Bach to nature
In my previous post I mentioned that I plan to illustrate my new focus for this next year, both here and on Flickr, on living a beautiful life and the beauty of California, in a few posts and photos. It is such a vast topic, that I may not cover every angle, just some aspects of my theory that the universe evolves toward beauty as a direct outgrowth of moving toward order in all things (interjections of periodic chaos aside). This is a start (although I have talked about some of this in earlier posts).
The response I have gotten from all of you has been overwhelming and we have welcomed many new friends here as a result of this simple re-orientation. Clearly people are longing for beauty and happiness. And health, which is one of my obsessions. So many of this community are revolutionizing their diets and feeling better and better. My good friend Robin often posts healthy tips that I learn from. Many others of you have too, so please remind me and let me know if I may include a link to your blog or post here.
This past weekend we went down to celebrate Father’s Day with Geoffrey’s family at the beach. It was pleasant enough weather there, almost 20 degrees cooler than at our place, even though it is less than an hour away. As usual, they served what they believe to be great food — this SIL has every cookbook, tool and technique on earth in her huge kitchen — and happily announced that they also made a feast for us, the two pesky vegans, by serving raw vegetables and “side dishes”. Well, they tried and I know it is hard for those who build a meal around meat to understand what a delicious vegan meal consists of.
Luckily, we always eat before we go. They served barbecued spare ribs, sugar-sprinkled corn fritters, bottled sauces, and three pale raw salads made from various vegetables and grains — all cold, all marinated. Dessert was two cakes and a towering bowl of fresh whipped cream. There was the usual round of drinks and we sat convivially out on a patio under an enormous fruit tree. Ocean breezes brought the scents of flowers. A lovely setting and good intentions.
Staring at those sticky strips of fatty pig flesh and bone, I was reminded once again of why I love being a non-animal eater. Food should be beautiful, vivid and exquisitely tasty. Now, what does that really mean? There is an ancient theory, based on the wisdom of the prior ages, that things we are meant to embrace will signal their appropriate character by attracting us in elegant ways: lovely colors, scents, pleasing shapes, soothing textures, soul-satisfying settings, etc. One of the people who took this up and created a popular line of ‘remedies’ was Edward Bach, the renowned English homeopath of the last century whose products are still sold in every health emporium all over the world.
Dr. Bach was not the only healer who spoke of this — it was and is an entire movement. For those of us who are artists, the idea has a natural appeal with no further explanation needed. When I do something, I always try to incorporate beauty. Meals are no exception.
There are other arenas in which this is true. Take music, for example. The classical genre was built on harmony and the identification of chords that blend to create sounds that beautify the mind and imagination. Just listen to someone like J. S. Bach or Pachelbel, Sibelius, Mozart, Chopin, Schubert, Handel, Vivaldi, Saint-Saens, Paganini, Schumann, Fauré to name a few. My favorite music is of the 15th and 16th centuries. When you listen to the earliest music, often meant for the lute and other modal instruments (precursors to the modern stringed orchestral versions), you will find a simple, direct, penetrating but subtle vibrance that is all but lost in more contemporary pedestrian genres, like rock (a lot of which I love, by the way), pop, hip-hop and rap.
It still lingers in the earliest form of country music, which we call in the US, Traditional or Mountain music. You find a wonderful version in the environs of Appalachia, which we know as Fiddle Tunes. Jazz, some of the best from the pre-1950s era that saw its rise and proliferation, also exhibits these qualities. Irish Celtic music from over 1000 years ago, has this same quality. As does Bulgarian and Albanian a capella choral folk music. It is all delicate, immediately accessible, haunting, calming, energizing. These last two qualities are what all our surroundings should supply: calm and energy. They are not opposites, they work together and produce health at all levels, physical, emotional, mental, and social.
These things are beautiful. We recognize that feature in them immediately. This is not an intellectual knowledge, it is visceral and inchoate.
Back to the meal on Sunday. It is exactly what people eat who, in my opinion, have little idea of either health or harmony. There is nothing beautiful about the flesh of an animal on a plate. What people have done to make it palatable, is to mask its true nature in a variety of ways. Every single thing that can be done to animal flesh, can be done to other more health-giving foods. If you have ever seen a raw and bleeding wound on any living creature, that is what you are eating. It is naturally repulsive in its original state. By the time it has been re-conceived and re-presented and re-branded with euphemisms and ends up on your plate, it has lost some of the natural signals that it once possessed to alert you that it isn’t a good idea to consume this. It wasn’t pretty, much less beautiful. You can set aside for the moment the fact of the sentient being and how it met its end, so it could land on your plate — we can talk about that sometime as I have a library full of information on that particular topic. I am now talking about health and the vibrant qualities our food should have.
But, of course, human beings have been doing this for a very long time. That is a deceptive but compelling argument if you haven’t studied anthropology thoroughly, and it has emerged lately as the Viking or Paleo diet. Our earliest ancestors were largely vegans (there was no dairy) and opportunistic feeders. When they happened upon kills, they only consumed the leftovers from real carnivores (we are designed like herbivores). This was usually singed bone that was easily cracked to get the tender and fatty marrow it contained or the occasional roasted internal organ. It was in very small quantities and sporadic, not habitual. Not three times or more a day. Not processed. Not from an animal penned for life. If we look to the natural diet of the great apes in the wild today, we will have a picture of very early man’s diet as well.
And our ancestors moved a great deal more than we do. In fact, they trotted most of the time. And they stood or squatted, rarely sitting. They were largely foragers, gatherers far longer than they were hunters, and then quickly evolved to farming. And the amount of roughage ingested along with the scant animal proteins was cleansing to the long, winding, dark, narrow intestinal tract that we share with other hominoids (like primates), in stark contrast to the short, large intestines of carnivores.
We can argue about the necessity of animal product consumption to the development of homo sapiens and the brain as an historic fact, scientifically verified. I would contend, if this were a more analytical and scholarly piece here, that other factors (bipedalism, standing upright to navigate, seed-eating with our prehensile grip, and others) — no longer present in modern society — were just as instrumental in producing man today.
But this is clear. We don’t eat like our great-grandparents and grandparents did. Post industrial revolution food production has drastically changed western diets. Exponentially so, post WWII. We are now eating many times the amount of unhealthy fats, refined sugars and toxic salts in processed, packaged items than we were designed to handle efficiently and safely. It has been pushed on us by lobbyists. Our food “experts” have been bought off and the unwitting public has been thoroughly brainwashed. Con Agra anyone? And, I can say with confidence, that our meats while tender are tasteless. If you have ever eaten beef or chicken in countries where farm animals spend their lives walking in fresh air and feeding naturally, you know what I mean (Switzerland, Holland, Brazil are among many examples).
The average under-40 American looks and usually feels pretty good. But by 50, most are overweight (if not obese), tired, stressed, anxious, depressed, with multiple illnesses and loosening teeth. If you were to open the usual medicine cabinet of 95% of American homes, you would see a small pharmacy that attests to this point. The first 40 years of poor dietary and physical practices is largely responsible for the second 40 years of increasing woes. It catches up with us eventually. Not only physically, but in every way.
Do people believe they love the meat and dairy laden meals they are eating? Oh, yes! And there is a medical term for this: dysgeusia (taste perversion). It is the result of habit, reinforced by other emotional factors associated with eating, meals, and a full stomach starting when we are born.
Eating cooked flesh of any creature is not beautiful, nor is it necessary for modern Westerners.
Fruits and vegetables are like flowers: they are beautiful to behold and exquisitely nourishing on all levels. They are environmentally safe to cultivate and just the savings in efficient land use alone would solve this planet’s hunger cheaply, effectively, and humanely.
They are like good music: immediately appealing when properly prepared and created, and they are enduring in that same way. I can listen to the same dozen or so composers and artists for a lifetime, and each time I do, I derive more pleasure, strength, happiness, understanding, and healing.
Food should and can be the same.
Images: 123rf.com, thefoodalmanac.com, foodrepublic.com, features.peta.org, wallpaperuniversity.com, inalu.eu, eathealthytip.com, hobbyfarms.com, taste.com.au, goodhousekeeping.com, masalazone.com, en.wikipedia.org, tripadvisor.com
Here are some other posts on this topic that are relevant and interesting, from members of this community:
Paul wrote about this, and his success with losing weight, this morning! What a great post.
Another friend I follow is eliminating sugar, which has always been my biggest weakness. I admire her!
Here are some wonderful changes my good friend Vera has made in her life, illustrating the step-wise approach we can take to improving. It doesn’t have to be cold-tofurky, in other words, LOL.
Look at what Kellie is doing — gorgeous! I am doing this for July 4th. Thank you Kellie!
Just this morning, a cherished member of this community, JM, posted this and it is worth a read. We always forget that there are people in this world who would be thrilled to eat even 1300 calories per day, much less, per meal. I need to remember this whenever I feel sorry that I must work on weight control more and more, the older I get. Thank you for your entire blog, JM, dedicated to fitness, inside and out.