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.
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Interview: Momentum’s vice chair Jackie Walker on unity, antisemitism, and discipline in Labour

The leading pro-Corbyn campaigner sets out her plan for the party.

As Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters celebrate after his second win, Jackie Walker – vice chair of the pro-Corbyn campaign organisation Momentum, a Labour member and an activist – talks about the result and the next steps for Labour’s membership.

Walker is a controversial figure in the party. Her history as a black anti-racism activist and advocate for Palestine, and her Jewish background on both sides of her family, did not keep her from being accused of antisemitism for a February Facebook post about the African slave trade. In May, she was suspended from the Labour party for her comments, only to be reinstated a few weeks later after a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee.

Anger was reignited at an event hosted by Momentum that she spoke at during Labour party conference, on whether Labour has an antisemitism problem. Walker said the problem was “exaggerated” by Corbyn’s critics, and used as a “weapon of political mass destruction” by the media. (We spoke to Walker before this debate took place).

After a summer plagued by suspensions of Labour members, accusations of hateful speech on both sides, and calls for civility, Walker discusses what steps need to be taken forward to help bring the party together.

Jeremy Corbyn spoke in his acceptance speech about wiping the slate clean and the need to unite the party. What steps can members from all sides take to unite the party?

I think people have got to stop using antagonistic language with each other, and I think they’ve got to stop looking for ways to undermine the democratic will of the membership. That has now been plainly stated, and that’s even with something like 120,000 members not getting their vote because of the freeze. He has increased his majority – we all need to acknowledge that.

Is there anything that Corbyn’s supporters need to do – or need not to do – to contribute towards unity?

I can’t speak for the whole of Jeremy’s supporters, who are numbered in their hundreds and thousands; I know that in my Labour group, we are always bending over backwards to be friendly and to try and be positive in all of our meetings. So I think we just have to keep on being that – continue trying to win people over by and through our responses.

I was knocking doors for Labour last week in support of a local campaign protesting the planned closure of several doctors’ surgeries – I spoke to a voter on a door who said that they love the Labour party but felt unable to vote for us as long as Corbyn is leader. What should we say to voters like that?

The first thing I do is to ask them why they feel that way; most of the time, what I find is that they’ve been reading the press, which has been rabid about Jeremy Corbyn. In all the research that we and others have done, the British public agree overwhelmingly with the policies espoused by Jeremy Corbyn, so we’ve got to get on the doorstep and start talking about policies. I think that sometimes what happens in constituency Labour party groups is that people are saying “go out there and canvass but don’t mention Jeremy”. I think that we need to do the opposite – we need to go out there and talk about Jeremy and his policies all the time.

Now that Corbyn has a stronger mandate and we’ve had these two programmes on Momentum: Channel 4’s Dispatches and BBC’s Panorama, which were explanations of the group, Momentum’s role will be pivotal. How can Momentum contribute towards party unity and get its membership out on the doorstep?

I think we have to turn our base into an activist base that goes out there and starts campaigning – and doesn’t just campaign during elections but campaigns all the time, outside election time. We have to do the long campaign.

The Corbyn campaign put out a video that was subsequently withdrawn – it had been condemned by the pressure group the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which has filed a disciplinary complaint against him. What are your thoughts on the video?

I find their use of accusations of antisemitism reprehensible – I am an anti-racist campaigner and I think they debase the whole debate around anti-racism and I think they should be ashamed of themselves. There is nothing wrong with that video that anyone could look at it and say this is antisemitic. I would suggest that if people have doubt, they should look at the video and judge for themselves whether it is antisemitic.

There’s been a compliance process over the last several months that’s excluded people from the party for comments on social media. Now that Corbyn is in again, how should compliance change?

One of the issues is that we have gotten Jeremy back in as leader, but control of the NEC is still under question. Until the NEC actually accepts the recommendations of Chakrabati in terms of the workings of disciplinary procedures, then I think we’re going to be forever embroiled in these kinds of convoluted and strange disciplinary processes that no other political party would either have or put up with.

There have been rumours that Corbyn’s opponents will split from the party, or mount another leadership challenge. What do you think they’ll do?

I have absolutely no idea – there are so many permutations about how this game could now be played – and I say game because I think that there are some who are Jeremy’s opponents who kind of see it as a power game. I read a tweet somewhere saying that the purpose of this leadership election – which has damaged Labour hugely – has nothing to do with the idea that actually Owen Smith, his challenger, could have won, but is part of the process to actually undermine Jeremy. I think people like that should really think again about why they’re in the Labour party and what it is they’re doing.

Margaret Corvid is a writer, activist and professional dominatrix living in the south west.