Staring into the gaping jaws of the ancient matriarch, a cryptic message was delivered straight into my heart that I have yet to decipher.

My friend invited me to the T.rex in Town exhibition in Glasgow, and I was overwhelmed and overjoyed to be in the presence of “Trix” – a tyranosaur discovered in Montana. Glasgow is the last stop in her European tour before returning to her main residence on the Netherlands, and it is was real privilege to be able to see this incredible piece of natural history.

After walking around her, I needed to sit for a moment and really grasp the reality of what I was seeing. I squeezed onto a bench right in front of her, and tried to comprehend just how far apart our lives are in time and space. I couldn’t. And then I had one of my moments, where I think I blanked out and then felt this incredible expansive energy in my chest – a gift from the tyranosaur.


Winning (by losing) the Minimalism Game

A series of nine photos showing some of the clutter that Emma managed to remove while playing the Minimalism Game.
Some of the clutter I managed to lose.

A belated happy new year to you all! Like most folk, I entered 2019 with a handful of resolutions. To be healthier, happier, and better all around. One of my major life battles is with clutter. I idolise those who can live a minimalist lifestyle, but no matter how hard I try I cannot emulate it.

I am just a little clutterbug!

Enter The Minimalism Game from Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus. The rules are pretty basic: On the first day you get rid of one item, on day two, you get rid of two items, all the way to day thirty. Simple?

Well, no. Not so simple.

By day twelve I was struggling. Not because I had nothing to get rid of, but because my brain couldn’t handle the counting! I gave up the game at 78 items. I may have lost the game, but reducing my clutter by 78 objects is still a victory and I am still decluttering – just not as intensely, and I am combining it with a little bit of the KonMari method. I want what I have to “spark joy”.

self-improvement · zero waste

Trash Audit

I’m not perfect, but I had always thought that the level of rubbish I created was not that bad.

Okay, that’s a lie. I had never thought about the level of rubbish I created because I assumed that it was not that bad. After all I used moon pads, a bamboo toothbrush, and reusable bags! Gold star for me!

My rubbish trail was brought back into my awareness when I caught Cheap Lazy Vegan and Tidy Guy’s Trash Audit videos on YouTube. To summarise: CLV was asked to consciously minimise the amount of trash she created, and was given a jar to collect her trash in. At the end of the week, the pair of them reviewed the jar’s contents. The videos are really worth watching.

I thought to myself “I should try this. How much rubbish could I possibly create?”

Here is a selection of just some of the rubbish I produced.

I am not going to list all of my rubbish, because I am embarrassed. It really hit my shame button. I realised how lazy I am, and how much I prioritise convenience.

During the week I did my audit, the bulk of my waste came from food. Many of the cakes, biscuits, and cereal bars I eat come in single-use plastic wrappers. I have a terrible sweet-tooth, and rely on sweet treats to get through my days. I also have a bad habit of ordering takeaway food for dinner because I am too exhausted to cook at night. Most of the food I order does come in recyclable containers, but then there is the dreaded polystyrene packaging. I have been trying to ensure that I eat more fruit, so I have been relying on precut portions that come in wee plastic bags. Finally, I have been trying to motivate myself to leave the house (for work or a walk) by picking up a takeaway hot chocolate on my way.

The rest of my waste came from personal care. My permanently runny nose and my sloppy eating habits mean I use a lot of tissues and kitchen roll. Then there was the security wrappers and blister packs from my medication. Finally, there was my razor blade. This was frustrating! I had switched from disposable razors to ones were you reuse the handle thinking that it would use less plastic. I was wrong! The blades come in so much plastic packaging!

Of course, different weeks bring different waste! Since doing my audit I’ve noticed that I use a lot of microwave rice (which comes in plastic pouches), and that my internet shopping comes in a variety of packaging. Some of it I reuse, but there are too many single-use plastics for my liking.

So where do I go from here?

-I could make my own cakes and biscuits, and bring them with me in reusable tubs.
-I could make more of an effort to cook at home instead of ordering food in.
-I could cut up my own fruit portions, and bring them with me in reusable tubs.
-I could buy a reusable travel mug. I already have one, but it doesn’t have a secure closable lid, so I use it to get my lunchtime soup at work instead of using one of their takeaway cups.
-I can make my own handkerchiefs and napkins from scrap fabric.
-I could begin using a safety razor (thanks for the tip, Simply Sustainable Sarah!)

I’m really glad I did my own trash audit. Facing up to the impact of my lifestyle has been hard, especially as I have been relying on my illnesses as an excuse to be a slob. I am positive I can change though. Looking at my habits and my rubbish this closely has helped me draw up an action plan on where to go from here.

I hope to keep you all updated on my low waste journey!


Havoc Burned

I didn’t think much of the phone call.

It was Friday morning. I was enjoying an early lunch partner after a fun night out in Glasgow the night before, when my phone rang. It was someone from the Work Connect programme saying not to come in next Tuesday. It was a bit of a bummer, as that is when our photography group takes place, but these things happen. There was probably some staff training or something, and I carried on with my day.

Only when faffing about on Facebook later that evening did I realise what had happened.

Photograph of the Havoc Pavilion after it was gutten by fire. May 2018

Overnight the current venue for the Work Connect programme, the Havoc Pavilion, had burned down.

I’ve part of Work Connect for just under a year. The programme helps marginalised people, such as those with disabilities and mental health problems, find meaningful activity and structured learning. In some cases participants can access training and employment. For me it has been a lifeline as I struggle to recover from workplace bullying, ongoing trauma, a personality disorder, and manage a chronic disability. I have a place where I don’t have to mask the bullshit to please society, and where I am encouraged to make the most of my strengths. My biggest success there has been helping to facilitate a photography group following on from a 10-week long workshop. I’m also taking part in the Write to Recovery group, and I’ve started helping with the newsletter.

Photograph of the Havoc Pavilion after it was gutten by fire. May 2018

The Havoc Pavilion really was a second home for me.

To hear that it had gone up in smoke, along with the work and projects of all the service users, was heartbreaking. I had to go down and see for myself. As I walked around the building I could see where the guys had worked on the park benches and fixed up the bikes, where plans were made for gardening projects, where wreaths were made for Christmas, and where photos were framed for an art exhibition. I think I am more devastated for everyone else than I am for me. Things were lost, but nobody was hurt.

I guess I’m hurting because my time in the programme is almost up, so most of my memories were tied up in the Pavilion. It’s sad to see a place where I flourished so badly destroyed.


Veganuary: The finish line?

Banner which reads "Vegans just wanna have fun-damental rights for animals. And cake. They want cake."

False starts and head starts

Today is the last day of my Veganuary challenge; my 31st day eating a vegan diet. I wish I could tell you about the amazing culinary adventure that I’ve had but to be honest, going vegan has been pretty unremarkable!

I had scheduled to start on the 1st of January, but I had to postpone until the 2nd as my aunt had invited me to join her and the rest of the family for a delicious New Years Day dinner (followed by all-out-war due to Trivial Pursuit!) The meal was mostly vegan; I think the only non-vegan items were the honey roast parsnips and the yorkshire puddings! Oh, and the bottle of Kopparberg cider I washed it all down with.

The false start wasn’t a real set-back though. Although I had slipped into pescatarianism, I still had 20-years of experience as a vegetarian behind me and I had been (unsuccessfully) trying to go vegan for some time, so I did have some goods and ideas to give me a head start.

Home cooking

Oh how I wish I was a goddess in the kitchen, but I am so not! Executive dysfunction and chronic fatigue often mean my kitchen is too much of a mess to even begin cooking from scratch. I do feel a bit ashamed of it, especially when I see all the amazing meals the “whole foods plant based” are churning out! My tummy just rumbles even at the thought of their rainbow meals!

But fear not! I have one meal that I both enjoy and can make by myself – Lentil bolognase. It’s cheap and cheerful!

Follow the link to try it for yourself!

I prefer to add an extra tin of tomatoes, to make the vegetable stock double-strength, and to over season. You can never have too much garlic!

Today I have learned that you can make lazy vegan cakes with Betty Crocker cake mixes, but instead of the egg, oil and water, you add a can of cola or lemonade. I will be sure to report back. Domestic goddess; fake it till you make it!

Pubs and grubs

I eat out a lot and consume far too much takeaway food, and to my joy most of it is vegan.

My ‘regular’ pub in my home town is a Wetherspoons, and they have a small but not too boring vegan menu. Breakfasts usually involve their smashed avocado bagel, and lunches include curry, chilli, and pasta. Of course they could do better. I would love it if they made their vegetarian cooked breakfast vegan-friendly!

My second ‘regular’ pub is nothing but disappointment. Their vegetarian menu is piss poor, and as a vegan I can have chips with a side of mixed vegetables. Brilliant.

In Glasgow I usually haunt the Flying Duck or the 13th Note, both are dedicated to vegan food. At the Flying Duck I swear by the standard seitan burger (no ‘slaw), and the 13th Note does a fantastic cooked breakfast. Nom. The recently opened Purrple Cat Cafe has a great light-bite menu for vegans too. I go for the french toast with a side of kitten cuddles.

He’s supervising the vegan menu at the Purrple Cat Cafe.

The bummer has been the cider. I love bottled fruit ciders! Both Herrljunga and Kopparberg are not vegan, both of which are served at my locals. Thankfully Old Mout Cider IS vegan, so not all is lost. I have to drink at home or in Glasgow though. Pants.

Health and household

This is where my head start came in handy! Veganuary is focused primarily on diet, but I had been trying to choose vegan products in all parts of my life for about a year now.

All of my health and hygiene products now come from Superdrug. Always check, but the majority of their own brand products are vegan and have been certified by Cruelty Free International.

My partner does most of the “big shop”, and he chooses ethical cleaning products where possible. Ecover and Bio D regularly appear in our home. I also like to buy Humble Stuff so that I can support a small local business while doing battle with the greasy cooker top.

Some things change …

Veganuary isn’t the end of my journey. I am staying vegan for the forseeable future, but I can’t continue to be a “junk food vegan”. This means that I need to get a handle on meal planning, prep and cooking (and cleaning up afterwards!) Meal prep always makes me feel anxious; I see all these lush Instagram photos, and my mind races. Do you cook everything, or just part cook it? How long does it keep? Can you freeze it? Do you have to defrost it, or can it be cooked from frozen? … then I just end up ordering a burrito from the local Mexican takeaway!

While not exclusively tied into my veganism, I am in the very early stages of trying to re-establish our local community farm which we lost in 2011 due to a lack of funding. There is a real need for our communities to really learn where our food comes from, and a further need for a place where farm animals can escape to. I’ll probably write about all of this in further detail, because it also ties into my politics and religion.

… and some stay the same

I am still going to continue my work with animal remains. This psychopomp-esque work is a core part of my spiritual practice; I have a responsibility to return dignity to animals in death. I imagine if people see me dancing in a wolf pelt they will be horribly offended … but that doesn’t change my relationship with the sacred dead.

A catroon drawing of a cow and her calf, with the caption "Not your Mama, not your milk"

Reaching the finish line, just to start the race

I honestly thought I would be counting down the days till the end of Veganuary; my chocolate cravings battering my good intentions into the ground! But it didn’t happen. I still have a weakness for dairy chocolate on my emotionally fragile days, but sometimes I catch a smell of it and the sourness turns my stomach. My body knows it’s bad for me, my brain just needs to catch up!

I feel pretty good, inside and out. My diet, and (some) of my lifestyle choices are in alignment with my values. I’m lighter, and it’s nice.

Here I am at the end of Veganuary, and I am ready to keep going!


Veganuary 2018: Why I’m taking part

A calf isolated from her family. Caption reads: "I never got to taste my mother's milk".In the next few days thousands of people, including myself, will be giving veganism a try. Since 2014, Veganuary has been encouraging anyone and everyone to give the vegan diet and lifestyle a go for just 31 days. Even in these days of vegan convenience foods and easy internet access, the thought of adopting a vegan diet can still seem intimidating, so having a group to hold your hand through these first few steps can make things so much easier.

I have been trying to go vegan for some months now. I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian back in my early years of secondary school, some 20+ years ago. I took a step backward and became pescatarian for a new years, but I am happy to report that I have been veggie again for the past three months. My main reason for going vegan is for the animals; I have no faith in our current system of agriculture to provide the animals in their ‘care’ with a ‘good life’. On top of that there is simply no way to kill someone who doesn’t want to die. It doesn’t matter what kind of life an animal has led; once they are on their way to the slaughterhouse, everything is the same.

Cow looking outside a barn door. Caption reads: "Sometimes it's hard to pick right from wrong. The best thing we can do is go with out heart and hope it all goes well"

So why have I not been successful in my attempts to be vegan so far?

  • The feeling of “not good enough”: I have been an animal activist for a good few years now, and my stance is always to meet people where they are, but there are always people out there to point out where you are failing, and why you aren’t good enough. More vegan than you. Like it is some sort of competition or fashion trend. I let this get to me far too much. Yes, I work with animal remains and yes, I want to end animal cruelty. They two are not mutually exclusive.
  • Emotional eating: In spite of all of the progress I have made in improving my mental health since September, I still rely too much on food to make me feel better in the short-term. Mostly chocolate, but also Quorn sausages (which aren’t vegan yet). I always feel rotten afterwards, but I never seem to learn my lesson.

A gret squirrel drinking out of a cup. Caption reads: "Try nut milk this Veganuary"

I am feeling a bit more confident in my ability this time around. So why will I be successful this time?

  • Support from the Veganuary community: Their website, Facebook community, and their new book How To Go Vegan, all provide the right kind of support. The people and guidance there help to build confidence, provide support, and don’t belittle folk for making mistakes on their journey.
  • I have a better starting point: When I first tried veganism my starting point was from pescetarianism, and a shed load of trauma from watching Earthlings (though I have no regrets, and feel that this is the once documentary everybody should watch). My heart was ready to make the change, but my mind wasn’t. I was not ready to try new things and read labels, to do the practical things, but now I am.
  • Friends are on the journey too: A couple of my friends are doing Veganuary too! We all decided to do it independently, and I am really glad they did. Hopefully we can lean on each other while we find out feet.

So tomorrow is the big day; I start my 31 days without any animal produce. I’m feeling quite excited about it. In reality, it is a very small change for me but it feels like such a big deal. I am going to try not to beat myself up if I make a mistake by remembering the real definition of veganism.

“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” – The Vegan Society

Possible and practical.

Let’s get to it!