Book review: Cabbage – A global history

Cabbage: A Global History by Meg Muckenhoupt; Reaktion Books, 2018, 140 pp, £10-99

Cabbage investigates the disparity between the vegetable’s poor reputation and its enduring popularity. One of the oldest crops in the world and a good source of vitamins A and C, cabbage has long been an essential part of European and Asian diets and is thought to have been domesticated as early as the first century BCE. However, cabbage is often perceived as the food of the poor, a vegetable that those with a choice would avoid because of its unpleasant aroma.

For me, cabbage is associated with overcooked, limp and colourless leaves served with boiled potatoes for school dinners at a time when vegetarianism was far from mainstream. Whilst cabbage has long been regarded as a cheap and easy way to derive nutrition, it also suffers from a reputation problem that means it is rarely served in restaurants, and it is this dichotomy that makes this book interesting.

Cabbage is one of Reaktion Books’ Edible series comprising 77 books on various types of food and drink ranging from apple to wine. The book charts the vegetable’s history, detailing its various uses, biological classification and chemical composition. The author mentions other brassicas, such as kale and turnips, and refers to cabbage-related traditions, including Halloween pranks and the origin of the ‘man in the moon’ – a peasant who stole some cabbage on Christmas Eve and was sent by Christ to sit in the moon as penance.

An appendix provides 19 historical and contemporary recipes, including several soups, and some unexpected uses of cabbage such as sauerkraut cake and kimchi grapefruit margarita. Some of the recipes include meat, such as ‘A Ukrainian Grandmother’s Holubsti’ (cabbage rolls), but they could be adapted to use vegetarian fillings.

Cabbage consumption is declining in many countries, but globalisation may help to keep cabbage on the menu, with dishes such as kimchi becoming popular in the West. Although the topic might not seem particularly exciting, unless you really like cabbage, this brief overview provides insight that might help improve the reputation of a much-maligned vegetable.

Anne Orgée

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(Anne’s photo shows a magnificent savoy cabbage in Oxford Botanic Garden)

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Review of a talk by Carol J Adams

It’s a pity that the excellent talk by Carol J Adams at St Cross Building, Oxford, on 25 October 2018, wasn’t better advertised: I only found out about it on the day it took place. The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J Adams (1990) is a seminal work, one of the five most important books about animal rights published during the modern era. I first heard about it via BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme in the early 1990s, and was rather put off by the subtitle: A Feminist Vegetarian Critical Theory. However, any idea that this book was only relevant to women was immediately dismissed as soon as I started to read it.

The author’s 60-minute PowerPoint presentation underlined the fact that all the issues raised in the original book are still topical. Numerous slides of fast food adverts and menus, TV campaigns for junk food chains, and ‘chalk misogyny’ (hand written messages on pavement chalk boards) underlined a deeply rooted and shameful theme. Images of women and animals are linked together to sell meat and dairy produce, or blatantly explicit sexist text is merged within a specific promotion, such as a billboard poster of a bulging burger with the message: “Grab both buns, and eat it like a man.” During the last US Presidential election, KFC produced merchandise badges that read: “Hillary Special, Two Fat Thighs, Two Small Breasts … Left Wing.” The latter was discussed within the context of Donald Trump’s overt sexism, and illustrated with a bizarre right wing protest using milk as “a creamy symbol of white racial purity in Trump’s America” outside an anti-Trump exhibit at New York City’s Museum of the Moving Image in February 2017. A bunch of bare-chested Neo-Nazis gulped down gallons of milk to prove that it’s a symbol of Caucasian superiority. Another slide showed a poster for ‘Trump Steaks’, which Carol Adams succinctly dismissed as “another of his failed businesses.”

During the Q & A session, Carol Adams expressed her support for the Impossible Burger and told listeners that ‘mock meats’ were first devised by Seventh Day Adventists in the late nineteenth century. Afterwards I had the opportunity to talk to the speaker, expressing my gratitude for her ground-breaking work. It was a real privilege to meet this champion of both women’s rights and animal rights.

Paul Freestone

Book review: My Life as an Animal

My life as an animal: A Memoir – Adventures, Music, Animal Rights by Andrew Tyler; Loop Books, 2017, £7-99 (available from Animal Aid: https://www.animalaidshop.org.uk/books-dvds/animal-rights-books/my-life-as-animal-by-andrew-tyler)

Andrew Tyler was widely known as the former director of Animal Aid, a post he held for 19 years. However, his memoir contains many surprises. It charts his difficult early years, including an eight-year stint in a Jewish orphanage, travels around North America in the late 1960s, and a series of interesting encounters arising from his work as a music journalist.

The structure of the book is unusual. It starts with Andrew’s decision to contact Dignitas and make arrangements for his assisted suicide in Zurich. Andrew had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease and a severe degenerative disease in his back, and was reluctant to shrink into “pain, infirmity and indignity” or to “eke out more years without purpose”. He died in April 2017, having devoted many years to improving the lot of both human beings and animals through his work as an investigative journalist and as an animal rights activist.

The book ends with reflections on his time at Animal Aid, delivered in a question and answer format, descriptions of 19 rescue dogs that lived with Andrew and his family over a 33-year period, and a moving postscript by Andrew’s wife, Sara Starkey. An 8,000-word article and a speech delivered at a conference in Virginia round off an inspiring book that, thanks to Andrew’s journalistic skills, is well written with a strong narrative.

Andrew was drawn to animal rights following a chance encounter with a small bird that flew repeatedly at a glass panel trying to escape from an office block. There must have been something about her plight and her persistent efforts to break free that inspired Andrew to devote so much of his life to raising awareness of the plight of the billions of animals who are sacrificed for food, science or sport. His phlegmatic approach to euthanasia might make some readers feel uncomfortable, despite being applied equally to his own situation and that of his ailing dogs, but there is no doubt that he lived a life of purpose in which all lives were valued.

Anne Orgée

OxVeg stalls in November and December

OxVeg will be running an information stall at these forthcoming events, both of which will be held in Oxford Town Hall, St Aldate’s:

  • Saturday 3 November, 10 am – 4 pm. Oxford One World Fair.
    Organised by Oxford Oxfam in partnership with Oxford Fair Trade Coalition and Oxford City Council. Details at: https://www.facebook.com/OneWorldFair/.
  • Saturday 1 December, 11 am – 4 pm. Oxford Green Fair.
    Organised by Oxfordshire Green Party.

There is a moderate admission charge to the events, both of which generally include a vegetarian café.

Christiana Figueres talk in Oxford

Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010-2016, will give a talk entitled “What now? Next steps on climate change” at the Sheldonian Theatre, Broad Street, Oxford, on Monday 29 October, 12.30pm – 2pm.  On 8 October, BBC Radio 4’s The World at One programme broadcast an interview with Ms Figueres, in which she listed “the four main things that individuals can do” to help avert catastrophic climate change. Her number one recommendation was unequivocal:

“Reduce meat consumption or eliminate meat altogether. If you are already reduced, then move to elimination. If you are still eating meat you aren’t serious about what planet you’re turning over to the next generation.”

For further details and to reserve a place at the talk go to: https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/event/2610

Paul Appleby (with thanks to Paul Freestone)

Viva! Street Action in Oxford

Viva! bring their Trash Street Action campaign to Oxford’s Cornmarket Street on Wednesday 24 October, 12 noon to 3 pm (https://www.facebook.com/events/2199187853650466/). The campaign aims to raise awareness of the dairy industry’s forgotten victims – male calves.

National Older Veg*ns Day

October 1 is National Older Veg*ns Day, a day dedicated to celebrating the older vegans and vegetarians in our communities.  To mark the occasion Vegetarian for Life (VfL), the advocacy charity for older vegetarians and vegans, have posted a blog calling for veg*ns living in care homes to be cared for and fed in accordance with their principles.

In the blog Amanda Woodvine, Chief Executive of VfL, says:

“Many older veg*ns are thriving, which is fantastic. But others, whether living independently or in care, can struggle to maintain the diet that is at the core of their identity. Out-of-town supermarkets with wider veg*n ranges are often not easily accessible without the use of cars. Although frailer veg*ns may have access to local shops, these tend to be more expensive and typically offer a limited choice of veg*n alternatives. And in care settings, veg*n options may be scarce, and knowledge about veg*n diets very limited.

“We are standing up today to say that we will carry on campaigning to ensure that older veg*ns’ needs are met. It’s incredible to have so many inspirational people on board with us. We know that with their help, we can work together to make vegan and vegetarian food choices more widely available.”

To read the blog in full go to: https://vegetarianforlife.org.uk/blog/post/national-older-vegns-day-1-october

Paul Appleby

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