When I stated my intention to inoculate myself against COVID-19 by consuming full fat ramen made with pork bone broth, I was only half joking. As it went, I was focused on the vegan alternatives, having gone that way for Lent. I can’t see myself going vegan, full time, primarily because I cannot conceive relinquishing cheese forever, but only for up to forty days and nights at a stretch. Easter was going to be a cheese feast!
Over the first week of Lent, as I used up the last of the unsalted British butter and the Greek-style yogurt, I began to feel lighter in myself; an unfamiliar sensation, not necessarily unpleasant, but somewhat disconcerting to a cheese eating vegetarian. I was reminded of the passage in Ken Lo’s autobiography in which he describes learning to appreciate English cheese as a crucial component of the education he received at Oxford University, as the curds lay like lead in his stomach, anchoring him to the moist British earth.
The purpose of fasting is to develop consciousness through self-discipline. I used to sit ten day meditation courses during which we did not eat after midday. That was all very well when no food was offered. I learned to fully appreciate breakfast. However, as in any spiritual practice, the form of fasting must be tempered by intention. Self discipline is all very well, but its purpose is defeated if it leads one to impose upon others. Eventually, I found that particular meditation school to be too concerned with enforcing its rigid codes of conduct, and went to another school from the same tradition, with much the same rules. Only there, food was everywhere.
At tea time, when soup is served, there’s always a well-stocked cheeseboard. A bowl of foil-wrapped Swiss chocolates is strategically placed by the door, so one might easily slip one or two into a coat pocket on the way out and surreptitiously consume them while walking wistfully in the garden. As I felt obliged to report to the teacher, like Oscar Wilde, I can resist anything except temptation. I had undertaken not to eat after midday as one of the eight precepts of sila (code of moral conduct), but had not kept my word. He chuckled and told me, “it’s just a game we play with ourselves.”
By resolving to deny ourselves a pleasure that is abundant around us, we allow ourselves to observe the nature of our attachment to that particular sensory indulgence (which is dukkha). By craving, we create our own misery. As week one wore on, I noticed how much cheese had crept into my diet, not just in the form of Stilton on oaties with mango pickle, or cauliflower & broccoli florets with Heston’s cheese sauce, which are staples of the Cronin kitchen, but also the pizze and sandwiches I like to eat out.
Pret’s New York Veggie Deli sandwich on rye is a favourite and occasionally I pick one up on the way home from walking my dog in the mornings, but it contains a slice of Swiss cheese. I’d have to make do with the vegan falafel and sweet potato confection. Still, as the viral threat loomed ever larger, I considered that life might be too short to deny myself one last sandwich. When we reached Pret a Manger, the dog and I, they were only serving food to take away – fine – but the next time we went, they were closed until further notice. Uh-oh.
Unless its a bio weapon that escaped the lab and exploited the weakened immune systems of a population being irradiated with 5G, it seems most likely that COVID-19 has traversed the infection route of viruses that came before it, from other species to we humans, via bush meat sold in dodgy street markets in China. Vegans on Twitter were quick to exclaim, ‘see what happens when you eat meat!’ Certainly, avoiding the maladies that have arisen from factory farming is one of the reasons why I finally stopped eating meat, 15+ years ago.
The final factor in my long journey to vegetarianism was a gift Juliet Carter gave me. Jules is a mystic who created and presents the Template Ceremonies – ‘a holonomic model of transcendence’ – which are appearing, fabulously animated, on YouTube. There’s sixteen ceremonies, which should be experienced sequentially. I think it was after the Source Ceremony that Juliet mentioned, casually, that any of us who were still consuming flesh, however occasionally, should cut it out altogether because meat eating is contra-indicated to the work.
Every animal knows the hour of its death, especially in an industrial system in which livestock is transported to an abattoir for slaughter, where the scent of death hangs heavy and drives the animals mad with terror before they finally get the bolt in the brain. Every fibre of each rigid carcass is suffused with the chemicals of fear. Freshly killed meat is too tough and has to be hung for a while – the process of putrefaction beginning – before it is sufficiently tenderised and then all you are feeding yourself, energetically, is the F word.
Since eliminating fear is an early objective of the Template work, carrying on carnivorously defeats its purpose. Becoming free of fear provides a subtle but profound shift in perspective, especially in these strange days of global pandemic panic. Seeing photos of supermarket shelves stripped bare, I stayed away for as long as I could, but when I did go shopping, I slipped a wedge of own brand Italian hard cheese into my basket. I had been using Engevita yeast flakes as a substitute for grated Parmesan, but life may be short.
The next time I went to the supermarket, they were operating the new rules whereby small groups are let into the store, half a dozen at a time. You have to queue, two metres apart, to get through the front door. Once inside, it’s like the Soviet Union: eerily quiet, with significant gaps in the stock. Really, at a time like this, why deny oneself the comfort of cheese toasties? I duly bought myself a block of cheddar, a jar of sweet pickle and loaf of sliced bread. Life is short. Why suffer unnecessarily?