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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Mammoth Reflections

We are now nearly three months in to the experiment and there is still an open question over whether to continue and in what form.

I would like to reflect on the experience so far.

I have noticed recently that the novelty and initial excitement has worn off and at times it has become a real drag. Its not a matter of craving things, which passed quite quickly and the new eating habits have been easy for me to adapt to and beneficial eg. herbal tea and low sugar.

However it is the amount of work involved that makes it difficult. For example, we have to go to a market every saturday and they all shut at one or two, thank god Richmond Farmer's market is open till three or we would have starved a few times. Some saturdays you really dont feel like going to the market so it makes saturdays into more of a workday because there is a routine and a deadline. Also actually shopping is hard because it is all scattered. You go to Waitrose for milk and flour and oil; the market for some greens and game; Freshers grocer over the bridge for different greens; then try to locate other sources of butter and treats or rarities. So it takes ages, and you must have cash, and if you are alone it is much easier with the car but then you risk parking fines or not finding a space at all, or getting stuck in saturday traffic.

Then there is the matter of cleaning all the earthy veg, and then processing it into something nice to eat.

I think one of the biggest changes is that there is no processed food. This is very healthy and I have definitely noticed the quality of food being very high, plus i get a huge sensual pleasure out of working with luscious piles of fressh leafy greens and earthy potatoes and juicy tomatoes and from boiling huge vats of burbling nutrition; but if you have two people not earning much and holding down jobs with complicated work patterns it can sometimes be really tedious to have to spend ages cooking.

Its all to do with economics. If we grew our own veg, and cooked and preserved it all ourselves, then we would need less money to live and therefore could do less hours at the office. I would rather spend my morning tending, digging, cooking and cleaning veg than going to the office as it happens, but in London the economics and the way things are set up is such that this isnt feasible. So instead of having land, we have cash, and we use it to buy stuff that other people grew and made and then they buy stuff off us, like the legal contracts they need to run their business. and in a big city you get lots of people concentrated together doing more abstract things, like recording information, and they ship in all the earthier stuff and pay for it instead of doing it themselves. And they get cleaners in to do the chores for them, and so on.

But what have you really gained? You are just swapping one chore for another, and it seems to me that digging a garden is a nice chore than processing information at a screen all day. Plus its MUCH healthier on the mental, physical and spiritual levels, so why do so many people choose to get away from it and go and abstract themselves from the earth? Personally I think it is all down to a need for higher status, which seems to be a huge drive for humanity in general, and *maybe (*cod psychology alert) behind that is a desire to be loved more.

Anyway I have really enjoyed sensing the earth itself, I mean like when we went to Exmoor, you could taste that the food was richer, and I think its because the soil there is so rich and red and wonderful, and so the veg they grow and the animals that eat it, all taste better. The 'richness' means lots of minerals and nutrients, and less of the odd chemicals that go into food and the food chain. Look at the word 'richness'. it may seem that if you earn lots of money in Lond but you dont have to clean your veg, or you get exercise in a fancy gym instead of down the garden, then you are 'rich'. Well you may be, but how rich is your food? Your body? How enriched are your senses, when you jog on a running machine, compared to when you are digging the ground and feeling the cold crumbly soil and touching slimy worms and hearing robins and little rustling noises and breathing in the amazing cacophony of scents of each leaf and earth and air, and tasting the veg to see if its ready, or just because its nice to graze on the freshest food you can ever get? Its a rare shop can give you food fresh from the ground, and in my experience, that is a very different and much RICHER experience than a beautifully packaged, elegant, delicate, but faded, jaded, alienated, blanded, processed thing. Some expensive delicacies are good of course, but on a day to day level, its more nourishing and richer to engage with the living earth than to have it all pre-packaged in long-shelf-life boxes, however pretty.

But trying to have both ways is not easy. Trying to live in the pre-packaged system we have now in London, but trying to get a few threads into theses more nourishing experiences as well, is Really Hard Work.

I was sent a link this week to a story about a New York couple who are trying to live a No Impact life in Manhatten. They have a baby daughter too, and this is extreme- they are generating no waste, for example. Ie no disposable nappies, or apparently, even loo roll.

However there is one key point I want to make about their plan. The guy has a book deal and also a documentary film deal. in other words, he is making his living just doing this lifestyle. He doesn't have to live like that AND have a regular job. So he has all day to clean vegetables and look for butter and walk to the shops and cook and then write about it. That is a crucial difference. It is POSSIBLE to live a low impact and healthy life in a city, BUT it takes more time. If your salary just covers the bills then you pay the price in terms of being more tired or seeing less friends.

The only thing for it is to head for the hills and build a house out of mud and spin our own cotton.


  1. Anonymous8:46 am

    hey kids, I did see a comment about the new yorkers - how they were going without loo roll, yet writing a book (presumably printed on paper) about their experiances...what was that about Americans and irony? I think I'm going to put something about wanting to live like tom and barbara on my match profile, so that 'potentials' know what they are getting themselves in for
    kisses s'rah

  2. Anonymous10:36 am

    From Anna (who has not yet got into this google thing....)

    Great reflections and really inspiring stuff, but I feel your view of growing your own food might be a bit romantic. The reason people are keen to get away from it is status (more and more it seems the answer to many questions) but also because living as a surf on the land growing everythnig you need is hard bloody work. Yes on a sunny day, being down the allotment is a joy, but scrapeing in the mud for a turnip in January, when thats all you are going to eat is back breaking tedium. Which is why people who live like this often fall gladly into an early grave in their 30's. Just having seen how people who live doing fruit or daff picking in modern day Cornwall fair, makes me think there are lots of good things about our crazy disconected lives too. Still if you do decide to go to the west country to live the "good life" would love to visit for the weekend.....

  3. Hi anna

    You are right it sucks having to live off turnips in January mud. But i dont think that the flower pickers are part of the direct-living way, they are in fact part of the industrial process and those fields of flowers etc are really just factories.
    I do know someone who lives with virtually no impact and he plays football much better than any of my friends and he is 68 this year. He cycles everywhere including to Italy and Ireland, and seems very happy and healthy even though he can never buy new clothes or technology. I do think that you are right, just being poor is crap, but to me poor isn't necessarily measured in terms of financial figures but in terms of what resources you need and what resources you have access to. "Resources" includes sunshine, fresh air, friendly supportive people around you, clean water, good doctors - all things that can, but don't necessarily, cost money.