Monday 13 February 2012

Interview with a Meat-Eater

Many times during this blog (and specifically in the last post) I have championed the importance of civilised dialogue and argued that we must overcome assumptions and defensiveness if we’re ever to make progress in our conversations with others about veganism. And yet, despite wanting this open discussion, I never question my friends about their attitudes towards meat-eating. This is partly because my close friends are extremely supportive of my veganism, I’m grateful for this and don’t want to rock the boat, and partly because I’m scared – scared of sounding confrontational, preachy, or like I’m judging them in some way (which is the last thing I’d ever want to do – I love my friends to bits, they’re incredible people!).

And yet, surely, if anyone is going to give me the time for a proper discussion about this, with all stereotypes out of the window (as we already know, like, and respect one another), it should be my friends. But it takes someone pretty special to sit and be challenged about their meat-eating.  I have a friend who always listens to my rants about conversations I’ve had with meat-eaters and never takes it personally – she can separate my frustration with the meat industry from my friendship and view of her, and more often than not she gets just as angry as me at the nonsensical arguments people present to defend their diet.

With all this in mind, asking her for a more personal conversation about this subject felt like a risky move, as I might lose my neutrality with her on this issue and consequently lose a most precious sounding board forever!

However, a video was released yesterday that made me put these reservations aside and realise that this issue is so big and urgent that I need to stop being hung up on conserving the image of the friendly vegan and just tackle this problem head on. The video features undercover footage taken from a British, Red Tractor ‘Quality Assured’ farm in Norfolk (though Compassion in World Farming have recently spoken out about the deceptiveness of the Red Tractor logo). The footage was some of the most shocking I have ever seen. That this is going on in an ‘animal loving nation’ is staggering, but the most sobering fact is that our animal welfare standards are among the highest in the world. We’re supposed to be leading the way for Europe.

The footage contains graphic images and is extremely upsetting, but this is why it is so important that it is seen. As one commentator wrote, ‘If it’s good enough for your stomach, it’s good enough for your eyes as far as I’m concerned,’ and I echo that sentiment. Anyone who buys pork has a moral obligation to see the brutality their money is funding. If you can’t watch this, how can you eat this?

When I see these images, I feel appalled, devastated, and heartbroken. And I am also astounded. Astounded that anyone I know can watch this video and not consider switching to a vegetarian diet. As I’ve said before, this isn’t a situation complicated by politics, governments, war, or drought – this is a simple exchange of money for meat. If we stop funding this cruelty, it will stop happening. The scale is just incomprehensible. 60 billion animals slaughtered every year for food. Every single year. And we are paying for it.

So, what's a vegan to do?  I realised that I needed to understand the thoughts of someone I love and respect who eats meat. I wanted to know what is stopping them from becoming vegetarian. Why does this video have a different effect on me than it does on them?

My friend is by far one of the most intelligent people I know, someone who I respect and admire, and I wanted to understand her reasons for supporting the meat industry with her hard-earned cash (okay, not too hard earned – we’re both PhD students, after all!). And, above all, I wanted her to be able to be honest and extensive in her answers. (Something that just can’t be achieved over a dinner table in a wine-fuelled heated debate…)

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried at all about asking her to give me hand with this. She gave me a hug and said she’d be happy to help, confidently asserting that ‘You shouldn’t hold views that you’re not prepared to defend.’

Finally. Some actual dialogue where both sides want to hear what the other has to say.

This interview is an attempt to grapple with the barriers that divide veggies and meaties, and investigate the issues we’re trying to overcome when we engage in a dialogue about animal rights and vegan living.

I showed my friend the video above and asked her some questions. I was genuinely interested to hear what she had to say, and I hope you are too.

Here are her honest and open answers…

Could we have some background on you?

I'm 25, and I've eaten meat all my life. That felt pretty weird to write, actually. Especially considering the number of times I've asked my veggie friends "how long have you been a vegetarian?".

When Hayles asked me to contribute to the blog, I was delighted. This is an issue that has been on my mind a lot over the past couple of years – for several reasons. However, I was also slightly dubious – am I here as the big bad wolf (carnivore)? Hopefully, what this post will be is a chance for me to reflect upon my own decisions, choices and lifestyle (something which is always healthy to do) and perhaps temper the "us vs. them" trajectory of most debates between vegetarians and meat-munchers.

Some background about my meat consumption: We try and buy our meat from a local and award-winning butcher, and I've chatted to him in the past about how he visits the farms that supply him – and would never get meat from a farm that he hasn't visited. I always feel much more comfortable with this type of supply chain than buying supermarket meat. When we do buy meat from the supermarket, we buy products marked free-range, freedom food and/or outdoor reared.

What is your initial response to the video?

The video is horrific. I did think about prefixing that sentence with "obviously it goes without saying", but I didn't, because, actually, that is what needs saying. And vegetarians and meat-eaters alike need to be standing up and saying that. In fact, especially meat-eaters. We are the ones whose cash is going to keep farms like that in business, so we need to be clear to farmers, butchers, abattoirs etc. what welfare standards we demand from them. Meat eaters need to be angrier about this video than vegetarians are – because it's us that are being sold a lie. British pork's recent advertising, and the Red Tractor campaign in general, have tried to present British farming as having higher welfare standards, and, whilst one has to be wary about generalisations based upon limited evidence, it's obvious that in this case this is simply not true.

I think the two most shocking things for me were the complete sense of sport in violence that many of the workers seemed to display, and the clear ill-health of many of the animals. In the first instance, whilst I find the behaviour abhorrent and inexcusable, I try to understand that that violence is symptomatic of wider contexts – firstly, the context of their work environment, which is obviously a depressing one, possibly the context of a socio-economic climate in which these workers feel powerless, and finally, the context of a world in which this violence to animals is pre-determined by the very structures of the food supply chain. With regards to the second point, this is another reason why meat eaters should be angrier about this than vegetarians. You guys might be appalled to see animals diseased, decaying, infected – but I'm appalled and I might have eaten that!

When you eat meat, do you make the connection between the product and the living animal?

This was one of the very first things that struck me after watching the video – how easy it is in our society to completely disconnect from the meat we are eating and the living animal that it once was. It is (purposefully, by the meat industry and supermarkets) made so difficult to see that slice of ham in your lunchtime buttie as one of those abused piglets. I know that I am very guilty of this, and it's something that really hit home to me this week as I was watching BBC1's Super Smart Animals over a plate of (really very delicious) chicken and chorizo traybake. I actually turned to my partner and said, "if they show a chicken on this programme and it's really clever, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to finish this meal." I did finish it. We can have a debate about the complete hypocrisy of this position in the comments, if you like.

What I suppose I'm getting at here is a culture that encourages this divorcement between animals and meat, and one which I willingly follow. Why? Partly out of habit, routine, tradition. Convenience. Enjoyment. Ease. I suppose the issue is that I have yet to feel strongly enough to actively force myself to make that connection, against the grain, each time I eat meat. I think that's one thing that vegetarians are up against when they are fighting to convince people to change their diets. You've already made that connection, and, once you've forced yourself to make it repeatedly (every meal, in fact, as you actively choose not to eat meat), it must be easy to forget how ingrained the disconnect is. I'm not saying it is an easy transition for anyone, but that, once achieved, you are perhaps coming at the issue from a very different subject position that makes a successful dialogue with meat-eaters about their diets and choices quite difficult. It's hard to empathise with a position that you have previously worked to force yourself out of.

Do you think you could kill an animal yourself?

Yes, I do think I could, and actually I think I'd be more comfortable eating meat if I had killed it myself. It would depend upon what the animal was, though. Sorry, I'm species-ist! I wouldn't necessarily describe myself as an animal-lover, although I don’t like to see or like the thought of animals suffering, which is why do try and make buying choices that purport to have offered animals a more pleasant life.

How would you feel about your siblings/future children working in a slaughterhouse?

I think everyone wants better for their children than this, but I would work in a slaughterhouse myself if necessary – again, I actually think it would be more legitimate for me to continue eating meat having experienced the process first-hand (if I wanted to, after that!). I grew up in farming-land, and one of the best local rumours was about the abattoir, where they allegedly doubled your pay if you lasted longer than two weeks! I never had this confirmed, but it does suggest rather a grim picture. Again, though, I would feel more fully informed in my decision either way if I'd actually experienced the environment. It's another way in which culture/the industry conditions that disconnect.

What is the biggest thing stopping you from becoming vegetarian?

I'm not sure there is one single issue – it's more like a complex entanglement of lots of mini-issues. Partly, they are logistical – but what would I eat?! *pictures self living off chips and toast* In a way, I know this is rubbish, because we try and have a meat-free day each week anyway, and have in the past done a week of all-veggie meals. And no one starved!

I'm also worried about health – one of my colleagues was a vegetarian and broke her leg pretty badly (like, basically shattered the thing to bits, bless her). The doctors couldn't figure out why it wasn't healing, until they finally quizzed her on her diet, and strongly recommended she try eating meat again, which she reluctantly did. The leg then healed, and she has since been fearful of being veggie again. I would worry that I wasn't giving my body all it needed. To address the obvious counter-argument here, yes, I am aware that there is no way that we physically need to eat as much meat as is currently the norm in British society. My point is just that I would be wary of eliminating meat altogether for that reason. Equally if I became pregnant or ill, I'm not sure I would want to be veggie during those periods.

Also, it would be amiss of me not to write another major reason just because I'm worried about sounding selfish – but I do love the taste of meat. Me and my partner are real foodies and we love cooking and trying out new restaurants and exploring local foods when we're on holiday. There you go. It's not a very intellectual or noble reason, but I suppose it is a big one for a lot of meat-eaters, me included.

What is the second biggest thing?

Another consideration is the impact that it would have on those around me, and their reactions to it. My partner has always been receptive to the idea of veggie-days and veggie-weeks, but I would worry that I was making him miss out on something he really, really loves if I were to go veggie. I know that he would support me no matter what, so that wouldn't be a concern, but I'd hate to feel I was depriving him through my own choices. Obviously he could continue to eat meat as he wished, but since we cook together and eat the same thing, we'd either have to change that or he be mostly veggie!

Lots of my friends are veggie, so that wouldn't be an issue…in fact I'm guessing some would be positively delighted. (Just a hunch, Hayles!) I think that my family, however, would have a harder time understanding. And would rip the piss out of me no end. There's a lot of banter in my house. I know that they would definitely respect my decision and not judge me for it, but there is a part of me that would worry about feeling left out of things like roasts and BBQs (both big deals in my house!).

Do you feel that there would be anything that would change your mind about the issue?

If my partner wanted to, I would definitely do it. If it became impossible to buy high-welfare meat, I couldn't bring myself to buy the supermarket stuff, so I'd have no choice!

I wanted to write down some things that I think would be good about becoming vegetarian, so this might be a good place:

• I wouldn't have any guilty moments re. eating meat.

• There are some great veggie foods which I think it would be legitimate to increase my consumption of, i.e. chips, chocolate, mushrooms, and Linda McCartney lattices.

• Hayles would be so, so happy!

If you were in the minority, and 95% of the world were vegetarian, would you still continue to eat meat/support factory farming?

No. As I've said, I think it's mostly a cultural thing, so no.

If your partner went vegetarian, would you?

Yes, excepting any health issues.

And lastly, what do you think is the main reason people have become so defensive about this issue?

I suppose eating meat is a big part of our culture, and people see vegetarianism as somehow a threat to it. Also, eating meat in the presence of a vegetarian exposes some uncomfortable conflicts that I think a lot of people feel but don't necessarily think about unless forced – hence the defensiveness.

So there you go! The floor is open. Please leave a comment (and give my friend a round of applause for stepping up to the podium…luckily, there are no lambs to the slaughter here!)

Peace and love to you all.

Thursday 2 February 2012

Why the hate?

I came out of my January hibernation (thank goodness that month’s over with…) renewed and ready to work towards a more compassionate 2012.  Unfortunately, good old Twitter had other ideas, and threw an article my way that made me feel more frustrated than ever about contemporary attitudes towards veganism.

Sali Owen published an article on the Guardian website yesterday posing the question: ‘So, what is an ethical vegan?’, hoping to distinguish this stance from people who are vegan for health and fitness reasons. What I want to discuss is not the article itself, but the absolutely astonishing reaction to it from readers of the paper. You can check out the comments here (I warn you, though, have a stress ball handy!), but to sum them up, they range from the standard base jokes we experience all of the time from meat-eaters (the top rated comment being: ‘I don't discriminate against farmed species - they all taste lovely’) to accusations of moral superiority: ‘It's just another way for them to worship at the altar of Better Than You.’ There are also comments that contain arguments so ridiculous that I am genuinely surprised these people are allowed to vote (one can only hope that they are really vegans writing satirically):

'What about the countless bacteria you slaughter every time you wash your hands?'

'If it is the fear of death in your food source which is the issue, then surely picking on a carrot is discriminatory on species with no concept of their own life?'

'Do Vegans oppose Breast feeding? Presumably they do. If its wrong to drink cows milk it must also be wrong to drink Human milk' [Sic] (Despite reading the Guardian, the rules of grammar and punctuation are evidently lost on this poor fellow.)

Countless other commenters make unsubstantiated and ignorant protestations about how vegans are denying what is ‘natural’, as if factory farming is in any way, shape, or form reflective of nature. There could be nothing less natural than the lives these animals lead. There could be nothing less natural than the average consumer’s complete and utter detachment from the source of the food they are eating.

What’s a vegan to do? I just cannot understand why articles like this get such a hateful reaction from the meat-eating community. And why all these accusations of moral superiority?! I can only conclude that these feelings come from within the meat-eaters themselves, because there is nothing ‘preachy’ about Owen’s article, and anyone that is vegan will know that if moral superiority were really what we were after, there are much simpler and less stressful ways to get it (for instance, abstaining from watching Celebrity Big Brother).

Perhaps most annoying of all the comments are the ones that rant about how they are ‘sick and tired of this holier-than-thou claptrap’, as if it’s so hard being a meat-eater, as if the whole world – the government, the food industry, restaurants, family, friends – aren’t on their side. Oh, it must be so hard for them to have all that choice on the menu, to be in the majority, to be catered for. It must be so hard when the one vegetarian in their circle chooses their dinner and they have to sit opposite a plate of roasted vegetables. How awful and offensive. And then the poor, persecuted meat-eater has to eat their dinner without being questioned about where they get their protein from. I honestly don’t know how they cope under such oppression! And the bullying continues, as after all this hardship, they have to endure reading an article (free from graphic pictures and full of comic references to ‘hummus wells’) in which someone discusses their ethical stance against animal cruelty! I mean, really, it’s surprising there are any meat-eaters left with all they have to cope with. They must feel so harrassed.  Maybe someone should set up a charity?

The injustice of factory farming is intolerable and incomprehensible. I cannot understand how anyone could defend such cruelty, nor can I fathom why these commentators are full of such spite towards people that are just trying to act kindly and compassionately. I guess what I'm really wondering is: Why the hate?

Something needs to change. Veganism needs to move into the 21st century. It needs to be normalised, mainstream, catered for. There needs to be a bridge between veggies and meat-eaters that overcomes all this rubbish about moral superiority, so that we can discuss this issue properly, and have an informed debate in which each side is respected and listened to. Surely most human beings want to end injustice, and create a kinder world for people and animals? That’s all us vegans are after. We don’t want to lecture you, we don’t want to make you feel bad, we don’t want to steal your favourite food - we want to usher in more compassion in the world and defend those who can’t defend themselves. Surely we can all agree that that’s something worth fighting for, and find a way to work together to achieve this?

Thank goodness, there was some light amongst those dark, Daily Mail worthy comments. In her article, Sali addresses the question of caring about multiple issues, arguing that it’s not an ‘either/or’ situation. She writes:
There doesn’t have to be a competitive element to compassion. We don’t have to pick sides. “Sorry, I’m afraid I can only care about one thing at a time, and today’s thing is sustainable recycling in Honduras. Now be a dear and pass me the stilton.”
One commenter agreed, beautifully expressing the idea that ‘The more love/compassion you give, the more you have and the more there is in the world! Love/compassion is not a finite resource. Caring is not a zero-sum game…'

Indeed it is not.

I don’t know what a ‘vegan revolution’ would look like, but I know it needs to happen. We need to break through the stereotypes, the ignorance, the barriers that stop us reaching out and spreading the idea that life is worth something. Life has value. And that every sentient creature, human and non-human, has the right to live the life they were designed for, and not be tortured, oppressed, or exploited.

How we live the life we have been given can change the lives of others, for the better or for the worst. Let’s work together, support and help each other to make veganism an approachable and fun way of life. This isn’t about being perfect; it’s just about caring that we’re not.

Something has to change.

As always, peace and love to you all. x

Friday 16 December 2011

Have yourself a vegan little Christmas

It’s that time of year again! The fairy lights are up, the tinsel is out, and everyone you know is rapidly alternating between excessively cheerful and excessively grumpy.

For those of us who are celebrating the birth of light, love and hope into the world, it’s also a time to think about what’s important in our lives and be thankful for the chance for change and redemption. I love Dickens' A Christmas Carol, it's such a wonderful story of transformation, and I'll definitely be reading it again this year.  The world can sometimes seem so very bleak (especially at this time of year in England!), but at Christmas we celebrate light coming into the world and the hope for a better future. (My friend Lydia wrote beautifully about this in her blog a couple of years ago, have a peek.)

My (attempt!) at a vegan lifestyle is a huge part of living out my hope for more peace and compassion in the world, and I’m so excited to share this with my family this year over a completely vegan Christmas dinner (despite half the family not being veggie – I hope my grandparents will cope with the lack of turkey this year!). It’s also a time to just ‘be’ after all the rushing and stressing and striving.

So have a wonderful time this Christmas, and enjoy eating compassionately.  If you’re stuck for vegan recipes, check out this lovely site I came across.

And if you're in need of some more Christmas spirit, then watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. It's a guaranteed winner! (Let's not think about the fact that Kermit the Frog is eating a might ruin it. I choose to believe it's tofurky, and if you tell me otherwise, I'll just sing over you.)

'Let us always love each other.
Lead us to the light.
Let us hear the voice of reason,
Singing through the night.'
As always, peace and love and hope to you all, but especially at this Christmas time.
'God bless us, every one.'

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Batty about bats

Okay, so I'm not a fan of Twilight (I got half way through the first film, just to see what all the fuss was about, and then ended up doing something else - like turning it off), but I do LOVE bats.  They are flying mice.  Which is amazing.  Now, if mice freak you out, then odds are that mice with the gift of wing-flapping flight are going to freak you out a whole lot more, so I understand that bats aren't for everybody.  However, I've always loved them (and their ugly/sweet faces), and I find them really magical in the evenings.  To me, they're kind of like midnight robins - it's always a bit of an event when you see one.

So, when I came across this cute video on the Not One Sparrow website (original blog post here), I naturally felt the need to spread the joy to fellow fans of the critters.  It's so inspiring to see people care for tiny creatures like this.  (Note: Amazon do not sell tiny orphaned baby bats to care for - I've checked.  And even if they did, that wouldn't be very vegan, now, would it?  Shame on you...)

So, are you a fan of the bat, or do you think they're the thing of nightmares?  Let the debate begin!

Peace and love

Sunday 30 October 2011

West Midlands Vegan Festival 2011

As a vegetarian/vegan, I think it's really important to regularly meet up with like-minded people and remind yourself that you're not alone.  Being a vegan can be somewhat isolating at times; many people view it as an extreme (and incomprehensible!) stance, whilst some see it as a position to ridicule.  There's always a sense of relief, as I've discussed in previous posts, when you go to a veggie restaurant and are surrounded by people that care about animal rights issues/environmentalism as much as you do.

So, with all this in mind, this year I thought I'd cut my Saturday lie in short and visit the West Midlands Vegan Festival.  It was great - you couldn't move for vegans!  (How often do you find yourself in that situation?!)

There were tonnes of food stalls, companies selling vegan products (I tried Kara milk for the first time, and I'm now definitely going to try to switch to this from soya), and lots of animal rights groups/animal sanctuaries providing information on the causes they were representing.

Change Kitchen
Forget-Me-Not Animal Rescue get extra points for effort!

Such yummy sweets!! Look them up (link below), they're great.

Goody Good Stuff - anything endorsed by a koala is fine by me.

I also got chatting to a woman who ran a sanctuary for rescued farm animals (author of ...And a Calf Called Reg), and she really emphasised the individuality of the animals she cared for.  Hearing her talk about the animals she'd saved (most notably the story of a mother cow and her calf, who were inseparable because the mother had had all her previous calves taken away from her after only a few days), really confirmed in my mind that I want to do something similar one day.  Though when I told Wenda this, she said to me:  'Make sure you live your life first, because it'll never be the same once you've committed to something like this!'  I found her story and her passion really inspiring (and I also appreciated her advice!).

Another thing the festival encouraged me to think about was the approach that we take as vegans when communicating our values to others.  There was a noticable difference between the majority of stalls, which were cheery and positive, and then those few which had 'meat is murder' t-shirts and bracelets and were offering leaflets with horribly graphic images on them.  I must admit, I found the latter stalls really off-putting, and I didn't stop to look at them.  I just don't think that that kind of aggressive approach does the cause any good, and in fact I wonder how much damage it does to the reputation of veganism - that 'angry vegan' sterotype came from somewhere, afterall.  If people think that becoming a vegan means wearing pictures of mutilated animals on their tshirts and passing out leaflets littered with aggressive slogans, then I can fully understand why more people aren't warming to the idea!

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for bringing the truth to light.  It's so incredibly important that people understand the extent of suffering and brutality in the animal industry, and that they don't close their eyes and ears to the pain they are inflicting by monetarily supporting factory farming.  Nothing is more annoying than someone refusing to hear what you have to say because 'it's too upsetting', ending the conversation with you and then making a trip to Tesco (boooooo!! You know how much I hate Tesco...) to buy burgers for that night's dinner.  As I discuss at length in my post 'The Urgency of Unity', the solution to this problem is so simple: Vote with the pound.

So, I totally sympathise with the frustration that most vegans feel.  Animal suffering is happening on such a huge scale that drastic and aggressive action seems the most obvious route to take.  However, it's in human nature to be drawn to positive imagery and ideas rather than negative ones, and thus it's common sense that charities bear this in mind when communicating their ideas.  Stories of what switching to a vegan lifestyle can achieve, images of happy rescued animals in sanctuaries, the availability of exciting food and fashionable clothes and cosmetics are all much more likely to draw people towards considering veganism as a compassionate, attractive, and practical way of life than bombarding them with upsetting images.  Most charity websites have now changed their approach.  The majority of the images used on the WaterAid website, for example, are positive ones that show the changes the charity has made to the lives of those it has reached.  That's something people want to be associated with and support.  When people are repulsed or upset by images, the natural reaction is to avoid everything to do with that image.  When people experience negative emotions when confronted by graphic images, they associate the distributer of that image with the same feeling.

But still, I know that those upsetting images do have their place and that they need to be seen.  But in what forum?  I guess it's all about having a sensitive and nuanced approached.  It's an incredibly complex topic, but one that I've been thinking more and more about lately.  I feel like veganism desperately needs an image makeover to make it more user friendly!  Ideas/thoughts on a postcard/in a comment, please, my lovely veggie readers.

Peace and love to you all.

Monday 3 October 2011

Don't be a chicken - rescue one!

I discovered a lovely blog today written by someone who rescues battery farmed hens.  It's so inspirational to see people going up against factory farming in this way - I wish I took more direct action like this!

Check out the blog here:
Life with the Ex-Batts

At the end of one post, the author has written:
'So no matter how small a cog I am, if all of us small cogs work together, those wheels of change will slowly grind towards that free ranging happiness for all our hens.'

I love the sense of hope in this line, and the way it highlights that although we may feel alone, we are in fact part of a growing, passionate community, and together we can achieve anything, no matter what the odds.

(Unfortuantely, these days it costs considerably more than a tuppence a bag to feed the birds...)

The blog also reminded me just how much I love the quirky characteristics of hens.  Do hens and donkeys make good friends?  Because if not, I'll have a big decision to make when I get that huge piece of land in the countryside I'm dreaming of (attached to a vegan cafe and yoga studio, of course! Better get saving...)

Peace and love to you all, cluck cluck.

Friday 30 September 2011

The Gentle Gourmet B&B, Paris

Gentle? Good. Gourmet? Great. Paris? Brilliant!

Eating a vegan diet abroad is always a tricky one, especially when your foreign language skills are limited to frantic hand gestures and the ingredients lists on food packets look like blocks of mathematical code.  I know, I know, I really should learn some French considering France is only a two hour train journey away from me...I have no excuse.  (Other than that I'm learning Italian.  Well, not really, but I'm thinking about it.)

But if you fancy splashing out on a stay in Paris and making life a little bit easier for your lovely vegan self, I can highly recommend the Gentle Gourmet B&B.  The breakfasts are simply amazing (chocolate pancakes, fresh fruit, waffles and syrup - they'll pretty much fulfill any request!) and the family that run the B&B are absolutely wonderful and very helpful for finding some veggie havens in the city.

It's a bit misleading calling it a B&B, as it's actually a set of apartments (you have to walk across the courtyard to get to your breakfast, so no drinking coffee in your jammies!).  But this gives you the freedom to come and go as you please, which is exactly the ticket when you're wandering along the Champs-Elysees until 2am singing Joni Mitchell!  'I was a free man in Paris...'

Also, just to add the cute factor, they have a vegetarian rescue dog that loves attention....

Voici le chien noir mignon!

J'adore Paris.  Unfortunately, I can't make it back to Paris for the Paris Vegan Festival next week - are any blog readers going?  I'd love to hear from you!

Peace and love.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Dolphins and Chocolate

Two things I've been thinking about lately: Dolphins and chocolate (not necessarily together, though I'm sure dolphins like chocolate).  Did anybody manage to catch the incredible episode of 'Ocean Giants' on BBC1 on Sunday night?  Featuring some breathtaking cinematography, the show presented the mounting evidence that supports the theory that dolphins have the capacity for empathy, since they seem to be able to recognise their own image in a mirror.  Since swimming with wild dolphins has been a dream of mine for a few years now, I abolsutely loved the programme, and wanted to highlight how fascinating (and beautiful!) it is for any UK followers out there that missed it.  It is available on iplayer for another week or so:

Also, it's been a great week for chocolate (is there ever a bad one?!).  I recently discovered the absolutely delicious 'Organic Meltdown' chocolate:  Fairtrade, organic, vegetarian society approved (and my bar was gluten free and vegan approved), and every bar saves a tree in the tropical forests of Ecuador.  What's not to like?! I'm telling you, this is the chocolate of heroes.  I had the dark chocolate with sweet candied orange - vegan bliss.

On the inside of the packet you get a code which allows you to visit the site online and 'keep tabs' on the tree you've saved (whatever that means!).  It also says:

'By choosing this bar of Swiss made chocolate you've already saved a tree and with it the lives of hundreds of creatures.  The tropical rainforest of Ecuador is a buzzing, squawking, howling den of diversity and beauty - home to some of the world's most interesting species but also some of the most endangered.  It is vital to the delicate balance of our planet's ecosystem and therefore imperative that they are protected.  Our goal is to save 5 million trees in Ecuador by 2012, helping to breath life into areas whose futures are currently uncertain.'

Sounds great, doesn't it?  Go on, have an Organic Meltdown...

I'm off to stay at a vegan B&B in Paris for a few days (a PhD student's life is a hard one!).  I will, of course, be back with a review, and hopefully pictures of yummy vegan food.

Peace and love to you all

Friday 8 July 2011

Cow Lovely!

Another interesting article, this time about the individuality of cows - it's very moooving! (Erm, sorry about that...)


I find it hard to understand that sometimes the very people who appreciate the individuality of these animals are also the ones farming them.  With this in mind, I'd like to flag up another excellent post from the Not One Sparrow website written by Lauren Merritt (the post is originally from her website, which Ben cites). Lauren addresses the issue of the good shepherd and how this ideal conflicts with the cruelty of factory farming.  Thanks for sharing this with us, Ben!

Peace, love, and vegan grazing.

Friday 17 June 2011

Orangutan Love

I saw this news article today and simply had to share it with you all! How incredible that other creatures seem to demonstrate the urge to care for their fellow animals, and that a creature as powerful as a great ape could be so gentle. Orangutans have always been a firm favourite in my book, even before this footage emerged.

Oh, oo-bee-doo, I wanna be like yoo-hoo-hoo!

Orangutan rescues sick bird

Peace and love

Thursday 28 April 2011


A much feared word in Christian circles! But what do people really mean when they sternly warn us about the dangers of being a ‘lukewarm’ Christian?

Probably a lot of Christians would argue that I am ‘lukewarm’ when it comes to how I live out my fragile faith. I rarely go to church, seldom read the Bible, and I don’t pray much either. My favorite thing to do with God is to dance about to the occasional worship song (or one I’ve decided will be one, between me and God) and watch the wood pigeons clumsily build their nests for the summer. I don’t talk about my faith that much, as I almost can’t articulate my conception of God and I don’t want people to think I am unquestioning or narrow-minded (and these, unfortunately, are characteristics often associated with Christians). Far from being ashamed of my faith, though, I am desperate to represent God well and am prone to panicking when asked what I believe. To be honest, I think the whole ‘God’ thing is much more abstract in my mind then even I feel comfortable with. But does all that mean I’m a lukewarm Christian? Some of the more conservative Christians out there might say 'yes', but I guess I'd just have to disagree with them on that (amongst other things!).

I’m incredibly passionate about truth, freedom, compassion, mercy, justice, and – above all things – love (apologies for that near Moulin Rouge quote). The story of Christ’s love for us, his sacrifice, touches my heart in such a way that even on the days when I feel like my faith really is as small as the proverbial mustard seed, there is this mysterious invisible string that ties me to Christianity. Or, to be more precise, that ties me to God.

I'll admit to being a lot of things when it comes to my faith: Confused? Yes. Bewildered? Sometimes. Unsure? You bet. But lukewarm? No, definitely not.

Like Alice, I do mindlessly chase a few white rabbits, but I also keep plodding and questioning and trying to find my way out of this Wonderland to get home. There's something authentic and exciting about real questioning and real exploration, and that to me is what having a passionate faith is all about.

I’m far from being a cookie-cutter Christian; I’m a yoga-practicing, veggie eating, science-loving, 80s film watching Christian who doesn’t go to church and swears A LOT. But am I lukewarm? When it comes to the things that I think count, the things that really matter, the things that make me feel like I could actually make the world a better place, I really hope not. I guess I just have to hope that those things are high on God’s list, too…I think they are.

We’re all in a different place - physically, mentally, and spiritually - and I believe that our personal faith is as unique as a fingerprint. I’d love that to be cherished and respected in our faith communities as opposed to feared. After all, if God made us all with unique fingerprints, it’s very likely that our hearts are just as special and distinctive. Is it surprising that we all relate differently to our creator?

I'm reminded here of a Morgan Freeman quote from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Yes, I like trashy 90s films, too! And not entirely ironically...):
‘Allah loves wondrous varieties.’

Well said, Morgie. Well said.

The next post will be back on topic…sort of. It's about a duffle coat.

Thanks for reading the ramblings of a vegan student with too much spare time on her hands – your compassion really does know no bounds! If only I could send you all a Jammie Dodger via the internet…the technology is probably on its way.

Peace and love to you all
Azeem: A wise man once said: "There are no perfect men in the world; only perfect intentions."

Sunday 24 April 2011

Happy Easter!

Wishing a very Happy Easter to all!

A day when we celebrate the possibility of reconcilitation, new life and new hope.

He is risen!

Enjoy fridging and cracking your vegan chocolate eggs - that's the only thing on my 'To Do' list today!

God bless you all, peace and love.

Monday 14 March 2011

Animals as Individuals

Every morning, after dragging myself out of bed, I head straight downstairs to put on the kettle. This used to be motivated only by my need for a comforting cuppa to help me recover from the trauma of getting up (I am the eternal student!), but since moving house in December my morning cup of tea has become a bit more of an event. This is because - and this may sound mundane - when making my tea I have a perfect view of the bird table in my neighbour’s garden. Despite only having been here three months, I already recognise the dozens of different characters that congregate there each morning, and look forward to seeing (and of course, hearing!) them as I walk down the stairs. It is sometimes the favourite part of my day, and I feel really blessed to be party to this little scene every morning.

This post is about recognising the beauty in each and every creature, and it is inspired by an entry I saw on Not One Sparrow a while ago called ‘Unforgettable Faces’. It featured the wonderfully expressive artwork of Sam Dolman, who attempts to capture the individuality of farm animals in touching portraits. (His work can be seen here):

My veganism is driven by a variety of factors, one being my belief that it is important (and joyful!) to see every animal as an individual with a unique personality. If you look closely enough, most animals show character traits that would make them worthy of a Dickens novel. Our tendency to see the unique personalities of animals is manifested in the numerous examples in literature, film and art work of the characterisation of them as human-like, especially when these works are aimed at children. This speaks of a childlike relationship to animals that is defined by interest, compassion, and innocence, and it is one that many of us never lose. I think that appreciating and relating to creatures in this way allows us to connect with them on a deeper level, and it is this personal connection that partly fosters our compassion for them. There are numerous examples throughout history of violent regimes dehumanising a collection of individuals in order to persecute them, and this de-individualisation is undoubtedly evident in the factory farming industry. In this system, animals become homogenised factory parts - merely cogs in a machine that grinds out meat.

Within this system animals lose their identity as individuals, and with their personalities brutally and systematically stripped away from them they become – to the majority – food, not friend. A psychological disconnect allows people to detach from the reality of where the meat on their plate has come from. Most people could not watch a lamb chasing its brothers and sisters in a field on a summer’s day and then kill it. After watching it for no more than a minute, that lamb will have become an individual to the onlooker. It will have displayed a personality. Maybe it will even have earned itself an affectionate name. We have an innate desire to relate to our fellow creatures personally; after all, naming God’s creatures was an important part of our role as stewards of creation.

Of the individual personalities Sam captures in his paintings, Ben DeVries writes:
‘What better way to encourage people to see these valued creatures of God as worthy of our attention and care, especially when they are so often reduced to a faceless number (among billions of others forgotten) in the factory-farming system?'

I couldn't agree more with the sentiment Ben expresses here. A lack of emphasis on the importance of appreciating the uniqueness of every individual, both human and non-human, has always been a problem for humanity, and also for the church. Beautiful and infinite variety can be witnessed in God’s creation, and yet Christianity as an institution can, at least in my experience, feel somewhat claustrophobic. Variety of belief and conceptions of God are not always celebrated or welcomed.

I sometimes feel like God is very far away, and those who are close to me know that I struggle to read the Bible or go to Church. These are seen as the most obvious and conventional ways to feel close to God, and an important part of developing your faith. For some reason, however, these ways of relating to God just don't really work for me. I feel closest to God when finding joy in His creation and sharing this with those around me. This is my way of feeling connected to God, of sharing things with Him, of finding a bit of peace, and I think it's a shame that we don't explore this way of relating to God more. I'd like to think, inbetween sessions of moaning about how late the bus is, or pondering for the millionth time what career path I should pursue, that I take the time to admire and wonder at every unique little character I come across and happen to share my brief time on this planet with.

Now, for all my talk of fluffy children's characters I could be accused of arguing for cuteness as a qualifying factor for compassion. This is not my stance at all. I am trying to articulate that perhaps seeing an animal as an individual, with its own thoughts, fears, and experience of pain and of joy, is an important aspect of developing a more compassionate attitude to non-human animals. Far from being cutesy and cuddly, the fight for animal rights is one about politics, ethics, and ultimately an expression of what our values are. Do we value justice, peace, and compassion that extends outside of our own species? This is what it really comes down to, and I simply cannot see any other answer than 'yes' for those of us that believe in a loving and merciful God who remembers every sparrow.

Please do check out the incredible series of posts on Compassionate Eating on Not One Sparrow’s blog; I really cannot emphasize enough what an honor it is to be writing about this cause alongside them.

Peace and love. Cook some vegan cupcakes, walk to a nearby field and watch some spring lambs bounce about. Feel cheered. :)


p.s. Just to prove that compassion knows no species, look at this critter I trapped and freed from my old flat a few months ago (after much screaming, obviously...) I'm not sure if my kindness was fuelled by a respect for creation or a fear that his friends would come and get me if I hurt him!

Saturday 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Just a little Christmas Day post to wish all my fellow vegans and christians a very happy christmas time! May your day be filled with compassionate cooking, love and laughter.

Here's a link to a wonderful christmas post by Ben of Not One Sparrow. Enjoy. :)

Peace and goodwill to you all. :)

Monday 1 November 2010

Happy World Vegan Day 2010!

A day to celebrate the wonderfulness of trying to live peacefully. And, of course, the perfect excuse to do some compassionate cooking! I found lots of recipes on the BBC Good Food website that might be worth a go...

I've perhaps become a bit preoccupied with other things of late, and whilst I've been plodding along nicely with my own veganism I've forgotten about the fact that I'm a part of something bigger.

On 'Sunday Morning Live' yesterday they had a debate about killing animals for sport (triggered by the news of the shooting of a giant red stag last week). What was interesting about this discussion is that out of it came an awareness of the potentially hypocritical nature of being against hunting for sport but then for the eating of animals for pleasure.

If you're in the UK, you can watch the programme on BBC iPlayer (the debate starts at about 31 minutes in):

Poet Benjamin Zephaniah does us proud by representing a vegan point of view, as does Brian May from Queen who they manage to get on the phone (what an absolute legend!).

The contradictory nature of being a meat-eater who is against blood sport came from the views expressed by Christina Rees (General Synod of the Church of England).

When asked by the host, Susanna Reid, 'What is the difference between killing for food and hunting for sport?', Christiana replied, 'Well, if we eat it for food, then it has a purpose.' What she failed to recognise is that that purpose is none other than our own greed and pleasure, which is exactly what motivates hunting. Susanna responds by picking up on this point, asking 'Is there not a purpose in hunting for sport? There's an entertainment purpose...' and Rees fails again to make the comparison between the two, and says 'No, no, it's [hunting is] only for the benefit of people...'

Her argument becomes even more ridiculous when she admits that we do have urges to shoot at something, but that we can satisfy these urges in a way that does not cause suffering (for example, by shooting clay pigeons or taking up archery). If only she applied this logic to her own appetite!

Brian May had a really balanced and fair approach to those who felt compassion towards the stag, but who still ate meat:

Susanna: 'A lot of the people who might object to what happened to Emperor the stag will carry on eating meat. What do you think of those people?'

Brian: 'I think if you're starving and you have to kill an animal to survive, maybe you can justify that. But there really is absolutely no necessity to be eating meat at all.'

Susanna: 'Do you think it's hypocritical then, for people who eat meat, to find this abhorrent?'

Brian: 'I think, actually, no, not necessarily, I think there's a line along which we travel, and I've been travelling along it for a long time. I actually did eat meat for a very long the moment I still consume milk and cheese and stuff, but I'm really beginning to doubt if that's okay as well, because that also causes an immense amount of suffering in the world, and as factory farming increases, I think you have to ask yourself these questions more and more and more. I do not think we should be doing this; it would be much more efficient for the planet for us to be eating non-animals.'

Brian May basically sums it up by arguing that it is indefensible to end an animal's life 'for fun', and this is what it comes down to when we think about diet, clothing, and lifetstyle. The way we live is ultimately an expression of what we value.

Christina later says 'We're all agreed, that even though we're not in the same position about eating animals, that killing an animal for sport is not alright. I expect, fast-forward several hundred years, and we will have found a way to eat in a way that does not involve eating animals.'

I have news for you Christina: We've already found that way, and it's called veganism! Wake up, for goodness sake.

I was very pleased to watch this debate, because I actually felt like - for once - veganism came across well to those watching (it does help when you have a rock legend fighting your corner...)

A word from Gandhi to finish (because it's world vegan day and I'm feeling the need to quote):

'It ill becomes us to invoke in our daily prayers the blessings of God, the Compassionate, if we in turn will not practice elementary compassion towards our fellow creatures.'

Amen to that.

Peace and love.

Sharing thoughts on peace, love, and vegan cupcakes!