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.