One year vegan

It was a talk by Dr Neal Barnard on the effects of saturated fats on blood circulation in the brain that started me down the dark road to veganism. And the deeper I delved, the more it seemed clear that meat and dairy are not the healthy staples we thought they were. That makes sense, because we have not evolved the features of true carnivores such as pronounced canines and short intestines. As far as our digestive system is concerned we are still great apes. After all, if we were carnivores or omnivores why would the idea of eating a plate of raw meat be so unappetising? A wolf would not hesitate.

So I watched What the Health? and Forks Over Knives (on Netflix) and was persuaded that meant and dairy are no good for bipedal herbivores, and are catastrophic for environment and planet — not to mention the animals themselves. One sticking point I’d had was vitamin B12. If such a crucial nutrient could not be obtained through this diet, how could it be right or natural? Then I learnt that B12 is produced by bacteria in the soil and would historically have been absorbed by drinking from streams and eating unwashed vegetables. As we don’t do that today, it makes sense to use a supplement instead. In any case, much of the B12 we get derived from animal products has been given to them as a supplement: these animals aren’t drinking from streams either and may not see much grass in their lifetimes. I also take an algae-based omega 3 supplement nearly daily and a multivitamin with minerals every few days.

I find people are most sensitive about the animal welfare issue. They can sometimes view veganism as an accusation. There is a level of cognitive dissonance required to ignore the fact that one is not eating a “burger” but a cow, and not to question the pictures of happy cows on dairy products. This is especially true if one views oneself as an animal lover. Veganism upsets the applecart. But let’s think about the animals for just a moment. There is a certain American-style roadside diner I drive past every few months and for some reason, it always strikes me that this one nondescript restaurant is serving up dead animals day in, day out — frequently just as a topping. And it’s happening everywhere. 56bn animals each year. How will history view this?

People don’t necessarily understand or want to know the very good reasons for going vegan, which can be somewhat isolating. I suspect they think it’s another inexplicable, leftfield thing I’m doing — such as meditation. They may be partially right as mindfulness has played a significant role in my ethical thinking and also promoted the value of renunciation (nekkhamma). I just haven’t missed the meat and dairy and enjoy vegan food for what it is: often fresher and less stodgy than animal foods. There have been some accidental lapses, but I just pick myself up and start over. My mouth waters sometimes if I make the kids a cheese sandwich (I’m not making the decision for them) but it’s really not a big deal.

It must be said that many big health benefits of veganism are dependent on being a “whole food” vegan, which means eating fruits and vegetables that have not been processed or are minimally processed. That means cutting out oils, crisps, etc. which are high in saturated fats. One of the main health problems of meat and dairy is the high saturated fat content and olive oil, for example, has been processed to contain the fat of god-knows-how-many olives and so can cause some of the same problems (though not the inflammation and bad gut bacteria, happily). I don’t eat a whole food plant-based diet but can imagine floating in that direction gradually. As to the aspects of veganism outside of diet: I don’t want to buy leather goods but am not throwing out my leather wallet or shoes bought previously.

So, I hope to continue eating veganly, though I know there is a heavy attrition rate. We’ll see how it goes. One thing is certain: my view of food and what it is natural or necessary to eat has changed forever. If you’re interested in veganism, I highly recommend the documentaries mentioned above, and Mic the Vegan’s YouTube channel.

So you’ve wrecked the planet

As you may or may not be aware, life as we’ve been living it is probably over. Greenland and Antarctica are melting much faster than expected. CO2 is reaching levels at which, historically, there have been plants and trees at the South Pole. There is the threat of crop failures and food shortages in the years to come, more social instability and perhaps even collapse. Things could get very ugly. And still there is no meaningful articulation of a new worldview at a governmental level. We insist on economic growth, and hope for technologies that will allow us to maintain our dependency on profligate energy use while counting our carbon calories. Meanwhile demand for the low-cost air travel and red meat that developed countries have indulged for so long is spreading internationally.

But, hey, let’s not be too hard on ourselves. In this undependable world, which biped mammal blessed (or cursed) with a pre-frontal cortex wouldn’t seek security and advantage through high-carbon technology? Who doesn’t want light and heat at the flick of a switch; quick, safe, and efficient travel; an abundance of tasty and sometimes healthy food; a dizzying array of toys and gadgets to ease our existential anxiety? Of course we want these things but how does one power such a Promethean fantasy? Fortunately, we found all this highly combustible black stuff in the ground. All we had to do was dig and burn. It has been a hard dream to let go of but that’s all it was: a dream.

Perhaps homo sapiens will return home in the not-geologically-distant future: gathering around a fire on the savannah, using rudimentary tools, eating ridiculous amounts of fibre. And what will be said in the red light of that fire? What stories will they tell, what wisdom will they share under lonely stars? Fragmented myths about the age of peak energy, maybe. And perhaps there will be–still visible if they know where to look–an Ozymandian reminder of our impossible lives. Maybe they’ll be happier in small ways, more connected to themselves and the mystery of life. Maybe this is a journey we are all asked to undertake.

The Game Decays

This is a Quake 2 video I edited. It features some ridiculous and frags and trick sequences performed by my bro. If you’ve ever played an old school deathmatch game you’ll know how hard all this is: anticipating the location of your enemy, timing mid-air rockets, maximising your control of the map and trying not to get completely dominated when your opponent has the upper hand.

Decay was a Q2 player active in the early 2000s and associated with the clans =VV=, SoH, and the England team for a season of the Nations’ Deathmatch League (NDML). Frags are mostly taken from friendly games with a few from tournament play. Including strong opponents such as Xanyon, Nite, Purri, and others.

The piano composition is one by me, inspired by Bill Evans’ “Peace Piece.” It’s available on the Uffmoor Woods Music Club Soundcloud.

Rain on the terrace

Rain with the backdoor open. The smell is more than ozone. It’s healing. The downpour on concrete outweighs this patter of keystrokes tenfold. Vine leaves, acer, and privet reach everywhere to catch the moment. Devon is verdant even in a garden without grass. It’s only in remembering that we realise we have forgotten. Unloading the dishwasher can wait. The sounds of kids’ TV have become abstract. It’s easy to forget one’s true responsibility in the crush of imagining failure and success. Half a life has passed. How long before I step into the rain?

The importance of wholesome structures

Matthew Crawford’s book, The World Beyond Your Head, has some important lessons for maintaining clarity and sanity in a world of proliferating distractions.

In meditation circles, it’s common knowledge that prolonged stability of attention can create the conditions for deep insights to arise. However, we live in societies where attention is being monetised and manipulated by the advertising economy. Social media is engineered to foster addiction; newspapers are engaged in a clickbait race to the bottom. The river is flowing fast – away from clarity, insight, connection, and wellbeing – towards attentional degradation. There is a vicious circle in which we no longer have the willpower to do those things that nourish us and so we just scrape along the bottom: clicking, swiping, bingeing. Is there a way we can pay attention the people, things, and places we really ought to, and so become happier in the long run?

Getting jiggy with it

Fortunately, Crawford thinks he has identified something that will enable just this. He describes a process in which a skilled carpenter cuts several pieces of wood to the lengths she will require other pieces to be. This is called a “jig.” Rather than measure subsequent pieces of wood, she simply cuts the new wood by resting her saw against the jig. The jig is an improvised structure: one that it makes it easy to perform a task correctly and without cognitive effort. Crawford sees jigs everywhere: in the short-order cook’s kitchen, and in the world of information work.

For example, I’m writing this in a notebook on the train to see my parents. I have no headphones and no books with me. My phone is stowed, it’s data connection off. This set up is a kind of jig. I can think, meditate, write—or not—or watch the beautiful West Country scenery roll by. My attention is less likely to be dragged away from these pursuits as it could be were I using a computer, or could feel the bulk of a smartphone in my pocket. Later, if I type this up, working from these notes will themselves be a kind of jig. I haven’t even taken Crawford’s book with me. This is a big deal for someone who can’t usually travel for a weekend without bringing three books, one of which might be 500 pages long and impenetrably written.

What happens when mind and body are in the same place? It’s actually quite nice, often, or has the potential to be. But we need structure to make it happen. Willpower is a finite resource. There are good jigs and bad jigs, and we use them all the time. Pen and paper offer more attentional protection for writers than an iPad; meditation retreats provide seclusion in which the heart and mind settle; joining a gym provides you not only with equipment but a dedicated space – if you go. Holidays are jigs for relaxing; gambling machines are jigs for ridding yourself of money. The internet is perhaps the mother of all jigs, a chaotic uber-jig, that simply amounts to the closest thing we have to a goddess of distraction.

What kind of jigs do you use? Is there a way of arranging these structures to best support your nobler intentions?