Sunday, August 11, 2013

Meanwhile in Flanders …

We are indebted to Terry who flags up this piece from Flanders Today as something that might interest Barkingside 21 readers … Entrepreneurs of healthy fast food are discovering the challenges of sustainable business.
"There is a subtle shift happening in the world of food: More and more young people are starting businesses that not only provide you with healthier food options but are determined to work sustainably while doing it. They are walking the talk, but with that comes challenges in the balance between making money and staying true to your ethic.

Every weekday morning, Mieke Dumortier mounts a sturdy cargo bike and begins her workday. Between 8.30 and 12.30, she makes a 50-kilometre trek around the Singel area of Antwerp to deliver half-litre refrigerated portions of soup – come rain or shine. After her round, Dumortier, known better by her business name Soepmie, locks herself away in her kitchen and begins making soup for the next day – always vegetarian and always with seasonal and organic produce.

“I want to do this as ecologically as possible,” says Dumortier (pictured). “For every aspect of Soepmie, I ask myself: ‘Is there a green way or a greener way to do this?’”

This ethos makes her one of a handful of young Flemish entrepreneurs determined to offer more healthy food options to consumers on a tight schedule or budget – or both.

Combining an idealist streak with a nifty business approach, sustainable entrepreneurs like Dumortier share a desire to help Flemings eat more healthily and brand their products as a green and local alternative to industrially produced foods.

From vending machines that dispense organic snacks (Coolbox) to weekly subscriptions to vegetables direct from the farm (Nieuw Vriesehof), these food-related start-ups and small businesses target consumers looking for shortcuts to a healthy and nutritious diet." More ...
Back here in Barkingside I am sticking to my healthy vegetarian 5-a-day diet ...


  1. "....healthy vegetarian 5-1-day diet...."

    Would that comprise hops, barley, sugar and water?

    1. I believe those are some of the ingredients.

  2. What an interesting article: thank you Alan for putting it on the blog.

    The Industrial Revolution had a number of downsides, one of them being the industrialisation of food. The tension between farmers wanting a good price for their produce and industrialists wanting cheap food for the workers (so that they wouldn't have to pay them higher wages just to keep them alive) was rebalanced over time with the use of laboratory chemicals and production line technology. Some advances have been extremely beneficial, for exsmple canning and freezing which allow food to be stored hygienically and consumed long after it was harvested, fished or slaughtered. However the need to use additives to prolong the shelf life or improve the colour of industrially produced food is essentially adulteration, and as these additives became less plant-based and more laboratory produced, the ill effects began to emerge.

    Add to that the explosion since WWII in: the routine and almost universal use of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides to increase crop yields: the routine and almost universal use of growth promoters and antibiotics to encourage animals to reach slaughter weight in half the natural time and to check the inevitable diseases that occur when animals are kept in unnatural conditions; and the growth in population in the West reulting from ever better maternity healthcare and the virtual elimination of the types of diseases that kept the human population in check. The result is a larger population which is increasingly poorly fed with what our ancestors would have regarded as adulterated food.

    The long-term effects of the constant ingestion of artificial chemicals is yet to become manifest. And don't get me started on hydrogenated vegetable oils, genetic modification or the rush to clear primeval forest to produce cattle, palm oil etc.

    Those of us who are aware of such practices have stopped eating this type of food and, more importantly, stopped feeding it to our children. Thankfully the current generation of young adults is becoming increasingly aware not only of the physical and health issues surrounding food production but also their impact on the environment. Stories like that from Flanders are ecouraging and certainly heartwarming, but for the time being they are a drop in the ocean. Until more of us get behind this and vote with our purses, only buying what we know to be produced ethically or, better still, cooking with high quality basic ingredients and growing some of them ourselves, the food giants will go on using artificial means to make more money from selling increasingly adulterated and potentially harmful food.

  3. When I lived with my grandfather in his apartment in Antwerp, fresh soup was delivered daily in a special "mail box" made for that purpose and situated under the letter box. It was delivered in a pan which was cleaned then replaced in the box later for collection the next day. This is not new for me. I still remember the lovely smell in the corridor when the soups had been delivered to the various people. I also add that this was in the corridor meant for trades people. The main entrance had no letter box, no food box and no food smells.

    1. How interesting! It shows that there has to be a basis of familiarity for people to feel comfortable with a product. So it would seem that it is not the idea of soup delivered to your door that is new in Holland but the way the soup is sourced, produced and delivered.

    2. Err - sorry Patsy. Flanders is the northern part of Belgium!

  4. Well I'm a Dutchman4:52 pm, August 12, 2013

    There are parts of the historic region of Flanders in both The Netherlands and France.

    Try Googling 'flanders province Netherlands' and Wikipedia will give you the history

  5. You're absolutely right Morris. However the territory in question has shuttled back and forth so many times in the last 1,000 years that it is easy to lose track of who currently claims jurisdiction. I should know better: my maternal grandfather, Willem Jacobus Lambillion, was Walloon in spite of his Dutch forenames and I should have taken a granddaughterly (I would have said filial but you would probably correct me) interest in the history of 'Gallant Little Belgium'. Case in point, the soup girl in the article, like my grandfather, has a Dutch forename and a French surname.

    However, I feel that this is a minor point which cannot serve to move the discussion forward (I would not call it nitpicking because I was brought up to be polite to my elders). If I were not a saint in human form I would be extremely irritated by people who seek to distract attention from the main point under discussion by drawing it to small and irrelevant errors. I would be far more interested, Morris, in your views on the issue of food production in the Western world than in the correction of an error in the repy to a comment. How about it Morris? Can you climb down from the fence and make a serious contribution to the debate about the industrialisation of the nation's food? Or have your many years in politics trained you to respond only with comments which cannot be quoted against you at a future date?

    1. I think we have to recognise practicalities to a certain extent. For example, I have very grave (no pun intended!) reservations about all forms of GM foods, whether animal or vegetable. I use very few canned foods, apart from such obvious ones as soup, some fruit, and salmon. I do not use any canned meats or vegetables.

      I use no frozen vegetables apart from petits pois during those parts of the year when fresh peas are not available. Otherwise it's all fresh fruit and vegetables, the latter grown in the UK so far as possible.

      I regret very much the disappearance of our traditional hedgerows to create prairies for agricultural purposes with the consequential deterioration into dust-bowls. I do not agree with intensive animal husbandry and remain unconvinced that more traditional methods would result in excessively expensive food.

      In short I consider the creation of the food factories to be both criminal and immoral. Criminal because I am highly sceptical about claims that it is humane, and immoral because it appears to be done solely for huge profits that do not accrue to the farmer, but to wholesalers and large retailers. I equally have to recognise that we are all guilty of patronising many of these processes partly out of lack of time, and therefore as a convenience.

    2. Thank you Morris and very graciously done. I somehow knew you had serious views on the issues that concern us, and I am glad that I was able to draw you out and not just read your corrections to other people's minor errors. You have stepped up to the mark and I hope that you and I, sharing at least this view of an aspect of modern life, will find many areas on which we agree. And you can correct my errors whenever you like.

  6. I did say when I passed the article on to B21 that I doubted whether the idea of fresh homemade soup being sold door to door would work in Barkingside but that it was always a common site in Flanders - usually a man in a van with a bell and two or three choices in the back.

    Once a familiar sight (and sound) in Ostend, with a lot of rebuilding and possibly population change, we haven't heard him for several years. This year, however, we spent a couple of days in Wenduine, a much smaller place up the coast, and we heard and saw the soup man in his van every morning, just as it's always been ...

    The article is about much more than soup, though ...

    I don't know what elf'n'safety in this country would have to say about those soup ladles though ...!