THE BLOG

On Bees and Food

07/03/2014 10:51 GMT | Updated 06/05/2014 10:59 BST

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Brown, on my weekly radio show at MerdianFM. Peter is head farmer at Tablehurst Farm and also a director of the British Biodynamic Association. What should have been an hour-long interview lasted for almost two hours as Peter shared so much of his knowledge gleaned from twenty years as a biodynamic farmer and his own profound interest in the natural world.

Peter and I talked about bees and the recent initiative at the farm to promote beekeeping. Peter also shared some of the dark, despicable secrets of the commercial bee-keeping industry where bees are literally exploited to death. None of these practices, it should be said, are the biodynamic way.

There is a tremendous problem in the UK and indeed worldwide of bees dying in droves and science cannot find the cause. I was interested to hear Peter's views- I have my own which are intuitive. Peter concurred with the very simple concept that if we abuse something continuously, it will weaken and eventually die. That in a nutshell is what has happened to our bees. Commercial beekeepers cut the wings of the queen bee so she cannot leave the hive as she would normally do when it is time to mate. They also stop the bees from swarming which is a natural instinct to set off and form a new hive with the choicest drones to impregnate the queen. By preventing swarming, the gene pool of the bees is effectively diluted and ultimately the bees themselves become compromised and weakened. Worse yet, the bees are deprived of their honey during the winter months when bee keepers remove the combs in order to extract every last drop of honey. Deprived of their stores of honey, the bees are instead forced to eat white sugar! We all know what happened when an American experimented on himself and ate junk food every day. The documentary he made about the effects on his health and even his libido made headlines around the world. Imagine what the bees feel like forced to eat refined sugar instead of their own honey which has all the properties required to sustain them. For ease of reference, here are just a few of the compounds found in honey: Vitamins B1, B2, B6, C, biotin H and folic acid, amongst others. Minerals: potassium, magnesium, calcium etc. Trace elements: Iron, copper, manganese etc. Compare that to the compounds found in white refined sugar:

Vitamin A 0% Vitamin C 0%

Calcium 0% Iron 0%

Vitamin D 0% Vitamin B-6 0%

Vitamin B-12 0% Magnesium 0%

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Photo copyright S. van Dalen

Our planet is in a precarious state and yet it boggles the mind that as consumers we demand cheaper food of a good quality and at any price. We are spoiled for choice in the West but it would be worthwhile to save a thought for the peasant scratching a living who has very little to eat. Human beings evolved on a sparse diet. It was the nobility and wealthy landowners, not to mention the clergy, who literally stuffed their faces. The remainder of the population ate very little and in spite of this, the species endured. One of my very old French cookbooks recounts the making of an omelette by monks in the 17th century- no less than 18 eggs went into a single omelette per person!

I often tell the story of walking into a supermarket in San Francisco, one of the most affluent cities in California, in search of humble oats for my daily porridge. I was so overwhelmed with aisles and aisles of cereals to choose from, the senseless packaging and the many different variations of PROCESSED cereals. I hunted high and low until I found the basic, inelegant, impoverished-looking rolled oats.

The con of cereal manufacturers is a good example of brainwashing the consumer into supposed 'benefits'. "Vitamin-enriched' is a fine example. If one eats a balanced diet there is no need to consume anything that has been enriched with extra vitamins (real honey is a prime example of this). Milk is another con of gargantuan proportions. I refuse to drink milk as it deprives the calf of its mother. There are other sources of calcium - green vegetables, liver, mussels etc.

The sense of entitlement in the Western world is blithe in the extreme and does not take into account the animals that die for us daily in order that we may consume them in an unrecognisable state as patties, burgers or sausages. Much has been made about 21st century children who believe that food comes from a supermarket only and not really from an animal or farm.

Our obsession with eating what we want when we want it, means that somewhere in the world, a person, an animal, or the land is being abused. The peasant toiling in the field does not get rich but we are oblivious to his needs. All that matters is that we must have raspberries in the winter if we so desire. Perhaps the lesson here is that we are all one and our responsibility for the planet and our health is just that.

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Photo copyright S. van Dalen