A short film for schools on veganism

Veganism by Carl and Rupert is a short (3½ minutes) film for schools produced by Animal Aid in which vegan comedian Carl Donnelly and his canine companion Rigby (stage name Rupert) explain why it’s “cool to be vegan”.  To watch the film, which is ideal for screening during a school talk or cookery demo, go to: www.animalaid.org.uk/Carlveganfilm.


Can veganism save the planet?

Sunday 31 March, 10 am – 11 am. A debate featuring population biologist Professor Sir Charles Godfray and livestock farmer David Stanley among a panel assembled by Oxford’s Earthwatch charity.  Worcester College, Walton Street, Oxford OX1 2HB.  Further details at: https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/event/2699.

The debate is one of a series of events under the banner Pasture to Plate at the 2019 Oxford Literary Festival.  Other events that may of interest are as follows:

  • Saturday 30 March, 10 am. Saving Life on Earth: Feeding People without Trashing the Planet. Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming, talks to Nick Higham. Oxford Martin School, 34 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD.
  • Saturday 30 March, 2 pm. How to Nourish the World. Professor Hans Herren, entomologist and world expert in the biological control of crop pests, in conversation with Philip Lymbery. Oxford Martin School, 34 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD.
  • Saturday 30 March, 6 pm. How Did We Get Into This Mess? Politics, Equality, Nature. Environmental activist and journalist George Monbiot discusses the devastation of the natural world and the decline in political debate. Sheldonian Theatre, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3AZ.

Further details and tickets for all these events (£12-50, students £7) are available from the Oxford Literary Festival website (https://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/).

Paul Appleby

Book review: Coffee – A Global History

Coffee: A Global History by Jonathan Morris. Reaktion Books, hardback, 216pp, £10-99

What could be just another ‘coffee table book’ (used in the pejorative) is actually a delightful book about the history of coffee that would sit neatly on a coffee table. With an engaging eye for detail the author explains how this dark and bitter beverage conquered the planet. Coffee is grown commercially on four continents, consumed in all seven, and popular across the world, but the taste and quality varies enormously and most people (including dedicated aficionados) have little understanding of the all processes involved in supplying that delicious daily shot of caffeine. Indeed, the coffee industry has obscured its complex and diverse product by turning it into a homogenised commodity. This allows beans from one source to be substituted or blended with another, and sidesteps natural events like drought or frost that can decimate a crop. At least 90% of all global coffee production is in this ‘commodity’ category. The rest is ‘specialty coffee’, high quality beans with a distinctive flavour profile and identifiable geographical regions.

The two crucial factors controlling bean quality are temperature and elevation, with beans grown at higher altitudes possessing more concentrated flavours. Indeed, El Salvador grades its beans by elevation, with the most exclusive beans only produced above 1,200 metres (3,937 ft), whereas Hawaii’s celebrated Kona coffee belt starts at a relatively modest 200 metres (656 ft) above sea level. Quality control at the harvest stage is critical. Selective picking is expensive, in contrast to ‘stripping’ where all the berries are removed by running a hand down the entire branch. After being processed (which includes milling, washing and drying) the final roasting stage will determine the coffee’s ultimate flavour and aroma. It takes a whole year for coffee to travel from crop to steaming cup, and (as they say within the industry) only a minute for the person making it to mess it up.

Two species dominate the coffee industry. Arabica currently accounts for about two-thirds of world production, and is grown throughout the tropics but cannot survive outside this belt. Robusta tolerates higher temperatures, and is easier to cultivate, but it has a major defect – its awful taste, frequently described as “burnt rubber”. However, Robusta contains twice the caffeine levels of Arabica, and the stimulating qualities of caffeine are an essential part of its universal appeal. Recent studies have claimed that drinking coffee protects against liver disease and several types of cancer, and the high level of antioxidants decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s dementia and Parkinson’s disease. However, too much coffee can increase heart rate and blood pressure with some addicts (‘java junkies’) suffering dependency and withdrawal headaches.

Coffee became a global commodity during the second half of the 20th century. The first instant variety was launched in 1938, and by 1960 ‘solubles’ had a 20% share of the global market. In the UK instant coffee rapidly became popular, and by the 1990s coffee was outselling tea in terms of value (not volume) with instant making up 90% of sales. Today, a whole range of freshly brewed coffees is available via several international chains operating in every high street. Starbucks is synonymous with the modern coffee shop chain: by 2017 there were 25,734 Starbucks stores operating in 75 countries. The success of Starbucks and its imitators stimulated the sale of easy to use barista-style domestic coffee machines, and it is claimed that over a third of all UK and US homes now have a pod machine. The advantages of pod coffee are convenience and cleanliness, but there are several downsides including the difficulty of recycling the aluminium capsules, and the idea that a pod machine can supply instant gourmet coffee is laughable. The huge success of capsule coffee represents the triumph of marketing over substance.

This fascinating read concludes with some grim predictions. Between 2014 and 2016 the world’s annual consumption of coffee exceeded the quantity of beans produced, and it is predicted that output will continue to fall, with climate change identified as “the biggest threat to coffee growing”, leading to an estimated “50% reduction in the global area suitable for coffee production by 2050.”

Paul Freestone

The planetary diet is a plant-based diet

The benefits of a plant based diet received a further boost earler this year with the publication of the EAT-Lancet Commission report Food in the Anthropocene, the result of a two-year collaboration by 37 experts from a range of disciplines.  The report found what many people have suspected for a long time, namely that “feeding a growing population of 10 billion people by 2050 with a healthy and sustainable diet will be impossible without transforming eating habits, improving food production, and reducing food waste.” The Commission’s solution envisages a dietary pattern for planetary health that “will require global consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to decrease by about 50%, while consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes must double.” In contrast to the present global food system, under which almost 1 billion people go hungry while another 2 billion are eating too much, the recommended diet “could avoid approximately 11 million premature deaths per year” while ensuring that “the global food system (stays) within planetary boundaries for food production such as those for climate change, biodiversity loss, land and freshwater use.” The report prompted The Guardian newspaper to ask whether an increase in flexitarianism could help save the planet, quoting Marco Springmann, one of the report’s co-authors, warning that: “If we continue with our current levels of meat consumption, it’s very likely that we will have more flooding, more hurricanes, extreme weather that is associated with exceeding the two-degree target for climate change (and) exceed all environmental limits or so-called planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity” (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/19/could-flexitarianism-save-the-planet).

Vegetarians and vegans are ahead of the game, of course, having already adopted a plant based diet. Unfortunately, the growing number of meat avoiders has not been enough to halt the rapid rise in global meat consumption over the past half century.  In an article commissioned by the BBC, Hannah Ritchie of the Oxford Martin School showed how “meat production today is nearly five times higher than in the early 1960s – from 70 million tonnes to more than 330 tonnes in 2017” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-47057341). Although much of this increase is attributable to the more than doubling of the world’s population over the same period – from around 3 billion in the early 1960s to 7.6 billion today, rising incomes around the world have meant that more people can afford to eat meat.  This is particularly noticeable in middle-income countries such as China and Brazil.  Whereas the average Chinese person consumed less than 5 kg meat per year in the 1960s he or she now eats more than 60 kg of meat every year, and in Brazil meat consumption has almost doubled since 1990, overtaking that of most Western countries in the process.  Per capita meat consumption exceeded 100 kg per year in each of the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina in 2013, the most recent year with available data.  In contrast, per capita meat consumption is less than 10 kg per year in several African countries, and is lowest of all at less than 4 kg per person in India, where around one-third of the population eat no meat.  As Hannah Ritchie points out: “A future where meat consumption is sustainable and balanced across countries would require major changes.” The planetary diet advocated by the authors of the EAT-Lancet Commission report shows the way, but are governments, and meat-eaters, listening?

Paul Appleby

PLANT seasonal pop-up restaurant in Wallingford, Friday 15 March

There will be a PLANT seasonal pop-up restaurant at Ribizli Café, 53 St Mary’s Street, Wallingford, Oxon, on Friday 15 March, 7 pm.

Suitable for vegans and naturally gluten-free, Ribizli and Bare Bread host this evening meal to celebrate the start of Spring. Tickets £32 (£28 if booked before 1 March; £25 per person when booking for 4 or more).  For further details and bookings please send an email to: info{at}ribizli.co.uk .

There will also be a series of PLANT pop-up Sunday brunches at Ribizli Café from Sunday 7 April, 10 am – 2 pm.  Further details and bookings (including a £5 deposit) from the email address above.


Witney Vegan Fair, Sunday 10 March

The Witney Vegan Fair will be held at the Corn Exchange, Witney, OX28 6AB, on Sunday 10 March, 10 am – 3 pm.

The organisers invite you to: “Join us for a day in celebration of all things plant-based including an impressive line up of vegan traders and businesses showcasing the best local and national vegan products.” Entry costs £2 and includes all talks, demos and workshops; accompanied under 14s free.

Details at: https://www.veganfairs.co.uk/upcoming-events/witney-vegan-fair-2019.

Grow Green conference in London

Grow Green: Farming for a Plant-Strong Future is a one-day conference at the British Library Knowledge Centre, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB, on Thursday 11 April, 9 am – 5.30 pm.

The conference, organised by the Vegan Society as part of its Grow Green campaign, will explore the potential and challenges of the shift towards farming more plants, and look at the benefits for the environment, public health and animals. Full details and ticket sales at: https://growgreenconference.com/.

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