Striving for a greener, more ethical life

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Quietly Vegetarian

I have decided to break the habit of a lifetime and talk about why I am a vegetarian. This has been prompted by a news story today on the BBC. This features an American study of 120,000 people which found eating processed and red meat can greatly increase the chance of heart disease and cancer. I then also read this morning a report about the relative greenhouse gases produced from what we eat by Mike Burners-Lee. This study found that a vegetarian diet could mean 20% less greenhouse gases are emitted.

I have been vegetarian for over 30 years and it has never been difficult for me to sick to as I never really liked meat and as a child would only pick at it because I was told I should. Sometimes people ask me why I am a vegetarian and I usually say it is because I don’t like meat but it is more than that. Even as a child I could  always  see the animal I was being told to eat. To me it was the same as someone else being asked to eat a rat, a family pet or even a human. Why would you want to if you weren’t starving or in some awful air crash in the Andes mountain. I don’t believe animals have been put here just for us to eat. Walking past a butcher for me is disgusting and makes me sad, whereas walking past a green grocer is uplifting and energising. I don’t however make judgements about what anyone else should do. My children are vegetarian but when in turn they reached the age of 5 I sat them down and explained that although they wouldn’t get meat at home, if they went to friend’s houses for sleep overs or for parties or at school with school dinners they could chose what they wanted to eat. They still know this but so far they are vegetarian which I admire because it can still be pretty tough to be ‘different’. Who knows what they will want to do when they are adults – that’s really up to them. My daughter has tried ham  as she was accidentally provided with a ham sandwich at school, and she has tried fish with her father but she did not enjoy the experience and so far hasn’t chosen to repeat it.

I also now see meat as a human equity issue. Often when people are taken out of exreme poverty the first things they do are send their children to school, buy basic necessities and then choose to eat more meat. The world cannot sustain the whole human population eating as much meat and diary as the ‘Western’ diet so it is only ‘fair’ that the Western diet should contain less meat and diary. Luckily this is now proven to be a good thing for human and planetary health. I have seen so many amazing vegetarian/vegan/raw food recipes on WordPress blogs that there is no reason why we can’t all make small changes to our diet.

What am I going to change? Well, I am aware of my hypocritical habit of eating dairy. Unfortunately, calves are killed on dairy farms as part of the cycle as cows need to give birth regularly to keep them producing milk,  so my changes will be to make sure we go vegan at least two days a week. This will no doubt bring health benefits to us.


Bringing Spring Inside

Every late winter my mother would bring branches of Forsythia into the house to bring them into flower. It became, for me, one fo the ways of celebrating the seasons. I have continued and extended the tradition. I almost always have some flowers from the garden in the kitchen as well as some sort of display (Christmas, New Year, Valentines, Easter, Summer Solstice, Harvest Festival, Halloween etc). As usual this year I cut Forsythia branches to hang our Valentines display.

Valentine's display in a pot made by mother in the early 1970's

They look at little bare but they do emphasise the hearts (mostly charity shop finds or from Fairly Traded sources) and this just reminds us of the love at the core of the family. We all get grumpy and techy at times but we’ve been getting on pretty well recently. My underemployment situation means that I am around a lot more if the children want to talk. It will be hard on all of us when I go back to a full time job.

Less than 10 days later the forsythia burst into bloom (usually it is around for me to hang an Easter display on which goes well with the yellow).

Forsythia in bloom


The weather has been strange in London for the last two months. Mild, then cold, then extremely mild then cold again. The region is in official drought due to lack of rain and despite a bit of rainfal over the last two days it is not going to fill the reservoirs and aquifers. Despite the rain and grey skies of yesterday I ventured out into the garden as I could see some of my favorite spring plants in flower.

Winter Iris - has been flowering since January

Lungwort originally from my mother's garden

My garden is full of plants that remind me of special people – primroses from my father’s garden when he moved back to Scotland, herbs and bushes taken as cuttings from a myriad of people and lots of plants that I have bought at Charity fairs and fetes.

A rosemary that grew from a cutting of a plant that was a cutting from my mother's garden...

Hellebore from my sister in law's garden

Fairtrade Fortnight 2012

It is Fairtrade Fortnight and there are lots of events happening all over the UK to celebrate. I am usually more involved but what I am now calling my ‘year off’ has pulled me in different directions for now. When I heard that Lambeth Fairtrade Network were going to have two farmers from Divine Chocolate speaking about what a co-operative is and how they have benefitted from this and from Fairtrade, I wanted to go and support them. I have heard Fairtrade farmers from all over the world speak at events during Fairtrade Fortnight and they are always inspirational. Yesterday was no exception.

The speakers were Elias Mohammed and Agnes Armah from the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative in Ghana. The co-operative owns 45% of Divine chocolate so the farmers get their Fairtrade price, their community Fairtrade premium (that they spend on classrooms, wells, latrines) and if Divine makes a profit – a dividend. Last year the co-operative agreed to spend the dividend on buying a machete for each farmer. This seems a small thing to us but is essential equipment to them. Elias and Agnes were asked what they would chose to buy this year if there is a dividend. They explained patiently that this would need to be decided by the district and regional branches of the co-operative and then options put forward to the AGM. We pressed and said if you could chose what would it be? ‘Wellington boots’. Apparently these would transform working among the cocoa trees where snakes can be common and a bite difficult to treat and potentially fatal. I don’t have much disposable money at the moment but I know that I could always afford Wellington boots if my life depended on it. How grounding is that? We have so much it feels as if the world is completly out of balance. Anyway, I felt so inspired by their humerous and happy approach, I went out and bought my favorite bar of Divine chocolate – how amazing that I don’t have to sacrifice anything or make some meaningless donation to have a positive impact. I LOVE FAIRTRADE.

Agnes and Elias at either end of the first Fairtrade banana

Photos From Recent Walks

I have been inspired by a number of WordPress blogs to really stop and look with the camera. I try not to let things interfere with my walks (from the physical activity point of view) but actually you start to see things you really want to capture. Here are a series of photos from recent walks that sum up for me the season and weather perfectly. I think they also show that even in London’s Zone 4 (for those that don’t know London, it goes out to Zone 6) you can feel at one with nature and get some respite from the hurly burly.

Countryside in the city

A single berry - you can just see the leaves the sparrows nest in.

Lichen and railings along the hedgerow where the sparrows live

You can feel you are deep within woodland

Some sort of telecommunications box (?)

Detail behind the leaves

Wrought Iron Column - Not sure of its function

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