David & Goliath … the return

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is only a small charity but seems to be able to hit above its weight when it comes to challenging some of the biggest multinational corporations on the planet. First they took down McDonalds, purveyors of ground up cows to the masses. Now they have stood up to the giant bird-killer, KFC – and won.

What is this great fight you may wonder … well first the cow-killers and then the chicken-slaughterers were found to have made their ice-cream and milkshake containers just the perfect shape for hedgehogs to insert an inquisitive snout as they search for fat and sugar rich supplement to the usual fare of macro-invertebrates.

But, due to the wonderful spines that protect the hedgehog from so much harm, there was a tendency for the poor hedgehogs to get their heads stuck in the pots. This video shows a lucky one that was rescued, however many are not and end up dying.

Now KFC have joined McDonalds in redesigning the pots to stop this happening – and this is a great and wonderful thing. Perhaps surprisingly it took years of negotiation – but the job is done and shows how the determined work of a few people who care can make a great deal of difference.

But … while it is easy to blame the corporate meat-machines that are these companies, there are other people who need to be tackled as well. First, you don’t need to eat this stuff – it is not good for you on so many levels, right up to the global impact of climate change that is driven in no small part by the absurd death-fetish of the casual meat-eaters. Just don’t use those shops – then it is simple.

And if you must indulge your cravings for pulverised and reconstituted flesh … use your brain … do not drop litter. It harms wildlife. Your laziness in not disposing of it properly kills animals. I have been noticing the vast accumulations of rubbish along the road network this year – I am not sure if this is just because I am paying more attention (new book is related to the subject) – or whether this is particularly bad – but the amount of litter is heart-breaking and depressing. If we cannot be bothered to look after our own back-yard then the rest of the planet does not stand a chance.

For happier thoughts about hedgehogs … read my books

Fish out of water (pt. 2)

As I walked into the room (late due to a rather erroneous website) it was immediately apparent that this was not a normal conference. I had agreed to talk at ‘Thought for Food: the ethics of eating: a colloquium at Blackfriars’ at short notice, despite it taking place the morning after a week’s holiday. And despite it being nothing to do with hedgehogs. And despite it being quite some time since I have talked on this sort of subject.

But I enjoy a challenge and had prepared my 20 minute contribution to the conference … which was not a conference but a colloquium (an academic seminar). So, the reason why it was so different? Five monks in white habits and a nun too, along with 20 or so others, sat around a square of tables. Talking was Professor Angel Mendez – and as I gathered the programme for the day, I found his subject was ‘Sharing in the divine edible gift: becoming nourishment’. Rather different to my diatribe against industrial meat production and call for eco-nutrition.

Angel – what a name for a man in a habit – was talking about eros – desire – and how this can overtake us when we are considering food. But the bit that really stuck in my mind was his statement that ‘the abundance of food was an indication of the generosity of god’. Now I am sure you can see the flaw in this argument and at the end, when no one else was asking questions, I decided, that despite the august and obviously devoted audience, it was time to ask something pertinent.

‘If the abundance of food is an indication of the generosity of god, what does the absence of food indicate?’ Angel rambled on about the fact that there is more to life than just food – and left me needing to comment that surely it is indicative that god is obviously as spiteful as he is generous. I think that fairly clearly set me apart from everyone else in the room. And freed me up to ask whatever I wanted – which, in the case of the crumbs, was one of the most remarkable revelations I have ever had.

The conversation had moved on to the delight of making bread, and how at the eucharist it is a very special event when the bread consumed is local. But then came the problem of the crumbs. A simple wafer leaves no mess, but a small chunk of homemade bread risks shedding a few crumbs. And this lead to letters to Rome to try and work out what to do with the crumbs. Apparently my jaw hitting the table drew attention and someone decided I might need some of the back-story. The crumbs are not crumbs of bread after the bread has been blessed. They are fragments of christ and apparently it is not the done thing to hoover up christ. In retrospect my question, ‘is there not a time when you just want to say ‘get a grip’ to people like this’ was ill-placed, as it became obvious that there were many people ‘like this’ in the room!

By the time it was my turn to talk, I decided that I should just go for it and hope for the best, moving my assault on from fundamentalist religion to the industrial production of meat. And I actually rather enjoyed myself. There was one monk who was sitting in his medieval robes with frayed black jeans and hush-puppies sticking out under the table – checking his mail on his i-Phone. And the older, grey-bearded monk who had been working for many years in the West Indies, describing the delight of receiving best quality Trinidadian grass for his very English pipe, so better to enjoy the carnival!

And the hedgehog connection? While my powerpoint presentation was being sorted out by the IT monk, I took the opportunity to plug my book to the rather bemused audience and explained that there was a food connection, as it contains a recipe for hedgehog spaghetti carbonara. This focussed much of the tea-time conversations!

It was strange to be among religious fundamentalists in the UK – but also fun and challenging. All power to weirdness I say, as long as people do not thrust their weirdness on me (and they get a grip about the crumbs!)