Give Us Our Daily Bread

On a very wet day in January 2016 I was walking through the centre of Chippenham with a Syrian refugee.  He had recently arrived in England from a refugee camp in Lebanon as part of the UK Government scheme to provide asylum from the Syrian conflict.  There were a few dripping market stalls selling vegetables and baked goods and near one, on the floor, was a piece of sliced loaf. He immediately bent down to pick up the bread which to his dismay turned to mush in his hands.  For him to leave bread lying on the ground was an affront on two levels. Firstly, his islamic faith taught him to respect food, "Ak ri'mul khubza" (handle bread with respect) and secondly, as someone who had fled from a brutal civil war and had to live in refugee camps you did not waste food. Even four years later, this moment still resonates with me.  I saw for myself the respect given to bread in the Islamic world when visiting Uzbekistan where the bread is revered and is almost an art form.

smiths crisps

Bread made with love in Uzbekistan

As a child crisps came in a waxed packet with a blue paper twist containing the salt.  I have a clear memory of my Grandmother saving those blue paper twists and emptying them into the salt cellar.  Her life had been a cycle of good and bad times. As a child she had emigrated to Australia from impoverished Ireland.  After marrying my Grandfather they cleared some land in New South Wales and built up a prosperous dairy farm. Then came the Great Depression of the 1930s and while the farm survived those were hard times.  My Father as a young boy remembered a steady stream of destitute victims of the depression wandering the countryside in search of jobs and food. My Grandmother would always share the evening meal with them.  Her whole life experience taught the value of food, not even that tiny paper twist of salt would be wasted. If there are good times you never knew when they might be snatched away.

smiths crisps

Smiths Crisp of my youth note the price 2d (1.2p in today's money)

Many of us as children will have learnt the mantra of “Give Us Our Daily Bread’ as part of the Lord’s prayer. It is not just a request for bread but a recognition of our dependency on food.  Most faiths have a recognition of the importance of food. Whether you are of a faith or, like me, of no faith we need to reconnect with food and respect not just as a familiar jar on a supermarket shelf but where it comes from, the cost in labour and transport of getting it there and consequences of it not arriving.

In our times of plentiful, cheap and ready to eat food, familiarity breeds contempt and we seem to have lost that connection with food and no longer respect it.  Until that is of course the COVID-19 pandemic. I knew there was real trouble looming in the food supply chain when in a supermarket the shelf given over to Marmite was empty.  The next day, not long after opening my daughter secured one of the 2 remaining jars on the shelf, in the space of less than 24 hours the empty shelf had been restocked and then emptied.  Love it or hate it Marmite is one of our Nation’s staples, and suddenly that comfort of slightly burnt toast oozing a gooey mix of butter and marmite was under threat. Our food supply is fragile and should not be taken for granted as my Syrain refugee friend and Grandmother understood only too well.



New initiatives at The Healthy Life

Local business The Healthy Life has recently started selling many dried goods without any packaging. Timed perfectly to coincide with the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's "Waste Free February" campaign, this means you can take along your own containers when you buy grains, pulses, nuts or dried fruit. I met with Justina Pettifer, owner of The Healthy Life, to learn more about this and other initiatives at the shop.

                  HL Dispensers                   HL Packets

The refill your own containers scheme is just part of Justina's vision to eliminate plastic packaging from the shop as far as possible. Some dried foods will remain in packages, however the supplier of these has switched to a new biodegradable film in place of the previously used plastic. The first two weeks of this scheme appears to have been a great success. As a result Justina is planning to switch many of the products into larger dispensers, to reduce the need for the shop staff to refill them quite so often!

For customers the scheme is easy to use. You simply weigh your containers on the way in and attach the weight label to the container, then after filling you weigh it again and the scales print the price label.

HL Weigh 

Behind this simple customer experience lies a sophisticated IT system. This automatically tracks stock levels and reorders supplies on a daily basis. Allied to this is the newly launched shopping website, specially developed to match the exact requirements determined by Justina. This web store presents a huge range of products (over 14,000 if I remember rightly), but has some great filters, e.g. vegan or dairy free,  to let you find just the products that you are interested in. Items ordered there can be delivered to your home or can be collected in the Devizes shop the next day (for orders before midday).

The Healthy Life has been trading in one form or another for 35 years, with Justina running it for the last 11. We like the comfort of visiting shops that we remember from way back. So it is perhaps tempting to view local small businesses as stuck in a bit of a time-warp. That is clearly not the case here, where the sophisticated stock tracking and ordering systems are a vital tool to remaining viable in the modern era, even if there is a certain element of 'Back To The Future' with the refill your own containers!

For anyone looking to reduce their impact on the Earth whilst taking care of their health I'd recommend checking out The Healthy Life website and Devizes shop.


Visit to Caenhill Countryside Centre

On Wednesday 25th April a group from Sustainable Devizes visited Caenhill Countryside Centre and were kindly shown round by Chris & Helie Franklin, plus a kid called Lucky and a lamb called Snowy - both born during the cold snap in March.

Lucky & Snowy  Group from Sustainable Devizes at Caenhill Countryside Centre

Based at the farm where Chris grew up the Caenhill Countryside Centre is now bringing agriculture and horticulture to children and young people by providing courses and hands on experiences. In particular they are able to provide an engaging environment for those who have struggled within a more academic institution. There is however much that we could all learn from what is going on there...  

Two things that struck me were:

a) How such a wide range of animals were living together peacefully. In the pen with the young lambs there were chickens, cats and turkeys, whilst a line of geese wandered about the barn. All the animals there seemed really calm and at ease living with each other.  This seems contrary to the narrative of 'survival of the fittest' and competition. Clearly they do not need to compete as their needs are being met.

b) Chris and Helie run the centre on a charitable basis with a very low budget and this directly leads to a very sustainable approach to running it. Clearly nothing is wasted and 'waste' from other people is given a new lease of life there. As one example a newly erected section of post and rail fence was constructed from the remains of a fence that another farmer had removed. This wood was going to be burned, but with time and effort from volunteers it is once again serving a useful purpose. In economic terms the effort to salvage the fencing didn't make sense to the original farmer, however once the cost of labour is removed the true value of the material was evident.