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.

Why Governments Must Act Now!

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

Recent climate protests proves a point our organisation has been making since it was founded in 2007! Climate change is real and is causing havoc around the planet and will have a massive impact on whether we survive as a species in the coming decades. The greed of Politicians and Corporations have done everything in their power to bring us to where we are today i.e. on the brink of extinction. We fully support all the children who skipped school to make their voices heard as this is the generation that will bear the brunt of the chaos and devastation that previous generations allowed to happen on their watch. The organisers of this march had four key demands;

  • The national curriculum should be reformed to include “the ecological crisis”
  • The government should declare a “climate emergency”
  • It should also inform the public about the seriousness of the situation
  • The age of voting should be lowered to 16 so younger people can be involved in decision-making around environmental issues.

This day of action was inspired by the Swedish 16 year old Greta Thunberg who started her climate change protest outside the Swedish parliament last year and encouraged students to walk out of schools to highlight the issue. Last year in May another group was founded and supported by Academics called Extinction Rebellion. This organisation is a socio-political movement which uses non-violent resistance to protest against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse. During their latest protests in London which kick started on 15th April, Greta was one of the high profile protesters along with actress Emma Thompson and author Philip Pullman. Extinction Rebellion is urging the UK government to “tell the truth” and declare a climate and ecological emergency and wants the UK to reduce its greenhouse gases to net zero by 2025 and the creation of a Citizens Assembly to formulate and approve legislations and processes initiated in conjunction with government.

The UK government has said that greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 42% since the 90’s, a gross inaccurate figure as international aviation, shipping and imports are some of the categories not accounted for in the final calculation! A very creative carbon accounting methodology as Greta Thunberg commented. Every year countries that signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement, submit their overall emissions figures to the United Nations. That reporting is all done on a territorial basis, so they unfortunately exclude the above mentioned categories.

China is the major emitter of carbon gases in the world, but is it really? The West has literally transferred most of its manufacturing to China in the last 3 decades, hence brining down emissions in their own countries. Is it fair to then accuse China of being the Worlds largest polluter just because its communist style governance allows the West access to millions of slave labour and cheap goods with no rights whatsoever?

It’s time to change now.

View from Storriefit Mountain

This Easter, few families in Peebles and the Scottish Borders will be celebrating the festive spirit with plenty of food. But what about the many other families that are going hungry not only on Easter but every other day thanks to an ideology from a party that is known to despise the poor and working class citizens of this country? To make matters worse, the Tories are the ruling administration currently in power at Scottish Borders Council with support from Independent Councillors, whose only objective is to favour the rich at the expense of the poor. The Tories have set upon the poorest and the most vulnerable in our society, by massive cuts coming into force from April this year that will tip many families into abject poverty and debt.

So! Why am I upset and angry? iPad’s for all high school pupils in the Borders including P6 & P7’s in the coming years, followed by a ratio of one iPad for every five pupils to P1 – P5 pupils. This vanity project will cost taxpayers £15.7 million over a ten year period and the main beneficiaries are CGI, a corporation that has spread its tentacles across the world with branches in many countries and cities around the globe. A truly corporate beast in every sense of the word. My first question is why was Apple and CGI chosen and not Android systems as these are lot cheaper and more efficient and you are not tied to an Apple ecosystem. What happens when iPad’s are damaged, stolen or lost!

Secondly, many children are living in poverty with no access to good nutritious meals due to the impact of  benefit cuts and low wages in the Borders, so how can pupils learn on a hungry stomach? Pupils are also expected to charge their iPad’s at home before bringing them to school. This also shows the complete lack of knowledge and understanding by Councillors, that many pupils live in homes that have prepaid meters that are very expensive to run and disproportionately targets the most vulnerable in our society. So now along with having to choose between heating their homes and eating meals, parents will also have to decide whether they can afford to charge their child’s iPads!

An OECD report in 2015 concluded that investment in computers and iPads in schools does not improve numeracy and literacy skills. Is the current leader of the council Shona Haslam trying to emulate Marie Antoinette, the queen of France who famously said,  “Let them eat cake” upon learning that the peasants had no bread,” by distributing iPads to starving and hungry school children?

Food Poverty – The Tories Toxic Legacy of the 21st Century

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

 

Food poverty has reached crisis point in this country since the Conservatives won the elections in 2010. They abolished previous Labour policies that helped bring millions of children and families out of poverty. The Tories used the financial crash of 2008 to put the blame and target people claiming unemployment benefits and in-work benefits. Their ideology has decimated and created an environment that has pitted this group against the financially struggling working and middle classes of this country, while the real perpetrators of these economic crimes have been basking in wealth and glory. The gap between rich and poor has widened since the Tories took power.

Food poverty is a significant threat to health and well-being and is completely preventable in the fifth largest economy of the world! Due to the direct consequences of this policy, foodbanks have become the next big institution in this country, the first being the monarchy and the second – religion. While the Queen’s benefits and entitlements have increased according to inflation along with our mafia of elected members of Parliament, these very people have voted down any increases to benefits on the pretext that we have to live within our means!

What will it take for citizens of this great country to stand-up for the weak and vulnerable and spark a revolution to remove these archaic institutions that have no place in a modern democracy?

The Trussell Trust’s most recent figures on Scottish foodbank use, taken from April to September 2018, found a 15 per cent year-on-year increase which it linked directly to the rollout of Universal Credit. These figures are only the tip of the iceberg and they do not reflect the use of other types of emergency food aid provision or the scale of people going hungry without accessing any help at all. Scottish government figures last year which measured food insecurity for the first time revealed one in five of single parents in Scotland had gone hungry. We have been working with disadvantaged families in the Borders and Lothians for over five years and have seen first-hand the impact of benefit cuts and sanctions on low income groups. It was disheartening to see young children coming to school hungry and fainting due to lack of food in their homes. It’s upsetting to see this happening in this country in this day and age. Most people were quick to judge and condemn so-called benefit scroungers without understanding the implications on the innocent children who were the real victims in this Tory government class-motivated destruction.

I have to use strong words as the reality is what it is, and no amount of spin from our elected masters will change the devastation that has been caused, all because of an ideology!

The Brexit fiasco has made things worse for the common folk who have no means or access to financial support. Ultimately, foodbanks will be the Tories’ toxic legacy to Great Britain in the 21st Century just as Thatcher’s poll tax.

https://www.peeblesshirenews.com/opinion/17546829.opinion/

View from Storriefit Mountain

What is the definition of affordable homes? Or rather how much do they cost and what factors determine the price or rent of a home?

Politicians keep harping about building more affordable homes but during the last Scottish Borders local elections, I asked this question to wanna be councillors at the hustings in Peebles, none had an answer. When I spoke to government and council officials about how much a two-bedroom place would cost under ‘affordable homes’ in Peebles, the answers you got depended on where and who you were talking to i.e. their pay grade and socio-economic status.

Policies, whether local or national, favour the rich and the powerful and local communities are left to pick up the pieces of what remains of their lives. It now takes two to four weeks to get a GP’s appointment or the other alternative is to phone on the day and try to get an emergency appointment with any GP!

Banks and other lenders currently offer anything from 2.5 times to four times your gross salary for a mortgage with anywhere from 60 per cent to 100 per cent loan to value on a property.

It’s not rocket science once you make some very basic calculations. An individual on £75,000pa will define £250,000 as affordable but an individual on the minimum wage (over 25s) earning only £17,076.80pa would class £68,000 as affordable taking the four times lending criteria.

A couple on a combined salary of £34,153.60 would be able to access to £137,000, way short of what is actually the price of a home in Peebles. The figures just don’t add up. The Scottish Borders is the lowest wage area in Scotland and jobs opportunities are minimal especially for young people and families. I have done these calculations for the benefit of our elected representatives, so they know their figures and stop lying to the public.

We need more council and housing association homes in the area not more of Lego land at extortionate prices that only individuals on high salaries can afford, ultimately pricing out locals from the area. Plus no selling of properties as second homes.

The local rent set out by the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is £312 per month for one bedroom flat in Peebles. If you are renting through a housing association then the costs are very reasonable, but not with a private landlord. The current rents are anywhere from £450 upwards in an area like Peebles! Not so affordable after all.

Some of our own elected representatives think they are above us all and we are to be blamed for this sad state of affairs as we hand our trust to individuals who have their own agendas; be it party politics or own self-interest.

As anybody with a bit of common sense will tell you, more houses = more people = more cars = more strain on limited resources. It seems to me that our elected members don’t quite understand these issues.

https://www.peeblesshirenews.com/opinion/17497413.view-from-stooriefit-mountain/?ref=mr&lp=2