5 possible solutions to ocean plastics

Journalism, Published Work

Around 8m tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year. How can we clean up our seas?

1. Develop green alternatives

Just 14-16 per cent of plastic packaging is recycled each year worldwide. But there is a growing focus on the development of ‘bioplastics’. Existing projects include biodegradable water bottles made from algae, and a range of packaging that takes just six months to break down in garden compost.

2. Invest in clean-up technology

Scientists and inventors are working
on ways to clean up the plastic that is already in the sea. A trawling net by
The Ocean Cleanup project is designed to scoop up microplastics and can be attached to existing vessels. Other designs use ocean currents to collect waste via floating barriers and ‘sea bins’.

3. Challenge brands to change

Documentary-makers, schools and NGOs are educating people about the impact of ocean plastics. Consumers can, in turn, put pressure on brands to do their bit. In 2016, more than 140,000 people signed a Greenpeace petition that saw the UK government pledge to ban microbeads by the end of 2017.

4. Introduce bans and charges

Plastic bags can take 1,000 years 
to break down. The UK’s 5p levy on single-use bags has helped halve the number found on Britain’s beaches since 2015. Outright bans on the use of disposable polyethylene bags have been introduced in countries including China, Bangladesh and Rwanda.

5. Turn ocean plastics into useful items

Reusing the 86 per cent of plastic that is not being recycled globally could generate up to £92bn each year,
says the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Adidas makes trainers and swimwear using ocean plastic, while carpet tile company Interface uses yarn made from discarded fishing nets.

This article was published in Positive News magazine

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Goodbye boozy Britain? Why more young people are going dry

Journalism, Published Work

New research suggests that young people in Britain are increasingly swapping pints for soft drinks. Kelsi Farrington investigates the growing movement for more mindful drinking

In February 2011, a woman called Emily Robinson signed up to run her first half marathon. She didn’t enjoy running very much so, to make training easier, she decided to give up alcohol. Emily began working with the charity Alcohol Concern and went on to help launch the first ever Dry January campaign in 2012, encouraging people to ditch the booze after Christmas.

Fast forward four years and a YouGov survey revealed that 16 per cent of the UK adult population attempted to go dry in January 2016. And it is a shift being embraced with most enthusiasm by young people: a fifth of British adults under 25 are now teetotal, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and numbers are on the rise. Data released last week by the ONS revealed that people aged 16 to 24 are less likely to drink than any other age group in Britain, sticking to ‘sober sprints’ or simply not drinking at all.

Why? Besides being motivated by wanting to improve their health, a few other factors are at play, suggest experts: the price of alcohol in difficult economic times; wanting to get ahead at work in an increasingly competitive careers market; and the limitless choice of digital TV keeping us at home.

For young people like Londoner Laurie McAllister, drinking – and feeling hungover – was simply losing its appeal. “I didn’t like how I behaved when I was drinking,” says the 25-year-old, who started her girlandtonic blog to write about her experiences. “I often found I would drink when I’d had a bad day or to celebrate a good day and would use alcohol to manage my mood. My life is much better without alcohol in it.”

Those behind Club Soda, a website that rates British venues based on their non-alcoholic drinks and supports people who want to reduce their alcohol consumption, believe it taps into a wider desire to find meaning and improve wellbeing.

I didn’t like how I behaved when I was drinking. My life is much better without alcohol in it

“Club Soda started out as a way to help people reduce the amount they drink,” says Club Soda’s co-founder Jussi Tolvi. “We soon came across a lot of young people who have either not drunk much, or not at all, and they’re interested in leading a healthier and more mindful life.”

The Club Soda Guide lists approximately 200 pubs and bars that have tried to improve their range of non-alcoholic options. Those businesses that cotton on to the fact that not everyone needs to drink could be well-placed to survive the challenging business conditions currently affecting pubs and nightclubs across the UK. The Campaign for Real Ales estimates that an average of 29 pubs close per week.

“Financially it’s really difficult for some pubs,” says Tolvi. “It’s a difficult business, but we think there is a whole new customer-type out there who don’t go into pubs because they think there is nothing for them to drink.”

The choice of non-alcoholic drinks options is expanding particularly quickly in London, where mindful pub crawls also take place regularly. “There are some outstanding places that create their own non-alcoholic wine substitutes,” says Tolvi, with some venues even adding beetroot juice to grape juice to better mimic wine’s slightly bitter taste. Some bars and pubs also make their own tonic drinks. “It’s really outstanding stuff,” says Tolvi. “It’s always amazing to find something you’ve never found in a pub before.”

The figures released by ONS last week also revealed that Londoners drink less regularly than people in any other part of the country. It is important to note that rates of drinking remain high: 47 per cent of respondents had drunk alcohol during the previous week. Perhaps London’s first Mindful Drinking Festival, a one-day event taking place in Bermondsey in August, will speed the transition further. The day will include non-alcoholic beer tasting, ‘mocktail’ mixing and food pairing demonstrations. “It will be like a beer festival but without the hangover,” says Laura Willoughby from Club Soda.

Although ‘mindful drinking’ isn’t what Club Soda initially sought to promote, Tolvi thinks the term sums up what they do. Choice is all-important, he points out. “We’re not telling anyone that you have to give up drinking – it’s entirely up to you. What we’re suggesting is that being mindful about it is a good idea.”

The Club Soda team also runs a LGBT-specific social – Queers Without Beers – where more than half of its attendees are students. Events like this, says Tolvi, are great opportunities for young people to socialize without alcohol needing to play a part. “At one event, one attendee ordered porridge instead of a pint!”

This article first appeared on Positive News.

Making sense: are we ready to ditch the disposable economy?

Journalism, Published Work

From a surge of interest in repair cafes, to a new wave of workspaces for freelance makers, fresh signs suggest that we’re demanding a new relationship with ‘stuff’

Can possessions ever be positive? asked our feature in 2016 titled True Riches. There are fresh signs that our relationship with consuming is undergoing an overhaul. On 1 January, a tax break bill came into force in Sweden that reduced by half the VAT on repairing items such as bicycles, clothes and shoes, as well as dishwashers and washing machines. The legislation will, it is hoped, encourage people to fix their possessions instead of buying new.

In the UK, not only are we consuming less (Office for National Statistics data shows that we each used, on average, 10 tonnes of raw material in 2013 compared to 15 tonnes in 2001) but government figures released in December suggest that we’re also sending less to landfill.

Digital disruption has been credited at least in part for the change, as consumers buy fewer resource-intensive goods and source things digitally instead. But is it a cultural shift too? Transactions in the UK’s ‘sharing economy’ doubled to £7.4bn in 2015 according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, making it the fastest-growing market of its kind in Europe.

Sharing and making are more positive ways to satisfy the innate human need for novelty, believes Ruth Potts, co-author of a manifesto for ‘new materialism’. “Making makes us more adaptable, better able to respond to changing circumstances and better at solving problems.”

Making makes us more adaptable, better able to respond to changing circumstances and better at solving problems

And a team at the University of Dundee have discovered other benefits. While exploring prototyping, they found that those working in three dimensions created more imaginative solutions than those working on paper or screen. What is more, the process created stronger, healthier teams.

This sense of comradery is thriving at the 1,022sq m Building BloQs workshop in Enfield, north London, a suburb that was previously best known for its high rate of knife crime. The social enterprise rents space and tools on a pay-as-you-go basis to freelance makers and designers in wood, metal, textiles, CNC and paint. Demand means it is due to expand within the year, when it will become the largest open access workshop in Europe.

“Our members need a space in which to make noise, mess and dust, and to be creative,” co-founder Al Parra tells Positive News.

Building BloQs also offers members – from ‘old dogs’ to young graduates – access to a unique community of knowledge. “We’re seeing greater value being placed on things that are handmade, things that are bespoke. We are part of the new industrial revolution: a much shorter manufacturing chain that is closer to home, more adaptable and more accessible.”

This article was published on Positive News.

‘It’s time to build social trust, not guns or walls’

Journalism, Published Work

The 2017 World Happiness Report, released 23 March to coincide with International Day of Happiness, names Norway the happiest country in the world. What lessons can we learn from the nations at the top of the table?

Norway has been named the happiest country in the world, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland. Norway came from fourth place last year to take the top slot in the World Happiness Report – a survey of the state of global happiness.

The report was announced yesterday, on International Day of Happiness, at the UN’s headquarters in New York. Now in its fifth year, the World Happiness Report is produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), an organisation that promotes practical problem solving for sustainable development. It ranks 155 countries by how happy their residents are.

Nations are ranked according to six factors: income, life expectancy, having others to count on for support, freedom, trust in government in regards to corruption and business, and generosity.“The World Happiness Report continues to draw global attention around the need to create sound policy for what matters most to people – their wellbeing,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the SDSN. “This report provides evidence that happiness is a result of creating strong social foundations. It’s time to build social trust and healthy lives, not guns or walls. Let’s hold our leaders to this fact.”

The report explains that Norway, and other Nordic countries in the top 10, rank the highest because they realise that “high happiness depends on much more than income”. Countries such as the US experienced a dip in national happiness because of “inequality, distrust and corruption”, said Sachs.

It’s time to build social trust and healthy lives, not guns or walls

Norway also ranks at the top, the report found, because of the country’s investment habits in regards to oil. The nation tends to carefully invest in the future, rather than spending profits quickly.

“By choosing to produce oil deliberately and investing the proceeds for the benefit of future generations, Norway has protected itself from the volatile ups and downs of many other oil-rich economies,” said Prof John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia. “This emphasis on the future over the present is made easier by high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance. All of these are found in Norway, as well as in the other top countries.”

Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden were placed in the second to tenth positions. More than four in five African countries ranked below the midpoint of the happiness scale, making the majority of African citizens statistically ‘unhappy’. Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Central African Republic fill the bottom slots alongside Syria and Yemen.

In Africa in particular, those at the SDSN suggest that positioning could be attributed to citizens’ “disappointment with different aspects of development under democracy”. The report dedicated a chapter to these findings in particular – Waiting For Happiness in Africa. The report’s authors also highlighted that US citizens have experienced decreasing levels of happiness during the last ten years, despite national income rising.

The report suggests that finance reform, policies to reduce wealth inequality, improving social relations and an increased multiculturalism could help the country’s “social crisis” from worsening.

“Trump’s ban on travel to the US from certain Muslim-majority countries is a continuing manifestation of the exaggerated and irrational fears that grip the nation,” read the report.

The World Happiness Report continues to draw global attention around the need to create sound policy for what matters most to people – their wellbeing

This year’s report also explores the importance of happiness in the workplace, and the effects of mental health on levels of happiness in the US, Indonesia, Britain and Australia. Mental illness is “the biggest single cause of misery” in rich countries, according to Prof Richard Layard, director of the Wellbeing Programme at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance.

The research found that people’s happiness differed considerably due to their employment status, job type and industry, and that employment played a crucial role in people’s mental health and wellbeing.

“People in well-paid roles are happier, but money is only one predictive measure of happiness — work-life balance, job variety and the level of autonomy, are other significant drivers,” said Prof Jan-Emmanuel De Neve from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. “People tend to spend the majority of their lives working, so it is important to understand the role that employment and unemployment play in shaping happiness.”

Next year’s report will focus on migration.

This article was published on Positive News.

Could ‘secondhand first’ be an antidote to fast fashion?

Journalism, Published Work

Clothes recycling charity Traid urges people to wear secondhand instead of buying new. Could instilling pride in wearing pre-owned clothes help avoid wasteful fast fashion?

From encouraging people to rummage for charity shop treasures to extolling the virtues of ‘mending activism’, those at clothes recycling charity Traid want us to reconsider our relationship with shopping. The charity has declared November 21-27 #Secondhandfirst Week with the campaign designed to coincide with the run-up to ‘Black Friday’ on November 25. Often considered the day when Christmas shopping begins in earnest, it will see a projected £1bn spent across the UK in just 24 hours.

Buying secondhand and repurposing items rather than buying new could reduce fashion’s substantial environmental footprint. An estimated 10,000 items of clothing are sent to UK landfill every five minutes, equating to more than 350,000 tonnes of wearable clothes being dumped in landfill each year. Most of us own at least one pair of jeans but few know it would take approximately 14 years to drink the amount of water used to make just a single pair.

How many times have you worn today’s outfit? Research by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) shows the average person wears items only six or seven times before throwing them away. Statistics aside, say those at Traid, more frequently choosing recycled and repurposed clothes could also lead to a more fulfilling relationship with fashion and identity.

“Increasing our use of secondhand goods also includes a social and cultural dimension,” says Traid’s chief executive Maria Chenoweth-Casey. “It has the potential to transform people from consumers into citizens and to loosen the grip of advertising and corporations on shaping our style and identity.”

We have the power to inspire customers to buy less new and reducing demand for the ‘must haves’

Just a week ago, 13 Indian garment workers died in a workshop fire in Ghaziabad, India. Their deaths come three years after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in which more than 1,100 workers died. The disaster prompted some, from brands to shoppers, to reconsider where clothing is sourced and at what cost.

“Fast fashion is one of the dirtiest industries in the world,” says Traid’s Leigh McAlea, “coming second only to big oil. In that sense, our #Secondhandfirst campaign is unlikely to cause fast fashion retailers sleepless nights. However, where we do have power is to inspire customers to buy less new and so reduce demand for the so-called ‘must haves’.”

The foundations of today’s fast fashion are complex, but McAlea suggests the disconnection inherent in a hyper-globalised world with extended supply chains plays a large part.

“It is extremely difficult to relate to the workers and processes that bring clothes to our high streets and into our wardrobes. Those making our clothes are so remote as to be barely human, and certainly there is no sense of people with lives and aspirations that may intersect with our own. At the same time, the voices of garment workers are rarely heard, further enabling and normalising exploitation in our supply chains. Despite raised awareness of conditions through devastating events such as Rana Plaza, consumer desire for fast fashion – currently around £44bn in the UK annually – trumps ethics.”

Kit Oates Photography

Kit Oates Photography / TRAID

#Secondhandfirst Week events will take place across London, including late night shopping sessions at Traid’s 11 charity shops and a screening of films made by 50 Cambodian garment workers. Shoppers will also be encouraged to sign a secondhand first pledge: a promise to wear at least some secondhand outfits during the week.

“You can choose what percentage of your wardrobe you want to rebalance from new to secondhand,” says McAlea. “You don’t necessarily need to source all your secondhand in charity or vintage shops, but can also swap, mend and lend.”

It has the potential to loosen the grip of advertising and corporations on shaping our style and identity

Rather than focusing on guilt to motivate people toward changing habits, the Traid team are keen to emphasise the fun and creativity to be had in sourcing fashion more sustainably. So does McAlea have a favourite charity shop find?

“It’s almost impossible to pin down one! Having said that, an antique set of Russian dolls comes near the top of my list, and a vintage cashmere camel coat from Traid Dalston which has seen me elegantly through three winters so far. It’s easy to get overwhelmed in charity shops, but just take each rail at a time and go through it carefully, you’re bound to find something you love.”

Kit Oates Photography

Kit Oates Photography / TRAID

Find out more about #Secondhandfirst Week here.

This article was published on Positive News.

America’s black banking revolution

Journalism, Published Work

Recent racial unrest in the US has bloomed into a different kind of protest. ‘Black banking’ is emerging as a tool of empowerment for communities in America, and further afield

At a time of heightened racial unrest, black Americans are being urged to empower their communities through banking. OneUnited Bank, which is believed to be the largest black-owned bank in the US, launched the #BankBlack campaign earlier this year, urging people to invest $100 (£82) into one of the 318 such financial institutions currently in the US.

“The #BankBlack movement is part protest and part progress,” says Teri Williams, president of OneUnited Bank, which reports lending more than $1bn (£820m) to low to moderate income communities since 1995. “Many practices in the financial services industry have particularly disadvantaged the black community. This is a protest against these predatory banking practices and an opportunity for the black community to make progress by using our $1.2tn [£984bn] annual spending power to create local jobs.”

Through social media posts following the campaign’s launch, rappers Killer Mike and David Banner helped draw attention to what they see as a shortage of black banks. Jason Warner, president of the Own the Vision foundation – an organisation that supports the development of black communities – also backs it. He mentions one Mississippi-based bank that was fined for deliberately discriminating against minorities in its lending practices.

This is a protest against predatory banking practices and an opportunity for the black community to make progress

“I truly believe the goal is to spark a mindset shift among all people. It sends the message that injustice and inequity will no longer be tolerated,” says Warner.

“Banking black allows blacks and other people of colour to receive fair and equitable treatment from their banking partner.”

Warner also explains that while strong group economic models exist among some cultures, these economic ecosystems are not as developed within black American communities: “If you don’t own a seat at the capitalism table as a group, then you will never command a seat at the social justice table. Black America talks about the nearly $1.3tn annual spending power, however, that number means nothing if the community owns and controls nothing.”

Financial literacy, say some experts, is another barrier to funding. Danielle Robinson Bell is marketing director at digitalundivided (DID), a Georgia-based platform for black female entrepreneurs in the tech and innovation sectors.

She says: “We focus on economic growth and empowerment of communities of colour and we do this by giving black and Hispanic women entrepreneurs access to training, networks and capital to grow their businesses. Our offices are in downtown Atlanta’s emerging tech scene.”

Collaborating with a small team of investors and mentors, DID works with women who are often overlooked and regarded by mainstream banks as big financial risks.

The goal is to spark a mindset shift among all people

Rohan Clarke, who owns a shoe company based in Brixton, south London, believes that things are similar in the UK. Here, a government report published in 2013 urged the banking industry to do more to ensure ethnic minority businesses have access to finance. It found there were higher aspirations to start-up businesses among ethnic minority groups – 35 per cent in black African communities compared to just 10 per cent for white British people – but that the ‘conversion’ rates into successful businesses were low.

Clarke established Uptown Yardie seven years ago but was unable to secure financial backing from mainstream British banks: “It was a constant struggle,” he says. “We mortgaged our property and relied on our own people, paying all upfront costs.”

He hopes the #BankBlack movement in the US could shift things here too, better supporting black business owners in the future. “I hope the situation in America will wake people up and that mindset will trickle over to the UK. I’m hoping it will be easier for the next generation.”

This article was published on Positive News.

Recipe Sharing: Minced Lobster / Crawfish

Bahamas, Food, Published Work

After being back home in the Bahamas for several months, one thing really resonated: what you can buy on Green Turtle Cay is pretty limited (and expensive) so it’s absolutely essential to know what ingredients will be available

When I was asked to contribute recipes for upcoming issues of my local magazine, Abaco Life, I was specifically asked to find some of the best, local lobster recipes.

When sourcing these recipes, it was important to recognize the clear line between what is traditionally the Bahamian, and more specifically the Abaconian (local), preference to cooking crawfish compared to what is preferred by tourists and readers. Minced Lobster is a recipe that comes from the Green Turtle Club, a local hotel.

My parents were both managers at the Green Turtle Club when I was growing up so I spent a lot of time there and when I told my mum that I had chosen Minced Lobster as the Bahamian recipe I wanted to master, she told me that she always found it funny that while the tourists were ordering and enjoying the more traditional, buttered lobster tails, the kitchen staff would be preparing themselves a seafood rendition of ‘Fire Engine’ – using minced lobster. By mincing the lobster meat and cooking it down with tomatoes and the Bahamian ‘trilogy’ of pepper, onion and celery, this Minced Lobster recipe is one of the best and easiest ways to spice things up if you’re wanting to try something different and to eat like a true Bahamian at home, wherever that may be!

Thanks to Chef Karen Curry at the Green Turtle Club for sharing all of her tips with me.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium lobster tails (removed from their shells and diced)
  • 1 yellow onion (diced)
  • 1 green bell pepper (diced)
  • 1 stalk of celery (diced)
  • 1 large ripe tomato (diced) / 2 tablespoons of canned diced tomato
  • olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon of old sour or juice of ½ a lime and ½ tablespoon of red pepper flakes (extra lime can be used on the side)

photoHere’s my older brother, David, kindly mincing the lobster meat for me in exchange for the recipe

Directions: 

Using a sharp, large knife, place it directly on the centre of the first tail. Using a mallet, tap sternly to split the shell straight through the middle with your other hand. Remove the meat and dice. Repeat with remaining tails.

Chop and dice one onion, one green pepper, one stalk of celery and one large ripened tomato (or two tablespoons of canned, diced tomatoes).

Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a skillet and sauté the diced vegetables starting with your peppers, then your onion and celery on a medium heat. Add the tomato once the rest has started to soften. Continue to sauté on a medium heat for 5 minutes until the tomato also softens.

Add the lobster, two tablespoons of tomato paste, some fresh thyme (a Bahamian must!) and salt and pepper to taste. Cover with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes. To really add some kick, try adding a small splash of ‘old sour’ or the juice of a lime and some red pepper flakes to taste.

Lobster

To Serve:

Karen, and the rest of the staff at the Green Turtle Club, were quick to correct me when I asked if grits (or polenta) would be the best side dish to serve with the minced lobster. They said that a fresh pot of white rice and coleslaw was much more Bahamian. However, the benefit of this saucy dish is that it works with most side dishes, although I did find that opting with white rice and some of the fresh pumpkin from the local grocery store was a clean and refreshing accompaniment.

*Please note that lobster/ crawfish season is closed in the Bahamas until August 1st. Please respect the laws in place and allow repopulation.

**If you live in the UK or in a place where lobster isn’t readily available (without costing far too much), make sure you try this recipe by replacing the lobster meat with crayfish but opting for a shorter cooking time.

 

 

Tranquil Turtle’s Sunday Fish Fry

Bahamas, Food, Home, Journalism, Photography, Published Work, Travel

As one of Green Turtle Cay’s oldest resorts and marinas, Bluff House has had a major revamp in the last three years. With new owners and a fresh set of staff, they are taking on new projects and events and one of particular success is their Sunday Fish Fry.

Fish

Tranquil Turtle Beach Bar’s Sunday Fish Fry was an idea from Bianca Curry, a familiar face working at the Bar, and although it is only in its first few weeks it’s already had a great start. Attracting around 100+ people every Sunday from 2pm onwards, the focus of this weekly event (which aims to carry on for the rest of the season) is bringing people together for a local treat and Bahamian tradition.

Michael Withers, one of the new owners at the Bluff House explains the secret behind the Sunday Fish Fry which is all prepared from scratch in the Beach Bar’s kitchen:

“It’s all thanks to our staff,” Michael explained. “We’ve got great girls with great ideas and personalities. Bianca ran with this idea and so far so good! We also have other things like our burgers, cracked conch and fritters besides the 60-70 perspective orders of the main attraction.”

The great food and fun atmosphere is helped by the sounds of a local DJ and of course, the star of the Sunday Fish Fry is in the name but it is done with a difference. Crisply and lightly battered whole snappers are served with homemade banana pancakes providing a perfect balance of light and filling for just $12.

Coming from a traditional Bahamian breakfast – fried fish and ‘panny cake,’ the fresh snapper with the hint of sweetness and the chef’s addition of “a little nutmeg” to the pancakes ties the flavours together really well.

For the tourists staying in the hotel rooms and villas, it provides the perfect combination of a beautiful beach location, great food, drinks and music all with a buzzing and unique atmosphere which draws in locals and other vacationers alike.

One GTC local for example, Maxwell McIntosh, approved of the event and expressed his hope for some of the “money to stay on the Cay rather than everyone going to Nippers every Sunday.”

A regular visitor and sailboat owner, Pat Phelan said that Abaco (and Green Turtle Cay in particular) was, out of all the other places in the Bahamas, the place he spends the most money. “There are so many nice things to go to like this. It’s fun and it’s a happy medium here. It’s nice to get everyone together.”

So, whether you’re carried by golf cart, boat or foot, Tranquil Turtle’s Sunday Fish Fry is a Sunday well spent and you’ll leave with your belly full, your dancing-legs sore and maybe some damaged pride after a game or two of corn hole toss or volleyball on Tranquil’s beach.

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As seen in The Abaconian newspaper, published March 15th 2014. 

An Interview with an Artist: Rett Sturman

Bahamas, Home, Journalism, Photography, Published Work, Travel

Green Turtle Cay had a new face that became quite familiar recently. Usually found with his easel propped opposite his muse – one of the cay’s street views, homes or beaches, Rett Sturman has created a growing collection of oil-painted scenes like the Albert Lowe Museum he’s recently completed.

Rett Sturman

After a Google search for beautiful places in the Caribbean, Rett Sturman fell in love with the array of turquoises that New Plymouth’s harbour had to offer. Hailing from Vermont, which is currently experiencing -20 degree weather, he sought refuge on the 3-mile-long island for the past 8 weeks.

Rett, 67, studied for his Masters in Architecture in the 70s at the University of Pennsylvania. There, he realised that he wanted to paint. After “starving for a number of years,” he spent a lot of his time visiting some of his old teachers with his progress and they’d in turn offer their criticism.

One in particular would ask, “Are you feeling strong?” before laying the blows. “But,” he said laughing, “there was some good criticism there and a lot of the time, there would be a little pearl to take home.” So, the then 20-something-year-old wouldn’t be too discouraged. “I felt pumped up and I’ve been doing it for 40 years. It’s taken a lot of practice.”

When home, Rett has someone who takes his soft canvas sheets and makes them into giclee prints, a process of printing paintings via an inkjet printer, which he jokes “makes them look nicer than the actual paintings!”

His work (which in the past has ranged in price from a few thousand to sometimes $25,000 depending on the subject) has been sold in galleries, but after so many years, he began feeling pigeon-holed. “I just burned out.”

Stepping away from the ‘factory-line’ style of working and attracted by the unmodern, loyalist homes of Green Turtle, it’s provided a calm and warm environment to do some of his work that’s “not like anything else [he’s] really done before” and he’s “really having fun.”

Rett has no aims to make a living off of these landscaped canvas prints of predominantly the homes in New Plymouth, he spoke of keeping them and some of his other work in a “treasure trunk” styled file for his 24-year-old son, Evan, to come across.

It’s a beautiful idea that would allow his son to stand in his shoes while taking in the lighting, the people and the surroundings of a paradise unlike anywhere else. He explained how nice it was to have people chatting to him rather than the empty silence of a studio, admiring his work (only a distraction when he’s trying to get the lighting just right). Some of his favourite moments on the Cay include what some of the island people have said.

For example, a quote from one local: “You could’ve built that house by now!”IMG_7720

The capture of the Albert Lowe Museum has taken him about 2 weeks to complete. His cross-handed style of painting professes someone who wants a reassured, steady hand to follow the imperfect lines of the homes. His architectural background brought distaste for the use of rulers to produce lifeless straight lines. “I like to follow the hand of the painter.”

Our ‘artist in residence’ was here painting the different scenes of GTC (from one end to the other) until the 25th of February. His oil paintings, all dried on the self-cut sheets of rollable canvas have travelled in a hard case back to the US. His overall experience on Green Turtle Cay “has been heavenly…it really has. And I’ll be back next year – very happily so.”

   View some of Rett’s work here.IMG_8109 - Version 2

IMG_8116

IMG_8115

All photos were taken by Kelsi Farrington 

Original article seen in Vol. 22, Issue 4 of The Abaconian newspaper published March 1st 2014, pg. 15:
Abaconian 1
Abaconian 2

Cornwall’s Caribbean Connections

Falmouth, Food, Journalism, Negotiated Portfolio, Photography, Photojournalism, Published Work, Reviews, Travel, University Work

Falmouth might not appear to be the obvious location for a Caribbean restaurant but chef John Duncan challenged that assumption when he opened Cribbs. Six years ago, the St Vincent-born chef brought his Caribbean roots and background as a head chef to the small seaside town and has since built up not one, but two successfully received Caribbean-oriented establishments.

Having moved to Cornwall in 2000, John had built up experience as head chef in St Ives’ Onshore and Truro’s One Eyed Cat. Cribbs Caribbean Restaurant was John’s first establishment which opened its doors April 2007 and focused on creating a unique and sophisticated dining experience within what he described as a “dilapidated building.”

Starting with immediate repairs on the roof, walls and inside seating, John focused on making his food a memorable experience. “When I first came here, it was bad. One day I just maxed my credit card out, I called someone to sort the sign out, then I got a guy to give me a quote on new seats – cost me ten grand! I did all of that, then I focused everything around this painting. All the colours in here go with it and I also have a picture of home, my house, it’s all there.

“I think the main reason I opened up my own place was because I got tired of being promised so much by other bosses…so I just decided to do it myself,” he explained. “I don’t walk around in the nicest clothes, the nicest car…but that’s because I have a dream beyond that. Once I’m there, I’ll have all of those nice things.”

Business steadily took off and his most popular dishes: Caribbean Lamb Curry and Jamaican Jerk Chicken became quite the talk of the town. Because of his success with the local and student population at the restaurant, John has been supported with his newest venture, Cribbs Cafe-Bar. Both give anyone interested in trying Caribbean cuisine, dishes full of flavour and fresh ingredients.

Before finding a company to deliver these ingredients, John would travel nearly 200 miles to Bristol during off-peak days, filling his car with his kitchen necessities to create traditional, true-to-home centerpieces (like Jamaica’s national dish: ackee and saltfish.) Ackee, a tricky fruit to prepare, is boiled then served with the salted white fish along with sautéed onions and Scotch bonnet pepper. John plates his with chips of fried plantain and plain white rice.

“What I do is use whatever seafood we have here in Falmouth and just give it a twist. Things like fresh thyme, coriander, curry seasoning and cloves…all of these little bits and pieces that make it authentic Caribbean.”

His experience as a chef on a cruise ship is reflected in the styling of his plated food, regardless of the course by focusing on colours and delicate presentation. The main selections are served on white, heavy, bowl-like dishes that allow the flavours to soak down from the fried plantain on top to the rice ‘n peas at the bottom, whereas lighter dishes are served on simple, wooden boards.

When he talked about what Cribbs represented he said that: “I think for me, it’s all about representing not my island but the Caribbean as a whole because Caribbean food is at the back burner where cookery is concerned.”

As owner and chef of both places, John is spending a lot of his time back and forth but still makes a genuine effort to bring a smile to work on a daily basis. Another thing he never forgets is his knitted beanie which replaces a traditional toque paired with chef whites.

“Growing up as a kid I always had dreads… It’s like a woman changing her hairstyle. I just put the hat on and still feel pretty,” he joked. Known for coming over to chat to his customers, he makes sure that he is known foremost for what he is, a chef and someone who enjoys plating up food worth coming in for.

Specialising in take away food, Cribbs Cafe-Bar officially opened May 1 and serves some of John’s roti wraps and other grab-and-go snacks that are available all day and into the evening. John and his ‘crew’ have also taken their atmosphere-enhancing cocktails like ‘Koko Kolada’ that transport you to a tropical paradise in one sip and with its history of being Q-Bar on the Moor, John has given the venue a new life, leaving its graffiti-grunge past behind.

His secret? Determination and choosing your company wisely. “People that you can trust and be able to delegate to them and them come back and delegate to you with the best possible answers for the scenarios or situations.”

“I think fixing up places is my niche,” joked the chef. “If I’m going to be a millionaire, it’s going to be from finding old dilapidated places and turning them into something special!”

Published in Cornwall Today (The Summer Issue, August 2013)