Food Labelling – A Legal Requirement

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

Recent headlines in the media demonstrated the need for food labelling on all prepared and cooked foods in restaurants, take-aways and supermarkets selling ready meals/ready to use sauces, etc. No one should die because they ate food, that had an ingredient that was not meant to be, in the food, in the first place! There have been too many cases of individuals losing their lives while eating out and this has to stop.

Owen Carey, a young man died while out celebrating his 18th birthday in 2017 when he ordered a chicken burger at a famous burger chain. Owen informed staff about his allergy but was not told that the dish contained buttermilk, the hidden ingredient that proved fatal, as he was allergic to dairy. Owen suffered a severe anaphylactic shock after eating only half the chicken and feeling his lips tingling and experiencing stomach problems. He collapsed under an hour later never to wake up again.

A similar case happened to Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who died in 2016 after an allergic reaction to a Pret A Manger baguette which contained sesame seeds!

Currently the law states that as a food business you must follow the allergen information rules set in EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation. This means that you must;

  1. provide allergen information to the consumer for both pre-packed and non-prepacked food or drink
  1. handle and manage food allergens adequately

Food establishments also need to make sure that all staff are trained about allergens. By law you also need to tell your customers if any food products you sell or provide contain any of the main 14 allergens as an ingredient. Some of the 14 allergens are: celery; cereals containing gluten; crustaceans – such as prawns, crabs and lobsters; eggs; fish; lupin; milk; molluscs – such as mussels and oysters; mustard; tree nuts – including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts; peanuts; sesame seeds; soybeans; sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million). As you can see it’s a complicated process and more needs to be done to reduce the risk to consumers.

One question that no one is asking is why are so many people having allergies and intolerances to food? Experts have various opinions about this but some independent Scientists and researchers have pointed the finger at our over use of chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides since the 1950’s! Plus the use of synthetic, laboratory made products that have been added to food to increase its shelf life along with additives to increase our consumption of processed foods. Plus can the Tories guarantee that they will not dilute or remove existing laws that were set up by the EU to protect consumers all over Europe?

As an organisation, we set out to focus on cooking food from scratch, as this is the only way to know what truly is in your food. Let’s all get back to basics and take back control of our health from the food lobby.

Published in the Peeblesshire News on 4th October 2019.

NHS at risk from American trade deal!

So it’s finally happening. The UK is in meltdown and Boris Johnson and his criminally insane cabinet ministers are out to create havoc and destruction for the common folk of this country. For regular readers of my column I would like to assure you that I will not focus on this anymore but highlight something much worse that is creeping on these islands and no one seems to be paying much attention to it. Our precious NHS will be up for sale to the Americans to be privatised and controlled by the 1% after Brexit. A select group of present and past members of parliament will extensively benefit from this sale and all this started in 2000 by the then Labour health secretary Alan Milburn who in order to tackle the problems of the NHS went for help to a most unlikely individual, Richard Branson!

Prompted by this request, a team from Virgin visited GP surgeries and hospitals over a three month period and in a 31 page report concluded that the NHS needed to adapt and change quickly in order to survive and thrive. Not the words they actually used in the damming report, but you get my point. The virgin boss was a very successful entrepreneur by then running various businesses from music to airlines. A very clever and shrewd businessman who is now reaping the benefits financially through government contracts not only in the UK but globally. He has politicians and bureaucrats in his pocket while charming the world with his down to earth attitude and smile!

Almost two decades later, Virgin is claiming billions of pounds of tax payers money to boost its profits while the NHS is neither improved or better! Virgin Care has won over £2bn of contracts since 2010, the year the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition escalated the agenda to benefit private companies like Virgin Care all in the name of  reducing the cost for tax payers. Since 2013 Virgin Care has spread its tentacles in these areas; children and immunisation, community and sexual health, treatments, prisons and multiple other services across England. At the heart of this empire is Virgin Group Holdings Limited, a holding company based in the British Virgin Isles, a convenient tax haven! It has also managed to sue and win a £2million pay-out from an NHS Trust for loss of contract. So much for the good guy image portrayed by its founder.

It really beggars belief that so many supposedly educated and well-informed people in this country are blinded by headline news from politicians and tabloids and fail to see the obvious truth of what really is happening. In Scotland the NHS is still under public ownership and thankfully its budget is currently ring-fenced by the SNP government. The NHS is already on the road to complete privatisation in England by contracts given out to private firms to supply services and other associated contractual work.

What will happen to the NHS in Scotland if the Tories win at Holyrood next?

Published in the Peeblesshire News on 20th September 2019.

Aspartame! Hidden danger in our drink.

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

In this column I will be tackling one hidden ingredient; Aspartame! What is this ingredient and why is it so valuable to corporations? In a nutshell, aspartame is a substitute for sugar or in other words an artificial sweetener that was accidentally discovered by a scientist researching an anti-ulcer medication in the mid 60’s and is composed of two amino acids; aspartic acid and phenylalanine. If you see any drink that has “Sugar free’ be warned, as for a majority of us, this could be worse than sugar itself.

Aspartame is mainly found in a number of sugar free food products like fizzy drinks, cereals, ice cream, chewing gum, diet cola’s, etc. to name a few. Chances that you are having this in your daily diet is probably very high and unavoidable in many cases. So what is this magic  ingredient? To give you an example aspartame is 200 times sweeter than refined sugar! 1 gram of aspartame has roughly 4 calories while 8 grams of sugar has 32 calories! That’s a huge saving if you only look at the headline grabbing banner. Unfortunately for the general public this sweet con has one big downside, i.e. bulging waistlines and links to obesity.  One way aspartame and other non-nutritive sweeteners may affect body weight is by increasing people’s appetite, which may lead to a higher food consumption. News reports over the last few decades have claimed that aspartame causes or increases the risk of headaches, dizziness, seizures, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer, etc, and the list continues. Currently there is insufficient scientific evidence to confirm or refute these claims of aspartame’s role in the above mentioned associated risks.

In July 2017 a systematic review was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal which should make us stop and think twice before consuming any sugar free products.  The researchers also noted an increase in diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension and cardiovascular events in those who used sugar-free sweeteners like aspartame. Evidence found did not clearly support the intended benefits of non-nutritive sweeteners for weight management, and observational data suggest that routine intake of non-nutritive sweeteners may be associated with increased Body Mass Index (BMI) and cardiometabolic risk.

The primary outcome of the research showed change in BMI while the secondary outcomes included changes in body weight; adiposity; glucose metabolism; and incidence of overweight/obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and other cardiorenal outcomes.

Some of the alternates to sugar free sweeteners are stevia, which is plant based and is 200 times sweeter or monk fruit extract which is calorie-free and up to 250 times more sweeter than sugar. Both these are natural sweeteners but care should be taken to have them in moderation and if you have a sweet tooth like me try eating fruits and alternatively don’t skip or delay any meals as this will also contribute to you losing the battle to keep in check your sweet desires and increase your snacking habit.

I know!

Published in the Peeblesshire News on 6th September 2019.

The Last King Of Scotland!

Finally, the last King of Scotland, MP David Mundell has been dethroned by the newly appointed Emperor of Great Britain, Boris Johnson. Democracy is a farce on these islands and anyone who thinks otherwise should seriously get their heads examined. David Mundell and the future crown prince Oliver Mundell, have access to more power, money and resources than our Scottish parliament. All given to them with one real purpose; to protect the Monarchy and the union at any costs. It does not matter to them if his constituents are using foodbanks or having trouble paying their bills or even feeding their children. Now that he is sacked; conveniently after it being revealed that the Scotland Office was spending far more money than his predecessors; people who voted for him should seriously think again before letting this benefit scrounger be elected again.

Mundell was always seen in the area, just in time before elections ,canvassing for votes. David knew he had a fanatic fan following, no matter what, these voters would turnout in their droves to get him elected just to keep the SNP out! Even Labour and Lib-Dem supporters voted for him. An irrational behaviour by the people, but at the same time a campaigning strategy by Mundell and his Conservative & Unionist party , who constantly stoke fears of Scottish Independence.

Let me make this as clear as possible, the United Kingdom was forced upon by England through the Treaty of Union on the rest of these islands independent countries. Taking advantage of the financial losses suffered by the Scottish ruling class during their misadventure of the Darien scheme(an unsuccessful attempt to establish a colony), England found a way to bribe these individuals by promising financial security and land! This in a nutshell is what happened. Academics and Unionists can scream from the highest roof tops that this is not the case. Anyone who has read and researched the malicious and often devious methods used by the crown all over the world (former colonies) will tell you otherwise. The problem in this country is that some people are not only ignorant but arrogant at the same time, which is why we have this Brexit shambles as some people were longing for Gran Britannia and a whiter Britain! History does not teach the atrocities, genocides, cultural destruction and mass plundering of resources and wealth from these colonies by the British state. If people only knew the truth I doubt they will be proud to be British!

David Mundell in his latest appearance for Fringe by the sea event in North Berwick said that Scotland should be given the power to hold a second referendum if in the next Holyrood elections, pro-independence parties win a majority! The King of flip flop strikes again! Has he changed his mind because he has been sacked by the Union! Or Mundell is positioning himself for the winds of change blowing in Scotland towards independence?

I will leave that to you the readers to decide.

Published in the Peeblesshire News on 16th August 2019.

What is a healthy lifestyle?

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

What do you mean by living a healthy lifestyle? Over the decades I have asked this question to many of my family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues and the community we served since 2007. We realised it was not a very straight forward question and depending on who you spoke to, we always received different answers. Most people you speak to associate a healthy lifestyle to eating fresh vegetable and fruits, less red meat and processed foods and overall some sort of physical exercise. But is this true? Or is there more to it than meets the eye?

Having done my research over the years and engaging with a wide variety of people from all socio-economic backgrounds during our work on the ground delivering cookery and growing sessions, I have come to the conclusion that the factors we use to determine a healthy lifestyle are very narrow and restricted to a few buzz words like, calories, trans fats, no smoking, less consumption of alcohol and so on. Healthy lifestyle unfortunately is also hijacked by the middle class and alternative food fanatics like vegans and vegetarians to further confuse the lay person. Our current lifestyle for work in most jobs are very sedentary and laidback. We are constantly glued to our screens, whether it’s our smart phones, iPads, laptops, computers, television you name it and we are glued like zombies from an apocalypse movie. Children from a very young age are addicted to their screens either by default(a cheap babysitter) or their surroundings. Children are getting obese due to less physical activities and also the food they are given by their parents/carers who have lost the art of cooking from scratch.

As I child growing up in Bombay in a working class area, we had practically nothing compared to what young people have today, but we had the time of our lives. We played outdoors, ate fresh meals, very little sweets as they were expensive and did not have a designated babysitter as the neighbourhood kept a watch on your child. I remember having one obese child in our whole school and it was due to a medical condition. Now I see mostly obese kids, glued to their smart phones during school break. A far cry from what used to be life’s simple pleasures.

So where have we gone wrong and why is healthy lifestyle such a massive money making industry? In modern Britain both parents have to work nowadays just to put food on the table, let alone paying for the mortgage or rent. The biggest factor affecting our health today is “stress”. The number one silent killer that’s taking its toll on society and affecting both young and old. What can we do to reduce our stress levels which will than have a positive impact on our health and our relationships with close family/friends and society in general.

The solution is simple! Take stock of your life, stop chasing money and status and eat to live not live to eat!

Published in the Peeblesshire News on 2nd August 2019.

Cuts! Cuts! More Cuts!

The ruling Conservative and Unionist party along with their partners in crime(Independents) at Scottish Borders Council(SBC) are trying to emulate their counterparts at Westminister in bringing hardship and misery to majority of its residents. The Tories are good at cuts and just like a skilled butcher, can cut to the bone! The last few weeks have been a roller-coaster of bad news for residents in the Borders.

Last year around mid-October, I raised an issue online about the loss of  librarians at Peebles High School. Unfortunately this opened a can of worms that put our local elected councillors in a tight spot. What was then revealed online by concerned parents, staff and pupils made me realise that parents in particular were not aware of the situation and that libraries were being automated by SBC. Anyone who wishes to see the full background story should only visit the local Facebook page W4 as it’s all Local library documented in detail. What was appalling about the whole situation was the complete ignorance, and shoddy comeback to try to cover-up the situation. The issue was covered in the national press and highlighted the incompetence of councillors passing the buck and in one case blaming the previous administration. This excuse was immediately shot down by the general public as that’s why they were elected instead!

Speaking to me on anonymity, staff and parents have clearly explained the shambles at Peebles High school library which lacks  professionally trained librarians to guide students in accessing resources to facilitate their learning. First year students were no longer getting introduced to library functions like in previous years. The library is in utter chaos due to high noise levels and mostly being used by older pupils, which unfortunately discourages the younger ones to come and make use of the facilities. The current self-scanning system does not work according to plan on most days, while books have to be scanned either way i.e. in and out, do the books then miraculously go onto the right shelves? Maybe it’s a system that works like the Harry Potter films where books appear and disappear by magic! If that’s the case then I am very impressed and applaud SBC councillors in the ruling administration for a job well done.

The pilot scam that was run without publicity and within a short time scale this year, proves that the powers that be were caught out last year, due to their sheer arrogance when this paper exposed the undemocratic and bullying methods used by its leader and elected councillors to silence the truth. SBC has maintained that the new ‘volunteer-led’ system is working and was introduced in response to ‘what pupils wanted’. Who have they spoken too? And where is the evidence of the pilots and all the consultations that they seemed to have completed? Secondly why do they run consultations at the last minute and with very little notice given to the general public?

Parent volunteers are replacing qualified librarians, so will iPads replace teachers?

Published in the Peeblesshire News on 19th July 2019.

Politicians Must Act Globally Now!

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

Climate change will never be on the agenda until corporations and governments get their act together to introduce radical and far reaching policies that transcend national boundaries. We now know the actual threat to life on this planet and we are still tinkering at the edges. Scotland is leading among the nations of this islands in  terms of harnessing power through renewables and investing in non-fossil fuel technologies. Since the SNP came to power in 2007, they have made considerable progress in this direction. This all happened thanks to the Greens, who supported the SNP in keeping it in power but also having far reaching influence by supporting the government in framing and introducing green policies that would put Scotland ahead in achieving its carbon emission targets. A lot of work is happening behind the scenes and we should be grateful for the Greens as without them, the SNP would just be another political party with no real policies apart from Independence!

In 2008, after the initial euphoria settled of the SNP win at Holyrood, the government launched the Climate Challenge Fund (CCF). This fund was to help communities across Scotland reduce their carbon footprint through developing innovative projects locally. The focus was on energy, food, recycling and travel. So far over £104 million has been awarded to more than 1000 projects all over Scotland. We at You Can Cook were beneficiaries of this fund and in 3 years successfully set up the first edible organic training garden in Scotland. Over 400 people benefitted every year for 3 years in a row since 2015. An achievement unsurpassed till date. As I was writing this column we received news that the ‘edible garden’ got funding through the localities bid fund. Hurray!

We used over 80 per cent of recyclable materials to build the garden from scratch. We expanded the project into Walkerburn Primary School and supported over 150 homes in the area to grow their own food. We also took on allotments at Traquair on a 5 year lease to be handed to 4 families from the area. Through this funded project we worked in partnership with LIVE Borders to supply the libraries with over 400 books on climate change, cooking, growing, environment and the planet. Finally at the tail end of the project we ran a pilot with Scottish Borders Council to save gardening tools from going to landfill. This is now a standalone project still running and going strong and is being replicated throughout the Borders.

So it beggars belief that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who made a statement at her Edinburgh party conference a few months ago to tackle climate change head-on, reduces the budget of CCF by £2.5 million in the current financial year! Only 22 new projects were funded compared to 50-60 new projects in previous years! Also, SNP MSPs voted with other parties against a Scottish Green party motion calling a climate emergency too! So what is really going on?

Politicians have no excuse anymore!

Published in the Peeblesshire News on 5th July 2019.

Scotland Votes SNP in EU Elections

I received a lot of positive feedback about my previous column as many were not aware of the statistical anomaly of the population vis-à-vis the UK as a whole and how the three kingdoms of Scotland , Wales and Northern Ireland would always be outgunned and outmanoeuvred by English MP’s in any UK elections. The SNP won 28.4% of the share of the vote in the Scottish Borders, up by 7.7% since the last European elections while the Conservatives came third behind the Brexit Party winning 18.9% of the votes, down by 11.6%. Overall the SNP got 37.84% share of the vote, up by 8.85%, while the Conservatives managed to get 11.61% share of the votes, down by 5.61% and coming fourth overall in Scotland behind the Brexit Party 14.83% and Lib-Dems 13.89%.

Finally, Borderers are waking up to the lies and chaos perpetuated by the Conservatives whereby they fought the last council elections under the “No 2nd Independence Referendum Banner” and the European elections too! These two elections had nothing to do with the Independence vote and I am so glad that local people in the Borders are seeing through the mis-information and lies peddled by the current ruling administration at Scottish Borders Council, Ruth Davidson at Holyrood and MP David Mundell. The Lib-Dems did fairly well in the UK wide elections getting 20.3% of the votes, up by 13.4% and behind the Brexit Party that got 31.6% overall coming on top. People are fickle and seem to forget the past record about the Lib-Dems. This is the party which jumped into bed with the Conservatives in 2010 at the first opportunity of grabbing power to form a coalition that went on to ruin the lives of millions of families, working class, disadvantaged and disabled citizens of this country. Young university going students in England were betrayed too by the false manifesto promise of abolishing tuition fees, which they renegade on once they got the power!

Last week’s Peeblesshire News had a letter from  John Ferry, Chair- Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale Liberal Democrats who is worried that the ill-informed voters of the Scottish Borders will vote SNP in any future Westminister elections and in order to not be dismayed by the ‘rise of populism and nationalism’ should back the Lib-Dems! Of course some may vote Lib-Dem again if they want the next elected government to be a coalition of the Brexit Party and Liberal Democrats! A distinct possibility if there is no majority and The Brexit Party makes huge gains in seats in the Westminister elections. Remember, the Lib-Dems could have formed a coalition in 2010 with Labour but chose the Tories, the exact opposite of their beliefs, so don’t be surprised if they do the same again.  This time around the Lib-Dems will finish the job they started in 2010 by selling off the NHS to America, renewing Trident missile systems in Scotland, reducing the Scottish governments budget to pay for these weapons of mass destruction and most probably completely remove the benefit systems that this country fought so hard to set up to provide its citizens with a safety net in times of ill-health, unemployment and economic hardships.

Never forget the liars and con-men/women  who are playing with our lives to benefit themselves, their cronies and the rich corporations.

Published in the Peeblesshire News on 15th June 2019.

Back to Basics – Cook Your Own Food

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

Our eating habits have changed dramatically since the early 80’s in this country. What with the coming of take-aways and supermarkets providing ready meals for every household budget. Health is this country was relatively good as people ate local food that was mostly available during seasons, people had time and knew how to cook. Fast forward today and we see a massive increase of diet related illnesses eg. heart, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. The NHS is under huge strain to deal with what is becoming an epidemic. Our organisation was setup in 2007 because I came across a research document called ‘Obesity in Scotland’ from the Scottish Public Health Observatory. The key messages were; Nations that make an early change to sustainability, both in terms of peak oil and climate change could reap substantial health dividends which includes reduced obesity, less inequality and enhanced well-being; Obesity is linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer, kidney failure, arthritis, back pain and psychological damage and decreases life expectancy. For example, type 2 diabetes is almost 13 times more likely to occur in obese women than in women of normal weight. Obesity in Scotland is linked to nearly 500,000 cases of high blood pressure; Obesity and its consequences cost the NHS in Scotland an estimated £171 million in 2001 and finally, Scotland has one of the highest levels of obesity, second only to the United States of America. (Today Scotland is 3rd behind Mexico, still a long way to go).

All the above figures have increased substantially. Reports like these have come and gone and we have not seen any real policy shift and change from any government as the food and drink lobby is very powerful.

The current high profile news is “Processed Foods”. Governments all across the world are tackling this problem through taxation! Unfortunately, it does not take a rocket scientist to see the ulterior motives of ministers who want to raise more money to balance their budgets. We already are taxing alcohol, cigarettes, etc but these measures are not stopping people from accessing these simple pleasures. We all know now what the tobacco companies did a few decades ago in order to keep their profits high. They mixed addictive chemicals into their cigarettes to hook customers for life. We now have a new term called “ultra-processed foods”. The same principle of addiction applies. These types of foods are apparently more dangerous than ever for human consumption. Breakfast cereals, chicken nuggets and ice-cream are some of the main culprits which leads to poor health and early death.

This is one of the reasons You Can Cook was setup, so as to raise awareness of the dangers of fast foods. The only way to eat good food is to cook it yourself from scratch with raw ingredients as all the additives, chemicals, preservatives and E numbers are completely avoided from your diet.

This is one area where we need to go back to basics.

European Elections 2019 – The Plot thickens in the UK

 

The European elections are this week, but thanks to the utter incompetence of the ruling party at Westminster, we seem to be caught in a never ending time loop.

The political  stalemate since the referendum in 2016 seems to be coming to a gory end soon, Game Of Thrones style! England will finally get its Independence from the rest of the United Kingdom, who apparently have been sponging of the Mothership and keeping it back from the glory days of Empire! Wales and Scotland will  get to stand on their own wee two feet without any  subsidies from Westminster and Northern Ireland will complete the reunification of Ireland after decades of strife and conflict.

The much loved “Great Britain” name tag will go, along with the Monarchy and the establishment who have ruled and maximised their wealth for centuries at the expense of the poor and working  classes on this island and around the world during colonisation. Even during the Empire days people on these islands were living in squalor and abject poverty. World War III has been avoided thanks in part to the success of the European Union institution, which allowed nation states to come together and resolve their differences otherwise we would probably be still fighting everlasting wars. The EU is not perfect, far from it, but at least it’s a start to something big that we all can build upon to make this world a better place.

Scotland population (5.5 Million), Wales (3.1 million) and Northern Ireland(1.8 million) will always be at a disadvantage because of their numbers with respect to England(55.6 million). These 2017 figures are estimates from the Office for National statistics and show an increase since the 2011 official census. So no matter what Scotland votes for or how progressive we wish to be in terms of social justice and looking after the most weak and vulnerable of our society we will always be outnumbered and outvoted by a Capitalist driven England.

Finally, opportunists and career politicians are jumping on the bandwagon of standing as an MEP for their parties. Change of legislation is required for anyone standing to be an elected representative in this country. If a candidate has already been elected, no matter if they are a local councillor, MSP or MP, the morally right thing to do is resign from their current positions and stand for the elections of their choice. Greedy and career politicians are standing for the European elections to maximise their power and wealth. This country has many good individuals who unfortunately don’t stand for elections because of the corrupt system designed by the establishment. The Brexit party leaflet that came through my letterbox is full of lies and misinformation and it beggars belief that the inept and toothless electoral commission is another establishment scam which refuse to call out these political parties for spreading fake news! Democracy may finally arrive on these islands with a written constitution and the House of Lords abolished.