Prevention is better than cure

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on why we should change our eating habits post Covid and concentrate our efforts more on prevention in the future.

The current pandemic has highlighted one very important factor whereby the majority of deaths caused where due to individuals having an underlying health problem like diabetes and other health related chronic conditions. Up to this point humanity was heading to a very unhealthy lifestyle where ready meals, takeaways and processed foods and drinks became the norm. Growing up in India during the 70’s and 80’s we were fortunate not to be exposed to these harmful processed fast foods laced with chemicals and taste enhancers which have proven to be addictive and many carcinogenic; the legal definition being something that causes cancer. For any food or drinks to be called carcinogenic there must be evidence linking consumption of these types of foods to an increase of specific cancers in our body. Alcohol, red and processed meats, burned and over barbecued foods are just a few examples.

So, what do we need to do going forward post pandemic to mitigate the effects of fast foods in our diets? The first step would be to make these chemically induced foods very expensive via taxation. I am aware it’s not a popular option but essential for the overall positive impact on our children’s health in the long term. Last year the UK government announced its new obesity strategy linking it to eliminating coronavirus, by banning TV and online advertising and promotion of foods and drinks that contain high salt, sugar and fat. To blame people who are obese is not a sensible solution as it will cause more harm than good as we will develop a blaming culture. Covid-19 is an infectious disease and the risk of getting it is by transmission from another individual. Obesity on the other hand is more a deep-rooted problem of our society and is determined by people’s surroundings, awareness or lack of it and economic status. If you are poor its much harder to make these choices as you are literally living on a hand to mouth existence. One thing this virus has shed light on is the disproportionate way minorities, low-income earners and disadvantaged communities have borne the brunt of this pandemic. Analysis by the Food Foundation found that over a quarter of UK households would need to spend more than a quarter of their disposable income after housing costs to meet the government’s healthy eating guide.

What is the solution? Researchers at Tufts University in America made the case that subsidised fruits and vegetables could prevent millions of cases of chronic diseases. They recommended that instead of Doctors prescribing expensive medications, they should instead prescribe more fruits and vegetables! The study argues that this change could saves £billions in healthcare costs. The power of food as medicine which we at You Can Cook have advocated since the beginning is now slowly finding acceptance in the scientific world and about time it did. Prescribed medicines in most instances have minor or major side effects which then have to be treated with more drugs and this keeps the patients on a never-ending conveyor belt that ultimately only benefits Big Pharma!

Many years ago, while researching about how much NHS Scotland spends on preventative initiatives and treatments, I came across the actual figures which was shocking. Less than 1% of the budget was spent as prevention. It’s time for a major overhaul in Scotland of how we wish to proceed as a society; healthy and strong or weak and dependent on pills for the rest of our lives. You choose.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 9th April 2021.

Reduce meat and dairy consumption to reverse the impact of climate change

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on how we can live on a less meat diet that does not have a devastating impact on our planet.

When we talk about climate change, it mostly refers to reducing our air or food miles and moving from oil/coal to an environmentally friendly renewable option. One big factor is most often missed out in discussions and legislations at government or international levels; meat and dairy farming. Western meat and dairy diet are a big contributory factor to carbon emissions since the 80’s and has gotten worse with many poor and developing nations like China increasing meat in their diets from occasionally to every day! It’s not rocket science to understand the damage this will do to reduce our carbon footprint globally even if we make massive changes to other aspects of our lifestyle. Current data shows that meat and dairy farming is responsible for around 14% of greenhouse gasses.

Research shows that vegetarian and vegan diets are much more sustainable and climate friendly than meat consumption. So how do we go about achieving a reduction in meat and dairy in our diets? Simple solution is to reduce and ultimately stop importing these foods from other countries were its cheaper to produce them but as a consequence have a detrimental impact on the local ecosystems and people. For example, cattle raised on UK lands get access to greener pastures than those reared in South America where deforestation is creating a huge problem to local indigenous populations, their livelihoods and contributes to soil erosion due to pesticides and fertilisers used to generate single type of crops for Western consumption.

Unfortunately, subsequent studies have also shown that even if all Western countries shift to home produced meat solely fed on grass, then that too is not the solution as the already high consumption by countries and individuals will not make a dent in the carbon emissions. The only way forward is producing meat and dairy sustainably, locally and using organic farming methods.

Supermarkets sell milk and some meat products at cost or even at a loss in order to keep their customers coming through the doors. This practice alone not only distorts prices and the perception that meat is affordable but also creates huge amounts of food wastes that goes to landfill and money down the drain from the point of view of the customer. In the UK 4.5 million tons of edible food is thrown away by households and this also contributes to our carbon footprint.

A few years ago, food policy experts concluded that Western countries like the UK should adopt a radical method of eating, whereby they ate meat once a week and reduce milk to a maximum of one glass a day. If you convert to being a vegan and vegetarian than the impact improves dramatically. Growing up in India my family could only afford to buy meat once a week or on special occasions like birthdays. We had a very varied diet with fish, vegetables and pulses and food was cooked from fresh produce and ingredients bought on the day from the market. Only a radical change will stop the planet from tipping over. Tinkering at the edges and shifting the blame on countries like China where the local population want the lifestyle of the West will not help solve the issue. It’s time to act globally but we as citizens of Scotland need to act locally too as any small changes we make will collectively have an impact on polices that will help reduce our carbon footprint.

 Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 5th March 2021.

Brexit Saga Ends -Breakup of UK Begins

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week it’s the beginning of the end of the Tory party because of its decade long austerity, divisions on class, extreme poverty, hungry children and the final nail in the coffin of the breakup of the United Kingdom, a Brexit Deal!

2020 will go down in history as the year the elected majority Conservative party and the political system at Westminster struck the final blow to democracy, decency, equality and social justice in this country. The Brexit saga continues as I write this column even though a deal has been reached by both sides. Boris’s oven baked deal last year had got burnt and was no longer edible, even to himself as he then chose to break International law by trying to push the Internal Market Bill through parliament. Analysts, journalists and economists are pouring over the finer details of the 1246 pages trade agreement. So, chaos will reign in her Majesty’s Kingdoms with England finally getting a deal, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are left feeling frustrated and bewildered by English attitudes towards the European Union and the cost to its young citizens that will be left feeling isolated and insecure with a United Europe.

Covid-19 has mutated into a new strain and Dover was shut due to France opting to protect its citizens and its Borders. 7-mile queues of trucks were common sight for a few days with drivers feeling frustrated and angry and the army had to be put on standby for any eventuality that may arise. Lucky for us France opened its Borders to allow freight and other essential trucks to move thereby reducing the traffic jam and backlog near Kent. We are in Lockdown once again and no end in sight to our situation changing soon in the new year. Unemployment has risen exponentially and the benefit system that the Tories and Lib-Dems coalition put in place since 2010 has been proven to be ineffective and driven many of its claimants to poverty, homelessness, suicides and Foodbanks! Benefit sanctions were imposed on nearly a quarter of a million residents last year from April 2019 until March 2020 according to research by the House of Commons Library. These include people seeking Universal Credit, Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance. This was temporarily suspended at the beginning of Covid-19 but reinstated in July. Unemployment has reached record levels and we now know that sanctions only push people and families into financial hardship and foodbanks. Yes! The Furlough scheme was great and it kept certain people in their jobs but no pay rises and money for the self-employed, key workers and individuals on zero-hour contracts who are working on poverty wages.

Hoping that 2021 brings in positive change and social justice for all, especially key workers, some of whom who have lost their lives while making sure the economy and food supply chains stay open while we can feed our families and loved ones. We will never forget the ones who are benefiting from the misery of others, its time for change and Scotland finally becoming an Independent nation. Just like England, we need to take control over our borders, immigration and laws and make Scotland a Republic!

Stay safe and Good Luck to all in 2021!

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 8th January 2021.