May you live through interesting times

There’s a Chinese curse, may you live through interesting times. On a personal level, the Christchurch earthquakes make this pandemic seem like a walk in the park because that was a much tougher period of time for us. Nevertheless, both events brought strange changes and have made me think of the Chinese curse. But there were also good things. The earthquakes got me started in WordPress which got me the job at Automattic which led to my current role with Award Force. It also brought us to Scotland and that has been one of the best decisions we made.

The pandemic has opened up a new world of online schooling for the kids. Their observations so far have been very positive. Elizabeth says that she likes not having to sit on a hard cold wooden floor for assembly and she can have a hot drink on her desk during class. Daniel remarked that there are no naughty kids in his class derailing the lessons. I think Daniel’s regular school has been having problems with disruptive students. There are physical fights in the playground most weeks and Daniel spends lunchtimes in the library or computer room. One advantage of virtual classrooms is they come with a mute button.

In hindsight, it’s surprising that we haven’t had a pandemic on Earth for such a long time. I can remember when SARS was in the news early this century and being amazed that it didn’t spread further around the world. Similarly, when Ebola came to Scotland in 2014 I was relieved but also surprised that it was completely contained. I guess it was always just a matter of time before one of these pathogens would escape our best efforts and that time has come. More frightening for our future is the prospect of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance will mean an end to routine operations. Imagine that world? And yet, we don’t seem to be doing anything to prepare for it or avert it. Most people don’t know this but globally, over 70% of the antibiotics we produce are fed to livestock. Moving to a plant-based diet is the single most important thing we can do to prevent pandemics, to prevent antibiotic resistance, to prevent climate change.

It’s easy to criticise the Chinese for their wet markets but we have factory farms. Over 50 billion chickens are raised and slaughtered every year to feed humans. This doesn’t include male chicks in the egg-laying industry. Biologist and author of Big Farms Make Big Flu says the factory farm production line with its high-density packing of animals with nearly identical genomesfacilitate greater transmission [of pathogens] and recurrent infection“. I hope this pandemic will provide the necessary impetus to help us overcome the inertia and move swiftly to a predominantly plant-based diet.

If you’re in Aberdeen and want to eat more plants then I recommend Foodstory Café. They are a wonderful local business making delicious vegan food but they’ve been hard-hit by this crisis. Their turnover has plummeted and they don’t qualify for any government assistance. To stay afloat, they’ve been working around the clock to move from a physical café and grocery store to an entirely online model. We need to support businesses like this as much as possible during this time so they’re still around when we come out on the other side.


Keep well, stay safe, and eat plants.

11 thoughts on “May you live through interesting times”

  1. Daniel, my grandson agrees heartily with you! He says he enjoys learning at home because “the bad kids” don’t disrupt his work. He was complaining earlier of having to team up with a boy who was more interested in teasing him than working on their project. Now, Grandson does all of his work within a couple of hours, then spend the rest of the day building Lego cities and helping his mom clean up the garden. I wonder though if the parents of the disruptive students are just now realizing what sort of behavior the teacher and their classmates have to put up with all day long.

    1. Yes, we forget that disruptive students aren’t just challenging for teachers, they’re also challenging for the students who do want to learn. Is your grandson’s school delivering lessons online while schools are closed? Getting work out of the way to focus on lego sounds like a good routine to me.

      1. Yes, Grandson’s school has been teaching online for about a month now. They receive assignments and download worksheets to do at home. (I don’t know what the students who don’t have printers and computers at home do to complete their work.) They also start the day with a “check-in,” where the teacher asks them a question, and each of them answers in turn. These are first graders, by the way, all six and seven-year-olds.

        My daughter/his mom told me the teacher asked, one morning, ‘What are you grateful for today?’ The other students responded with nice answers—“I am grateful for all the doctors and nurses taking care of sick people;” “…for the people who work at our grocery store and bring us food.” Grandson said, “I am grateful for vegetables and fruit because they give me fiber! Fiber is very important! YAY FIBER!”

        (I should add, his mother is very health-conscious and feeds the children an organic, mostly plant-based diet. However, I laughed so hard at his answer I think my next door neighbor thought I was having a heart attack. 🙂 )

        US schools try to teach students how to work in groups or teams, arguing that many professions and jobs are now organized that way. While I agree cooperation is a good trait to learn, I feel it can be a hindrance to independent learners who are self-motivated and curious. My grandson does math problems in his spare time and is a grade above his classmates’ in terms of ability: but he is so frustrated at having to deal with disruptive behavior and the slow pace of the classroom, I’m afraid his parents will have to find a private program that’s a bit more advanced. That, or homeschool him, which my daughter is not eager to do. She says it’s already become a chore for everyone, and she never gets any time to herself now.

      2. That is amazing! It’s hard to do online school for 6 and 7 year olds. It sounds like the whole rest of the world is managing to do it except for Scotland. I’m impressed your grandson responded with the comment about fiber. That is so cute. He sounds gifted which much be challenging for your daughter. I hope they can figure something out that works for all of them. Maybe online school would work for him when he gets older?

      3. Grandson is already in the school’s gifted program, though it sounds like it really doesn’t challenge him enough, especially in math. His parents enrolled him in a supplemental math program where he’s been learning algebra. (My genes definitely did not play a role in this development.) It’s all done online now, which is good in some respects—no more driving into Manhattan on the weekends—but bad in others. My daughter complains Grandson spends too much time in front of a screen, not only doing schoolwork but playing Minecraft and chatting with his friends. She has to drag him outside and force him to help her with the gardening for a minimum of 30 minutes—yes, she sets a timer so he doesn’t weasel back into the house. She feels the quarantine has affected the children’s behavior: they spend more time watching TV and playing on the iPad, and they’re much less social than they used to be. For her sake and theirs, I hope the virus finally recedes and they can leave the house again.

  2. I like your perspective, Rachel.

    Your blog posts have definitely inspired me to reduce the chicken I eat and eat more plants instead. I think I am at a stage where I am buying free-range although it is expensive, but hopefully, as I age, I will become a vegetarian, but as of now, the ratio is tilting towards plants. It helps that my wife is a vegetarian since her teenage.

  3. Sorry to hear about Daniel having problems with disruptive students. I get the impression that students in NZ and Australia are better behaved than those in the UK, is that right. (A physical fight taking place most weeks sounds a lot though, even for UK standards.)

    1. Yes, the fighting in the playground seems very worrying to me. That just never happened when I was at school. I doubt that students in Australia and NZ are better behaved. There are bad students everywhere and probably some years are worse than others.

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