Tree appreciation, old quotes, ex-vegetarians again.

Plants are in constant communication with each other. … Any place that roots touch other roots or their shared mycelial network, they can also exchange chemistries, medicines. One plant will send out a chemical distress call. The others will respond with precise antibiotics, antifungals, antimicrobials, or pesticides to help. Like my chickens when they sight a hawk, plants will give out an alarm call when a predator is near. Lima beans will release chemicals that warn other lima beans when they are being attacked by spider mites. When something ambulatory brushes past a plant in the woods, not only does the affected plant respond by stiffening as best it can, it also sends out a chemical warning that allows all the other plants nearby to stiffen their branches in preparation.

And there’s more. Buhner talks about archipelagos of plant communities, groupings of interconnecting plants around a dominant or keystone species, usually a tree. These archipelagoes form in response to mysterious and unpredictable cues, and often announce the wholesale moveent of ecosystems. The process begins with an outsider or pioneer plant, who literally prepares the soil for its cohorts. When the soil is ready, the nurse plant sends out the chemical message, join me. …

Once established, the keystone plant then calls the bacteria, mycelia, plants, insects, and other animals necessary to build a healthy and resilient community. The keystone’s chemistries arrange the other species and direct their behavior. “This capacity of keystone species to ‘teach’ their plant communities how to act was widely recognized in indigenous and folk taxonomies.” Elder trees are called elders for a reason.

The Vegetarian Myth page 88, talking about The Lost Language of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

And on and on about the amazingness of trees. Using 2/3 of their water to feed other beings, making masses of chemicals for other species, living for thousands of years. “They literally control life on earth.” I swoon. I love appreciating plant activities.

When I was vegetarian I would regularly find myself in conversations with folks who loved animals and joked that as vegetarians, their role was to kill all plants. I know it’s a joke, but I did find plant appreciation kind of lacking overall in vegetarian discussions. Some love for produce sometimes (local tomatoes, etc), but it’s funny to me to read this wide-eyed tree worship as part of an author’s journey to meat eating.

Interdependence, ex-vegetarians, crossing the streams.

Been thinking so much about being vulnerable with people and asking for help, while sorting through surprising and painful life changes. Noticed this old quote kicking around as a draft and liked it all over again today. It’s about food, but I’m thinking about feelings when I read the bit about not trying to get out of debt, not trying to be self-contained.

In his book Long Life, Honey In The Heart Martin Pretchel writes of the Mayan people and their concept of kas-limaal, which translates roughly as “mutual indebtedness, mutual insparkedness.” “The knowledge that every animal, plant, person, wind, and season is indebted to the fruit of everything else is adult knowledge. To get out of debt means you don’t want to be part of life, and you don’t want to grow into an adult,” one of the elders explains to Pretchel.

… This is a concept we need, especially those of us who are impassioned by injustice. I know I needed it. In the narrative of my life, the first bite of meat after my twenty year hiatus marks the end of my youth, the moment when I assumed the responsibilities of adulthood. It was the moment I stopped fighting the basic algebra of embodiment: for someone to live, someone else has to die. In that acceptance, with all its suffering and sorrow, is the ability to choose to live a different way, a better way.

— From The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith, page 5.

Ex-vegetarian inspiration strikes again.

Unyeasted bread, quests.

Unyeasted breads have a deep, hearty, honest spirit with a certain substantial integrity. Dense and thick-crusted, they require a good bread knife for cutting and a certain endurance for chewing…

No matter how much I mentioned the dense, “bricklike” nature of some of these breads, still I received many letters from people wondering why the bread came out of the oven like a piece of building material. O.K., they are not to everyone’s taste, but some people really like this sort of thing: “How real,” they say, “How flavorful.”

— Edward Espe Brown in The Tassajara Bread Book, 25th Anniversary Edition

I’ve been finding a lot of inspiration in a particular kind of far-out food book. Not dietary inspiration; something like philosophical inspiration. Emotional inspiration? Attitude inspiration. The connecting thread seems to be authors who used to practice more extreme diets. Former vegans, former macrobiotics, former hippies. Some of these books have consistent ways of respecting radicalisms and moderations at the same time, finding another level of inclusion where you get the thorough, grounded ethics of radical thought without the isolating righteousness. I find myself re-reading bits of non-content like the introduction to a recipe, just for the tone or the attitude.

Does that Bread Book passage do any of that for anybody else? I know I’m reading the way I need to read.

This is helping me rename a personal communication quest that I’ve been naming and renaming for, I don’t know, fifteen years? My teenaged fixation was how to be honest and also nice (both in the sense of liked and in the sense of kind). Later it was how to have a critical analysis without alienating people who don’t. How to be compassionate without self-censorship. How to make space for differences without them being cast as disagreements or negativity. How to maintain boundaries without being judgmental. Consideration without passivity. Empathy without enabling. Belonging without conformity. How to make connections across differences. All of these draft mission statements have been discarded or modified, but I’m getting somewhere. I want to joke that it wouldn’t be hard to be both more honest and more kind than teenaged me, but that isn’t true. It has been hard!

Flipping through a chapter called Vegetarian Ethics and Humane Meat that kept me up late last night, I have totally failed to find a quotable section. I started just collecting words. “Much depends,” “life and death and life,” appreciation, reflection, mistakes, “not so easy,” “Plan B,” courage, “emotionally spent,” responsibility, “more directly involved,” experiments, clumsy, “I’m very curious,” “our memories diverge… isn’t memory funny?” Vocabulary for a big, thoughtful mess.

Who said that keeping up with fashion is the ultimate way to create anxiety? Connecting people in a big mess seems like the opposite to that. Seeking ways for many fashions to co-exist together is comforting and useful. So I guess that’s the communication quest for now. It must seem like this is too abstract to possibly be useful in my real life, but I bet I will refer to this in the next 24 hours, trying to explain a decision or action to someone. “It’s like the unyeasted bread! I know how to do this!”

I’m noticing how gardening books can be colonial.

Edible gardens have been part of human culture for thousands of years. Along with harnessing fire, developing the wheel and domesticating animals, cultivating food is one of the benchmarks of human advancement. Growing plants that provide food and learning to store it for times of scarcity were advancements that allowed humans to develop civilizations.

— First paragraph of the introduction to The Canadian Edible Garden: Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits & Seeds by Alison Beck.

It’s been awhile since something like “the benchmarks of human advancement” would have slipped by me as a neutral measurement (when you define everyone’s progress by how similar they are to you, you can assume have problems with privilege), but I think I am noticing more assumptions now about the value of civilization and technology. I’m also noticing that the author’s list of “advancements” that allow humans to create civilizations skipped over colonization, slavery, militarism, genocide and all that.

I recently read Endgame: The Problem of Civilization & Resistance (thanks for the tip, Sarah), which is a thorough take-down of the assumption that civilization is an advanced way of living (vs. unsustainable and terrorist), that the point of technology is to become advanced (vs. to maintain a relationship with your landbase), that agriculture is an efficient way to gather food (vs. temporary and destructive). I think that was the book that got me reading about destroying agriculture. I’ve been reading a lot of books at once; it’s hard to keep track.

I am seeing this garden book as much more oppressive than I would have before, with a Eurocentric, anti-indigenous, environmentally unconscious position.

This is good, it gets me thinking about my love of gardening. I’m realizing that what I care about is getting to know plants and soil and living systems, resisting consumerism and capitalism by gathering my own food, and taking time to physically experience and love a patch of the outdoors. None of that actually requires a garden. I could be wildcrafting, or working more with local plant permaculture and forest gardens. Those are difficult when land is privately owned and violently policed, and wilderness is mostly destroyed and constantly under threat. Wild forests don’t need me in there taking all my food right now. And it’s hard to conceive of perennial ecosystems on temporarily rented space.

So… how could I be talking with my neighbours about guerrilla permaculture and land reclamation?

Considering destroying agriculture: more soothing than I expected.

I am feeling excited to research radical ecology and anti-industrial ideas lately. This is one result of considering my Scottishness: I decided to read extra-radical critiques of Eurocentric civilizations as a respite from the horrifying, delusional narratives in books about Scottish settler history.

Somehow I didn’t realize there were folks in radical ecology movements looking at very intersectional politics of oppression and how they relate to fundamental systems like agriculture, cities, and industrial production. Sometimes I find an analysis that also overlaps with what I know of media theory about currencies, clocks and the alphabet. I’m still in a skeptical phase where I am cross-referencing everything and looking for criticisms, but it is very relaxing to feel like there might be a way to fit a lot of interests together. One huge, complex idea to apply instead of a whole bunch of big, complex ideas.

This morning I was listening to ideas about agriculture.

Lierre Keith: A Hard Look at Agriculture, and Strategies for Collapse, a podcast at Resistance is Fertile. Why even veganism and local organic farming is not sustainable.

You have to understand what agriculture is. In very brute terms, you take a piece of land, you clear every living thing off it— and I mean down to the bacteria— and then you plant it to human use. It’s biotic cleansing. This lets the human population grow to gigantic proportions, because instead of sharing that land with millions of other creatures we’re only growing humans on it….

Besides the fact that you’ve permanently displaced any number of species— and when i say that, we’re really talking about extinction— the real problem is that you’re destroying your topsoil and topsoil is the basis of life [on land]…. We have to talk about overshoot.

And pretty soon, she starts connecting this to systems of oppression.

So you’ve got these power centers that arise wherever agriculture is started and they need a constant influx of new resources because they’ve overshot their landbase. Because you have a surplus, that means somebody else can steal it, so the first thing that happens in agricultural societies is you have a class of people whose sole purpose is to be soldiers. You’ve got the beginnings of militarism. The surplus has to be protected. But the surplus is also what lets there be an entire class of people who don’t have to get food, all they have to do is fight. So now you’ve got a class of soldiers.

The other thing that the power base needs is more resources because they’re constantly using them up. So the other job of those soldiers is to go out and get more and bring it back.

And the third thing that agriculture needs is slaves, because it’s back-breaking labour. By the year 1800, when the fossil fuel age began, three quarters of the people on this planet were either living in conditions of slavery or indentured servitude. The only reason that we’ve forgotten this is because we’re using machines now to do that work, but believe me when the fossil fuel runs out, we are going to remember just how much work is involved in this.

It’s this feedback loop, where agriculture creates the need for a military and the military is made possible by the surplus of agriculture. And the entire system together needs to keep taking land because it’s forever using up its own soil.

They go on to make connections between agriculture and patriarchy, disability rights, classism, imperialism, and some more.

I have a million ideas about things to do, but I want to post some more inputs before I write about them. I was quiet for so long that I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do just to make my premises clear.

Snacks: a last holdout against globalization

I just spent two weeks in Scotland and England with my mum. It was lots of fun, but I was a little disappointed in how similar everything was to home.

When I was in Europe in 2003, the fashion was so far ahead I could only point and laugh, and there were always some obvious local specialties. In Holland, every pub had Heineken and Grolsch on tap, as you’d expect. Bars in Granada served free tapas with every drink; bars in Barcelona didn’t.

On this trip, we had to hunt and hunt to find anything we couldn’t get in Vancouver. There were more people dressed fashionably, but the frontiers of fashion were set in approximately the same places as they are here.

I made my mum take a highway exit twice so that I could get another fleeting glimpse of some highland cattle, because they were so hard to find. Despite spotting millions of sheep in the countryside, we were hard pressed to find any non-tourist shops selling local woolens. Do Scottish people ignore their huge wool harvest, or do they just wear the dumb tourist sweaters? It was frustrating.

Right after my mum and I had been sort of lamenting that globalization had made travel more boring, we stopped to buy some snacks for the trip to the next place. I remembered all the weird chips and candy I’d hoarded in Eastern Europe, and made a trip down the “crisps and biscuits” aisle.


Walker's Lamb and Mint Flavour Crisps

Nobby's Nuts

The green V logo in the corner of the next one means “suitable for vegetarians.”

Bacon Streakies

Besides the snack differences, the UK might be the world headquarters for design that uses an object to replace a letter in its own name. Every mention of Italy used the boot for the L; every fish shop’s name was spelled with a fish… every package of bacon streakies had a little bacon streaky for an I. So there’s that.

Lies, all lies

Flavorful prune bread makes tempting cottage cheese sandwiches

A creamed egg and asparagus sandwich for the children's lunch will solve many problems

The biggest lie of all is right in the title, of course.

500 Tasty Sandwiches

I’m going to lobby Galen to include the bit about “Fancy breads, fillings and spreads…” in a Panty Boy song. So poetic, and rich with innuendo. Fillings and spreads is my new code name for pornography.

They are obviously trying to kill me

Ham and peanut-butter sandwich recipe

Several recipes

I don’t know if you can process the solid block of horror in that last photo, but be sure to note that any mentions of vegetables are actually referring to condensed soup. (See also:)

Cover of 'Cooking with Condensed Soups'

(Yes, that’s a cake.)

One true thing, so you don’t die

Tuna sandwiches are even better if buttered and browned in a grill

I would follow that little arrow pretty much anywhere, so it’s good that it’s playing for the one tasty sandwich I can get behind.

I can’t keep these sort of objects in the house— I end up thinking too hard about how kitsch is gross even if it contains rad typography— but I send them to my friends.


This morning I cut up the gigantic pineapple that has been ripening in our fruit hammock since Sunday’s rock club. (Somebody left it here… Liam?)

1. I like cutting up pineapples, since learning a cool method from my parents’ housekeeper in Jakarta. (Even if it was really weird that they had staff.)

2. Whoa. This pineapple was sweet and delicious, but so enzymatic it felt like it was eating our faces. Who will win the battle of pineapple vs. man?

Live octopus tentacles, a dining opportunity

I have an ongoing love/eat relationship with cephalopods. Squids and octopuses are among my favourite wonders of nature, being so smart and alien and jet-powered. And yet, so tasty. I’ve required small pep talks a few time in restaurants when someone has ordered a delicious tentacle dish that I can’t bring myself to eat even though it is surely a triumph of human culture (barbecued squid, pasta with olipetti, common kalimari, octopus sashimi…).

The best perspective I’ve come up with to handle the awesomeness yet deliciousness of my tentacled comrades is that life isn’t fair. My ongoing meditation on cephalopods is partly to do with my fascination with hard truths. I can’t be friends with octopods because they are ruthless killers. Also, I eat them. But I want to give them my love. C’est la vie, c’est la poubelle.

So I’m really fascinated by this account of eating live octopus tentacles , still writhing on the plate and trying to kill the brave diner. (Don’t miss the movie linked in the comments.)

I snapped out of the absolute stunned trauma of having to fight with my food and attempted to regain control of the situation… Without hesitating, I bit hard on it over and over and over again while mumbling “Die! Die! Die!”

Eating live tentacles embodies almost my entire relationship with cephalopods. They fight, I desire. They are worthy opponents. I am conflicted, but must commit myself or I will barf. I’d rather be friends, but any relationship will do.

Separately, I like food that won’t come to you, but demands you play by its rules. Wasabi is like that for me: I can’t think about anything else when wasabi catches me off guard. I reckon live tentacles would be the same. There’d be no daydreaming about the office while battling a tentacle into the chili sauce.

All in all, now seems to be the time to re-examine my decision not to be a ruthless killer. I used to be OK with ruthless cruelty and domination in high school. Maybe this is yet another trait from the past that is resurfacing now that I’ve stopped taking birth control. That would be unsettling.