Step One: Learn to cook vegetarian food…
So here I am sitting at the breakfast table, set with bread, butter, cheese, an egg – just the way we’re used to in a hotel – the cup of coffee, the orange juice, the granola mix. I’m thinking back to the previous evening and trying to put myself in the place of a meat eater told that as from the next day there would be no more meat for them, no more sausages. For ethical reasons, say, or because the climate is out of kilter. Everything is at stake, I’m told. If I was still the meat eater I used to be I’d get annoyed, bad-humoured, frustrated, and would probably call out the world and his wife on this goddam mess. The climate? What’s that got to do with me? I for one am living mindfully and choose … – ah, no matter. This is private after all. And one more thing: I wouldn’t allow anyone to tell me that there’ll be no more meat for me as from tomorrow. To be honest, I’d laugh at the person telling me that, would doubt their sanity. None of this is very credible I’d say. Where are we here exactly? Did I walk in halfway though some weird movie? How dare anyone tell me how to feed myself? We’re living in a democracy, aren’t we?
Cut. I think I’d better rewind this film and start from the beginning; I’m sure this is possible somehow. So this friend turns up and invites me to dinner. Sure, that could be a good start for the film. That gives it a little bit of suspense, and there’s a difference. We have the woman inviting the man. And why not? She is keeping the details secret, is not telling me where this trip she wants to take me on will lead us. Which is strange. She’s never done that before. I’m guessing she wants to surprise me. Taking me out for dinner. Am I not curious, she’s asking? Hm. Sure, I’m a little curious, and even starting to feel hungry, I must admit. So tomorrow evening we’ll go and have dinner where we’ve never been, and allow ourselves to be surprised by the artistry of the new chef. Thursday. OK. One more day of waiting before the start of our trip into a new world.
So I am being invited to a meal, which won’t cost me a single cent. All I have to do is get up, move my chair to a table and bring a little time. No money involved. That’s what she says. You wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth now, would you? Then I’m suddenly ambushed and asked questions: do you reckon it’s allowed to kill animals only because they taste good? Is it allowed to cause animals pain? Are pigs too intelligent for factory farming? The questions don’t stop. Do you ever feel pity for the animals ending up on your plate? They say that when you die, your whole life passes in front of you in that one second of your death, time-lapse style. What kind of story do you think an animal would be able to tell you in the minute it takes to be slaughtered, shot during a hunt, scared to death while being transported to the slaughterhouse, or assailed by a dark premonition before going to sleep in the bunkhouse from hell, once it’s gone quiet amongst 30,000 chickens?
It’s Thursday now. In my mind’s eye I start visualising a vegetable soup as a starter. This is not what happens though. Instead, I find myself feasting on a sparkling cornucopia of the salads and vegetables grown in the restaurant’s own garden. Rucola and curly endive as well as salads in all colours of the rainbow, all the way to red and yellow nasturtium flowers, beetroot, carrots, peas, an avocado tree, onions – red and white – strawberries and beans too. The chickens are running free, the goats and sheep are accompanied every day by the shepherd on their grazing stroll. The story the chef tells us sounds like a fairytale. Marek Horvath tells us about mashed sweet potatoes and Kebab with mushrooms and tofu, and about the food from their own garden, cultivated in a climate-neutral way, with a certified provenance and no need for transport, and so forth. Does he really believe everything he’s telling us? Come along, see for yourself says Lesley Martin, the permanculture teacher. We step into the garden. Banana trees, apricots, peaches and plenty more. Fruit and veg the whole year round. Are all these stories I’m swallowing here true? For pudding, I’m given the choice between a red berry and banana sorbet. The dishes vary with the seasons. I’d like to find out more and gratefully accept the invitation to join one of their workshops. I will learn vegetarian cooking, in those moments when they open up their kitchen and garden to selected guests. Transparency is the first significant step towards authenticity and a healthy life.
Sometimes things are working away inside us, aren’t they, and after thinking long and hard we come to a well-considered decision. Sometimes an insight wells up from deep inside us, an idea long hidden that never managed to push up to the surface until that moment. I haven’t been eating dead animals for three years now. These days when I look into the mirror in the morning I can see myself more clearly again. You never stop learning if you keep your mind alert up into old age. Then, and only then will you find yourself.
Quinta Vale da Lama in Odiáxere near Lagos (incl. restaurant, only open until end of September 2021, then closed for renovations until late 2022) lunch between 12am and 2,30pm, dinner between 6pm and 9,30pm, reservation 913 485 568
Read about Step Two next week. Living a climate-neutral life in ten steps. Available always on a Saturday from eight in the morning at www.eco123.info, or as a print publication twice a year from your newsstand. Our next edition is out on 21 June, the start of summer.