The fine art of a thrifty kitchen

Eating the last of the Sunday roast with fried rice on Thursday or freezing cheap berries as a winter treat feels, in a small way, like beating the system.

Although – I realise with a shock – it is almost a decade since I lived my life by the academic calendar, September still feels like an occasion for new beginnings. This autumn, my resolutions revolve primarily around saving money and I’m starting with a little book by Claire Leavey entitled How to Run a Thrifty Kitchen, which promises “advice from the ancestors . . . updated for modern living”.

Much contemporary wisdom on the subject involves cutting back but not here, as is clear from the first paragraph: “Cutting down what one spends upon food is not necessarily economy. Getting the same food value at less cost is.” Advice from 1932 that rings true today: Ireland is the only European nation that spends a smaller percentage of income on food than the UK. Leavey believes that instead of slashing budgets further, Britons should work on getting more for our money.

To this end, she counsels readers to switch to cooking with solid fuel, build a haybox oven, start a wormery to use up food scraps and make their own nettle wine – all of which (with the possible exception of the last, which I’ve always found to occupy the cat’s pee end of the flavour spectrum) are no doubt eminently sensible suggestions. But if you can’t run to an airy, north-facing larder, her smaller changes may be just as effective.

I don’t need to tell you to look out for special offers when you go shopping or that apples will be cheaper in October than in June – but do you need to buy anything in the first place?

Any thrift drive should start with a thorough kitchen inventory. If you’re like me, you will have several weeks’ worth of potential meals growing old at the back of the freezer or cupboard. Working out how to turn the dregs of several bags of pasta, some peas and a cheese rind into a decent dinner can be a surprisingly satisfying culinary challenge.

When shopping’s back on the agenda, remember the premium placed on convenience. Buying everything at the same shop will save you time but rarely money. Shop around. Rice, cooking oil, herbs and spices (always whole –more versatile than ground, they’ll also last longer), dried pulses and frozen seafood are usually better value at Asian grocers.

The same goes for seasonal fruit and vegetables at street markets. It’s also easier to purchase fresh meat, cheese and fish in exactly the quantity you need from a butcher, deli counter or fishmonger, rather than overbuying the pre-packed versions in the supermarket.

If you don’t have the luxury of choice locally, go online. You may need to buy in bulk but it doesn’t take much imagination to get through a bag of basmati.

Similarly, try to avoid processed foods that can be made at home more cheaply. For the price of a couple of jars of fancy pasta sauce, you could get a huge drum of tinned tomatoes, some garlic and a bay leaf and cook enough in half an hour to see you through the winter. Use your leftovers to make stocks and soups and rediscover the joys of classics such as breadand- butter pudding and bubble and squeak.

Think about fuel use, too. Invest in a tiered steamer so that you can cook several things at once. And if you’ve got the oven on for dinner, bake a loaf of bread or some vegetables for lunch at the same time.

My favourite new pennypinching gadget, however, is the pressure cooker: no longer prone to exploding, it cooks tough cuts of meat and pulses in a fraction of the time.

I’ve found such small measures not only economical but a source of profound satisfaction. Eating the last of the Sunday roast with fried rice on Thursday or freezing cheap berries as a winter treat feels, in a small way, like beating the system.

As Leavey writes, “It’s time for us to rediscover and reclaim the power to feed ourselves.” Drink, however, I’ll leave to the professionals.

 

Drag odds and ends out of the fridge and the bottom of the veg box and you could have the makings of a feast. Image: Andres Marroquin Winkelmann

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 16 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Syria: The deadly stalemate

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.