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Less is More


There is a self-seeded clematis growing out of the tarmac by the front door of our house. It looks healthier and more robust than the other three clematis that I tend avidly all year, feeding them and mulching them and pruning them back according to their type. But this beauty by the door, I know nothing about. I don’t know where it came from nor what type it is, at least until it flowers, and it amazes me that it can grow in such seemingly inhospitable conditions.

At around the same time that I first noticed the clematis, I was reading in Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible about tomato cultivation – I wanted to know why the leaves had gone so yellow (fluctuating hot and cold temperatures in the greenhouse, I think). But something he wrote struck me: “Grow your tomatoes hard; don’t overfeed or overwater them.” The temptation is to pamper them with plenty of liquid seaweed, but all this does is make them produce too much leaf at the expense of fruit. No, the trick with tomatoes, and clematis it seems, is to treat them mean.

Whilst the clematis and the tomatoes were busy germinating, I suddenly decided that I was going to stop drinking alcohol – well, it wasn't a decision really, I just stopped – and then I decided to reduce my carbohydrate intake too, deducing that if I want to live a low-carbon lifestyle to help the planet, perhaps a low-carb diet would help me. Coincidentally, I began editing a book that had a fascinating section in it about the indigenous approach to 'dieting'. For them, dieting, or reducing your intake of other-than-human beings, is a preparation for a spiritual communion or a vision quest. It's not about what you look like on the outside, but about the changes that are taking place on the inside. It amazes me how skewed our western version of dieting has become.

I remember a conversation I had with a nutritionist many years ago, who said that if all we ate was brown rice and vegetables, and drank only water, then we’d be much healthier and live to a ripe old age, and that most of the disease we experience in developed countries is down to overindulgence. We overfeed ourselves with processed foods and drink too much, and our vital organs have to work overtime as a consequence.

Some of our elders are testament to this fact. My mum is a war baby, born in 1940 in a farming family. She clearly remembers being sent to the cowshed with her sisters to pick up any of the tiny peas they could find that had fallen out of the lucerne hay, so that my grandmother could make a version of pease pudding. They sometimes went hungry and never had second helpings or snacks. My mum and her five siblings are all still alive and healthy in their eighties, not one of them overweight, nor fussy about food.

It seems that less really is more. The less we indulge, the better we feel – and this is borne out in the plant and animal kingdoms. I mean, when did you last see an overweight blackbird? The lessons of the clematis and the tomatoes are that we don’t need as much as we think we do, that we can thrive happily with less of everything.



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Darling Lou, I have just discovered your blog site and really enjoyed your articles. But as your mother I feel I have to correct you about the pease pudding, it was pea haulm from Lincolnshire that my dad and two other farmers had brought down, because of the straw shortage, so it was dried peas that we picked up from the cowshed floor, not Lucerne seeds which would have been too small! Much love and blessings on your work mumxx

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Kathy Sotak
Kathy Sotak
02 jul. 2021

I love all of this, in fact I’ve been writing a bit about “Subtraction not Addition.” Now I can delete“watering my tomatoes” from my to-do list today. Thank you!!

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