Riches of pepper

I’m in the depths of transcribing at the moment, which I’m really enjoying, but it doesn’t leave much time for reading. So this week, I’m heading off on a tangent.

I have a ritual when it comes to opening a new packet of black peppercorns.

I slowly snip open the packet while holding it close to my nose. I breathe the dark peppery smell deep into my lungs. And I always feel incredibly rich and privileged to have a packet of black peppercorns to enjoy. I have felt this way for as long as I can remember.

I was opening a packet of pepper earlier this week and I thought, hmmn, I wonder where that comes from, that association of wealth with pepper. I was thinking perhaps Tudor times. I was curious, so I did a quick search to find out more.

Sarah Philpott’s (2013) post on salt and pepper gives a good overview of the history. From that, I found that pepper, my “black gold”, has been shipped from India for the last 4000 years or thereabouts. I praised the wisdom of Alaric the Visigoth and Attila the Hun in demanding a pepper ransom from the Romans, and taking peppercorns to the Egyptian afterlife sounds like a very wise idea. It makes me think of Death’s comments on the lack of mustard in the afterlife, though if curry can make it, maybe there is hope for pepper.

Whether you love pepper, as I do, or see pepper as a commonplace addition to your food, it is important to be aware of the impact of purchasing cheap pepper. Johannisson & Bengsten’s (2011) news item for the Ecologist shows the hidden costs tallied in the lives of pepper farmers and their families in India and Indonesia.

Sarah Philpott talks about the scandal in Victorian times when ground pepper was found to have been mixed with other additives. Now, while the ingredients might state that the packet contains nothing but black peppercorns, the reality is that it may carry a far greater price. Opening my packet of pepper takes on a deeper meaning.

I now know that my pepper comes through the Fair Trade Alliance Kerala, where farmers are working to support each other and with other fair trade groups across the globe. The Fairtrade Premium is reinvested to help farmers switch to organic farming, protecting the farmers, their families and the land from the impact of pesticides and fertilizers. A disaster management fund is in place to support farmers in times of crisis. Small-scale farmers are no longer isolated.

Where possible, we purchase organic, fairtrade products because similar issues are commonplace for the majority of the products we purchase, with poor payment impacting all farmers locally and globally. We need to start paying the true price for our goods and services.

It’s a simple choice to make, if you can. See Katy O’Brien’s link below for information on fairtrade herb and spice options.

References

Johannisson, F. & Bengtsen, P. (2011). Pepper: how our favourite spice is tainted by a deadly legacy. The Ecologist news article, 25 January 2011. Available at: https://theecologist.org/2011/jan/25/pepper-how-our-favourite-spice-tainted-deadly-legacy

O’Brien, K. (2018). Did you know you can buy Fairtrade herbs and spices in the UK? Blogpost for The Fairtrade Foundation, 3 August 2018. Available at: https://www.fairtrade.org.uk/Media-Centre/Blog/2018/August/Did-you-know-you-can-buy-Fairtrade-herbs-and-spices-in-the-UK

Philpott, S. (2013). Salt & pepper. The History Vault Features, Issue 1. Available at: https://www.thehistoryvault.co.uk/salt-pepper/

Vampire Researcher

Due to some behind-the-scenes digital footprint weirdness, I discovered that Google Scholar was reporting one of my papers as being written in 1759. That got me thinking: asides from outing me as a vampire to the world, who is the Sharon from 1759? And before you ask, no, my skin does not sparkle like diamonds in the sun!

scholar_1759 (2)
Screenshot of the Google Scholar auto-entry dated 1759 instead of 2016

 

This process of looking back to 1759 highlighted my bias about women at that time. I expected to hear about difficult lives and fashions. While some of this was true (panniers!), women writers existed, at least those fortunate to be born into privilege and with understanding male family members to support them.

My colleague Jessie and I come from a science background, and even that was not so strange. The first paper by a woman was published in the Royal Philosophical Society’s Transactions; all credit to Anne Whitfeld and her report on the thunderstorm that struck her home in 1759 (Whitfeld & Van Rixtel, 1759). By the 1780s, Caroline Herschel was discovering comets (Herschel, 1787) and working as an astronomer for the King (Hoskin, 2005). She was the first woman to be made a member of the Royal Society, albeit honorary, and managed to do all that while still taking care of her household duties. Chemist Marie-Anne Lavoisier was born in 1758 and feminist philosopher and author Mary Wollstonecraft in 1759.

Had we been born into the right circumstances, perhaps we would have printed our paper; not everything was so straightforward. I was born in Ireland and studied in Trinity College Dublin. In 1759, they were putting the finishing touches on the west front on College Green, but women would not be permitted to study there until 1904.

References

Herschel, C. (1787). An Account of a New Comet. In a Letter from Miss Caroline Herschel to Charles Blagden, MD Sec. RS. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London77, 1-3. Retrieved from http://rstl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/77/1.full.pdf

Hoskin, M. (2005). Caroline Herschel as observer. Journal for the History of Astronomy36(4), 373-406. Retrieved from http://adsbit.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?2005JHA….36..373H&classic=YES

Whitfeld, A., & Van Rixtel, J. (1759). An Account of the Effects of a Storm of Thunder and Lightning at Rickmansworth, in Hertfordshire, on the 16th of July, 1759: In a Letter from Mrs. Anne Whitfeld. Communicated by Mr. John van Rixtel, F. R. S. Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775), 51, 282-286. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/105375

 

Getting organised

list-372766_640As I mentioned, I have not been doing so well for the last couple of years. This year, my aim is to find ways to live and work more sustainably.

Oliver Burkeman raised an interesting point about how our to-do lists are overlong and  easily get out of control. I am as fond of lists as Oliver – goals to aim for, MS memory prompts and work priorities. However, my lists were indeed getting longer, I was adding new tasks and rarely crossing any off. I was feeling stressed and dissatisfied.

A recent post on the British Psychological Society blog by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) about work/life boundaries explored this topic further. Alex reported on an article by Smit (2015) which links feelings of increased anxiety with tasks that remain undone. Smit suggests having an incomplete to-do list makes it difficult to disconnect, in effect extending the working day.

Both articles inspired me to rethink my process of planning and organisation. I like starting the day with a clear idea of what needs to be done, so I needed a method that worked. My daily list now has a maximum of five key activities. It has become fun to celebrate new and unexpected tasks that each day brings; additional unplanned tasks become a bonus. If anything on the list is not finished at the end of the day, I leave a step-by-step plan of how that task will be completed before I leave the office.

I’m aware it is still January, but I’m resolutely optimistic. Granted, I usually am optimistic, that’s my default setting. This is working well so far though!

Smit, B. (2015). Successfully leaving work at work: The self-regulatory underpinnings of psychological detachment. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. DOI: 10.1111/joop.12137. [Open access article]

Waking up the blog…

Right, I’m back. No honest, I am!

This last year has taught me that, try as you might, you can’t win out over medication. The meds I was on for the last three years left me with chronic fatigue. I described it to a colleague as trying to run up a mountain through a treacle downpour.

Thankfully, I’ve had a meds change – whoop! It has required time to recharge and set new targets. However, all that means I can get back to writing, thinking, dreaming and, of course, studying.

Did I say I wasn’t going to study anymore? I have no recollection of saying that (innocent face). Ah sure, isn’t all life a learning experience 🙂

Roll on 2016 – and hello from the one and only 2015 post!