From the archives 2014:
I like cooking, but, as I may have mentioned before, I don’t do it often these days… unless I have company. It seems a waste just for me. For myself it is usually either fill the pot with something that will do me a few days or pick at cheese and stuff. I’m pretty hopeless that way, as Ani would agree. She likes leftovers… and if I don’t cook, there aren’t any … though cheese is always welcome. She is pretty much omnivorous and the food waste bin is never used. There is no food waste, between Ani, the birds and the garden.
But I have been really fancying a pizza. Not, I hasten to add, the frozen variety. Nor can I justify… or afford… to have them delivered. So the sleeves were rolled up, the cupboards raided, and I went into that zone that I love when the ingredients of food become the raw materials of creation. It is a contemplative state and my mind wanders in odd directions so we made pizza, the small dog and I. She gets very interested when I cook… and I had bought ham.
Now it has been borne in upon me, mainly by a disgruntled small dog, that most of the time my diet is vegetarian. Not so much through choice, but just practicalities…. Though there are mornings when a nice bacon barm cake would go down very well… and while I was cooking I was musing on that. I’m neither nether vegetarian nor vegan, and this year the figures of those who become one or the other are predicted to rise. I respect those who have made this life choice, many for reasons of real compassion. For myself… and I stress this is just a personal opinion… what bothers me more than eating meat is the lack of conscience and consciousness in how we do it. And the waste. There is a huge debate to be had here and excellent arguments on all sides of the table. What I find indefensible is our divorce from the source of food.
Recent surveys have shown how little our children… even as young adults… know about where meat comes from, they know little of how fruit and vegetables grow… for many potatoes grow on trees, and eggs are made from wheat! As to the belief that pasta comes from animals and fish fingers from chicken….! If we can’t even give the basics to the next generations how on earth are they going to make an informed choice for themselves? How can debates about factory farming touch them when they don’t know that lamb is actually that little fluffy thing gambolling around in the spring fields looking cute, venison and Bambi synonymous and veal a young calf?
But it goes deeper than that. It is about responsibility too. Anyone who has taken a life to put food on the table knows where it has come from. The ‘less’ civilised societies have always honoured both the hunter and the hunted, keeping a reverence for the beasts and plants that feed them, seeing a natural order in the cycle of life and death of all species that sustain the life of the world. Waste becomes unthinkable and all parts of an animal are used… and with gratitude too. Sterile packages on supermarket shelves divorce us from that knowledge… and from the reverence for life. Even saying grace at table seems to have largely died in our society, and that gave a moment of gratitude that blessed both donor and diner.
Having said that, the indefinable quality that is Life is shared equally by fruit and vegetables. We are still taking a life by eating a lettuce. The only difference is the level of consciousness that we perceive in the life taken, as defined by man, a species far from omniscient. But a lettuce doesn’t look back at us as we tear it from the ground, it doesn’t scream. Or at least, if it does, we can’t hear it. It has no voice. The apparent lack of consciousness salves our conscience.
Yet I remember vividly watching the machines that measured my son’s life in the coma… there too there was no apparent life beyond the machine, no consciousness, no feeling…. For weeks… nothing. Yet consciousness was there…removed from our sight, hidden beyond our knowledge and measure, yet leaving its mark in memory when the lights went on for him again.
Layering the pizza I was struck by how similar it was to the way I see life. Beneath a firm foundation of the simple bread dough is the mineral level… the metal of the baking tray. Without a tray one cannot lift the uncooked pizza into the oven. Without the dough there is no pizza… just a soggy dissociated mess. Next the tomatoes smother the dough… you can no longer see it, only glimpse it round the edges… Herbs and spices, other vegetables, fruit… all the colour and variety… The cheeses, one of the few animal products that do not cost a life, came next and the ham to finish.
Still of course, the pizza was not done. All the disparate ingredients needed cooking together to make the whole. It needed heat… that invisible something that brings the dish to life. To make this one thing to sustain life, the lives of many things were needed… from the potential of the seeds in the tomatoes to the pig who gave the ham… from the organisms in the yeast to the fossilised fuels that have provided heat… Even a little bit of my life, as time. The different layers of life, levels of consciousness we perceive… and those we do not, yet we cannot say there is no consciousness… only that we cannot see or understand it. Together we created something beautiful.
Ani, of course, has no such qualms, simply tilts her head to one side and regards me through quizzical eyes. She will eat anything that seems right to her. She listens to her body and eats or refuses as it dictates. Including pizza. Maybe she has a point.