Episode 1 of “The Retreat“, fronted by TV presenter Nick Knowles, aired last night on BBC2 and makes interesting and entertaining viewing. (Apparently, it also makes long blog posts – this one takes 3.5 minutes to read.)
During this first broadcast, they mentioned some films that talk about the benefits of a vegan or vegetarian diet, based on whole grains. Possibly because it’s the BBC, they didn’t give the names of the films. So I’m going to hazard a guess, and hope someone will correct me in the comments if they know.
Either way, here are four of the most compelling food-related films I have seen in the last few years. They all had a strong impact on me, and helped prepare the ground for becoming almost completely vegetarian this year. (More on this below)
When I saw this film, I immediately wanted to become vegan. All vegan food has since looked and tasted incredible, but I currently don’t have the knowledge to go down this route. Before you say, “Yeah, but what about muscles…” just have a look at the film.
I haven’t seen this for a couple of years but it had a similar impact to “Forks over knives”, coming from a different angle. As we become more aware of the consciousness shared by all living things, we are naturally keen to limit the suffering endured by others – human and non-human alike. (I watched this with my children, and my daughter wanted to be vegetarian for several days…)
The one I’ve seen most recently on this list. If I told you what it’s about, you would think I was making it up. This film saves lives. (I started watching Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead 2, but it didn’t have quite the same impact on me. Sequels are hard. I will go back and finish it, though.)
This is the “Gasland” of food films – and well worth a watch. My takeout was that you cannot seriously called yourself an environmentalist (if that’s the label you feel like using) if you eat meat. I know the exterior environment is an existential crisis, but it’s not something I’m going into here.
The more-on-this bit
- We kept pigs for several years, and ended up growing and harvesting a crop – by hand – to cut down on their winter food bill. Seeing how much human energy went into that exercise, it’s obviously more efficient to grow and eat the crop, than grow the crop, feed it to an animal and eat the animal. (Factor in the amount of fossil fuel normally used to transport seed corn, prepare the ground, sow it, harvest and transport it, prepare it for bagging and move it again – with our finite resources and the noxious fumes released – it’s even more ridiculous. There are currently over 7.4 billion of us, increasing every day by around 200,000, as you’ll see on world population clocks like this one. We can easily feed this growing population on a vegetarian diet, as you can see here. I read here that fossil fuel use is the equivalent to having 22 billion slaves on the planet – if we come off fossil fuels, we could have full employment – but that’s another story.)
- We also kept rabbits, which are an excellent source of meat for the smallholder. I’ve been told that, with two breeding pairs, you will always have meat on your table. (Although only eating rabbit can lead to rabbit starvation – a form of malnutrition, so you shouldn’t rely on it exclusively.) On a practical point, rabbits have litters of around 12 kitens (yes, they are called that) and they all reach their eating weight at the same time. I only ever killed and butchered two rabbits at a time, so that’s a week of killing when they are all ready. The last time I did this, I asked myself this question: If an animal is going to be allowed to be born (by me, who decides when to put the male in with the female), then kept in a cage – even with a view – to be fed (by me) only to be killed for food, would it be better that the animal was never born at all? I decided it would, we stopped breeding rabbits, and I stopped killing.
- We also kept chickens, for eggs and meat. (We were like Escape to River Cottage, only more extreme.) They are considerably easier to kill than rabbits, although I find the butchery more time consuming. As with the rabbits, the first chicken I killed was a shocking experience. (If you find yourself doing this at some point, you will understand. I only talk about this in person.) When I made the move to become vegetarian, I decided to leave my remaining 14-odd chickens to die of natural causes. A few weeks later, they did – in the shape of a fox or hunting dog, that broke in and killed them all. The bodies were left uneaten, in the most outrageous display of food waste I’ve seen in person.
One final thing before I sign off this post-that-somehow-turned-into-an-essay.
I suspect I’ve been undernourishing myself for a while, and had a couple of moments of unexpected weakness last week. This has made me look more seriously at what and when I eat, and I’m finding out about vitamins and proteins I may have been missing. As further episodes of “The Retreat” will no doubt show this week, it’s apparently not as simple as leaving meat off your plate.
Although, if you’re a habitual meat eater, that’s a great way to start.
“The Retreat” is showing every night this week on BBC2. I am not connected to the show in any way. And the retreats being held at écovallée from next year will not be anything like this. Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, present-moment awareness, joy, peace, stillness, space, love and connectedness, yes. Detoxing, no. Although juices and veggie boxes will be used.