Thursday, 23 December 2010

Gobble, Gobble

T'was the day before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Not so in towns and cities up and down the UK, where last minute purchases are being exchanged for cash or credit. Like the turkey awaiting the oven and your dinner plate, Christmas is a time for gobbling. A seasonal abundance of food, drink and good cheer.

Image courtesy of Veg Soc
The turkey, the bird to prize. The ace to trump this banquet of gorge. How will it be served? Basted, stuffed and roasted. What with? Cranberry sauce, gravy, roast potatoes and parsnips – all the usual trimmings? Turkey is to Christmas, what chocolate eggs are to Easter. As a veggie, why should I even be contemplating this? Because it seems to me, the carnivore's choice is ill-considered. As delectable as it might sound, yes I see some of you smacking your lips, is it truly scrumptious to sentence an animal to its untimely death? But it's tradition I hear you cry. Christmas isn't Christmas without this meat-feast for the eye. The carver at the head of the table, chest puffed out with pride.

Why does this explanation not lessen my revolt? For the same reason, people displayed disgust at a story I told many years ago. Chosen for its creativeness, this festive fable was read aloud to an assembly of pupils, parents and teachers. The tale of a turkey, prepped for the plate, but still very much alive. The hungry guests surprised as dinner removed itself from the platter to run round the table. Its attempts to flee made futile by a large carving fork pitched in its back. My childish mind amused at the thought of such lively main course entertainment. Pity the audience did not agree, and with no words left to say, a stony silence prevailed. If Queen Victoria had been present, she would have proclaimed, the audience were not amused. Fictional fun so I thought, but perhaps even in my innocence, I had hit a raw nerve.

Partial to a bit of meat and two veg, why the revulsion? Animals are fattened and slaughtered for your gastric enjoyment. I'm sorry if this is news, but “off with your head!” ensues your pound of flesh. There's no disputing that fact – you act as indirect accessories to the crime, including the dismal conditions animals are subjected to prior to the kill. Uneasy with this notion? Take action - learn an animal's fate from birth to plate. This is not an advertisement for vegetarianism, but a recommendation that carnivores have the full gristly details of what they're carrying through. Whether you remain a carnivore or not is up to you, but I'd rather you did so in full possession of the facts, than just because it's “finger lickin' good”.

For carnivores, it's the taste that counts. How to prep and disguise the flesh so that it bears little resemblance to the animal whence it came. Consumption made all the more easier by its presumed absence of thought and feeling. The truth may be harder to swallow for animals are intelligent, sentient beings just like you and I. Worth showing respect with heads bowed and grace said before the big feed. A thought spared for poor fattened up gobble, gobble – the crowning glory of your Winter feast. With knife and fork in hand, we veggies wish you “A Meaty Christmas” indeed.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

At thirty I stood on my own two feet...(Confucius ANA:II,3)

Contained in the Analects of Confucius are many teachings, like the title of this piece. Confucius, a Chinese thinker and social philosopher prized study above everything else, wishing his disciples to think for themselves and stand on their own two feet. The Analects compiled many years after his death apply to the world and its people even today. My own interpretation of this line holding personal significance. A teaching to aspire to and master before this decade passes. From my present position it's very apt for I turn 30 tomorrow.

Am I dreading it? Am I grief-stricken at waving goodbye to my youth? In a nutshell no. Like a relative you can't wait to see the back of, I grimace behind my 20s and look for the first opportunity to push them out. Minutes later, another knock at the door. Well hello 30s, come on in! As a society, we place great emphasis on age. It might be a cliche, but age is just a number. Sour grapes? No, just an observation. Why do we allow time to dictate how we should look? From how we look physically to what we wear – even to govern our interests. Age does not define who you are. All it signifies is a passing of time. Sure you may no longer be the person you were at 20, but is this cause for regret or a reason to celebrate? I take the latter view. I don't want to go back in time to a younger self, to correct misdeeds and misfortunes. I want to go forward. To learn and accept me as I am – not in the past or in the future, but right now.

20s gone, it's not the end of my youth, nor the incoming 30s the beginning of maturity. Somewhere we've been sold the idea that 30s means settling. To be a smug married with a nice car, house and 2.4 kids. I may have chosen differently to my contemporaries, but that doesn't make me a less responsible citizen. I have a job, roof over my head and bills to pay. I'm a contributing member of society, as no doubt we all wish to be. 30s are the middle ground. A time of learning. To be at peace with you are, including all your flaws - to accept them, admonish them and create new ones .

Confucius said, “It's a pleasure to learn and put your learning to its appropriate use...” What I failed to do in my 20s, is what I hope to master in my 30s. I've already begun. Inspired by biographies of those gone before – normal men and women, eons ahead of their time. A poor example are the autobiographical accounts from trendy-somethings. Barely out of nappies, their life half lived. I ask you: is fame more inspirational to others once you're dead? Crudely put, but my answer, I'm sure, would come as no surprise.

With the door to 30 creaking open, I thought I already stood on my own two feet, but maybe, just maybe, I'm still down on my knees...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Mucky Hands, Sticky Fingers

Mucky pup”, is what my Mum and Nan would say to me while wiping my hands, fingers, face, and anywhere else I'd managed to smear my latest creation. A pet name I've thankfully outgrown, but back then getting dirty was a creative triumph. Painting, felt tips, papier-mache and glue were a few of my artistic pursuits. Fortunately, adults had the sense to roll up my sleeves and swaddle me in, bibs, aprons and old shirts like an Egyptian mummy. Playing kitchen helper was when I was happiest however. Even from my highchair I realised food made a great playmate. Mum's spag bol would be flung at the walls and on the floor. My hands, face and hair a squishy mess of pasta, mince, and tomato sauce.

Outdoors, the back garden was my second kitchen. Famous for my mud pies and afternoon tea, complete with plastic teapot, plates and cups. Etiquette was essential – any adult who failed to make the appropriate “nom-nom” noises was unlikely to be invited again. Rolling pastry and sieving jam through an old pair of tights for Nan's yummy jam tarts was another specialty. Years of practice making a floury mess and inedible mixtures thrown out to the birds, and what have I gained? Basic cookery skills and a lifelong love of food. The fun is in the preparation and getting your hands sticky, gooey and caked in crumbs. The programming of a microwave and its finished ping, a poor substitute in execution, taste and quality.

A simple home cook, I cheat and use shortcuts, but prefer to cook from scratch. There's no satisfaction to be found from a ready meal and less so if you're a veggie. At best, bite-sized, bland and calorific – the veg meal, not the veg human. Why then have these cellophane covered, plastic cartons with their small portions grown in popularity? Convenience and pressed for time are the usual response. Could it be we now lack the basic culinary know-how? The latter is closer to the truth. McDonald's is a cut of meat, potatoes are tomatoes, and chopping onions is way too difficult. The kitchen, a room to commence battle or exhibit as decorative art.

The uneducated masses is our plight. How do we make cooking fun and practical to those who have never been taught? To get across the message that cooking is an essential life skill? Education is the answer, the earlier the better. The early bird catches the worm as they say. While this is true, food tech in schools is not enough. Parents, public health bodies and big business need to get involved too. Changes are afoot, but in essence, if the parents feign interest and lack cookery confidence, the kids will too. The elephant in the kitchen, figuratively speaking, is the adult. A safe place to learn and get hands on is the cooking school. Home to great chefs who share their knowledge and passion for food. A winning combination if you can spare the expense, but neglects those who stand the most to gain.

Cooking is child's play. You're never too young or too old to get stuck in and shake those pots and pans. Make like Jamie Oliver and pass it on!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The White Stuff

My craving for the white stuff began from a tender age. 3 months old, lips prematurely clamped to the bottle noisily devouring the creamy content within. The other white stuff currently blanketing the UK and holding us all hostage bears no comparison. This was liquid goodness, otherwise known as milk.

This was however only the beginning of an addiction that eventually became harder to tame. The bottle prised from my vice-like grip, (the dummy was not so easy to relinquish!), play school became my new looked-forward-to feeding ground with its daily bottle of milk and straw. Bedtime was another boon - almost picture perfect to behold. A little girl in a nightdress trying to imitate her father with a glass of milk in one hand and a couple of McVities plain chocolate digestives in the other. My milk addiction followed me everywhere or maybe I followed it – a modern equivalent to the pied piper with a large milk bottle at the head of the queue. Milk was the river of choice to quench my thirst – milk on its own or with and in everything. Flavoured milk, hot chocolate, sweet milky tea, and liberally poured over Coco Pops to turn the milk chocolaty. Any product made from or with milk became an obsession, not to be sated. This included cheese. I loved my cheddar - it was perfection with everything, in sandwiches, on toast, with crackers, on pasta... A dairy and sugar fiend always craving more - it must have been like living with Jekyll and Hyde.

This was the slippery slope to intolerance and discipline, accompanied by the harsh realities of dairy farming. Lactose and yeast intolerant after years of dairy abuse, my vegetarianism was pushed to new boundaries and not through choice. Forced to seek out alternatives for the sake of my health and consider my diet from a different perspective, it was at first a bitter pill to swallow. With persistence and a diet more varied than before, I came out the other side transformed by the lonely experience. It would be hypocritical of me to paint milk as the enemy, but past weaning our need is unnatural. Breast is best so we're told – liquid to nurture the young, not those all grown up, and certainly not from another mammal. Are we too late in realising the folly of our ways? Intolerance increases, but compulsion to drink the good stuff does not decline, despite the many tasty alternatives.

Make Mine Milk”, the latest campaign expounds milk as a great source of calcium – the soft drink found only in nature. A mythical virtue, which unpaid experts fail to discredit. True, milk is a source, but there are others far richer and better for you. What of these? They hushed up by the industry in a bid to protect sales and condone cruel practices. A precious liquid commodity for calves, but one which we continue to exploit for ourselves. Yes, make mine milk, but only if it's as nature intended: dairy-free.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Bones & All

With a rich history dating back to biblical times, some of us may deliberate whether vegetarianism is in our blood, DNA, or ancestral heritage. A link to the past when abstention was common. In my case, to claim this was so would be a fallacy. I know of no other vegetarians within my immediate family circle. My clan is and will always be carnivorous. I was not brought up with an abhorrence of meat. On the contrary, meat or fish was the backbone of many an 80s TV dinner. There was nothing I wouldn't eat – on or off the bone, as a meat-eater I didn't really care. Vegetables were unheard of, unless you count the odd carrot and mum's buttery mashed potatoes. Veg was the enemy and nothing could induce me to eat them, not even Cadbury's chocolate buttons. Becoming a veggie years later was nothing short of miraculous!

Even now, I don't despise myself for my meat-eating ways. I remember such meals with fondness and gusto. Forming my personal history and a burgeoning relationship with food. Regarded with suspicion, fruit and veg were forbidden from ever touching the plate, but flesh was a feast for the fork. Steak and kidney pie, liver, bacon butties, hamburgers, sausages, lamb chops, and even spam were firm family favourites. Gnawing meat straight off the bone, like Henry VIII, was such a simple pleasure, that even a salted chicken leg would suffice. This confession is not meant to offend fellow veggies or vegans, but to educate those in their continued meat-glutton. Unlike youngsters today, I wasn't oblivious to where meat came from. I knew its origins weren't as vacuum-packed slabs in the supermarket chiller. Raised in South-East London, working farms were not on my doorstep, but I was taught to appreciate food and the farm animal alphabet. Holidaying with my grandparents was a culinary adventure. Meal times governed the day, so sourcing ingredients from local suppliers was a daily quest. All the encouragement I needed to immerse myself in the rich tapestry of food, tuck in and tickle my taste buds.

My point in relating this journey from meat to veg is that perfecting the palate is an education. A part of the curriculum sadly neglected today, in the home, school and general public arena. Knowledge led me to vegetarianism, which given the above was a considerable leap of faith, but there it was. Am I a better vegetarian for it? In all honesty, I think so. Like two sides of a coin, I can empathize with both – vegetarians and carnivores, as I'm sure many other veggies will testify. The squeamishness and ignorance surrounding meat however remains a mystery. To eat meat is not a sin, but it could be perceived as such if you are uneducated about an animal's fate or refuse to use the sum of its parts.

Britain needs more reformed eaters and carnivores who will care about the animals destined for their plate. Until then, meat is meat, slaughter is slaughter. A rich man's meat to some, poison to another.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Eating Bunny

Image from
Once a much loved Beatrix Potter tale, Benjamin bunny is now more likely to adorn our tables rather than our bookshelves. Mr McGregor with his gun has returned bunny to the pot, along with offal and other discarded cuts, for stews, pies, and all manner of wonderful creations a la Heston Blumenthal. Rabbit is back in vogue as fashion would say. The “Meat Is Murder” vegetarian doctrine surely suggests all slaying is barbaric, but is it? There are some who would disagree. Environmental veggies argue killing for food can be justified, provided it's sustainable and the animals roam free. As this new breed of vegetarianism testifies, should wild meat be considered fair game?

The logic behind such an argument remains unclear. Slaughtering meat not intensively reared could at a push be reasoned as kind to the animals and the environment. It doesn't support or contribute to factory farming – its appalling conditions or environmental impact, but it does condone eating meat as both a human entitlement and a necessity. Isn't this just another form of killing in the name of sport? Yes and no, there is a fundamental difference – the corpse is at least used for food and not stuffed, mounted and displayed for all gentry to admire. That being said, I'm still not persuaded killing and eating wild meat is somehow ecologically or ethically sound. Demand engenders productivity and industrial-scale manufacturing. In layman's terms, plundering our natural resources leads to factory farming and all that it stands for – inhumane conditions and slaughter of animals. The food industry, driven by profit, is literally at like it rabbits with new farms for game popping up all over the place. The fact that any vegetarian could abide by this logic and contribute to it seems both implausible and a little naive.

This abandonment of veggie principles is startling and those that adopt this stance are frankly irritants, like finding a fly in your soup. Is this the reality we now have to confront? A world where vegetarianism is mocked even by our compatriots? I hope not. Giving others the illusion we are weak-willed and easily drawn to the allure of meat is a slap in the face to genuine “full-time” vegetarians and all that we believe. Is authentic vegetarianism dying out? Possibly so. With the advent of new technology in the West and shortages of food elsewhere, humankind has no choice but to adapt and adopt new eating habits. We are in the midst of change, where not even the vegetarian movement is exempt. It might be that “semi” or “mock” vegetarians are both a man-made and natural occurrence.

Should we welcome this change with open arms? I honestly don't know. Being a veggie is like following a faith, and I'm reluctant to let the waters be muddied by those who wish to continue eating meat. I believe we should eat, question and consider, but ultimately it's how you choose to define yourself that counts and not the philosophy of others. In the case of eating bunny, the mantra for me remains: Run rabbit, Run rabbit, Run! Run! Run!

Run Rabbit Run - Flanagan & Allen

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Food Not Fit For The Fork

Image from
The food we buy off the supermarket shelves, we assume, is always fit for the fork, but what happens to food deemed past its best? Originally, thrown away without a second thought, Waitrose has recently been congratulating itself on its new schemes to reuse so-called waste. From January, unwanted food is to be transformed into renewable gas, which is hoped will produce enough energy to feed the national grid and power a brewery. In North Wales, the story is a little different. Here the local Waitrose regularly supplies fruit and veg past its best to a zoo in Colwyn Bay. A feast fit for a King, but deemed suitable only for a captive non-human market. Other branches of its stores send their food waste to eco-friendly anaerobic digestion plants to be converted into green energy. Is this a pat on the back for Waitrose and others following suit? I'm not so sure...

What bothers me is the comments that accompany these proclamations. Some of them are frankly laughable. Zoo animals it appears have more of a nose for food than we do, and are developing a taste for supermarket fruit and veg. The Welsh Mountain Zoo animal collection manager, Peter Litherland, said the scheme made the animals' lives a bit more interesting and provided a varied diet. He later added, “The chimpanzees know that they are getting something different and special”. A sad truth, implying that as part of this animal kingdom we don't appreciate the food we have been given. As consumers, have we fallen prey far too easily to industry imposed standards? Are we being denied the chance to purchase fare that still packs a nutritional punch?

As a vegetarian and a foodie, I'm not only concerned with the welfare of animals, but how we use our natural resources. That said, some of you may be wondering what I'm complaining about. As a result of supermarket waste, zoo animals get to tuck into a healthy nutritious diet, and renewable energy can be easily obtained. These schemes do their job and prevent food going to landfill, so what's the problem? Not eating is my answer. If the food's still edible and only the quality is at fault, why are these schemes necessary in the first place? Why can't supermarkets put aside their strict standards, forget their profit margins and let the consumers decide? Why shouldn't I buy knobbly fruit and veg, bashed up tins, or produce slightly past its best? The proof is surely in the taste and not it's irregular appearance.

Yes, I may sound like a broken record, but tackling society's food waste monsters, including us as consumers, would do much to reduce our global ills. The efforts of Waitrose to be a green, ethical and compassionate retailer, along with their new-found transparency, is to be admired. It fails however to silence my inner critic. Transparency is the “buzz” word of this century. Frequently cropping up whenever big business or the latest public scandal is discussed in an open forum. All past actions, such as the MP expenses blunder, the Iraq/Afghan war nobody wanted, and the current economic recession, can apparently be redeemed by this very word. Is transparency what the public wants or is this an idea we've been sold? If by transparency we mean honesty and openness, then it's for the good, but do any of us really believe that will be the outcome? Transparency will never be for our benefit – it's all about being one step ahead of the competition. Is it power to the people? No, it's corporate ammunition.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

All In Your Genes

Image from

As a child I was told by well-meaning relatives you're got the Ralls thighs or your father's nose. Never sure whether to accept these as compliments or insults, I would ruminate on them in silence. Puberty was an ugly word and these comments would hit hard, often for days on end. Allusions to my appearance made for an ever-growing list of unflattering features. I didn't want to resemble any member of the family. I wanted to be me – a person in my own right and not an amalgamation of others. Now all grown up, my views have altered. I'm fascinated by the person staring back at me from the mirror. What features and traits do I share with that of my common ancestors? Looking through old photographs, the likeness to those on my father's side is uncanny. The family connection undeniable. I ponder the significance of this - do I own my genes or do they in fact own me? Do your genes define who and what you are, and what role might they play in the future?

These are the big questions science challenged itself to decode, and their progress has been duly noted. The human genome successfully mapped, the focus has shifted to genetic profiling and gene therapy. The prospective gold standard of healthcare. Those three letters of potential – DNA, have been much written and spoken about, but are we too quick to assume this is our miracle cure? DNA profiling and gene therapy may eradicate old ailments, but isn't it possible that new mutations will only spring up in their place? A world free of disease is not within our reach. I don't wish anybody ill, but couldn't it be said that disease is also a teacher, a healer, and a controller of population growth? In denying this element of life – a force governed by the law of nature, aren't we saying that disease holds no purpose? I would have to refute this claim.

That said, this new-found intelligence has led to a combined state of awe and pessimism. Nature versus nurture is the classic debate on everybody's lips from scientists and researchers to doctors and psychologists. It has not escaped public attention either, where our genes, it seems, can be held accountable for every imperfection. Like the story of the Emperor's New Clothes, “It's all in my genes” has become the new fashionable excuse. Researchers have discovered genes for this and genes for that - breast cancer, diabetes, smoking and alcohol to name but a few. This predisposition permits us to blame our defective genes and ignore other contributing factors. These are however of equal import. The environment we live in and the lifestyle we lead unlocks the code to our genetic profile. Genes, it is said, can be switched on by diet, pollutants and stress. We are, therefore at fault if we do not take the appropriate measures to help ourselves. Just having the gene does not determine the outcome.

The blueprint to life is a scientific destination. Some mysteries however are best left unravelled. In your genes or not, we can know too much and not always to our advantage. DNA screening may provide clues to our genetic inheritance, but stating those three little words - “I don't know” is often the greater insurance.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Somebody Else's Shoes

A Pair Of Shoes, 1886 Vincent Van Gogh

What would it be like to live in somebody else's shoes? I never tire of asking myself this and trying to look at a situation from another perspective. Isn't this what being human is all about? Each of us playing a character in the game of life. According to psychologists, our ability to understand another person's circumstances, point of view, thoughts and feelings is an automated response. We are programmed to reach out and extend empathy, as it is otherwise termed, to both human and non-human kind. Could this be so when some days it seems this very quality is lacking? Is empathy an illusion? All in the mind of our altruist egos...

I liken empathy to pick 'n' mix. Yes please to the fizzy cola bottles and white chocolate mice, but no thanks to the flying saucers. Similarly people pick and choose who or what is deserving of their empathy. Pictures of natural disasters force us to sit up and take notice of the plight of others from around the globe.“Those poor people” we say, whilst watching nightly broadcasts and flinging money and impractical aid at the problem, but is this true understanding? I remain unconvinced by this mass sentiment. Can we ever really walk in others' shoes?

To be empathetic surely implies that all beings have an equal right to be understood, regardless of their actions, or whether they're animal, vegetable or mineral. I jest, but if a person commits a wrong, judged by you or in the eyes of the law, they are still entitled to a fair hearing. Yes, actions do speak louder than words, but what was the motive? There are always two sides to the story as the saying goes, even if the circumstances or lifestyle portrayed is not to your own. Judgments are too often made in haste and based only on an initial impression or appearance, and what we think we would have done in the same scenario. The truth is you don't know. Nobody does. Until you're actually in a similar predicament it's all guesswork. Condemning the opinions and actions of others is undoubtedly easier than reflecting on your own. In doing so, are we weaving a tangled web of deception? Appearing to be empathetic, but continuing to place our self-interests ahead of others? Pampered by the state, are we now more concerned with taking rather than receiving?

In these modern times, it would be difficult not to agree with the latter. This is not true in every instance, but how many of us have walked past incidents where we could have offered a helping hand? Some unashamedly stop and stare, listen to an exchange in uncomfortable silence, or blindly ignore the obvious, even if it's a little old woman struggling to get a tin off a supermarket shelf. Getting involved means taking a risk and cuts into our previous time. Any act performed out of concern and kindness has become a risky and unrewarding move. 

How do we restore a greater empathy for others? By removing the indifference we feel towards those who look and think another way? Veggies and vegans are surely included in the category of “misunderstood”. Considered to be an excessively sensitive and sentimental bunch, research ironically suggests that we do indeed readily emphasize with others – both humans and animals. If empathy is to evolve with humankind, isn't this one more point in a vegetarian's favour? I like to think so. Vegetarianism and empathy go together like a new pair of shoes.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

In The Prime Of Life

Have you ever asked yourself if you are fitter than a pensioner? This is the question being posed by BBC3 to late teens and twenty-somethings, with astounding results. Young adults are clearly not fitter than those four or more times their age. Only in the Sunshine state you might say with their obsession for healthy living, but could the same be true in Britain too? The very same conclusion might be drawn if we allowed our seniors to play an active role in life. Upon reaching pensionable age however they're carted off into nursing homes and retirement villages. Unfit to be seen and heard. Cast aside so the more able can take their place. Is it right that we condemn them to obscurity, looking instead to younger models for substance?

Jostling for position is natural some would argue, and hardwired into our primitive brains, but those deemed the fittest in society are surely examples of how not to live your life. Excessive boozing and guzzling, explosive language, violence and promiscuity are pretty much the norm. A heady mix of youthfulness and rebellion. Am I exaggerating? Perhaps. Generations before us in their youth were probably not that different. Unlike Peter Pan, the boy who never wants to grow up, these boys and girls are squandering their youth on a diet of poor choice and excess, caring little about the consequences. Prolonged into adulthood, their biological age is ticking. Instead of ageing to perfection like a fine wine, they're fast-forwarding to an uncertain future or no future at all.

What's the remedy to this? Public health education obviously isn't having the desired effect, but as shown on BBC3 learning from others does. Lightweight in format, it nonetheless underlines the value of elders to the community. New dogs are taught old tricks and the old benefit from learning the new. Isn't this the attitude that should be reinforced, and not one in which we treat people like fashion, definable by age?

A burden on society is how the elderly are usually described, with nursing homes the dumping ground for those, it's assumed, have nothing left to give. Entering those doors deepens the state of decline. As the solution to a flourishing problem – what to do with our ageing population?, can we honestly say care homes have the best interests of the residents at heart? Evidence appears to suggest otherwise – residential homes do harm by doing far too much. Is this how we'd like to live out our golden years? To have our independence and freedom to think for ourselves curtailed? We only need look to the recent BBC1 series “The Young Ones”, where six celebs were taken back in time, for our answers. Giving residents autonomy in care homes has produced similar results. We need to build on this, as like rainforests cut down in their prime; without elders the human race is a dying one.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

What The Bleep?!

How often do you think the average person swears? I wouldn't like to hazard a guess. Using and hearing expletives has become an everyday occurrence, like having tea and toast for breakfast. Not a day passes by when you don't hear a swear word or two used in general conversation, hollered in the street, or on the telly. Why so many feel the need to use expletives, dropping them nonchalantly in every other sentence I cannot fathom. What do these expressions add to a conversation? The answer is absolutely nothing! They do exactly as described – pad out a sentence without contributing any further meaning, much the same as flavour enhancers do in processed foods. Both unnecessary additions, but yet considered standard practice.

The use of foul language and crude behaviour has in my view escalated since I was a child, but then my exposure was limited. My parents refrained from swearing around me and commandeered the TV remote. Any violence, bad language, or funny business and the channels were quickly changed. With the old push-buttons this was often not fast enough! The legacy of this protective parenting however remains today. Expletives make me feel uncomfortable and seem superfluous to any plot or discussion. Is swearing the only way for us to convey our sentiments? I think not, but it's being absorbed and practiced by people of all ages like blotting paper. Kids swear like banshees in the playgrounds and the adults aren't much better. Our overuse of the F-word apparently going unnoticed.

Who's to blame for this lax attitude? Parents? Schools? Government? Media? Gordon Ramsey? Do we reply too heavily on the watershed to police our eyes and ears? The watershed stands for little when most kids have TVs in their rooms and stay up well beyond 9pm. What about programme makers too? A minute after 9 and all hell breaks loose in the name of drama. Whatever they can get away with to shock or titillate the audience they will. What impact or cost is this having on society? The results are discernible, but what about generations to come? Is stricter protocol the answer? In a nutshell no. Looking to the state to govern our code of conduct is dodging the problem, which some would say we do quite enough of already.

Gordon Ramsey I'm not, but I'm no angel either. True, I refuse to litter my conversations with foul language, but the odd word is occasionally muttered under my breath. Voiced out loud, they sound sinful – insulting to the ear and to whoever is passing by. Such profanities as these do not easily roll off my tongue as they seemingly appear to do for others. Are these words more acceptable in print where they can at least be read in silence? Their crudeness offends me here more than it does on hearing them. My question is simple: why? Is our command of English so poor that we cannot find more intelligent words to express how we feel? That may not be too far off the mark. Grammar, pronunciation, and spelling have fallen by the wayside, and ghetto speak has become the fashion. You can barely comprehend a word that's said! Parents or not, as adults we set the tone and vocalise to youngsters what is and isn't appropriate. Like Morse Code, swearing is best disguised in bleeps.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Celebrity Veg

Idolising people and reading about their lives is a mug's game isn't it? Maybe so, but we all do it. Who's wearing what? Who's dating who? Who's having a melt down? We wait with bated breath for any triviality to be reported, regardless of their A or C list status. Why? Some readers use it to connect with their idols, others to feel smug. An escape from the monotony of life - the modern equivalent to keeping up with the Joneses. I liken it to being addicted to junk food. You know it's bad for you, but the temptation to indulge is always present. Personally I try to avoid getting caught up in all the latest celeb tittle-tattle. I don't buy the gossip rags or care about who's doing what. Snippets are inevitable though. They leak into every facet of life – TV, Internet, Radio, the local shopping centre etc. It beggars belief that celeb goings-ons are worthy front page news. Is this what we want the kids or adults of today to aspire to?

Fame nowadays is a “Cinderella” story. A media-made conveyor belt of wannabe stars. Each of them hand-plucked from obscurity and thrust into the dazzling array of lights, camera, action. Five minutes of fame is all it takes to grab the headlines and apparently the love or hate of the nation. Who do we blame for this phenomenon? Reality TV? Social Networking? Media? Ourselves? Why are we so interested in the lives of others? Hearsay only fuels us to be overly judgmental. The interactive Channel 4 reality show “Seven Days” demonstrates this point perfectly. Seemingly normal adults have consented to being filmed and allowing others to comment on how they present themselves and choose to live their lives. The negative comments have been flowing, while the positive ones have been few and far between. Many of us would retort that this is the price you pay for fame, but should this be the case? Yes, criticism can be constructive, but personal insults are vindictive. Nobody benefits from this feedback or humiliation. Isn't this leaving the door open for all of us at some point to be on the receiving end of such candid behaviour? What gives us the right to be judge and jury?

You could argue that reality show participants have invited intrusion into their lives, but what about bona fide VIPs? Is this intrusion justified? Should careful conduct be necessary both in public and private? As public figures, I agree they have responsibilities to uphold, but they're also human and liable to make mistakes. Flawed just like the rest of us. Why can't the press accentuate the positive – their achievements and contributions to charities, and focus less on their appearance and latest relationship break up? What message are we sending the youth of today? That idle celebrity gossip and subsequent fallout is more important than global wars, famine, and the good deeds of others?

This led me to think about veggie VIPs. Who in the world of vegetarianism do you look up to? According to various websites, there's quite a list, but how do we know these are the real deal? Often those identified as such turn out to be pesky pescetarians! Others who proclaim themselves as veggie are unable to sustain this once the spotlight's faded. This media-governed world is a fickle one. Perhaps this is a lesson to us - we should leave celebrity out of it, be guided by our own principles, and let veg be the star of the show.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Eat Up Britain!

Britain is in a quandary – what to do with its leftovers? A throwaway society, we are experts in our wastefulness. No item, big or small, escapes landfill mountain - food, packaging, white and electrical goods. Once considered past its best, nothing is too good to be disposed of, even people. Brand new shiny models eagerly wait in line to take the place of barely used appliances. Granted, there has been progress in recent years. Recycling has become a household word, but the statistics for food waste continue to appall. 8 million tonnes of food is wasted and thrown away each year. Like the health warnings stamped on cigarette packets, figures and percentages however mean little. Britain needs visual images on a grand scale. Could a mobile Museum of Food Waste or Bin Police provide the much-needed solution to this crime?

The biggest culprits, as reported by Financial Times magazine, are single person households. Those living alone apparently waste more than the average family by not using up food or overestimating portion sizes. You can't argue with statistics they say. Fine, but as a single person, I take issue with these findings. You may be independent and contribute to society, but live alone and you're a feckless food waster. The savvy shoppers among us are single people too. Is that really so inconceivable? Being single, I naturally think I have it better. There's no spouse or child pulling on my arm, flailing around on the floor at my feet, or creating a scene down the supermarket aisles. The only pester power I have to answer to is my own incessant mind chatter. Quietening that little voice often presents a challenge in itself. Should blame however be apportioned to any one group? Aren't we all in this together?

As consumers, we have to shoulder some of the blame for the food we throw out. Buy-One-Get-One-Free offers prove irresistible at times, but are they really worth the supposed saving? Do you really need that extra bunch of bananas or loaf of bread? More times than not the answer will be no. Kitchen cupboards and fridges have grown larger and so has our desire to fill these with goodies. Could the scarcity of food during the war resulted in our current need to hoard? More than likely. Irrational as it may be, there is a fear of having to make do like our ancestors before. Survival of the fittest today equates to gluttony and greed. Resourcefulness is for wimps and dissenters.

I am that dissenter. Tell supermarkets to BOGOF and buy less. Buy what you need, not what you won't use. Am I the only one that looks forward to menu planning my week? It can be fun and even involve the whole family. Waste is minimal, leftovers are magically whipped up into soups, salads, and lunches for the next day, and you don't have to think about “what's for tea”. Love food, hate waste. Revel in culinary messiness and forget about perfection. After all, a clear plate is a clear conscience.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Just Another Meatless Monday...

Sir Paul McCartney, environment experts and greener living MPs are calling us to go meat free on Mondays. Driven by Sir Paul, the campaign is quickly gathering public, as well as celebrity and government support, nevertheless I question its unbreakable link to Mondays. Should the emphasis really be given to any one named day of the week? If you fail to have a meatless Monday, do you then wait another week to go meat free? I fear many people will come to this same unavoidable conclusion and like starting a new diet or quitting an addiction put off the inevitable.

To be fair, Sir Paul did address this in a hearing at the European Parliament. His statement that day called on people to adopt one meat free day a week, so why can't the overall campaign reflect this very stance? Yes, Meat Free Monday sounds good, catchy even. A marketing dream ticket to success, but it comes with a negative spin. The families I know still enjoy the traditional Sunday roast and celebrity chefs do little to dispel this. Mondays have been chosen to offset the meat gorging the day before, but this may be counterproductive. Mondays are leftover days – cold meat sandwiches, cold cuts and salad, casseroles, and chicken curry to name a few. I hope I'm proved wrong, but I understand other European countries set a different meat free agenda – usually a Wednesday or a Friday. This seems to me more logical. If you shop just once a week, Wednesdays or Fridays can lead to “bare cupboard syndrome”- you make do with what you've got left. Experimental and delicious meals made from back-of-the-cupboard ingredients. Whichever way you look at it, culinary challenge or kitchen nightmare, surely a middle-of-the-road day is a better meatless contender?

You may assume from this that I don't back the concept. I do and applaud Sir Paul's efforts all the way. I even voted for the recent Early Day Motion put forward by John Leech, an MP for Manchester, that all UK Parliament canteens should go meat free on Mondays, but I think our perception of meat needs more work. Meat used to be considered a luxury and still is in many parts of the world. It's this the West seems to have conveniently forgotten. For some, global warming is not a concern, but if forgoing meat just for one day was re-marketed as a way of giving to others it would offer a whole new perspective. The grain used to fatten meat would feed more than the meat itself. Think of how many third world countries we could help. Instead we offload what we don't want as aid or sell them back the fruits of their own labour. Why should impoverished countries have to rely on this outside assistance? We deny them their right to self-sufficiency and expect them to be humble with it.

The Meat Free Monday campaign for me raises far too many questions and not enough answers. As a veggie it holds little sway, but I think meat eaters could do with more clarity. Are we saying it's okay to eat fish like Christians would do on “fish supper” Fridays? Should veggies and vegans be going that extra step and abstaining from faux meat alternatives? Going meat free for one day is not sufficient to alter the state of the planet, nor is it a huge undertaking either. Like “Ready, Steady, Cook”, anyone can create a meat free masterpiece in 20 minutes.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Would You Eat McFrankenmeat?

Old McDonald's lost his farm to the land of science and white coats. Tinkering with nature is not a new phenomenon, but in the race to resolve the world's obsession with meat, is science pushing the boundaries too far? As it stands, there are two meaty options in the pipeline – the attack of the clones or lab-flesh. Frankly, both fill me with skepticism and horror. Farming consigned to the dark ages and science our new saviour? I've yet to be convinced.

No self-respecting veggie would ever consider cloned meat an alternative. For one, it still causes unnecessary suffering to the animal, such as health problems and birth defects, and two, encourages the continuance of factory farming. Worse than the latter, it's purpose-designed meat with no thought given to the sentient being concerned. Cloned animals, or humans for that matter, can't possibly have thoughts and feelings can they? Science would have us believe clones are little more than robots bred only to combat the shortcomings of humankind. I was therefore surprised to learn of PETA's $1 million prize fund to any organisation perfecting cloned meat to market by 30th June 2012. As far as I can see, there's nothing ethical about the treatment of cloned animals. A different PR spin maybe, but another meat to market all the same.

The latest scientific ruse much talked about is in-vitro meat. Still in the early stages, it's basically a cluster of cells taken from a live animal and growth replicated in a Petri dish. Literally, a lab-grown creation. The initial developments have been promising so we're told, and the whole world, it seems, is debating its merits, vegetarians and vegans included. What does the advent of lab-flesh mean for the vegetarian movement? Are we too in danger of becoming a dying breed? I recently attended a debate chaired by the Vegetarian Society on this very subject. Both sides for and against were very eloquently put. In-vitro meat cleverly uses the same arguments as vegetarianism – reduces suffering to animals, better for the environment and public health etc. Is this not a ploy to rid the world of vegetarianism? I mean if even veggies go for it then man and science has won. An excellent marketing strategy, but I take issue with a number of lab-meat's supposed benefits. The end of animal suffering and poverty being just a couple of them. Can we really trust that “donor” animals will be treated humanely? How will this and the labelling of artificial meat be policed? The idea that poverty will be solved on any scale by this lab-grown monster is also entirely flawed. Like going organic, it probably won't be economically or commercially viable. There's a reason why poverty is still alive in the third world and it's called exploitation. Poverty keeps the masses in line and forces reliance on American aid. If we were that concerned, we could have taken appropriate measures long ago, but even now we are still dragging our feet. The immediate solution is obvious: to face our evident gluttony and reduce our meat consumption. Any food wasted or used to fatten up livestock is a lost resource to millions of others.

Whether you decide lab-flesh is for you or not depends on your reasons for turning vegetarian. If like me, you're not on a crusade to convert others, then Frankenstein food may never be your future. Personally, I could never return to the taste or texture of meat, artificial or not. Sometimes I find even meat-free alternatives voids this belief. The day may come when we have no other choice but to order McFrankement and fries. What will you decide?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Intolerable Acts Of Cruelty

Not a day goes by without a fresh story of animal abuse making the headlines. The sudden media interest and public backlash has perplexed me. Animal cruelty is not new, although the media are certainly portraying it as such. If humans are capable of harming one another, why are we shocked when humans harm animals too? Is it because the animals concerned are domesticated pets and bred for human companionship? Slaughtering cattle doesn't provoke quite the same response. There's no public outcry or hate mail, or if there is we don't hear of it. Why is it easier to divorce the meat on our plates from the cute, fluffy pets at our side? For many this is indeed the case, but I fail to see the logic. The argument I put to them is this: if we don't condone human torture, how can we justify the torturing of animals? Surely any form of cruelty, neglect and abuse is an act of violence, regardless of the being it is performed on.

In contrast to public reaction, BBC1's Sunday Morning Live posed the question: “Are We Too Obsessed With Animals?” as a serious topic for debate. In light of current feeling, it was a foolish question equally matched by an unintelligent, flimsy discussion. My response to the question would be that we're not obsessed enough. Britain,a nation of animal lovers? Hardly! Recent stories emphasise my point. When does it become a good idea to put a cat in a bin, violently abuse a 7 month puppy, or brutalise foxes with cricket bats? The perpetrators under interrogation proclaim their actions were a moment of madness, but is this a good enough explanation? Does it justify the crime? The public voted and in a cruel twist of irony the perpetrators are now the preyed upon. Two wrongs however don't make a right. Inciting violence against another is never justifiable whatever their past actions might have been. Should we take pity on these snivelling, now defenceless creatures? In a word yes. They're more deserving of our pity than our anger. I doubt I will ever fully understand what drives people to such acts of cruelty, but I believe you should try. Our lack of empathy for one another has bred this culture of violence, and its effects, as we are witnessing, are spreading.

Humans, it is said, are the master of animals, but where we would be I wonder if they had dominion over us? That said, as a veggie I feel duty-bound to expose myself to the inhumane and violent acts against all animals – fluffy and wild. Abusive treatment, neglect, intensive farming practices, illicit slaughter etc. etc. I want to understand the actions of others, gain knowledge, and form an opinion. I don't want to assert my authority over animals, assume they're dumb, or treat them in undignified ways, but it helps if I'm able to understand others that do. Are veggies therefore overly sensitive to the plight of all creatures great and small? Possibly, but I think we'd rather be known for our compassion, than have none at all.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Thoroughly Modern Feminist

Labelling myself a feminist had never occurred to me until today. A derogatory term often applied only to the female sex, I envisioned a strong group of women, possibly moustached, with a no-nonsense approach. Despite my sympathy for the feminist movement and its aims, I had certainly never considered myself one of them. A middle-of-the-road kind of gal, neither girlie or tomboy, I preferred to keep my overt opinions to myself or blast them at a few close compatriots. The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer however has opened my eyes. Perhaps I am a feminist after all?

In order to be a feminist I assumed you either had to be staunchly opposed to men or behave like one of the boys. More masculine than feminine, neither act ever appealed. In the second wave of feminism, fortunately this is not the case. Our battle lies not with Adam, but with Eve and the culture we live in. An era where females are more likely to be pitted against each other and themselves. Men will always be blamed for the oppression of the fairer sex, but what about women? Alongside men, we also work in professions which exploit and undermine the female species. Fashion, health and beauty glossies celebrate this very fact. Taught how to please from a young age, we continue this trend rather than teach self-empowerment. Exposing your body is deemed the ultimate feminine power. In this at least, women's hands are not so clean. Described as the weaker sex, have we been prepared to do men's bidding for far too long? Isn't it time we broke out of this mold and accepted a more cohesive model of femininity?

Like the suffragettes before us, deeds speak louder than words. Our current actions are letting these early activists down. How can we re-educate men if we fail to re-educate ourselves? Men and women will never be equal – we have different roles and values in life, but we can accept this, agree to learn from each other, and create a more equal environment. I've chosen not to be a part of this conventional struggle for dominance. Marriage and children to me represent oppression. Growing up I witnessed my mother's daily grind to balance motherhood, work, wifely duties, and the accompanying guilt. Time poor with no time spared for herself, her work was never done. A glass of wine after a long day and she'd be collapsed in the armchair sound asleep. A product of the 80s, this was just how things were, but it wasn't a role I wished to emulate. My mother epitomised the working woman who supposedly had it all, but did she? I learnt that the world of work was favourable for women, but you can't have your cake and eat it. As a result, I chose independence over joining the formidable ranks of wives and mothers. This doesn't make me a despicable woman of questionable character, but a woman forced to be honest with herself.

Modern feminism is not about coming out of the kitchen. Stay in the kitchen if that's what you prefer. Nor is it about sisterhood, solidarity, or tearing yourself in two trying to have-it-all. It's about recognising the whole woman - inside and out. Be true to who you are and what you want to be.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Captain's Table

The word “holiday” conjures up many images – sun, sea, sand, sunglasses, sandals and Sangria. In fact, anything beginning with the letter “S”. As all holidaymakers know, bad experiences are part and parcel of the package holiday, but being a veggie or vegan guarantees a story or two, three of holiday woe. What makes this so? Are our expectations too high? Do we fail to do our homework before booking our final destination? Or as portrayed, are we simply difficult to please? Over the years, a number of European cities have been crossed off my list. Paris,(and France in general), being one of them. Soul-less veggie food is my chief complaint and Paris at the time didn't impress. Am I being short-sighted? As vegetarianism grows countries change, but since I wear contact lenses I have a very good excuse. I know others who go further and choose to remain within the confines of their city walls rather than venture into the great culinary unknown. Should the mainstream perfect getaway be so difficult for us veggies to obtain?

My recent escapade at sea seemed the ideal diversion from modern life. I visualised bobbing about on open waters to distant and unexplored lands, whilst enjoying good food and entertainment. However, unlike the iceberg that sank the Titanic, this was an illusion all of my own making. A mini-cruise with Brittany Ferries is not a gourmet delight! I naively thought veggie needs are bound to be catered for. Canteen style and self-service stations there was, but a good hot veggie meal forget it! Am I fibbing? Okay, you caught me but it's as good as true. The veggie options either didn't appear or came with pasta, pesto and parmesan, which as we all know is not vegetarian! With everything plated as described, cobbling together a little of what you fancied was out of the question. I would have quite happily swiped some veg from under the chef's nose and penetrating gaze. The only redeeming feature in my view was the salad bar, where I unashamedly piled my bowl to my heart's content. After a few days at sea with not a bean, lentil or pulse in sight, I really did begin to feel like a rabbit. Thank god for my emergency rations. Oatcakes, dried fruit and vanilla soya desserts saved me from the tempting sight of fellow travellers uncovered arms and legs.

Imagine my astonishment on the return voyage when chef presented a vegetarian blackboard special. I literally danced my way to the dining deck. I suspect this surprise culinary delight had more to do with using up leftovers, but a hot meal it was and surprising to my senses too. Labelled Vegetable Curry, my first mouthful proved it was nothing of the sort. A strange, if rather tasty concoction of mashed artichokes, broad beans, courgette and white chunks, which I think were potato, accompanied with a rich “parmesany” tomato sauce and rice. To be honest, the veg and strong cheesy aroma were a bit of mystery, but by that point I was beyond caring. I was ecstatic just to see rice. I could have stowed away in the kitchen and eaten the lot.

Instead of returning relaxed and overflowing with jubilation, the only words I've uttered to well-intentioned enquiries has been “Never again!” The fantasy became a food obsessed reality, failing to fill even the least voracious veggie appetite. For veggie-tourists-to-be, the world as it stands is not yet our oyster.

The universal power of music. This is spectacular... This video was done by 5 sound engineers who went around the world recording individuals doing this song. They then blended this together into one song and video.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Ties That Bind

How would you define the friendships in your life? As ties that bind you to others or as superficial bonds that can be easily torn apart? Aristotle, the famous philosopher, defined friendship as “a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” Is such a connection still valid today? In a word - NO. Instant communication has blurred the edges and diluted the contract. Social networking sites have usurped the traditional friendship and turned it into a numbers game. A popularity contest judged solely on the sheer quantity of friends rather than their individual merits. The more friends you claim to have the better – you don't even have to like them. Like the beautiful trophy wife or girlfriend hanging off a distinguished gent's arm, their face is just another score on the board.

I'm no stranger to these sites, but my usage is governed by caution. The initial novelty wore off and was quickly replaced with irritation. Social networking became yet another chore on my list of things to do. A love-hate relationship, I even deactivated my account for a while and felt liberated from its vice-like grip. Now I use this technological tool to my advantage and don't get drawn into broadcasting my every-moment status to an online community. I'm not interested in what others had for breakfast or if they're facing a what-to-wear dilemma for the day ahead. We have become addicted to publicizing our “real” time actions like TV sports commentators. The big question is why? Could the answer lie in our need to know and be known? Not content to know who we are, we want recognition from others in order to prove our own self-worth. It's both a desperate and voyeuristic activity to instantly connect with others. This desire for instantaneous friendship however comes at a price: can the tapping of keys in truth equate to a face-to-face friendship? Can the people you communicate with online really be called friends?

A friendship suggests emotional safety and comfort, but can these qualities be applied to all different types of bonds? I don't believe they can. We come into regular contact with the same people every day of our lives – at work, in the local coffee shop, at the gym etc, and may even consider some of these people friends, but if the activity suddenly ceased tomorrow, would a friendship exist? Would you even care? A deeper connection is established in time and on more than just a shared office environment or interest. I, on the other hand, am quite content with frivolous face-to-face encounters. I don't have friendships, I have acquaintanceships on a need-to-know basis. A social butterfly, I can be relied upon, but I like to flit from one group of people to another. I enjoy knowing people from different backgrounds and perspectives. I gain both socially and vicariously from these interactions. Am I being inconsistent with my views by not developing these acquaintances further? Yes, but I know the difference. Like a crime novel revealing the “who dunnit” at the end, I like to retain that bit of mystery.

I used to think I was an open book and a good friend, but it turns out I'm not. I'll allow you to know aspects of my personality, but you'll never know the whole of me. It's a bind too far in an area marked unreservedly out of bounds. Aristotle's definition of friendship between two individuals may once have been true, but in this technological age perhaps we would do better to attempt to make friends with ourselves.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Need To Breed

What drives our need to breed? Is it an instinct as old as time itself? Science would have us believe this was so, but why then does this reproductive urge not consume us all? In an age where babies are to some a must-have commodity and a basic human right I question this “natural” theory. Not all of us wish to create a “mini-me” or are born to parent in that way. Therein is where the confusion lies. The opportunity to parent someone or something can present itself in many forms. For example, new ideas could be described by the very same parenting terms. These too are conceived, nourished, given birth to and nurtured through different developmental stages. I feel the same way about my writing as a parent might do about a child. Writing is my baby. Books and published articles are my children. Scoff at my notion if you must, but I think we've misinterpreted the significance. The act of parenting does not have to be primarily associated with the raising of children. If society echoed this alternative parenting model, I wonder how many of us would choose differently?

I fail to understand this obsessional longing to reproduce. The need to create a little person from your own flesh and blood. I sympathise with those struggling to conceive, but infertility treatment makes little sense to me. Procedures often involve donated tissues from a third party you never get to meet and essentially produce a child that is only half genetically yours, if yours at all. Why is this helping hand from science more appealing than say fostering or adoption? Can it be down to that purely biological itch? Is having children now considered a rite of passage? The latter certainly holds some truth, especially in our increasing number of teen pregnancies. Undoubtedly some of these are a cry for love, but others could almost be considered territorial – a mark of where you've been and with whom.

As a woman, I feel the pressure to conform to society's ideals – to become a wife and mother. Despite this, my choice to remain childless stands firm. I may be in a minority frowned upon by others, but this decision is in my best interests and that of any child. The typical response from others is usually, “you just haven't met the right person yet.” Why do others presume to know me better than I know myself? I know my own mind and I don't have that maternal impulse for children of my own. Does that make me unnatural and less of a woman? I guess to some it does, but it's wrong to assume that I don't like children. Like many, I believe children are a gift, but motherhood in the conventional sense is not for me. There's nothing improper in openly admitting to this. Why is my view considered selfish? I've carefully weighed up the “what ifs” and decided that bringing up baby would be for me an ill-conceived fate.

Parenting in any form is an admirable feat. An act comprising the three Cs: care, commitment and courage - the very areas that we as humans, adults and parents seem to falter. In the world today the similarities between the rearing of children and cattle are striking. We pump cattle full of growth hormones and our children likewise with fats, sugars, and medications. In the midst of all this and its subsequent effects, is it too much to ask potential mothers and fathers to reassess their urge to merge with one another? Perhaps if they did, humankind could improve upon the predicament we're in today. Like disclaimers used in advertising, we could stamp the children of the future with the claim: No children were harmed in the making of this world.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Would You Like Meat With That...?

Searching for your soul mate is a risky business. The elusive momentary spark in a world where expectations run high. The only guaranteed instant connection most of us have these days is to the worldwide web. This quest to bring happiness and heartache into our lives often has short-lived results, but do veggies and vegans fare any better? In all honesty, the answer is no. We too face the same relationship hurdles, but with an additional obstacle lying in our path – do we compromise our ideals and date a carnivore? Is it possible for a veggie to have a long-term relationship with a meat-eater?

I used to rejoice in my openness and resigned myself to the laws of attraction – differences don't matter, differences are good, or so I thought. Experience has so far taught me otherwise. I underestimated how intrinsic vegetarianism is to my life - it's not just about what we will and won't eat, it's a whole belief system. When it comes to partners, we all set our own boundaries as to what we can and can't tolerate, it's just mine have shifted over the years. Previously, I thought nothing of dating hard-cored carnivores and even pandered to their needs. Launching a convert mission is not for me, so as with family and friends, I respected their choice. This courtesy however was rarely returned. Vegetarianism would lurk mysteriously in the background, causing underlying tension and typical off-the-cuff comments such as “Get some meat on your bones.” I'm not without a sense of humour, but the joke wears thin when voiced by your potential other, including their nearest and dearest. I have my own carnivore related conflicts too, although I try to these keep in check. The internal debate with myself however is agonising. I chew over the longer term possibilities, such as sharing my beloved kitchen with all things meaty, and find I just can't swallow it. The big question is: Can I still be true to who I am and date a self-confessed meat-lover? On this I am divided. Successful veggie-carnivore pairings are possible, but dating a carnivore can feel to me like entering uncharted waters. The ocean between us is too deep and I have no desire at present to rock my boat.

Do carnivores and vegans face this same quandary I wonder? Perhaps so, but the opportunity to date a fellow veggie or vegan has yet to present itself. Maybe then I can inform you of the answer. In a society where the need is deemed greater than the value of the mate, it's easy to be misguided in your choice. They say you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince, but surely it's our “must-find-someone-anybody!” mentality that is to blame for our dashed hopes and dating disappointments. I've never understood this eternal hunt for “your better half” - that special person to complete you. I've always felt “whole” on my own. My concern is just the opposite. I know myself too well to want to endanger any half of me.

To the question “would you like meat with that...?”, my response is thanks, but no thanks. I no longer fancy meat with my veg. Any cravings I felt for an extra side of veg have melted away too if you catch my drift. Like seeing yourself in the mirror for the first time, a relationship can change your perception of who you are. You may no longer recognise that person staring back. I revel in my singular existence with nobody but myself to be responsible for. Is this selfish? Undoubtedly, but I'd rather be happy living alone, than be distracted coupled up.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Naked Canvas

Artistry in one form or another is a dream we all wish to achieve. Who doesn't want to unleash the artist within? You might be a talented singer, graceful dancer, or impoverished actor just waiting for your moment to be discovered. Or you may demonstrate skill in writing, public speaking, or in the healing of others. None of us are talentless, but skill is not enough these days to generate success or happiness. There's a flourishing art form in town and it's called the naked body. Essentially a blank canvas to doctor, mold, and market your natural or modified wares. The world takes pride in the products it produces and the body has become a part of that conveyor belt.

Functional by design, bodies could be described as beautiful for this purpose alone, but in our skin-shallow era beauty takes precedence. The demand for cosmetic surgery has increased dramatically over the years, a bit of botox here, a nip and tuck there... Under the surgeon's knife anything is possible, even if the results are more plastic than fantastic. Natural is out and fake is in, and like Pringles, once you start you just can't stop. The pressure to conform to this model of perfection is huge with no age group, race or gender left untouched. Young teens are those most affected. Not yet fully developed and at an impressionable age, cosmetic surgery appears the obvious answer to solving all their bodily concerns - the instant “ugly duckling to swan” transformation. Showing them botched ops may be a too-late deterrent in our body and celebrity obsessed culture. “You're worth it!” is the media's message. Why live with normal when the benefits of enhancement far outweigh the risks?

I'm not the only one questioning how we value our physical selves and our definition of beauty, but my opinion like many others is no match against the delusional inhabitants of Ken and Barbie world. I had hoped the Channel 4 body-focused series -“The Ugly Face Of Beauty” would advocate body happiness, but it fails to do anything of the sort. Fronted by Dr. Christian Jessen of “Embarrassing Bodies” and “Supersize vs. Superskinny” fame, it is more of an educational guide to achieving the best surgery. A basic list of dos and don'ts. What it does reveal however is the unscrupulous practices of some cosmetic surgeons as well as our false perceptions of self. The programme makers have chosen a “do or die” position i.e. It's better to be armed with knowledge and do the surgery, than to be uninformed and die trying. My problem with the series is this – shouldn't it be addressing our superficial attitudes, instead of how to mask our body insecurities further? Isn't this playing devil's advocate?

The assumption that beauty is about flawlessness is mistaken. There's beauty in our imperfections and quirkiness. These are as individual to the owner as are their thoughts – we're not all designed to look and think the same. Cosmetic surgery can mask the outer, but it cannot change the inner. Change your mind, not the body, and be proud of the natural form you've been given.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Blow The Candles Out...

Blow the candles out and make a wish! Who hasn't as a child been fed this line before the applause and cutting of the cake. It's a time honoured tradition, although when you think about it a pretty disgusting one at that. Who wants to eat a slice of cake generously sprinkled with somebody else's saliva? Put like that and a colourful iced sponge instantly loses its appeal, unless you're the said spittle-maker. Harmless as it may be, I'm surprised our germ-phobic society hasn't yet thought to ban this ritualised huffing and puffing.

Birthdays are just that though – rituals. A rite of passage. A passing of time. For the younger generation, puberty, adulthood, and new adventures beckon, while for the grown-ups it's one more year filled with responsibilities and “you should know better” tone of voices. Where does that magic go? Parents are all too keen to create and re-create this “magic moment” for their offspring and for themselves. No expense is spared in pursuit of its briefness. Commercially, children's birthday parties are big business and parents think nothing of indulging their little darling's every whim. Little they might be, but their wish-lists can be extravagant! Some of you may have seen the BBC1 documentary, “My Child's Big Fat Birthday” earlier this week, which followed different parents planning their child's big day. I was both astounded and appalled by the excessiveness parents were prepared to go to. The parties portrayed were wedding-scale affairs with venue hire, entertainers, props and costumes, and spiraling costs. Granted, the families featured may have had more funds at their disposal, presenting an unrealistic view, but don't all parents have a duty to set the boundaries and raise responsible adults? Nothing appeared to be off limits and there was a selfish and competitive edge. An opportunity for the host-parents to be triumphant and for the attendees to attempt to better it.

What has happened to the humble birthday party? It made me reflect on my own childhood celebrations. It was only then I realised that of my generation I was probably one of these very children – a spoilt little madam! An only child, I could be a real “Amelia-Jane”, with stamp-your-feet or sit-down tantrums. When I was good, I was very very good and when I was bad I was horrid. Thankfully I grew out of those very public displays, but I was indulged. Birthdays were magical - traditional with party games, jelly and ice cream at home or held at a venue of my choice, such as a local roller disco or Rock Circus in London. Tame compared to today's expectations, but nevertheless a gold standard back then. Gone are the days where a child will be satisfied with a brown paper package tied up with string in a game of pass-the-parcel. Now an adult, the magic has well and truly faded. I dread my birthdays almost with relish. I hate celebrating and being expected to “ooh” and “aah” appropriately in good humour. Give me a nice simple day without any interruptions – nothing more, nothing less.

I'm not a parent, so I'll be the first to admit that perhaps my understanding of the role is flawed, but I hope at least my opinions are objective. Being a parent is tough - I get that. My parents like so many others worked full-time and tried to overcompensate for their guilt, but at what price? Understandably parents want only the best for their kids. For them to have what they didn't, but where do you draw the line with this lavishness? What are we teaching the children of today – the future generation? You can get what you want when you want it no matter the cost could be the everlasting legacy.