Searching for blog posts tagged with 'food'

Last night at Marroccos



I love going to Marroccos on Hove seafront. We used to go quite a lot when we lived in Hove, since moving to Worthing we usually go there after work when  Caroline or myself can't be bothered to make tea or its a sunny evening as its right on the seafront. Great also to go to a place which isn't a chain, always try to avoid chains especially after reading No Logo by Naomi Klein and the fact that they are usually boring and sterile. Thats not to say I never eat or shop at chains, food at Pizza Express and ASK is usually ok, only pizza place I probably wouldn't go in is Pizza Hut as I had a bad time once at one in Brighton. But going to Marroccos is to me always a much nicer option - its not necessarily nicer food (I do think the food is pretty good though and they sell home made Italian ice cream and nice coffee)  but the event is just nicer. They know our faces in there now and we always get a warm welcome. The old bloke who is the retired owner always tells us the same story about how  he held out against the property developers,  "a million pounds they offered me" he will say - warms my heart every time. On nice evenings you can also follow up your meal with a catnap on the beach, although these days my 2 year and 10 month old daughter won't allow that, neither will my 13 year old teenage daughter - must find a way of bribing the eldest to look after the youngest while I have my catnap. Anyway off to bed now.

marroccos cafe
image from Flickr


Cotton Tree @ East Slope



I don't know whether many of you knew this - but there was one place on campus where you could get good, home-cooked and healthy food for £5 or under.

Well, what I am referring to is 'The Cotton Tree' and it's owner: Mia. Back in October 2008, our lovely USSU President Laura Tazzioli reported on the food Mia was serving up at the East Slope Bar.

Take a look at what she wrote:

East slope bar has been serving the most amazing food ever recently, and it is brought to our hungry mouths by ‘Cotton Tree’.

Mia, from Cotton Tree, has ran the company with help from friends and family for about two and a half years and her unique selling point is that it has always been ‘home-cooked’ food. The types of cuisine are very much international, but in the first instance centred around the ‘Creole’ cuisine and had variations of origin:

West African Creole, British/Portugese/Brazilian Creole, Peri-Peri

At the moment, Mia serves food from lunchtime until it runs out and then heads home. In approximately 2 - 3 weeks, Mia and her team will have their own kitchen setup inside the East Slope bar, (rather than cooking off-site and bringing it in) and will be serving food until late at the bar every day.

If you haven’t witnessed it, go and try it! Its well yummy.

So, have a guess who is back?!!

Yes, the Cotton Tree is back up at the EAST SLOPE BAR permanently in the kitchen and opens Monday-Friday: 12-6pm and Sunday 12-3pm.

Now, I suggest you get yourself up there for some good old-fashioned home cooking and forget all those sandwiches, crisps and chocolate.

You will not regret the taste on your tongue of Chicken and Chorizo Jambalaya, with a chilli sauce to die for. Portions are serious and will keep you saisfied for a long long time..

Welcome back Cotton Tree ;-0

8 things i've learned from 8 days in england



1. There are no insects in England. It's true; you won't find a screen on English windows, because after the Churffey-Rawlins Act of 1709, insects were formally abolished from the country in perpetuity. Many have tried to get past the vigorous English immigration laws, but they are inevitably discovered and deported to their country of origin.

All right, that's not true. The reason English windows don't have screens is because they are all protected by an invisible force field that keeps bugs out.


2. Buses can, in fact, run often enough to be useful. It's amazing what you can go and do when you have buses that run outside of bankers' hours-- and buses that actually go a variety of places! You would think that America, land of innovation, would have discovered this concept by now.


3. There are few things creepier than walking around the Brighton Pier and feeling that at any moment, you may find yourself in a re-enactment of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. If seagulls ever evolve opposable thumbs, this city is fucked.


4. If you cook well, you will eat like a king here. For someone who hails from the land of McDonald's and high-fructose corn syrup, finding supermarkets full of real, inexpensive food is like reaching some kind of gastronomical nirvana.


5. The restaurants, however, leave something to be desired. There seems to be some kind of insidious disease that infects restauranteurs in the UK-- even the foreign ones-- and works its way into their food to suck out all the flavour.  Perhaps someday scientists will discover the organism responsible, and then the good people of England will once again enjoy a meal out that tastes of something besides flour and vague vegetable matter.

On a related note, don't ever buy a sandwich from a newsagent's. Just don't.


6. No matter what you wear, it is wrong for the weather. In the shade, you will shiver. In the sun, you will sweat. If you bring a jacket, you will not need it. If you do not, the temperature will plummet just after you leave the house, and you will develop hypothermia. I recommend keeping clothes stashed in secret places all over the city so that no matter what, you will be dressed appropriately.


7. Some things are universal. Whether it's the untrustworthiness of lawyers and landlords or the tendency of young people to dress like fools, every culture has something in common. The English like to deride Americans for being fat, lazy, and loud, and Americans like to deride the English for being pasty, ugly, and ineffectual. What neither culture seems to realise is just how many unfortunate things they have in common.


8. No, seriously, it really doesn't rain that much. Shut up, America.

sussex sweetie



hi everyone i am back again an now i am gonna tell you that on diwali that is on oct 17th we have a diwali celebrations gonna happen in mandella hall at 6pm which costs around 3pounds per head(pretty economic).I hope to see almost everyone in sussex there in mandella hall to have fun. Basically i am gonna play violin(hope i play gd) ya classical carnatic music abt diff moods(rag) or shades in south Indian music. Of course i am not sort of advertising it but still i wish everyone to encourage me (b coz i am pretty new here) and altogether lets have fun with games sort of some performances and yummi indian food vege though but spicy:)(yummiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii i can t wait !)..

hope we meet there


have a pleasant weekend sussexiansCoolSmile

Richmond (Engineering 2) Cafe Closing!



Hey guys,

If you don't know already, the cafe in Richmond (Old Engineering 2) is being closed down by the University! This is due to it not fitting in with the University's financial plan of taking control of all the cafes around campus to make money from them. Therefore, any cafe that is independent, such as the Coffee Workshop Cafe in Richmond, is being shut down because if it remains open it will be "stealing" the University's customers!

I happen to know that the Coffee Workshop Cafe provides many of the staff and students of not only the Engineering Dept, but all its other visitors with brilliant freshly made sandwiches, cakes and the most amazing crepes and galettes! Also it serves the best coffee on campus, freshly ground from beans roasted locally by Red Roaster. It’s not just the food that makes this cafe special, it’s also the character, which if you ask me the new cafe in Arts has a severe lack of!

I urge you to at least pay a visit to this wonderful cafe and try one of the awesome galettes (cheddar, chorizo, onion and garlic being my favourite!) before it is forced out. Also, if you have any ideas on how to save this little gem, I'm sure the owners Arnold and Judy will be happy to hear your thoughts.






I am very tired. Exhausted. Not because I have just moved to campus or anything like that.
I stayed up too late again and in the morning looking at the clock I saw that I will be late again
unless I hurry up, get dressed, brush teeth and drink coffee while checking e-mails, reading gossip
and tennis news, listening to youtube. Catch the bus but also not to forget to make my weekly ticket valid.

I was way on time for the beginning of the Mature program. On arrival my name was not in the list.
I was surprised because I even received confirmation about the event. My name was found with my name sticker later.
Because of me the queue became huge. Sorry, not my fault. Smile
Maybe it was a better idea that I wrote my name with nice big letters. Because the printed ones were so
small that you really had to go close to read what you had on it and what course you are in.
Well, for guys it must have been fun shamelessly staring at girls'/women's boobs to figure out the tiny letters Wink, but for me... Because I was tired I was particularly antisocial. I was looking at a girl,just because she was on her own as well..
 than finished reading the article in the magazine I had with me on the bus - I know.. inappropriate. I sat between mums,who had their kids with them.
I prefer kids to adults. That didn't help me socialising either. I was close to giving up the day.

And then I was talked to. Okay, I can answer questions, that is not too difficult. I just forgot to be interested myself.
I think my second coffee kicked in because I decided to start a conversation with lonely girl sitting next to me.
She was just too 'familiar'. So I said: have you managed to meet somebody who will study on the same course as you?
(Just thinking about myself that I have gone to two events so far, zero people from my course. Soon fate will catch me and I
can't hide from my mates any longer.)
  She just had to say one(!1!) word in English and I interrupted her in Hungarian right away, you are Hungarian, aren't you?

Without any doubt that she would think I am crazy or something, I was so sure. And I was right. So we sticked together sat in the first raw during the presentations which were informative and helpful, talked in Hungarian and that was it. The man who was sitting next to us was very friendly as well. One attention seeker woman was sitting right behind me laughing so hard at every single little joke which weren't even 'that' funny. Yell

I would like to set up a Hungarian Society anyway, and 3 people are needed to start one.

The lunch we got with all the drinks,canapes,fruits and cakes was really great. I have to eat well, I love food.
(I am Hunagrian, have I mentioned that before? Wink WE LOVE FOOD. The Society would be about cooking Hun food for people who are interested in the joy of Hun culinary art ;-))
And this was just gorgeous, really. Two thumbs up, if I had a third one that would be up as well. Laughing

The day went very fast. I talked a lot and we went through campus twice with Emese. Missed the Vice Chancellor's speech also twice, because by the time we got there (early, but never early enough) the place was already full. In the mean time we had a chat with a very helpful red-pully-can-help-i-am-from-student-union girl Carly, psycho student, and she was freezing, her lips very literally purple. We chatted a lot and then I realized that in this other part of campus behind Bramber House.. so busy oh students are moving in? Well, actually that shouldn't be so surprising.., many many cars and
worrying parents, sad parents, happy kids, sad students, busy helpers and I-know-it-all parents,
scared students with boxes, packs, lots of stuff, (half of it they will never use/wear/look at/touch), because a piece of home has to come with them. Fully understandable Laughing

This part of adventure is completely missing for me, but I know what it is like to move, I did less than 1,5 years ago from Budapest to here and then within Brighton & Hove 3 times. So I moved away from home for the first time right away to a different country, which is not even neighbouring.

I still have this cold I got more than a week ago.. in windy Falmer it got worse despite 3 layers of clothing and a scarf.., so I have to miss Sunday Funday Frown to get better and make friends with facial sauna again.

But from Monday on I will be back on campus, being antisocial as ever. Cool

Not Spanish



I missed Sunday Funday, but I managed to buy a calendar from WHSmith. The connection between SF and calendar is the university. Poor selection, but at least this one was winking at me with its nice colourful stripes. I love everything with stripes.
(I just honestly don't understand what is so difficult: easy criteria, small calendar, not teeny tiny where there is no space to write, and not incredibly heavy, because I will have books, exercise books, lunch, other stuff as well..)

I visited friends yesterday in Lewes. We played so much Guiter Hero(I also wasn't very thirsty at that point..) that I forgot to check the trains back. It was 11:20pm. Last train in 6 minutes. Obviously missing it. Taxi company ignoring the call, putting me on hold. No taxi. I had to sleep over. Frown

Sleepovers are supposed to be fun, this wasn't because next day, Monday, first day when you actually meet your mates.
No new clothes, no make up, no toothbrush with me, nothing. Obviously I wasn't prepared not to go home. Nothing to make a good impression. Not to mention, no ID with me to pick up my Student ID, no program sheet where to go and what to do. No time to go home in the morning. I still have a cold. I was trying to hide that I was miserable by being very cheerful. It worked.

I was taken by car to Uni. Tick. Found this time green-pully-nice-can-i-help girl. I was just following other people like a maniac, because somebody mentioned the word Geography. Place with fellow students there. Tick. Cool

I ate a lot for breakfast and I forgot that it was supposed to be a Geography Brunch. So when I saw the food on the table I wanted to get out, I just couldn't even look at it. Then I sat down to a table where there was a huge plate of cakes. And some people to talk to. I was ignoring the cake and when a lady asked us whether she could put it on another table I was very relieved.

I didn't talk to too many people. I already can see there will be an unofficial race between BA and BSc students. Who is better? Both can't be good. I am looking forward to the official welcome from the faculty members. I will try to make a better impression then. Kiss

I had to be somewhere in the afternoon, when I saw a nice snake(queue) at Sussex House, I knew that
even if I'd had my passport with me I wouldn't have had time to wait there. Tomorrow will be my lucky day I feel it. Smile

The joke of the day was this conversation during the Brunch:

- Hello. Where are you from?
- I am from Hungary.
- Oh. What language do they speak there? Spanish?
- ?!?! No. In Hungary people speak Hungarian.

(She was very surprised.)

Recipe of the week



Below is the first of many recipes I will be adding to this blog each week. The recipes come from a student competition run last year by Health and Wellbeing.

Quinoa Salad with garlic dressing

Serves 4

About £1 per head

"Quinoa chopped up veg Quinoa on the boil My housemates and I love this dish because we can all put together the veg we need using up (before it goes out of date in the fridge) and its quick and cheap. The roasted garlic and the garlic dressing is the best bit, as it gives the dish a kick and brings out all the flavours of the veg. The dish is so filling because of the high protein in the quinoa and it tastes even better cold for lunch the next day!"
Hanna Lodge

Quinoa veg  Quinoa chopped up veg Quinoa on the boil Quinoa salad


  • 200g Quinoa
  • water for the quinoa (as pack instructions)
  • 2 red onion
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 courgette
  • 3 assorted peppers
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 100g feta cheese
  • handful of spinach
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Firstly, cook the quinoa as pack instructs
  2. Chop a selection of vegetables for roasting, keeping them nice and chunky (we used these ingredients, but you can use what ever veg you have that needs to be eaten)
  3. Place veg on baking tray, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil
  4. Put a couple of garlic cloves (skin on) with the veg to roast - roasted garlic has a much mellower flavour than raw garlic and it is nice squeezed out of their skin after its been roasted
  5. Let the veg roast for 25mins, keep checking and toss regularly
  6. Meanwhile, using the small grater holes on your grater, grate 1/2 a red onion, the tomatoes and garlic clove (sounds strange, but its Jamie Oliver inspired)
  7. Once grated season well and add 1 Tbsp of olive oil and mix into a dressing texture - this will be drizzled over the salad before serving (you can add as much or as little ingredients as you like)
  8. Place the cooked quinoa in a large serving dish and put the roasted veg on top, crumble the feta and sprinkle the spinach on top
  9. Lastly, drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve!

Cornflake Chicken Strips



"I love this recipe because it's simple and fun to make. The honey and lemon bring sweet and sour flavours to the chicken and keeps the coating juicy. Something a bit more interesting to do with chicken!"
Laura Harvey

Cornflake Chicken Strips recipe pics    Cornflake Chicken Strips recipe pics


  • 1 large chicken breast
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 50g Crushed cornflakes
  • 1 egg
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil


  1. Preheat the oven to 200˚. Place the flour into one bowl and crack the egg into another. In a third bowl stir the crushed cornflakes, lemon juice and honey together and until the mixture is sticky. Add a pinch of both salt and pepper.
  2. Prepare an oven tray drizzled with a little olive oil. Slice the chicken breast into strips. Chronologically, cover each strip with the egg, then the flour and finally the cornflake mix.
  3. Place the strips on the oven tray and drizzle the remaining egg over each strip. Bake for 15 – 20mins.
  4. Serve with green beans and new potatoes covered in melted butter and oregano.

Bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables)



"Bibimbap is popular Korean dish. It has various type of version. Traditional version maybe look complicated to make, but casual version is  good and well balanced meal. This recipe is modified for low budget and busy student. Therefore, cheap and quick version, but still healthy food. Try to using different ingredient whatever you like."
Bong Hee Jang

Bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables) pics Bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables) pics


  • Cooked rice – (black rice and brown rice is recommendable if you want more healthy food. Also adding some chickpea, which is good source of protein).
  • A handful salad vegetable
  • A slice of bacon
  • Sesame oil
  • 1 egg (optional)


Cook rice. You can use a rice cooker or a stainless pot. Recommend to use brown rice, which is good for diet. Also, adding some chickpea is helpful to make more well balanced meal.

  1. Next, grill a slice of bacon in the oven. When the bacon is done, slice into small pieces.
  2. Prepare a large platter or bowl to put all your ingredients on
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of sesame oil into the bowl
  4. If you like egg, fry an egg then put it at the last step.
  5. Lastly, mix it up and eat!

Tomato curry




  • 1 Large onion
  • 1 Large clove of garlic
  • Turmeric, ginger (fresh), cardamon, cumin, chilli (fresh or dried), salt
  • Tomatoes - big or small, enough to fill the pan cutside down
  • Coconut milk
  • Spinach
  • Aubergine
  • Courgette
  • Sweet potato
  • Fresh coriander


  • Fry the sliced onion in butter and oil
  • Add spices and stir
  • Add garlic (crushed and salted) and ginger (cut small)
  • When onion and garlic coloured and soft, add your tomatoes cut side down
  • Add coconut milk and mix a little, and leave for 20 minutes on a gentle heat
  • Add whatever you like
  • serve with fresh coriander, rice and chutney, maybe some Tzatziki...

Lotte Brockbank

More recipes on the Health and Wellbeing website.

Mr Twit's Great Upside Down Monkey Circus Part 2 - Commit To Get Fit Challenge



Well we're on day 9 now and most of the personal challenges have been exploritory and insightful. As someone that has a high cholesterol count I've been avoiding saturates for the past couple of years. A visit to the quack last week and an interesting talk from Terry "Eat Better, Feel Better" has made me re-start the process of what goes in and what doesn't. For now I'll stick with the weekly salmon/trout, the wholewheat breakfast cereal and some sort of greenery with all meals that contain meat/processed food.

TOP TIP: Tinned Tuna - the canning process breaks down the long Omega 3 chain - eat fresh tuna and beware of the mercury!

I'm also trying to drink 4 glasses of water a day (plus anything drunk during exercise) and failing miserably. Back in a mo. Ok I've now had one glass of water today. Walkers have also taken a hit, I'm down from 2 bags of crisps a day to 3 so far this month.

The headstand is heading in the right direction. I had a practice at home (much to my 3 year old daughter's amusement) and found that I could get off my toes without bursting a blood vessel. "Do it again Daddy" - "No". "Do it again Daddy" - "No". "DO IT AGAIN DADDY" - "Do you want a bit of melon?". I've learnt how to distract her when losing an arguement.

I met Karen again on Tuesday, keen to show my slight improvement. Slight improvement shown, what do I do now? Oh the scarey bit. Stick my feet up in the air. I tried, much to Karen's suprise, luckily she just managed to break my fall as I went up and then over.

We moved to the wall. I got my feet up but I've no idea what is vertical. My heel hit the wall. Only one heel, that was promising. As I removed one heel I'd sway and replace that heel with one from the other foot. So there were moments where I was upside down without contact with anything but the floor. I think I stayed upside down for about a minute and I enjoyed it. With my confidence a little higher than it was last week I had a quick go today on my own. I can get up pretty well but I just can't find that balance point, but I remember learning to drive and having to find biting point.




Commit to get fit Challenge - ITS Group - weeks 1 & 2



The ITS team consists of 13, we range from inactive couch potato(es) to very active people, but we've all committed to improve something.


We got off to a cracking start as one of our members, who will remain nameless, Gill Powell, harangued all staff in the building and gathered enough people to win the coveted “University of Sussex Boundary Walk Most Departmental Participants 2013”. With shouts and heckles from smaller departments we strode off for a thoroughly nice walk. I asked one member of ITS why they were doing it, “Gill was right in front of me, I just couldn’t say no” was the reply.


Group activities started with Wii Fit. With our BMIs and Wii Fit ages we booked ourselves in for Body Composition at the Sports Centre. 3 of us done and Terry runs out of sticky pads – so I’m afraid folks you’ll have to wait on our comparison.


Individually, we worked towards our goals in various ways such as buying tracksuit bottoms and gym kits. One of us went to a rave. One of us has now given up smoking, another has cut down. Other activities tried out are handball, running, boxercise, mountain biking, trampolining, horse riding, rowing, spin, headstands and tennis. 3 of us attended Terry’s interesting talk on Food.


Next week we have a table tennis tournament and a group spin class AND will Terry’s sticky pads arrive?

Stuart Sets the Ball Rolling

Listening to the dance floor noise during waggle dance communication improves the mapping of foraging locations



An interview with the lead author, Dr Roger Schürch, Postdoctoral Researcher at the School of Life Sciences, of a new article which shows how the foraging locations of honey bees can be mapped more accurately.

Why was this piece of research necessary?

Honey bees use a unique, highly ritualised behaviour to communicate where they have foraged. During this “waggle dance” on an upright comb within the hive, they run in a straight line, circle back to where they started, and run the straight line again – they do this over and over again. Because they waggle their bellies back and forth in the straight run, we call this behaviour the waggle dance. Over the past century, researchers have been able to decode the waggle dance, so that we can now observe a dance and know where a bee has been to collect her food: the bees communicate a heading and a distance in the angle and the duration of the straight waggle run.

Understanding where bees have foraged is important if we want to be able to help them. There are two problems with the way this has been previously done. First, most of the studies studying where bees have foraged using the waggle dance have used a calibration curve published by Karl von Frisch in 1946[1]. We noticed that this calibration curve gave wrong results for the bees studied at the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI). Secondly, the calibration curves used up to know were focusing exclusively on the averages of communicated angles and distances. In reality there is a considerable amount of noise in the location communicated by the bees. In other words, the bees are pretty imprecise in their communication. This means that when we observe a single dance, we cannot be sure where the bee has been. Previous studies have ignored this uncertainty.

[1] See von Frisch, K. 1946. Die Tänze der Bienen. Österr. zool. Z. 1:1-148

Honey bee feeding on a flower


What were the main results, and did these results turn out as expected?

First, we were able to show that our bees have a different calibration for distance and duration from those used by von Frisch, but that our calibration curve closely matches one published by Adrian Wenner in 1962[1]. This confirmed our initial suspicions that Karl von Frisch’s curve was not valid for our bees. Secondly, we have been able to quantify the precision with which bees are able to communicate visited locations to their fellow nestmates in both the directional and distance component. In the case of the angular precision, we have been the first to publish a concentration parameter capturing the angular variability among dances. For both vector components the imprecision that we found to be inherent in the waggle dance communication actually matches well the precision of recruitment found in previous studies[2].

[1] See Wenner, A. M. 1962. Sound production during the waggle dance of the honey bee. Anim. Behav. 10:79-95

[2] See Towne, W. F. & Gould, J. L. 1988. The spatial precision of the honey bees' dance communication. J. Insect Behav. 1:129-155.

Honey bee comb by Alex Wild

What has it added to our knowledge to the honey bee dance language?

The noise we found will enable us to make more honest assessments of where the bees have gone: instead of saying 25% of bees have visited that field, we say between 23-24% of bees have visited that field with 95% certainty. The latter statement is less precise, but more honest. But the real benefit lays in the ability to then test hypothesis like whether a colony has visited a particular field or crop more than you would expect by chance.

Does it change the validity of previous work on the waggle dance?

This is very hard to judge. Does the calibration curve of Karl von Frisch differ because he used a different bee, he was in a different location, or because he did not take random samples (see anecdote below)? At this point we simply don’t know, but based on our results we must warn against using Karl von Frisch’s calibration without validating it with the focal bee strain, and in the focal location.

Any fun anecdotes whilst collecting data?

For a very long time, we were brooding over one troubling feature of our data. Karl von Frisch’s data suggested a non-linear response in the distance-duration calibration, whereas ours could just not be accommodated with such a non-linear form. It was not until Lars Chittka came to give a seminar talk here in Sussex that we realised that we should be cautious with interpreting von Frisch’s data. Over lunch, he related to us a story Martin Lindauer, one of von Firsch’s students, had told him. When doing feeder experiments, Karl von Frisch often ordered “bad dancers” to be “executed”[1]. This creates a non-random sample, which made it probably easier for von Frisch to discover the general principle of the dance language. However, this non-random sampling is a bit like asking people who favour the colour red what their favourite colour is. Not surprisingly, the answer will be red.  Such a bias in the data makes it impossible to predict feeding locations from observed dances of a random bee, and presumably led to the non-linear curve von Frisch observed.

[1] This annecdote is also told in Chittka, L. & Dornhaus, A. 1999. Comparisons in physiology and evolution, and why bees can do the things they do. Ciencia al Dia International 2:1-17.



To read more about this research, see the full article in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A

More on the honey bee waggle dance, read Other Nations' blog post

Visit The Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects website 

photo credit: John Kimbler (top) and Alex Wild (

Ode to Tupperware



The tupperware box is the most important thing a student can own.

Okay, I may be exaggerating, but it is currently 3am on a Tuesday morning and my lunches and dinners are prepared for the next few days thanks to the humble tupperware box, and I can't stress how great this makes me feel - currently I'm stressing about the amount of work I have to do for my course this year and it's so refreshing to have just one thing that is in my control. 

My veggies have been pre-roasted, my peppers pre-chopped, my onions pre-diced and my lunches pre-made in an effort to exercise control, so thankyou, tupperware box, for letting me indulge in my ocd habits.

I cannot wait to cook with you tomorrow, oh wonderful tupperware.

Biodiversity v Intensive Farming; Has Farming Lost its Way?



[This blog was posted as a guest blog on the Journal of Animal Ecology website, 16 Jan 2015, duplicated here for those that check my Uni blog]

Modern intensive farming produces plentiful, cheap food but is reliant on heavy use of agrochemicals and is a major driver of the ongoing collapse of wildlife populations. Taxpayers pay billions each year to support this system, with the bulk of this money going to the biggest, richest farming operations. In this blog I examine how we got to this unhappy position, question the need to further increase food production given current food waste, and suggest that we need to move towards a more sustainable, evidence-based farming system, with a source of independent advice for farmers, rather than allowing the agrochemical industry to shape the future of farming.  

It is not politically correct to criticise farmers or farming. We are brought up on stories about the adventures of a playful piglet who lives on a farm with a sheepdog, half a dozen chickens and a smiling cow, all presided over by a rosy-cheeked farmer, his wife and their two children. Farmers might also be portrayed as custodians of the land, where the countryside that they look after is filled with the sound of skylarks singing, bumblebees buzzing amongst the hedgerows, and butterflies flitting across sunlit, flowery meadows. 

Farming is of course the most fundamentally important of human activities; without farms and farmers, we would quickly starve. Going back to hunter-gathering is not an option. What is more, the human population is growing, and therefore we must increase food production. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) declared in 2010 that we must double food production by 2050, and this rationale is used to justify the drive for ever-increasing yield. One might argue that we should focus all our research on increasing yield at all cost, else our grandchildren will starve.

These are two quite different views of farming, the former obviously wildly inaccurate, but in both the farmer is the hero. Of course there is a contradiction between the two, a fundamental conflict. The drive to increase food production has resulted in an intensive farming system that is scrubbing wildlife from the face of the land. In Europe, we have good long-term data on populations of birds, butterflies and moths, and the overwhelming pattern is that most species are in retreat (e.g. Fox et al. 2014 J Appl. Ecol. 51: 949-957; Inger et al. 2015). Rather few larks are still singing, and most of the butterflies are gone.  A recent study by Inger et al estimates that bird populations in Europe have fallen by 420 million in the last 30 years. Groups for which we have less precise data, such as bees and beetles, also seem to be going the same way. For the UK this depressing pattern is summarised nicely in RSPB’s 2013 “State of Nature” report, which makes bleak reading. In short, farmland wildlife underwent massive declines through the twentieth century and in the twenty first century is still in rapid decline. Indeed, recent data for butterflies suggest that declines in many farmland species are accelerating

This continued decline is, on the face of it, puzzling. In Europe very large sums of tax-payers money are spent on agri-environment schemes: money paid to farmers to implement mechanisms to increase wildlife[1]. On the whole, farmers do not grub out hedgerows any more, or plough up ancient hay-meadows. They are more likely to replant hedgerows and attempt to restore flower-rich grasslands. Yet this does not seem to be working, for wildlife continues to disappear. What has gone wrong?

I would argue that there are two explanations. The first is that much of the funding for agri-environment schemes is wasted. The basic entry-level greening measures are so unambitious that a lot of farmers have to do next to nothing to qualify. There is little policing of what they actually do, and implementation of some schemes often fails. Wildflower strips on field margins are a good example – intended to support pollinators, they often don’t establish well, and end up containing nothing but coarse grasses. There are some shining examples of farmers who have successfully implemented a range of such schemes with measurable benefits for wildlife, but they are few and far between. [Note that these schemes have recently been revised in Europe, but overall funding has been cut and many farmers currently in the higher level schemes will soon find themselves getting no agri-environment subsidies at all, so it is unlikely that there will be a net improvement]  

The second relates to the way crop production systems have developed. Forty years ago there was substantial government funding for agronomic research. In the UK, we had many state-owned experimental farms where scientists developed new crops and devised integrated pest management programs. Rachel Carson’s famous 1963 book “Silent Spring” had highlighted the potential dangers of over-reliance on pesticides, and there was great interest in biological control agents, trap crops, rotations, cultural controls, use of resistant varieties, and so on. Today, most of those experimental farms have gone, or become essentially privatised, in attempts at cost-saving by successive governments. Industry has stepped in to fill the gap, shaping agriculture to its own ends. Now, agronomic funding comes almost entirely from the private sector – particularly the big companies that manufacture pesticides and develop GM crops. Most of the agronomists that advise farmers work for agrochemical companies (the figure is 71% in the UK[2]). Most arable farms in the UK use a minimal rotation –wheat, wheat, oilseed rape. Crops are commonly treated with ~20 different pesticides in a season[3], many of them applied prophylactically. [Ask yourself this: if you were growing veg in your garden for your family to eat, would you be comfortable spraying them with a cocktail of 20 different insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and molluscicides? If the answer is no, why are you happy buying food from the supermarket?]. The principles of IPM seem to have been discarded along the way. We have allowed current farming systems to be moulded by industry, and their goal is not to feed poor people in developing countries. Nor is it to look after wildlife, or worry about the long-term sustainability of production systems. It is to make the biggest profit that they can. Minimising pesticide use would be good for the environment, good for the long-term sustainability of farming, good for the farmer, and good for the consumer. But it won’t make big agrochemical companies rich.

Consideration of the current risk assessment procedures for new agrochemicals sheds some light on the failure of the current system. Typically, the safety of agrochemicals is examined by conducting acute toxicity tests for each compound on non-target organisms such as rats and bees, and comparing the response to plausible exposure scenarios in the field. So long as the animals are unlikely to receive a dose in the field anywhere near that which produces harm in short-term lab tests, all is regarded as well. These data are generally not made public, so they cannot be inspected or evaluated by independent scientists. There is currently no requirement to demonstrate that the new product provides a significant improvement in yield; such trials are presumably conducted by industry (well, one would like to think so), but are not made public. Under the current system, once a new product is on the market, farmers have little in the way of reliable, independent information available to them as to either the environmental risks posed or the efficacy of each product. They are largely reliant on the companies that manufacture the chemicals to advise them as to which ones they should use, with competing manufacturers providing conflicting advice, and all with a strong incentive to prescribe more use than may be necessary.

The current agrochemical regulatory system is clearly woefully inadequate.  In the real world, non-target organisms living in farmland are chronically exposed to multiple agrochemicals throughout their lives, not one at a time in a single dose. We know that these chemicals do not always act additively; for example some fungicides, while being of very low toxicity to insects in themselves, can greatly increase the toxicity of insecticides when an insect is simultaneously exposed to both. Such interactions will only be discovered when the chemicals have been approved and are in widespread use, which is far too late if one wishes to prevent environmental harm.

Interactions between agrochemicals, and the consequences of chronic rather than acute exposure, are just two important aspects that the current regulatory system fails to capture. Complex interactions also occur between agro-chemicals and other stressors. For example, low doses of pesticides which would produce no measurable effect in a lab toxicity trial can impair the immune system of honey bees, rendering them susceptible to viruses. Hungry animals (such as bees in flower-poor intensive farmland) are also more susceptible to both toxins and disease than well-fed lab stocks.  In short, our current regulatory system does not come anywhere close to approximating the complexities of the real world, and as a result we have failed to adequately protect biodiversity from the many stressors imposed by modern farming.

Of course it would never be possible to conduct realistic, long-term tests on every plausible combination of chemicals and other stressors. Perhaps we simply have to accept that modern, intensive farming is necessary if we don’t want to starve, and that loss of our wildlife is an unavoidable price that we have to pay?

I would suggest that there is a way forwards, but that we need a radically different, holistic and transparent approach based on scientific evidence. We need long-term farm-scale studies of crop production systems, comparing both the yield, profitability and the consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem services of different systems (e.g. conventional versus a reduced input, “Integrated Pest Management” approach versus organic). Such studies need not be enormously expensive, for the farms would still be productive. Surprisingly few studies have simultaneously compared profitability and biodiversity benefits across farming systems, yet this is the fundamental trade-off in food production. Indeed, for most agrochemicals there is currently little publicly available evidence as to what yield benefits they individually provide[4]. If a new chemical, crop or farming system were to be proposed, and provided that it passed some basic safety tests, it could then by trialed alongside existing approaches. Only if a new product significantly increased yield, or was found to have positive benefits for biodiversity, or both, would it be approved. Such a system would evaluate new products in the context in which they would be used in the real world, rather than highly unrealistic trials as currently used. New agri-environment schemes could be evaluated using the same framework. All such studies should be open access. This has parallels to the laudable move to “evidence-based medicine” whereby new drugs or therapies are only approved following trials demonstrating that they provide a significant improvement over existing treatments. At present, our farming systems are not evidence-based, and what evidence that is available is hidden.     

I would also argue that we should question the drive towards further yield increases. People are not starving because we don’t grow enough food. In India, obesity is now a bigger problem than starvation. We grow more than enough food, but estimates suggest that nearly half of what is grown goes to waste, and many of us eat far more meat and many more calories than is good for us. In the developed world we spend less on food, as a proportion of income, than we ever did – food is cheap. It is a disgrace that anyone is still starving, but it has nothing to do with food production.  Indeed, if one could largely eliminate food waste then every farm in the world could go organic and, even with the concomitant reduction in yield, there would still be more than enough food to go around.    

Without a radical overhaul of farming systems, and of the way agronomic research is funded and conducted, there is no doubt that we will lose a significant portion of our biodiversity. Even for those that don’t give a damn about wildlife, this ought to be a major cause for concern because we depend upon wildlife to deliver the ecosystem services that underpin food production. We should be focussing on sustainable production of healthy food, not on producing more cheap, pesticide-laced food and then throwing half of it away. In our rush to increase yields, based on an ill-conceived notion that this is needed to feed the world, we run the risk of irrevocably damaging our environment and hence our food production system, so that our grandchildren really do starve. 


Dave Goulson

(twitter: @DaveGoulson)

[1] The EU gives out €59 billion per year in total in subsidies to farmers. Most of this is dished out as single farm payments, which are more-or-less payments simply for owning the land. There is currently no cap, so some major landowners receive millions in subsidies. For example in France, the 160 biggest farm holdings receive €123 million between them. The UK fought hard, and succeeded, in blocking EU proposals to cap subsidies at €300,000 per farmer. The vast majority of this money does not go to poor farmers in marginal areas who might be deserving of support. One might question why such extra-ordinary sums of tax-payers money should be given to rich people or corporations to enable them to continue to farm in a way that is destroying our natural heritage.  

[2] This figure was provided by an independent agronomist, Caroline Corsie, but I am unable to find official figures.

[3] I have quotes this figure before, and it has been heavily criticised. It was originally based on surveys of arable farms in East Sussex in south east UK, which applied between 18 and 21 different pesticides to each wheat or oilseed rape field in 2013 (some of them multiple times). I’ve heard it said that we must have found the most intensively farmed fields in England. However, Defra’s own statistics demonstrate that this is spot on – their PUSSTATS website is open access, and one can obtain information on the total area of arable crops in Britain, and the total area treated with pesticides. The latter is almost exactly 20 times the former, demonstrating that the average arable field receives 20 applications. This average includes organic farms, so the mean for conventional farms must be higher.  

[4] This was recently highlighted by an astonishing revelation from the USA Environmental Protection Agency. They revealed a number of studies showing that application of neonicotinoid seed dressings to soya beans has zero impact on yield. At the advice of agronomists, farmers had been routinely applying neonics to soyabeans over 30 million ha, at an annual cost of $240 million. This seems to refute the oft-used argument “Farmers aren’t fools – they wouldn’t waste money on pesticides they didn’t need”.