Thursday, 23 February 2012

It's illegal, it's immoral or it makes you fat

The modern world seems full of diets and theories about eating (almost to the point of obsession).

Now I realize some people have allergies, which can even prove life-threatening (anaphylactic shock from eating strawberries, say), but the general population seem like omnivores to me - like goats, we can eat and digest more or less anything, and survive with all kinds of strange combinations of food sources.

So the idea that everything I happen to like 'is' addictive does make me defensive.  But then addicts can often find themselves in denial.

I refer, of course, to the Paleolithic Diet - the theory that modern folks would thrive on the pre-agricultural diet of the gatherer-hunters.  I like the general idea.  I feel less certain about the skewing towards high meat consumption (not all gatherer-hunters have the 95% meat consumption of the peoples who inhabit the Arctic regions).  In more tropical zones the balance leans the other way to fruits, roots, shoots, leaves - and even the hunting/scavenging more likely includes insects, shellfish, eggs and baby animals than large animals.

But people still like that old Man the Hunter myth.  And that high-protein, meat-based diet has attracted some interesting and unusual people - from John Lilly to Augustus Owsley Stanley III who put The Grateful Dead on a totally carnivorous diet (so that destroys the myth of all hippies being veggies, doesn't it?) He did include dairy and eggs in that, though - he just hated vegetables and carbohydrates.  He made it to 76.

I became fully aware of my own sugar addiction 30 years ago, and gave it up totally.  I now allow myself tiny amounts - rather than obsessively read every packet label, but still don't miss it at all, not even at Christmas (no chocolate for me, or Christmas Pudding or Mince Pies, etc).

So now the story is that Wheat and Dairy 'are' addictive.  I suspect we should perhaps change that to 'potentially' or 'for some people' but people seem to prefer flat statements.   I never did get on with milk as a child (we call it 'lactose intolerant' these days, back then they called it 'fussy eater') but I was fed cheese and yoghurt, because at the time people believed vegetarians needed the animal-based protein.

So although I don't/can't drink milk, I do like my cheese, so perhaps I do have an addiction.  Likewise, I love bread, and although I often vary it with Oatmeal, Rye, etc, I obviously go through quite a lot of Wheat. Of course, the first time I heard about this sort of thing was from the Macrobiotic crowd, who saw no paradox in claiming all food should be locally grown, and then claimed rice as the basic food group. Which seemed strange to me, in Notting Hill, however appropriate in Japan.  I figured wheat as a staple.

Yet I was pretty happy in Mexico, where more of the peasant food had corn as a staple (I didn't see 'bread butter and cheese' for six months.)

But Vegan friends probably correctly dislike my cheese consumption. It ain't nice what we do to cows.

However, even when I have been settled enough to start devising my own food, from sprouting beans to cooking a little, I never stray from my vegetarian ways.   66 years and counting.  So the Paleolithic Diet just ain't for me.  I enjoyed a bit of seafood when living with gypsies in Spain.  It was alright.  I don't eat it now, though, it arose out of politeness to hosts.

People have disputed the theoretical basis fo the PaleoDiet, anyway (like most diets, it seems more like an idea than a proven scientific fact, true for all people).   Indeed, my own tendency leans to frugivore, like those wonderful great apes who share 98% of our genetic make-up.   They might occasionally eat grubs, or a baby bird, or something, but essentially Gorillas (for instance) have a vegetarian diet.

So I still don't quite buy the 'cave man' diet.  Or not for me, at least.

Apart from anything else, my desire not to eat other animals overrides my desire to be high energy, healthy, etc.  To me there remains the trade-off of living well at someone else's expense.  I have trouble with that.

But hey, each to their own.

Turn on, Tune In, Opt out.

It’s funny to me how many times I act in the way I do because of social pressure.  I long ago stopped thinking I could actually Drop Out of being a social animal, because other humans had pretty well locked up the habitable areas of the planet by the time I arrived, so to survive as a recluse seemed a very ambitious move.

The ‘hermit in a cave’ model works better if you have a society who feels it a duty, or perhaps consider it a valuable investment in their karma (say) and a privilege, to provide you with the basics.

So although we can rarely completely separate ourselves from the human community, we still retain some options within those parameters. 
They forced free milk on me as a child in post-war Britain, even if it made me feel ill. Nowadays I would be considered lacto-intolerant, and offered an alternative.   Many people do opt out from what many others consider ‘staple foods’ – Coeliacs can’t tolerate grains (no bread or beer), diabetics have to avoid sugar, we have now identified all kinds of allergies to nuts, strawberries, etc  and encourage people to opt out of them. 

As a child people considered me very odd, growing up as a vegetarian, The first veggie restaurant I remember had the name "Cranks" (which gives you a clue). Most people in the UK in The Fifties still associated that diet with strange belief systems, or sentimentality – although the ecological virtues of a smaller meat intake have started dawning on many, now.  More people adopt it for a while, but it still strikes many people as odd.
I opted out from meat, early on, and stayed that way.

It made it easier when I later decided to avoid sugar.  In spite of the social pressure to indulge a sweet tooth at (for instance) Christmas time.

Similarly, I opted out of credit/debt as an approach to money.  I found, early on, that I couldn’t avoid negotiating for food and shelter with the humans who got here first, and had staked their claim, but I tried to stay in a cash economy (or trading 'in kind') so as not to find myself obligated, addicted or enslaved.   My ‘voluntary poverty model’ did not extend to the minimalism of a Buddhist monk, but only because such a social option did not seem to exist at the time (I had no desire to become a Christian monk!) This did keep me out of property owning, however.

I also opted out of car ownership (although cars were not considered a universal necessity in my childhood). As I grew up, they became harder and harder to avoid.  This did create some restrictions in my lifestyle, my working opportunities, etc – but I stick to it as a choice (option).

I don’t opt out of all progress, developments and luxuries. I feel like a relatively early uptaker for internet and computers.   We all choose the places where we make a stand against the common herd, and all draw the line in different places.

The important thing, to me, is having the right, and the will, to actually choose how you want to spend your time, where you want to invest your energy, and what you consider unnecessary (or even harmful).

Turn on, Tune In, Opt OUT.

Move along there...

I didn't arrive on the planet that long ago, but it seemed like you could get lost pretty easy back then.

Not like characters in Dickens, who can simply disappear into London for the rest of their lives - even by accident - but something like that.

If I wanted to run away from home, I could really be out of touch for a while, not just unfindable, but with pretty good excuses - even when our house had a phone (it didn't have an answering machine).

If I got abroad, then my only mailing address at the main Post Office (called Poste Restante) didn't guarantee delivery (I had to go collect it).  If I kept moving cities, then dead letters would pile up before getting 'returned to sender' eventually.

And I really did feel drawn to the nomadic life.  Not just for that romantic, bohemian, gypsy life - if you check out how our culture treats people with no fixed abode (or 'homeless' as we like to call them) then the romance drains away from the lifestyle pretty fast.

The fact remained, that in the UK, as I grew up, all the land belonged to someone.  If not to individuals, then to Councils (parks), the Forestry Commission, The National Trust, etc.  As a landless serf, I had literally no right to stop and sleep anywhere (without permission, or paying rent).

I felt pretty grumpy about that, as I felt sure I never would 'own' a piece of land.  Not only because the chances of my earning enough seemed slim (even before the folly of 'easy mortgages'), but  because I tended to side with the nomadic peoples of the world in not understanding the concept exactly.  From the Amazon rain forest to the American Plains, to most desert folks, people understood having hunting rights, or priority on a water hole, a favourite tree, or something like that, but the idea of fencing it all off and keeping other people out never seems to have occurred to them.

Farmers and settlers invented that territorial thing as a lock down...with lines drawn, walls built, and all that. And that stage in cultural evolution seems to have also led to nation states and other borders and boundaries getting defined. 

Plus turf wars, of course, and other property rights, like inheritance.