The morality of meat

The morality of meat

I still chuckle when I think of my husband watching me tuck into a rack of ribs and remark, not unkindly, ‘Oh, how the mighty have fallen’. Heavily pregnant, I’d finally, and wholeheartedly, succumbed to the meat cravings I’d been having for the past decade.

I was a smug vegetarian, I think  because I was conflicted about it. I believed (still do) vegetarianism to be an admirable (and increasingly necessary) choice, but eating meat made – still makes – me feel good. My ideals and my desires – couldn’t marry the two.

Some of the greatest thinkers of our time, men of science and of religion, rejected meat, usually on moral grounds. This inherent morality –  where you can point to peoples’ compassion, or lack thereof, makes the flesh eating debate tricky territory to navigate as it invites judgement; it leaves space for right and wrong, kind and cruel, virtuous and evil. How can you be an evolved soul and still eat animals? Or be privy to how animals are farmed and not take a stance?

Even if you manage to manoeuvre your way round the cruelty, by just not thinking about it, as most of us do, our meat consumption is seriously bad news for the planet — something that’s harder to ignore with environmental issues so high on the agenda.

Those who’d espouse a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle have a powerful case. To skim the list of reasons to ditch meat:

  • Factory farming is pretty grim: cruelly confined spaces, growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, artificial fattening of animals, the heartbreaking mother-calf separation hours after birth.
  • Meat farming gobbles up resources. It’s estimated about 30% of our  (ice-free) land is now used for meat production. Huge swathes of rainforest are being cleared to make space for livestock farming.
  • The cows themselves are huge polluters, releasing toxic methane into the environment.
  • One stat from Cowspiracy that’ll scream out at you: it takes more than 2000 litres of water to make one hamburger. I still can’t wrap my head around that stat; it’s so grossly disproportionate it almost defies belief.

My kids are complete carnivores, so it’ll be a while before we embrace vegetarianism. But it is time to cut back – way, way back. Abstinence didn’t work for me, I’d cave then beat myself up about it, so I’m trying a different approach. To flip things around so that meat is an occasional treat rather than a staple. And to be more mindful about where and what meat we buy – though just thinking about that minefield gives me a slight headache. Free range, organic, pasture fed, ethically sourced – what does it all mean, really?

Part of weaning off meat is having accessible, tasty vegetarian recipes up your sleeve. Check back soon for some of our favourites that can be made in a jiffy with minimal ingredients. Meantime the hunt for slightly more sophisticated, hearty vegetarian recipes continues; I know they’re out there. Anyone got great recipes to share?

Famous vegetarians
Einstein; Pythagoras; Plutarch; Leonardo da Vinci; Leo Tolstoy; Gandhi; Charles Darwin; Voltaire; Jane Goodall; Pamela Anderson; Natalie Portman; Paul and Linda McCartney; Steve Jobs; Mike Tyson; Bill Clinton; Hitler*

(*The Nazis apparently introduced animal protection rights that still exist today; the fine for hurting an animal was two years. If that’s not a study in the complexity of morality and the human psyche!)

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einstein quote

Babylonstoren

Babylonstoren

 

 

The first time I visited Babylonstoren, two years ago, I was blown away. Having just gone back, with a newfound passion for growing food — oh.my.word. My husband said he could hear my ovaries singing.

All those beautiful strong plants, that soil teeming with microlife, the nooks and crannies amongst the giant sunflowers, prickly pear forests and quince trees. And the blue and white tiled decor. Maybe that’s where its magic lies. It stirs both the grower and the aesthete in you.

 

Our patch – an update

We’re forging ahead with our veggie garden despite the relentless heat. In retrospect, planting during a drought may have been unwise – but the seasons are turning; the days are crisper and there are traces of dew in the mornings. And, most crucially, our well point is up and running.

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My helpers hard at work prepping the soil with a nice thick layer of compost.

We’ve started small, sticking to veggies that were already in the patch or that we’ve had luck with before. Though today, on a whim, I snuck past the nursery and couldn’t resist picking up borage and echinacea.

Borage, much-loved by experienced gardeners, is said to have all kinds of benefits – it adds trace minerals to the soil, self seeds, is edible (one has to wonder how edible with those prickly leaves), and is a magnet for bees and other pollinators. So I’m giving it a whirl. Echinacea – who can resist those gorgeous flowers?

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After removing the trampoline, we left the tomato plant, pomegranate bush and lemon tree where they were; they seemed happy. The chilli bush in the box on the right was grown from seed by my husband – it has not loved the transplant. You’ll spot rocket, kale and lettuce seedlings and our granadilla plant leaning against the wall on the left (begging for a trellis). And a pop of pink in the corner.
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Planting this fig tree was a big moment in my life. Love everything about them and have longed for one in my garden. Now just need to learn how to grow them! Tips anyone?
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Raw green peppers are one of the few veggies my boys eat so had to include these. And kale for us!

Gardening is an active participation in the deepest mysteries of the universe.
– Thomas Berry

Earmarked

A momentous day! I finally convinced my boys (the not-so-farmy ones) to move the trampoline so I can claim a patch of land to start a veggie garden. Here it is, in all its bare earth glory.

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I’ve inherited a few stragglers that grew under or around the trampoline – a small lemon tree, a pomegranate bush, and a very determined tomato plant. For the rest, its an untouched parcel of land in which I get to realise a long held dream – to plant a fig tree!

I know next to nothing about growing vegetables – the learning curve is going to be steep. First task – remove the bits of rubble and prepare the soil, enriching it with compost. All the while plotting and dreaming about this little tract of land in our little corner of suburbia, where we’ll toil, grow, learn and find nourishment.

Garden as though you will live forever
-William Kent

Energy guzzlers

Energy guzzlers

It’s a small, seemingly insignificant thing but the absence of a machine or contraption whirring in the background to regulate the temperature or clean the air is one of the things I’ve loved most about moving back home.

In Beijing there was a constant hum in our apartment – of the air conditioner in summer, the heater in winter (who knew Beijing was sub-arctic) and the air purifier most of the year. Hong Kong was not much different (this is a city where department stores open their doors wide to pump cold air onto the hot sticky streets outside). In London it was the central heating for what felt like the better part of the year.

In Cape Town the air is beautifully clean and the temperature just so, so that you’re always comfortable, and it’s felt so good to be less of an energy guzzler. Moving home has coincided with a gradual awakening on my part – of a planet in peril as a result of our unrelenting quest for comfort and convenience. Maybe it’s having kids, maybe it’s middle age, maybe it’s having lived in such artificial city environments for close to a decade.

I do wonder though, if I moved back to any of those concrete jungles, would I just revert to my old ways? Crank up the aircon after a day in the insane stickiness that is Hong Kong? Or seal myself in my apartment, air purifier going full-tilt, after an afternoon breathing in the noxious Beijing air? What are the alternatives? Learn to be a little (or a lot) less comfortable?

I can feel smug about ditching the temperature control machines but I now live in a suburban house with a thirsty garden, and I haven’t used public transport in three years. I’ve swapped out one set of conveniences for another – if I did one of those carbon footprint calculations and compared life then to life now, I’m not sure I’ve progressed as much as I think.

It does feel though that once awareness has crept up on you, once it’s got your attention, it starts demanding more of you. What you know becomes compounded so that you’re forced to continually refine and adapt your thinking. You recycle furiously and feel great about keeping waste out of landfill, then investigate a little more and realise recycling is a sticking plaster, not a solution, and that what you actually need to do is stop accumulating. You become water-wise, flick those switches off and compost your food waste but then watch Cowspiracy and feel like you’ve had blinkers on all this time – gorging yourself on meat whereas in fact ditching meat could have a bigger impact that all your recycling efforts combined. You browse the sites of zero wasters displaying their entire years waste in a small glass jar – and then, feeling inadequacy creep in, you step away from the screen, go for a walk and get some perspective!

Learning is iterative and it’s hard to overhaul your life in a day, a week, a few months or even years. But you can always start and do what you can when and where you can, with the wherewithal you have at the time – and you can rejig things as you go along. And I think a journey of sustainability should be a joyful one – moments of outrage and maybe even exasperation at times yes, but ultimately something that brings you a semblance of peace in a crazy beautiful world.

“Little by little, one travels far”
– J.R.R Tolkien

Kindle or not to kindle?

Kindle or not to kindle?

Reading for me is a tactile experience. You can’t curl up with a screen the way you can with a book or magazine. Scrolling through emails doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies the way poring over old letters does.

Books age well. They get thumbed, dog-eared, underlined, and sometimes defaced. They lose their covers (my pet book peeve). Letters fade and turn yellow, magazines get crumpled and tattooed with coffee rings. Kindles? Well, you can adjust the brightness and the font size, but screens are just screens – cold and inert.

The first few books I bought for my kids, I was torn over whether to scrawl their names on the inside – writing in books still feels a little like sacrilege. Now I love doing it. In a generation or two, their favourite childhood tales might end up on a second-hand bookshop shelf, in a place far removed from their current lives. The new owners might notice it, and wonder, even if for just a mili second, who Samuel and Noah Nicholson were.

Every time we move (which has been too often in the last decade) I do a major purge and declutter. My books and magazines are always spared (as are my letters and photos). I just can’t part with them, even the trashy ones that I know I’ll never look at again.

They also make the most fabulous decor items. How completely gorgeous is a stack of yellow National Geographic magazines piled high?

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The point of this post – on a blog that is supposed to be about simplifying and de-accumulating? Books are the one thing I’ll never stop amassing. I just can’t make the switch to a kindle and my magazine fix can’t be online, it has to be the real, glossy thing.

Books, to me, enliven a home. And they can be passed on – again and again. What a gift in our single-use, high turn over world.

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My husband’s grandad was known for being intellectual and bookish. All his books, like this inherited beauty, were stamped with his custom made ‘DRM’ stamp.

My farm boy

My husband grew up on a farm and is much closer to the earth than I am. There’s stuff he just knows – basic agricultural principles about planting and sowing, the scarcity of water, eating seasonally. Being frugal and recycling is ingrained in him; it’s something I had to learn.

With all the technological knowledge we’re gaining, it seems the really basic stuff that we ought to know, like how to feed ourselves, is being lost. I only recently learnt what a pepper plant looks like. Could I tell a garlic plant from an onion? Probably not. Walnut tree from a pecan nut tree? Definitely not. Have I ever pulled a carrot out the ground? Nope.

I’ve gotten so used to plucking highly packaged and processed food off frigid supermarket shelves I can’t recognise plants in their natural habitat. But, determined to learn, we’ve been experimenting with a bit of urban farming. Our patch of garden is little, but it’s big enough to teach us the basics.

Here’s what we’re experimenting with at the moment.

We discovered, fortuitously, that the area underneath our trampoline acts like a greenhouse, as tomato plants kept sprouting up. Since then we’ve had success with celery, kale and peppers (gutted that our trampoline patch was recently decimated by builders who had to dig up some pipes). We’ve got some veggie boxes (mainly spinach, but also carrots and strawberries), wonderfully large potted blueberry plants (which we planted) and wild rosemary bushes (which we inherited). We’ve got a little lemon tree and planted a pomegranate bush, none of which have yielded any fruit yet. The tomato plants continue to sprout up anywhere and everywhere, clinging to to anything it finds.

We’re not quite at the stage where we can forage for supper, but it’s a start.