2016. 2017.

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me feeling smug with 2 baguettes in France

Hey all. Sorry for kinda disappearing for a month (and then some). The end of the year gets so crazy!

I don’t know about you, but there seems to be a general feeling that 2016 was a pretty terrible year. Granted, lots of depressing things did happen in 2016- in politics especially- but I don’t like the thought of allowing some of the not so great things that happened this year overshadow the good. I for one am not willing to write this year off as a waste of time, 365 days I wish I could get back. So I thought I’d write a list of things I am personally grateful for from 2016 (off the top of my head!)

In January I committed to becoming vegan! That was a massive decision that I struggled with initially, because it meant reteaching myself how to cook, learning about food and nutrition and letting go of my addiction to meat. But it was so worth it! I don’t regret my choice at all and it gets easier by the day. Not eating animal products has lead to more compassion for animals, a healthier lifestyle and I’ve finally started living in alignment with my values (still got a way to go but this is a step)

I returned from 9 months in France in April, which was a massive learning curve for me. When I first came back I wasn’t sure if it had been a great experience or if I’d used my time well. But looking back I learned a lot about myself and proved that I could push through large amounts of fear to make a life on my own in another country.

This September I got round to organising therapy for myself. I’m still trying out different avenues, but just proactively seeking help and acknowledging that you need it in the first place makes a significant difference to your mental health. Also, the more you talk about it with others, the more you realise it’s not uncommon to need support.

The great thing about starting to look critically at your lifestyle is that it opens up your awareness to other good causes. Not 4 months after I learned about zero waste, I decided to be vegan, and now I’m learning about minimalism. They all go hand in hand. The materials and working conditions used to produce the things I buy have become factors that I now think about and I’m so pleased.

Looking to the future, I’m learning not to be so hard on myself. When you first start out with a new lifestyle/goal, especially around New Year, you want to have a clean slate and keep it clean. Like forever. But there’s nothing wrong with admitting it might be more realistic to think that you might slip up or need time to transition. Over this holiday period I dread to think how much packaging I’ve sent to landfill (some of it unwillingly, some of it I’ll admit I saw it coming) but I’m picking myself up and saying ‘let’s start again’. We’re human, and we have to gentle on ourselves.

Leading on from the previous point, I’ve learned that the best way to motivate is to learn why. It’s all very well knowing that recycling is better than trash, but I had no drive to change anything significant in my consumption habits until I had a personal connection to the people and animals who suffer most at the hands of climate change. The same goes for finding out the truth about animal welfare on mass farms and high street shopping. The key is finding out the whole truth, and then deciding whether to support or withdraw from contributing to that situation based on what you now know. It’s pretty cool that we are so empowered with all this information at our fingertips!

Anyway, that was me getting back on this blogging bandwagon ūüôā Happy New Year friends!

Review: Before the Flood (2016)

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I recently watched this documentary and I was blown away. I mean, I’m pretty open-minded, and I like to try and see the best in things anyway, but I really just loved every part of it. It follows Leonardo DiCaprio as he travels all over the world as a UN representative on Climate Change, uncovering the effects of our consumption so far, as well as the struggles and triumphs of efforts to combat global warming.

I found it really interesting to hear about China. They have serious problems with air pollution in their cities from factories and power plants, but at the same time China is leading the way in developing green energy and practices. It was sad to hear people talking about their health worries caused by the smog, but the overall message was hopeful. The people are beginning to realise how powerful they are, and hopefully companies and the government will listen. Protests by citizens directly and quite quickly forced the government in Sweden to commit to becoming the first fossil-fuel-free nation- there’s hope for all of us!

A massive lesson I got from the documentary was about palm oil. I’ve spoken to a few people about it and read a little about the harmful effects of its extraction, but to see the reality ¬†was a different story entirely. They told us that 80% of the forests in Indonesia have been taken over for palm oil, destroying the wildlife. Leo met an organisation that was looking after orangutans, saved ‘from forests that no longer exist’. Our demand for palm oil has killed off an atrocious amount of animals, and the lucky ones have been made refugees, homeless.¬†The reason they continue to burn down forests is because we keep purchasing products that use it. Now that I¬†really understand importance of not buying into that industry, I now have a renewed enthusiasm to try and avoid palm oil as best I can.

‘Before the Flood’ also reiterated what I know already about how much of the world’s land is used to raise cattle or grow food for cattle. One of the experts they interviewed said that the best way to make a difference to the planet without getting involved in politics is by changing your diet. I can attest to the fact that making better food choices 3 times a day is a good start to feeling like you’re changing the world (and you are!)

The filming is amazing, and you see so many incredible images of animals, past and present, whose lives are or will be in grave danger if their habitats aren’t protected. DiCaprio is very honest about his personal failures and hypocrisy as well as that of the US in particular. He doesn’t pretend to be perfect or to have all the answers. What he does have is an eagerness to learn and an accurate sense of the urgency required if we want to protect and restore this world for the future.

Let me know what you thought of this documentary if you’ve seen it. If you haven’t it’s available to rent or buy here

 

Review: Live and Let Live (2013)

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This documentary in a nutshell is people telling stories about how they came to veganism. What makes it really special is that it draws from a variety of different people (activists, dieticians, ethicists, athletes, farmers) but feels like an honest, laid-back conversation.

Among the interviewees was a guy who worked his way up from washing dishes to cooking in restaurants to owning his own. At that point, responsible for the most minute details of his establishment, he realised he was authorising the death of animals needlessly. The life he now leads is not only cruelty-free, but he is passionate about organic, local produce that’ll bring nourishment to his customers and honour the lives of the creatures he shares the earth with.

None of the subjects claim to be saints, nor do they preach; they simply tell their stories. They explain how they used to live, the moment they realised that consuming animals was wrong, and why they continue to live that way. Often they mention health, but the overwhelming reason is that, to paraphrase from the film, they finally opened up their circle of compassion to include animals.

The concept of carnism (eating meat) is broken down in the documentary. It requires the covering up of the inherent violence involved in bringing meat to our plates, the denial of the logic that- at least in the west- we would be horrified to learn that the meat we were eating came from a cat or dog, but completely satisfied to hear that the burger we’re eating is made from the flesh of a cow. It’s good to be reminded that there is a whole system keeping people in this destructive practice, but that it’s completely possible to become aware and break free as well.

Watching people, in some cases decades on from the point I’m at, reminded me that my level of compassion still has room to grow and that I have things yet to learn- but in a really exciting way.

I could go on, as usual, but if you’re interested I hope you’ll watch it yourself. It’s available on Netflix UK now.

Review: Unlocking the Cage (2016)

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Steven and an ape (Source)

Not too long ago I thought that animals didn’t deserve to be abused, but that was about as far as it went. What constituted a good and fair life? I had no idea. What made animals inferior to us in the first place? I sort of just borrowed arguments from wherever. I am now slowly coming to realise that they are far more intelligent and emotionally complex than I ever gave them credit for, and that regardless of their qualities in comparison with humans animals are fellow inhabitants of the earth and deserve autonomy and freedom in their own right.

This documentary follows lawyer Steven Wise and his team who set out to achieve legal recognition of personhood for several apes in New York in order to rescue them from inhumane treatment. Steven started off as a ‘regular’ lawyer before discovering his passion for defending the rights of animals. I had always admired people who worked with/for animals, but I used to think it was a luxury we could only afford to spend our time and money on when we’d sorted humans first, but Wise said something that struck a chord with me; that (speaking for developed countries at least) animals are the only group of beings that are tortured, killed and abused which the law often does nothing to prevent. It made me think about all the animals slaughtered for food, the ones kept in cages in zoos far from their natural habitats, ones that are forced to perform in shows etc. You can pretty much do what you want to most types of animals and there is little or no recourse.

We hear the stories of a handful of apes- all former performers, subjects of medical/scientific/cosmetic testing, and even ‘pets’ of loving owners who couldn’t see past their own needs to the needs of these apes who thrive independently in the wild with their own kind. We see the conditions they are kept in, and their obvious unhappiness. In the course of trying to find individuals to represent, Steven and his team find out several times that apes that they have chosen have died in captivity before the team is ready to take the case to court, which really hammers home why they needed urgent intervention in the first place.

Anyway, on to the hopeful news. The team manage to achieve legal personhood for a couple of apes which allows them to demand that they are released from confinement and live life in a sanctuary which respects their need to roam free in a situation as close to the wild as possible. These cases should make it easier to achieve a proper quality of life that takes into account the rights of the animal before the desires of any human in other circumstances with other species.

Two things I really loved about this documentary: no. 1- Their default way to describe animals was ‘non-human persons’. When you change the way you word things, you are changing the way you perceive them, and if you start to consider animals as persons everything changes. No. 2- The legal team could’ve gone down the route of trying to get the animal rights laws updated, but they decided to go down the harder route for the sake of future cases. By calling these apes people, you are not saying they should have the right to vote, but demanding that they receive the importance of say a child, who does not have the responsibilities of an adult, but is protected and valued all the same. Personhood will mean different things for each species, depending on what it means for them to have a full life and be properly protected.

Before I go on for years and years, basically I recommend you watch this even if you’re a little bit curious, because I was not expecting to get so much out of it but I did. If you’re in the UK it’s currently on iPlayer!

 

Earthlings.

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Quote on Earthlings documentary (source)

If you haven’t heard of Earthlings, it’s a well-known documentary narrated by Joaquin Phoenix which¬†looks at all the ways humans interact with animals (food, pets, medicine etc.). You don’t have to do much research¬†at all to establish that this documentary is powerful. And by powerful I mean harrowing.

A few months ago I stumbled across it, got into it, and quickly turned it off! It was too much. Today I thought you probably should know what goes on, Lydia. It’ll help you with motivation, Lydia.¬†I psyched myself back up, and pressed play.¬†I watched as much as I could, and when I couldn’t face to watch, I listened (which was traumatic enough!) I’m glad I made it through. It is horrible to witness, but it’s definitely enough to reinforce why veganism is so necessary.

Everyone should watch this. The myths about the food industry, animal-testing, leather and even circuses and zoos are so prevalent in society and perpetuate the illusion that we can continue to use animals how we please because they are treated fairly or they don’t feel pain or their purpose is for us to exploit them. Mind blown. I don’t have the words to describe how I feel. As a society, we don’t do nearly enough sharing with our fellow humans or earthlings as we should; we take and take, leaving the planet worse off than when we received it.

Before we all get depressed though, there is a lot to be hopeful for! Since autumn 2015, I have discovered beautiful communities of people passionate about the environment and the earth and being healthy and ethical, and they’re growing and gaining strength every day. Living by example and talking about your findings is infinitely powerful. Consumers are powerful and voters are powerful. We need to demand the kind of world we want to live in.

watch ‘Earthlings’ here

Am I an animal lover?

It is probably assumed, as I am a vegan and very passionate about the environment, that I am an animal lover. That I coo over every dog I pass in the park/street, that I wanted/still want to work with animals etc. Actually, no!

I don’t consider myself to be obsessed with animals by any stretch. My family have a cat, who I like, but I could see myself not having a pet later on in life. As a child I was very cautious around animals, mainly through lack of experience (we got the cat when I was 12). I was VERY scared of dogs. So anyway, hopefully you get the picture. I wasn’t crazy about animals.

But here’s the thing: you don’t have to be obsessed with animals to feel something when you see them being mistreated. Below is a picture of a baby albatross. When hunting for food, albatross look for shiny things in the water and mistake pieces of plastic for fish, which they then feed to their young. Thinking their stomachs are full, they are momentarily satisfied, but they end up dying. This is the contents of a typical dead albatross:

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Baby albatross stomach (source)

When I first saw this picture, I had such a horrible feeling of disgust and my heart was in so much pain. I’d never even thought about albatross before, If I’m honest I didn’t even know what one looked like! But seeing one dead and full of things I KNOW I’ve thrown away plenty of in my lifetime (bottle-tops, lighters etc.) made me want to vow I’d never throw anything away again! I don’t think you need to be an animal ‘lover’ to want to avoid them dying at our hands.

Another thing that I’ve learned is that when you start practising veganism, you become more appreciative of animals. As a meat-eater I used to reduce animals to funny, stupid creatures (not in such harsh words, but that’s what I thought) because when you see something as food, or a commodity, you have to distance yourself from emotions and respect in order for the idea to sit comfortably. Now that I no longer see animals as my food, it is so much easier to learn about the intricate way animals behave and interact. I often find that the right thing to do (be it forgiveness, tolerance etc.) needs to be practised first, and the feeling comes later. Do what you know to be right even if you haven’t accepted it in your heart yet, and afterwards you will realise why it was the right thing to do.

Because of my new found respect for animals, I am now certain that keeping animals cooped up in cages and barns surrounded by death and faeces does not do justice to their dignity. It is not necessary for our diets, it is not right to ask other people to kill animals so that we don’t have to see it, and it is not sustainable for the planet.