October 2011



I can write this because D2* was a meat eater until she turned ten then, prompted by a cousin but with a good deal of serious thought, became a vegetarian.  Last year she spent a semester – that’s right, she’s a student – in Canada and returned a vegan.  She will forgive me if I use her as a hook for this Blog Action Day 2011 post (you can also find other contributors’ efforts through the Twitter hashtag #BAD11).

Having a vegetarian and then a vegan in the family has been a challenge that’s expanded my culinary repertoire in ways I didn’t expect and led to some interesting incidents over the years.

Here are the upsides and downsides from this amateur foodie of the three ways of eating (and cooking).

Meat (and fish) eater

Looking good

  • Why not?  Humans are naturally omnivores – this is arguably our most ‘balanced’ diet
  • Widest range of taste sensations – nothing beats the smell and taste of sizzling bacon
  • It doesn’t mean only eat meat and fish – you can tuck into those wonderful veggies and fruit too
  • Least hassle – you can find something to eat wherever you go

Not so hot

  • Watch out for the more processed products – the cured meats, sausages and patés.  Some unhealthy stuff may lurk in there
  • Most likely to plunder the planet for all that protein – whether it’s feeding the domesticated beasts before we eat them or hunting the wild ones almost to extinction
  • Most expensive – in money for us, in cost for the environment

Vegetarian

Looking good

  • Animals don’t get bumped off directly to feed you
  • Some wonderful vegetarian recipes and restaurants out there
  • Cheaper – meat and fish are expensive
  • If you’re ethically minded you’ll feel better for that reason alone
  • Less chance of putting on weight from all that animal protein and fat

Not so hot

  • Friends – get used to meat eaters sniping at your diet.  Decide whether it’s something you’re going to debate or not
  • Be aware the concept of food without animal products is barely understood in some countries.  Chances are that in Spain ‘Ensalada mixta, por favour. Pero no carne o pescado’  (‘Mixed salad please.  But no meat or fish in it’) will still arrive with a glob of tinned tuna on top
  • Watch out for the vitamins and other good stuff like iron in meat and fish and make sure you still get them through your choice of vegetables and fruit.  Top up with dietary supplements if necessary

Vegan

Looking good

  • Arguably the most ethical diet – dairy products may not kill animals directly but there’s a whole industry out there where they get bumped off as a direct result and often live in confined un-natural conditions
  • Some unexpectedly great cake recipes
  • Plus – the other benefits of being a veggie

Not so hot

  • Hard work. Goodbye all animal products.  Goodbye honey.  Goodbye leather belts and shoes
  • Get ready to search for substitutes for things like eggs to make those wonderful cakes rise
  • People – if your carnivorous friends had a go at you because you were veggie, stand by for the mickey taking when you go vegan
  • Eating out – in many countries get ready to negotiate around the one vegetarian dish on the menu to get the cheese taken out.  Resign yourself to more risotto than you’ve ever eaten before
  • If you thought being a vegetarian needed attention to a balanced diet and the possible need for dietary supplements, don’t forget being a vegan is even more challenging.

PS – D2 has just told me that she became vegan exactly a year ago today, Blog Action Day.

* – regular readers will know that D1, D2 and D3 are my three daughters

This post is my response to Blog Action Day 2011 on the subject of Food.  Regular readers wondering what it’s got to do with helping the public sector improve its performance will be disappointed.  But I  did warn them when I started the HelpGov blog that there’d be the occasional random post

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“We are at a very interesting point in terms of the products we can make…Anything we can imagine we can build, we are no longer really limited by the technology” – Justin Rattner,  chief technology officer Intel BBC web site

Intel’s new computer today…

  • …halted the traffic and jollied the year 1s and their mums along as they crossed the road to school for the first time
  • …paused sympathetically to allow the parents to gather their thoughts as they registered the death of their child
  • …spoke to the troubled teenager after the lesson to find out what was really bothering her
  • …spotted that the disabled driver was having problems getting out of the space and helped him manoeuvre his car
  • …stroked the hand of an elderly dying woman in a council care home and assured her that her absent daughter loved her.

Public servants do a million small acts of human kindness every day.


It seems everyone is trying to say something to mark the death of Steve Jobs of Apple.  None of them approach the power of the man’s own words in his commencement address at Stanford University in 2005.

My shortest post ever.


A Tweet brought me a link today to the HR Zone web site and an article called Does management by metrics work?  It begins

On the frame of my kitchen door are marks of the heights of my children, and now grandchildren, with names and dates written down over the course of years…

Unfortunately I can’t tell you how it goes on.  It’s described as a blog post.  But the web site concerned only lets you read its blogs if you register (without cost, to be fair) and I don’t like that principle.

So I don’t know what author John Pope thinks.

But since the HR Zone is about, er HR, and since I know what I think, I’ll finish his article for him.  And you don’t have to register to have the benefit of my views.

On the frame of John Pope’s kitchen door are marks of the heights of his children, and now grandchildren, with names and dates written down over the course of years.

How he uses this information I don’t know.  But like I guess most families we did the same.

  • It was fun for our three girls
  • We all shared a sense of pride in seeing how fast they were growing up
  • It was very visible – we could all see it all the time
  • It was an economical use of resources – no computer or software needed, not even a book to record the data in, just a pencil and a wall (and a tape measure if you wanted to make checking the height into a pain-free arithmetic lesson).

What we didn’t do was

  • Use the information as a measure of each daughter’s performance in growing, which at least we as parents knew was due to a whole range of factors entirely outside their control
  • Punish them if they didn’t grow between measurements – “You’ve only grown 2 cm in the last quarter Sophie.  No pet guinea pig until you do much better”
  • Set up a database on our home computer to analyse progress
  • Set them growth targets
  • Make the exercise competitive – “Your sister’s grown 4cm in the last six months when you’ve only grown 2.  If you don’t catch up she’ll get your sweeties”
  • Even less did we dispose of any daughter who wasn’t growing for a while by ‘letting them go’, offering them for fostering or adoption.

Yet these are the things, in effect, that many organisations do who’ve adopted the performance management approach to their staff.

You know it won’t work with your children, why would it work with your employees?

[Since I don’t like blogs that want you to register before you can read them I’m – exceptionally – not including a link to the HR Zone.  But you can doubtless find it if you want.]


Chancellor George Osborne has just announced that the coalition government’s council tax freeze in England will be extended to 2012/13 and will include the devolved administrations providing they abide by the same rules that he has set English councils (Scotland has already ‘enjoyed’ a council tax freeze for several years funded by its SNP government).

Put simply, the chancellor’s rules are that if a council limits its annual spending increase to 2.5% and does not increase its council tax the government will provide additional funding to bridge the gap.

Of course 2.5% is below the rate of inflation so in real terms councils are being asked to spend less money each year.  But that’s another story.

A typical headline that greets these initiatives is Chancellor throws lifeline to hard-pressed council tax payers.  I’ve invented that one but you’ll be familiar with the style.

These ‘freezes’ are typically said, in today’s easy cliché, to be a win-win-win situation:

  • The government wins because it helps keep inflation down and gets the credit for helping people (invariably characterised as ordinary decent hard-working people) in hard times
  • The council wins because it shares the credit for keeping the tax down
  • The council tax payer obviously wins because their tax doesn’t go up.

The truth is slightly more complex.

Take a look at the statistics.

Assume for ease of calculation a council with a yearly spend of £1,000,000, 75% of whose spend is currently funded by central government.  The £1,000,000 is unrealistically low (think 10 or 100) but the 75% is not untypical.

If that council accepts the government’s offer of 2.5% extra money and doesn’t increase its council tax, this is what happens over five years:

 

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

Year 5

Council spend

£1,000,000

£1,025,000

£1,051,000

£1,077,000

£1,104,000

Additional spend funded by central government

     £25,000

      £51,000

     £77,000

   £104,000

Total central government funding

  £750,000

 £775,000

   £801,000

   £827,000

  £854,000

% funded by central government

75%

75.6%

76.2%

76.8%

77.4%

In other words, the percentage of the council’s spending funded directly by central government creeps inexorably upward.

In the short term you might say ‘So what?’ and councillors certainly find it convenient not to have to raise the council tax.

But all concerned would do well to remember the old saying He who pays the piper calls the tune.

Scottish councils have already found this, with their council tax freeze linked to a concordat with the Scottish government that includes a single outcome agreement in which they and their local partners have to agree with the government how they will help deliver their national priorities.

A quick glance across the water to the Republic of Ireland gives a taste of what could eventually happen.  As Wikipedia (not always right but near enough on this occasion) puts it

Following the abolition of domestic property rates in the late 1970s, local councils have found it extremely difficult to raise money…[National government] is a significant source of funding at present…The dependence on Exchequer has led to charges that the Republic has an overly centralised system of local government…numerous studies…have recommended the reintroduction of some form of local taxation/charging regime, but these are generally seen as politically unacceptable.

To mix my metaphors, as the link between taxation and democratic representation is weakened councils will inevitably become more emasculated and increasingly the hand maiden of central government.

Not a good idea.