Tag Archives: Dialogue

Vegan Challenge

For the coming fourty days, I will eat and drink solely plant-based foods and drinks. I will succeed, except perhaps for a few mistakes out of ignorance (though I just took screenshots of a list of vegan E-numbers, and intend to verify them). It’s not my intention to permanently switch to a vegan or even a vegetarian diet. I don’t consider that necessary, but I do think doing such a challenge is a good idea for everyone. Since it is a topic of discussion these days, let me briefly give my views on some of the arguments.

Eating vegan is the more natural thing to do
Some vegans claim that eating vegan is a natural thing to do. They support this statement by pointing out some of our physiological adaptations to green food, such as our molars to chew, our long intestines to digest greens and our not so acidic stomach. These are supposedly signs that evolution adapted us to a fully vegan diet. For now, all I’d like to contest against this doctrine is ‘Vitamin B12’. That vitamin is vital to our nervous system, but can be found solely in animal products, in some very exceptional algae and in food supplements. The fact that humans would get serious problems (such as blindness) if we don’t regularly ingest B12 pretty much settles the argument for me. And I find the ‘natural’ argument a bit scary in fact. As if ‘cultural’ would be wrong. Depending on your definition, we humans have moved far beyond the ‘natural’. I don’t see that as morally wrong as long as we stay respectful, and I do not support such doctrines.

Eating vegan is healthier
Here’s an argument I haven’t researched that much. So far, I have lived by the principle that my body knows perfectly well what is good for it and what is not. Now that I’m thirty, I do admit that this outlook may be a little naive, since I would supposedly not yet notice the potential long-term damage I did to it in my early years. Yet following my appetite, I noticed that my food choice becomes heavier in winter, containing more meat, and more vegetable-based in summer, when I need less energy and fat to keep my body heated. I consider that a good sign. Of course, I cannot be sure if that is a mental of physical thing. Probably a combination.

Essentially, health is a complex thing. What is healthy for your brain, may be unhealthy for your heart, and what is good for your kidneys may be less good for your eyes or your nervous system. Food scientists discover new impacts of foods every day. Hence, next to following my taste, I have always tried to adopt a balanced diet and eating a bit of everything.

To stay within the discourse on health and veganism, some people use the argument that vegans get sick as soon as they eat a bit of meat. I wouldn’t deny that they get sick, but would look for the explanation in the switch of diet, rather than blaming the actual meat or dairy. And many people have allergies, intolerances or other medical conditions which would fully legitimize certain diet choices. Problems I don’t have, luckily. In the end, I’d say that avoiding illness requires a broader outlook. We should stimulate our capacity to continuously heal ourselves, which in my view is about untightening.

Vegan consumption reduces animal suffering
I’m all for the decrease of animal suffering. Whether an animal suffers or not, depends on how it is treated. Not eating meat at all means turning your back on meat farmers. Buying organic meat of the kind that focusses on animal welfare, on the other hand, stimulates a better practice. It could indirectly stimulate change in the standards of animal treatment in general. Thus using market forces, buying organic meat could decrease animal suffering in a way that eating no meat can’t. Let’s not forget also, that many of the animals we’re talking about would never have existed without us. Provided they enjoy existence, breeding animals could be a good thing. I would say that this conversation should be more about respectful animal treatment than about eating or not eating them.

Killing animals is wrong
I’m not happy that we have to kill other beings to survive, but that’s the bitter truth. Vegans, vegetarians and many others make a sharp distinction between plants and animals. Now, I agree that there are differences between the groups, but there also are plenty of things about plants we do not yet understand. And if there’s one thing in which plants do not differ from animals, it’s in the meaning of death. We are talking about the difference between being held together by life, and falling apart. I don’t see how plants and animals differ under that light. I believe that feeling the life flow out of you is a deeply relaxing experience to all creatures alike.

Vegans’ environmental impacts are lower
I find this the strongest argument against eating animal products (or for the reduction of it). Every step up the food pyramid costs ten times the amount of food and drinks as the previous step did. In other words: it takes 10 kg of grass to create 1 kg of cow, and 100 kg of grass to create 1 kg of human that fed solely on cows, while it would take 10 kg of vegetables. Keeping our position in the food pyramid low will inevitably reduce our impact on the global environment.

There is something unfair about this calculation, however, that I do want to stress. Grass can become new fertilizer. None of the ingested substances truly disappears. All of it will be given back to the atmosphere, the water and the land. The power of the global ecosystem has always been to keep the cycle intact. But: we humans have disrupted the balance, to a point where ecosystems are incapable of dealing with all of our waste. We could, theoretically, compensate for that ourselves and create new cycles that are more adapted to our taste for meat. However, we are far from having created such new cycles at the moment, and many of the valuable nutrients for our food are disappearing into the oceans. Hence it would be better for now to decrease our meat ingestion. Yet in this discussion, we should not forget that many plant products such as coffee, chocolate and plant-based oils have similar impacts on the global nutrient cycles as meat does.

Still taking the challenge
So, if I’m not against consumption of animal products per se, why still take this challenge? Well, first of all, not being anti doesn’t make you pro. I like meat, and not being discriminatory against it is by far the easiest way to go. Reducing my consumption of it is nonetheless still a good idea. Besides, I am not fond of habits that have taken control over me. I take yearly month-long brakes from coffee and alcohol, and I decided to do that with animal-based products as well at least this year. By doing so, I force myself to explore different behavioural patterns, and I expect that my outlook on food will expand. I suppose I’ll have a bigger palette of habits and dishes at my disposal after this period, which will decrease my animal-based consumption without me noticing.

I’m by far not the first of my friends to do something like this. Many have gone before, and I suppose that seeing them do it triggered it in me as well. But this is my choice, and I’m quite sure I will face some small conflicts with myself and society. For a short while, I will look into the faces of the pro-meat camp with the eyes of an anti. That may well turn out to be an interesting experience in itself. I do think I come equipped to disarm potential opponents.

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Slit

I drive my bicycle by the Huizingalaan for my job. There’s an anxious feeling, but I can’t put my finger on it. The traffic light is red. Shall I cross the street anyway? I’m almost at my third destination of this morning, meaning I’m halfway the duty: taking pictures of the litter on the street. The rubbish in the grass doesn’t matter, that’s not in the assignment. I decide there’s no rush, so I just stop for the red light. The weekend pops into my mind. We had a nicely easy pace, far slower than the footsteps I hear behind me. They’re close, actually. I want to turn my head, when I feel a firm, warm hand on my right ear. It is attached to a left arm that is now in front of my face. It my face in a turn to the left. A sharp cold blade enters my neck on the left side of my Adam’s apple and painfully slits through. I am surprisingly aware of it cutting my aorta. My body pressure drops. I’m calmer than ever when I bend my right shoulder forward towards my steer. Whoever is behind me still holds my face back and I’m looking at the sky. I feel my legs give way and my body comes down like a scaffolding with a missing lower pole. My heart pumps out quantities of blood and I cannot stop it. My extremities start tingling. The feeling steadily creeps in. I lose perception in my skin.

He doesn’t look into my eyes, but instead goes straight for the inner pocket of my coat. I hear myself attempt to ask what the black hat expects to find there. His survival? Another pulse of life leaves my arms and legs. It’s sad. The dark black coat and the hat run off with my wallet, leaving what is left of me buried under the bike I had with me. “Now nobody will know who I am”. The thoughts sound distant but meaningful. Light flashes appear. They come with a pulsating headache. Part of my view is replaced by colour patterns. Someone I once briefly dated enters my vision. Never thought she would.

“What did you do wrong?” I hear.
“Should I have ignored the red light and crossed the street?”
There’s no answer. I feel the question press stronger upon me.
“Should I have looked behind me when I felt something was wrong? When I heard his footsteps? Should I have seen him when he wanted to attack?”
Still no answer.
“Should I have taken a shorter coffee break, so that the evil would never have met me? Perhaps I should have called in sick this morning, when I felt that little headache rise? Or should I have forgotten my camera at home and caused a delay, or overslept a little, or made some more love or…”
“What did you do wrong?”
The similarity in tone and volume with the earlier question is frightening.

“Was it my dedication? Should I have been a more effective worker? More persuasive? Should I have been more pro-active in times where I was needed? Should I have tried harder to convince others about this team building idea? Should I have put more effort in the workspace? Cleaned more? Worn more suitable clothes? Perhaps I should have reviewed my products better? And the others’? Paid more attention to their personal problems instead of my own?
It remains silent for a while.

“Should I have been more loving to my girlfriend, maybe? Thought less about sex, perhaps? More about tenderness and care? Cuddled more? Should I have avoided those other girls I felt a stronger affection to at times? Spent less time drinking with friends? Should I have mastered my feelings better, so that she would’ve had a stronger shoulder to rest on? Tried harder to listen to her when she had a hard time? Perhaps I should have practiced Yoga? Should I have asked her to marry me? Have babies? Would that have saved me from this horrible death? Should I have reached out to her more while I still had the chance? Did I date the wrong girl?

“What did you do wrong?” Again, the exact same words in the exact same, serene but powerful voice.
“Should I have saved more energy? Bought more organic food? Perhaps I shouldn’t have bought a car? Lived a more sober life, cared more about strangers? Should I have visited my grandma more often? Learn from her words and give her some news on how the younger people live? Should I have fought her lonely existence and restored the generation gap? Should I have called more with my parents? Asked them for their points of view? Listened to their warnings? Should I not have moved so far away? Chosen my dad’s profession, tried to understand him? Should I have granted them a grandchild while I had the chance? Could I have been less hard on my brothers? Fought them less, given them more space to be who they were? Should I ha…

“What did you do wrong?” am I in a loop? Will this go on an on?
“Should I have dedicated my life to the spiritual? Moved to a monastery? Helped out in the third world, perhaps? Should I have actively practiced a state of constant joyful trance? Strived for enlightenment? Compassion? Should I have passionately sought the wiser ones to support me in a path of service to the divine? Travelled through dimensions? Been more in touch with myself? Should I have established a disciplined bio rhythm? Meditated more? Should I have been an example to those who needed one? Or perhaps I should have been more humble? Taken my convictions less seriously? Or simply have been more open to others? Where the Christians right? Should I have just understood that Jesus was our one and only saviour? Should I have separated milk from meat? Prayed towards the middle east? Or maybe I ignored you when I met you, disguised up as a homeless person? Or were you dressed up as a business man? A beautiful woman in a long black dress, perhaps?

“What did you do wrong?” I’m running out of thoughts. What if I don’t find the answer? I don’t know what to say.
“Should I have slept more?”
“That’s enough, man!” says the voice. “I was just messing with you! You should have crossed the red light while you still could. Your first guess was right. But it’s too late for that now” a jolly laughter. “Anyway, dude, welcome to the afterlife.”

Million Masks

I should perhaps start this post by admitting that I was not present on the streets last Wednesday, the 5th of November. Were you? Did you know about it? There was a global demonstration.

The March against Monsanto on May 25th was the first global protest in history that aimed against a single global company. Even though the Amsterdam Dam Square was filled, the protest barely reached the Dutch news. The Monsanto Stock market did drop temporarily. This week, the European Commission nevertheless recommended the Council to grant permission to breed the genetically modified maize 1507 which, by the way, was not produced by Monsanto but by a Dutch company. Where are Greenpeace when you need them? I suppose they are too busy saving Faiza from the Russians.

Back to the Million Mask March. They have called themselves an alliance between Occupy, Anonymous and Wikileaks. From the online information sources the magnitude of the actual events are hard to grasp. Mass media have smaller head counts than some twitterers and smaller media do. We know for a fact that Russel Brand was there. And the Vendetta masks, imitating the face of Guy Fawkes,  involved in attempt to assassinate the king of England on, guess what, November 5th 1605. Not so long ago, people wore scream masks. What happened there?

V. Vendetta. A rebel with a cause. A legend, who decides for himself what is good and what is not. He suffered. His goal justifies his means. He is an example now. His mask enables others to express their pain. It helps them say that the big ones have messed up. Once again, a movie character stepped off the screen.

The call for peace is loud and clear. It’s message is not so much rational as it is ethical. You guys are cheating! You’re ignoring the rule of respect! You’re not cleaning up after you played the game!

Even if few people have heard of this one, such movements have impact. Occupy encouraged a first indigenous rise to politics. It inspired the guy who makes clean phones to start his business. It opened the dialogue about the banking system. Has it been enough? No. Yet the ball is rolling, and symbols of change keep joining the field.

Access

We curse the spies. N.S.A: the evil-doers. But we have ourselves to blame.

If you were given the choice, would you rather be safe or be free? Security, the absence of fear. Edward Snowden wants mankind to be free, and chooses life in exile. And fame.

Obama’s response: the US spy agency has prevented over thirty terrorist attacks in Germany alone, just by overhearing our phone calls, and reading our e-mails. We should be grateful.

I have personally never feared terrorist attacks, even now that I live in the capital of The Netherlands (who joined the wars in the Middle East). They are too helter skelter to fear, really. And their scale is too small. Almost like natural disasters; hitting merely when they hit. But we humans would like to control everything. If, of the six billion people around, one wants to wreak havoc, is that a valid reason to spy on all? And what if there are a thousand criminals? How many people’s privacy have the same value as another person’s life? What if it’s your life?

There are many sides to this issue. Say it works. Say you can truly prevent terrorist events in this way, does that resolve the problems that motivate these people to attacks? How about this one: if government agencies can see us pick our noses while holding our genitals, then who else can? Or this: where will this stop? Are we heading to Orwell’s ’84? Will we have to justify every dialogue one day? To whom?

Once again, the human nature has been tempted, and once again, it has fallen into the trap of curiosity. Instead of addressing important questions in a timely debate about cyber ethics, most media and the mob blame the bad guys for doing what they do. What many people fail to see, is that the access to our privacy is a vital property of the global network we are building.

It is the purpose of telecommunication to provide access. Using this medium means being heard on a larger scale. We are bringing our self-image to the surface for all others to admire, but when indeed we are seen, we start to scream. Whether it is the government who hears you, or your parents, or a group of obscure individuals who are up to no good, you are the one who gives them this chance. Internet without spies is like friendship without conflict.

We are entering a time in which transparency has a different meaning than it had before. Instead of moaning, be aware of it next time you plug your soul in.