Friday, January 18, 2013

Flogging a dead horse

Food waste crime scene
Best horse burger joke so far: Tesco has been flogging a dead horse.  Seriously though what grieves me is the food waste issue. In Ireland (and UK for all I know) they're going to bin thousands of perfectly good burgers just for containing horse meat. Yes mislabelling them is a crime - but throwing them away is a crime too.

And I know we can debate that perfectly good bit ... deeply substandard is nearer the mark. But it's not the horse meat that makes them substandard. Some Irish charity leaders have asked for the burgers to be donated to them. The official line however from Ireland's poverty charity St Vincent de Paul (SVP), in a statement in today’s Irish Times, dissents: “Food poverty is an important issue and one which the SVP has actively sought to highlight. But the SVP nationally does not ask for the distribution of the beef burgers withdrawn from sale to be directed to charities. We do not believe that it is a feasible option in terms of the nature of the product or the logistics in its redistribution.”

If it's true the burgers pose no health risk, which the authorities claim, then the shops ought to put them on sale at a knock down rate with the rubric “These burgers may contain horse”. At the right price they would sell like hot cakes.  If I was king there would be a food waste law to enforce this sort of thing.

(PS: if the horse meat got in there illegally how can the environmental health inspectors be so sure about no health risk? Seeing as they weren't there at the time to check it's not dead racehorses full of noxious chemicals? Still they do seem to be sure.)

Links: a food waste blog in the London Independent last week before the horseburger story broke, and a piece about freegans I wrote 16 months ago .

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Irish cancer report gives the lie to Big Tobacco

Teenage girls - essential market for tobacco companies
A recent report undermines the tobacco companies' campaign against ugly cigarette packs.

16 months ago I wrote about these packs and predicted ”watch this one get dirty”. Well I haven’t noticed that happening yet, but maybe something has been going on underneath my radar.  Meanwhile Australia’s law forcing tobacco companies to use plain packaging came into force in November. Sludge green packaging with gruesome pictures of rotting teeth, eyeballs, blackened lungs and suffering babies is now mandatory.

Big Tobacco considers it’s fighting for its life on this one. They love to argue that the packaging doesn't have any societal effect, merely distinguishing one brand from another.

Now here's a report that gives the lie to that. It comes from the Irish Cancer Society. Tobacco companies are trying to reel in women, it reveals, by creating candy-coloured packaging, white packaging, ‘women-only’ brands, low-tar, and new, super-slim products.

This need to sell cigarettes via their packaging is more acute in countries where smoking advertising is banned, such as in Ireland. In Germany, there are mango and mojito-flavoured cigarettes aimed at young women.

Half of poor, young Irish women are smokers, and are ashamed of their habit but are not able to quit nicotine, according to the Irish Cancer Society.  One in three Irish women smoke, which the society described as “an epidemic”.

Here's an extract from their report revealing their true views on the importance of packaging:

Quotes from the tobacco industry discuss the reasons for and benefits of superslim cigarettes: “Gallaher is launching a range of super-slim cigarettes under its Silk Cut brand packaged in “perfume-shaped” boxes to appeal to the female market. Silk Cut Superslims is positioned as a premium cigarette that rivals Vogue Superslims from BAT. The female-friendly pack design would give it an edge”, said Jeremy Blackburn, Head of Communications at Gallaher.

 “The new design brings elegance and quality to the superslim cigarette sector, which is in its infancy but offering great potential.” (The Grocer, 2008).

Demislim cigarettes were released in 2011: “Vogue Perle delivers a new modern format for the female smoker. The premium quality cigarette provides a satisfying taste experience similar to standard King Size (KS) cigarettes, only designed into a new feminine format and style. The new packaging, designed in Paris also reflects the more refined and accessible cigarette size, with rounded edges, and a soft yet tactile texture” (Talking Retail, 2011).

UK health minister is for ugly packs

In this Guardian blog post last August, health services minister Dan Poulter argues for plain packaging for cigarettes as he debates what needs to be done to prevent young people from taking up smoking. Hats off to the minister. I haven't kept up with what's happened since.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A coven of witches and other unlucky 13’s

Following my recent notes on the unluckiness of 13, here are three more examples. The first is thirteen witches in a coven. This comes up a lot in documentation of the witch-trials of the seventeenth century, the first recorded mention being in 1662 in the Scottish trial records of Isobel Gowdie

Witches hold sabbats, and in a further instance of a connection to the Last Supper, some people interpret the 13 witches at the sabbat as a perversion of that sacred event, the witches gathering with Satan in place of Christ.

Here's a website for anyone who wants to learn about witchcraft, Wicca, and the true path of becoming a practicing witch.  Probably very few readers of my blog fall into this category, but you'll find useful discussions of covens and sabbats there.

Witches, a noose, and the Tarot “Death” card. Not sure of the provenance of the witches image. It looks 17th century to me. The caption as best as I can read it is: A Witch, a Spirit raised by the Witch, a Friar raising his [], a Fairy Ring, a Witch riding on the Devil through the Aire, a [] Candle
According to Wikipedia, the word coven remained largely unused in English until 1921 when one Margaret Murray promoted the idea, now much disputed, that all witches across Europe met in groups of thirteen which they called covens.

The word by the way originated in late medieval Scots (around 1500). It is essentially the same as the English word convent, and both words originally meant a gathering of any kind. Up to 1548 convent could specifically be a gathering of the 12 apostles, so perhaps when Scottish witches called their gatherings covens they had this meaning in mind.

Coven and convent are related to convene, and all three words derive from the Latin root word convenire, meaning convene. For a time in the Middle Ages the n was lost, which is how we get Covent Garden. It was later that convent came to be restricted to a body of monks or nuns.

Another instance of unlucky 13 is the hangman's knot.  Traditionally this was made by coiling it 13 times, so that the noose would be strong enough to snap the person's neck fast and not leave them still alive and in agony.  This grisly subject is one I don't intend to dwell on except to comment that my understanding is that in England up till the 18th century, it was considered very good sport to leave the hanged person alive and in agony as long as possible.  If I'm right, then I wonder how old this tradition actually is.

The third instance is the Tarot "Death" card.  In most forms of Tarot this card is 13. I'm not sure about how old Tarot is or the reason why the Death card is 13.  The link is to Wikipedia, and you can read it all there.

Many thanks to Jenny Butler, who lectures in folklore at University College Cork, for pointing out these three unlucky instances of 13 to me.