An appetite for flesh

A carnivorous Christmas has Findhorn's 'reformed vegetarians' salivating

Christmas Day is one of only two occasions when meat is served in the community kitchens here, the other being haggis on Rabbie Burns Night. There is nothing like a predominantly vegetarian diet to stoke appreciation and a lusty appetite for flesh! In this community, as in the various others that I have spent time in, I notice the communards in the local pubs and restaurants with a particularly keen glint in their eyes, as they order in their steaks and casseroles.

Seems to be part of the spirit of the age. I know more "reformed vegetarians" than perhaps any other category of diner – I myself spent almost a decade without flesh passing my lips. Up here in the north of Scotland, it is an easy transition to make. The low population density and fine grazing land means it is easy to find superb local and organic meat from animals that have spent most or all of their lives in the great outdoors. The butchers in the neighbouring town sell venison culled in the local woodlands together with pheasant and other game birds. Our travelling fish seller – Graham, who comes by weekly in his wee van with a big smile, a hearty greeting and a phenomenal memory for names – generally has wild salmon on board.

This is the only place I have lived in Britain where wild food is common. At this season, you can see teams of hunters – generally, I guess, from the neighbouring RAF airbase – gathered by the roadside, brandishing guns, off to the woods to shoot. I used to be unreservedly against hunting. Then I read an inspired essay by Ted Hughes in which he described how hunting and fishing were truly unique in their ability to tie him into the natural world – to force him to study the habits and speak the language of the creatures he hunted. To truly identify with and respect them. It was positively shamanic in tone.

I find this deeply plausible. Here in the community, there are a number of folk who are expert in flaying and butchering road-kill and I have partaken of sumptuous barbeques of young deer shot in local woodlands owned by community members. Even the vegetarians are in on the act. There are others in the community who organise "wild food" tours, describing the wealth of tastes freely available in the edible landscape that surrounds us. The effect is to subtly, but unquestionably, tie us more deeply into our own distinctive natural environment.

Eating locally and with the seasons is an important ethic within the community. This does have its challenges. The weekly box of organic vegetables delivered to subscribers (including Liz, my wife, and I) of our community-supported agriculture scheme will be filled with root vegetables and winter greens for months to come yet. But, this wonderful, local, wholesome and respectfully harvested meat is a major compensation.

On other fronts, this festive season brings familiar and comforting rituals. The game of "Angels and Mortals", where each draws the name of another from a hat on whom, for 10 days or so, to shower anonymous gifts and blessings. The solstice spiral meditation, a form of labyrinth laid out in the auditorium of the Universal Hall that one walks as an end-of-year meditation. The Boxing Day walk up in the Cairngorms and the Polar Bear swim in the Moray Firth on New Year’s morning.

As for a New Year’s resolution, no need to look further than the sign at the top of the main stretch of road in the heart of the community. Under the ‘STOP’ on the road-sign, someone has inserted the word ‘Worrying’.

Jonathan Dawson is a sustainability educator based at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. He is seeking to weave some of the wisdom accrued in 20 years of working in Africa into more sustainable and joyful ways of living here in Europe. Jonathan is also a gardener and a story-teller and is President of the Global Ecovillage Network.
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder