Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Getting the fear

I read "by the yard" , usually around two books a week. In recent times, I have noticed a change in my chosen reading matter. If I go back a couple of years, I was reading 99% fiction, the only non-fiction I was reading were gardening manuals and cookery books. I'd be just as likely to have a classic in my hand (such as EM Forster, Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy) as a modern "serious" book (such as "Snow falling on cedars", something by Salman Rushdie or Kingsley Amis) or "pap" - and I'll let you decide what falls into the third category for me.

In the period before I fell into the abyss, my reading matter changed. I could no longer face "heavy" fiction and my fiction reading became more-or-less all "pap" or out-and-out belly laughers. I just couldn't risk sobbing any more on the train between Paddington and Cornwall, I was already doing that enough without sad books adding to my misery. I read a lot of "life change" books, you know the sort of thing "A year in Provence", The Olive Farm", "Urban Dreams, Rural Realities" - I'm sure you get the picture. I was still a prodigious consumer of cookery books and gardening reference material.

Since November (the Black Thursday crash), I've been struggling to find fiction that I can read without causing me to wobble back into the abyss - it's amazing how when you're fragile, even funny things seem laden with misery. So, my reading material has been made up almost entirely of books about depression and people who are/have been depressed (Sunbathing in the rain and Monty Don's book to name two) along with "save the planet" books. I've consumed "Bread matters", "The new English table", "Wild garlic, gooseberries and me", "Forgotten fruits", "The apple source book", "The vitamin murders", "A world without bees" and now "Eat your heart out" is filling me with panic about what happens when the oil runs out. The chapters I've read so far seem to suggest that without oil we won't be able to feed most of the planet's population and therefore anarchy will prevail.

I'm scared.

So this brings me back to the age-old dilemma. Does it matter one jot that I don't eat meat to the millions of animals that are kept in appalling conditions to provide food to the rest of the world? Am I making a positive contribution by trying to save energy, resources and garden organically? Will growing my own veg and supporting local food suppliers be any more than a tiny drop in the ocean whose tide is ebbing so quickly away from us that my drop will make no difference whatsoever? In other words, can one person make any difference at all?

All of these doubts and fears sit alongside two news stories of the last two days, one about a chemical used as a herbicide that's been shown to survive through horses fed on hay made with this product's guts and to be present in big enough quantities for organic growers to find that the manure they thought would benefit their plants/food is actually harming it. The other story is the scary news of a lorry-load of bees over turning in Canada en-route between two vast areas of monoculture. Bees are not meant to live like that.

We are pushing all our resurces until they drop with exhaustion and despair and can no longer function. Now again I see a parallel in my own world. Although I can lay blame for my own demise with no-one but myself, it's true to say that my fall was triggered with the same exhaustion and despair that is ruining our food chain. I know what it feels like to be those bees, carted all over the place and then set to work.

I reiterate my earlier point - I'm scared!

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