Wednesday, 24 April 2013

A headless chicken...

Last years tulips were amazing.  
The first tulip is out in the garden.  I was almost too busy to notice it. I've been writing up recipes, teaching courses, keeping the children entertained whilst they have been on holiday, rearranging the laundry, walking the dogs, swimming, cleaning, washing, tidying, school run, gardening, cleaning the chickens out, talking to builders and occasionally sleeping.

The truth is that I've been running about like a headless chicken for what seems like weeks. Trust me, I know what a headless chicken looks like because I once blew the head off a chicken and it carried on running.   Now before you judge me, let me explain. I was 10 years old, and my mother gave me such a hiding when she was told of what I had done that I didn't sit comfortably for some time afterwards. IN my defence it was a greedy French chicken and I really honestly didn't think that the chicken was going to run and grab the lit petard ( french bangers,) and run like hell  I had simply thought that I would give the hens a fright, but that beady eyed chicken ran fixed on the banger, head forward, leaping through the air, and made a Tom Cruise like stunt grab for the mini dynamite stick. It was a triumphant last few seconds as it had out witted all the other hens who followed in hot pursuit. They clearly thought they'd missed a tasty morsel. It was victoriously halfway across the pen when the explosion happened.  All the other hens stopped dead in their tracks wide eyed and petrified, but not the one with the banger.  No that one kept on running not even missing it;s stride, despite having no head left whatsoever, it ran around the pen bumping into the fence and the walls for what seemed like an eternity.  It was probably two minutes as my brother and I watched wide eyed at a scene. It was however time enough for the never pausing for breath Madame Befera and the owner of the chickens Daniel's mother to catch us redhanded. Oh I remember well that feeling when you are in so much trouble.

Apparently it took over a week before any of the hens laid an egg, which was about how long it took me to sit comfortably again. 

So here I am sitting at my desk feeling cross that I haven't written my blog up for days but I do promise that next week I will write up all about a new vegetarian recipe book that I have found called The Green Kitchen, and about the trip to Claybrooke Mill and the trip to Bath as well as the tour of Bugbrooke Mill in Northampton. so you see I have just been so busy, too busy to write. 

In the meantime bear with me because teaching twice a week is taking a day to prepare for each class and a day of admin.  It't not leaving me much time for anything else.  But it is fun and I love it. 

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Is flexitarianism the answer or a just cop out?

So you are going to eat me because I taste good?... or not because I have gas? 
I am struggling with a decision.  That is quite an admission from me the most decisive person in the world… most of the time.   I am wondering about becoming a vegetarian?

There are many reasons that go back a long way, but I’ll start with my trip to Bath over the bank holiday.  I had a crazy few days teaching a course, getting my three young children ready to go to their grandmothers for the weekend and then getting the house ready to leave.  You know leaving for a long weekend is as much work as leaving for a month, but my husband and I haven’t had a weekend away or even a day away together for over two years .. so a romantic break was so very welcome. 

I initially thought my backache was just an over doing it thing and tried to ignore it.  We were heading along south on the motorway making good time to Somerset when suddenly the pain ramped up.  I made my husband to stop and the service station and with in minutes I was lying on the service station floor quite literally out of my mind in terror and the most murderous pain imaginable. 

I’m not sure how long the ambulance took to come, but I was beside myself.  I spent the next 6 or so hours in Swindon A & E. There is some black humour in pain and terror. I can laugh about it now, but I was literally screaming in agony,  and my language was blue … although I did manage to tell the paramedic that he was the best looking ambulance driver I’d ever seen.  Gas and air and co-codamol were my only pain relief.  I passed out with the sheer pain several times. I wanted to die. 

Then in the early hours almost as suddenly as it started, it stopped.  It turns out that I had a kidney stone.  I might add here that firstly it would have been nice to know that I wasn’t going to die a few hours earlier and I am certain that the staff had a good idea what was wrong because they were pretty laid back and relaxed about my utter and absolute agony.  I also feel very angry that as junior doctor discharged me he shrugged his shoulders and wondered out loud why I hadn’t been given anything more for the pain. Now I want to know why for hours I was not alleviated. It seems unbelievable that people could listen to my pleas and despair and ignore me.  Is there any point is even asking when most hospitals are don’t seem to be held accountable for  wicked neglect and outright cruelty of the elderly and weak in recent news?   

I digress.

We left the hospital about 4am went straight to the nearest a travel lodge.  We decided the next morning to go on with our romantic weekend away.  We were both physically and emotionally shattered, but we had reservations at the Ethicurean.  I looked up kidney stones along the way and one of the main recommendations was to drink lots more water and to reduce meat, fish and salt.  Oh and chocolate.

We had a delicious and relaxed lunch at The Ethicurean, which I am going to save to write another post about because it was lovely, but I chatted with my meat-loving husband during lunch about the possibly becoming vegetarian.  The pain still fresh in my mind the idea of having more kidney stones was (and still is) terrifying, but my husband was not keen on the idea of vegetarianism  …  at all. In fact he was really very plain speaking and it was not a romantic answer!

Despite my carnivorous husbands point of view, it is not just about health. It is also that as a Buddhist I have been struggling with the morality of eating meat.  Yet this is not straightforward either as there are opposing views within Buddhism as to whether vegetarianism is actually a requirement. Some schools of Buddhism reject such a requirement outright. The first precept in Buddhism is usually translated as "I undertake the precept to refrain from taking life". Some Buddhists see this as implying that Buddhists should not eat meat, whereas others argue that this is not the case. Some Buddhists strongly oppose meat eating on the basis of scriptural injunctions against flesh-eating in Mahayana sutras.

However it seems from what I have read that Buddha accepted any food offered with respect as alms, including meat yet there is no reference of him eating meat during his seven years as an ascetic. Nowadays various writings have been interpreted as allowing the consumption of meat as long as it is not specifically slaughtered for the recipient. It is the one area I struggle with, and although I  have pretty much given up alcohol, a burger or a bacon sandwich is a real temptation for me.  

My ten-year-old daughter was vegetarian for six months and gave up at my insistence when she became listless and grey, despite my being very careful to make sure she was getting enough nutrients and protein.  She hates the idea of eating animals and gets really upset at eating creatures that have feelings and personalities and I can’t say I feel much differently …. until right at that moment when I am presented with a delicious meal.  The carnivore in me argues that the animal is already dead, and it would be disrespectful to the animal that has been sacrificed to waste the food.  

 I believe really strongly in supporting our British farmers 

One of my strongest principles, especially being brought up on a farm, is believing with all my heart in supporting our British farmers and ensuring the welfare of animals.

On the other hand I am an environmentalist and lover of Fairtrade food so it doesn’t take much research to find out that livestock farming is responsible for almost 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and that nitrous oxide is almost 300 times as damaging to the climate as carbon dioxide and 65% of the total quantity produced by human activity comes from livestock, mostly their manure, and thats before we look at methane which has 25 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide and a single cow can produce 500 litres of methane a day.  Globally cows and sheep are responsible for 37% of the total methane generated by human activity.  Oh and carbon dioxide is emitted when forests are cleared for grazing or for growing grain to feed animals. Fossil fuels are then used to transport animals and to power the production of their feed further polluting our air. 

I did consider becoming a pescatairian but that doesn’t seem to be the answer either with 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises killed every year as ‘by-catch’ of the fishing industries and 19% of major commercial marine fish stocks monitored by the FAO overexploited, 8% are depleted and 1% ranked as recovering from depletion it is not an environmentally safe option either. 

The over-fishing, by-catch, climate change, invasive species and coastal development have resulted in a decline in the number of marine species, such as sharks, seabirds and turtles too.  So back as square one as an environmentalist I came to the conclusion that becoming vegetarian is the answer until I read another report in The Telegraph that suggests that here is strong evidence that a major increase in vegetarianism could threaten British farming causing meat production to move overseas where there may be less legal protection of forests and uncultivated land. According to a study by Cranfield University, commissioned by WWF, the environmental group.  They found that a substantial number of meat substitutes – such as chickpeas, soy, and lentils are actually more harmful to the environment overall because they were imported into Britain from overseas. The study says "A switch from beef and milk to highly refined livestock product analogues such as tofu could actually increase the quantity of arable land needed to supply the UK."  I’ve been reading in another article that this showed that the amount of foreign land required producing the substitute products – and the potential destruction of forests to make way for farmland – outweighed the negatives of rearing beef and lamb in the UK.

I have come  to the conclusion that the solution must lie somewhere in between the two.  Flexitarianism is a semi vegetarian diet. Perhaps just eating the occasional local well cared for meat from my local butcher and seasonal sustainable fish is the answer?

But I am wondering is flexitarianism really the answer or a just cop out?