Plastic fast part 5: Down the tubes!

5th July 2012 by

It’s week 4 of my drastic plastic fast. One of the rules I set myself was that we could keep on using plastic-packaged products that we had bought before the fast began – but that when those ran out, we’d have to stock up with a plastic-free alternative.

One of the products that had me stumped for a while was toothpaste – they all seem to come in plastic tubes, and I don’t recall seeing those old-school metal tubes for a long time – and even they would most likely have plastic caps. So a bit of investigation (and some brilliant advice from commenters on this blog and from Facebook friends – thank you!) unearthed some more sustainable options.

First up: toothy tabs! These strange creatures are basically toothpaste in the form of a dry tablet. They weren’t too hard to find in London. But to be honest I found the idea pretty out there and not very appealing, so I’ve been putting off trying them. Yesterday morning, however, I finally bit the bullet (or the tablet, rather). Here’s what happened:


OK, not bad at all. Thanks to Karen from The Rubbish Diet for pointing me to these. Much less weird an experience than I’d feared. But I’m afraid a little pricey compared to regular tubes: 40 tablets in a box, that’s 10 days’ worth of brushing in my house; cost: £2.50-3.50 per box depending on what flavours you go for.

At Otesha we’ve got a bit of a DIY, make-do-and-mend ethos, so why not make your own toothpaste? I haven’t tried this yet, but I intend to.  One recipe goes like this:

  1. Mix three parts baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) with one part table salt (sodium chloride).
  2. Add three teaspoons of glycerine for every 1/4 cup of dry mixture.
  3. Add enough water to make a thick paste. If desired, a few drops of peppermint oil may be added to improve the taste.
  4. Apply and use just as you would any other toothpaste. Store unused toothpaste at room temperature in a covered container.

Click here for the source of that one and for more info.

There are more pearls of wisdom for your pearly whites at Polythene Pam’s blog. Pam has chosen the home-made route for herself – and though some people will tell you bicarb plus a bit of salt will do the job, Pam has gone all gourmet with her toothpaste recipe.

Or… how about going foraging for a twig to chew on – a combined brush-and-paste?

This one kind of tickles me – I love the idea of spurning shopping altogether and just finding my toothbrushing solution in a local park or garden. Of course, it has to be a twig from a tree with the right properties. In Senegal you’ll find people using gum tree twigs, among other species – and they’re said not only to clean as effectively as any brush and paste but also to have medicinal properties.

Of course people have found a way to make a buck out of naturally-occurring products. Buying it takes the fun out of it if you ask me. Wikipedia has a list of natural chew twig species – but of course, as with any wild plant consumption, please do your research thoroughly before you put anything in your mouth. NB. Reading something on Wikipedia does not constitute doing your research!

Talking of wild foods, there’s still time to join our east London wild food cycle, which takes place this Saturday, 7 July, and ends with a feast at Otesha HQ. All the details are here.

That’s it for now.  A final thought from National Geographic (thanks, Val, for finding this great image):

 

 

 

 

Drunken Damsons

31st August 2011 by

My garden is home to just a few fruit trees.  One makes apples of a slightly-less-than-delicious variety (still great for Apfelmus though!).  There’s a mini Golden Russet tree, which makes much more delicious apples, just never quite enough of them!  A pear tree hangs over from a neighbour’s garden, and there’s the occasional windfall from an apple tree slightly further afield.  This apple tree I watch longingly, as each year hundreds of apples fall to their fate: slug food! I’ve many times considered the climb over a couple of fences and onto a shed.  There must be many more back gardens across the UK harbouring unloved fruit.  At a time of year when most shops have apples flown in from New Zealand, this is something we should be challenging.

The final fruit tree in our garden is a Damson tree.  Damsons are delicious, but there are just so many of them!  And although delicious, I don’t find them the most satisfying fruit.  They are pretty small, which makes them very time-consuming to chop and turn into delicious crumble, pie, jam, or anything else that could use large quantities at once.  Time is passing though, and I don’t want these damsons to meet a similar fate as the neighbour’s apples, so this weekend I went in search of something to do with them.  The result: damson gin!  I found this recipe for wild damson gin which lured me in with talk of an ‘irresistible liqueur’. You do have to acquire some gin, but the only other ingredients are sugar and damsons.   Aaah, simplicity.  Oh wait, I forgot, one final, most crucial ingredient: patience.  I’m not allowed to touch it for at least three months.  Already it’s a beautiful deep red colour, I keep thinking to myself  ‘Surely, surely it’ll taste divine already with a colour like that!’.  But I’m holding out, the sugar has almost all dissolved, and then I will hide it away in a dark place (from the light, and myself!).

There are still a mighty fine number of damsons on that tree though, anyone got any ideas?

Sally forth with seasonal feasts

1st August 2011 by

This month, whilst the freshest, crunchiest, fruitiest, deliciousest, localest produce is in abundance, we challenge you to hold a seasonal feast.

Find a friend with an allotment or a neighbour growing in their garden and beg some excess off them (we can almost guarantee that they’ll have more courgettes than they know what to do with). Visit the market and buy up as much British produce as you can carry home. Scramble in the brambles for some blackberries. Take all your bundles home and invite your people over for a feast of plenty.

- Seasonal recipes here

- Find out what’s in season here

- Why we forgot how to grow food

We are heading towards The End of Days, and you’d better get yourself an allotment
an unexpected piece of wisdom from that great environmentalist Jeremy Clarkson.

Wild about foraging

1st August 2011 by

Courtesy of James, the intern that wouldn’t leave, we proudly present to you

The Otesha Project – Wild Summer Food Recipe Book (download here)

The book includes tips for safe and sustainable foraging and recipes from the Invisible Food Project.

We hope the recipe book will inspire you to get out there and forage. Foraging can be an amazing source of local, healthy, sustainable food for free. We also think that getting people outside, getting connected to their local green spaces and observing the nature around them no matter how urban they are, can only be a good thing.

If you like this you’ll love Otesha’s Wild Food Cycles, where we take an intrepid band of individuals on a cycle around London’s parks and impart our wild food knowledge at stops along the way, the ride ends with everyone getting together and enjoying a freshly foraged meal.

Otesha members get free entry to our events.

Thanks to the Invisible Food Project for help and inspiration in wild food ways.

Fantastic fables and foraged feasts

26th May 2011 by

This year we’re taking part in the Two Degrees festival by Artsadmin.

“Sitting between art and activism, performance and protest, this year’s festival is a chance to be part of artist led actions; tell your own revolutionary story, help eradicate an invasive species, go on a mass bingo bike ride, ask an expert about the future or exchange your own personal and political views for a free haircut.”

The festival kicks off on Sunday 12th June with Cycle Sunday at the Arcola Theatre in Hackney. We’ll be there leading a Wild Food Cycle from Dalston to the Lea Valley. The Wild Food Cycle is inspired by the work of the Invisible Food Project, which brings people together in their local green spaces to hunt for wild food, which they then cook and eat together. We too will be exploring urban green spaces, foraging and sharing food.

We’ve roped in Adam Weymouth, a walker, writer and storyteller to accompany us on this walk. Adam recently spent 8 months walking to Istanbul and is interested in slow travel, the hospitality of strangers, plant folklore and being nourished (literally) by a journey. Hopefully he’s going to tell us a story or two.

There may (or may not) also be drawing, sunny weather and the discovery of amazing things. There will definitely be walking, talking and eating.

If you want to join the Wild Food Cycle but you don’t, can’t or won’t cycle, contact jo@otesha.org.uk to arrange meeting us for the forage, which will all be done on foot. Otherwise meet us, astride your bike, at the Arcola Theatre at 3.30pm.

There will be a trailer load of other bike-themed events on the 12th, from pedal powered freegan smoothies, to bike customising and maintenance.

P.s. This event is free.

Gears and Gastronomy

6th May 2011 by

The much-loved Otesha Wild Food Cycles are back!

The Wild Food Cycle is taking place on the 4th of June from 10.30am to 2.30pm. Join us and you can expect a day in and out of the saddle learning, discovering and eating all the different shades and shapes of wild food that are on offer in London. The ride will end with a communal meal prepared from all the lovely wild food that has been collected throughout the day, and it will be guided by Ceri who runs the Invisible Food Project.

Last year’s wild food cycle

The ride will cost £10 which includes food and drink, with all proceeds going to Otesha and to the Invisible Food Project.

Participants should be comfortable riding on the road and need to bring a bike helmet. If you don’t have your own bike don’t worry – the meeting point is near a Boris bikes stand so you can use a blue bike from the cycle hire scheme instead.

If a Wild Food Cycle sounds like your kind of thing, email james@otesha.org.uk to book your place.

Show your mettle, grasp the nettle

6th April 2010 by

Saturday found a few of us cycling round Tower Hamlets looking for something to eat. Ceri (from the Invisible Food Project in Lambeth) guided us on a Wild Food Cycle to Tower Hamlets Cemetery, Mile End Park and Spitalfields City Farm where the ride culminated with a wild risotto. We sought out 5 wild foods- dandelion buds, goose grass, nettles, chickweed and yarrow.

All this reminded me that it’s sort of springtime and time to start foraging. Read the rest of this entry »

Wild food foraging + bicycles = lots of fun!

25th March 2010 by

Last Saturday I organised a wild food cycle around Tower Hamlets with the Otesha Project and Invisible Food. It was a lovely morning full of glowing smiles, cycling, foraging and tasting!

At about 10.30 in the morning, sixteen people turned up on bikes at a quiet street in east London to be met by the lovely Ceri (our wild food expert), Nick and Calu (fantastic Otesha ex-cycle tour volunteers) and me. At the start, Ceri gave us an introduction on the Where’s and How’s of picking wild foods (for instance, no picking them beside smelly roads or doggy areas!). Then we got clued up on cycle safety before setting off!

We cycled in three groups and made our way on back roads, along the canal, across Mile End Park to Tower Hamlets Cemetery. Arriving through a warren of flats and estates, the cemetery felt like a hidden treasure in heart of East London! It was a perfect spot for foraging, overgrown and full of wild greenery. We learned to identify five types of wild edible plants: nettle, dandelion bud (elusive and known as the holy grail because it can be made into capers), yarrow, goosegrass (aka Sticky Willy) and chickweed. We spent a bit of time in the cemetery picking; hunting down dandelion buds, uncovering yarrow, bracing ourselves on the nettles and filling our containers …

…with everything except chickweed – there was none to be found in the cemetery! It was only when we remembered we’d seen a grassy and wild looking bank by the canal, that we decided to take to the road again in pursuit of this tasty green.

When we got back to the canal we were amazed – this area was full of chickweed! We filled our containers and learned more about its properties (for instance, did you know that chickweed can be used as a tonic for acne when used to bathe your face?).

Now fully laden with wild greens, were back on our bikes and heading for Spitalfields City Farm. (Although not without a bit of drama – Calu got a puncture halfway there and was given a backie by another cyclist while someone else wheeled along her bike!).

Arriving at Spitalfields farm we set up camp in the picnic area. We had pots, a rocket stove, a camping stove and a funky chopping instrument called a Mezzaluna: we were ready to cook!


We all got stuck in, washing plants, chopping, making nettle tea, we were even lucky enough to pick some fresh salad leaves from the farms very own veggie plot! Refreshed with homemade ginger beer and nettle tea, we hungrily anticipated our meal – a mushroom and wild greens risotto!

A tasty risotto was just what we needed after all that cycling! Warmed up with our meal, we got chatting with the staff at the Young Farmers Club. They meet at the farm regularly and had prepared an incredible pumpkin curry for lunch made with produce from the farm. We shared our food and had the chance to try some of theirs– what a delicious bonus! I loved the community and connections that were made on this last leg of our morning, it seems to me there is something special that can be created when coming together to prepare, cook and eat food.

We could enjoy and share this food with a vigour, and a connection is made that is not easily matched by food from supermarkets! The food we eat is often grown in an unknown location, picked and packed by unknown hands before reaching our shopping baskets, wrapped and silenced in plastic.

The food we tasted last Saturday had come alive; it had stories and adventurous tales to tell. Tales of 20 people tumbling around Tower Hamlets Cemetery, picking greens and searching for that ‘holy grail’ dandelion bud, before zooming off on bikes to discover something new – precious chickweed! Stories of people meeting each other, learning new things and discovering something exciting about their area. Food that reminded us of that liberating experience of taking to the streets of East London on bicycles!

If you would like to hear about future wild food cycles please drop me a line (carla@otesha.org.uk).

Ceri runs regular wild food walks in Lambeth. Check out the Invisible Food website.

Regular wild food walks and other events also happen at Tower Hamlets Cemetery.

Bin your bin

3rd May 2009 by

It’s the rubbish challenge – we challenge you to do away with your bin and see if you can go a month (or more) without producing any rubbish.

That means trying your very very best not to consume anything that can’t be reused, recycled or composted. What’s more, you’ve got to reuse, recycle or compost all those things, even if it means carting round old apples cores until you find a compost bin.

It’s not easy being rubbish free, so we’d like you to share with us your trials, tribulations and tactical ways of avoiding rubbish. We will, in turn, share it with the world via our website. So send us your stories, photos and tips to info@otesha.org.uk .

We tried to go rubbish free last year, with some success (we were rubbish-almost-negligable but not quite rubbish free). Biscuits were our downfall, so if anyone knows where we can get packaging-free biscuits we really want to know. Recipes for homemade biscuits are also valuable information.

Bonus points if you rope your whole household into it with you. Bin the bin! Bin the bin! Bin the bin!

And here’s the results-

Everyone we spoke to managed to signifcantly reduce their rubbish, but the scourge of plastic packaging could not be completely side-stepped.

The things that were hard to get rubbish free (that we couldn’t quite give up):

  • Cheeeeeeeeese
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Camping equipment ordered online arrived packed to the hilt

Ways we found around creating rubbish:

  • taking our own plates and tupperware containers to the takeaway
  • seeking out unpackaged vegetables at the shops
  • baking biscuits and brownies instead of buying packaged ones
  • growing our own salad
  • foraging for free food

Jo’s joys of being rubbish-less:

The bin hasn’t entirely been binned but there have been a few long term changes:

  • Being the cheese addict that I am, I now only buy cheese from a cheese counter wrapped in paper or even better popped straight into my clean lunchbox.
  • I’ve discovered a great green grocers which sells fruit and veg bare and naked – including lovely herbs. No more supermarket fruit and veg for me.
  • If I eat from the work canteen I take my plate and cutlery and wash up afterwards – no more styrofoam containers and disposable plastic cutlery.
  • Camping was a little difficult, as we didn’t have a fridge, so we need to think about that a bit more before the next trip…
  • Pasta/rice – always wrapped in plastic…. I think I need to start shopping here at Unpackaged, a shop in North London which does what it says on the tin.
  • I’ve been doing some foraging this year, which I’ve never really got into before. We’ve eaten lots of greens (highlight being nettle paneer) and have enjoyed homemade elderflower cordial.

Eluned ranted a bit about her rubbish:

On the whole, I did fairly well at reducing my rubbish – but I was pretty rubbish (oh dear…) at binning my bin altogether.

Some things which helped:

  • Buying veg from a farmer’s market and getting a weekly veg box saved packaging – and often with veg boxes any packaging there is can be returned.
  • Buying meat from the butcher’s and taking a tupperware to carry it home in.
  • Guerilla composting (i.e. creating some neat little holes in the soil of London town, filling with veg scraps and covering over again).
  • Buying less, growing more and getting creative!

As I started turning more to these options, I found that week on week my bin got emptier and emptier.

However, the thing that really got me was that darned crinkly plastic!! If you shop in the supermarket, or buy anything brand new, this horrible crackly, clear un-recyclable rubbish wraps virtually everything. So surely if you avoid supermarkets and only buy second-hand goods you can do without it, right? But what I found is that even if you stick to local shops, veg boxes and farmer’s markets, and even  if you don’t buy anything non-essential or food-related (as I tried throughout these 4 weeks), its still hard to avoid; rye bread, pasta, nuts, pulses, cheese… it all comes wrapped.

What to do? Some suggestions I’ve heard include re-using the wrapping to make a toy for the cat, some kind of jewellery fashioned from scrumpled up plastic, or a contraption to scare birds off. Ideally though, I think I’d rather do without it full stop. Any other ideas on how to re-use this horrible stuff, or better still avoid it altogether?

Jessie told us:

One thing i did do which was probably the most significant is switch from rice/soya milks on my cereal, to fruit juice … so instead of a new tetrapak every 3 days or so (tons of difficult to recycle waste) i now have a small 500ml glass bottle of fruit juice concentrate to last me at least a month!

Additional tips for waste free periods- mooncups and washable moon pads.

Down at Camelot-the-eco-castle:

Adam, Nic and Kirsty made a planter out of a cereal packet and an old basket they found. They call it “sweet re-using-the-trash-for-green-things”.


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