingredients of even the simplest meals she has inadvertently recorded an anthropological study of Mexico via cookery.

Recently she was described as the Mick Jagger of Mexican food.  In one book, a dedication from her publisher reads “If her enthusiasm were not beautiful it would border on mania.”

The story of Mexico’s regional cuisines gathered by this English cook is now being seen as  one of the most precious resources for Mexico’s food future, a country with some of the world’s biggest food-related problems on the planet.

She’s quite a force to be reckoned with, a formidable reputation precedes her, but you need a certain amount of guts to travel alone around on dusty roads across the one and half million square miles of extreme topography, in an old LandRover with just a sleeping bag.  Her admirers in the British Isles include Darina Allen and Thomasina Miers and she’s received many accolades.  Needless to say, her books are now on my cookery wish list.

“I wish I’d written better notes” she says wistfully when talking about the past, “when I think of what has been lost, when I think of my memories…” I didn’t realise at the time how valuable the recording of this might be for the future.” The period of time during the 1950s and 1960s in Mexico was then described as ‘The Miracle’ – although no-one calls it that now – when the country was industrialising at break-neck speed. To look at the countryside, the villages and the ingredients the way Diana did, was very unusual. She says it was the discovery of something that no one had written about that excited and drove her.

Cookbook author Diana Kennedy

Diana Kennedy

These three people restore my faith in the world and make me get out of bed in the morning with renewed purpose and vigour. There is hope for our societies and food system. The programmes about all these amazing people are available for the next year over on The Food Programme – do go and listen.

  1. daver001 permalink
    September 13, 2014 9:11 pm

    Never miss the show – it’s a fixed point in my week.

    • September 14, 2014 8:32 am

      Me too Dave – required listening for anyone who is even the slightest bit interested in food I think 🙂

  2. September 13, 2014 9:26 pm

    Fascinating Sally. Thank you! I love my copy of Diana Henry’s CRAZY WATER PICKLED LEMONS (a present from a good friend) and want to buy her new book.

    • September 14, 2014 8:33 am

      Oooh – I’d love that book. Lucky you.

    • September 14, 2014 11:10 am

      I am a dork – I wrote Diana Kennedy about 5 times – but I’m afraid the cookery writer Diana Henry’s name slipped in once (late night writing) – they are 2 different people. SORRY!

  3. September 13, 2014 9:50 pm

    Thanks for the introduction and interesting post. These people are really inspiring.



  4. September 14, 2014 12:55 am

    Thanks for sharing – I’ll have to try and listen to Radio 4 sometimes (am more of a Radio 5 Live person myself … sports and films, no culture, I’m afraid ;-))

    • September 14, 2014 8:34 am

      The Film Programme on Radio 4 is brilliant. Can’t do sport I’m afraid – that’s KPs department!

  5. September 14, 2014 2:24 am

    Thanks Sal an inspiring read. We need more people like these in our communities

    • September 14, 2014 8:35 am

      I agree – it brings me hope that there are people like this in the world.

  6. September 14, 2014 6:17 am

    What a beautiful post. Thank you for writing this. The first project seems fantastic and the one in line with the community project that i am going to be involved in soon. Fingers crossed.

  7. therealgeordiearmani permalink
    September 14, 2014 9:21 am

    I shall have to tune in 🙂

    • September 14, 2014 9:22 am

      I think you would like The Kitchen Cabinet too

  8. September 14, 2014 10:41 am

    Very interesting, thank you 🙂

  9. September 14, 2014 10:57 am

    Fantastic post…memorable. I didn’t know of Clare Millar and am very impressed by her thoughts which are very much in tune with my own. Diana Henry’s life was a complete revelation to me…I’ve followed her and twitter for some time and often comment on her twitters…she always replies. To this moment I had no idea what an eminent woman she is..very good read.Thanks:)

    • September 14, 2014 11:12 am

      I am a dork – I wrote Diana Kennedy about 5 times – but I’m afraid the cookery writer Diana Henry’s name slipped in once (late night writing) – they are 2 different people. SORRY! Diana Kennedy is 91 years old and while very computer literate, to my knowledge, does not tweet. Lovely Diana Henry does (but is not an expert in Mexican cooking…to this degree…and neither is she 91). Sorry Roger. Sorry DH if you read this. Have corrected error.

  10. September 14, 2014 11:37 am

    Thank you so much for sharing these, they are so inspiring and motivating 🙂

  11. September 14, 2014 1:16 pm

    I will have to catch up on these podcasts soon. I am quite familiar with Diana Kennedy and have cooked from one of her books that I found in a charity shop (!). As for the others I am unfamiliar with them but am wanting to know more, especially about Clare. Incidentally, I think the quote you attribute to Mark Bittman is actually MIchael Pollan from his book, In Defense of Food. Mark is more of the butter is better ilk – these days at least! Fascinating and well-written post, as always.

    • September 14, 2014 1:18 pm

      Of COURSE it’s Michael Pollan – not doing very well here!

      • September 16, 2014 1:13 pm

        I misquote etc all of the time – in posts and in real life. The post was great, regardless of tiny flaw. If I had thought about it I should have dm’ed you instead.

  12. September 14, 2014 1:54 pm

    What a fantastic, inspiring post – I really ought to listen to the radio more. I’m missing out! Thank you for introducing me to these three people- I’d never heard of them before now!

  13. September 14, 2014 4:52 pm

    Very interesting introduction to some very inspiring people. Thank you!

  14. September 14, 2014 8:01 pm

    I am really interested by the eat for victory campaign. I will have to look in to that more.

  15. September 14, 2014 11:20 pm

    I recently discovered Diana Kennedy, what an inspiration!

  16. September 14, 2014 11:59 pm

    Absolutely inspiring… thanks to your knowledge and wisdom, we get to learn so much.

    • September 15, 2014 12:21 am

      What is more inspiring is the impact or the amount of work that the Severn Project has done, considering that the amount of land is not much. It’s the dedication and the communal involvement.

  17. September 15, 2014 1:07 pm

    This is such a lovely post. Diana Kennedy is such an inspirational woman, and I couldn’t agree more about her life reading as an adventure novel. I’d add Fuchsia Dunlop and Claudia Roden to my list too. Enormous fan of Diana Henry as well, so an appropriate ‘slip of the pen’!

  18. September 15, 2014 1:09 pm

    I am a HUGE fan of Diana Kennedy and she is such an inspirational woman…..I remember watching a wonderful documentary about her life on BBC some years ago and, I was glued to the box as it was such an interesting tale and journey of her life.
    As for Clare Millar and Eat for Victory, I am very keen to follow the same principals, and I lived off WW2 rations for a week last year, which was very humbling when you see how little you have at your disposal, but also quite liberating as you can incorporate lots of home grown vegetables etc into the meals and menu plans.
    A wonderful post Sally! 🙂

  19. September 15, 2014 1:41 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing. This has given me something new to focus on 🙂

  20. September 16, 2014 4:59 pm

    Isn’t The Food Programme great for telling the stories behind the food? I missed the Eat for Victory episode and wouldn’t have thought to search it out if I hadn’t read your post… off to listen to it now, thank you!

  21. September 16, 2014 7:57 pm

    I listened to these episodes of The Food Programme via my Podcast app while I was decorating the boys bedrooms over the summer – was totally absorbed!!! You really can’t beat Radio 4 for thoughtful storytelling… The Food Programme and Woman’s Hour are my absolute essentials in life.

  22. September 16, 2014 9:55 pm

    I agree with Katie, I love to spend time catching up on the Food programme podcasts. They are always informative and Diana Kennedy is someone special. A real energy force and so fascinating.

  23. andreamynard permalink
    September 19, 2014 12:46 am

    Great, inspirational read Sally. I’m off to search for a Diana Kennedy book!

  24. Sunny Sattva permalink
    October 1, 2014 7:44 pm

    Just listened to the Severn Project interview and feel very moved!

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