When is a Vegan not a Vegan?

Whilst working in a hostel in Melbourne, I had the pleasure to meet someone who opened my eyes and changed my life forever. He helped educate me about the environmental impacts of the mass-production of meat, and eventually I came to the conclusion that I just couldn’t ‘do it’ anymore.

I didn’t eat another animal product until I left Australia.

The main thing that I personally take away from being a vegan, and claiming to be vegan is that I intend to do the least harm possible. I don’t just avoid eating animal products, but I check out the things that I use and buy and do to make sure that what I am doing is in the best interests of everybody involved in the making and production of it.

I envision a world where people are paid fairly, live well, and are happy. I try to buy fair trade products where I can, and shop in charity stores, I try to buy local, I consider the impacts of my decisions. It’s not easy, but I find a sense of victory in knowing that even if I am only one person – my actions over a length of time will do *something* to impact on the bigger picture.

Since changing my views, I’ve started following others who think the same way. There are Facebook groups and blogs of plenty of people with plenty of ideas but very often there are very clear, polar opposite opinions between them.

Understanding the strong feelings of the vegan who is strict enough in their beliefs that they refuse to eat somewhere that sells animal products is to me, just as important as the vegan who says that they ‘are vegan except for cheese’. I’m pretty sure that publicly these two people come across very different, but the main point is that they are both trying in some way to make a difference.

In this day and age when there is so much hate that it feels like pouring water on the fire of it will only make it burn stronger we really need to take a step back and think about why we let our differences separate us so much.

In the case of the vegan who eats cheese – I can only think that a backlash of hate from others telling them that they cannot claim to be ‘vegan’ whilst they consciously choose to eat cheese is only going to be detrimental to their overall choice. I know I personally cannot afford to buy ‘vegan certified’ trainers, and I certainly don’t know whether the ones I have been wearing the last six months contain animal glue or not – but I personally feel it doesn’t make me any less vegan.

It’s about doing the least harm possible. Causing the least damage to our world by supporting a belief that many people hold.

Personally, I know a few people who have lived on, or grown up on farms where the animals they care for are well-treated and looked after – and ultimately live a long life. Unfortunately, whether it be the explosion of our population or the huge demand for animal products, we live in a world where to sustain ‘our’ habits as a populous that there’s a need for factory farming and other practices that make me want to *cry*.

There are of course extreme ends of all scales.

Here in the UK, I have the freedom to choose from a huge array of shops that offer a range of products to fulfil all my dietary needs. Whilst I was living with my Mum & Step Dad on the peninsula of Alaska I didn’t really have much choice about what I was going to eat – so to be able to go out fishing and catch my dinner was actually a pretty rewarding feeling.

Due to my own nature, and my perception of how vegans I know would react to this – it’s not usually something I talk about. When people ask me ‘How long have you been vegan?’ I actually struggle with the answer. For three months of my life was I not vegan? Did I just work out how many months it had been since I first went vegan and take three away? Do I add up the days and take away that day when I was nearly sick from hunger and ate a cheese sandwich to make sure I didn’t faint?

I still believed in my cause. I feel incredibly difficult emotions over it, and thanks to ‘the way my brain likes to work’ I could even let myself feel so upset about my decisions in those moments that I could abandon all hope of ever being the person I ‘want’ to be and take an extremely different path to the future.

Saying yes, I have been vegan for almost two years is far from a lie as far as I’m concerned. During the entirety of those two years I will have always consciously thought about the things I buy, and because I am human like everyone else who will read this – it’s safe to say that occasionally mistakes will be made. It’s just important not to feel overwhelmed when you do, consciously or subconsciously.

 

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2,782,608 Pigs

I want to take some time to talk about Meat-Free Monday.

When I first heard about it through a vegan friend, my thoughts were pretty mundane. What was the point in promoting something that felt so half-assed? If people only go meat free for one day a week – how does that really make a difference?

See, it’s a struggle to be optimistic – and with Borderline as my witness! (And believe me, I’m an all or nothing kinda girl) I have to say it took me a lot of introspection to really get behind the idea.

It’s pretty simple when you think about it, and once you start to run some figures it’s surprising how much impact something that seemed so insignificant could make.

When I got some time alone to ponder the ‘point’ of such a venture, my first thoughts drifted to my Dad and his girlfriend. The both of them have been terribly supportive of my decision to go vegan, even if my Dad does very often use phrases like ‘can’t I tempt you to have a malteaser’ and ‘do you want milk in your coffee’, but I think – like so many things it’s down to habit.

Anyway, I thought about them. I thought about what they would have for dinner first, and I realised that all this time I’d only been thinking about that one meal of the day. My Dad’s a traditional kind of guy, and anything with vegetables, potatoes and meat at the end of a busy day sounds perfect to him. What if he found a meat-free alternative that he liked the taste of and swapped out his meat for that?

I’ll tell you what it means. It means that for one night he doesn’t need to buy that ASDA (Tesco/Sainsbury/Morrison/Whatever) £3 pack of pork chops.

Okay. Wow. Two people. Four chops. Whoop de doo.

No, no.

In 2011 the estimated population of Lincoln was 130,000. Assuming that each person would have just ONE pork chop for their dinner on a Monday night, that’s 130,000 pork chops that Lincolnites don’t eat.

According to the internet, one pig will provide 23 pork chops (and a host of other cuts, but for the point I’m making we’re sticking to chops. Deal with it.)

That means, (with some help from a calculator) that in Lincoln alone approximately 5,652 pigs would not be required.

I’m already in a statistics kind of mood, so lets ramp up the numbers a few more steps, shall we?

A quick internet search suggests that in 2015 the population of the UK sat at just over 64million people.

ASSUMING, that 64,000,000 people ate ONE pork chop on a Monday night – the approximate number of pigs needed to provide those chops would be a whopping. 2,782,608 pigs.

Okay, I can already hear the critics, but hear me out.

If you told me that in a YEAR we, as a country were culling this many pigs just so that we could get our pork fix I would have difficulty coming to terms with this as a truth.

Suddenly, the notion of Meat-Free Monday has taken on a far more important meaning to me, and I’ll be doing my best to try and encourage my friends, family and acquaintances to consider taking one day off from meat in a week and maybe, just maybe people will be begin to see just how much difference this tiny sacrifice can make.

http://www.meatfreemondays.co.uk/ – Get some great Meat-Free ideas for next Monday.

http://www.animalaid.org.uk – Find out more about adopting a cruelty-free lifestyle.

Ego

Since going vegan I’ve discussed my life choice with a fair few people. I don’t mind talking about the reasons why I made my decision, and it’s been incredibly insightful and eye-opening to understand the perspectives of others.

On more than one occasion, however, I’ve been told that my way of thinking in incredibly egotistical.

The notion that, I, as one singular person can make a difference to the world as a whole simply by changing my diet is not only egotistical, but arrogant.

As someone with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, I started to question the validity of claims like these, and perhaps there is an element of my thinking that leads me to believe so strongly that I could have such a big impact – however after a lot of thought  not just about my commitment to being vegan, but in response to a whole host of  ‘current’ issues I feel that it’s less of a problem, but actually a solution.

The impact that we have as individuals is phenomenal. We are forever warning people of the dangers of drink driving, because it only takes one person to go out after a few beers to ruin lives. We knows that people like Malala Yousafzai can speak up about topics close to her heart and be a hero.

We’re constantly being told that our vote can count, that one extra vote by someone who hadn’t planned on giving their opinion can change the course of history. It’s the difference between which restaurant you and your friends go to for lunch, which new policies get pushed through, who will be the next political candidate.

So why shouldn’t we believe that we can make an impact? Why shouldn’t I think that by making small changes to my lifestyle I can make a difference?

I think it’s something we should all try, in our own way. Whether it’s a smile at someone you pass in the street, not dropping a piece of litter, choosing not to eat meat, whether it’s every day or just once a week.

It’s about positivity, passing on a message of love for others, for our world, our lives, our future.

Emulsifier 471

I’ve been vegan for a grand total of 3 weeks. It’s been much easier than I expected, but I’m not really here to talk about my own personal troubles.

I’m here to talk about Emulsifier 471.

It didn’t take me very long to work out that this was a problem ingredient. Every time a product seemed to be vegan, I was scuppered by this tiny addition to the list. There are only so many times that I’d like to scroll through endless Google results to find the answers to the ‘Question’. Is the 471 in this product animal based or plant based???

Of course, taking the first person’s word for it was never satisfactory. Anyone who works for a company can create a profile to say online ‘anonymously’ that their product uses plant based 471.

So why aren’t companies letting us know what we’re so desperate to find out? Surely it’s in their best interests, to be on ‘the list’ of widely known vegan products would surely improve sales and if they already use plant based 471 they’re onto a winner right away!

Changing your life

There are so many things that I feel I could write about right now. A lot of things have happened recently, and trying to pin down my thoughts for long enough to process these changes properly feels like something I’ve been incredibly bad at.

The biggest change is probably one that would shock all those people who know me. I met someone who explained to me that he was vegan. At first, I thought literally nothing of it. My attitudes toward other people have shifted radically over the last few years, and it’s hardly going to bother me that someone has chosen not to eat certain foods. Of course, my understanding of being a vegan was actually pretty limited. I have a close friend back home who I now know to still live a vegan lifestyle but for the longest time it was simply easier to ignorant about it. Every day there are countless numbers of things that happen that are unjust, unnecessary and if they happened to me I would be doing my best to shout out about them.

I was introduced to a few discussions and videos about only a handful of these things that happen every day, things that without knowing, I was a keen supporter of. It sounds ridiculous even as I type it, but this is an incredibly new concept for me – and I’m not the best at explaining my thought processes at the best of times, but after I watched a very interesting talk by a man named Gary Yourovsky my thinking changed drastically.

I’ve often been the type of person to do things on a whim. I can be quick to make up my mind about something, and I’m the first person to admit that sometimes my ideas and understanding about things can changed at the drop of a hat. It’s easy to listen to one conversation, and then listen to another and change my mind right after. This feels like something that I may well struggle with, but I have a determination about it that I’ve not felt before. This guy, Gary, made me question the reasons why we do the things we do, and helped me to understand very clearly that I wanted to do everything I can to try and stop the things that go on behind closed doors.

Quoting the talk is pointless, if anyone is interested enough to watch the video they will learn everything I know now, and he can definitely talk far better than I can argue  the topic. I can never properly process my thoughts, never mind trying to translate those into actual words.

Either way, after I listened – I acted. Luckily, I don’t have half as much food as I used to have – and where the day before I’d decided I would take the slow route, eat the food I still had and only buy new food that is vegan, I ditched everything. The milk, the nutella, the eggs, butter, honey. It’s all gone. To a good home, I’m sure. The free shelves here in the hostel have been my saviour enough times that it was probably about time I repaid the favour!

Only two days in, I’m not exactly in a position to claim success – but I am committed and prepared for a change! One I’ve orchestrated, and one I hope I can stick to.

Melbourne Cat Cafe

As someone who has been in Melbourne since the beginning of May, and I hate to admit that it’s taken me all this time to finally get myself into the Cat Cafe.

It hadn’t really been my plan to end up there – but with so many of the things I do I suppose that’s a very common thing. Spontaneity is my sport, and I will win any of your competitions at it!

Anyway. Melbourne Cat Cafe! Today was a no phone/camera day – and as a result I don’t have any photos to provide you but there are certainly plenty of them out there. (On Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and tumblr.)

I’d never been to a cat cafe before, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but my experience was definitely an enjoyable one. My first recommendation for anyone hoping to go to this one specifically is to try and get yourself in at a time when it’s relatively quiet. For every time I’d hunted for information about the place it was the first thing I picked up on.

Today I was one of five when I arrived.

To say that it was much bigger than I’d expected is an understatement! I was so impressed with the space on offer here, and the provision for ‘play’ for the cats was so impressive – I don’t think there was anything else I could have offered to improve their little lives.

They have a Nintendo Wii, a room with an entire bookshelves of very varied texts to peruse, and a room where the radio was playing some classical music. It makes for a very calming atmosphere which definitely seems to suit the kitties as much as it suited me. I’ll definitely be returning if only to sit with the laptop and try to get some motivation going because I feel like I could quite happily sit there away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Getting there really is a doddle. If it’s walking weather, just cut from Elizabeth Street onto Queen street and keep walking up from Flinders on the left hand side of the road until you get the roundabout. If it’s rainy, hop on the tram at the Flinder’s end of Elizabeth Street and jump on the tram all the way up to the Melbourne Central stop – cut through to Queen’s Street and then on up you go.

$10 gets you an hour with the cats, and I believe it goes toward all the expenses required to keep these content cats in their little (BIG) home. The building itself is absolutely gorgeous, and it really is a shame that they are limited to only 15 cats in the house at a time because the staff do a very good job of making sure the place is clean, smelling fresh and as far as I could see, there wasn’t a sign of kitten-damage to anything that wasn’t for cats! (I was looking)

The staff who were there at the time were very helpful and friendly, and there’s always someone at hand to ply with your questions, even the ones that seemed most common were dealt with as if it was the first time they’d been asked, which was lovely. It’s very clear that the people working there love each of the cats, and care for them as best they can. I didn’t feel pressured to buy a drink, or snacks, and there were plenty of places to sit, and even a few tables and chairs if you wanted to get on with something in the relative quiet of the building.

Fundraising happens here for a multitude of causes, and only last month they held a donation drive to provide food for the local shelters, which is wonderful!

If you’re in Melbourne, and you like cats, I would highly recommend paying the Cafe a visit. There’s a peace that you can experience there that differs so much from the type of ‘peace’ I get with my headphones on and a cup of coffee in any other cafe I’ve been to! (There was a point when I felt like I could curl up on the couch and go to sleep right there.)

I will definitely be going again, and they’ve catered for that possibility too, with a loyalty card that rewards you both for the coffee you drink there, and the number of visits you make. One of the best things I’ve done in a while.

When peas descend.

Hi everyone!

I wish that I could explain what it is that’s made me feel so very different from how I have been the last few weeks but today feels like an incredible successful day when actually I haven’t done much of anything. Which isn’t true, and I recognise that right away but I felt like it needed mentioning.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 19.00.14Anyway! Today I’m going to babble at you about life at my Mum’s house in Alaska.

Cold Bay’s population fluctuates through the seasons, but is about 100.

When I visited last October the weather was not awesome. When you visit a place called ‘Cold Bay’ the clue is pretty much in the name as far as temperature goes. As part of the Alaskan Peninsula, Cold Bay is the last real ‘stop’ before the Aleutian Islands.

Whilst I was there, all of my Geography ‘nerdism’ was pinged. There’s an active volcano across the bay from my Mum called Mount Pavlof. I’ll never forget when she casually took a photo of the volcano and posted it on Facebook. It’s not until you actually get there and see the distance, (or google it!!) that you realise just how much water there is across the bay that separates Cold Bay from the volcano.

Mount Pavlof

Whilst I was there it was inactive, but I still managed to see and do plenty despite staying during a quiet period of time. The bears were already making themselves scarce, as I would have done too were I exposed to the elements. I’ve never been anywhere SO cold before, but it’s mostly the wind that does the most damage.

Despite our rather frequently hunts for bears, I didn’t see any, but there were plenty of foxes and birds that were interesting enough to watch from the ‘relative’ comfort of my Mum’s home. They really know how to insulate up there.

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I did go fishing though! I’d been once before, on board a catamaran-style blow up boat. In the middle of a lake in August in Washington State somewhere that he’d taken us before. I didn’t catch a single thing, but I imagine that had more to do with my impatience and the fact that I couldn’t just sit still on the water.

it's not swan lake

Fishing off a dock in the middle of the bay was a very different experience. Different in the most obvious sense that the water was open, there were no disruptions on the surface, I had bait on the end of my line AND the expert advice of a seasoned fisher at my side.

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The easiest part of fishing this time was catching something. The difficulty arose when you attempted to bring whatever it is you caught OUT of the water. It takes a lot of courage (this is me talking) to climb down a ladder over the edge of a high dock, centimetres above water you know is FREEZING COLD to snag a Flounder and haul it back up the ladder. My step dad did this at least 3 times. Whenever something got loose off my line I think he was secretly grateful. Besides the huge flounder that we caught, some Irish Lord, and a bunch of seaweed!

The dog helped.

The best part of my trip was probably the views. I loved them. We would often go out for a drive in the truck and even if we didn’t come across anything that we thought was particularly ‘interesting’ I loved nothing better than to give thought to exactly where I was, out on the peninsula, in the middle of nowhere in a place that was relatively untouched by humans. (When you decide to forget about everything that happened there in World War II – but I think the point is the same.)

 I will definitely be visiting again, hopefully before my Mum & Step-Dad move away from Cold Bay, and again – I’m hoping that it will be during the Summer months when I can actually get out and do things more suited to a place like this when there are things to see and do in abundance.

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There can never be too many cats.

This is one of the first cats I met on my travels.

She belongs to the awesome friends who housed me for just over a month before I left jolly old England back in October last year.

I was pretty pleased to find that a lot of the friends I’ve met along the way lived with animals of some kind. The cats were everywhere, especially.

It’s a short post – mostly perhaps to push my new youtube videos, but also because I suppose that’s something I really love about life at the moment. I’ve had so much time to stop and consider the wildlife around me. Not just the animals that my friends have, but the creatures I’ve come across along the way. It’s nice to have time to just stop when I want to and observe the mean seagulls continually stealing crackers or bread from each other, or watching parrots in trees, or staring at cows in the hope they might actually gather enough courage to come back over to the fence and say hi. They never did. :(

I’ve felt incredibly conflicted, especially during one leg of my journey up in the hunter valley where questionable things happened to the animals locally which is apparently a common thing up there. I’ve seen parrots in the wild, kangaroos, snakes! (Scary!), weird bugs, loads of puppies, cows, horses, sheep, cats galore, doglets that like to eat peas, stray cats, feral cats, cats that never seem to stop purring, cats that like boxes.

My general consensus on animals has really made itself solid to me. I’ve really begun to accept that they own the Earth just as much as we do. I’m upset by the things that happen to them, the attitudes of other people toward them, and I don’t care if people keep looking at me weird. I will always talk to the rats, cats, birds and bugs!