South Carolina governor outlaws most abortions at 20 weeks

Republican governor Nikki Haley signed legislation on Wednesday that immediately outlaws most abortions in South Carolina at 20 weeks beyond fertilization.

The only exceptions are if the mother’s life is in jeopardy or a doctor determines the fetus cannot survive outside the womb.

Doctors face up to $10,000 in fines and three years in prison for each violation; prison time is mandatory on a third conviction.

These bans are now in effect in at least 13 states and blocked by court challenges in several others. South Dakota’s ban takes effect on 1 July.

Women nationwide have the right to obtain abortions under the US supreme court’s 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, which said states could restrict abortions after viability – the point when a fetus has a reasonable chance of surviving outside the uterus. “Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks,” the ruling said.

The supreme court has yet to rule on bans that would limit even earlier abortions.

As in other states, South Carolina’s law ties the fetus’s age to conception, rather than a women’s monthly cycle. But since this date cannot be scientifically pinpointed, the ban actually refers to what doctors consider a gestational age of 22 weeks.

Supporters of the bill cite the disputed claim that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. Opponents say later-term abortions usually happen with wanted pregnancies that go horribly wrong.

“The reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare and often takes place in complex and difficult situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available,” said Alyssa Miller, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman for South Carolina.

South Carolina’s definition of “fetal anomaly” makes it illegal to abort a fetus with a severe disability if the child could live. Such anomalies are generally detected around 20 weeks.

Advocates for abortion rights contend these measures are aimed at restricting women’s access to a safe, legal abortion.

The sponsor of South Carolina’s law, state representative Wendy Nanney, said the killing needed to stop, and saw this law as a step to eventually “get rid of abortion altogether”.

Haley’s signature comes only days after Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma vetoed legislation to outlaw the procedure at any stage, by making it a felony for doctors to perform an abortion. Fallin, a Republican who opposes abortion, said the measure would not withstand a legal challenge.

Abortion-rights supporters rallied on Tuesday at the statehouse to ask Haley to veto the measure. But Haley’s signature was no surprise.

“I’m strongly pro-life, very pro-life and not because my party tells me to be, but my husband was adopted, and so every day I know the blessings of having him there,” Haley said during her 2010 campaign for governor.

As a house member that year, Haley voted to end abortion coverage for victims of rape and incest in the state health plan for employees. The senate defeated that proposal.

In 2012, Haley signed a bill intended to ensure that a fetus surviving an abortion attempt is not treated as medical waste. It defined a person as anyone who is breathing and has a beating heart after birth, whether by labor, cesarean section, or abortion, copying a 2002 federal law enforceable on federal property.

The ban would affect only hospitals, since none of the three abortion clinics in South Carolina provide abortions beyond 15 weeks.

On average, fewer than 30 abortions yearly are performed at 20 weeks gestation or beyond in South Carolina, according to data since 1990 from the state’s public health agency. Most of these women have been white, married and older than 24, according to the agency.

This entry was posted in women.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is ‘dream’ Kickstarter success

“Once there was a Mexican girl whose name was Frida,” begins one of the 100 fairytale reinventions included in Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. A new children’s book that sets out to confront gender stereotypes, it has quickly raised more than $600,000 (£409,000) on Kickstarter.

Created by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, co-founders of children’s media company Timbuktu Labs, the book tells the stories of 100 great women, from Kahlo to Elizabeth I to Serena Williams, illustrated by female artists from around the world. Favilli and Cavallo launched their Kickstarter a month ago, with the goal of making $40,000, and printing their first 1,000 copies. With hours to go before closing to further pledges, their fundraising total stands at $624,905.

“It’s insane. We were expecting the project to be successful but not at this level,” said Favilli. “It’s beyond any possible dream.”

The pair have now added a series of “stretch goals” to their Kickstarter, including a week of workshops in Rwanda about female leadership in January 2017. They estimate that they will be printing more than 10,000 copies of the book and are also planning an edition for general distribution, once the fundraiser ends on Wednesday.

“We chose to write the stories in the style of a fairytale – lots of them start ‘once upon a time’,” said Favilli. “We are really thinking of the book as a modern fairytale that children will read at bedtime before they go to sleep.”

On their Kickstarter page, Favilli and Cavallo explain that part of the inspiration for the book was their own journey as entrepreneurs, which “made us understand how important it is for girls to grow up surrounded by female role models”, because “it helps them to be more confident and set bigger goals”.

They also realised “that 95% of the books and TV shows we grew up with lacked girls in prominent positions”. Pointing to a study of 6,000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000, which found that just 7.5% had female protagonists, they add that not much has changed since.

“We know children’s books are still packed with gender stereotypes,” said Favilli. “And we’re both in our early 30s, we’re female entrepreneurs, and we know first-hand how hard it is to succeed, to be considered, to be given a chance.”

The idea for the book, she said, “didn’t happen overnight, it was more of a process. We started to send pieces of content out with our newsletter, short stories about extraordinary women, and at some point we realised that the response we were getting just from sending the newsletter was so great, so intense. This doesn’t happen often with you send a newsletter; usually people don’t open it. So it became clear this was a book we had to make.”

This entry was posted in women.

Home is where the toxins are – the hidden poisons we live with

Does your house smell pine fresh? If so, you might want to open a window. This week, the country’s biggest household cleaning manufacturer began publishing every ingredient it uses, in response to fears that the chemicals we use in our homes could be harming us.

Fragrances such as limonene (which smells like lemon) and pinene (which smells of – yes, you’ve guessed it – pine) are used in an increasing number of products. But they create small amounts of formaldehyde – a carcinogen. While this might not be a problem in the majority of homes, for clean-freaks living in modern, energy-efficient homes, there can be a serious buildup.

Alastair Lewis, professor of atmospheric chemistry at York University, says the decision by SC Johnson to publish a list of ingredients in products such as Mr Muscle and Glade air fresheners, was helpful for scientists trying to track why high concentrations of formaldehyde are found in some homes. Lewis points out that while pinene is naturally occurring, and cleaning products are heavily tested and regulated, there has been little research on the effects of the secondary chemicals they produce, because it was always assumed they would disperse quickly.

But according to the charity Chem Trust, which looks at the damage caused by manmade chemicals, there are many more hidden pollutants in our homes. Michael Warhurst, an environmental chemist at the organisation, says: “When people think of the dangers of chemicals, it is often cleaning products or cosmetics that spring to mind, but actually the biggest worries are chemicals in things such as packaging or furniture.” So what other dangers are lurking in our homes?

Pizza boxes

While the chemicals in plastic packaging are regulated, cardboard packaging is not. A Danish NGO randomly tested three pizza boxes and found chemicals from the recycled material they were made from, alongside chemicals suspected of being carcinogenic.

Till receipts

Thermal receipt paper can contaminate your hands with hormone-disrupting bisphenol A (BPA), which can then be absorbed into your body. BPA is a hormone that has been linked to a wide range of medical problems, from cancer to diabetes, says Warhurst. Receipts can also be recycled, and then turn up in packaging such as pizza boxes.

Carpets

Carpets can be covered in brominated flame retardants to make them less flammable, some of which can be hormone disrupters, according to Warhurst.

Microwave popcorn

Denmark’s largest retailer, Coop, stopped selling this because it couldn’t find a way to get rid of the fluorinated chemicals in the packaging. The chemicals are linked to certain cancers, hormone disruption, organ problems and lower birth weights.

Pasta

The German NGO Foodwatch found mineral oils in rice, pasta and cornflakes thanks to cardboard packaging. Mineral oils can accumulate in the body, and are said to damage the liver, heart valves and lymph nodes.

Inequality is destroying all the markers of adulthood, from home ownership to marriage

It is a sign of the times that some of my local estate agents don’t look like estate agents. There are no pictures of houses in the windows. Instead, there are arrangements of twigs and some desks. These places could be pop-up jewellers or microbreweries or any kind of designer hellhole. Presumably, one goes into them just to hang out and chat about buying a house in this gallery-type environment.

No one needs, I suppose, to see any images. House buying is an abstract concept for so many these days. I await the inevitable arrival of a butcher’s that doesn’t put its meat in the shop front.

The air of unreality about these hip house floggers is entirely fitting. House prices are unreal. Ridiculous. Every day there are stories about the insanity of our current housing crisis, but it goes on and on. We laugh at images of what are basically cupboards for sale or rent. We cry or sigh with identification at the tales of young folk who can never really leave home. Except that some are not so young. Fortysomethings are having to move back in with their parents after marital bust-ups or because they no longer manage their own housing costs, the so-called “doomerang generation”.

It is taken for granted that the only people who can afford to buy their own homes in many parts of the country, not only in London, will do so because of inherited wealth. This is now the great divide and, as social housing is run down, it is unbridgeable. The very things that gave me social mobility – free education and social housing – are not there for my children. Bit by bit, every escape route has been shut down.

So often when I am talking to young people I realise that it is now utterly pointless to speak about what it was like for me. It is now a different world, and yet the fundamental myths, the founding stories, if you like, of what it is to be a grown up have not shifted. How can you be a grown up when you can never have your own home?

Housing is so central as it remains the clear and present sign of inequality doled out in cubic metres. And housing is the intra-generational issue. You have to have way above average wealth to be help out your children property-wise and not to retire into poverty yourself at 66. The cultural accounts, though, of what the progression into adulthood consists of have not caught up with this new reality. Thus, “leaving home”, finding the one job for life, the one partner for ever, getting married, having a baby, buying a home, these remain the sum of desires, however unrealistic they may be. For all these things are interconnected, and in an age of student debt, a labour market that is keeping wages low, insane rents and clear evidence that having a baby does not produce huge happiness, or even relationship glue for many couples, why are these things the measure of adult life?

There is often a sneery attitude to young people that describes them as being in a state of extended adolescence. These millennials, we are told, are mollycoddled, cannot cope with failure and are somehow not fit for purpose. But it is these generations who are at the sharp end of a system that is failing. Abstractly, we can see how capitalism is no longer working, even within its own terms – the Thomas Piketty analysis. The rich simply seek to protect their own wealth and the rest of us have to pay for public goods, from health to education. This huge inequality is resulting in a slowing down of innovation, poorer public services, worsening working conditions and huge rents. But how does that pan out over individual lives? We can see the result of this on younger folk who live with this insecurity.

What does it now mean to be an adult if the old markers of adulthood become out of reach? Levels of home ownership are in decline. We now have a fully fledged caste system delineated by property. This is happening in the US, too. Wages for under-30s are going down. International surveys indicate that what millennials crave is job security. Lack of security also means delaying that other marker of maturity – having a baby – often indefinitely. All over the world, women are choosing not to procreate. This is entirely understandable. Why would women have children when their jobs are not secure? Many younger women feel their choices have been absolutely narrowed. A global downturn has meant that many of the foundation stones that we used to mark adulthood have been dug up, so that everything feels a bit shaky.

Meanwhile, the dominant narrative remains ever more shrill as it is unrealisable: work for ever, a partner for ever, a perfect child at a perfect time in a perfect home. All this is being held together with the fantasy of romance and the repackaging of the domestic as leisure, not work. (Baking! Sewing! Tidying up!)

But this is not actually how many of us live now or will be able to in the future. It requires some maturity to acknowledge the new ways in which we may become grownups.

This entry was posted in family.

Vegan taste test: from kebabs to wagon wheels

Be gone 5:2, paleo, and #eatclean; this summer, everything’s coming up vegan. New research by Ipsos Mori revealed there are now over half a million vegans in Britain – a jump of 350% in the last decade. Google searches for “vegan” have doubled in the last five years, and the number of vegan-friendly products in the UK grew by 134% between 2012 and 2015. The numbers are rising, and while fashion and the “lifestyle” version of healthy eating plays its part (last we heard, J-Lo was still struggling bravely on without butter), for many people, the link between meat consumption and greenhouse gas emissions is increasingly difficult to ignore.

Having a plant-based diet isn’t as difficult – or joyless – as the old jokes imply. If you have the time and inclination to cook, you can create thousands of tasty, healthy and exciting dishes with inspiration from Indian, Italian and Middle Eastern cuisines (to name a few). But cooking from scratch isn’t always practical. Whether you’re coming home from work late, are off to a barbecue, fancy a guilty treat, or if you’re just not a natural star in the kitchen, there ought to be good options for prepared vegan food. Our panel – a hardcore vegan, a recent vegetarian-to-vegan convert, and omnivorous cookery columnist Felicity Cloake, who recently went vegan for the week – joined forces to give the market a thorough testing.

Once a grim and limited sector, vegan products are improving in range and quality, and some actually trumped the animal-derived originals. But some categories are better than others. Unsurprisingly, meats were the most challenging foodstuff to mimic (some vegans do want to recreate the texture or – dare I say it – taste of meat, without the exploitation of the animal in question). Meat alternatives often tasted highly processed, salty and sinisterly similar. Vegan bacon and steak didn’t fare well (“vegans should just admit we’ll never get our steak,” said one tester), but vegan cheeses were largely better than expected.

The vegan egg was the biggest disappointment, its jaunty carton revealing a sad packet of yellow powder that cooked up to become something with the texture of eggs, but none of their flavour. Desserts were the most successful – there were so many top-scoring ice-creams and sweet treats that we can’t mention them all. These producers are setting an example to the rest. Just one comment – calm down with the coconut!

The panel

Jill Wooster has been vegan for 20 years, and was vegetarian before that. Her motivation is mainly animal welfare; the benefit to the environment, she says, is a bonus. She alternates between home-cooked meals and occasional manufactured foods.

Saoirse Christopherson has been vegan for six months, and was vegetarian for three years. She stopped eating meat for environmental reasons, but adds that “you become increasingly aware that consuming eggs but not chicken, and cheese but not beef is hypocrisy”. She cooks almost all meals from scratch.

Felicity Cloake went vegan for one week after being forced to do so by her editor. She cooks daily, if not hourly.

Meat alternatives

Linda McCartney vegetarian quarter-pounder burgers, £2

“Not only did its slightly smoky, savoury flavour make a nice change from the generic mix of dried herbs and spices so puzzlingly common in meat substitutes,” Felicity says, “but it had a good, firm texture, too. Pretty delicious, actually.”
★★★★★

Tofurky slow-roasted chick’n, £3.44

Jill appreciated the “delicate flavour” of the lightly seasoned version, which was good in salads, but she got really excited about the barbecue style. Saoirse agrees. “It would satisfy lingering meat cravings, she says, and was “ideal as a vegan option at summer barbecues.”
★★★★

Wheaty vegan kebab, £3.49

This passed the post-pint test for Saoirse. “Meaty texture, salty flavour and a welcome change to the vegan staple of falafel kebab. Obviously, it’s missing the fatty flavour and texture of meat, but it’s crisp on the outside and gives plenty of salty juice on the inside. Great in a pitta or on a typical kebab salad.”
★★★★

Mighty Bee coconut jerky strips, £1.80

“This has a good texture and a nice strong flavour, but it’s not overpowering,” says Saoirse of the teriyaki flavour. The spicy BBQ version was also well-balanced between salt and sweet. “Chow down with a pint.”
★★★★

Wheaty organic vegan merguez sausage, £3.25

“Warm, spicy sausage with nice texture, flavour and a hot afterkick,” says Jill. Of all the “charcuterie” on trial, this was the least objectionable for Felicity, who praised its strong North African spicing. “That sets it apart from most of the other products, which taste sinisterly similar”.
★★★

Ready meals

Amy’s Kitchen gluten-free dairy-free mac & cheese, £3.29

Jill tried the lasagne ready meal and had this to say: “Out of the box, this didn’t look great, I microwaved it with low expectations … but it was truly delicious. For a frozen, ready-made meal, I couldn’t have asked for more.” Felicity roadtested the macaroni cheese pictured above (3/5): “It’s gloopy, salty and orange … What I imagine Kraft Mac & Cheese to be like. It tastes like junk food, and I don’t mean that in an entirely negative way: if I was drunk, or tired, I have little doubt that I’d polish the lot off. It’s the vegan version of a guilty pleasure.”
★★★★★

Clive’s organic creamy mushroom pie, £2.99

This is what Saoirse wants from a pie: “Traditional ‘meaty’ filling and strong flavour.” She was slightly disappointed by crumbly wholemeal crusts that fell apart in the oven. “If you’re eating a pie, you know what you’re getting yourself into,” she says. “A wholemeal crust doesn’t make it a healthy meal.”

★★★★

Cheeses and dairy alternatives

The cheeses caused the most division, with each tester championing a different type.

Vegusto No-Moo herb cheese, £4.99

“Good texture. It’s not trying to be overpoweringly cheesy, so it’s versatile for cooking,” says Saoirse. “Good if you want a creamy or sticky cheese texture.” Felicity (who scored it just 2/5) was less enthusiastic: “There’s quite a strong herb flavour, which hides a multitude of sins.”
★★★★

Wilmersburger cheese wedges, £4.99

“This ‘hearty’ flavour is the best vegan cheese in town so far,” decided Jill, whose experience of fake cheeses goes back some way. “Creamy texture, great taste, smoky. I would eat on its own or in sandwich”. Felicity (2/5) disagreed: “Yuck. It’s got an overpowering flavour of artificial smoke. Horrid.” She prefers the brand’s cheddar flavour for meltability and saltiness. “It’s not hugely cheesy, but it works on a burger.”
★★★★

Violife parmesan flavour Prosociano, £5.50

“Surprisingly, it’s not far off a young version of the real thing,” says Felicity, “though the faint taste of coconut is a bit disconcerting.” While she wouldn’t eat it by the slice, she says it would be fine grated over pasta. Saoirse, on the other hand, thinks it’s only suitable for those with a foot fetish.
★★★★

Follow Your Heart Vegenaise, £3.50

“Unlike other vegan mayonnaise, this is spreadably thick, great on sandwiches and has a nice flavour,” says Saoirse. In Felicity’s view, it’s far better than Hellman’s and other branded versions: “I can’t stand jarred mayonnaise, normally. I’d buy this, though. It’s nice and light and not too vinegary.”
★★★★★

Follow Your Heart vegan bleu cheese dressing, £4.50

“Really rich, thick and creamy,” enthuses Jill. “Great on a salad, but slightly tricky to extricate from the bottle.” The company’s Caesar dressing didn’t impress her, though: “It’s thin, watery and acidic.”
★★★

Oatly creamy oat organic cream alternative, 75p

“I tried this in everything from semolina to a White Russian,” Felicity reports, “and it’s good. Slightly thicker than single cream, with a mild oaty flavour, it’s really versatile stuff.” She also liked the “Barista” offering by the same company, which has about the same fat content as whole cow’s milk – “It’s great frothed up in coffee.”
★★★★★

CoYo natural coconut milk yoghurt, £2

“Rich, creamy and delicious,” says Saoirse, “with a thicker texture than normal yogurt. One spoon and you’re hooked.” Not so for Jill, who describes it as “horror in a mouthful”. Felicity is somewhere in the middle.
★★★

Desserts

Sainsbury’s vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, £3

“Absolutely smashed all the others in both texture and flavour,” yells ice-cream lover Saoirse. “You wouldn’t know they’re vegan.” High praise indeed. Felicity is equally enthusiastic: “Sweet and creamy, these would definitely be crowd-pleasers.” Hitting stores from June.
★★★★★

Tesco free-from toffee and vanilla cones, £2

These cheap and cheerful options went down well with Jill. “Wow, these are a definite treat! They taste like all the wonderful synthetic things from childhood that are probably really bad for you. Nostalgic bliss, especially the toffee one.”
★★★★★

Coconut Collaborative dairy-free milk chocolate ganache pots, £2.99

These little pots are a “brow-wiggling sensation”, says Jill. “Great-textured chocolatey goodness in just the right portion size.” For Saoirse, it’s reminiscent of a mousse – “it’s not intensely chocolatey, and it has a nice soft texture.” Felicity is keen, too – “It’s rich and not overpoweringly coconutty. I’d eat this again.” Full marks all round.
★★★★★

Ms Cupcake chocolate vegan cupcake, £3.29

“Probably one of the best cupcakes I’ve ever had – vegan or otherwise,” says Saoirse. “Like a giant Ferrero Rocher on top of a little cake.” Who can argue with that?
★★★★★

Ananda gelatine-free wagon wheels, £2.50

“Pretty awesome,” says Saoirse. “The gooey consistency of the marshmallow inside and soft biscuit casing would make it an ideal candidate to warm on a campfire.” Felicity is also keen: “Really nice. An improvement on the original, actually.” The company’s raspberry and vanilla marshmallows also found fans in all three testers.
★★★★★

Booja-Booja truffles £3.99

These square truffles come with a traditional chocolate dusting on the outside. Saoirse found them “rich and surprisingly creamy – as good as any I can remember.”
★★★★★

Biona organic Cocobella chocolate coconut butter, £4.99

“It’s like eating a spreadable Bounty! This is a really great alternative to Nutella,” raves Saoirse. “In fact,“it’s better. It’s not massively chocolatey and it’s a bit thick, but it tastes amazing. I want this with vanilla ice-cream.”
★★★★★

Loving Earth organic salted-caramel chocolate, £1.39

“Although I’m relieved vegans can find decent dark chocolate, occasionally we all yearn for something sweeter and richer – and this makes a pretty great substitute for milk chocolate,” says Felicity. “Outrageously buttery, with a faint coconut flavour, it’s addictive stuff. I’m impressed.”
★★★★

This entry was posted in food.

The woman at the wheel – archive

While the advent of the side-car is the cause of a marked increase in the man driver, the cheap four-seater is responsible for a large number of competent women who are their own chauffeurs. The cheap four-seater has brought the motor within reach of people of moderate income, who yet could not afford to add to the price of its upkeep the cost of a professional chauffeur.

People of moderate income mostly have to work for their living, and thus the man of the family has not much time for convoying his family about the country. Unless, therefore, the women of the family take matters into their own hands the motor is not likely to be of very much use to them except perhaps at week-ends, and even then they are dependent upon the activity of someone else.

Thus a whole race of amateur chauffeur is arising who, despite the charge of reckless driving by women, are noticeable both for their skill and their moderation.

The truth is, of course, that women are naturally rather good drivers. They show nerve and they show coolness. The new machines are not very difficult to manage, and do not mean heavy work, except, of course, under conditions of congested traffic, when in any case a cheap car does not show to advantage. Also women drivers are unusually careful as a whole.

Here and there there are isolated cases of carelessness – as also among men chauffeurs. As a rule, however, women have too much to lose by careless or reckless driving. No woman is desirous of being smashed up herself, and she has peculiar care for those who are with her. She also takes a certain pride in successful driving, which may abate somewhat as more of her sex distinguish themselves in that direction. Further, she has the very greatest dislike to fines and penalties, and is ordinarily more inconvenienced by paying them than are men. Whatever the case for or against her, the woman driver has come to stay, and it seems probable that the motor will prove for her an instrument of emancipation almost comparable with the now despised bicycle.

This entry was posted in women.

How I swapped the loneliness of the cross-country runner for the cosiness of the club

“New shoes, eh?” the man said to me in a knowing tone. “So, what’s the tread? Let’s have a look.” I’d just joined the local running club. “Tread?” I thought. “What’s ‘tread’?” Back then, my shoe knowledge was farcical. The week before, I had gone online, found a random website selling running gear, clicked on the “sale” tab, picked a pair my size and pressed “buy”. “Tread?” All I knew was that, even at 30% off, they were still the most expensive pair of trainers I’d ever bought.

I have run casually all my adult life. A few laps of the park in the evening. Maybe a longer run on a weekend. Nothing serious. Certainly not serious enough to invest in any proper kit. Then I moved to a village just outside the Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye and everything changed. Nestled in the lee of the Black Mountains, the Radnorshire hills at my back, the River Wye at my feet, the landscape seemed to scream “Run!” I heeded its call.

For the first few months, I kept to the road. Tarmac felt safe. I’d done most of my running until then in cities, pounding the pavement, dodging the traffic. Eventually, I plucked up the courage to hit the fields and footpaths. That decision changed my life. The feel of springy turf beneath my feet, the sense of nature near at hand, the space to breathe and think. The sheer, seductive solitude of it all. Me, the bare hills, the cold air, nothing else. Alone.

Then, about six months after arriving, I joined Hay Hotfooters, the local running club. Other than school cross-country, which I recall even now with total dread, I’d never really run with anyone else. Dread pretty much summed up my image of running clubs, too. I had their members pegged as mild obsessives, keen on fartleks and the achievement of personal bests. I’d see them around town from time to time, setting off shoulder-to-shoulder, dressed in their tights and doused in neon.

So why did I join? Simple: a friend suggested it. It would be sociable, he said. Plus, it would get me into a routine: every Thursday night, same time, same crowd. I could learn some new routes to boot, stop repeating the same old two or three around my house. I heard the reason in his arguments, but felt attached to my lone running. It was what I knew, what I enjoyed.

Then, during the Hay festival, a jamboree of book-loving that engulfs the town in late May, I saw that Hay Hotfooters were arranging a jog. A “taster”, they called it. What did I have to lose? So I gave it a go, turning up in an old T-shirt and my threadbare trainers. A friendly retired man called Martyn greeted us and led the way. He kept to a comfortable pace, not so quick that we couldn’t chat among ourselves, not so slow that we didn’t build up a sweat. The looping route took us along paths I had never been down before and through woods and dingles I never knew existed.

I was sold and the next Thursday, slightly shy, still sceptical, I turned up to my first regular club run. Martyn was there, friendly as ever. An hour later, I’d also met Alan and Shaun and Imme and Mark and Tina and John, and a dozen or so others. All of them welcoming – and none of them, to my great relief, were super fast or chronically competitive. Just ordinary folk, out doing what we all enjoy.

There is some nerdy running chat. We discuss head torches and heel-toe differentials, breathable materials and stretching options. Contrary to my expectations, much of the information I have picked up has proved invaluable. Tips about good prices and nearby races, for instance. Advice about diet and dealing with injuries. But what occupies most of our conversation is family and work, hobbies and holidays, life’s joys and its occasional frustrations. The usual banter between friends.

Running clubs aren’t for everyone, I know. If my local club did fartleks or track training, it probably wouldn’t be for me, either. But as a kickstart into regular running, it’s been great. As a means of learning new routes – up the Begwyns, down the Dragon’s Back, along Offa’s Dyke, through Wern Woods – it has been invaluable. But it’s as a way into the local community that has made joining a club so special for me. Through Hay Hotfooters, I have met people I would not otherwise have met. It has helped to turn a place where I bought a house into a community in which I live. The only downside: it’s turned me into a tread bore.

Oliver Balch’s book Under the Tump: Sketches of Real Life on the Welsh Borders is published by Faber, £14.99. To buy for £10.49 including UK p&p visit the guardian bookshop.

Hay Hotfooters’ annual Magic Roundabout 10k race is on Sunday 12 June, 11am. For information, see the club’s website.

Drink pea milk and save the world: but what if the peas are shipped from France?

On a recent Thursday night at trendy West Hollywood vegan outpost Gracias Madres, bartenders served up cocktails, including George Clooney’s Casamigos tequila, cocoa and … pea milk.

Yes, pea milk, a liquid derived from yellow split peas, is the latest non-dairy milk to hit grocery store shelves. It joins hemp milk, brown rice milk and cashew drinks on the growing list of other alternatives in the now booming business of dairy alternatives. Non-dairy milk sales rose 9% in 2015 to $1.9bn, while dairy milk sales fell 7% in 2015 to $17.8bn and are expected to drop another 11% through 2020, according to a study released in April by market research firm Mintel.

To stand out in this increasingly crowded market, Ripple, the pea milk purveyor, isn’t shying away from grandiose claims. “Drinking Ripple is an easy way to lower your carbon footprint,” its website boasts. Ripple also takes aim at competitors, particularly almond milk. “Unlike almonds, which require lots of water; or cattle, which contribute to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions; peas have a small environmental footprint,” the website states. “Yellow peas grow in areas that receive lots of rain, so they need little or no irrigation.”

In a world of plant-based, organic, non-GMO, non-dairy, gluten-free milk, can merely drinking a product save the planet? Or is it just greenwashing?

In Ripple’s case, the answer is a little bit of both. For instance, amid its eco-friendly marketing, company’s website fails to mention its peas are from France.

“We just couldn’t find good quality peas in North America,” co-founder Neil Renninger told the Guardian. The peas, supplied by French company Roquette, are transported to Rock City, Illinois, for processing in a facility that makes soy milk, he said. That a company that prides itself on being environmentally friendly, shipping its main ingredient thousands of miles on a barge would seem to go against its principles.

“The problem I have with claims about sustainability like [Ripple’s], they don’t empower the consumer. They actually tend to disempower the consumer,” said David A Cleveland, an environmental studies professor at the University of California Santa Barbara who specializes in food miles. “They make a lot of one-off claims: ‘Our product has eight grams of protein.’ Well, so does soy milk. It’s advertising, not transparency.”

But the issue of internationally transported peas doesn’t deter Ripple’s investors. It’s raised at least $13.6m mostly from “impact funds” focused on sustainability, an investor said. Catha Groot, a director at Eagle Cliff Partners, says sustainability is the first screening for the fund’s investments, which are typically $500,000 to $2m in early stages. Admitting that the transatlantic supply is not ideal, she compares pea milk to the cricket industry, in which her firm is also considering an investment.

“A lot of startups are thinking of producing food out of crickets as a sustainable source of protein. But something like 95% of crickets are grown in Thailand right now,” Groot said. “In certain cases I think you start by creating a market and by creating a market, producers can justify getting going in the US or somewhere that makes more sense.”

Ripple maintains that transport by cargo ships from Europe to Newark, New Jersey, then by rail to Chicago, and then by trucks from Chicago to Rock City, uses lower carbon emissions than the most likely scenario of trucking almonds from California to Chicago, where Ripple says most almond milk is processed, a company spokeswoman wrote in an email. In addition, according to a recent story in Mashable, the company is also looking to find a domestic farm source.

But that may be misleading, says Cleveland, who recently embarked on a study comparing the carbon footprint of plant-based milks but stopped when he realized it was impossible to compare disparate products and processes.

“Basically Ripple’s whole promotion seems to be cherry-picking facts to distract people from looking at the big picture,” he said. “They don’t talk about the impact of cane sugar, sunflower oil or algal oil, which are also ingredients of the pea milk. What is the processing? If we want to talk about sustainability, companies need to be transparent. There’s a lot of variation out there – all peas aren’t made the same. What’s required are verified data on the impacts of the entire life cycle of the actual ingredients in their products, not generic statements. People need to be treated like they’re intelligent so they can actually make decisions.”

For its part, the almond industry has weathered harsh criticism in recent years for requiring as much as as much as 1.1 gallons of water to grow an almond, especially as California endured an epic drought in the last few years. As almond prices rose, some farmers looked to cash in and boosted their crops.

Califia Farms, a beverage company that produces almond milk and also uses yellow split peas from Canada, CEO and co-founder Greg Steltenpohl told the Guardian. “The problem is you can’t bounce back and forth between how much it costs in water to grow a pea versus the water and energy component of a finished drink,” he said, taking issue with Ripple’s almond milk numbers. “People either need to rely on one convention and have transparency with it or put the claims on really bigger differences. Our position is that it’s less than dairy milk.”

Cleveland agrees. Despite the disparities in measuring the environmental cost of almonds, peas, hemp or soy, Cleveland agrees with Steltenpohl and Ripple about one thing: all of the plant-based beverages are much better for the planet than dairy milk from cows, which produces copious amounts of methane.

In any case, the quibbling about sustainability may be moot. At the end of the day, milk drinkers don’t choose based on carbon footprints, says Mintel’s Sisel. “Taste trumps everything.”

The headline of this article was amended on 25 May 2016 to clarify that Ripple ships its peas from France via barge, not plane.

This entry was posted in food.

UN expert calls for tax on meat production

Governments should tax meat production in order to stem the global rise in consumption and the environmental damage that goes with it, according to a UN expert.

The world faces serious environmental problems if emerging economies such as China emulate Americans and Europeans in the amount of meat they eat, Prof Maarten Hajer, the lead author of a report into the impact of food production and the environment, told the UN environment assembly in Nairobi.

“If we were all to copycat the way in which we feed ourselves in North America or Europe [with meat], the planet would be in deep trouble,” he said.

Hajer stopped short of calling for a tax on meat sold in supermarkets and shops, but he said people could be deterred from eating meat by increasing its price further up the supply chain.

“We think it’s better to price meats earlier in the chain, it’s easier. It’s sexier to tax it at the consumer level, but not as effective,” said Hajer, a member of the International Resource Panel (IRP), which comprises 34 top scientists and 30 governments.

The IRP report which was released on Wednesday predicts a 20% rise in chicken and dairy consumption, and 14% increase in pig and beef over the next 10 years. The authors called on governments to push their citizens to eat less meat to avoid the accompanying “disproportionate environmental costs”, although the report itself does not advocate any policy options.

It found that the food farmed and transported to feed 7 billion people is responsible for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 60% of the loss of species around the world. “This report shows our current food system has to change because it’s not sustainable,” said Hajer.

“Dealing with consumer choices is an extremely touchy issue, but you have to deal with it, because there will consequences,” said Janez Potočnik, co-chair at the IRP and former EU environment commissioner. “The time is coming when we will not be able to sweep it any more under the carpet.”

Henk Westhoek, a co-author of the report, said it was not just governments that should encourage people to eat less meat on environmental grounds, but supermarkets and big food companies. “Once they provide better alternatives, not just in meat alternatives, but in menus, they would reduce meat consumption in western societies,” he said.

The report highlighted data that shows pig meat consumption rising significantly by 2020 in China, and a big increase in poultry consumption in Indonesia, the EU and North America.

But overall meat consumption in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to stay static, along with India, where little growth is expected for cultural and religious reasons.

The IPR laid out a series of recommendations for governments to make food production more sustainable, including less meat consumption, cutting out food waste and reconnecting city dwellers with the farms and places where their food is grown.

This entry was posted in food.

Gender inequality ‘an insurmountable obstacle for many women’

Millions of women and girls in the world’s poorest countries are being denied the opportunity to help drive development because of the “countless barriers” they still face in health, education and employment, a report warns.

The study, by the UN population fund, UNFPA, says that while the 48 least developed countries (LDCs) have made considerable progress over the past few decades in reducing infant, child and maternal mortality, and increasing contraceptive use, gender inequality often remains an insurmountable obstacle.

“From adolescence onwards, millions of girls and women are still denied access to schooling or the chance to fulfil their productive potential. They are marrying at ages too young to ensure independent choice, and they are using modern contraceptives at rates far below the global average, with the resulting consequence that reproductive life starts early, is entered into without access to healthcare, and is sustained for many years at high risk to health and life,” it says.

The report adds that the denial of choice and empowerment affects “every aspect of life” for many women in LDCs – and needs to be placed at the centre of the global development agenda.

Although the study recognises that the rates of death among children under five have more than halved in LDCs since 1990, that life expectancy is growing and that the fertility rate is falling – from 6.2 children in 1985-90 to 4.3 in 2010-12 – it says LDCs need to do more to anticipate the approaching phase of accelerated development.

A demographic dividend – which happens when fertility rates fall and the workforce grows at a faster rate than the population dependent on it – would allow many LDCs to make rapid gains in a single generation.

But, says the report: “A demographic dividend is achieved only by ensuring that every adolescent and youth – especially every women and girl – can anticipate excellent health and innovative education, freedom of opportunity and decent employment, and the chance to go through life’s critical transitions – from childhood to family formation and old age – without risk of being derailed by child marriage or unplanned childbearing, maternal morbidity, exposure to violence or displacement, the pain of discrimination, or the risk of early death.”

The scale of the challenges ahead, however, is vast: according to the study, in only five LDCs – Bangladesh, Madagascar, Cambodia, Kiribati and Vanuatu – do the average years of schooling reach or exceed the expected duration of primary school. As of 2010, more than half of the women in LDCs aged 20-24 were married before they were 18; in some countries, the figure was 70%.

While the prevalence of women using modern contraceptives in LDCs rose from 15% in 1994 to almost 34% in 2015, it lags well behind the global average of 64%. Women in LDCs are also more vulnerable to unemployment than men – 84.1% to 71.4%.

The report coincides with this week’s international meeting to gauge the progress made by LDCs since 2011, when a UN conference in Istanbul agreed a 10-year plan to halve the number of LDCs and bring millions of people out of poverty.

Since the establishment of the LDC category in 1971, only four nations have graduated from the list of countries in which the per capita gross national income is $1,035 (£707) or less: Botswana in 1994; Cape Verde in 2007; the Maldives in 2011 and Samoa in 2014.

Rachel Snow, one of the authors of the report, said that although the gains in maternal and infant health, contraception use and primary education have been “very, very impressive”, huge challenges remain.

As well as the global recession, many LDCs have had to contend with instability, conflict, displacement and migration. And, although the rate of population growth in LDCs is expected to slow, their total population is still projected to double in size over the next 35 years, rising from 954 million people last year to 1.9 billion in 2050.

“That speaks to the need to sustain – if not increase – the types of development revolutions we see in these countries,” said Snow. “As much as I’m enthusiastic about the gains in health and the uptick in the use of contraceptives … there’s still really large numbers of women for whom that technology is not available.”

But if a real difference was to made, she added, there needed to be “above all things, an education revolution – and a revolution that allows women to join the formal workforce”.

This entry was posted in women.