In our house, we drink a lot of herbal tea…thyme, elderflower, lemon balm, mint, chamomile, echinacea…you name it, we drink it. Primarily, we drink herbal tea for its numerous health benefits, but also for its delicate, herbal taste that reminds us of the natural bond we have with our garden.
We brew a litre at a time, in a plunger-style cafetière, generally used for coffee. It’s extremely practical and saves messing about with those mesh tea ball infusers that always seem to break at the clasp when you wash them.
One of my favourite all-rounders has to be thyme tea. With strong antioxidant properties, this medicinal tea does wonders for general well-being and is a great substitute for coffee (which everyone knows is bad for you). Now living in France, coffee drinking is pretty much an integral part of the French way of life, but I am trying my hardest to cut down on the caffeine. I find that more than one cup of coffee in a morning increases my heart rate and leaves me feeling restless and irritable. Herbal tea proposes a refreshing alternative. Even the after-dinner Espresso has become relatively rare Chez TêteBlanche these days, often being replaced with a nice cup of verbena-mint tea instead, which aids digestion.
There is, however, one tea that we can’t pick from the garden and it just so happens to be Pete’s favourite…Thé Vert (green tea). There are so many proven health benefits to drinking green tea, it never even crossed my mind that it could actually be doing more harm than good. That is, until, I saw this:
At the beginning of the month, I was perusing the tea aisle in my local supermarket, looking for some green tea for Pete, when I came across an unusual box of ‘Special Gunpowder’ loose green tea from China. Without reading the box in detail, I threw it in the trolley, thinking I had found the next best thing to growing it ourselves. While unpacking the shopping, I opened the box and smiled as I inhaled the aroma of the leaves, imagining the Japanese tea ceremony and zen tea-making ritual. It was then it dawned on me, this was NOT Japanese tea, it was Chinese tea, which changed everything. I was disturbed enough to see the word ‘pesticides’ on the box but even more disturbed to think that the supermarket could be allowed to sell this poison to consumers. As I delved deeper into the subject of pesticide tea, you can imagine my horror when I came upon the realisation that the majority of green tea on sale in the supermarket contains traces of pesticides, lead and other deadly toxins… and we’re talking about the leading brands here! Needless to say, I will never be buying Chinese tea ever again, which didn’t even make it as far as the compost heap, I have to add, but went straight in the bin.
Then I thought just how many more supermarket products contain harmful toxins that are not mentioned on the packaging? It’s an alarming question and one that led me to the discovery that the very notorious American multinational company, Monsanto, either sell genetically modified seeds to, or own, numerous well-known supermarket brands. The list is astonishing and I feel a huge sense of betrayal. It makes me feel like I never want to step foot in a supermarket ever again. But I suddenly realise that we are so far from being self-sufficient and no matter how much food we grow in our back garden, there will always be the necessity to buy certain non-food items (washing powder and toilet roll spring to mind), and thus, it is completely unrealistic of me to imagine our life without supermarket intervention.
So, what initially began as a journey to self-sufficiency is metamorphosing into the more realistic ambition of self-reliance. This said, we still have numerous steps to take on this ambitious journey of permaculture-living of ours.
Step one: having recently discovered that a number of the locals group together and order their dry food in bulk from a Bio co-op and local organic suppliers, naturally it seems important for us to participate too.
No longer will we feel obliged to buy ‘Le Puy en Velay’ green lentils, a place we grew particular fondness for, having spent a year living there in 2007. Instead, we have discovered that the neighbouring village is the perfect source for organic green lentils, reducing our carbon footprint once again. We are trying to source our meat locally too, although the environmental impact of a meat-based diet and the fundamental importance of plant-based whole foods is continually playing on our minds.
I would not object to giving up meat entirely, but I have to say that giving up dairy products would be much more challenging and pretty much impossible. So, we have to compromise. We have renewed our efforts to cut down our meat and dairy intake, replacing as many products as possible with plant-based whole foods. We are already much more inclined to make vegetarian lasagnes, chillis and pasta dishes than before, in fact one of my recent culinary successes was my ‘swiss chard and blue cheese quiche with homemade walnut pastry, served with green lentils’ which the kids polished off in no time.
We currently go meat-free at least three days a week. It might not sound much to those committed vegetarians out there, but considering we used to eat meat with every meal, it’s a step in the right direction. Imagine if everybody did the same? Worldwide campaigns such as Meat-free Monday and Meatless Monday seem to be really taking off, and even France has started to get involved, with ‘Jeudi Veggie’. This said, I, personally, can’t see meat being taken off the menu for even one day a week here in the Aveyron, where the locals love their traditional food and specialities. Put it this way, I wouldn’t want to be the one to take a plate of Aubrac steak away from an Aveyronnais, on a Monday, a Thursday or any other day of the week for that matter!
While on the subject of environmentally-sustainable diets, we recently watched a riveting documentary called ‘Unity’ (see below for official trailer) that basically sums up what we already feel about the world we live in and about what it is to be human…that whether we are human, animal or tree, we are all equal. It goes way beyond diet and explores the mind, body, heart and soul of existence and how we are all connected…one…a unity. Individually, we can’t save the world single-handed, but together, as a unit, we might just have a chance. So maybe you just don’t want to become vegan or vegetarian, or if you’re anything like me, you’d like to but simply can’t, it doesn’t mean to say that you can’t make a difference. Giving up meat and dairy just one day a week will not only reduce your carbon footprint, it will make you healthier too. Take a look at these statistics taken from Earthday.org and tell me they don’t sway you a little in the right direction:
If over the course of a year you:
- Ate one less burger a week, it would be the equivalent of taking your car off the road for 320 miles.
- Skip meat and cheese one day a week with your family, it would be the equivalent of taking your car off the road for five weeks – or reducing everyone’s daily showers by 3 minutes.
- Skip steak once a week with your family, it would be the equivalent of taking your car off the road for nearly three months.
- And if the entire U.S. did not eat meat or cheese for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
If you are interested in any of the issues raised today, here is some further reading:
And I couldn’t finish without giving a mention to the father of Permaculture, Bill Mollison, who sadly passed away last month.
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/131655173″>Unity Official Trailer (2 min)</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/specticast”>SpectiCast</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>