Now a French start-up is taking a leaf from their books.
Toopi Organics is aiming to replace chemical fertilizers with human urine. Urine is naturally rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other growth factors. Chemical fertilizers, used to excess in farming, are linked to damaging effects on biodiversity, the environment and our health. Alexandra Carpentier, the CEO of Toopi (a clever French punning name), asserts “Recycling urine could save the world”.
The company collects it from places where people pee a good deal, like petrol stations, schools, and music festivals, all within a close radius of its plant near Bordeaux. After a patented fermentation process, the bacteria is concentrated into a liquid that can be spread directly on the ground.
Carpentier wants to make it clear that their product isn’t for use as a fertilizer, but as an excellent growth medium “for micro-organisms of agronomic interest”.
I assume that means it renders fertilizer unnecessary and, apparently, Toopi can produce a quarter of a million litres of this bio-stimulant a year.
Given that urine is essentially an unlimited resource, the company could collect any amount. Each year, 240 billion litres of urine are discharged by the citizens of Europe alone. So far, the product has been approved by six European countries. Not only is this a good deal cheaper for farmers than synthetic fertilizers, but a natural solution.
This pea soup (a reprehensible pun to connect with Toopi’s invention) is definitely natural. It’s made not with fresh peas but with dried marrowfat peas. These are regular garden peas that aren't harvested while young but are left in the fields to dry out naturally in the field. They are starchy, and are the peas behind wasabi peas and the mushy peas served with authentic fish and chips. For any recipe, they need to be soaked.
There’s a surprising history behind pea soup. It is established as common at least as far back as 414 BC because that’s the date Aristophanes presented his comedy of Athenian politics, The Birds, in which he mentions the soup.
It’s more likely that you associate this comforting soup with the Dutch, who recorded it in 1768 and who commonly call it ‘snert’. The word is probably Friesian, a northern province of the Netherlands, although “to take a sneirt” or “snars” means to take a swig. The soup is so thick it’s hard to imagine what that would sound like. For a vegetarian version, just leave out all the meats.
This is so much better if you make it a 2-day job for the flavours to mellow, though you could do it in one.
- 1 lb split green peas, soaked overnight
- 2 leeks, cleaned and chopped1 ham hock, or knuckle of green bacon, soaked overnight
- 1 pig’s trotter (foot, available at Chinese supermarkets), optional
- 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
- 2 leeks, white part only, cleaned and chopped
- 2-3 sticks of celery, chopped
- salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste (checking first as the ham hock may have added enough salt)
- 1 smoked sausage (optional)
Remove the hock, bacon, trotter to a separate plate and blitz the soup in a liquidizer. Return it to the cleaned saucepan. Add the softened vegetables and cook another hour or more over very low heat with the lid on askew. Stir every now and then to prevent it from catching. Leave, covered, overnight.
Next day, throw out the pig’s trotter, thoroughly chop the meat from the other bones. Gently heat the soup, which will have solidified, adding more water if necessary. Add the meat to warm through.
In a separate pan, add a small amount of vegetable oil and fry up the sausage till lightly browned all over, slice thickly, add to the soup and serve. Or ladle the soup into warmed bowls and then add the sausage.
This column written by Julia Watson originally appeared in the February 2023 edition of The Bugle.