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.
Getty
Show Hide image

How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496