Habits of compassion at university and beyond

Heading off to university can be exciting and nerve-wracking in equal measure. There are lots of changes to get used to: having more independence, living away from home (maybe for the first time) and coping with your studies. With all of these things comes more responsibility and it certainly took me a little while to learn what this responsibility meant in terms of how I treat the planet and those with whom I share it.

For many people university is the first time that they begin to see what part they have to play in a global society. Once you have left the familiar surroundings of where you were brought up the world starts to seem like a much bigger place. All of our actions have consequences and as we start to take control of our own decisions we are able to choose to have a positive impact with these actions rather than detrimental ones.

This idea of everything we decide to do every single day having an impact on someone’s life somewhere else in the world can be overwhelming.

Or it can be so exciting! What if, as we head off to university and figure out what adulthood means for us, we commit to making a positive statement with our every action. We commit to standing up against modern day slavery, we commit to standing up for our planet and all of those people and animals across the world with whom we share it.

I will admit when I first arrived at university I had no idea about what this responsibility really meant for me. Just coping with all the changes seemed to be enough to deal with. I had never heard of living ‘zero waste’ and I was blind to the devastating effects our consumerist habits were having across the world. I had no idea of the issue of plastic and I certainly didn’t think anything of my rubbish once I had thrown it in the bin.

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Three years on and I am now so aware of how important it is to become aware of our responsibility as global citizens during these crucial years at university so that you can take those principals with you throughout the rest of your life. University is a time for having fun, for sure, for making friends and memories. But it is also a real time of moulding, and how incredible would it be if every university student graduated with a changed heart for the world around them and a sustainable view of consumerism? Our world would have a much better chance if this was the case!

I have been involved in an organisation called Just Love whilst studying and it has been such an integral part of helping me to understand how my actions effect our planet. I learnt about living ‘zero waste’, ended up running a Zero Waste Week and became so much more aware about how I can stand up against modern day slavery in the consumer choices I make. Do check them out – they might have a group running at your university!

So, as you settle in to your new university life or if you are facing final year what can you do to make a positive statement with each of your choices?

Don’t buy any more bottled water. Grab yourself a reusable, preferably metal, bottle and although it might seem pricey to start with it will save you money in the long run and the world will thank you. Check out these great brands: Klean Kanteen, Chillys and One Green Bottle. Watch this space for Glogg bottles too – coming in 2018!

That coffee that keeps you awake during lectures? Don’t let it harm the earth. Make a commitment to choosing Fairtrade and stand up against slavery and poor working conditions. The same goes for tea, chocolate (and many other things besides). If it costs a little more then maybe buy a little less. Standing up for the rights of your global neighbour is much more important. Invest in a reusable coffee cup too, the stats for the disposable type are pretty scary, we throw away 2.5 billion in the UK every year…

Realised you’ve left your warm jumper at home and the weather has turned? Before you make that purchase, think about who made it. Are you causing harm by supporting modern day slavery? Check what the retailer has to say about the supply chain, is it transparent? There are lots of great companies online who are committed to ethical fashion so do have a look – Annie Greenabelle, Thought, Birdsong, Sundried. Again, if they are a little more than you would usually spend on a student budget, just be happy with less. Don’t forget charity shops offer some great bargains too! On the topic of charity shops, I have found nearly all of my kitchen utensils in them. Much better for the environment than buying new and it can be fun to see what you can find – I’ve found cake tins, a colander, and ramekins!

Consumerism is having a detrimental effect on our planet, it’s time to start bucking the trend of materialism. Often it can be tempting when you’re living off a tight budget to just buy the cheapest option but what statement are you making about your attitude towards the planet by doing that?

When it comes to food, an absolute necessity for those hard-working brains, have a look to see what markets your university town boasts. Does it have a bulk shop? Don’t pollute the oceans with pointless plastic packaging, just don’t do it. Vegetables were meant to be free! I have found a great way of cooking cheaply, avoiding food waste and using up leftovers is to make soup. A great winter warmer too! There are thousands of recipes online or just throw whatever you have in your fridge together and enjoy the experimentation!

One final note. Think of all those laptops, tablets, and phones that students must own between them…that’s a lot right! Technology has become disposable too and it’s shocking when you think of where some of the metals come from to make these things. Slavery and conflict are so bound up with the mining for these metals, a lot of which happens in the developing world. Think hard about whether you really need that upgrade: could you grab a second hand deal or even invest in a Fairphone? When your phone really does give up do your research and find out where you can recycle it so the parts can be reused. The planet says thank you.

If you’re interested in reading more about supply chains and the impact on the environment of slavery to show just how much consumer choices do make a difference I would recommend Kevin Bales’ book, ‘Blood and Earth’.

Your university years might well be some of the best in your life (or that could just be a cliché) but one thing is for sure, the habits you make whilst there will stay with you. Let’s make those habits thoroughly earth-loving and compassionate to everyone we share this incredible world with.


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Open Farm Sunday: How much do we really want to show our kids?

For the 12th year running, farms across Surrey and Hampshire will open their gates to the public in June as part of a national event organised by LEAF. Intended as an opportunity for people to witness the work required to produce food and manage the countryside, parents are encouraged to bring their children to meet the animals and enjoy an educational, fun day on a working farm.

Most children, however, will have no concept that the animals they are interacting with are destined for slaughter; and even those that do understand this will likely never have to witness the journey from farm to plate. If our society wishes to keep promoting animal products as part of the national diet, then should we not also be having open slaughterhouse days, with tours and demonstrations? I doubt very much that any parents would be happy to allow their children to watch a pig being slaughtered, and yet this is just as much a part of the process as rearing and feeding them on the farm.

The fact is, when it comes to producing animal products there are only certain stages of the process which are suitable to show to the public, especially to our children. We would happily show a video in a school of apples being picked and processed, or bread being made; yet showing the “processing” of animals for meat would more than likely traumatise any child who watched it.

For the vast majority of vegans and vegetarians, the decision to give up meat was sparked by watching a video of animals being slaughtered by one of the many “humane” methods used in slaughterhouses across the country. For vegans, that decision goes one step further, as the production of eggs and dairy also leads to animals being slaughtered. Although it may be inviting to think that not all slaughterhouses are the same, or that free-range, organic or RSPCA monitored animals are killed in a “kinder” slaughterhouse; the fact is despite how they are raised, all animals are transported to the same destination in the end; there are no free-range slaughterhouses.

As a nation of animal lovers, we raise our children to love and respect our furry friends, and to never be cruel to them. We teach them that animals are sentient beings with personalities, that they dream and enjoy certain activities. We love to walk through the countryside with our children when the lambs are bouncing around the fields, with not a care in the world. Yet behind closed doors we allow something to take place that we could never bear to tell our children about, much less show them.

Open farm days may be informative, but they only show a fraction of the true story; and the fact is, few of us could stomach seeing the rest of what happens. So the question is: should we really be feeding our children something that they would almost certainly object to eating if they saw how it was produced?

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Surrey Vegan 2017

Vegan festivals have been growing in popularity for a number of years now, and some events such as "Vegfest" have become big players on the scene; but you don't have to venture to a capital city to get your vegan fill.  Local vegan festivals are popping up all over the country, and last weekend saw the Surrey Vegan Fair land at the HG Wells Centre in Woking.

We hit the festival early and wasted no time in tracking down some breakfast; this came in the form of a "hot tasty dog bite" (courtesy of @NoBaloneyUK); a vegan sausage, marinated in a tomato sauce and griddled in a breaded wrap. It looked good, it smelled amazing and yet still it managed to surprise us both by tasting even better than either of us had anticipated.  Coupled with a spicy bbq dipping sauce, it couldn't have been better.

Hunger satiated we headed into the hub of the fair to browse the stalls. The organisers of Surrey Vegan had made really excellent use of the space within the venue and there was such a variety of products to look at from all over the country.  Like a kid in a sweet shop I couldn't help but gradually empty my wallet as I spotted one amazing product after another (namely an all natural deodorant from Indigenous Beauty; a shea butter hair and body moisturiser from Plantes d'Eden; an activated charcoal toothpaste from Fit 4a Kiing; and a delicious "camembear" spread from Lettices).

It didn't take long for (an early) lunch to roll around (who could blame us?) and we decided to hit the food stalls again.  I opted for a jerk soya wrap from Brownins Bakery, whilst Amy tried the creamy mushroom stroganoff from Little Ginger.  Both dishes were delicious, and neither of us minded swapping a few forkfuls here and there; especially since we couldn't decide between us which was tastier.

Of course you can't visit a vegan festival and not take the time to listen to some of the talks.  We dipped in and out of the talks room throughout the day and were especially impressed with two speakers in particular; Vegan Geezer and Nick Bean.

Vegan Geezer (Martin Menehan) brought something to everyone's attention that has been on my mind a lot in recent months; and that's how we engage with one another within the vegan community.  He talked about different types of activism and how each method, whether direct or otherwise, can be equally effective.  Martin finished his speech by delivering a beautiful spoken word poem that undoubtedly left a few members of the audience with a lump in their throats.

Nick's speech took things in a different direction and explored the history of meat eating, his own vegan journey and the rise of vegan activism.  This was Nick's first time speaking publicly although nothing about his natural presence on the stage and hard hitting delivery would have given that away.  Nick's speech created a sense of urgency that reminded us in the audience that we don't have time to procrastinate; that we need to act now and we need to act quickly if we want to have any chance of making the change we all want to see in the world.

For us the day came to an end after Nick's speech and we were unfortunately unable to stay for the last few talks or Q&A session; but the day really had delivered more than either of us had anticipated.  Vegan Surrey may be in its infancy, but it already feels like an established festival and is a shining example of how a local vegan event should be operated.  The organisers successfully created something that felt bigger even than the venue itself, hosted a stunning lineup of speakers and showcased a range of vegan products that could sway even the most sceptical critic.  If this is the template for future Surrey Vegan events then I eagerly await them.

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