Food for thought: the sausage salad

So I love food and I love cooking. A hell of a lot actually. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to view cooking as a meditation of sorts – it’s a peaceful time in which I can let go of any worries, concerns or thoughts about the day and just get into the groove of making some delicious, nutritious meals which, to top it all of, I then get to eat myself!

With this in mind, I think I’m going to write a little bit about food on this blog, probably in the form of sharing some basic, decently healthy and deliciously tasty dishes that I’ve come to love and depend on, me being a bit of an uncultured foodie and all.

When you’ve done a full day’s work, there’s really nothing better than getting home, putting on some tunes and deciding what’s going to be on the menu that evening. The most difficult and infuriating part of this process can often be deciding what to have following the completion of a full week’s shop. Will it be something from the arsenal of classic, straightforward dishes such as pork chops & mashed potatoes perhaps, or my personal favourite, Chilli. Or do you step out of your comfort zone a little and choose something from that wagamama cook book everyone loves so much?

For a man who left for University struggling to not fuck up a full english, entirely dependent on the kind assistance of a few flatmates to show him the basics (“see, this is how you cook pasta”), ‘adventure’ for me rarely goes beyond a fish pie or a risotto. Nonetheless, as with everything in life practice makes perfect, and slowly but surely I’ve become a lot more confident in the kitchen.

Just last year me and my brother, to the amazement of many of our friends, cooked a full Christmas dinner for the family. We weren’t particularly adventurous (turkey, roasties, veg, gravy and all that jazz), but as anybody who has tried to cook for 9 people will surely appreciate, timing everything correctly is pretty darn difficult. When everything worked pretty much to perfection, our family stuffing themselves silly and declaring how good of a job we had done, we both felt pretty proud.

First off today, I’m going to tell you about one of my favourite lunch-time dishes: the sausage salad. Yes that’s right. I once proposed this for lunch to a housemate, who gave me a look as if I’d just suggested David Moyes ought to be manager of the season. However, it’s dead easy and it really is pretty amazing. Depending on what kind of sausages you have, there’s a couple of different ways I cook like to cook them.

If I’ve got the good stuff in (90%+ pork) then I’ll just slice the sausage up into chunks, and fry it in a pan. If I’ve got just regular ones, i’ll often ‘squeeze’ the meet out this skin, which looks and feels pretty disgusting but it allows for a great distribution of sausage in your salad. While frying, break up the portions of meet into small chunks as they begin to cook, and then add some chopped onion, garlic, and anything else you fancy throwing in (mushroom goes well). You can also add a little bit of smoked bacon, or ham, or chorizo, if you want a particularly meaty salad. While you can grill/George Forminate the sausages and then slice them up, I prefer to cook them in a frying pan so that the flavour from the meat infuses with all the veg.

Once this has all cooked I’ll sometimes add a bit of BBQ sauce (home and bargain do a decent one for 39p) but mostly just a healthy serving of salt, pepper, and sometimes paprika. Chop up a few slices of cheese (extra or vintage mature, of course) into little cubes. Add to a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber et al, drizzle some mayo over the top, and enjoy.

The result is a really fulfilling meal that offers a satisfaction that a regular salad can sometimes fail to deliver. Plus you get a decent amount of veg and greens in you. Protein too, so that in the end there’s very little that isn’t good for you in there. Unless you buy those dubious looking sausages containing god knows what. I suppose cheese and mayo could be left out if you’re trying to eat really healthily, but honestly I wouldn’t ever consider such a step -the tangy flavour and crucial moisture the combination offers is too delicious.

So yeah, it might sound a little unusual, but sausage salads are really quite fantastic. Give them a go and enjoy.


The prison book ban illustrates that control rather than correction continues to define the criminal justice system


If he were still alive today, the French philosopher Michel Foucault might have some very interesting thoughts on the modern day criminal justice system. In his influential work Discipline and Punish (1975), he argued that the basis of the modern day penal system, which was first introduced in the post-enlightenment era, wasn’t due to a humanitarian or reformist agenda, but rather served as a system of control. Our current approach, as exemplified by the banning of books being sent into prisons from outside, further supports Foucault’s alarmingly accurate thesis – control rather than correction defines the prison system.

The change in the law means that prisoners are prohibited from having books sent into them from the outside by friends’ and family – a significant means of obtaining reading material. Some inmates have reported that the availability of books within the prison reading system is limited, and while prisons have libraries, these facilities are often understaffed and inadequate.

The policy has actually been in place since 2013, but a blog post by Frances Cook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, in which she furiously criticised the policy as despicable and nasty, proved to be a spark for a public outcry. Ms Cook makes a valid assessment; after all, reading is key to education. Richard Armstrong, a prison literary researcher pointed out in his criticism of the policy that there’s strong evidence that removing the means to increase literacy reduces rehabilitation.

It’s not all just about preparing you with the skills to survive life outside the walls of prison; it’s also as a cornerstone of personal development and inner transformation than can be the most powerful rehabilitator of all.Charles W Eliot, the man often credited with transforming Harvard University into the academic force it remains to this day, famously said books “are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.”

This book ban is further manifestation of an approach to criminal justice that leans heavily on the side of draconian punishment at the expense of correction and genuine rehabilitation.

Our prison population has almost doubled since 1993. We now incarcerate faster than any other country in Western Europe, and it costs the taxpayer £40,000 a year per prison bed. And what has this achieved? A reoffending rate of 47% and a prison system that has been overcrowded every year since 1994. Moreover, between 2005-2009, recorded crime was down 22% while imprisonment increased by 10%. How can we explain this?

In Discipline and Punish, Foucault notes that the penal system has remained structurally unchallenged since its inception, while convincingly arguing that “the prison cannot fail to produce delinquents. It does so by the very existence it imposes on its inmates”.

The two main criticism of the system which he found present throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, (that it was either not sufficiently corrective or that in attempting to be corrective it had lost its ability to punish) were always met with the same old remedies. One of these remedies, ‘the modulation of penalties’ refers to the adaptation of a prisoner’s treatment based on their ability to improve, their willingness to change their attitude and conform to the rules of the prison system.

This is the essence of the recent policy  – as part of the ‘Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme’, it aims to encourage good behaviour by rewarding prisoners with the ability to buy books. According to Foucault, while this maybe disguised as a ‘progressive routine’; it amounts to one of a handful of repeatedly presented propositions that serve not to actually transform the penal system but to reinforce it as a system of social control.

He concludes that the modern day penal system serves not to eliminate or even actively reduce crime, but rather to differentiate between crimes and criminals. One only has to look at the way, in the United States and to a lesser extent in the UK, that poor and ethnic minorities are disproportionately imprisoned to see this at work.

Penal reform is a really tough and complex issue, but we’re going to keep on making the same mistakes over and over unless we fundamentally alter the way we organise our system of imprisonment.  Perhaps this latest development will inspire a more thorough and open-minded debate about how we treat criminals. If Foucault is right, then without this the penal system is destined to do little besides send its inhabitants out into the world, only for them to come straight back.

Originally published on Institute of Opinion


David Nutt talks drug education, David Cameron, and taking a trip to Colorado on his Reddit AMA

David Nutt, the man once termed the Nutty Professor for (god forbid!) offering a rational and logical opinion on drug policy, was on Reddit yesterday answering a host of questions. The former chief of the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs lost his job in the aftermath of a ‘scandal’ (if you can deem speaking the truth as such), most memorable for his conclusion that taking ecstasy is less dangerous than horse riding.

He’s now working with DrugScience, an independent committee offering objective information on drugs and drug harm. The site is well worth checking out.

His appearance on Reddit, a community well known for its liberal attitude towards drugs, went down very well. Many users thanked him for his commitment to scientific objectivity and reason in the face of political and media pressure, while others encouraged him to contribute to the Drugs and DrugNerds subreddits, where he is considered a ‘folk hero’.

Below are the highlights of the AMA, (reddit user questions are in bold). You can find the whole thing here.

  • What is your own experience of recreational drug use?
  • Almost all of my drug use is caffeine and alcohol! I’ve also been administered a broad range of psychoactive drugs in the context of medical research. Today’s news about Nigella is a reminder that there are real policy-related harms to taking drugs when they are illegal, and to admitting to it! I only use drugs in jurisdictions where it is allowed, and am flying out to Denver soon! haha.


  • Do the political elite, genuinely believe in the policies they are upholding?
  • We all often wonder this! I think it is difficult to generalise. But many politicians have changed their position dramatically when they gain and lose office, suggesting they are to some degree denying what they really believe. Cameron used to have a very rational view when he was a backbencher on the Home Affairs Committee. Public opinion is shifting, so it is gradually becoming more damaging for politicians to pursue policies clearly in contravention of the facts, and less risky to do what makes sense. For example, the next generation of voters are less likely to support the criminalisation of cannabis users. Thanks for the support! Here’s a David Cameron you may not recognise.


  • I was wondering what your views are on the Warehouse Project implementing a Home Office supported pill testing facility. A step in the right direction or walking the wrong path?
  • Anything that increases evidence to reduce harms is a good thing so yes. Fiona Measham who is involved with that is a DrugScience Member

Before warning that…

  • drug testing isn’t a panacea – home testing is not reliable especially at showing mixtures/adulterations. More info also doesn’t eliminate risky behaviour completely – people still horseride!


  • What do you see as being the best way to help the public see past the stereotypes, have an objective view on drugs and understand the damage the current drugs policy is having?
  •  Ha, they should read my book! and follow the Drugscience newsletter But really, a key part of the answer is for people like you to stimulate the public debate, challenge misinformation (e.g. by commenting on articles, and demanding sources, corrections and retractions when nonsense is published.)


  • What is your opinion on the ‘Darknetmarkets’ that have sprung up in the last few years?
  • The ‘dark net’ sites such as Silk Road are an inevitable reaction to the current situation. It’s impossible to say if they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in general; they have the advantage of delivering decent quality (allegedly, based on a couple of analyses of samples, and anecdotal research However, the user discussed in the academic paper linked above described being a “child in a sweetshop”, and for some people, this easy access will lead to problems controlling level of use. Drugscience is now accepting Bitcoin donations! Any Silk Road users who want to maximise the availability of info that will reduce the chance of Silk Road customers coming to harm might wish to donate!


  •  How do you propose we safely educate people about the dangers of drugs and do you think that it’s possible that we will ever have a country where people have realistic views on individual drug dangers? 
  • Schools have a part to play, but everyone can champion the evidence and challenge unreasonable beliefs. But opinions are shifting in the right direction. A similar process was seen with sex education;- it used to be very common for moralising to get in the way of actually informing people, but over time people saw that inadequate education based on a ‘just say no’ attitude increased rather than reducing harm. In sex education, it is now mainstream to take a ‘harm reduction’ approach, e.g. that it is better that young people know about and can access contraception, even if underage sex is not endorsed by teachers. We’re hopefully gradually moving towards a similar situation with drugs, where phobias about talking frankly will melt away.


  • I read a paper a few days ago that involved the testing of LSD for therapeutic effects for the first time in years. I think it was as Swiss paper and is due to be published at some point this year. How close is the UK in joining in research using recreational drugs or are there any studies going on at the moment? If not, how and when can this happen?
  • The LSD study is exciting, although the conclusions we can make are limited by its small size. So we need more research! Actually there is loads of great drugs research going on in general, especially in the UK. the problem is more specifically in researching Schedule 1 drugs (like LSD and cannabis), it’s easier ironically to research heroin because it has a medical use. Several Drugscience scientists, including myself are actively conducting research into drug use, drug related harm, how drugs work, and what untapped medical potential they have. For example look into the work of Val Curran, John Ramsey, Fiona Measham and the rest.


  •  Whats the most common misconception people have about drug?
  • It’s hard to pick one most common misconception! One would be that illegality is a reflection of harm, that illegal drugs are automatically ‘worse’. Another massive one is that any generalisations can be made about ‘drugs’, that there could be a single successful approach to ‘drugs’ in general. The book hopefully shows just how different drugs are from each other in effects and risks.


It was great to see the really positive response online to Professor Nutt’s appearance, who seemed to enjoy his time answering questions and will hopefully be found conversing across various subreddits in the future. There’s no doubt that we need more like him publicly fighting for a logical and rational approach to drug policy.

He’s written some great stuff for The Guardian too, which you can find here.

Ideology prevails in the International Narcotics Control Boards’ annual report

Raymond-Yans The INCB, a panel of experts based at the UN, released their annual report earlier this month serving to reaffirm that when it comes to international drug policy, logic and common sense continue to be thrown out of the proverbial window. The report emphasises “the importance of universal implementation of international drug control treaties by all states” and lets it be known that the board “deeply regret the developments at the state level in Colorado and Washington, in the United States, regarding the legalization of the recreational use of cannabis,” Legal marijuana in Colorado, Washington, as well as Uruguay, breaches the international drug treaties in an unprecedented way, and the INCB are clearly disappointed with this direct challenge to the international prohibitionist consensus.

This latest attempt to grant legal and institutional weight to international drug policy has provoked much criticism. Danny Kushlick, head of external affairs at Transform Drug Policy Foundation, a charitable think tank that campaigns for legal regulation of drugs in the UK and abroad, gave a scathing critique of the INCB, claiming it “defends treaties that are fraught with scientific and legal inconsistencies” and that with the release of this latest report ‘appears to have signed its own death warrant”.

The ICNB’s disappointment with the legal regulation of cannabis appears to be based on little besides the fact that it doesn’t conform to the International Treaties that brought the board into being. They cite ‘increased public health costs’, noting that government revenue from the legal sale of alcohol and tobacco is less than the economic and health costs of their abuse. This seems like a misguided comparison to make given that both tobacco and alcohol are considerably more toxic and addictive than cannabis.

When you also take into consideration that the people of Colorado and Washington have democratically expressed a desire to have safe, regulated access to the drug, the INCB’s stance looks like yet another attempt to grasp to a policy that’s rapidly losing credibility. Such stubborn defence of the war on drugs, the most consistent characteristic of which has been human suffering, has come to define the INCB.

One doesn’t have to look far to see examples of this. Their report last year was heavily criticised for overlooking human rights violations in punishing drug offenders, particularly in Saudia Arabia. In this regard the body has long taken a position that is inconsistent with international norms. Last year they welcomed Vietnam’s drug treatment measures, despite a UN report raising serious human right’s concerns with the country’s drug treatment and detention centres.

On the contrary the ICNB were swift to blast Denmark this time around for introducing ‘drug consumption rooms’, and in doing so continued their history of condemning methods proven to reduce overdoses and transmission of diseases.  Indeed it is very revealing that ‘Harm reduction’ was mentioned just once in the report. Reduction international estimates there are around 1000 people executed for drug offenses each year, and there are countless more preventable HIV and HIC infections. The INCB’s suspect attitude with respect to these topics is perhaps what does most to damage its waning credibility.

The ICNB, and indeed the illogical drug policy it staunchly defends, continues to fail to account for the fact that people take drugs not because they are criminals but because they want to experience an altered state of mind. Sometimes this becomes destructive and harmful, and such individuals are often a danger to others as well as themselves. In this instance their drug usage amounts to a health problem. Any criminal elements however, have been manufactured and serve not to deter or protect but rather to stimigitize and punish.

As Ann Fordham, the executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium concludes, “The entire UN drug control system needs to be rebalanced further in the direction of health rather than criminalization, and it is changing; the shift in various parts of the system is apparent already.” A much-welcomed move in this direction looks set to continue, in spite of the unwavering stance of the INCB.

The Neknomination craze and our cultural attitude towards alcohol

neknomination picThe ‘neknomination’ craze recently swept across our social media feeds with individuals’ filming themselves downing an alcoholic drink, before nominating others to match them. Initially a mildly humorous viral challenge, it has come under strong criticism due to a number of deaths, with five people thought to have paid the ultimate price for trying to outdo their friends. What began as a relatively harmless form of camaraderie has quickly developed dangerous and extreme elements, with the most daring nominations swiftly going viral, granting the challenger their moment in the social media spotlight.  Increasingly dangerous and revolting concoctions have included pints of spirits, raw eggs and live animals.

The backlash has been somewhat predictable. There has been talk of banning videos from Facebook, and even charging those making lethal nominations with manslaughter charges. Such measures would probably do little to prevent extreme cases arising. Prohibition, on whatever scale, is rarely successful and indeed is often counterintuitive. The responsibility in deciding what one has to drink is surely to be left to the individual. Moreover the threat of legal penalty shouldn’t be necessary to prevent people from making potentially deadly nominations or from taking part in them, and punishing the sensible on account of the stupid isn’t something that usually works out very well.

While the prospect of taking part in the challenge doesn’t really appeal to me, it’s difficult to criticise someone for sharing drinks with friends, and in many cases neknomination amounts to a social media spin on this with a bit of banter thrown in for good measure. The problem is to be found not in the idea so much as in the willingness to carelessly cross the boundaries of personal safety and dignity in an attempt to prove something to others.

To look at neknominations more closely then is to see elements of something more deep-rooted than a dangerous internet craze appearing mystically out of the blue. There’s an aspect of the craze that reflects our cultural attitude towards alcohol.  I’m talking about something that goes far beyond a fondness for afternoons spent at the pubs or a few drink before the match. It’s an outlook amongst an increasing number of young people especially, that equates one’s inclination to have a good time and enjoy themselves with how much they’re willing to drink.

It’s a way of thinking that permeates our finest academic institutions as well as our toughest council estates. In fact one could argue that this notion has become a hallmark of higher education culture in the UK (and elsewhere). Drinking games are an integral aspect of university life, and with it the consumption of large quantities of alcohol have become normalized. In institutions across the country, people partake in evenings of intense drinking which can include knocking back double-figures worth of pints in very short spaces of time. A culture has emerged that places great value on one’s ability and willingness to drink.  The combination of social media trends, peer pressure, and this cultural attitude towards alcohol makes the extreme evolution of Neknomination somewhat unsurprising. It is a reflection of a wider societal issue.

Perhaps the craze says something about our collective perception of the dangers of alcohol too. While many are aware of the risks on a purely intellectual level, an appreciation of the very real dangers the substance poses is often lacking. We tend to limit our idea of who is susceptible and at risk to the unstable alcoholic rather than the average drinker up for a good time. And yet, taking it a step too far is a more likely mistake with alcohol than many other substances, legal or illegal. The lethal dose is around 10 times the effective dose (the amount it takes to become intoxicated), compared to 16 times for MDMA, and a remarkable 1000 plus for cannabis. Of course there really is no excuse for downing a pint of spirit, but a wider appreciation that alcohol can pose a lethal threat when used irresponsibly wouldn’t go amiss.

I think we can learn quite a bit from neknominate about the way in which we perceive alcohol use. The tragedies that have arisen from the extreme developments of the craze are a warning sign of the dangers that peer pressure can pose, especially in the context of today’s social media culture. Perhaps more importantly, it highlights the dangers of subscribing to an idea that how much you can drink is somehow related, in one way or another, to the quality of your character.

Killer Joe – Film Review

Killer Joe is the latest film from William Friedkin, the man who brought us the 70s classics The Exorcist and The French Connection. This violent, darkly comic picture is based on Tracy Letts’ play of the same name and centres on a poor family from West Dallas, Texas. Bitterly fed up with their trailer-trash existence, Chris (Emile Hirsch) concocts a plan to have his Mum taken care of by gun for hire Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). As his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) is the beneficiary, the inheritance in case of death will go to her, and so with his dim-witted father Ansel (Thomas Hayden Church) they set their plan in motion. As they can’t afford to pay Joe until after the deed is done, they agree to give Dottie up as a ‘retainer’. The Fargo-esque plot is doomed from the start, and what ensues is a hilarious, violent and at times deeply disturbing family drama.


The southern gothic elements form a powerful component of the film, intensifying the satire and creating an ominous mood and atmosphere. Bleak stormy weather, a rabid pit-bull on a chain, and a full frontal shot of Gina Gershon set the tone early. The hillbilly caricatures that comprise the Smith family humour and infuriate in equal measure. Our introduction to this dysfunctional family, deranged and screaming at each other in their disgusting trailer park home, creates a foreboding sense of wreckless irresponsibility that you can’t help feel will land them in trouble. And sure enough it does.

Matthew McConaughy is great as the intriguing and charismatic Joe Cooper. He’s dark and mysterious; amodern day cowboy dressed all in black, travelling around in his unmarked car. We see his badge only very briefly before it disappears, and along with it any inkling that this man cares in the slightest about the law which he’s sworn to uphold. He’s not so much above the law as a warped manifestation of it: powerful, unaccountable and dangerous if you don’t play by the rules. His performance willhave viewers wondering in frustrated bemusement as to why he spent years starring in below par rom-coms. His screen presence is as uncomfortable as it is absorbing; a characteristic of the film as a whole. He makes it difficult to watch at times, but impossible to look away.

Dottie is the only character the viewer has anything verging on sympathy for, and in a way she’s the ultimate victim of the story – left in a quite horrific situation by the incompetence of her family. Throughout we are given brief glimpses of her intelligence as well as her innocence, both of which have been corrupted and all but destroyed by her upbringing.


In one of the film’s best scenes she meets Joe for the first time. Despite winning her trust with his southern charm, there’s a strange sense of infatuation behind his eyes, a predatory look in his face that the viewer can’t help but notice. The most exciting thing he’s seen on the job, he tells Dottie at her request, involved a man who set his genitals on fire as a way to get back at his wife for her infidelity. There’s a look of amazement and disbelief etched across his face throughout the retelling, an arrogance of sorts as he revels in the stupidity of the whole debacle. Here Letts brilliantly gives us a glimpse of the sort of extreme incompetence he’ll come to mockingly and brutally exploit later.

The excess, brutality and ridiculousness of the whole film, which reaches a most extreme and fitting climax in the final 20 minutes, is where it’s appeal really lies. During the engrossing final act, Joe exerts his complete superiority in ruthless and seemingly inevitable fashion. The tension builds unbearably as he calmly and effortlessly outwits the Smiths, painfully exposing them over a family dinner. There’s an uneasy feeling throughout that the full capacity of Joe’s madness and cruelty hasn’t yet been revealed, until he swiftly and violently carries out his own sick, twisted version of justice


The film was slapped with an NC-17 in the USA, all but destroying its potential for commercial success… not that it was ever likely to be a box office hit. In speaking about this, Friedkin brilliantly noted that  ‘we’d have had to kill it in order to save it’, echoing US sentiments towards Vietnam. Luckily for us Friedkin, unlike those before him, saw the flawed logic present in this illusory ideal and in sticking with his guns left for our enjoyment an enjoyable, twisted satirical picture that will disturb and amuse in equal measure. It’s a thought provoking, entertaining and fascinating film, packed with excellent performances, razor-sharp writing and a climax that will stay with you for some time.

And so it begins…

I’ve thought about writing a blog for a while now, but there had been some negativity in my mind that was holding me back. It had to do with some misguided ideas I had formed about the concept of a blog and its purpose as a tool of self-promotion. I’ve come to realise that’s pretty stupid; that way of thinking, and that sort of cynicism, generally speaking, represents the antithesis of how I want to live my life, and make choices about things along the way.


The change of heart was inspired in part by some thought provoking words by Hunter S. Thompson, who never does fail to fascinate.  The main reason though, has to do with being afforded a lot more time to myself than I’ve generally been used to; something that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. This is on account of recently leaving home to start an internship. What has naturally developed into a kind of period of reflection has proven to be quite insightful, perhaps even transformational… although that may be pushing the boat out a little. In light of this, I’ve decided to dedicate more time to activities that I’ve often overlooked in the past (such as writing) in favour of sitting back comfortably to enjoy TV or video games.


When I do bother to sit down and give writing the genuine time and attention it deserves and requires, it’s something I really do enjoy. It seems to evoke in me a unique feeling, and grants me a greater satisfaction than the aforementioned activities. Now that isn’t to say I don’t immensely enjoy the tactical intricacies of a game of manual FIFA, or watching a master at work in James Gandolfini, but I suppose it’s more about trying to redress the balance, so to speak. It’s also about spending more time thinking, learning and contemplating the things that intrigue and fascinate me.


And so this blog is going to serve as a platform for me to write about pretty much whatever comes to mind, for there’s really no better place to experiment. As such I can’t really predict with any certainty what kind of topics I’ll be exploring, but no doubt there will be some quasi-philosophical introspection, some thoughts on current affairs, hopefully a little bit of history, and anything else that evokes in me a desire to get writing. I hope you enjoy.