The Fellowship of Life
From The Vegetarian of May 1975 with thanks to the Vegetarian Society:
A powerful validation of vegetarianism appears this month, Food for a Future, a book which stresses the ecological priority of a humane diet. It is an important contribution by one of the most aware and concerned writers of our time, Jon Wynne-Tyson.
Sometimes it must seem like living between bookends. Jon Wynne-Tyson attracts books as a magnet clusters iron filings. He not only writes books, he publishes them, even collects the rare and interesting. His Sussex home, once an eighteenth century woodman's cottage, has spread comfortably and environmentally over the years, but never grown quite fast enough to accommodate that inflow of paperbacks and hard covers. At one time things were getting somewhat out of hand - shelves crammed to the ceilings, folios on the floor, coffee table books in danger of becoming coffee tables. But now Jon has opened up a big loft over one wing of the house, and the situation, for the moment, is contained. "The living part of the house is less booky than it was," he says. "We keep the books down so that the gentry of West Sussex won't get too alarmed when they call on us, and see all these apparent symbols of culture. Some people seem to be virtually paralysed when they come into a house full of books." (It's all right having a colour telly, but colour book-jackets are something else!).
It could be said that his skills of authorship, dialectics, styling, are inherited - his mother, Esme Wynne-Tyson, actress, writer, philosopher and committed vegetarian, was one of the most remarkable women of her generation. She was the original Rosamund in Where the Rainbow Ends in 1911, and that same year, at the age of 13, she enjoyed a precocious success when Charles Hawtrey produced her play, The Prince's Bride, at the Savoy Theatre. By then she had met the young Noel Coward, and her early accomplishments stung him into creative activity. "It made Noel so jealous," says Jon, "that he determined to write too, and that's how they started to collaborate."
Together, they wrote a number of plays which were produced, and Noel wrote for her the part of Faith in his play I'll leave it to you (which was her last stage appearance in 1920). After that, she turned to fiction, producing a string of novels for Collins, and later a number for Hutchinson in collaboration with J.D. Beresford. Following his death, she turned to writing books on comparative religion and philosophy, and for ten years edited World Forum. She is remembered best for her philosophical articles and books, twice winning the Millennium Guild Award in America (the last in 1967 for her Philosophy of Compassion). Perhaps a parallel progression can be seen in Jon Wynne-Tyson's own career.
Born in Hampshire in 1924, his formative years - in the best literary traditions - were singularly unforming. "My formal education at various deeply detested private schools was mercifully brought to an end in 1950 after I had served only a one year sentence at my public school." An institution which he says "succeeded in consolidating my loathing of violence and the militaristic mentality."
He entered the bookselling and publishing world, and after living by writing and journalism for many years founded his own publishing company, Centaur Press, in 1954. He is the author of three novels (two of them satirical, under the pen-name of Jeremy Pitt), and a send-up of a typical Francoise Sagan story. All were well received, but without doubt he made his biggest impact with his book, The Civilised Alternative, which appeared in 1972 under his own imprint. Subtitled "a pattern for protest" it was a precipitation of the disquiet he felt about the mis-directed energies and violence of an acquisitive society. It was widely praised by such diverse individuals as C.P. Snow and Yehudi Menhuin, and by the press...
"A trenchant and most heartening book, written by a man with a mind of his own who expresses both his anger and his hope with cogency and eloquence," wrote Philip Toynbee in The Observer. "...full of luminous good sense. A valuable book..." enthused Maurice Wiggin in The Sunday Times. While the Times Literary Supplement dubbed it "...a controlled passion. Admirable." And the Manchester Evening News joined in with: "His plea for a wider eclecticism is vigorous and attractive." But how does one pigeonhole an eclectic, a person of wide-ranging interests and talents. One gropes for symbols, and in the case of Jon Wynne-Tyson there is one - literally - made to measure. It is a porcelain figurine, a gift from his wife, Jennifer, on his fiftieth birthday.
A specially commissioned work in the Capodimonte style of ceramic artist Alan Dainchbury, it shows the figure of a man with an open book bearing the image of a boat, and by his side a bowl of fruit and vegetables. The book, the boat, the bowl. The significance of the book is evident, but the boat comes of something of a surprise - Jon spends whatever leisure time he has yacht racing, tousling along the choppy tidals of the Solent in a 21ft. timber-built keel boat, sails snapping in a force six wind. At the last Cowes Regatta, among 70 entrants, Jon "got a gun" - the brass cannon of the Royal Yacht Club acknowledging his boat among the first three to pass the finishing buoy, a result which chuffed him no end. His boat is called "Pepper", a not inappropriate name when the owner is a vegetarian. Green peppers in fact, along with melons, cucumbers and tomatoes, are some of the things that he has been growing in the greenhouse which he put up a couple of years ago. "I'm an enthusiastic amateur gardener but I don't have much time for it myself. I wish I did."
High flintstone walls cosset a ritually composted acre of ground. Jon's rather proud of the nut-trees he's grown espalier fashion - they got about 60lbs of cobnuts from half-a-dozen bushes the third year after they had been planted. The garden means that they are pretty well self sufficient when it comes to food. "We had a go at soya last year, but as with nearly everybody else it was a dead failure in this country. We got a few beans, but they weren't much cop." But with green stuff generally they do well. "We deep freeze everything we get - we thought it best for the children." The children are both life vegetarians - Susie, 17 and Tilly, 24, a teacher. The family is completed by two associate members - a highly sociable Jack Russell terrier, Smudge, and a honey coloured cat called Honey - both "almost" vegetarians. Vegetarianism (a word which Jon is not wild about) has been the leitmotif in much of his work, is even touched on in his fiction. But now he majors on it in one of the most important books on the subject to emerge in recent years. The title is Food for a Future but it has nothing to do with recipes for novel proteins - its horizons are not bounded by stomach walls - it's only alimentary in the sense that it nourishes our purpose, our beliefs, our way of life. He sketches in the literary and historical aspects of our movement, quotes richly from many of the magnificent personalities it has produced. This is a complete rationale of the humane diet - the economic and ecological necessity, the aesthetical, ethical, anatomical and pathological aspects. He backs it up with analyses of values (both food and philosophy).
Were we ever to forget what a powerful case we have, here is a definitive reminder. And we can draw strength from his moral persuasion: "Ecologically speaking, man is dispensable. The biosphere is in no way dependent on man, and would, in fact, be better off without him. If we wish to continue to experience existence we must be prepared to adapt to the true facts of life. If we do not do so, choosing instead to cling to our avaricious life style, we shall have succeeded in defeating whatever evolutionary purpose lies behind our existence, leaving it to other species to make what they can of the environment we so wantonly and unnecessarily abuse."
The book, the boat, the bowl...but there are some intangibles for which there are no symbols - the creativity, commitment, caring which inspire the man and his medium.
NB. Jon Wynne-Tyson reprinted several long out of print classics of humane literature, as Centaur Press titles during the 1980's and 90's. His compilation of humanitarian insights: The Extended Circle - an Anthology of Humane Thought remains a comprehensive source of reference and inspiration.
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