Food Philosophie

Lessons 6-10

6. Don’t live to fight. Living for a battle will keep the enemy alive. (From Nietzsche’s Man Alone with Himself)

7. Do not be fooled into thinking of another person as two-dimensional; always treat people as ends in themselves.

8. Death isn’t the opposite, but part of life.

9. Maybe the truth in searching is not having found (Dave Longstreth)

10. Be modest, your judgment is always prejudice

Occam’s mousse au chocolat

Seidentofu, which means silken tofu in German, is one of the best secret kitchen weapons I have encountered. It looks like tofu but is slightly more watery and is less firm. Its hard to get a hold of if you live in a small town like I do, but if you do manage to get some, it will make you the easiest, most delicious, healthiest and vegan (?!) mousse au chocolat. Seriously. I found this recipe on a German cooking forum and would make it every day if I could.

It is creamy in texture and you can play around with the quantities of chocolate and sugar to get the perfect bitterness/sweetness combination. You can also experiment by adding in some orange (or any other flavour) liqueur to the mixture. Don’t let the tofu fool you, you will not be able to taste it AT ALL. We fed this dessert to my little brother, who strongly disapproves of anything with the words “vegan” or “tofu” in it, and asked him to guess the ingredients. All he got was chocolate.

The best thing about this recipe is how simple it is. This is the Occam’s Razor of dessert recipes, and as a philosopher I’ve got to approve of that.

Occam's mousse au chocolat

 

Recipe:

1 Package Silken tofu (~ 400g)
150g Bittersweet chocolate
1 Tbsp Rum (or a flavoured liqueur)
1 Package Vanilla sugar (~ 15g)
possibly some extra sugar

Instructions:

- Melt the chocolate over a water bath (don’t let it get too hot)

- puree the silken tofu in a blender

- add the chocolate and all the other ingredients into the blender

- blend until smooth

- taste and add sugar if necessary

- serve into dishes and into the fridge for an hour or so

Lessons 1-5

1. You cannot change others, you can only change yourself. [By changing yourself, you are changing enough]

2. It is a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person (John Green)

3. Try to become not a person of success, but try rather to become a person of value (A. Einstein).

4. Remember that battles with yourself can have no winner. [Always stand by your side, even if nobody else is there]

5. Once you are at peace with your cosmic insignificance, you will see yourself as a giver, not receiver, of value.

god is dead?

I have thought about writing this post for quite some time. I must note that I am writing this from my own personal perspective as someone who was raised an atheist. I do not expect everyone to agree with me.

Groups have been instrumental in sustaining human life. Society is built around them: family groups, tribal groups, national groups, religious groups… the list goes on. Groups are a mechanism whereby individuals mutually support each other to the benefit of all members of the group. However, groups are premised on a division between those included in the group and those excluded. In Ancient Greece, rules of war only applied to ‘the civilized’. Barbarians (excluded from this group) did not share these rights. Groups nowadays behave in a similar way. It is easy to think of many ways in which being a citizen of your country gives you certain rights that non-citizens don’t have.

However, my issue today is with organized religion. I find religion fascinating, partly because I have never subscribed to it and partly because I find it hard to understand others who do. But today I am going to critique religion in a theoretical sense, not a practical one. Many religious groups to great things. Others do terrible things. Today I am not interested in what religious groups do, but what they are.

A religion is a social group that subscribes to some common beliefs and values. All religious groups I have come across are, like all other groups, premised on exclusion. That doesn’t mean they don’t allow new members, just that being inside the group is different from being outside. For example, because I am outside, some religious groups believe I will suffer (and perhaps even deserve)  eternal damnation.

Another feature of religious groups is a shared hierarchy of values. Values and a shared belief in a supernatural entity are what hold most religious groups together. Usually this belief shapes the values. My specific issue is that belief in a supernatural entity results in a skewed and irrational heirarchy of values. In some cases, God is valued as more important than human lives (particularly those of non-members). I have not analysed the hierarchy of values of every religious group, but I find it disturbing that abstract ideas and principles deriving from supernatural entities and other questionable sources are sometimes given a higher moral standing than humans and human values. Together with the division between the ‘in-group’ and the ‘out-group’ this has caused a huge amount of death and destruction at the hands of religions over the course of history. And all for some values of dubious origin. However, even if no physical harm is done, I find these very foundations of religion (as a concept) deeply troubling.

the present age

“Whatever we may think or affect to think of the present age, we cannot get out of it, we must suffer with its sufferings and enjoy with its enjoyment, we must share in its lot, and to be either useful or at ease, we must even partake its character”

- JS Mill

Is it morally permissible to live within and benefit from a global system based on injustice when the alternatives seem fruitless?

the harm principle

When governments intervene in the private sphere of individuals in order to do ‘good’, we applaud their efforts; but if they interfere too much, we object. How much intervention is too much? Should governments be allowed to make decisions for individuals if they are unable to make good decision themselves? In many countries this is already the case in certain important issues such as education and healthcare. But when governments make laws affecting language, culture and religion, we often think they are crossing a line. Where exactly does this line lie?

Mill drew the line of individual freedom at physical harm. The government is only entitled to (and has a duty to) interfere in our affairs if we use our freedom to do physical harm. In other words, the government has the right to interfere with my freedom only if my behaviour physically harms another human. This argument was used to argue that the goverment has no right to limit the freedom of homosexuals, as they cause no physical harm. This line of thought can also be used to defend the individual’s right to autonomy over their own body.

Mill’s view is compelling, and leads to further consideration of more complex issues in the modern world. In a cosmopolitan global society, human harms that occur outwith national borders are just as morally significant as those that occur within national borders. There is no morally significant difference between physical harm caused to a human in France and that caused to a human in Germany.

We can use Mill’s harm principle to argue that when humans in one country behave in a way that causes physical harm to a human in another country, this calls for intervention. I don’t mean sovereignty-interfering intervention, but simply laws that limit the behaviour of those doing the harm. Why should companies be permitted to evade the health & safety and environmental laws in their own country by producing in one where such laws don’t exist? Such behaviour represents a blatant physical harm to humans. Consumers are simply outsourcing their harms to a place where they aren’t unlawful. Why should the action of the goverment change when the victims of harm reside in a different country?

 

knowledge kills

“Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion” (Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy)

This is a thought I find strangely compelling. It seems the deeper we delve into knowledge in the search of truth, the closer we come to the realization that the only knowledge we will ever have is of our own ignorance. What paralyses more than the realization that our actions are driven by false confidence?

.

to live honestly we must accept and make part of ourselves the simple fact that we do not and will never know very much

I am a vegetarian

no, actually I’m a pescetarian. I didn’t even know thats what I “was” until a few years ago when I was staying with a family in The Hague and their 10 year old son told me that because I eat sea food I’m a “pescetarian”. I have made many changes to my diet and lifestyle throughout my life, but it was only when I stopped eating meat that I started wearing this label. Now when I go to people’s houses for dinner, eat at restaurants or go to the supermarket I become this new person – “a vegetarian”. One who doesn’t eat meat. What I ask myself is: why do some of our lifestyle choices come with a label and why do vegetarians make some people so angry?

Every day we make hundreds of little decisions without even noticing. We choose to get up in the morning, we choose whitening toothpaste over ordinary; one brand of conditioner over another; we choose to wear clothes that we chose to buy, we choose which books to read, who to be friends with and who not. And we choose what to eat.

What we eat has always been an important, even essential part of human life. For those of you who are like me, making sure you have enough to eat is no longer a dominant aspect of our everyday lives. But what we do choose to eat remains very important to many of us. I love food. I love eating it, I love cooking it, I love watching other people cook it and most of all I love choosing what to eat. The internet is like an endless menu of delicious foods ready to be cooked and eaten. Some say I’m guilty of enjoying food porn (foodgawker.com). What I want to know is – why do some of our food choices put us into certain categories? “vegetarian”, “pescetarian”, “vegan”. Why is nobody called “cereal-over-toast”, “hater-of-eggs” or “I-choose-not-to-eat-fatty-foods”?

Calling yourself a vegtarian has many advantages. It is socially acceptable to let people know that you’re a vegetarian when you go to their house for dinner and bow out of eating the meat dishes. Rather than explaining that you refuse to eat a certain food stuff, the label “vegetarian” allows you to quickly and easily let people know what your eating habits are in a socially acceptable way. What I wonder is why not eating meat automatically gives you this label that carries a lot more baggage than simply indicating that you don’t consume animal flesh.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m technically a “pescetarian”. However, I can’t remember the last time I ate fish or sea food. I’m a student and my 3 flat mates and I have a 5 pound budget for each dinner for the four of us. This doesn’t usually stretch to let us buy fish. So because I haven’t in the recent past and won’t in the near future consume fish or seafood, does this mean I am now a “vegetarian”? Well no… you might say. Because there is something more to vegetarianism. What makes me a vegetarian, you might say, is not that I don’t eat meat, but that I won’t eat it.

We label people “vegetarians” because they refuse to eat meat. Some vegetarians refuse to eat meat on religious grounds, others refuse to eat meat because they think animals are cute, others refuse because they don’t want to be implicated in the factory-farming industry… the reasons people cough up when put on the spot about why they are vegetarians are endless.

But what I want to ask is why does not eating meat have to mean the same as refusing to eat meat, while not eating brussel sprouts for example, is just not eating brussel sprouts. I eat brussel sprouts once a year. At Christmas dinner. They taste quite nice, but aren’t something I feel the urge to eat or prepare during the rest of the year. I don’t refuse to eat brussel sprouts. But because I also ate turkey at Christmas dinner, during the last year I have eaten brussel sprouts exactly as often as I’ve eaten meat. So, as a pescetarian, why do I refuse to eat meat?

I don’t refuse to eat meat. I just don’t eat it. I think the reason ‘not eating meat’ has become synonymous with ‘refusing to eat meat’ is because meat has been such an important part of our food habits since humankind discovered fire. Historically, eating meat has been the status quo and when someone has chosen “no-meat” over “meat” it has been a much bigger deal than choosing “cabbage over brussel sprouts”.

What I mean when I say “I don’t refuse to eat meat, I just choose not to eat it” is that if someone pointed a gun to my head and said “eat this lamb shank” I would bloody well eat the lamb shank. And enjoy it too. I do have a reason for not eating meat, but I won’t go into that here. If someone were to offer me a meat dish that with regard to my special secret reason for not eating meat is equivalent to a veggie dish, I would eat it.

Here is an analogy: if I were to forego eating bananas because yellow fruit puts me off my appetite, then if someone were to give me a blue banana I would eat it. In the same way, I don’t unconditionally refuse to eat meat, there are just some specific reasons why when I’m in the supermarket I choose to buy some leeks and a butternut squash instead of a pound of ground beef. I don’t refuse to buy the beef.

I think this is the reason why vegetarianism inspires so much anger in people, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.

I just read an article called Why I Hate Vegetarians in the guardian. It was filled with anger. The anger was almost seeping out from between the words on the screen. It was so anger-filled that I could picture the author sitting at her desk typing furiously at that article.

While describing a meal at a vegetarian restaurant, the author said that “What was unpalatable were the customers and waiting staff, all of whom seemed to believe that what they were eating made them superior. They all looked smug and self-satisfied.”

I’m not sure if this is a valid empirical generalization of vegetarians or not, but I do think I might know the source of the problem.

Because not eating meat is a thing. Its a refusing-to-eat-meat thing. Its been made that by society and by people who label themselves and others “vegetarians”. In our society, being a vegetarian is more than just not eating meat. It means something. And a lot of people are offended by their interpretation of this meaning.

So. Why does being a vegetarian have to mean something?

Not eating meat means so many different things to different people. To some people it means not spending 80% of your food budget on 4 sausages, to others it means trying to decrease demand for meat and to others it just means “I don’t like the taste of meat”. If we were to shed all this extra meaning and just take eating meat and not eating meat at face value, it would be less of a big deal and cause a lot less anger and argument. And perhaps more people would feel like they could just eat what they want, when they want and not have to deal with the fall-out from taking on the identity of “vegetarian”.

thinking

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so

- Hamlet

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