5 Things this Monday…

Macaque Maintenance

  1. There’s a new documentary on Netflix advocating veganism and exploring the treatment of animals in farms- yes! Netflix is such a good source of documentaries and I can’t get enough of them 🙂 Check out the trailer here.
  2. The winners of the 2017 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year Contest have been announced, and their pictures blew me away today. What better reason to want to save this beautiful planet…
  3. 10 ways to use a handkerchief! Tea towels and hankies are so useful for so many things! They really come into their own when you go zero waste, I love them.
  4. It’s probably too late for this year, but this article gives advice on what trees can be kept in pots outside then brought in for Christmas year after year, as well as tips on how to care for them. I’m definitely keeping this bookmarked.
  5. Buy Me Once has put together a review of reputable knife brands to find out which is the best. Could be a last minute gift idea or something to invest in with your Christmas money that’ll last a lifetime.
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Review: Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things (2016)

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(Source)

Minimalism has slowly been creeping into my consciousness for a while now, but I just thought I’d warn you that I’m well and truly hooked and that you’re about to see a whole lot more from me on this subject!

Without further ado, I watched this documentary on Netflix and it really has inspired me. It starts off with this quote:

‘At a time when people in the West are experiencing the best standard of living in history, why is it that at the same time there is such a longing for more?’ Rick Hanson

And it’s true. I don’t think it’s just my friends and family that are sharing my enthusiasm for making a difference, it’s sweeping across the country and the world. In the aftermath of the crazy consumerism that’s exploded over the last 50 odd years, people have come to realise that it is lacking as a means of making you feel good in the long run.

In the fashion industry it’s gone from having 4 or maybe even 2 seasons a year (Autumn-Winter/Spring-Summer) to 52! That’s every week! You’re supposed to feel like you’re not ‘on trend’ so that you buy more. The abuse of garment workers means that the value of clothing is through the floor; you no longer need to wait for clothing to be unusable; it simply has to be unfashionable to deserve throwing away. And who even cares when it only cost £3, right?

Advertising has polluted every area of our lives. Bathrooms, films, taxis, doctor’s surgery… Advertising for children’s products has changed; it used to target mothers, but now it goes around the parents and straight to the kids. A large number of children have access to technology from as young as under a year old.

HOWEVER! People are beginning to realise that they might be being tricked, and that they have more options than they are lead to believe. And that’s where minimalism steps in. This documentary features The Minimalists, No Impact Man, and news reporter Dan Harris, among others, who share their personal stories of coming to the decision to live with less. I love how varied their stories are, how different their problems were, and yet they found an alternative way to live and now their motivation is essentially the same: to simplify the stuff that doesn’t matter and live more intentionally. It looks different for all of them, but it works.

I don’t want to go into a load of detail and ruin it for you! I would highly recommend seeing this documentary, even if you aren’t already thinking of being minimalist. It is a great insight into how some people live and encourages you to be more intentional in life in general. I did write down some quotes that I liked from the film though… Enjoy! Also let me know what you thought of it if you do give it a watch 🙂

‘As human beings we have strong attachment -initially in our lives- to people who are caring for us; sometimes it feels like those attachments spill over to objects, as if they were as important as people’ Gail Steketee

‘You can never get enough of what you don’t want’ Rick Hanson

‘I wish everyone could become rich and famous so they could realise it’s not the answer’ Jim Carey

‘Minimalism is not a radical lifestyle’ Non-hairy minimalists

‘We are not going to reach the environmental goals we are seeking whilst maintaining our current lifestyles. We’re going to have to give up a lot’ Unknown

‘The beauty of not being prepared for everything is that you are forced to call on others and they on you for favours/borrowing etc. You end up in community.’ Unknown

‘Because you can do anything you want you can potentially do everything you want, but to do everything you want you have to sacrifice things that really are important’ Unknown

‘You can’t force people around you to be as minimalist as you, or at all. You have to respect their choice.’ Unknown

Review: Food Choices (2016)

 

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(Source)

What did people do before Netflix, eh? (don’t answer that question, they probably were a lot more productive!) At least when it comes to documentaries, it’s really the place to go! In the theme of Veganuary, I thought I’d watch a foody documentary that’s been sitting on my watch-list for a while. Food Choices follows Michal Siewierski on his journey to discovering the most healthy diet for humans. It felt like an extension of other Netflix food documentaries, featuring interviews with Joe Cross of ‘Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead’ and Dr.T. Colin Campbell of ‘Food Matters’. Here are the stand-out points for me:

Whilst it has been made complicated through all manner of fads and ‘studies’, it seems the perfect diet for humans consists of the following 4 main food groups: fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. The ideal foods are high in fibre and unprocessed.

Doctors are not trained in nutrition hence why they focus on treating health problems with medicine (what they are trained in). This only tends to control the symptoms and adds others. Especially in America, but across the West, corporations interfere and confuse the situation by trying to make money through false food information as theor primary focus is profit.

Myth= we (humans) are hunter-gatherers designed to eat meat

Reality= those closer to the equator and most of the planet relied on starchy foods (corn, potatoes etc.) to survive. Only in the far North and South in places such as the Arctic did people have to eat large quantities of meat due to the scarcity of other food options in the extreme cold.

Our bodies are designed to eat fruits and vegetables. Some animals ave sharp teeth and claws to kill and eat animals, whilst we see in colour to detect fruit and vegetables, and our hands are perfect for picking and peeling them.

Myth= you can only get protein from animal products

Reality= it is impossible to be protein deficient especially on a plant-based wholefood diet as long as you’re getting enough calories per day. Humans do not need a lot of protein, not nearly as much as we are made to believe. In fact we get health problems as a result of too much! Our kidneys, and liver are put under stress by over consumption of protein and we are at a far larger risk of cancers.

Myth= we need milk for calcium

Reality= the higher the calcium intake from dairy products, the higher the risk of osteoporosis. There is calcium in all sorts of food, such as oranges!

All of the nutrients generally lacking in the population can be found in plant-based foods, whereas all of the over-consumed ingredients come from animal products/processed foods

We are the only creatures on earth that consume the milk of another species AND that consumes milk after infancy- IT’S NOT NATURAL! It’s designed for baby cows to rapidly gain weight! High fat, high cholesterol, no fibre- it’s just like liquid red meat.

No wonder people are addicted to cheese! The casein used to bind cheese together has been proven to be as addictive as heroin! (paraphrased from Karyn Calabrese)

‘Eggs are the most concentrated source of dietary cholesterol in the average person’s diet’ Dr. Michael Greger

Cholesterol only comes from animal products, and additional cholesterol causes heart diseases.

Commercial chickens are fed antibiotics, genetically modified corn and soy.

We are the only species on earth that does not live in harmony with nature.

Anyway, those are my notes. If you haven’t seen any food documentaries, I would recommend Food Matters, Cowspiracy or Forks Over Knives. This one I enjoyed the first half of, but I’d say there are others that deliver the message a bit better. I did like the humble approach of the guy and the way he asked simple, common questions and tried to find the answer.

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.

Unhelpful comments.

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Have a picture of the motorway in Spain in 2014, go on.

This is an issue that I was aware of, but never considered writing about until a pang of frustration hit me whilst scrolling down my Facebook feed and I read a post saying something like ‘you call yourself an environmentalist but you still eat meat HAHAHA’. The tone was very belittling and aggressive and I just don’t see the need.

I would be lying if I said knowing what I know now doesn’t make me want to shake all my friends and family and say ‘do you realise what this does to the planet?!’ but that would make me two things; 1) disrespectful of the fact that everyone comes to their own decisions. Just as they respect my decision to not eat meat, I have to accept theirs. 2) arrogant considering that less than a year ago I couldn’t fathom why anybody would want to stop eating meat.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have conversations about the effect of meat eating on the environment, it’ s just about adjusting your attitude. Until every aspect of your life is faultless, it is unfair for you to make anyone feel lesser because of something they do. No one wants to feel that someone else’s opinions are being shoved down their throat, and it doesn’t really work anyway.

So how do you challenge the people around you to think about meat consumption? Here are 3 ways that respect other people’s autonomy:

  1. Recommend a documentary- Netflix was the main source of evidence that convinced me to become a vegan. Unlike books or articles, most people will find it easier to sit and watch a documentary because it’s quick and passive. Whether you watch together or leave them to themselves, the hard facts speak for themselves and it could be the spark that gets their minds ticking. Netflix has a good range of documentaries to suit personality types, priorities (health, planet, animals) and depth of scientific knowledge. I’ll leave a list at the end of this post of places to start.
  2. Be an example- I don’t go very long without having to mention my dietary requirements somewhere, and at least half of the time when I do, someone asks me why. That’s your permission to -briefly- explain your reasons. It might end there, or it might be the beginning of a discussion; either way that person has registered the choice you have made and you never know if further down the line it might trigger a change.
  3. Make + bake- Food is the way to the heart, as they say, and what better way to demonstrate your lifestyle than by showing its best bits? I’m compiling a collection of cake recipes and have made 3 birthday cakes in the last few months for family members. Making food to share with others means that firstly, you can eat it (unlike shop-bought birthday cake for instance) and secondly others will see that veganism doesn’t require any more effort or sacrificing taste.

Basically, stay respectful and remember that when it comes to any subject, we are only ever responsible for our own decisions. A little creativity goes quite far though!

 

Documentaries to recommend:

Cowspiracy– focuses on the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, quite science-y

Vegucated– an all-round introduction to issues related to meat-eating. Follows a group of diverse meat-eaters as they learn more as an experiment to see if they change their diets.

Food Matters/Forks Over Knives/Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead– focus on the effects of eating meat  vs. plant-based (vegan) diet on health. Food matters is stats heavy with lots of case studies and graphs. Forks Over Knives is a bit more testimony based with facts to support. FS&ND follows 2 men’s dramatic journeys towards better health through a plant-based diet.

Earthlings (not on Netflix)– morality/animal focused, it goes through the main ways that animals are used in society (food, pets, experiments etc.) showing real-life typical scenarios for animals. It’s harrowing and exposes a lot of suffering that we are shielded from in everyday life.

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

My vegan story.

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Cowspiracy, 2014 (Source)

I made the decision to become vegan in mid-December 2015, (feels like an eternity ago, actually only a month and a half!) but after a few weeks of falling flat on my face time and time again, I took some time to do my research and get organised before starting again properly in January.

Why did I decide to go vegan? Well, it all started with my love for documentaries and the environment! Whilst researching green living (tips, reusable products etc.) the topic of veganism as a way to massively reduce pollution kept cropping up. I tried to compromise first by only eating meat on weekdays, and then eventually only on weekends.

Flash forward a few weeks, and I’m bored out of my skull, really feeling like a documentary. Flicking through netflix, I see this one called Cowspiracy which had been on my watch list for a while, but I’d never actually gotten round to. From the synopsis alone I had this feeling it would leave me with no option but to become vegan, but I loved meat so much. I toiled, and then finally decided that living in ignorance is not the way. From the moment I finished that documentary I was under no illusion as to the harm I would cause to the planet through eating meat.

Once I had made the commitment not to eat another animal product, I was able to do more research without fear, and the overwhelmingly convincing health and moral reasons reinforced my conviction. I have definitely been weak, I have definitely made (many) mistakes, but it is important to stay positive. Even in trying and failing I am saving lives and helping the planet, and one day I will be able to look back and say I made a difference. If you are passionate about the environment, your health, or are an animal lover and are not yet vegan, I would encourage you to see my vegan links page so that you can be up-to-date with the facts and make an informed decision. It felt strange to begin with, but I am definitely satisfied with the decision I made.