Helen Martin: Reduce waste by using your head

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TO be fair, it wasn’t Michel Roux Junior’s most diplomatic moment.

The poor, he said, wouldn’t have to use food banks so much if they shopped carefully. He suggested a trip down Brixton Market for some chicken giblets would yield soup for next to nothing that could be bulked up with potatoes or pasta to produce “a nutritious meal fit for a king”.

He can say that because his family is French. Like most Europeans (as opposed to British) he has been brought up with a gourmet appreciation for peasant food. He also knows very well that if he personally made this humble broth and served it up in two- Michelin-star La Gavroche in Mayfair, it would probably go for at least £30 a portion.

But arguing that the need for charity could be blamed on the shopping choices of the poor appeared to carry more than a hint of Marie-Antoinette.

He is, of course, right. Not about the poor but about everyone including the filthy rich. We no longer value food, not in the way our grandparents or continental cousins did and not in the way African cultures still do today.

Parts of the animal that my Irish granny would have routinely cooked over her turf fire in her thatched cottage are now discarded from the human diet and probably find their way into dog or cat food.

Sheep’s head, pig’s trotters, beef heart, tails... I’ve had them all. (And I might add my most recent sheep’s head dish was served up in Tom Kitchin’s Leith restaurant!)

On holiday in South Africa we wanted to buy a gift for the chalet maid. Her heart’s desire was a pig’s head which would feed her family for a week. We fetched it from the supermarket, its skull cleaved in two by the butcher and its ears protruding between the poly bag handles. It does bring home to you that eating meat involves killing the creature – and its head looked startlingly human.

But how much more disrespectful, wasteful and cruel is it to kill the thing, eat its loin, dine on its smoked bacon and roast crackling . . . and then discard its head?

A great treat in my mother’s day was following her farmer father when he went out to dock the lambs’ tails (there was a welfare reason for this as it reduced the likelihood of maggot infestation in lowland sheep). The kids trailed behind picking up all the tails they could and took them home to roast on the fire as a snack. Nothing was wasted.

By comparison we are picky wimps. Tripe was a staple meal when I was young. No-one eats it any more. Apart from Nigella Lawson, no-one I know eats pigs’ ears any more either. The Chinese enjoy several delicacies that even my granny would have choked on . . . duck’s foot with web and chicken feet to name a couple. But the UK drifts more and more towards only the choicest cuts proving Roux’s point that we all probably spend too much on buying the wrong things.

But pssst, keep that quiet. Otherwise some enterprising processor, perhaps even Roux himself, will revive all these old dishes from animal odds and ends, make them trendy again and before you know it cow lips will be an expensive delicacy.

Pubs should be first to step up and open loos

WITH public toilets being axed in Edinburgh, we really are losing the basics. The “community toilet scheme” proposed to replace public loos involves local businesses who have toilets being paid £500 a year to let desperate citizens relieve themselves.

Funnily enough, among the first to say no thanks and to describe £500 as a drop in the pan in comparison to the annual costs of cleaning, were publicans. I can think of no-one more responsible for the cross-legged and bladder-challenged anxiously searching for a legal place to pee than the pub they left an hour ago after sinking a few pints. And if they fail? Well that’s when those pints from which the bar owner has profited, wind up in common stairs, gardens or bus shelters.

What’s wrong with saving the £500 fee and making it a condition of every public house licence that members of the public – providing they are not already drunk and disorderly or likely to cause trouble – are entitled to use the toilets free of charge? What goes in must come out.

Only buy iPads for those in need

I KNOW means-testing is offensive to some people. And I understand the principle of “free to all” whether you need it or not, avoids stigma and people being made to feel like charity cases.

But right now we are in a shocking state. The wealth divide is bigger than ever, the rich are richer and the poor are – literally – begging for food. Any money, be it welfare or iPads for every school child in Edinburgh, has to be spent on those who need it.

Using public money to buy iPads for those who already have one and don’t need help is stealing much-needed resources from the poor.

Make it a clean break

AS the behaviour of energy firms comes under ever more scrutiny, might I suggest they are also forbidden from pursuing and harassing customers who have decided to switch from them. It’s like being stalked by an ex.