Tag Archives: food

Christopher

When the men hammered the head of the fish, the boy screamed, crying. In the short time it had lived in his bathtub, he had grown fond of the big swimming creature. He’d named it Christopher. It’s understandable that the boy loathed the act of his uncles. But our Christmas meal was at stake and the young emotional bond had been destined to be ignored.

It’s a Buddhist belief that if you give someone or something a name, you make a claim to that which you name. It means that young parents who, out of duty, name their newborn Pete, immediately make it their possession. But it also means that if you give your partner a nickname, this person or the aspect you named, becomes your property.

Adversely, when you give someone your name, you give that person ownership over you. And every time this person calls it, he or she summons your attention. Have you felt that? It’s an excellent sales technique and a good way to get yourself liked to call another by his name. The other way around: creating a name for yourself or your organisation, makes you graspable to the audience and by that less threatening.

It would be an act of liberty, in this perspective, to invent a new name for yourself and keep it secret. That would give you a claim to yourself that no one else has. A different approach would be to behave in a way that is not expected from your personal or family name. But the freest is he or she who detaches from all names that are given to him or her. The one who doesn’t have a name.

I would take this idea a step further and say that any judgement people make of each other is an attempt to seize something. Calling another by his or her profession, for example, or by a political preference, or cultural background has this same effect of occupation, even if you don’t attach a value to it. Even thinking it has that effect. We allow each other a certain degree of possession over ourselves by sharing who we are, but set limits as well. And by conceptualizing, we are determining our place in a hierarchy.

You could say that the idea of ‘not being understood by anyone’, something we all have to a certain degree, is a result of being judged in an inacurate way. It could be solved by giving your loved ones the names you secretly hold for youself. Yet while we give these names away and create a space for trust through which we can bond, we also hand over part of our autonomy.

As we could see in the case of the death of Christopher the fish and the reaction of his young friend, these things can have enormous emotional implications. ‘You never call me honey anymore’ means that you’re no longer taking your claim of this aspect of her that you once shared. Changing your official name is a deliberate act of breaking out from the property of your parents. The name switch of women after marriage is comparable.

A friend once called me ‘joyful sailor of dreams’. This blog is a tribute to something she observed in me. Reappropriated, as you can see, but I’m still thankful. By that simple act, she called something into life. This is what the boy did with Christopher. It’s no more than a memory now, but who knows what that will grow into?

It’s probably because I agree with this Buddhist theory that I have become a writer.

Advertisements

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.

Taste

Do you chew chocolate, or do you suck on it? And do you play with your breath in your nose? Whether you dive in it or slowly let it flow upon you, one moment the taste is there in you mouth, the next one it’s gone. Try to remember what your breakfast tasted like. Not easy, right? I have to say I find it hard to get to the core of the taste even during the time when it’s in my mouth! Savouring is an art.

The first bite of something seems to have most flavour, but quickly after the first contact you have to circulate the food over your tongue. It changes, evolves and weakens rapidly. It doesn´t disappear, but if you keep something on your taste buds for a while, the sensation just hollows out, as if you’ve already digested its essence. You´d like to taste it better, but you are already saturated, so all there is left to do is to swallow. Wouldn´t it be awesome if your taste would get stronger if you left something in your mouth for longer? I bet that if tastes would get super strong, they would at some point blur your sight and weaken your tangible senses. Maybe even have you faint.  

If you would visualise taste, what would it look like? The wavy whirls of the air it travels in? The electromagnetic networks in your brain during the experience? Would it fade as quietly?

The sensation of taste in your mouth is self diminishing and the way it touches you elusive. In this time of omnidocumentation, it comforts me to know that taste remains a passing thing.

Friendhopping – Part II: The Botanist

The holidays are nearing and it seems that there is some hitch hiking in store for me. In memory of my past trips, I decided to work through my old travellers’ blogs, take the mistakes out, change the names where necessary and post them here piece by piece, on Wednesdays. I’m starting with the final trip I took so far, written just after I finished my studies. The series contains a storyline about love and friendship. It has six parts. This is part two.

July 28th 2011
The Tatra mountains are not so high, but their peaks are everything you expect from a mountain: sharp, rocky and silent. Z., H. and I are sitting on one of the ridges, eating our well deserved and delicious Slovak lunch. We can see Poland rise above the clouds. Our guide is a 60-year-old energetic female botanist, also called Z.

There are several ways to distinguish a true botanist from the wannabes. Firstly, professional botanists drive around in 4 x 4 cars with big trunks. This helps them access awfully remote and unreachable areas and bring back significant amounts of preferably scarce types of local vegetation without any moral hesitation. Secondly, they wear camouflaging clothes – several layers -, ranging from hats and zipp-off pants to rain clothes and fleece jumpers, suitable for any weather type you can imagine. A true botanist could survive months in any place on earth on car and clothes alone. But most importantly, the real botanist can be distilled from charlatans by his remarkable skill in noting and recognizing a variety of plants species that most people would fail to see even if their face was pushed into the meadow. Z. scores high on all criteria: we have a real one.

Z. the botanist speaks some English, but she gets along far better in Slovak with our Z. For a botanist she talks a lot. Sometimes she turns to H. and me. She then explains us how the mountains have shaped the vegetation, what different plants there are and how some places are called. She also shares anecdotes. She met a bear last week.

Meeting H. in Trencin has been good. I had missed him without realising it too much. Long before H. moved into our house, we used to call him “Iron H.” because of his rock-in-the-tide way of being. I still do sometimes. He is brief, to the point and a strong worker. But he has also shown more sensitive and funny sides during the months preceding his departure to Slovakia for an internship. The last week on the Pohoda festival turned out as cool as ever.

Meeting Z. was awkward. She expecting, me distant. Staying overnight in Brno has not made things easier. And I am never the most caring person on events and festivals. In the crowded business it took two days before we took a moment together off the terrain.

One moment we´re in the sun with a breathtaking view; the next we are surrounded by clouds reducing our view to the spot we are on. We finish our food and go back down aided by metal chains tied to the rocks. I can see the abyss right under me when I hang a little to the right. The botanist takes us down to flowery meadows with big marmots. She guides us over boulders.
“I usually go straight down here” She points down a steep slope of rocks. No road to be seen.
“But we´ll take the path because I´m with you”. The is one of the steepest mountain paths around. Not much easier, but her story about the deceased minister in the Tatras convinces us we are taking the right slope. She keeps gathering plants along the way. The fog around us makes it look as if we stand on a tiny green island in a vast space of white nothingness.
“It is as if this is the only place on earth”. I have not spoken the words, or I see a sweet little forget-me-not smiling at me from the grass.

We eat the rest of our food on the rocks downhill while our botanist keeps looking for plants. Quite exhausted from the steep walks, we look around silently.
“You seem sad”. Says the botanist when she gets back
“We are”. Answers Z. She´s right.

Later this day we´ll have a final beer with H. Saris.
I´ll get the amazing idea of eating a pizza in Italy.
And I´ll break up with Z.
After that we´ll have two wonderful days together. It had never occurred to me before that the Dutch word for Vienna, Wenen, means “to cry”.

Supper

We live in a little cottage in the Pyrenees. During holidays at least. Mom and Dad teach us a lot about nature here. They don’t trust the education system completely, so they take us out to the fields. I like it here, but it is very silent. I always miss my friends. I like to play tag and hide and seek and other games we make up. I like to be with lots of friends. It’s more fun than just with my little sister. But she’s nice too. She likes to dance on the songs Mom and Dad put on. Sometimes with her teddy mouse.

But the food we eat here always tastes better than at home. Mom and Dad say they cook so well because everything is fresh from mother earth. They say they put more love in the food when we are here. I think it is like Lucy and her mouse. They are closer here. And I like to go to the forest to collect herbs and berries and mushrooms. Today, we made a huge pan of mushroom soup with thyme and mushrooms of all the colours of the rainbow almost. There were purple ones and brown ones and red ones and yellow ones. It looked very happy in the pan. And they added some milk from our cow Betsy.

Maybe Eric could join us up here one day. Or Tommy. Or both. That would be fun. They could also eat this lovely food. Sometimes we buy a piece of wild deer from the hunter. We could eat that if they come. With cranberry jam, or our own pumpkins from the garden. Aunt Elizabeth takes care of the garden when we’re not here.

This morning was nice. It was foggy at first. I don’t like it when it’s foggy, because it makes me feel even more alone in this little house. With Mom and Dad and Lucy locked in a big white cloud. But it became sunny very quickly, so we went outside to play a little with the ball. And then we saw a little fox. He was looking at us, and then Dad put some of the leftovers from yesterday on a plate downhill, and he ate that. Then he was happy.

And I read some comic books. I read stories of Micky Mouse and Goofy, and about Donald Duck and Huey, Dewey and Louie. I like those more, because Donald always goes on an adventure with Uncle Scrooge. Sometimes I wish I could also go on an adventure instead of being here all the time. But Mom and Dad want to stay here in the cottage. I don’t understand them. They are just sitting here and cleaning the cottage all day.

We started with dinner around sunset. One of us always has to thank mother earth before we start. It was Mom’s turn. She thanked her for the beautiful day, and for the good weather and for the lovely food and for the time she could spend with us. Mother  Earth is our protectress, they say. She’s like a goddess who gives us everything we need whenever we need it. Like when you’re hungry, she gives you food. Or when you’re lonely, she gives you a friend. Or if you’re cold inside, she gives you a sunny day. But I think she cannot always take care of all the people, because the children in Africa are hungry and thirsty all the time, but we are usually fine. Mom and Dad don’t know why that is. They say it could be humans’ fault, but I don’t think so. Why would humans do that? Why doesn’t she make rain in Africa so that the plants can grow and the people can eat and drink?

Dad is lighting the fire in the fireplace. That’s nice because it’s warm and the movements of the flame are beautiful. When I was younger, I tried to catch a flame once, and then I burned myself. I can watch them here for hours. Thinking about my friends. Sometimes I imagine I see a whole landscape in the glowing ashes. Winking lights shine out of the houses in little firecities.

I feel a little nauseous. I might have a cold. I usually don’t get ill up here. Do you think that it’s the loneliness? Some people say that can make you sick. But I’m not that lonely. It started when we did the dishes. I hate doing the dishes. Maybe that’s why I got a belly ache.

“I feel bad.” Says Lucy. “Yes, me too, my belly hurts” I say. “You’re just saying that because I’m saying it”. Says Lucy. “Am not!” “Are too!” “Well, lovely little ones, at least you still have the energy to fight with each other.” Says mom. “We’re not fighting” I say. If we would be fighting, I’d hit Lucy. I can suddenly think of hundreds of places where I could hit her. Dad says something else. I don’t hear him well, because I’m concentrating on the flames and the sparks. One of the sparks shoots to Lucy. “AARH” She screams. “The fire monster is trying to eat me.” Dad is laughing but Mom comes running towards us, and she tries to soothe her, but then Lucy screams even louder. “I can’t breathe! Go away!” “Relax, honey”. But Lucy’s scream hunts her away. I have never heard her do this. As if some kind of monster came out. A scary sound goes deep inside me. Awlg. I want to get it out but I don’t know how. It’s somewhere I can’t reach.

I keep staring into the fire. The movement is alive. All flames are little dancing gnomes. Some are trying to get into my mouth. I hear Lucy scream again. A gnome gets into me, and goes to the same place as the scream. Deep inside me. Everything turns around. I vomit all over the ground. “Honey! The kids are not well! … I’m also feeling strange.” Mom’s voice comes from very far. I don’t know where she went. “What do you mean?” It’s loud, but far as well. Some kind of echo in my head.

I see Tommy. He can’t see me. I try to talk to him. No sound. When I walk in his direction, there is no way I can reach him. Something’s wrong. He shows me his teeth as if he’s mad at me. I am afraid. Strong beats in my ears. dunk-Dunk. dunk-Dunk. dunkDunk. Faster and faster. I feel as if my ear is about to explode.

Mom cries. Lucy is not moving. I can see a gnome of fire next to her. He is holding her heart. It is glowing blue. The gnome has sharp teeth. It’s coming towards me. Mom looks into my eyes. It feels as if she can look straight into me. I feel calm. Mom is here.

A black cloud is gathering around her face. It pulls the muscles of her mouth apart. A sound comes out from very deep. I don’t feel safe anymore. Something tries to turn me inside out. I want to stop it but I can’t. I see the gnome on my chest. He’s bending over, reaching to my heart. When he touches the skin over my ribs, I feel a burning pain. He takes my heart as well. It looks green. I feel darkness stream in from below my belly. It’s made of thick black liquid.

“Honey, the kids are not well! I’m also feeling strange!” Lucy’s delirious behaviour got to me. “What do you mean, you feel strange?” Robert asks me. “I don’t know” I say “as if I feel Lucy’s rave. As if I’m part of it. As if I feel what’s happening to her”. “She’s your daughter, love. Of course you feel what is happening!” “No, this is different… my perception… .” I’m suddenly afraid. “Jimmy’s vomit… are you sure those Blushers we collected were the right ones?” “We always collect them on that spot, darling. It would be strange if now, suddenly…” “We ate a lot of them!” I contest “Would mother earth do that to us while we are always so tuned with her?” His words seem hollow. Everything is making sense.

Lucy screams awfully again. I see her fall into a sleep. I can tell just by watching her that her heart and breath are weak. She is passing away. He won’t believe me, but a mother knows such things. I cry. This crying feels more cleansing than crying ever felt before. As if the tears come straight out of my soul. Straight out of Lucy’s soul. I bend over her, hug her, caress her, and while she lays there, motionless and at peace, we gently melt together. I feel the life being drawn out of my girl. As if her spirit dissolves right under my grasp. But I can’t stop it. Her heart stops, and I burst into burning tears. Then I look at Jimmy.

A flash. I feel how Robert conceives him inside me. Male and female unite to one fruit. Memory? Illusion? It happened on that couch. I see Jimmy grow. He stands up and walks. Babbles his first words. I hear how they slowly start making sense. Questions. Answers. Mundane answers, mostly Roberts answers, serving only to familiarize a growing boy with thoughts. His first day of school. His little friends. I don’t know if he’s ever been in love. But he too is about to die. I can see it in his eyes.

I get torn apart again and burst. How much loss can a person endure? How much time has passed? Where are we? Where is Robert? When will this end? The questions blur my sight. I feel an urge to tear the heart from Jimmy’s chest. Where do all these colours come from? Robert is bending over him. “I can feel it too…”. Hollow words again. We are losing the boy as well.

Clarity. “Remember when we first made love on that couch? I felt Jimmy’s conception. It unified us. We are falling apart now.” Robert waves his arms around his head. He’s screaming at something. I try to look him in the eyes, but he avoids me. Too busy fighting off the demons in his head. I see it. He takes the blame. He cannot see the nature of the situation. It ends where it started. “Robert…” I whisper. But he does not respond. I can see he’s being consumed by guilt. It has never been any different. While my eyes close, I feel terribly alone.

I’m falling. Falling deeper and deeper, until all I can think of is the abyss I will soon reach. My parents watch from above. “You’re losing me!” I scream. Fear takes over. Their faces turn angry and dark. “Could you not take care of our blood?” Frowning, they disappear. I open my eyes and see that Robert’s gone. The door is open. A chill comes in. I’m lying in between Lucy and her teddy mouse and Jimmy and his puke. The sparks of the fire crack inside my mind. I remember carrying this heavy couch inside the cottage with a man who could not love. I remember the work we did in the garden, the effort to build this beautiful wooden kitchen. Futilities that took a lifetime.

“Angelica!” It seems as if Robert went out far. I cannot answer his call, I do not want to. He poisoned us. How many hours have past? It has taken me over. Let me dissolve like my children did.

I shiver. Electricity is running under my skin. It’s chilly and hot at once. The worst thing I ever felt. It vibrates up and down my spine. I see Jimmy and Lucy hand in hand, smiling. Then a monstrous hand squeezes them to pulp. It comes closer than my breath. A jolt in my heart unchains another chill. I can’t see well. There are spots. They move over the ceiling.

Distant steps. Robert. My eyes are closed. The touch on my forehead is cold. It provokes more chills. I open my eyes and see the spots blurring his face. “Angelica, I’m sorry.” I feel nothing. I close my eyes again and hear a rush coming in like a storm of bees. It takes me away. It’s all there is. A buzzing sea. The colours fade and the sea buzzes softer. No thoughts. No past. No now. buz-Buz… buz-Buz …buz-Buz … Buz.

Politics

On the first day of spring, I sit inside. A part of me wants to stay involved with interesting developments in this country. This will is apparently stronger than the will to enjoy what I have been longing for for months. Or is it the will to get away? Anyway, I’m in a room in Arnhem, where tables are put concentrically. Here, I listen to the words of people who strive for politics from the heart. Take part in them.

Everybody I know who has read the political program of the Partij van Mens en Spirit, written in 2008, feels that this is the first good political party they know. It’s a beautiful set of plans and visions where freedom and the own responsibility are central. Today, we are here to take a first step in the renewal of this program because concrete points rapidly become old fashioned.

Lea is the chairwoman. I’ll have a thorough chat with her tonight, while we enjoy a glass of red wine together. She is a nice middle aged woman with experience in politics and she knows how to lead this small crowd. She listens attentively to the suggestions the public makes in the themes of education, healthcare and food production. Some people have quite peculiar opinions about life and how these themes should be arranged. Interesting experiences. Some lose the point. Lea gently steers them back.

My most burning question is simple: how can a political party be spiritual? Or: how can something spiritual take the form of something as a party? Isn’t politics about power? About poking each others’ eyes out? Leas answer is simple and clear. Politics is a community service. It should aid and facilitate the good existing initiatives in society. A good answer, I’d say. Connected, but with an identity. But this will not be the end of it. Strong as the ideals of this party may be, it’s spiritual approach is its ultimate fragility. I stay curious and will keep observing this from up close.