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Today my grandmother died. She was a remarkable woman and I loved her very much.IMG_6766

She had lived through the Second World War, married a farmer and raised seven kids. She’d always been what we would nowadays – in a part of the world blessed (and cursed) with seemingly endless abundance – call “poor”; yet, in a non-materialistic way, she was one of the richest persons I know as she always seemed content and grateful for what she had. Her attitude towards life was one of happiness, and I feel there is a big lesson for me to be learned.

Having been based in a tiny village in Bavaria for the best part of her life she was part of a close-knit community with strongly conservative, catholic values which often wouldn’t foster an openness of mind and heart. Yet she was admirably impartial and used to form her own opinions rather than going with the mainstream and the gossip.

My grandmother was a great traveller, too, though to my knowledge she never went abroad. During the past few years of her live after my grandfather had died and my uncle taken over the farm, she would all of a sudden just pack her little leather suitcase, jump on a train (as much as her hip would still allow her to actually do that) and go on a lengthy journey around Bavaria to visit her seven kids one after the other. After a live filled with responsibilities for others she seemed to enourmosly enjoy the freedom to venture off whenever it pleased her. My aunties just shrugged their shoulders and bought her a mobile phone so that at least she could be tracked down during her somewhat random trips. I’m not sure though how fond she was of the phone. I remember her calling me one day, yelling into my ear: “Katharina? Katharina? I just wanted to test if this works at all. What a crazy thing!” – and then she hung up. It might well have been the only time she’d ever used it.

I still have a very dear letter from her that I like taking with me wherever I go. She sent it me when I spent a summer in Frankfurt working on a temporary contract and not really knowing what the future would bring. In that letter she told me how proud she was that I lived my life my way and that I shouldn’t ever change. In times of low morale when I wonder if I’ve taken the wrong path somewhere I read the letter and it makes me feel good with myself.

For this and so much more my grandmother was loved dearly, and she’ll be missed for a long time after she’s gone.

I was genuinely surprised to read an article so much in favour of GM and “food engineering” in the Observer Magazine as “The future of food” in last weekend’s issue. Author Alex Renton quotes scientists Koert van Mensvoort (assistant professor at Eindhoven’s University of Technology), Louise Fresco (former head of food-innovation research and an advisor to the UN) and Tim Lang (Professor of Food Policy at London’s City University), and reasons that “when the future food arrives, most of us won’t have any choice about what we eat”.

What follows is a most depressing scenario: in 2035, Alex imagines, “the rice we buy is from reconstituted potato or barley”; “we eat vegetarian fish, grown in solar-heated, aquafarm sheds – developed from tropical varieties such as tilapia and catfish, and modified with lemon, tomato or herb genes to cover their basic muddy flavour”; and “our city street has its own small herd of GM cows”.

Is all this really necessary?

Yes, at least according to the ones who have a strong interest in widening research and investment in nano-technology, such as relevant research institutes and corporations who see a promising future market. Scientists who speak out against this are labelled as “another symptom of our ignorant and unsustainable nostalgia about food”, because, according to what the author calls “serious scientists”, traditional farming alone will not work.

Seems there are different views on this. An article in the summer 2012 issue of UK magazine The Land, an independent publication on land rights, states that at least Britain can farm itself. It is also questionable if food shortage and famine in the poorest countries of the world are actually down to the fact that there is not enough food; or to the mechanisms of a globalised economy that makes developing countries produce foodstuffs for the world market rather than their own people, where they then have to compete with subsidised products from the rich world.

Are we all Guinea pigs now?

One argument that from my point of view speaks strongly against a liberalisation for GM and otherwise engineered food products is that the long-term consequences are yet unknown. As The Land put it in its summer 2012 issue: “even if you do think there may be some value in GM technologies, there is still an overwhelming argument for keeping parts of the world free from GM [crops] as a control group.”

And the morale of this?

According to the Observer article, Cor van der Weele (Professor of Humanistic Philosophy at Wageningen University) is convinced that ethical concerns will ultimately drive public acceptance of the new food technology: “People will see the moral benefits of cultured meats. Taking stem cells from a pig rather than killing millions of pigs in factories is already a more attractive idea to consumers.”

It is a strong argument, however, I believe that the perspective is wrong. This standpoint assumes that the world has to be adapted to the ever-changing needs of mankind in a future world of 9 billion people because we “cannot go on eating food, especially meat, produced in the traditional way”. But this is true only if we continue expecting Iceland, Lidl and the like to constantly provide us with half-priced food products and if we keep eating meat at the pace and rate we do. Maybe it would be a better idea if, for a change, we adapted to the environment we flourished in and changed our consumption habits accordingly.

We will be what we eat

I believe that the further we move away from the traditional way of feeding ourselves the more we loose our already weak connection with nature. But at the end of the day it is our environment and its very special conditions that allowed us to thrive in the first place – “food” wasn’t just there because we needed it; on the contrary, mankind only developed because there were edibles that our bodies could metabolise. The food that we have been eating over centuries constitutes an enormous part of what we are today. If we start manipulating our nourishment it will ultimately have an impact on ourselves – on a biological, psychological and spiritual level as well. Personally, I would prefer not to live in a world of mutants come 2035.

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Read a well-balanced article by Peter Melchett, Policy Director at the Soil Association, on pro-GM lobby’s seven deadly sins against science here.

This lovely little sign of appreciation has been awarded to me a while ago, in March 2012, by superb artist and blogger Sarah Treanor. I first got in contact with her through her amazing blog 12 Months of Creativity, which made me take my own creative itch more seriously and is always good to read. Also check out her more personal site Our 1000 Days, a deeply honest account of love and grief that really touches me. Thanks so much for nominating me, Sarah. Keep it up!

According to the VBA Rules here is my list of 15 blogs that I find great:

  1. I love light, I love air by Munich-based cinematographer Sanne Kurz. She writes about her travels, her work and her personal life that is shaped by her profession. Sanne is a proper artist and her views on the world are more than well worth reading.
  2. Components is a project on creative minds and the use of social media by photographer Simone Naumann. The blog is a great for learning about fellow artists, their visions, mindsets and dreams.
  3. A Chinese Experience is Vanessa Priestley’s lively and very well written account of her time as a VSO volunteer in Xi’an, China, and her travels in Asia.
  4. 12 Books in 12 Months by Edinburgh-based “journalist, writer and sometime comicker” Ali about her own write challenge.
  5. Be Inspired Through Travel by Brooklyn-based travel blogger Marina Chetner. Great photographs that instill the wanderlust.
  6. Freelance writer Ben Allen‘s travel blog is another great read with fantastic photographs. He is currently travelling in the Middle East after having completed a hitchhiking tour through Mexico.
  7. eMORFES is one of my all-time favourites, a great collection of funny, bizarre and surprising artistic projects from all over the world.
  8. Where’s my T-back and Other Stories is Eva’s blog on encounters with Alzheimer’s Disease. But not only.
  9. Blue Door Hotel‘s blog about Morocco with fantastic pictures and great writing about an amazingly beautiful part of the world.
  10. Travel Enthusiast Brian Healy’s Travel Diaries.
  11. The In-Between by Katie O. which she started as “an outlet for her frustrations of adjusting to life in the Southwest”. Keep it up, crazy girl!
  12. Steve McDonald’s Backpackology is the laugh-out-loud story of a disillusioned arts graduate who packed his backpack and left for Asia. Always a great read an featured on “Freshly Pressed” and “Top 10 Editor’s Pick”. If this was a book, I would buy it!
  13. Crazy Train to Tinky Town, a blog about the adventures of a single woman living in Turkey.
  14. Beyond the Brush, Lynne Ayer’s blog “from the right side of her brain”.
  15. Green Field Notes is Rebecca Huntley’s blog about WWOOFing her way around the world. This is an amazing way of travelling and something that I’ve contemplated doing myself, and I love reading about her experiences.

7 Things about myself:

  1. The reason why it took me so long to add the VBA icon to my blog and write this post is self-doubt: Am I really a blogger? Am I really versatile?
  2. I grew up in a tiny village in the Bavarian Alps with more cows than people.
  3. However, I’m afraid of skiing.
  4. I met my partner in Istanbul when he was on a bike trip from England to India, and we didn’t see each other for 7 months after that but still kept in touch. I like this because it’s truly romantic.
  5. I’m in favour of Occupy but I would never have participated because I don’t like camping.
  6. I live in a big city but dream of a house in the country.
  7. I’ve only just started finding out what I’m capable of doing.

London Blues

IMG_8310Some mornings in London I wake up and don’t want to get out of bed. I hear the rain against the window and the tip of my nose is cold. When I pull back the curtains a grey and watery world awaits me, and I still haven’t got an umbrella.

Some days the Britishness of things makes me wonder why I’m here: poor heating and rubbish windows; left-hand traffic and murderous taxi drivers; 2-for-1 deals and plastic bags; cups of tea and stiff upper lip. Some days I simply can’t relate to it, miss Munich dearly and want sausages and sauerkraut for lunch.

Sometimes London can be a real bitch: a taxi driver nearly runs you over, the bus doesn’t stop, the Tube is crammed, somebody sneezes in your face; it rains and rains and rains and you still haven’t got an umbrella; your boss is a smartass, your colleagues are nerds and your clients are bankers; you pay a fortune to live in a shoebox and the kid next door is a screeching little monster; you are surrounded by 12 million people and still feel like you don’t have a single friend.

Living in London can be shit at times.

And then one evening as you walk home through the cold, your nose is dripping and your feet are wet, you go around a corner and, all of a sudden, there it is: splendid London, shiny and bright, grand, beautiful and charming.

And you know you’re lucky, and you’re glad you’re here.

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I used to love planes! I was absolutely fascinated by these monstrous machines taking off into the clouds thanks to human engineering genius. When the Airbus A380 was being built I collected newspaper articles about the construction and stuck a photograph of the plane on my fridge.

I also used to love hanging out at airports. When friends went on holiday I offered to meet up for a drink at the terminal and wave them goodbye because it meant a chance to soak in the shiny and cosmopolitan jet-setting atmosphere and watch the planes take off.

I used to love air travel since I had first boarded a plane to Buenos Aires. I was 20 years old and the trip was the most daring thing I’d ever done in my life. Flying was still something less  of the ordinary and I felt extremely privileged.

Ten years later the novelty has worn off. Year after year I’ve spent more time at airports. Planes have taken me to exotic places, to job interviews and business meetings, to my partner or home for Christmas. What used to be a luxury has become a need.

And I am not alone. Most people nowadays wouldn’t even think about taking the train when planning their holidays. Thanks to budget airlines a lot more of us can now afford to travel across Europe to go to a birthday party in Munich or see a friend in Istanbul. This is great. Except that the consequences are horrendous.

There is no way around the fact that flights are bad news for the environment. First of all, planes are worse than most other forms of transport in terms of the impact of greenhouse gases per passenger mile. Flying also allows us to travel a far greater number of miles than we otherwise could. These two factors combined are the reasons why individual trips by air can have a remarkably large carbon footprint.

A friend of mine recently wrote in an email that she felt guilty for traveling by plane to Mallorca to see her parents. In Frankfurt I spoke to a man who was very conscious of the impact he as an individual made on the environment. He would never board a plane, no matter what. I found this attitude very inspiring.

My personal carbon footprint is something of an ecological nightmare: 14 flights from January to December 2012 alone! I live abroad, fair enough, and my family and many of my friends are based in Germany. But somehow that seems a bit of a weak excuse when thinking about the long term impact of my individual choices.

According to WWF UK, a passenger on a flight to Paris is responsible for ten times more CO2 emissions than a person using the Eurostar. I actually wanted to go back home by train this year for Christmas. But then I got confused by the Eurostar’s online booking system and opted for easyjet instead. (Again, very weak excuse!)

Living in London has made me a bit more aware of the extent of air travel that is taking place across Europe. It is only during the night that no planes can be seen in the sky. Apart from that I hear them all the time starting from or flying to one of the city’s five airports. When I went to Heathrow for the first time I was genuinely shocked because of its enormous dimensions and the amount of people traveling to and from there every day. Where are they all going, and why?

Finally, I’ve decided to reduce my ecological footprint and will try not to fly in 2013. This will be difficult when visiting back home but it’s not impossible. And for going on holidays it’s actually quite good that I live in another country: there are lots of beautiful places in the UK that I haven’t seen yet.

http://12monthscreativity.wordpress.com/category/monthly-blog-challenge/

The writer Henry Miller and the economist E.F. Schumacher might seem an unlikely couple, but they both called for a more humane and sustainable way of life as early as the 1950s and 1970s respectively. Before the background of climate change, urbanisation, rising poverty and financial crises their thoughts on how to live a good and happy life are as relevant nowadays as they used to be at the time of their writing.

Henry Miller’s “The Colossus of Maroussi” and Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful – A Study of Economics as if People Mattered” are both extremely critical of the consumerist doctrine and the pursue of profit at all cost. I read the two books at the same time and they made me feel reconfirmed that happiness cannot be reached solely through the accumulation of material wealth and the consumption of goods. Apart from the few things we really need, such as food, clothes and shelter, it is positive experiences that make us truly content.

Henry Miller

Miller’s “The Colossus of Maroussi” is a great account of such an experience. Shortly before the outbreak of the second world war he spent five happy months in Greece and was overwhelmed by the graze, honesty and beauty of the country and its people. Henry Miller despises his own fellow countrymen, the Americans, and all the other predominantly Western cultures that follow suit in worshiping consumerism and capitalism, and the Greek seem like the perfect spiritual antidote for him.

The Greeks gave body to everything, thereby incarnating the spirit and eternalising it. In Greece one is ever filled with the sense of eternality which is expressed in the here and now; the moment one returns to the Western world, whether in Europe or America, this feeling of body, of eternality, of incarnated spirit is shattered. We move in clocktime amidst the debris of vanished worlds, inventing the instruments of our own destruction, oblivious of fate or destiny, knowing never a moment of peace, possessing not an ounce of faith, a prey to the blackest superstitions, functioning neither in the body nor in the spirit, active not as individuals but as microbes in the organism of the diseased.

Henry Miller’s journey to Greece was a life changing experience. He returns to America and, after having lived most of his life in cities, finds shelter in an abandoned convict’s cabin, without heating system, without running water, without close neighbours, in wild isolation.

To live creatively, I have discovered, means to live more and more unselfishly, to live more and more into the world, identifying oneself with it and thus influencing it at the core, so to speak.

The intellectual, scientifically grounded counterpart to this is E.F. Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful – A Study of Economics as if People Mattered”. Born in Germany, Shumacher studied economics at Oxford University. He went into business, farming and journalism, was Economic Advisor to the National Coal Board and served as President of the Soil Association, Britain’s largest organic farming organisation. His reappraisal of Western economic attitudes was published in 1973 and has lost none of its social, ecological and economic relevance.

E.F. Schumacher

Schumacher’s argument is that a system based on the unlimited exploitation of its natural capital (i.e. fossil fuels and other natural resources, including human workforce) for the single purpose of creating profit is not only doomed because of the ignorance of its material limitations, but also the neglect of human nature and values. This refers to degrading and exploitative working conditions, mass production that is harmful to the environment, unethical marketing methods as well as the systematical cultivation of greed and envy.

I suggest that the foundations of peace cannot be laid by universal prosperity, in the modern sense, because such prosperity, if attainable at all, is attainable only by cultivating such drives of human nature as greed and envy, which destroy intelligence, happiness, serenity, and thereby the peacefulness of man. [...] The hope that the pursue of goodness and virtue can be postponed until we have attained universal prosperity and that by the single-minded pursuit of wealth, without bothering our heads about spiritual and moral questions, we could establish peace on earth, is an unrealistic, unscientific and irrational hope.

I particularly liked his demonstration in Chapter 4, “Buddhist Economics”, how the Western economical model becomes extremely absurd when viewed from another perspective, insofar as it entails enormously inefficient efforts being made and resources being used up for the purpose of unnecessary consumption. In the end Schumacher presents his vision of a sustainable and healthy economy based on communal ownership of small production units (not to be mixed up with actual “communes”), and claims that, in order to change the current situation, everybody should “work to put our own inner house in order”, to rethink our values and find a more peaceful and sustainable way of life.

Travel Theme: Mystical

Mount Suilven, Scotland

http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/11/16/travel-theme-mystical/

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