Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Turns out it was just a phase.

When I was about 13 I became slightly more aware, and open minded. In this instance I'm specifically referring to food. I became more willing to try new things and gave more consideration as to where my food came from. This eventually led to my becoming vegetarian. In reality this was a very easy change to make; my dad did most of the cooking at home, and as he'd been vegetarian for about two decades, could make quite delightful meals with just vegetables. In spite of this easy transition, my personal ideological change had a far greater effect. As a pretentious teenager I took it upon myself to constantly point out to my friends how disgusting the very concept of 'Factory Farming' was; how we had made ourselves as Gods - breeding lesser creatures to die for our eating pleasure; how the mangled corpses in Butcher's windows would make me queasy; and that unless you yourself were willing to slit the throat of a struggling animal - then it was complete hypocrisy to eat ones that had been killed for you.

I do still believe all of this stuff now, but luckily I'm not quite so arrogant as to keep harassing my friends about it (and I admit I am myself a hypocrite - I still have a pair of leather shoes). However my views have changed, I'm now quite acceptant of the fact that if I was stranded on a desert island with nothing more than coconuts to sustain me, then of course I'd hunt a wild boar, I'd and kill it, and skin it, and cook it's meat, and I'm sure it would taste wonderful (although by this point probably anything that didn't taste of coconut would be wonderful.) Because ultimately I've now accepted that my life is more important than that of other creatures, in the same way that I begrudgingly accept that Animal Testing is very necessary in the search for life-saving drugs.

Ultimately my philosophy came to centre around one main question - do you really need to? These days there are so many meat alternatives that you can have a perfectly healthy diet without eating meat. Of course you might want to eat meat just because you like the taste, and that's fine, but I personally don't feel it's worth killing an animal just so you can have a tasty snack (especially when there's so much other nice food available.)

I faced a new dilemma when I found out about the dairy industry. Cows only produce milk when they have calves. Within a year or two of giving birth, a cow will stop producing milk. This means that countless bullocks are killed as a result of keeping their mothers producing milk. And anyway, what would happen to the mothers when they got too old? - I don't know but I bet it's not too friendly.

So I then gave up the milk. Even when faced with the fact that this food source would be harder to replace, I reasoned that it can't be a huge deficiency, as in evolutionary terms it's not part of our natural diet - I can't really imagine our hunter-gatherer ancestors running across the plains trying to suckle at the nipple of a nimble gazelle. I didn't however give up eggs and become completely vegan. Chickens lay eggs naturally - it's a biological function that would happen anyway. I felt there was nothing wrong with eating the eggs of free range chickens.

However, within a year or two I felt for my abstinence of milk with far less conviction. Going off to uni was a significant moment in my life, which came with many changes, and many new experiences. I contemplated then whether I still felt it was wrong to eat dairy products. I decided that I was still as convinced as ever about the meat, but with the milk I wasn't so sure. I decided that it was better to keep going as I was rather than risk later looking back with regret at a time of weakness where I 'strayed form the path'... (something like that)

Now that I've finished uni, and am at another significant moment of change in my life, I have again examined my ethics and found that I'm still as disengaged with my reasons for not drinking milk. I can still recite my arguments and work through them to their logical conclusion; but the amount of feeling behind them would never be enough to motivate someone to actually give it up. And so I was left thinking, is there really any point continuing? So the other day I had a slice of a cheese and tomato sandwich - it was ok - but I tell you, that mild cheddar was such a strong flavour! My taste buds obviously need some readjust back to how they functioned before, and then I can begin a life that doesn't involve eating cheeseless pizzas (yep.... sad times indeed...).

But I return to the question I posed earlier - do I really need to? Well no, I don't need to eat dairy products and if I didn't ever eat out, then I'm sure I could manage a milk-free diet more or less.

So again, do I really need to? – No, but... why not? The way I feel right now is that there's really nothing wrong with eating dairy. Yes, the industry around it is does result in animals being slaughtered as a by-product, but I'm not sure I can judge people for that any more, because I know that I myself could slaughter in the same way.

This doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to instantly change my eating habits - as unfamiliar food sources cheese still seems greasy, and milk still has a slightly unpleasant, pallid, watery smell. And I am able to conceive that I might look back on this time with regret some day; and that maybe this slackening of my ethics is a subconscious manifestation of my insecurity over my future and the direction of my life at the moment. All I know is that to live your life within any given rules, you must believe in them with enough conviction to motivate yourself to do so. (you can't give up smoking half-heartedly.) And being a lacto-vegetarian is a cause I just don't really believe in any more.

So, the cynics were right - turns out it was just a phase - one that lasted six and a half years, but a phase nonetheless.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Teacher...?

Now that I'm living in rural Wales once again, I'm keen to keep an eye out for any potentially interesting music related activities that I can get involved with. One such activity is volunteering with the Young Composer of Dyfed. This is a competition that I won in 2005, and as the organisers of YCD have always been very good to me I felt it would be nice to do something for them, as well as good experience for me. So next week I'll be going around a few schools with this year's ensemble in residence, and helping out with their presentations.

Another role that emerged at our last meeting is what I've been doing today. This afternoon I went to a special needs school to do a workshop with a group of 4 children on graphic scores. A graphic score is a way of writing music where you don't necessarily use standard notation techniques. So this could be anything from, simply adding a few symbols to a score, which are explained by a key; to huge sheets of paper with shapes and patterns of different colours all over it, which are left open to the interpretation of the performer.

(Examples: weird, even weirder, what?!)

The idea with these workshops was to get the kids to make a score on large sheets of paper, several feet long, which could be displayed on a wall and performed by the ensemble when they came to give a presentation the following week.

Thankfully today I was accompanied by a helper from the school and the guitar teacher, so I wasn't left alone to deal with a group of kids with learning difficulties. My biggest concern approaching this workshop was that the children wouldn't find it engaging, because everything I'd planed relied heavily on their participation. Thankfully this was the least of my worries. Let alone being disinterested, I could hardly stop the kids singing, drawing, and constantly interrupting with new ideas. Of course, as well as this they found time to cause mischief, insult each other and disassemble a biro, but all in all I feel it went reasonably well.

I've always dismissed being a teacher, and never really thought I'd be able to be one. After today's experience I can't really say that this view is ever going to change very much. As a music graduate, teaching is probably the most obvious and economically stable career path, but I just think I'm not that great with kids. I will admit that by the end of today's session I seemed better at engaging with the children, so maybe there is room for improvement. I guess we'll see at next week's workshop.