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!

Sharing thoughts on peace, love, and vegan cupcakes!