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Its rise is a boon for British food. But how do you eat this notoriously floppy item? Knife and fork? Slice? Or, as the hardcore insist, folded like a crepe?

The rise of Neapolitan-style pizza, soft, pliable and blast-cooked to perfection in under 90 seconds, is the best thing to happen to British food in the past decade.

Those slow-proved bases blistered with delicious char, topped with sweet San Marzano tomato pulp and a modest layer of imperious ingredients, are frequently incredible the most fun you can have with food at circa 10. From the Dusty Knuckle in Cardiff to Little Furnace in Liverpool, Cals Own in Newcastle to Berthas in Bristol, How to Eat the series isolating the best way to eat our most beloved foods salutes this flour-powered vanguard.

Is Neapolitan pizza unusually floppy? Undeniably. The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana [pdf] directs that a pizza should be no thicker than 4mm at its centre and, in its airy, chewy elasticity, the Neapolitan base is famed for its easy digestibility. It is a revelation, despite some objecting to Nea-pizza on the basis that a slice cannot support its own weight. Such naysayers are more than welcome to continue to eat the many pizzas available, from Brooklyn to Bolton, that feature bases as sturdy and appetising as cardboard. It leaves more gloriously limp, drooping Neapolitan pizza for the rest of us.

There is, however, one growing problem in this buffalo mozzarella-covered sphere, and that is a sudden voguish tendency How To Eat is looking at you, the otherwise impeccable Honest Crust in Manchester to send Neapolitan pizzas out from the kitchen unsliced. Not just in restaurants, but in more chaotic street food environments, too. This leaves you in the unfortunate position of having to eat your pizza with a knife and fork or tear it by hand, which seems a barbaric way to treat such a precious item.

It is authentic, apparently. But does that make it right? Let How to Eat (HTE) cut to the chase on the Neapolitan slice.

On knives, forks and pre-slicing

First things first, announces Pizza Pilgrims website, eating pizza with a knife and fork is a very Italian way to do things so dont feel like this is any kind of cop-out. Indeed, there are those who see the New York slice and the habit that arose from that of pre-slicing whole pizzas in restaurants as an Italian-American invention, yet another strand of US cultural imperialism alien in Italy itself. Most Italian sources agree that in restaurants, cutlery should be used to eat your (whole, unsliced) pizza, not your hands.

That may seem weird for something we think of as street food, but it is not nearly as bizarre as the genuinely WTF method used in Naples by those eating pizza on the street. Pizza a portafoglio, literally wallet pizza, involves folding your pizza in half and then quarters, so you can walk along eating your newly portable pizza like a crepe or kebab held out away from your shirtfront, warn its advocates. This (what DIY calzone?) was the original way to enjoy this working-class street food, traditionalists insist.

But you can have too much tradition, HTE finds.

The portafoglio method: traditional, maybe but should pizza really be eaten while walking? Photograph: mathess/Getty Images/iStockphoto

First, you should not be walking when eating a pizza of this quality. Pause and enjoy it properly in a leisurely manner, whether sat in a bus stop or at a restaurant table. Second, the portafoglio method (music to the ears of those who dismiss pizza as cheese on toast, no more than an open sandwich with good PR) surely gives youfar too much of everything in every four-layer bite. Particularly at the pizzas doughy edges. Flavourful as a good Neapolitan base is, who wants to eat four layers of undressed rim in one mouthful? That would be hideous. True, you can avoid that by inverting the portafoglio triangle and eating it from the tip down as some do but does that not risk the contents falling out of the pizzas bottom as you move? It must.

Broken as Britain is in so many other ways, we should take pride in the fact that we have evolved a superior third way beyond cutlery or this portafoglio fallacy, by simply pre-cutting Neapolitan pizzas and then eating them slice by slice, by hand. A big part of the joy of this product is precisely how tactile it is. You want to get hands-on with your pizza. You want to feel that hot, springy crust yielding between your fingers. You want to get up close and personal with each slice its aroma, its vivid colours rather than eating it at one prim remove with cutlery or wolfing it down as a fat, folded wodge of indistinguishable ballast.

The fold

You must fold a Neapolitan pizza slice. Otherwise it is clearly going to flop and loll like a parched dogs tongue, and all your toppings will drop off. Puffed-up and leopard-spotted, a slice of Neapolitan pizza may be beautiful, but it has all the structural integrity of a slinky.

The crimp, that half-hearted inversion of your slice, is not sufficient. That gully you create down the middle of your slice will not reinforce it. Conversely, Pizza Pilgrims advice to cut the pizza into four unmanageably large slices then fold each slices wings in by one-third to create a pizza boat is an over-engineered solution to a self-inflicted problem.

Instead, cut your pizza into six smaller sections so that you only need to fold each slice once, pinching the outer edges of the crust together to create, in essence, a folded sandwich from each slice. One that, if your pizza is a good one (its high-quality ingredients thinly sliced and evenly distributed, not left in a mountainous jumble), should mean you get a little bit of every ingredient in each bite.

If the centre of your pizza is extra-sloppy and frequently it will be (that moist or umido centre is prized) then you should also fold the tip of each slice in on itself by about 1cm. That stops sauce spraying hither and tither, and flipping the tip also means each slice starts with an extra thick, juicy gobbet of pure pizza pleasure.

It also helps you retain your dignity as a human being. By flipping the tip you are not left a.) chasing that dangling, trembling tip around like some fairground game, or b.) getting your head under each high-held slice and eating it from the tip up, feeding it down your throat like a pelican. A process that, after a few drinks, often leads to you smearing it all over your face.

A slice of Neapolitan pizza may be beautiful, but it has all the structural integrity of a slinky. Photograph: Tony French/Alamy Stock Photo

The crust

Repeatedly, you see the argument advanced that Neapolitan pizza is unsuitable for slicing because it is so wet. If it is pre-cut, its molten topping will simply slide away. True, there may be spillages, ooze, a certain magma flow. But surely that is what the cornicione, that swollen outer crust, is for? Swiping through any rogue tomato, oil or mozzarella as you eat?

The crust is certainly not to be discarded. In its rule book, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana stipulates that it should deliver the flavour of well-prepared, baked bread. Glossy and fragrant, the best crust can be eaten on its own or used to mop up the oil from pizzas ideal starter: a bowl of plump, buttery nocellara olives. (Yes, that is the most middle-class sentence you have ever read and is precisely why, come the revolution, HTE will be first up against the wall.)


A good pizza does not need any. The tendency among heavy-handed pizzaiolo to drown already well-lubricated Neapolitan pizzas in a finishing flourish of olive oil is a good illustration of why you should not add more.

Similarly, from chilli flakes to freshly cracked black pepper, the common additions offered to pizza customers are likely, in one over-enthusiastic twist of the wrist, to ruin your meal. If you are regularly eating Neapolitan-style pizzas whose flavours need punching up, then you need to find a better pizza operation someone is slacking in the kitchen.


The dead chill of porcelain kills pizza, causing it to cool too quickly. A wooden pizza board or the classic corrugated-cardboard takeaway box are far superior platforms. Both allow a pizza to breathe, but maintain its core warmth for a suitable duration. Other than that, all you need is a ready supply of paper napkins.


Something dry, lightly acidic and gently carbonated to briskly flush the mouth clean during what is a naturally oily meal: good Czech or German pils (Jever, Rothaus Tannenzpfle); US-style pale ales; lightly sour, citrusy saisons; sparkling wine, such as a proper secco red lambrusco: dry and complex, very different from the sweet muck of yore, favoured by several pizza experts and enjoying a renaissance.

Tread carefully with soft drinks. All that mozzarella and tomato pulp can make pizza a sweet savoury dish, which can become cloying when partnered with cola, lemonade or such. Sparkling water or grapefruit juice heavily watered down with tonic water is preferable.

So: Neapolitan-style pizza, how do you eat yours?

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The adventurer and explorer has been to the Amazon and the Arctic. Now hes setting up a project in Wales as a personal response to the climate crisis

Eventually, even the most intrepid adventurer has to come home. In the past 20 years Bruce Parry has been initiated, for our viewing pleasure, into indigenous tribes in Congo, Venezuela and Mongolia. He has had thorns forced through his nose in Papua New Guinea and has hunted crocodiles in Ethiopia. He has navigated the Amazon and sledged across the Arctic. His latest adventure in assimilation, however, is perhaps his most formidable challenge yet. In October last year the BBC ethnographer, former Royal Marines fitness instructor and determined hedonist moved from his long-time base in Ibiza to an isolated hamlet in mid-Wales. He plans to be here for many years to come.

I met him for lunch in the only cafe for 10 miles around, Cwtch in Pont rhyd-y groes, which is built above a gorge of the Ystwyth river beside the old workings of a lead mine. Parry has cycled from his cottage beside a waterfall on the neighbouring Hafod estate. Its a significant lunch for Parry in that the salad leaves seven varieties at the cafe are the first crop from a community garden project that he has helped to establish in the walled garden of the demolished estate manor house.

Food was one of the reasons that he ended up here. Having spent 30 years as a professional nomad, he not only wanted to put down roots, he also wanted to pull some up. He grew up in Devon, has family in Scotland and a Welsh surname, but he wasnt sure where to settle. I wanted somewhere wild, he says, and I wanted to get into wild food as a way of reconnecting with the landscape. His first foraging outing brought him to Hafod: it felt so right that he ended up buying the old stone cottage that he stayed in.

Parry has an instantly likable and high-energy presence. He has made no secret of indulging in all the delights that Ibiza can offer as well as taking just about every hallucinogen under the sun in order to be fully accepted in different jungle communities. He turned 50 in March. How, I wonder, did he cope with his first wet Welsh winter?

I feel that was my initiation, he says, smiling. He has a wood fire. I spent most of the winter in a hat and scarf inside. I survived that OK, though I havent met the midges yet I think thats August.

Just in 10 minutes sitting in Cwtch the name means both cosy corner and hug you can see Parrys gift for connection with people. He knows everyone who comes in like an old mate. Dom, the chef and proprietor here, and now purveyor of walled-garden lettuce, is greeted with genuine affection, and each delicious vegetarian dish off the specials board he brings out produces fresh rapture from Parry. Youre on fire today, Dom!

There is more to Parrys return than any kind of homesickness. He believed, having had an immersive understanding of the wisdom of some of the oldest human communities, that he should now try to put some of that into practice in the place he fell to earth. Parry had spent four or five years up to 2017 making a very personal film, Tawai: A Voice From the Forest. It was both a portrait of the perilous, joyful existence of one of the last hunter-gatherer societies, the Penan people of Borneo, and a meditation on the ways in which we are destroying their world and our planet.

Tawai was the last project, he says. I guess I thought I had seen it all, but then I met the Penan and there was something completely different about them. It was not only that they had a genuine pre-agricultural existence, of the kind that humans lived for 85% of the lifetime of our species. They had no competition, no hierarchy. They were the only group I had been in that had no pecking order, no chief, no elders.

He was struck by what such an egalitarian heritage might mean. Parrys journeys along the Amazon and across the Arctic had long since impressed on him the crisis that our planet is facing, a crisis of climate, and of consumerism, and he felt it was no longer enough to report the issues, he had to try to live what felt like possible solutions. His plan is to open up his house and create a small experiment in communal living.

I have no doubt that human beings have problems ahead, he says. Really big problems. And we are not doing it right. The BBC was keen for him to carry on gallivanting: Lets go down the Mekong, we can talk about important things ! and there was no doubt some temptation in that. But the problem is not really how China is polluting its rivers. The problem is how we are all, mainly in the west, living our lives.

Bruce and Tim shared Dwarf bean, beetroot and feta salad 4; red pepper, courgette and olive shakshuka 4; spinach and mushroom filo parcels 4 They Drank Water; filter coffee 1.50 Photograph: Keith Morris/The Observer

Parry talks fluently about the issues around land ownership in Britain, which has caused the majority of us to be so disconnected from the living environment. He sees the recent One Planet development scheme in Wales which allows anyone to build on agricultural land if they follow certain self-sufficiency guidelines as a model of a future revolution.

We are swimming so deeply in a world of competition and aggression and division that we dont even see it, he says. We are being fed this information that money and stuff will make you happy but I think that the right narrative can create a massive shift. We cant all have a Lamborghini, but maybe we could all have a bit of land and some joy and music and harmony.

In Ibiza, of course, those qualities were in generous supply. Where does he go to dance in Ceredigion? He mentions occasional late-night excursions up to the alternative communities in Machynlleth, 25 miles north.

I could have easily stayed in Ibiza, he says. We could have been having a long ros and seafood lunch on the beach, rather than Doms fantastic salads. It wasnt that all that fizzled out. But what I learned especially from the tribes is that there is an extra ingredient from knowing a place.

We talk about the upcoming engagements he has to discuss this thinking; one at the Port Eliot festival in the summer, another with the Canadian Stephen Jenkinson, the author of Die Wise, who has used the insights of a long career in palliative care to propose answers to our culture failure. If you are part of a tribe, says Parry, knowing that when you die you are going to feed the tree that feeds the fruit that feeds your community and that your life will be part of the whole ecosystem is a powerful thing.

Though Parry has more bucket-list ticks than most of the rest of us put together, he hasnt done some of the things that many men of his age have achieved. Having lived polyamorously for many years, he recently split from a long-term partner. He has no kids and, he says, no particular yearning for any.

Without question there is a lot of me that loves freedom, he says. But my driving force now is that I am madly trying to figure out what my role can be in moving this community idea forwards though maybe what I am proposing is only valid for what comes out of the ashes of the next big financial crash.

There is no doubt he will be well placed to survive catastrophe. He is trying to live mostly from what he can forage he loves cooking, he says, though he fears that love is not always shared by guests. I make my own bread, grind my own wheat, soak my own pulses. I have 25kg of wheat, huge tubs of chickpeas and lentils. If Im ever stuck for a couple of months, Ill be fine.

I wonder if the BBC are keen to film this latest venture? He suggests they would like to, but his new Welsh friends insist it will be over their dead bodies.

I definitely think I have more to share on this, though, he says, with a laugh.

We exercise that principle in the first instance by taking two forks to Doms lemon drizzle cake.

Bruce Parry is at Port Eliot festival, 25-29 July, St Germans, Cornwall;

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The debate is a difficult one. Yet not every interloper is a colonialist in disguise, says Ash Sarkar, a senior editor at Novara Media

Is Gordon Ramsay allowed to cook Chinese food ? Is it OK to dress up as Disneys Moana? Can Jamie Oliver cook jollof rice despite plainly not knowing what it is? Exactly what is cultural appropriation? To take a glance at Good Morning Britain, the ITV show that never takes its finger off the pulse of Middle Englands clogged arteries, youd think its a question of white people seeking permission to have fun. And in return, new media outlets have guaranteed traffic from anxious millennials by listing things that fall into the category of problematic when white people adopt them (blaccents, bindis and box braids).

Why has cultural appropriation, an imperfect term mobilised in imperfect contexts, become such live ammunition for the socially conscious? And what does it mean especially for people of colour when we turn our fire on each other? It is striking that a phrase intended to sharpen a political analysis of life under postcolonial capitalism seems to have drawn the most blood between people who share overlapping experiences of racism and displacement.

The debate over cultural appropriation has been around for decades. Black writers and artists from the Harlem Renaissance voiced their concerns about the distortion of African cultures in some modernist artworks, and wrote at length about the demeaning caricatures of black identity in minstrel shows. Elvis Presley was said to have exploited negro music.

The artist Kenneth Coutts-Smith wrote one of the first essays on the subject in 1976, entitled Some General Observations on the Concept of Cultural Colonialism. He never actually used the term cultural appropriation, but he was the first to bring together the Marxist idea of class appropriation (in which notions of high culture are appropriated and defined by the dominant social and economic class) and cultural colonialism, which describes the way western cultures take ownership of art forms that originate from racially oppressed or colonised peoples.

Is it OK to dress up as Disneys Moana? Can Jamie Oliver cook jollof rice despite plainly not knowing what it is? Photograph: 2016 Disney

This is important to bear in mind. Our modern understanding of cultural appropriation is highly individualised. Its all about what Halloween costume you wear, or whos cooking biryani. But the way in which the idea was first used was to describe a relationship of dominance and exploitation between a global ruling class and a globally subjugated one. The idea that cultural appropriation is primarily a form of erasure a kind of emotional violence in which people are rendered invisible came along later. And this is the sticky point. Is it right to level the same criticism at an act of cultural borrowing that doesnt have a clear angle of economic or political exploitation as for one that does?

This month, news broke that Inuit singers were boycotting Canadas Indigenous Music Awards over the nomination of a Cree singer who, it is claimed, utilises specifically Inuit throat-singing techniques without coming from that culture herself. The Guardians own coverage of the story headlined Canada: one Indigenous group accuses other of cultural appropriation in award row treats the two different cultures as interchangeable. The point of commonality both Inuit and Cree being Canadian indigenous people positions a shared history of dispossession by a white settler colony as erasing cultural and artistic distinctions. The implicit question seems to be: Why are you lot even fighting? Youre all the same anyway.

Daniel Heath Justice, a Cherokee professor of indigenous studies at the University of British Columbia, points out that the row isnt the result of oversensitivity or prickliness. The throat-singing technique in question was banned by Christian missionaries, and discouraged by colonial governments. In his words: Were talking about continuity in spite of traumatic, sustained and systemic multi-generational assaults on every aspect of our beings including our artistic practice.

Yet I find it strange that a recognition of the pain caused by colonialism is being projected on to fellow indigenous artists. Its possible to argue against a colonial viewpoint that homogenises those whom it dominates, without using language that holds responsible people who have also been affected by centuries of dispossession.

London MC Wiley got it right when he talked about Canadian rapper Drake (above) being a culture vulture. Photograph: Arthur Mola/AP

Its worth pointing out that conflicts between racially oppressed people often result from the fact that colonialism worked on divide and rule. Certain ethnic, religious, racial or indigenous groups were deliberately privileged over others in order to create a sense of investment in upholding the power structure.

Today, arguments rage about non-African Americans participating in (and making money from) hip-hop culture, or whether black people should wear south Asian head ornaments. I get that its tempting to see such pop-cultural phenomena as a replication of centuries-old colonial dynamics. But maybe our own frustration at the erasure of difference risks erasing certain crucial differences in itself. Not all cultural borrowing is a form of social violence: some of it is just cringe. I thought London MC Wiley got it right when he talked about Canadian rapper Drake being a culture vulture profiting off the UK music scene. The godfather of grime didnt need to raid the library of Soas University of London to come up with his critique. A straightforward Listen, bumbahole did the trick just fine.

But young, socially conscious people of colour do need to be a bit more honest with themselves about whats driving our political interventions when it comes to cultural appropriation on this issue. Ive felt that anger myself: such as when someone very earnestly told me how henna actually looks better on pale skin; or when I see Indian food staples marketed by English gentrifiers. Theres a very particular feeling when you know that the identity I wear on my skin is an outfit for someone else that culture is valued more than the humanity that produced it. But theres another uncomfortable feeling lurking at the bottom of it.

When youre a second- or third-generation migrant, your ties to your heritage can feel a little precarious. Youre a foreigner here, youre a tourist back in your ancestral land, and home is the magpie nest you construct of the bits of culture youre able to hold close. The appropriation debate peddles a comforting lie that theres such thing as a stable and authentic connection to culture that can remain intact after the seismic interruptions of colonialism and migration.

Im not suggesting we stop using the term cultural appropriation altogether: its clearly meaningful when talking about systems of exploitation and dominance. But we do need to become a lot more discerning about how we use the idea in discussing interpersonal dynamics. Theres a difference between understanding how these frustrations have a politicised background, and treating these issues as sites of political contestation in themselves. Not everyone who participates in a misguided attempt at cultural borrowing is a coloniser in disguise. Some people are just sad try-hards.

Ash Sarkar is a senior editor at Novara Media, and lectures in political theory at the Sandberg Instituut

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Princes Hot Chicken started a food craze that has since been copied around the world and is likely coming your way

Heads turn as Andr Prince Jeffries silver bangles jingling and cane in hand makes her way towards her reserved table at Nashvilles premier hot chicken joint, Princes Hot Chicken.

Since her early thirties, Jeffries, now 72, has been at the helm of the poultry dynasty that started a trend for lip burning, tear-inducing fried chicken that has spread around the world.

Before Jeffries positions herself in her regular seat, facing the crowd of believers, a woman she doesnt know walks up to her and whispers, Thank you for being a national treasure.

Jeffries beams.


  • Andr Prince Jeffries, Princes Hot Chicken owner.Photograph: Ben Rollins/The Guardian

Jeffries uncle opened a chicken shack almost 80 years ago serving Nashvilles working class black community. The business grew in popularity with the citys music singers and concertgoers, and began attracting white customers, eventually establishing hot chicken as a near-ubiquitous speciality in Nashville.

The craze for hot chicken has also spread to cities in the US including Chicago, New York and LA, and internationally as far away as Seoul and Melbourne. And its soon coming to London.

A few years ago, KFC in the US jumped on the bandwagon and now has Nashville hot on its menu.

But although some fear the dish risks being approximated, or diluted, Nashville is home to the speciality and Jeffries is the keeper of the recipe for the most authentic version. Last year Princes was lauded as an icon in Eaters annual list 38 essential American restaurants.


  • The line inside the Ewing location of Princes Hot Chicken Shack. In December 2018 an SUV collided into the strip mall where Princes was located, causing serious damage to the business. Photograph: Joe Buglewicz

When I visit the south outpost of Nashville Hot Chicken, the line is 50 people deep and the restaurant steams with spices as Jeffries waves to the regulars. The original location north of the city centre remains under construction after an early morning car crash and subsequent fire led to its temporary closure.

Every evening, until the closure, Jeffries would take her place at the original location, from 5pm until midnight.

My little hole in the wall, I miss it, she says in frustration. A delayed reopening has kept her from perching over her chicken kingdom, her second home. She leans in conspiratorially to tell me that she has heard even members of the British royal family enjoy the chicken.


  • The first Princes Hot Chicken opened almost 80 years ago. Photograph: Ben Rollins/The Guardian

The legend of the cheating uncle

Jeffries loves telling the story of how it all began thanks to her cheating uncles angry girlfriend.

Great Uncle Thornton, who Jeffries says was tall, charming and good looking, stayed out late one night and came home just in time for the Sunday morning meal. To punish him, his furious girlfriend had thrown so much pepper into the chicken it wouldnt be edible: of that she was sure. When she served it up to her philandering partner, he took one bite, loved it and asked her to make it again, going on to adapt it for his chicken shack. The rest is history.

Everyone gives him credit for opening it, but I give it to the lady he was with, Jeffries says with a smirk. It certainly got his attention and its still getting peoples attention.

Jeffries took over in the 1980s. Here I am stepping up, not knowing anything, she says with a laugh, I had only cooked chicken once growing up.

She changed two things: the original shack had been dubbed a BBQ chicken joint. It was hot, spicy, so I wanted to name it after the family name and the hot chicken. So off we went.


  • The quarter plate of hot chicken served with french fries. Photograph: Joe Buglewicz

XXX hot

The other change is what has made the shack famous.

The original hot chicken is now the mild option. Jeffries added variations, ranging from plain to XXX hot, though at one point she refused to keep the XXX version on the menu anymore. Its extra hot. I dont like to keep it here. Somebody in the kitchen might see somebody they dont like and give it to them. That has happened. I dont want somebody to use it as a lethal weapon, she said with a wink.

She sticks to the mild version herself, though she loves patrons trying the flaming red-tinged hot version of the chicken with a slice of pickle.

One woman told me she has a special car seat for the chicken. She has a safety belt for the chicken. Can you imagine?

Her uncles original shack was popular with the black community in the city, and later attracted white diners. A profile earlier this year in the New Yorker notes how: Under Jim Crow, the Princes were not free to dine wherever and however they wanted, or to use the front door of white establishments, but they never told their own customers where to sit or what door to use. The matter handled itself: black patrons sat up front; whites entered through the back door and sat in back.

One patron proclaims Princes the place to be and explains how much his family love its diversity. Bob Armstrong, 53, talks as he has a meal with his 15-year-old daughter Clea. The family moved to Nashville three years ago from Singapore. Youve got black, white, everything in the the vibe. Its diverse, Armstrong says.



The customers

Rosalind Turner, 54, is a Nashville native who has been coming to get her fix for 35 years. Theres no taste like it. It cant get duplicated because this is where hot chicken started, she claimed. When she was younger, she says, she used to go weekly to the original location. This visit, she sat in traffic for an hour, just to get her portion of mild chicken.

Margaret Lehner, 11, says her dad has brought her here for the second time. Shes managed to get as far as the mild version but her dad eats the hot version, she says. I like it cause its fast and because it tastes better than a lot of places.

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Cooking Iranian dishes for her new neighbours opened all sorts of doors for Atoosa Sepehr

In December 2007, Atoosa Sepehr arrived in the UK from Iran, knowing no one, her life ahead a clear space, a blank sheet. She was 30 years old, fleeing a disastrous marriage and her escape more of which later had been an overnight flit. Shed packed in under an hour, been driven to Tehran at speed by her mother, bought a ticket and raced through departures.

She landed in a London lit up for Christmas, the crowds buzzing. That did give me a boost, it was beautiful, everywhere was bright, everyone was celebrating, says Sepehr. I felt some hope like this could be home but no one was talking to me and that was hard. In Iran, wherever you go, people talk to you as if theyve known you for years. I was very down, scared and homesick.

Alone, in a flat in north London, Sepehr began to cook. Until that point in my life, Id just cooked food, says Sepehr, but now, I wanted my mums food. On Christmas Day, I decided to make her special dish herbed rice with meatballs. I ate that and spent all day wrapped in a blanket and watching TV.

And after that, I made more of her food, and my grandmas, my aunts. I was killing myself to get each one right phoning them up and making one dish 20 times to get exactly what I was used to. Its hard to put into words, but I was missing home and those tastes, when I got them right, were taking me back like hearing music that you listened to long ago.

Soon, the neighbours from her building started to introduce themselves and to ask what she was making, what created these delicious smells? Sepehr began knocking on their doors and offering them dishes. Then she invited them around to share it. Without knowing it, she was building the foundations of a brand new future.

Now, more than 10 years later, these recipes have been written up in Sepehrs first book, From a Persian Kitchen. She still lives in the same building and still cooks for her neighbours, but London is her home now, a city she loves. A British citizen, she has an English partner of five years and hopes this book will be the first of many.

Its a world away from the life she expected. Born in the south of Iran, but mainly raised in the central city of Isfahan, Sepehrs father was an engineer whose hopes for his daughter were no different to those for his son. My parents were really liberal, my dad was a feminist, she says. My mum had the same rights as he did and is a strong woman. She didnt have a career and loved to look after us, to make life easy for me and my brother. She never let me cook because she wanted me to get on with my school work.

But Sepehr certainly learned to love food. My mum was a great cook, a fantastic cook, she says. The love I saw her giving the food was unbelievable.

As children, shed take us to different places outside the city just to get the right ingredients. I remember going to a farm to get yogurt or milk just out of the cow, and then to another to buy beans. At meal time, whatever we were doing, whatever was happening, we came to the table. Eating is like that for everyone in Iran, rich or poor. Its a social thing, never just functional. Everything revolves around food.

It wasnt until Sepehr left home to study computer science at university that she cooked for herself. After graduation, she moved to Tehran where she built a formidable career in a male world, first working as a computer programmer, then in the stock market. After completing an MBA, she became a high-earning high flyer, importing and exporting steel. It wasnt a place for a woman and thats why I chose it, she says. No women were doing that job so I wanted to.

On the face of it, Sepehr was forging ahead a role model for the modern Iranian woman. At home though, her marriage told a different story.

I married when I was 27. My husband had been my class mate at university, says Sepehr. He was sweet, popular, handsome, really charming. When people met him, theyd always say: Hes beautiful, where did you find him? Unfortunately, he had two faces and when we married, he became a completely different person. I didnt even know him.

Her neighbours heard the scenes (He would throw things and threaten to jump from the building to put me under pressure) and urged her to leave him. But Sepehr kept granting second chances.

I wanted to make it work, she says. He was the person I once loved and I could see that he loved me although thats something my mum always questions. Now, looking back, was it love or control? At the time, I didnt want anybody to know unless there was no hope. I never give up on anything easily.

The couple sought counselling with a psychologist, but when Sepehr was able to see the therapist alone, he took the same line as her neighbour. He told me not to go back, she says. He said: If you were my daughter, Id want you to divorce.

But in Iran, divorce wasnt easy without the husbands agreement, which Sepehr knew her husband would never give. He also holds the power to ban his wife from leaving the country. I felt that would be the first thing hed do if I tried to end the marriage, says Sepehr. Instead, she made a plan of her own quietly arranging a transfer to work in her companys London office, and applying in secret for a five-year visa. It was the hardest choice Ive ever made, she says. Carry on in this life or give up everything and start again. Only when the paperwork was in place did her parents make the seven-hour drive to Tehran to talk to her husband (who quickly became abusive), then take their daughter back to the family home.

My husband didnt know about the job in England, and I thought Id reconnect with my family, then maybe in a month, move to London, she says. But that same evening, within hours of arriving in Isfahan, her husband called, begging her to return. When Sepehr refused, he told her that tomorrow, her passport would be revoked. My mum said: Pack your bag. You must leave tonight.

Sepehr had no air ticket and at this time in Iran, payments were in cash, not credit cards. The cash machines werent open at night so my brother called his friends asking them to quickly bring any money they had. Soon Sepehr was back in the car with her mother driving her to Tehran airport. She always follows all the rules, but on this night, she broke every speed limit. Somehow, they made it. It was a miracle everything worked. There was a plane. There was a ticket. I got the flight. The next morning, my dad received a phone call to confirm Id been banned from leaving the country. It was too late Id already left.

The divorce took four and a half years, by which time, Sepehrs ex had accepted that she wasnt coming back. For that period, Sepehr couldnt risk going home, even to visit, so threw herself into a new life. First, in the steel company, then slowly, the cooking took over. She began a blog, then edited an online magazine. Though shed never imagined a career in food, it became her comfort, her shortcut home.

Her book is a love letter to the Iran she left. For three years, with no agent, no publisher, Sepehr worked alone, perfecting family recipes, styling the dishes and taking all the photos herself. (She bought a camera and taught herself through YouTube, even though her partner said theyd never be professional enough for a book.) In some ways, says Sepehr, she was a woman possessed.

If youd seen me, youd have thought I was mad. Every morning at seven, Id get up, go to the kitchen to cook, then Id spend the afternoon in my living room, which Id turned into a studio, taking photographs. Every dish has so much emotion and practice behind it.

The book is also a tribute to her family, dedicated to her parents, her grandmother and her aunt, though she is able to visit them now. Theyre proud of her reinvention and, of course, relieved. When I held the first copy in my hands, I called my dad and said: Would you ever have thought Id write a cookery book? He answered: With you, Atoosa, nothing surprises me.

From a Persian Kitchen by Atoosa Sepehr is published by Robinson at 26. To order one for 22.10, go to

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New law would ban the sale of all eggs, pork or veal from a caged animal, putting the state ahead of the EU if campaigners can get enough signatures

They call Chris Winn the signatures guy. A delivery driver by day, he spends his free time drumming up support for animal rights. When I did the shark fin ban I got 4,000 signatures, says Winn, 53. Usually Im the top guy in California.

Now hes on a new mission. Its a cold Saturday afternoon in San Francisco and Winn is jubilant, bundled in a hat and sweatshirt, scouting for signatories for a proposed law that would ban the sale of any eggs, pork or veal that comes from an animal that spent its life in a cage. If passed it would be the most progressive farm animal welfare law in the world.

The law is only possible thanks to the quirky US ballot measure system which allows organisations and individuals to bypass politicians and put potential laws directly to a vote by the general population as long as they can get enough signatures to support the measure in the first place. In California that means collecting a tremendous 365,000 signatures and so for the last four months animal lovers across the state have been fanning out on street corners every chance they get, clipboards in hand.

So far they are nearing 200,000, but even with less than two months to go before the 1 May deadline, Carol Misseldine, the campaigns northern California coordinator, is optimistic. The response has been very positive, she says when we meet, as volunteers assembled for a day of signature hunting. Most people see it as a no-brainer. That being said, we are all gonna have to hustle.

Chris Winn, the signature guy, out collecting names for the ballot measure. Photograph: Charlotte Simmonds for the Guardian

The new measure would ban cages of any kind for hens, gestation crates (known as sow stalls in the UK) for mother pigs, so narrow they cant turn around, and veal crates for calves, which restrict movement for their entire lives. By the end of 2019 all hens would have to be cage-free living, at minimum, on an open barn floor or in an indoor aviary with multiple levels for birds to go up and down.

It would have national implications, applying not just to in-state famers but to any farmer doing business with the worlds sixth largest economy. This is history in the making, says Josh Balk, the vice-president of farm animals protection for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), one of the numerous organisations that has supported the law along with Animal Legal Defense Fund, Compassion in World Farming and local groups such as the San Diego Humane Society. This is the greatest shot farm animals have ever had.

Peter Stevenson, chief policy adviser at Compassion in World Farming, calls the measure a remarkable step that would put California ahead of the EU which has banned battery cages since 2012 and even cage-free leaders such as Germany and the Netherlands.

The last couple of years have seen some steps forward for farm animal welfare across the US. In 2015 McDonalds announced that its US and Canada locations would be going cage-free, impacting 2bn eggs a year, while 2016 saw pledges from major supermarkets including Safeway, Albertsons, and Walmart which alone sells 25% of the nations groceries to go cage-free by 2025.

And California has been ahead of the curve, passing Proposition 2 in 2008 which banned battery cages and said animals must have space to turn around, lie down and stretch their limbs. But in 2016, Massachusetts made history with the first sales ban on products from confined animals, which passed by a landslide 78%. That currently makes it the best place to be a farm animal in America a trophy California wants to reclaim. Theres a certain pride around here, says Misseldine. We want to be back in the lead.

But some US farmers and industry bodies are deeply concerned by the changes. Nationally, the US Department of Agriculture points out that with just 10% of the countrys 300 million hens currently in cage-free housing, meeting demand would require a momentous shift and cost egg producers billions. In Iowa, the nations largest egg producer, a bill currently poised to become law would require grocers selling cage-free eggs to stock cheaper, caged eggs as well. Lawmakers say the bill, which would affect grocers participating in a federal food-assistance program, is an effort to help low-income shoppers.

Pork, veal and egg producers say Californias plan will raise prices for consumers, come at a high cost to small farmers, and in the case of veal, which has largely moved away from crates, ban a problem that doesnt exist. For farmers, the shift can be crippling. When a farmer invests in a cage system hes hoping to get at least a 20-year lifespan, explains Ken Klippen, the spokesman for the National Association of Egg Farmers. Then if just a couple years later hes got to go cage-free, which can cost up to $45 per chicken, the financial burden is so oppressive that some just give up.

Prevent Cruelty California petitions and leaflets. Photograph: Talia Herman for the Guardian

Californian poultry farmer Frank Hilliker is making the switch to cage-free, but hes worried about the price tag. His farm, Hillikers Ranch Fresh Eggs, in Lakeside was started by his grandparents. After Prop 2 he converted several barns to cage-free and others to cages compliant with the new space requirements. To date Ive spent about $650,000, Hilliker says. The bank owns me right now. And Im not even done. In total Ill probably have spent about $800,000.

Hilliker sees cage-free as a good business opportunity, but says being pushed to change too fast is unsustainable. The voters of California shouldnt be legislating the way I farm. Do they know more about egg farming than I do? Chickens live well in cages, he adds, because theyre cleaner (wire floors allow bird droppings to pass through, rather than gather underfoot) and less stressful hens are quick to establish a pecking order and, in large, free roaming groups, birds are more vulnerable to attack.

Look, I love being a farmer, he says by phone while driving into Californias central valley. I take more pride in that than anything. But sometimes I just get down a little bit, because people consider us the enemy.

But polling in April by the HSUS found 72% in favor of the new law. If the campaigners get the signatures they need, there is an excellent chance that it will be passed. Factory farming has only been a part of our reality since the 1950s, says Misseldine. I think it will be a relatively short phenomenon, historically speaking. Its just so clear that it is inhumane not to let animals that were born to move to move. Should the measure get the go ahead, shell find out if Californians agree.

Teresa McGlashan, a volunteer for the Prevent Cruelty California campaign (and also a marriage and family therapist based in Mill Vally), talking to two women about the campaign in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Photograph: Talia Herman for the Guardian

Back in San Francisco, Winn is making steady progress with a crowd gathered to watch the Chinese New Year parade. A dragon puppet snakes its way past as music soars above the street. Cassandra Taylor, a 35-year-old vegan from nearby Alameda, adds her signature gladly, calling the idea common sense .

When I see these chickens all cooped up, stuck on top of each other, its not good. They can feel things. Its just wrong.

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