Sunday, 9 November 2008

Kitchen Poetry: The End

Sometimes it's good to be a hoarder. I am glad I didn't throw this book away during one of my more fundamental vegetarian moments because this is where I am today: In a desperate quandry.

My parents gave me this book when I left home and it was well used but I have been vegetarian for the last 10 years and I haven't deviated for all that time until recently - well .. except for the odd prawn cracker!

The thing is, I LIKE being a vegetarian but this time last year I had a debate with some vegan friends on whether or not it is possible to be vegan in the UK and only (ever) eat British food. We decided that unless we wanted to die of boredom before we died of malnutrition, then it probably isn't. Immediately we could forget mange touts from Kenya, avocados' from Peru, aubergines from Spain and that's before we've even counted chick peas, lentils, olives, chillies or rice! So in the winter, what from our own land do we eat and where does our protein come from? Turnips, cabbage, parsnips, potatoes, carrots, cauliflour, leeks ...

It wasn't until I visited Italy that I really understood what it is to live off one's land. The place where we go when visiting the Italian Connection, is a slice of rural Italy where everyone has land, livestock and a vineyard. It's normal for individuals living there to expect this way of life but here in the UK, for most of us, it's an impossible dream not least because even if we had the land, our weather couldn't support the diversity we would need to be entirely self sufficient on vegetables alone.

And so in the face of environmental catastrophe, and the world food crisis, I am now pondering the question of whether it is actually ethical to be a vegetarian in Britain. Is it right to ignore a whole source of protein while importing food from abroad which not only costs carbon miles but could also be a product of vast monocultures which are themselves unsustainable.

I became vegetarian because I did not agree with what I deemed to be unnecessary bloodshed. In a world of convenience, sterile packaging and supermarket manipulation, it's easy to forget where our food comes from, and my choice was largely a response to that apathy. But now, when it is easier to find free range, and humanely slaughtered meat, or even 'wild' meat such as rabbit, venison, pheasant, which has been free until the moment it is shot, is it not better to eat in season, from our own resources?

For the last 20 years at least, possibly longer, the most important focus of my life has been connection to this land. Now, I wonder how can I be fully connected to it if I don't eat of it? Food which has been produced here on this island, fed by our soil and watered by rain from our sky has more relevance to me than food produced in some far away country that I have never seen or known. If we connect to our land and our ancestors, the experience must be visceral, we must know where our nourishment comes from both spiritually and physically.

This is what I saw in Italy. How those people are utterly connected to the land on which they live.

And what a good life it is.

With huge and grateful thanks to Simple Sparrow for the inspiration of Kitchen Poetry.


Gina said...

Beautifully written Julia. I'm not a vegetarian because I eat fish and shellfish but I haven't eaten any meat for about fifteen years yet there are times when I share your dilemma about what is locally sourced. But I don't think I could actually eat meat again.

Kitty said...

Thank you Julia - for a lovely, thought-provoking post.

We are white meat and fish eaters here, except when I occasionally fall off the wagon and make a lamb stew. I am, though, conscientious about buying British food if I can. I am a political shopper in that I try not to buy from China at the moment because I feel what they are doing in Tibet is SO wrong. I was a staunch anti-apartheid shopper too. I'm sure I make no difference to the profit and loss tally, but we all have to do what is right for ourselves, don't we?


Adam said...

A very thoughtful and insightful piece, Julia. I've never been a vegetarian, and couldn't really ever see myself as one, but ethical eating is very important to me.

The best discussion of the ethics of meat-eating I've seen is in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Meat book. There's a lot of photos of dead creatures in it, but if you think you can cope with it I'd be glad to lend it to you.

smithsan said...
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Primrose Corner said...

That was a deep and thoughful post. We're very alike in how we think it's uncanny. I was vegetarian for about 15 years until last year for very much the same reasons as you. I've drifted back to local, wild and organic meat and fish because of the exotic veg and protein dilemna. I've a friend who is a fruit and veg buyer for a large supermarket and I think that ethically the results of that are worse for the planet than my trying to eat humanely. I'm adjusting to what seems ethical to me right now! Thanks for sharing.