activism · self-improvement · zero waste

Doing something

“Someone should really do something about that.”

Be honest, you have probably said this at some point in your life. Some thing isn’t the way it should be, objectively or subjectively. Our worlds are never what we feel they should be, but how often do we step up to make a change? I rarely do.

One of these things is the rubbish littering my local park. The Cunninghame Graham Memorial Park, known as “The Mony”, appears to be nothing remarkable, but is thought to be the site of Cardross Castle where Robert the Bruce died. The park is named after Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, a wealthy socialist. I don’t know enough about him to comment more. I do know that his actual memorial was moved elsewhere due to vandalism, which doesn’t surprise me at all.

Back to the litter. There is always a trail of litter along the footpaths, and clusters amongst the trees. You can see where folk “hide” to drink, or do drugs. Now, it used to be worse when the local secondary school was open, but it moved to the other side of town taking with it the majority of takeaway cartons, energy drink cans, and cigarette butts left behind by the pupils and staff. The Mony is still an unecessary mess though, and everytime I would walk through it I would find myself getting wound-up. Why do people drop litter in the first place? Why was nobody clearing it up regularly? Why did nobody seem to care?

I can’t answer the first question. I do not understand how anybody could drop litter at their arse. As a child I used to drive my mum bonkers because my pockets were always full of rubbish. I was very good at not dropping litter, but I was pretty rubbish at remembering to put it in a bin later!

As for the second and third questions, they come from a place of expecting other people to take responsibility for things. They could be rewritten as “Why should I clear it up regularly? I don’t drop litter!” and “Why should I care about it? Nobody else seems to.” As I am learning through my current Mindfullness CBT course, that is not how the world works. Waiting for other people to change is not a productive use of energy. It has been better for me to work on the things I can change for myself, and that means that I can take some time out of my life to clear up the park.

I started today, Samhain, as it felt like a meaningful way to celebrate the holiday. It also gave me a socially-acceptable excuse to do my litter-pick while wearing my fox onesie. I took my foxy self, a bin bag, some gloves, and a litter-picker out to The Mony and got stuck in.

I was underprepared, as I filled my bag super quickly and only covered about 1/6th of the park. In the mix was the traditional bottle of Buckfast, fizzy drink cans, polystyrene takeaway food cartons, and dog poo bags. Fucking dog poo bags. What’s worse than leaving dog shit lying around? Wrapping dog shit in plastic and then leaving it lying around. It boggles the mind. My most interesting find was the handlebars from a child’s bike.

As I was finishing up, I met a dogwalker who handed me some glass she had collected. We chatted about doing what we can, and I made the decision to go out a few times a week and focus on filling just one bag with rubbish. I have a habit of trying to do Big Grand Gestures that I cannot sustain, and eventually have to give up. But one or two bags a week? That is doable for me.

I can’t stop people from dropping litter, but I can do a bit it mitigate it, and after speaking with a dogwalker I realise that people do care, they/we just don’t really know to show it. Maybe we have to stop waiting for other people to tell us what to do, and what we can do, and just do what we can by ourselves.

activism

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.┬áThe 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.

IMG_20180111_124358_805
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!

activism

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┬áthere 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!

activism

Bearing witness

On the left there is a trailer full of sheep waiting to be delivered to the slaughterhouse. On the right are animal rights activists and a police officer.

Amongst the jostling and the fear, one looked out at us in curiosity. We both knew that she didn’t have long for this world, yet she was open to our presence and my heart broke.

*

Last weekend I joined Save Movement Scotland at one of their regular slaughterhouse vigils. Activists gathered to bear witness to the final moments of life of the cows and sheep being delivered to Sandyford Abattoir.

Sheep crowded into a transport truck.

The act of bearing witness was a simple but powerful reminder of my I am trying to go vegan. In my heart I know it is wrong to kill someone who doesn’t want to die, and that there is no humane way of doing so. On top of that, these animals were transported huge distances in barbaric conditions just to arrive at their death. It’s madness.