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Green debate

"Vegetable Challenge" may sound like a punch-up between the cauliflower and the broccoli. It is, in fact, a one-day conference organised by the Guild of Food Writers, to be held at the Savoy Theatre on 21 May, and one of the highlights of Vegetable Week, from 18 to 25 May.

A list of eminent speakers, from growers to consumers, promises buoyant debate on how our vegetables are produced. Chairman: Derek Cooper. Lunch will be green, devised by Anton Edelman, with Fetzer Wines from California. For details of tickets, price pounds 55, call 0171-619 1180.

Anyone who needs to be persuaded how fantastic vegetables really are should purchase a copy of Chez Panisse Vegetables (published by HarperCollins in the US, pounds 30). by Alice Waters, founder of the Californian restaurant Chez Panisse. This is the most significant vegetable publication to come out of California since The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison.

Chez Panisse is a tiny, aspirational pocket of perfection. It is Waters' relationship with her growers that underlies the book, and, while the recipes are wonderful, the message is that what counts is "what kind of variety it is, where and how it was grown, when it was harvested, and how long it has taken to get to your kitchen. Cooking is only a small part of this." Available from Books for Cooks, 4 Blenheim Crescent, W11 (0171-221 1992).

Secrets of the kitchen

One book that will most certainly be disqualified from next year's Glenfiddich Awards is Second Helpings (Good Books, pounds 13.99) compiled by George Thaw. It would have an unfair advantage, being a selection of prizewinning material that spans the history of the awards presented annually since 1970.

As you might expect, it makes a rollicking read, with contributions from the finest food and wine writers: Nigel Slater on why we should use a pestle and mortar, Elisabeth Luard explaining the cooking of Granada, Arabella Boxer making rose petal sandwiches, Michael Raffael exhibiting erudite knowledge of fleur de sel, and John McKenna revealing the secret of superior seaweed. Lots of entries from Independent writers: the late Jeremy Round, Emily Green, Simon Hopkinson, Anthony Rose, Michael Jackson and Keith Botsford.

For milksops

Good news for the considerable number of children and adults who are intolerant of lactose, the natural sugar in cows' milk. Mill Milk is a new, oat-based substitute developed at Lund University in Sweden which joins a growing range of lactose-free "grain" milks. In common with the cows' stuff, these are wet and white. Rice milk is insipid, but inoffensive, and nicer than soya milk, which tends to be cloying, but is almost drinkable once you flavour it with chocolate.

Mill Milk has an impressive nutrient CV: it is made from organic oat kernels, canola oil and mineral water, according to a patented process. Performance in tea and coffee is dubious; its real forte is in cooking, and in junior milk shakes - whiz it up with strawberries, banana and honey.

But I wonder if the serious Swedes have heard of Athol Brose, that ancient and lethal concoction based on oat milk blended with whisky and heather honey and taken in small, warm draughts.

Mill Milk is available from IKEA, Holland & Barrett shops and health food shops, at pounds 1.20 a litre.