Mark and Toni’s learning Odyssey July 2019 – August 2020

Mark and Toni’s 2019 Odyssey. New Zealand to Provence via London

Watercress from Alresford, Hampshire. Superfood central.

As we sit on the 07.15 Eurostar train in carriage 4, seats 21 and 22, we listen intently to the ambient pulsing noise of the electric motors, stationary at present but soon to leave London St. Pancreas at high-speed journey south to Avignon, Provence, France. The gentle hum blends with passengers’ accents and languages, just like us awaiting the beginning of a trip, our odyssey. The procession through passport control and customs to the train platform had been mercifully swift and virtually stress-free, in stark contrast to LAX. Those who have trodden that path know precisely my sentiment. Finally, a nudge, the long-awaited jolt hails its departure, and ours.

How was our first week, the week that was the anticipated jet lag reset? A bit of context seems appropriate at this point. Toni and I have just left the blanket of vines that is Marlborough, our friends and colleagues, to live and work ( in the order we hope ) in Nelson, Tasman, New Zealand. Many reasons have facilitated this change of scenery. The prospect of new employment opportunities, kinder shift patterns, more aligned to our social and professional intent of functional and holistic practice, and lifestyle await our return. Our family, less our middle lad Dale and daughter Naomi, are there, as are our adopted family of Isa, Pat and Ruby. We stored our possessions and hauled over the Whangamoa Ranges. Contracts are agreed, and hands shook, our optimism topped up.

Many months in preparation, we decided to begin in Wellington, our cultural hub. It has sustained us during our time in Blenheim, a beacon of hope and culture we understand and enjoy. Then the long flight to London, car hire and cabin booked in the North Downs for 3 nights, and a short stay with friends in Cheriton, Hampshire. Beyond lies a French experience in Provence, The Dordogne, and The Loire Valley in France. Designed to head north from the Mediterranean through a variety of traditional food regions and cultures, we intend to embrace and be part of the scene. We then return to the UK and onward to Portland, Oregon, and Boulder, Colorado, USA. Returning via San Fransisco to New Zealand at the journey’s end.

We are trialling a fasting programme, a modified 16/8 method. It began with a test run in Wellington the previous Sunday. It is adapted for the benefit of our work routine with an 8 – to 10-hour eating window and a 14 – 16-hour fasting window prior. We hope for some weight loss, better mitochondrial function, and reduction in HBa1C/ blood glucose. Intended for every day of the week, we, however, will try to stick to 5 days as a weekly minimum

The food journey involves what we believe is a whole/real food concept, complex carbohydrates with an onus on quality, seasonality, locally sourced, functional (affording an additional general health benefit), and foraged. Quality fat and protein combined with green vegetables cooked with healthy oils, and salads, of course. No waste and smaller portion sizes are also on the menu. Eating out is at a premium as we are on a tight budget, but on a few occasions we must, for empirical research, of course.

We set off from London Airport and headed to Puttenham, a little village lost in time in the North Down’s of Surrey. En route, we stopped to eat a small Kebab, we were tired and jet-lagged and hadn’t had much sleep. The opportunity to eat something tasty and “fast” overruled everything else. We took the smallest menu, and we drove the Kebab to a quiet, gentle spot in a nearby churchyard. It wasn’t so much a religious experience or perhaps nutritional either, but it was essential.

We set out to find locally sourced, seasonal, and optimally nutritional food, low human interference, avoiding processed and ultra-processed food and drink. It was interesting to see how food is presented in the Supermarkets, sadly covered or encased in plastic for obvious reasons but not for, it seems, our health. The burgeoning problem of microplastics and food miles adds to the conundrum of how to safely and ethically keep food fresh on the shelves, avoid waste, and sustain shelf life. A paradoxical demonstration of this was Tesco’s and Secrett’s at Milford, Surrey. Secrett’s is a small food, and grocery concern had most items as nature intended, the smell rich, and the colours vibrant. Costly, yes, to an extent. Much of the produce grow literally on-site or very nearby. The cheeses and cream are stored very much like Tesco, in a chiller. The big commercial stores were brash and alluring to the bargain hunter, 2 for 3, half price and this or that percent off, ease of parking with additional alluring benefits like cheaper petrol. I’m not sure what to expect in France, but from previous experiences, we’ll stick to the local markets where at all possible and find places, we hope, like Secrett’s in Surrey, on our journey.

The week involved a lot of emotional sentiment, I lived as a young boy in Surrey and as a family for several years, up until 2013. We had moved here in 2006 to heal following a huge medical drama. We both walked a lot, along the Wey Navigation back and forth to Guildford. We had a dog and an allotment, it kept us sane in that dark time, charts our journey of that period of our lives. This time, however, born of that, decided to forage for our first dinner, and a container of both Chanterelles and Ceps were soon in hand. With Sourdough Toast, local Broccoli, market place Black Pudding, we were suitably satiated.

Walking in the woods, or “nature bathing” is an essential component of well-being and mental health and physical health improvement. Learning we are part and not separate from nature is vital, whether just to be or abide with it or harvest is fruits, be they mushrooms, berries, leaves or nuts is a decision for the individual, but for me, it makes the me come to life and feel whole, as one with nature. Importantly when picking free food, it takes your experience and knowledge to the next level. When it comes to sourcing wild food you have to put your health literally in your hands of your research and judgment of nature, just like our forefathers and ancestors did before. Their knowledge was passed on through the generations until modern times when much appears lost. The mystery and majesty of seeing the trends and time tables of their fruiting, the conditions in which the prevail, the association of them to other species of trees or plants, and their locations memorised for the next season.

Wednesday took us to RHS Wisley Gardens, a moment to research fruit and vegetable gardens and community allotments. The gentle English passion for flower gardening eludes me. If grown, it either has to be used in the kitchen, eaten raw or sensual, and healing, like for example Lavender or garlic. I found Wisley interesting as it gave us both a commitment to return to allotment growing in Nelson.

Thursday took us to Winchester, the Anglo – Saxon capital of Britain before the untimely intervention of William of Normandy in 1066. The Cathedral itself dates back to 1079. It’s a suitable place to think about our health status and the fragility of life, but also the purpose of deep spirituality, traditional in this context. In the west wing of the building lies famed and lauded Author Jane Austen, a true literal heroine, observer of social status, etiquette, and early female emancipation. Her untimely death at such a young age should be a testament to all of us to be mindful of our health and wellbeing but also not to wait exploring and cherishing our innate potential for creativity and legacy. Spiritually the strictest sense this toweringly built and exceptionally crafted Cathedral does nothing for me, but as a monument to man’s ability to engineer and construct vast structures, it is awe-inspiring. Surely the nature of man in science, in art, and spirit are a testament to a higher, more creative, and unifying purpose, perhaps more so than established religions?

Also, as a footnote, and very much like the example of  gardening, it appears as a place where people come to gather, to abide and commune, for protection, support, in faith and belief in a higher cause, connection to the seasons and nature, more significant than themselves, acting and behaving in the interests of others as a collective. My “church” has a similar philosophy but less of a traditional, human construct but a reverence of the power and majesty of the natural order. I respect their belief systems, but wonder if they’d appreciate mine as kindly? There is a deep impish side to me, brought about perhaps by too many Sunday school moments in my early years.

In Bighton, a little north west of Alresford lies a scarce natural feature, chalk and flint streams, clear as day, gently pulsing through the Hampshire countryside. The water itself has become the source of a potent raw natural superfood, namely Watercress. Ironically, we’d brought some the few days previously thinking it was locally to discover it had been imported from Spain! How crazy is this? The growers are a company called, ironically, The Watercress Company, and their website is an amazingly successful attempt at promoting the health benefits with referenced and sourced information set out in a clean, logical way. I recommend you read it. Superfood it is.

Back to the here and now, in carriage 4, seats 21 and 22 on the high-speed journey of a lifetime, 240 Plus KM/H awaiting arrival in Avignon at 14.15 pm. I’m eating Sourdough Baguettes with soft, “walking” Coulston Bassett Blue Cheese and Iberico Ham and Avocado. Our hopes for Provence? More of the same, well – being, peace, and adventure. We’re in southern French nutrition heaven, and it sure feels good. We wish you all Bonjour and Sante.

Mark and Toni’s 2019 Learning Odyssey: En Provence, France.

Sunflower fields of Provence.

We are sitting on the deck of our cabin/caravan, I’m listening to the second semi-final of the World Cup 1 Day International Cricket between England and Australia. The winners meet New Zealand this Sunday! How exciting, who to support if England beat the Aussies today?

A thought on last week’s experiences was to perhaps look at some of the research I’ve done of late regarding Southern Europe’s nutritional research to add some sense to my ramblings. I have also got into the habit of looking at the various foods we consume detailing their nutritional and health benefits. I must confess being very surprised by the revelations and will post on this some. Veal liver looks amazing regarding Vitamin A!

So as Toni and I watch a film called “Paris can wait” with Diane Lane, a road trip film heavy on French food, culture, and national character from an American visitors perspective. Many studies have looked at these, but the one detailed below shows a little higher end quality and, in the case of PREDIMED, how important precise science can be found to be less than accurate, and that detail is everything.

PREDIMED controversy @

Toni’s diary,

Apologies for the lack of entries since I arrived in France, but I have been so involved with experiencing my environment that writing has taken a back seat. The first significant distraction is food (naturally). I have finally eaten salad every day in addition to veal liver, pork chop, cheese (goat/chevre, Comte), and saucisson/cured meat.  I’m in tomato heaven, too. Provençale vegetables are packed with flavour and NOT wrapped in plastic. Even Supermarkets here seem more ” Market.” Where possible, Mark and I are buying totally local, and we can honestly say we have produced zero food waste. We have managed to forage herbs just outside the campsite: thyme and rosemary dried by nature in the hot Provencal sun.

A visit to a local goat farm has supplied us with a variety of cheeses from frais (just three days old) to demi-sec (two weeks old). There were 33 goats, all named beginning with the letter N. I hugged and thanked the goats (my favourites were Naf Naf and Nounou. Mark liked Nebulues).

The wine, Rose, yummy….. difficult not to overindulge.  On the plus side, the 16-hour fasting continues, but not today because we went to market in Aix-en-Provence.

The weather has been hot, eased by the occasional thunderstorm and gentle breeze. With the sunshine and fresh local tasty food, I really do feel healthier. A bit more sleep would be a bonus, but at least now the mosquitoes are leaving me alone (many thanks to all my Facebook friends for their mosquito repellent tips). Toni

Mark’s diary,

The road was straight and to the point. The endpoint is the market at Pellisane. It was Sunday, but no church bells could be heard. The mass of people moved slowly, like waves, to their centre of concentration, whichever stall caught their eye or the scribbled words on their hastily written shopping list. At first glance, from the eyes of an amateur in these affairs, the market looked a small affair, one long street zoned off with tightly packed stalls of every shape, size, and variety. All seemed disorganised and jumbled, but I’m sure all stallholders knew their patch and were accustomed to the area they flew their commercial flag having done so for many, many moons. Dogs, children, babies in prams, or in the arms of their guardians swelled in the midst of human traffic. It was indeed a sensory event. The market grew as we saw over the heads of people around us alternative avenues of trade going left and right, east and west. We would remember and return to them, as was the difficulty in diverting and losing each other in the melee.

The human sounds blended with the intensity of the constant insect hum. Supermarket music could not compete. This was no supermarket, Artisans and stallholder spoke out to the crowd like a demanding Priest to a silent, sleepy congregation. Please, thank you, good day or good-bye was heard frequently at every turn, the slow momentum held us up every so often as a conversation became elaborate, no one moaned or complained, patience it seemed was in abundance. Food smells were met with occasional tasting to add, additionally, flavour and meaning to the sights before our eyes, to tempt us to purchase, not to gaze, but to part with real money. Only out of the corner of one’s eye, if you cared to carefully look, emblazoned up a wall nearby was a predictable sign of McDonald’s and a direction to its operation in a nearby street. Modernity had to lure the blessed to the fiery hell of the ultra-processed, commercial, and ultra-predictable.

Fruit drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages were the only semblance of that huge processed beast being consumed that hot Sunday. Far less by volume than what we saw a few days previously in Borough Market, London mercifully. We’ve avoided these things on purpose. Why the need for that when nature and seasonality were so barely naked amidst us? Soft berry fruits,  super coloured, gnarled and misshapen peppers and tomatoes were present and incorrect but just as tasty, forgotten by the big food chains as imperfect. Even artisan bread weighed and sliced to order, joined the throng of the nutritionally possible and plausible. Comte fromage, in huge wheels and chunks, was cut to preference by its maker, cigarette in a steady hand. The price was discussed after it was chopped, sealed, and weighed. It was pure theatre.

Lambesc is a great place to stay. Quality extra virgin olive oil, rose wine, local markets, lavender, sunflowers, honey, foraged herbs, and the pulsing hum of insects everywhere. There is a passion for the land here, for community and provenance. History is within reach, the Cathars, Templars, Pilgrims, and Romans. Would we come back again? Qui! Mark.

Mark and Toni’s 2019 Learning Odyssey 2019. Food for Thought , Duck Fat, Cave men and the Dordogne

Dordogne faire, saturated and satisfying.

When you step into this vast area of central France, you are wrapped around, like a big warm cloth, rich in history, food, nature, and much more besides.  We had made the long trip north via Longuedoc and Lot Valley to Salignac, Dordogne. The countryside was flourishing with numerous shades of green, trees, mainly of European Oak, Hazelnut, Walnut, and Chestnut lined the rural roads, either neatly organised in well-manicured orchards or randomly arranged. This was probably the first indication of the food culture we had come to witness. The Dordogne is also the historic centre of the European hunter-gatherer with caves displaying the art of our ancestral past, food, especially animals being centre stage. These are protected world heritage sites and are physical evidence of the dietary behaviours of our ancestors.

The little village of Salignac was a short 30-minute walk from the campsite. We took very little time, in our best pigeon French, to ask the local natives directions to it. Through the wildwood, across ancient paths, passing by homesteads and their allotments and animals, we traversed and found it’s beating centre in no time. It is really a Bourg, not a village, something a little bigger. There are the cafes of course, the supermarket was on the fringes of the town, modernity and convenience relegated to the fringes. However, the pride of place was the Grower’s market Shop, a treasure trove of locally produced and seasonal goods the region offers open every day. The town’s centre, a small but very significant affair, is the venue to these twice-weekly markets, on Saturday mornings and Thursday evenings. The later is also a time for locals and tourists to commune, abide, and take food cooked from the market, eating together in covered venues.

We decided not to travel too far from our rural base, we found the right places to shop for food in the local produce market in Sarlat – la – Caneda and the Grower’s Shop in Salignac. They displayed locally grown foods like nuts, nut oils, foie gras, pate, duck, and truffles. The additional staples like bread, vegetables, and salad were also in seasonal abundance.

However, cooking ourselves was one thing and a total delight, but getting a real food experience led us down the proverbial and literal country path. We went to two places, one a Relais (or Inn) and a Ferme Auberge, a farm guesthouse restaurant. The later was the pick of the bunch, I’ll get back to that later. A more significant quest lurks in the shadows and one that has spawned controversy and still does to this day. In the Dordogne the history surrounding fat, especially saturated fat, is everywhere, but also other kinds of fat too, mono and polyunsaturated fats from locally caught fish and nuts pressed into oils or just plain raw. Saturated fats are an enigma, it seems, a paradox even to some. Why are the French supposedly statistically healthier? As are the Swiss? The French go about their lives with a reverence for (quality) saturated fats, it’s in their blood both culturally and physically. There is talk about a paradox, fat making them healthier in combination with wine, especially red, and living longer. This is challenged by British academics reading research data.

Replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated oils for preventing heart disease has been a source of continued argument and discourse, but current Evidence (RCT’s, systematic reviews, etc.) doesn’t clearly support this. However, consumption of fructose-sweetened, high fructose corn syrup or sucrose sweetened beverages (and pure fruit juices) is more strongly associated with poor heart health and now cancer risk. More research, it always seems, is required, particularly in this case, regarding whole grains (starches) and complex carbohydrates, as well as the quality of saturated fats. Added sugar, especially early in life, is associated with obesity and diabetes.

The gut microbiome (our second brain) alters with highly processed fat and sugar diets, as seen in mouse studies. Our oral microbiome, as we have additionally discovered, alters less beneficially too. The consumption of foods rich in Omega 3’s and 6’s, especially in balance (The Paleo Ratio), results in lower heart disease risk than saturated fats and sugars. However, differences can exist between individuals. Foods like dairy, yogurt, cheeses are associated with reduced risk, but again, more research is required for clarification among specific sat fat and sat fat-containing foodstuff.

A few studies might reveal answers to this ongoing contentious debate. Cordain et al.(2002) reviewed the evidence of hunter-gatherer diets, meat-based yet non-atherogenic, and found from 13 known quantitative dietary studies that animal food provided the dominant energy source (65%) while gathered plant foods comprised the remaining 35%. The paradoxical nature of this in terms of a modern Western diet associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality is evident when it is not so present in hunter-gatherer communities. Fat energy intake from the diet equated to 28-58% of energy, more than from protein or carbohydrates, is similar to or higher than that found in Western foods.  Hunter-gatherer diets also have greater mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids and a lower omega 6 to 3 ratio. This would serve to reduce the development of CVD. Additionally, foods rich in fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, and phytochemicals with low salt intake may operate synergistically with lifestyle behaviours. No smoking or alcohol, less stress, and more exercise further deter heart disease.

Further to this, Cordain et al.(2005) discuss the origins and evolution of the Western diet and its health implications for the 21st Century. They propose that changes in the food and lifestyle environment began with agricultural and animal husbandry approximately 10,000 years ago. The so-called diseases of modern civilisation started with the discordance of our ancient, genetically determined biology with the nutritional, cultural, and activity patterns of contemporary Western populations. Crucially 7 nutritional characteristics have changed from ancestral hominin diets; 1. Glycaemic load, 2. Fatty acid composition, 3. Macronutrient composition, 4. Micronutrient density, 5. Acid-based balance, 6. Sodium-potassium ratio, and, 7. Fibre content.

A study undertaken in Switzerland with dental students in 2009 (Baumgartner S et al.) tried to ascertain the impact of the stone age diet on gingival (gum) conditions in the absence of oral hygiene on the oral microbiome. This small-sized study saw 10 subjects living in an environment replicating stone age living for 4 weeks. Baseline assessment included bleeding on probing, gingival and plaque indices, and probing depth.  The outcomes demonstrated after 4 weeks decrease in bleeding (34.8% – 12.6%), gingival scoring up from 0.38 to 0.43% (not significant), mean plaque scores increased from 0.68 to 1.47 and probing depths decreasing significantly. Bacterial counts at week 4 were also higher for 24 of 74 species. Overall a positive outcome with less bleeding and probing depths despite plaque growth was observed. The absence of refined sugars demonstrated gum health benefits despite the lack of oral hygiene. However, diseased teeth, or decay, maybe not be so straight forward.

The transition between hunter-gathers and Neolithic farmers regarding diseased teeth is contentious. Research done with modern Hadza tribes of Tanzania indicates decay is similar to modern societies, especially in women and young boys. Evidence from skulls excavated in Morocco,  from several thousand years before the Neolithic lifestyle changes, found decay in half the remaining teeth. Only 3 of the 52 skulls showed no disease at all with evidence at the cave sites showing pine and acorn nuts being processed into a porridge-like state. Interestingly, it appears that they ate diets high in plants and not animals.

Stone age dentistry is in evidence too. Hunter-gatherer’s teeth found recently in the north of Italy dating over 10,000 years show signs of cavity preparation and filling with bitumen, an ancient tar-like substance used primarily for attaching axe heads and spear tips to shafts with woven material and wood. A pointed stone tool had been used in this process too. This precedes the Neolithic period and again challenges the perception that hunter-gatherers had less decay.

The subject of saturated fats versus carbohydrate-rich diets poses a dilemma for us all professionally. Evidently, quality saturated fat food appears to be better than carbohydrate-rich diets in dental health. Refined, processed, and ultra-processed sugars are implicated in both gum and tooth disease. Remarkably, saturated fats don’t elevate oral pH, alter the oral microbiome pathologically, even in the absence of oral hygiene methods. Hunter-gatherers suffered from poor dental health regarding their teeth only in certain areas and attempted to heal their ailing teeth with “pre-dentistry”.

Toni and Mark’s 2019 Odyssey. Food and Drink for Thought. Keeping the pH balance in Sancerre, Bats, Pinot Noir Barrels, and Kayaking through ancient Roman ruins.

Looking across to Sancerre from the heights above Chavignol.

Week four of our learning journey continues as we head north from The Dordogne, crossing the pilgrimage paths of Limoges and Perigueux. We pass wandering Pellegrino’s near the Cathedral city of Bourges, having sadly not, ourselves, being able to get to the pilgrimage centres and staging posts of Avalon and Valencay. We arrive at our destination, a small campsite next to the River Loire in the sweltering heat, and find a moment to get over yet another long drive. The Monday was set to be 38 degrees, and we had made the unwittingly odd decision to kayak 25 kilometres downstream from La Charitie-sur-Loire, to the east to St.Satur (Saturday related I’m sure) along the River Loire.  The recent heatwaves in France had put pay to kayaking journeys we’ve undertaken before, the shorter route from Pouilly-sur-Loire on the left bank of the river halfway between our current course. For those of you, not hardcore wine buffs, this is the area of France where the Sauvignon Blanc wine varietal made its mark. The Kiwi’s, Aussie’s, South African’s, American’s, both north and south, have made substantial commercial enterprises from bringing this humble grape to the forefront of our vinous appetites. This is where the legend of the Sauvignon Blanc wine grape was born and continues to set the traditional standard of sunlight and water capturing the essence of the “terroir” and create a thing of liquid beauty.

The outward bound adventure team conveniently positioned just outside the campsite, took us with kayak in hand to the start point. We were advised to move very carefully from the get-go. We thought the river, being very low, would be an issue, and memories of grounding on previous trips made us initially cautious. Still, to our surprise and astonishment, the guide pointed out several black stumps pointing out of the river. These were the wooden supports of a Roman bridge long disused and usually hidden by the water level. This was the first of three to traverse on our epic 4-hour journey. Arriving back at St. Satur, we paddled through the third ancient bridge and then under the current bridge, a vastly more modern one, through the rapids and back to base. The 4-hour journey had been testing, Toni behind me navigating the shallows and rapids and the sun beating down. Thirsty doesn’t even come close, but we made it and ticked it off the bucket list.

The theme of week 4 determined itself. We started our wine journey in New Zealand, not when we lived there but after a bottle of pioneering, gooseberry cum blackcurrant leaf note driven Savvie in the UK in the mid-’90s. We visited Martinborough, to the east of Wellington and Hawkes Bay, but never Blenheim. Ironically we ended up living there for 5 years for professional reasons and ever since our wine knowledge has grown but also our opinions and behaviours towards it. Much of what we feel about it now stems from the environmental and ecological debates that rage regarding the use of herbicides and pesticides locally and their toxicity not only to humans but also to the good earth. Consideration also needs to be given to the prodigious consumption of water resources in the area too. Its sustainability seems in question when talking with exponents and detractors of modern winemaking. Will, the Marlborough plains of the Awatere, Wairau, and Whaihope be destined to be a dry, toxic wasteland long-term? It’s a concern that has partially influenced our decision to move westward to Nelson.

Back to France and the heat the first night in St. Satur. We decided to call our local friends Lynne and Philippe, resident 12 kilometres from our sweltering riverside cabin. We were welcomed with the wide-open loving arms of the Raimbault’s of Sury-en-Vaux. The village name literally translates to the “Sound of the Moo”. Generations of Philippe’s family have tended the land and vines, his father, born in September 1940, was celebrated not only by his family but the occupying local German Army. During the same war, their cave in Sancerre was a safe haven for downed allied aircrew and special operation executive members. The rich vein of cultural winemaking heritage runs deeply in many families and communities of the region. Sancerre sits south of the River Loire and covers approximately 3,000 hectares of vines with around 300 winemakers following the rigid Appellation Origine Controlle (AOC) guidelines that strictly determine the growing and production methods and processes of France at that quality level. Any deviation from that creed is closely scrutinized, and even the smallest of misdemeanours can be severely punished. To that extent, the art and craft of winemaking and vine growing have been culturally significant for many generations.

Philippe and Lynne are a unique, kind, and affable couple. Lynne is a “hard case,” and a  “legend,” to us (and many more besides), a kind and compassionate London lady who meet Philippe in a bar in Sancerre many moon’s ago, and the rest, as they say, is history. Their vineyard is set in a little village on the fringes of Sancerre in a traditional small town. Philippe’s vineyard spans the region from Sancerre to Pouilly sur Loire, with small parcels of vines scattered throughout the area. We meet them some years ago when we stayed in Sancerre and keep in touch and meet up again from time to time.

This time I took the opportunity, despite the hot weather, to follow Philippe on a workplace journey at his cave just for an afternoon. Philippe and I just about understand each other in his version of my language and vice versa. We both drove off from their house several kilometres away to Domaine Philippe Raimbault, the Cave, the beating heart of his business and passion. Once there, I got the guided tour, from the destemming and de pipping machines of the harvest to the huge hectolitre chrome wine tanks and the cool cave where Burgundian barrels are stored for the fermentation and maturation of his red Pinot Noir. A lot of care goes into all of his winemaking processes. This day, the red wine seemed to require more attention as sulphur tablets were added to each barrel after samples were sent to the local laboratory for analysis. I questioned Philippe regarding this “addition.” His answer drew focus to the need to get to optimal levels of tannins and balance before bottling. The chemical also gives and antioxidant and antibacterial benefit to the wine and, ultimately, the wine lover.

Red wine, more so than white wine (the skins are kept on during fermentation), has been proven to be beneficial to health in moderation. The flavonoids, of which there are 4 groups, catechins, flavanols, anthocyanins, and tannins are the benefactors. Red wine also has 3 times the Riboflavin of white wine. Among the many benefits attributed to flavonoids are reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, dementia, and stroke. More than 100 studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption is linked to a 25-40% reduction in the risk of heart disease. They work by corralling cell-damaging free radicals and metallic ions. Resveratrol, another antioxidant found in the grape skins, is linked to fighting inflammation and blood clotting and reducing heart disease and cancer.

We continued the day and traveled to Les Godons, the nearest vines to the centre of operation. He is a man of quiet passion, aware and alert to the health of his maturing wines and bottling production line, you’ll find his white Sancerre, Apud in Waitrose  food stores, in England. A keen observer of the holistic and near organic approach to his art, Philippe, with friends, has designed and built wooden dwellings for the local bat population. Bats, far from being a menace, have many useful functions, looking at their droppings allows science to demonstrate the health of individual bat and colonies, as well as their insect food sources. They are positioned in a variety of areas, against trees that abut the vines and nearby buildings. He also has a bat radar that measures the type, number, and time they’re active. They play an essential role in reducing insect numbers, especially those which affect the grapes themselves. Also in use are insect pheromones at the end of each vine’s row, and a smelly organic odour spray is being tested soon too. This is part of an adaptation by Philippe in light of the changes to the climate which he is all too aware of. The pest challenges are a growing concern as the weather changes, the vines aren’t allowed to be watered, in accordance with the regulations, and the need to preserve the precious fruit crop dominates proceedings. The future appears uncertain but tradition must go on.

The whole theme continues with Philippe’s association with Terra Vitis, a growing environmental and social organisation dedicated to promoting a whole approach to winemaking. Not only is the health of the vine paramount but also the soil and, remarkably, the welfare of the staff too. Paperwork and compliance are other duties of the winemaker these days. Extra attention is also given to the choice of wooden barrels, not only the capacity, Bordeaux barrels store less the Burgundian, 225 litres to 228, but also the quality of the Oak. Philippe mindfully chooses them from specific areas of France where the porosity and permeability of the wood is less, allowing the wine to mature to its determined design and taste. This is used more so in red but also in white where the oaky, vanilla notes are desired. The traditional cork is still in use today too.

We both discussed each other’s work as we motored around the wine region, touching on the amount of sugar per litre of wine required for fermentation and achieving an ideal level of alcohol. Of the 200 grams per litre most, if not all, is consumed by the yeasts and left only is a residual amount of between 10 to 12 grams. From a dental perspective, attention needs to be focused not only on the remaining mainly fructose monosaccharides but also, and perhaps more importantly, regarding wine, its pH. Having worked for several years in the Marlborough region of New Zealand I’ve noticed the effects of a poor, modern industrial diet on many a client regarding caries but specifically with the wine industry regarding acid erosion and tooth surface loss, whether through abrasion, attrition or abfraction. Tooth enamel demineralises in pH values below 5.75 and far less with exposed weaker root structure of dentine. Over time with increased regular exposure, tooth structure can disease and be lost as well. Lower pH values intraorally also allow destructive bacteria to flourish and remove tooth mineral as well as reduce the numbers of beneficial germs that thrive in diversity in higher pH scenarios.

In New Zealand, the most prominent winemaking operation, Peter Yealands, recently approached me to create a protocol for their winemakers. The research was untaken, guidance produced, and products purchased ranging from electric toothbrushes to calcium phosphate-based toothpaste and sugar-free gum for each individual. Whitening trays were also created to allow the remineralisation of teeth to be more effective as the product stayed longer. I discuss this with Philippe, as he chomped merrily on sugar-free gum. The dental benefits of stimulated saliva flow with an increase in pH balance, an influx of minerals and ions from the saliva, and the promotion in balanced or higher pH of beneficial calcium “building” bacteria to remineralise the affected tooth structure. The sugar alcohol debate regarding Xylitol wasn’t broached this time. Touched on, however, was the use of calcium phosphate toothpaste with stannous and other fluoride types in adding their bioavailability to the teeth for further protection, desensitising and strengthening.

Both dental health professionals and winemakers have similar aims and goals, creating an end product that needs to be managed and maintained. We deal with bacteria, teeth, gums, bone and behaviours, the vigneron with weather, soil, fruit, yeasts, bacteria, and the seasons. Both deal with environmental pressures and ecology. Philippe’s work environment is the weather, the soil, and the vine married to the patient process of picking, gentle crushing of perfectly ripe grapes and fermenting wine, allowing nature, bacteria, yeasts, and time to capture the essence of Sancerre. Ironically too, The Romans had to deal with the land and the water. They carefully selected the right materials to support the bridges that allowed access to the wide French rivers they faced to control the environment, the natives, and their vast Empire. Those ancient wooden bridge supports remain as a testimony to the pressures of weather, water, sediment, and the river’s microbiome, over nearly 2,000 years, preserving them. Will Philippe’s progeny have to continue to contend with adverse climatic in the coming years? Will wine still be a feature of the Loire Valley landscape or will time make permanent changes to the industry like time and tide changed those ancient bridges over that mighty river?

Mark and Toni’s Learning Odyssey 2019. Champagne and onward to Wells, More Food for Thought, Family, Friends,  Dental Updates, Cathedrals, and Cathedral Thinking.

Wells Cathedral, Somerset.

It was a hard drive in intense heat to Champagne after finals with Lynne and Philippe. Early in the week, we decided not to attempt the long trek north early in the morning to get to Charles De Gaulle International and risk missing the onward flight. Our attention turned to Champagne’s staying with an old acquaintance in Mailly Champagne, a little village in the Grand Cru Blanc de Noir region south of the capital Reims.  We’d visited it occasionally way back when and returning was a chance again, like in Sancerre, to catch up. One of the previous “flying” visits saw Toni and I drive south from Weybridge, UK to Mailly over a Friday afternoon in March 2009, on her birthday. We had booked into a local restaurant, Relais du Sillery, near to where we were staying. I had called ahead of time to Anni France Mailisart, the owner of the nearby bed and breakfast, to ask her to confirm with the restaurant the time and, more importantly, that it was Toni’s birthday.

Not only was the evening special, but Anni France hauled us rapidly into her 2cv6 van and raced us to the destination after we arrived, just in the nick of time. The meal and wine, a Mailly Champagne Grand Cru, was outstanding, but the total surprise came at dessert when unbeknownst to Toni, out came a birthday cake with fireworks exploding out of it. The whole restaurant stood up and burst into song. Happy birthday was sung with gusto in the way only the French can do. We felt touched and very welcomed and honoured.

Anni France Mallisart is a generous and hard-working individual, looking after a brand new Chambres D’Hotes that sits on her champagne cellar and press. We found her new place eventually, parked up, and welcomed renewed friendships. We had booked, once again, into Relais de Sillery and prepared for an evening out. We had looked at the online menu and decided, mainly due to cost but also out of nutritional intrigue, to select the Fricassée de Ris et Rognons de Veau aux Champignons. Pancreas, we think, and Kidneys, Wild Mushrooms and New Potatoes in an amazing rich and tasty jus.

Offal par excellence, Sillery, Champagne, en France.

Sweetbreads are in the offal group, and so are meats coming from organs rather than muscle tissue. Sweetbreads come from two organs, the thymus (sometimes called the throat sweetbread), an organ from the immune system, and the pancreas (sometimes called the stomach sweetbread), an organ from the digestive system. Usually, sweetbreads come from veal or lamb or occasionally young pigs, but veal sweetbreads are the most popular, due to their mild flavour and their creamy, velvety texture.

However, a bigger question, And one posed by our good friends Ralph and Hanna back at week 1, is not how it’s cooked and how much it costs but whether offal or organ meat is nutritious? In the past, organ meat considered more valuable than today. Hunter-gatherer and native Peoples valued it above muscle tissue, which was left to feed their animals. They also ate intestines, brains, and testicles. Vitamins A and B12, folate, iron, and protein are abundant in offal, aa well as anti-inflammatory Omega 3’s. The liver is particularly nutritious. Vitamin A comprises a group of organic compounds, including retinol, retinal, retinoic acid, and beta carotene. It plays a crucial role in eyesight, teeth and bone development, reproduction, and the immune system.  Plants and microorganisms make their own Vitamin A, but we have to get it from our diet, animal food sources of the active form than plants. Cod liver oil is a particularly good source and has Vitamin D and various beneficial fatty acids too.

After recent discussions with aging parents and in-laws about their first food memories, during and after the War, a standard tread was being ritually forced, at school, to consume fresh full fat milk, apples, and, interestingly, cod or haddock liver oil.  In my day, in the early ’70s, we were given just milk and apples, until Margaret Thatcher, health minister under Edward Heath withdrew it. She was nicknamed the Margaret “Milk Snatcher” by the press  at the time.

A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) portion of cooked beef liver provides; RDI (Recommended Daily Intake)

Calories: 175

Protein: 27 grams

Vitamin B12: 1,386% of the RDI

Copper: 730% of the RDI

Vitamin A: 522% of the RDI

Riboflavin: 201% of the RDI

Niacin: 87% of the RDI

Vitamin B6: 51% of the RDI

Selenium: 47% of the RDI

Zinc: 35% of the RDI

Iron: 34% of the RDI

Eating organ meats has several benefits: Excellent sources of iron: Meat contains heme iron, which is highly bioavailable, so the body better absorbs it than non-heme iron from plant foods. Keeps you fuller for longer: Many studies have shown that high-protein diets can reduce appetite and increase feelings of fullness. They may also promote weight loss by boosting your metabolic rate. Organ meats are a source of high-quality protein, which is essential for building and retaining muscle mass. Organ meats are among the World’s best sources of choline, a necessary nutrient for brain, muscle, and liver health. Cheaper cuts and reduced waste: Organ meats are not a popular cut of meat, so you can often get them at a more affordable price. Eating these parts of the animal also reduces food waste.

The drawbacks of overeating offal are minimal, but high levels of Vitamin A are not for pregnant women, and those suffering from gout don’t benefit from Purin, a dietary form of Uric Acid.

From a dental health perspective, Vitamins A, B6, and B12 have essential roles in preventing dental diseases. Deficiencies can result in enamel hypoplasia, xerostomia, gingivitis, gum disease. In children, a lack of B12 increases caries and gum disease risk. Again, vitamin B6 is associated with gum disease risk and anaemia related to sore tongue and burning sensations in the mouth. It may be appropriate from a dental health perspective to encourage moderate consumption of offal rich in A and B vitamins. Vitamin A may be particularly important in early facial development too. Vitamins A with vitamin D necessarily tell our cells to produce specific proteins – osteocalcin and MGP – Matrix Gla protein, a member of a family of vitamin-K2 – that help build and repair teeth and bones by taking calcium where it needs to go, among other things. But for the body to use these proteins, it has to call on vitamin K2 to activate them.

Back to the UK, after an eventful three weeks in France and onward to Burgess Hill, Sussex. Brighton was the venue for a Periocourses dental update I’d booked several months prior back in New Zealand. The course leader is a former RAF Dental periodontist of my personal acquaintance. We’d passed each other going from and to Saxa Vord, a radar outpost in the very north of the British Isles in the mid to late ’80s. Phil Ower is a dental legend, gentle, softly spoken, and very engaging. Recent changes to the classification of gum disease and a mindful reinterpretation of it by him and his colleagues that makes more practical sense to the coalface clinician, like myself.

The statistics for poor dental gum health are staggering. 98% of the UK have gingivitis, 10-15% of gum disease to the extent of losing their teeth. The primary culprit is the oral bacteria out of balance, which causes inflammation and alters the host response. In the oral microbiome, the collection of microorganisms in the mouth is sophisticated. They communicate chemically and electrically, are symbiotic, constructive, protective of themselves, and collaborative. Factors that affect host response include;




Type 2 Diabetes



Lifestyle behaviours – sleep, sedentary behaviour, depression and loneliness

80% of hard tissue damage (bone loss) is caused by how the body responds to the pathogenic oral flora.  Learning outcomes to the course indicate a developing nutritional and lifestyle bend to diagnosis and treatment. These include the need to test periodontal cases for prediabetes and diabetes, and an HBA1C glycated haemoglobin blood test is required. A 3-day diet sheet might be appropriate, but I disagree with Phil regarding saturated fat, especially quality saturated fat. In my eyes, the culprits are both refined sugar and ultra and processed foods, being less nutritionally but more energy-dense and glycating inflammatory foods. Something to chew over on another occasion me thinks.

Two journeys and two days later, we arrived in Shepton Mallet, Somerset. We went via good friends Sue and Chris in Fareham and Dave and Rachel in Hampshire once again. The later will feature on a future post, their journey and influence on ours are immense. Shepton Mallet was our staging post for an extraordinary occasion. My Step – Mother Audrey, now living in Wells, Somerset, was celebrating her 80th birthday. She had recently moved from her home established with my late father to a retirement lodge. I’ve not always been on her wavelength, but recent years have seen me, in particular, change my position. I’m only human and had issues that needed correcting. I’m a better man for it, I feel. We discussed many things together, and I was particularly interested in learning about her early nutritional life journey. In the early stages of the Second World War, she was a young girl, evacuated with her twin sister Shirley to Dorset. It brought on many changes, dietary too. After the War and after the post rationing period, Audrey became the secretary to the head of Coca Cola Europe. Her stories regarding that and a stint as a rep for Birdseye span the nutritional changes that shape our current, unhealthy food environment. Little did we know or were allowed to know in those days. We enjoyed her fellowship and were delighted to see and be with her for her birthday and more besides.

Recently attended church sermons had taught lessons of atonement and redemption and the benefits of being forgiven, forgiveness, and behaviour change. Not being religious but believing in our spiritual connection with nature, I find organised religion an ongoing challenge. Things that bring us together should be greater than that which divides us. My philosophy, if it is one, is to treat all the way I want to be treated, compassion before reaction, forgiveness before judgment, and loving-kindness that dispels fear and promotes a fellowship of peace and harmony. That’s not to say the church doesn’t do good, it certainly does, but the physical building is a just like Mother Nature from the canopy of the ancient elder forests. We aren’t separate, and we all together in fellowship with each other and everything around us. When we do things wrong, we need the courage to accept it, make changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again and offer our apologies before moving on.

Wells Cathedral is immense, but at the same time, simple. The Yew Tree in the centre of the land acts as a natural nucleus apart from its pagan origins. The imposing building houses one the oldest clocks in the World, a stripped-back interior compared to the less austere Winchester Cathedral. Outside in the nearby market square is a twice-weekly market. Nothing compared to Provence and The Dordogne for sure, it seems that Britain doesn’t embrace its deep food history sadly.  Despite its paucity, Wells Market, the unlikely scenery for the “Hot Fuzz“ movie, presented some treasures. The Bagnell Farm stall had rare breed meat from their Ruby Red cattle, Jacob sheep, and Iron age pigs. Others had local cheeses, colourful vegetables and a variety of pies and pasties. It’s comparison to the ethereal markets of the Dordogne, Provence and the Loire is unfair and unintended, my Step -Mother swears by it and that, as they say, is good enough for me.

On a completely different spiritual level and something that ultimately affects us all, young or old, even rich or poor, is climate change. The deniers, the rich and powerful, those with scientific and critical minds or those blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that is predicted to befall us need to wake up. Let’s not deny, obfuscate, or ignore any longer  that which will soon be upon us and generations to come. We have a climate crisis. Its torch has recently been taken up from the most obscure and determined individuals and is virally spreading through global culture through real activism. Thunberg, a young Danish “agent provocateur”, said of the disaster that recently befell Paris, that “Notre Dame will be rebuilt, I hope its foundations are strong, I hope that our foundations are even stronger, but I fear they are not.” She points the finger at World leaders “If our house were falling apart, our leaders wouldn’t go on like the way they do today (in tackling climate change). You would change everything you do.” She listed how humans were causing “climate economic breakdown,” such as deforestation, air pollution, the extinction of animals, and the ocean’s acidification. Accusing world leaders of being too relaxed in tackling climate change, she said that she wants leaders to panic, evoking an image of a house on fire, comparing the Notre Dame event to the climate emergency. Spiritual change may be considered optional, but environmentally, sustainably, and climatically the situation is far from a lottery. That may be the biggest challenge to us on our return to New Zealand. Extinct Rebellion might become the activism we find occurring in our everyday home and workplace environments.

On a less sombre note and one that I’m proud to say I have a certain degree of genetic association with is The Litton, a destination pub, a place people travel to and stay and use as a base for visiting local sites and attractions. The likes of certain 80’s pop heroes and International artists going to play at Glastonbury nearby are regular visitors. It was once a ruin until a certain Sally Billington, my cousin, had a moment of madness and decided on a whim to act. It is a passion project like no other. Sally’s eye for originality and retaining its former glory is voiced by her mission statement, “Traditionally Untraditional.” She has an indoor and outdoor restaurant, a bar selling local craft beers and a whiskey bar dating back pre-Sally times and some. Renovation and resurrection leach out of every seam. Attention to tradition morphs into the food philosophy too, locally sourced and seasonal dishes are available to those wanting something homely and comforting. Audrey, Toni, and I opted for Sunday Roasts, mine, and Roast Beef was very hearty and generous. It filled me but not quite enough for a Sticky Toffee Pudding to top off the occasion. Sally afforded precious moments to catch up with many years of lost opportunities to be as we once were back in the early to mid-seventies. A guided tour followed, and parting was, as the immortal bard would have it as “such sweet sorrow.”

Sally taught me a few things that day at her Litton. It has taken her years of dedicated effort, frustration, and delight, moments of despair, but also of great joy and meaning. She manages dozens of staff, pays them well, has programmes that support their welfare and development, and like Philippe in Sancerre, and has a hands-on and very present approach at work. She is frank and sincere and is aware of the need to continue improving through feedback from customers and is super proactive and direct when need be. She’s modest too, not displaying her awards and gongs too obviously. I’d, for one, would love to work for her. Please call Toni and me whenever you want Sally, we’d be straight over.


Mark and Toni’s Learning Odyssey 2019: Highland Flings, Foraging, Family, Healthy Walking, and Organic Small Holding.

The Highland Games, Aboyne, Aberdeenshire.

Our next destination, Scotland, awaits. We drop by Sainsbury’s, Woking, in the hope of surprising my sister Melanie, we were in luck, and the surprise was complete. It was great to see her. Ironically in the same aisle was Carol, a friend of our daughter, Naomi, from her college days in Woking, spooky? She grabbed us and ask to pass her best onto Naomi.

The arrival in Balmoral, at Toni’s parents, was dramatic. Police guarded the entrance to their road, The Queen was in residence in a nearby cottage, and security looked tight. We stayed with Mike and Pauline, Toni’s parents, they were very generous and accommodating.

The weather in and around Balmoral is a microclimate, we’re told to ignore the national weather forecast as those rules don’t apply. They were right, the promised daily rain for a week never appeared until the last day.

“As dew upon the tender herb

diffusing fragrance round;

as showers that usher in the spring

that cheer the thirsty ground.”

Let us come to the Lord our God, John Morison 1749-98

The tiny church at the Parish of Braemar and Crathie near Ballater is the venue for the Sunday morning service for Toni’s parents. The hymns came thick and fast. The sermon focused on forgiveness, community, and wisdom. The best moment for me was the above verse of a hymn sung by the small congregation. It’s author, John Morison, was born in Aberdeenshire in 1749 and became a Parish Minister in Caithness. His hymn spoke volumes to me about our visit to Scotland, it’s wild nature and beauty. The words describe a connection between the seen world, it’s mystery, seasonality, climate, and the importance of the earth.

Walking along the now disused Deeside Railway, the hidden basket of nature reveals itself to those who are tuned into and aware of its seasonal secrets. The line once ran from Aberdeen to Banchory and then was extended further to Aboyne. Further extensions took the line onward to Ballater by 1866. 99 years later, the last train left Ballater with the Queen in attendance. Time and technology wait for no-one. Mother nature reclaimed the unattended tracks, and, in time, a cycle and walking route was created and is beautifully maintained. Along the trail we walked, we find a plethora of nutritious wild foods from nuts, berries, and mushrooms. I’m not suggesting that this gig is for everyone. We all live busy lives and time to connect with each other in the hue and cry of everyday life is as absent as our awareness of what physically sustains us.

A recent report by the Ramblers and McMillian Cancer Support details the health benefits of the humble walk stating it could also lead to nearly 300,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes. In some cases, walking can be more effective than running. Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California found that brisk walking reduces the risk of heart disease more effectively than running. They observed participants aged between 18 and 80 over six years and found that walking reduced the risk of heart disease by 9.3% while running reduced it by just 4.5%. Additionally, 30 minutes of brisk walking over five days could help you sleep easy, according to research by Oregon State University. A study by the university showed that walking helped participants sleep better and feel more alert during the day.

The first rule of exercise always engages your core muscles. This is particularly important in walking because you are upright the whole time and supporting your entire body weight. So tighten your stomach muscles. The best way to do this is to make sure you are not slouching when you walk. Spinal alignment is part of this core strength. You should stand up straight, trying not to lean too far forward or backward with your chin parallel to the ground.

Once you’ve mastered the 30 minutes of exercise per day, changing your walking route is a great way to keep motivated. Walk up hills for a great glute workout. Or if you are exercising in a gym, increase the incline for a similar effect. Walking uphill uses more energy than walking along flat surfaces.

Walking is also a great way to connect with nature. Such green exercise, research by the Essex University observed the benefits of walking in green space, finding that it reduces stress levels, improves mood, enhances psychological wellbeing, and improves attention and concentration. Walking also helps the planet. By parking the car up and walking instead, you help to reduce air pollution. This is particularly important for short journeys. Taking the car for short trips uses almost twice the CO2 per mile. So leaving the car keys at home helps you and the environment. Recently the Woodland Trust suggested that forest bathing, which doesn’t, despite its name, involves getting in the water but should be among a range of non-medical therapies and activities recommended by GPs’ surgeries to boost patients’ well – being.

“Forest bathing is an opportunity for people to take time out, slow down, and connect with nature. We think it could be part of the mix of activities for social prescription,” Stuart Dainton of the Woodland Trust states. “Evidence about its benefits is building. So-called “Social prescribing” is a growing movement in the NHS, which can include volunteering, gardening, sports activities, cookery, and befriending. Gary Evans, who set up the Forest Bathing Institute in the UK last year, said, “People initially think they’ve been doing this all their lives, going for a walk in the woods. But it might be a brisk walk, or you might be worrying about where the dog has got to!

One UK study, carried out by King’s College London and published in January 2018, found that exposure to trees, the sky, and birdsong in cities improved mental wellbeing. The benefits were still evident several hours after the exposure. “Even just 20 minutes can help, though 10 hours a month is even better,” said Dainton. “If you live in a city, you may not be able to get to a forest easily, but taking off your shoes in the park and feeling the grass will help you de-stress.” Healthcare professionals, politicians, and charities alike should encourage these physical behaviour changes.

Chanterelles fresh from the disused Deeside Railway path, Ballater, Aberdeenshire.

Foraging for me, incorporates meaningful movement, attention to and focus on the seasons, the weather, and the mental acuity and awareness in observing and identifying wild food. Mushrooms are fungi, biologically distinct from plant and animal-derived foods, and the nutrients they provide have a unique profile. Edible mushrooms, when exposed to UV light, creates within itself vitamin D2. These fungi,  informally known as “white vegetables,” are being researched for their immune function and anticancer effects. Still, more research is being done to understand their additional unique nutritional properties currently unknown.

The Chanterelle is found singularly or scattered in groups or clusters in woods. They are loaded with iron, copper, vitamins D, B3, and 5. Raspberries, bilberries, strawberries, blueberry, and red berries are packed with antioxidants, high in soluble fibre, nutrient-dense, rich in vitamin C, and K1, copper, manganese, and folate. Many more benefits abide with berry fruit, but furthermore involved with foraging is the exercise, exposure to sunshine and fresh air, a sense of purpose and connection to the seasons and nature. It is obvious to state that when gathering wild foods, have an expert along for the ride or identify them yourself from written or online guides. Identification is essential, if in doubt leave it out.

The annual gathering of the Aboyne Highland Games immediately grabbed our attention. We turned up with no idea of what to expect, aside from the traditional highland game themes of hammer and caber tossing to highland dancing, pipes and drums, and a lot of tartan. I was particularly interested in the pipes and drums as a friend back in Blenheim recently asked me to join her pipe and drum outfit as a drummer. I was at first surprised by her offer, I might take her up on it. I was thrilled to hear the Aboyne and district associations’ massed bands and a few days later at Balmoral, the Pipes and Drums of the Royal Highland Regiment. Amazing experiences both. The Highlands’ rich culture goes back to the Clans, the tribal nature of governance way back when. The historic tartan clan colours, the heritage of individual Clans, pride and passion, the importance of competition, and community were very apparent. Community is something Toni and I are aware we lack. It is our own fault, I suppose, we’ve not afforded enough time to its importance. We need to address this to find our community, like-minded and gentle, kind, and nurturing people and purposes. It’s a work in progress on our return.

We journeyed north to Forres, through Whiskey territory, to catch up on our past. We once lived in Elgin, on the Moray Firth, back in my RAF days, just two boys, Arran and Dale, and us as young and intrepid parents. In fact, our current journey, living in New Zealand, began in 1993 when we first traveled to Australasia. This time we stayed just outside of Elgin, at Wester Lawrenceton, on an organic farm, come smallholding, for one night. Extreme weather, a massive deluge of rain, unheard of for decades, had nearly washed away the gravel drive away at the farm stay. The hosts, Pam and Nick, were seasoned veterans of the smallholding and cheese makers originally from Devon, now in the Highlands of Scotland as sustainable, organic, and local food scene suppliers. Their smallholding farms 5 acres, 300 chickens, 2 polytunnels, a small greenhouse, an orchard, and goats.

Pam revealed a lesser-known, but a historically significant organisation called the McCarrison Society. Their slogan, “health through nutrition, a birthright,” demonstrates their stated aspirations of assembling scientific knowledge on nutrition and health. They aim to educate and foster discussion through blogs and chat forums, and create a free access library, education, and videos for schools. They also want to encourage dialogue between the food industry, the medical profession, and government, especially in terms of bringing attention to the issues of food and the broader impact of things such as soil, human waste, and ocean acidification. Many thanks to both Nick and Pam, two very connected people, trying their best to respect and utilise the soil sustainably and holistically.


Mark and Ton’s Learning Odyssey 2019. High as a kite in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, Weed and feed in Portland, Oregon and Social Agriculture in Boulder, Colorado. The lost last post.

Tramway from Oregon Airport into Portland.

This is a replacement post, the original was last in a past edit, after it was originally published. I had thought it unnecessary to replace, but upon reflection the experience, of nearly a fortnight, was too good to ignore. I have decided to write a updated version, looking back upon it a year later in order to better understand it’s true meaning in the light of recent events and the next month or so in New Zealand. This mysterious and cryptic first paragraph will hopefully set the scene for a revealing reflection.

High Wycombe is a busy place. The air is filled with planes approaching London and birds of prey, in this case Kites, huge birds of prey slowly circling high above homes looking for fresh food, as if they too were waiting for clearance to land. We caught the bus from Heathrow, after flying from Aberdeen south. The motorways were jammed packed with traffic and the sense of the nature we’d experienced in the Highlands felt very distant. We were met by Mark, our friend from our Cyprus days and were soon in the heart of our extended family. Rose, Mark’s partner is a great source of professional knowledge regarding infection control but had recently been seconded to the department of the UK Nursing Council responsible for sustainability. She was very insistent about what the future held for civilisation if we weren’t able to sustain change in healthcare practice, let alone the world. She had spent many years concerned about pandemic responses, having been involved with the UK involvement in the Ebola outbreak in Africa and promoting awareness of MRSA and antibiotic resistance historically. Rose was emphatic about the need to consider even the smallest of behaviour changes in our clinical settings, in particular the journey of the surgical glove in terms of production, transportation and its carbon footprint.

“I don’t want your hope, I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic, and act as if your house is on fire”.  Greta Thunberg

This and many other things  gave me more food for thought. I hadn’t expected the degree of concern she felt and this was a broadside across my bow making me reflect upon my future practice at Quin on my imminent return to New Zealand. In fact it made me immediately more aware of the glove use in general, on airplanes by cabin crew and at border control and customs points at airports. I was stunned and surprised to see how much they were used. This was just the tip of the iceberg as COVID 19 came rolling into town a few months later. All the effort I had gone through to address this concern in my practice paled into insignificance as we tried to make sense of this threat, adapt personal and clinical hygiene methods to meet it  and prevent its community spread. The amount of additional clinical waste we are generating is frightening, the gowns, masks and gloves being consumed in vast quantities but also the degree to which the public are now using masks and gloves as well is phenomenal. It’s as if we’ve conveniently forgotten about the planet and are ignoring the consequences. I hope I’m wrong but I can remember my headspace, at the beginning of March shifting from preparing a sustainability presentation at work to urging my boss to change the subject matter to preparing for COVID clinically. Many things were expediently ignored.

We landed in Portland after a long journey via a less than desirable LAX arrival and overnight stay. After collecting our luggage we headed into the city and to our booked residence. We immediately felt the gears drop, the sense that the pace of life and even its intent had changed. The train from the airport to town on the MAX light railway was fun and cheap. Nothing like any airport we’d experienced on the trip to date. Portland was the venue for an occasion to explore an urban farm, or so we thought. It is also a city famed for craft beer, café culture and a liberal nature which allows, legally, the consumption of cannabis in a variety of forms. We set out to explore this experience as the next election in New Zealand will have a vote on it. Both legalisation of euthanasia and recreational cannabis is being engaged in a national referendum as part of the general election in September 2020. Canada, Uruguay, Portugal, Holland, and other countries have seen a benefit to creating greater regulation of weed, for safety and cultural reasons. Opposition to it is strong but before one can judge its merits or disadvantages one should choose to experience it in a controlled and measured way, before casting a vote or expressing an opinion.

Holistic urban farm at Oasis of Change, Portland.

Our arrival at “Oasis of Change” was late, as we’d misjudged the time required to walk the several miles across town. We arrived greeted with open arms and with bowls to go pick our lunch from the produce  growing on their urban farm. It is literally in derelict space next door to an “under construction” purpose built holistic medical practice. We had caught it in its infancy and the place was pretty chaotic but the purpose of it appealed to my view of seeing the body as a whole. The intent of this urban farm was to demonstrate community, nutrition and engaging with growing food in urban spaces. The menu was mainly vegetarian, mushroom and leaves, including marijuana, but other dishes had protien too. It was an experience we hadn’t anticipated but had a great time and learned a lot about an alternative approach to eating and healing. 

“Let food by thy medicine and medicine by thy food.” Hippocrates

Visiting a bud store is something else. The one we found was situated next to a Lutheran church. The whole place looked professional, clean and well presented. The bud tenders, for that is their professional title, are very knowledgeable and not at all “pushy”. They seem to be very aware, also, of the responsibility of the health and safety aspects of their products but also the need to be certain of the legal ages and credentials of those who turn up  intending to buy. We had to show ID. This bodes well for any changes to the law in New Zealand if they adopt a similar approach to cannabis reform. Interestingly we met many older people buying their products for whatever they intended to use them for. This is a freedom we presently hide secretively from each other and indulge in illicitly here. We tried a variety of products and weren’t in the slightest bit concerned about a negative influence, especially compared to alcohol, even sugar. There must be regulation and control however, especially with strong emphasis on drug driving education and prevention.

From Portland we flew to Denver, driving onward to Boulder and Estes Park in the Rocky Mountains. We landed on a Saturday and slept over en route to Boulder. The Sunday market there was in full swing. The onus was definitely orientated towards health and well -being. Alternative therapeutics and physical therapies prevailed along the path that snaked through the park in the centre of town. Boulder had recently decriminalised the use of magic mushrooms AKA Psilocybin, a possible topic for future inclusion. None, however, were present here today. Despite this an array of CBD oils, tinctures and balm were available to trial or buy. Not having much knowledge of cannabidiol it presented an opportunity to find out more about it. It can be used in the treatment of anxiety, pain, movement disorders and cognition and can be up taken in the body by smoke, vapour, aerosol spray or by mouth. CDB one of 113 compounds in cannabis and can be used with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or terpenes or alone after being extracted. These are the psychoactive compounds that are so contentious. CDB has a non – toxic effect on the body and is the subject of much research having been successfully used in epilepsy treatment. Toni, who suffers from chronic hip pain whilst awaiting approval to have a replacement operation in New Zealand compared the medical grade CDB allowed for medicinal use in New Zealand once we returned. It proved to be less potent, especially without the THC to help boost its effects, than the products she trialled in the States during our brief stay. We both hope the referendum allows the combination of both CDB and THC to be used in a measured doses and be regulated to offer the public both a quality product and the best advice in its use. I’m certain there will be strong opposite to its introduction by lobbyists and pressure groups who fear the whole country will become stoners or their businesses will suffer as a consequence. This is not the impression we got from our empirical journey, rather the opposite in fact.

The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill will be voted on by the population of New Zealand on the 19th September, now a month later due to COVID. Its aim is to reduce harm, legalise the age of purchase and regulate the amount accessible per day. Products will have health warnings on them, just like cigarettes and alcohol, descriptions of dosage and potency. Advertising and marketing will be controlled strictly or denied as will its use in open public spaces. Growing it at home will be limited to 2 plants per person at any time and a maximum of 4 per household. A regulatory authority will enforce strict rules for licenses and tax revenue taken from sales.

“Herb is the healing of a nation, alcohol its destruction.” Bob Marley

We were also attracted to the concept, completely new to us, of community supported agriculture. This form of food supply appeals to the inner Frenchman in me. Essentially a collaborative and cooperative effort born of an organic and sustainable, regenerative too, approaches and practice to growing food. We travelled out of Boulder to the flat countryside to meet up with such operations. They survive by supplying markets both in towns for the population but also have boxes of foods going out to the community through online sales. Those in receipt sign up for membership and get discounts and a certain amount delivered according to what they choose to sign up to. Prospective purchases can also be made onsite as can exchanges of vegetables from their own garden for other foods. On our return we met other like – minded people from the States who have brought the same ideas to Motueka, just north of where we live in Nelson. It also inspired us to place more value on our own vegetable growing efforts and where we have surplus exchange for other things or gift to those who haven’t what we have.

We left Colorado for San Fransisco and the long journey home. We enjoyed our times in High Wycombe, Portland and Boulder, satisfied that what we had experienced was food for thought and had been a very nourishing adventure. The last 12 months, since our return has enforced the lessons and experiences gained from that time. COVID has highlighted the need to adapt and think outside the box when growing food, the use of CBD and THC products will, we hope, be legalised to allow those in chronic pain the ability to manage their own analgesia with support and advice from skilled staff at shops or outlets. The big elephant in the room however is the vast amounts of waste created through tackling COVID, this I’m uncertain will be addressed in the immediate future but awareness that fighting COVID has come at not just a human cost but its environmental price too should not be forgotten too.

Mark and Toni’s 2019 Learning Odyssey. A  Final Reflection, Future Planning, and a Greater Purpose.

Ancient grain field, Salignac, Dordogne, en France.

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong with it Robert Burns, To a mouse.

This quote from Robbie Burns clearly sums up the lessons learned while on our odyssey. Expect the unexpected also rings an accord. The plan was hatched nearly a year ago. Its embryonic nature began with just a single flight back to the UK, possibly working again in the UK in mind. The thought of re-registration and working in a Brexit uncertain UK rapidly made us think twice as to the wisdom of such a venture. We extended the trip and decided to build it into multiple weeks of learning. The home and job move from Blenheim to Nelson made the opportunity even more logical, and the hiatus between them was ideal.

We traveled from Nelson via LA to the UK, from there onward to the Mediterranean, Central France, and Champagne. The UK leg saw us visit Brighton, Fareham, Shepton Mallet, Wells, Scotland, and High Wycombe. The US leg saw us in Portland, Colorado, and San Francisco.  Along the way, we drove, flew, trained, and bused to varying locations that marked our discovery and learning path. We were very fortunate to have the assistance and collaborative support of so many amazing friends along the way. Our gratitude and thanks go to Deb, Pat and Isa, Hanna and Ralph, Dave and Rachel, Lynne and Philippe, Anni-France, Andy, Sue and Chris, Audrey, Sally, Tracey and Neil, Mike and Pauline, Mark and Rose, Dan and Carola and Jack and Peggy. Their kindness and time afforded to us made it all possible.

The trip went as planned, not much to this point has gone wrong. The most reliable, most lasting impression I have of the venture is of the environment, climate change, and sustainability. Ironic and a tad dark of me considering the carbon footprint that trails behind us. “That Humbleman” Ollie Langridge we found in the early days of his 100-day climate change protest outside the Bee Hive Parliament Building as we made our way from Wellington to Auckland. His message through social media has been following us along the way. His determination to persist and engage with the public and politicians for a cause greater than himself is inspiring. His demonstration and advocacy continues.

The link to the environment, sustainability, food waste, climate change is becoming more apparent to many around the World. Talking to beekeepers, winemakers, healthcare professionals, and farmers on this trip has made me consider my own position. It may not affect me in my life significantly, but for my children and their children, too, I am deeply concerned. Can we affect change in our professional lives to undo, halt, and prevent further environmental catastrophe? Our plan is to join the Green Party of New Zealand and become more active within it, look intently at our work and home place behaviours, and encourage change. We have downsized to one car, walking and cycling will very much continue to be part of our life.

With environmental considerations comes the question of what nutritional behaviours we adopt. In the 8 weeks of this trip has come to the news that we allegedly need to eat less red meat, the Brazilian Rain forests are being destroyed by fire to clear land for grazing and pasture to feed animals as our global dietary change. Do we need to eat less? Do we need to eat to need rather than eat to greed? Do we need to eat less meat and more plant-based foods? What evidence is there for such dietary changes? Is saturated fat bad? The best way forward I feel is to gain more knowledge on these matters.

We both had the intention to be more sociable. We have spent many years really just getting on with our lives without association to a more significant cause or community. The search for community, for more meaningful use of our time, we hope has been joined with the need to support the worlds struggling bee colonies and those supporting food education and growing food. I’m hoping it will keep us rooted in the land, make us think more than once or twice about going away frequently to find purpose away from where we live.

Clinically things are about to change for both of us, more so for me, I suspect. Working for Gerry at Quinn Dental, Nelson will be a professional journey into a higher professional purpose. The need to determine how I fit into this dynamic and progression clinical scene will be a challenge. My initial thoughts were to follow the oral myofacial therapy and Buteyko breathing study route. The practice, however, already has clinicians working in these fields, so I feel a working knowledge is essential only presently. I’m more inclined to think a greater understanding of lifestyle and nutritional change regarding dental and metabolic health improvement are crucial. My learning journey begins there.

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