Your Planet: Changing lives
Four public figures tell Kate Finnigan how they are each trying to do their bit for the planet
Tuesday 20 September 2005
James Martin, 31, chef
About eight months ago I bought a place in Hampshire. I didn't have a garden before. Now I've got three and a half acres that I'm transforming into an organic garden. I've built a 60ft greenhouse where I've started growing lemons, bananas, pineapple, artichokes, grapes and tomatoes. I'm also building a Mediterranean walled garden where I'll grow vegetables, peach trees and apple trees. You just need a south facing wall. When the sun hits the wall, it reflects and creates its own micro-climate.
Most people think gardening and growing your own food is for fuddy-duddies but I'm trying to change that perception. And growing food is the best way of teaching kids about where it comes from. Like with cooking - they have much more understanding if they put the ingredients in and then get to see the end results.
I'm not one of those sandals and banners people. I'm not into Greenpeace and all that. I'm more interested in good quality food. The best way to achieve that is to grow your own. I'm involved with my next door neighbour, Jody Sheckter, the 1979 Formula 1 World Driving Champion. He's got 3,000 acres at Laverstoke Park and he's attempting to grow bio-organic food. With organic food, you can still use a regulated amount of pesticides. Bio-organic is entirely made from good quality soil. It's a slower yield but a better product. He has three guys just making compost. That's got me involved in recycling to make my own compost.
Chefs become blinkered about food. They order it down the phone, it arrives and they chop it up. But the best way to get to know food is to grow it. People say to me, "Why aren't our tomatoes like Italian ones? The ones we have in the supermarkets are all hard." And I say, 'Yep, that's because those tomatoes we buy cheap from Holland are junk.' We're continually buying poor ingredients. We don't appreciate where our food comes from.
We're a nation of food scare freaks. Every few months there's something to be worried about. To me it seems the obvious way to combat that is to grow food in the way we used to grow it. And I'm not the only person who thinks this. You can see the rise in allotment use. People in the middle of towns are going to an allotment at the weekend. I've done some teaching with an organic association, showing people how to grow carrots in window boxes. Even if you live in the middle of London without a garden, you can still grow things.
It's impossible to deny the effect the environment we've created is having on our food. A fortnight ago I was filming up in Whitby, where I come from. We're told there's a cod scarcity. Don't ask the government about that, ask the fisherman. They'll tell you that in the last ten years the sea temperature has gone up two degrees. The cod hasn't died out, it's just gone further north to colder water. Now they're fishing for sea bass and red mullet - warm water fish. In Whitby.
Donna Air, 26, TV presenter
Food is my real passion. I know I don't look like I eat much but I probably eat more than most men. I just don't eat any processed food. I think once you do some reading and find out what's actually in the food products that are all around us, you're put off them you never want to go near them again.
I like to see what goes into a product. I could talk till the cows come home about organic this and that. When I was pregnant with my daughter Freya, I wanted to make sure my baby was getting the proper nutrients. It seemed to me that children didn't get a good deal. When you look at children's' menus it's always chips and beans. We were giving them second best. But like any mother, I'd always want to give her the best. I'm going to take my interest further. I want to do a children's organic food range.
Now that Freya's two years old it's important that she has an understanding of where food comes from and how it's made. We grow lots of our own food at Howletts in Kent. We grow organic herbs and fruit - things like apples and pears, tomatoes in greenhouses. During the summer evenings I'll go out and cut herbs and make something up in the kitchen. I think I used to be an apothecary in a past life. I'm always making tinctures and teas for digestion and fennel soups.
My husband [Damian Aspinall, son of animal park owner John Aspinall] and I are huge supporters of animal wildlife. At Howletts Wild Animal Park we've got gorillas and elephants and lots more. We've also got 1,000 acres in Gabon in west Africa where we breed black rhino and gorillas. We're trying to repopulate the wild.
I try to make sure I recycle. I was always running round the house clearing up and just chucking things out. Now I try to make sure I dispose of things properly. I'd say I do it about 80 per cent of the time. And I always make sure I recycle with Freya so she can see where things are going. I try to avoid packaging anyway.
I love local produce and like to support the local economy, so I tend to shop at farmers' markets and delis where things don't come in packages. The amount [of packaging] that the supermarkets produce is obscene. I think food should breathe. I'll never wrap anything in Clingfilm and put it in the fridge.
When Freya was still wearing nappies she wore the Waitrose eco-friendly disposable kind. And we used Tushies baby wipes. I find the deal with nappies really bizarre. I can't understand why there isn't a really great commercial organic nappy. I've seen a very good paper one, but obviously that's no good in water. But I've started looking at household cleaning products more. I don't use sprays like air fresheners, I use essential oils instead. I've recently started using an organic makeup called Lavera. They do the best sunscreen. And it all smells lovely and fresh. I'm not puritanical about it though. I still have all my old favourite brands as well.
Alastair Sawday, 60, publisher
In 1976 I founded the Avon Friends of the Earth. I worked full time as an environmentalist. We collected waste paper by horse and cart in Bristol and sold it. That gave me my living and funded the group. I ran as a candidate for the Green Party in Bristol West in 1992. I've also run for local county councils. Failed every time though.
These days I try to be as green as I can. I'm a passionate recycler, a militant cyclist - I cycle five miles to work and then back again every day. We gave my wife an electric bike recently. She's 62 and she's not doing badly with it. It's got her out of the car. We've two cars. One runs on liquefied patroleum gas and the other on recycled cooking oil.
But I use the car as little as I can. I never drive to London, always get the train. I occasionally fly to Spain, the Canary Islands and Scotland but do so reluctantly. The fact that we're publishing travel guides is an embarrassment to me. The amount of carbon emitted because of people travelling with our books is terrible but I think we're doing our best to encourage people to go carbon neutral.
Our company [which publishes the Special Places to Stay and Fragile Earth guidebooks] was the first publishers to go entirely carbon neutral. We've pumped virtually every penny of our profit from the last four to five years into our new office near Bristol, which we move into in November. It's an eco office and it's incredibly efficient. It's got amazing insulation, a wood pellet boiler, underfloor heating, solar panels, sun pipes, rain water harvesting.
My plan is to turn the company into something that has virtually zero ecological footprints in the next five years. I've also signed a pledge to stop Bristol airport expanding. Some might say I'm shooting myself in the foot in terms of my own business but I'd rather see the airline business not expand. Yes, I'm a complete green nutter.
I don't think it makes sense to eat food that's anything less than excellent. Most people can afford to spend more on food. We don't spend enough in this country. We're 100 per cent organic in our household. My wife has an allotment which all our vegetables and fruit come from throughout the summer. We're self-sufficient in vegetables for quite a lot of the year.
We wash clothes in Ecover only and use entirely natural cleaning products in the house. Things like shampoo will always be organic and our clothes are made from organic materials wherever possible.
We buy our energy from good energy companies. Our phone line is with the Co-op. We do some of our banking with Triodos because of their ethical polices. I have silly things like a wind-up electric torch and a wind-up radio. We are a keen green household. But we're not perfect.
Craig Sams, 61, organic chocolatier
We opened an organic shop in Hastings earlier this year. It means we're spoiled for choice when it comes to organic food. It's a local baker's called Judges Bakery that's been there since 1826. I used to have a bakery in London in the 1970s but I don't work at this one. My wife Josephine and a couple of our friends are running it. I'm more of the backseat driver.
We've turned the tea room into a food shop and made the decision to be 100 per cent organic. It's worked. Builders pull up outside like they used to when it was just a regular bakery and buy their sausage rolls and Cornish pasties and Eccles cakes. I don't think they've any idea they're organic. We tend not to shout about it. One woman came in with her mother the other week and picked up a carton of milk. The mother said: "Oh no, we don't have that sort." I was shocked. I wanted to shout, "It still comes from cows!"
We have an allotment and garden and grow pumpkins, artichokes, asparagus - a succession of stuff. We grow most of our food, given the limitations of time and my back. But I did most of the hard work three years ago when I got the garden terraced. Now I just have to stick it in the ground and take it out. We also have a greenhouse which takes plants to a stage where even our army of slugs can't eat them.
Our house is listed, so we've had problems getting planning permission for solar panels. But we're not giving up. Hastings is an old town but why should we have to live less sustainably because of it? We have a reverse osmosis water filter for all the household water, and we use environmentally friendly energy suppliers.
Our central heating is always low. From May to September we swim every day in the sea. If you do that it takes a lot to feel the cold. And with these things it's what you get used to. If it's cold you put on a jumper - although I don't want to give the impression we're like those people in Scottish stately homes who bathe in an inch of bath water.
My wife's got a car and I borrow it occasionally to go up to a field we've got where I'm trying to grow some potatoes for the shop. But I'd say we only do 2,000 miles a year. We don't go abroad unless we absolutely have to. I've flown twice in six years. With flying for me there are two factors: the environmental; and I think it does something to your head if you're up there all the time. I once flew from LA and saw a bag of corn chips next to me expanding. I thought, "Is that happening to my brain?" We've just been to Skye and we got the train there and back. It's a mindset, train travel. I use the time to concentrate on things like writing. Craig Sams is founder of the Soil Association, and of Green & Blacks, the organic chocolate-maker.
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