lifestyle

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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The Virtual Vegan

Vegan, it’s the latest buzz word isn’t it? A fad diet for those who followed Atkins and/or declared themselves gluten-free a few months ago. Those who like to starve themselves for 2 days a week and consume only green smoothies, or for hippies of course.

Not so. Well, not completely so anyway.

I’m guilty of trying most new diets and fitness trends and then failing miserably when I get tired, hungry, depressed or demotivated.

But veganism is different. It’s a movement. It’s about so much more than health and image. I am here to explain why I decided to move towards this way of life and the difficulties I have encountered along the way. One thing’s for sure – there is no turning back!

Let’s start at the beginning. I am certainly no stranger to tofu….back in the 80’s my strict vegetarian, activist mother was piling carrot sticks and raisins in my lunch box, while my mates were treated to um-bongo and wagon wheels. I felt so deprived……(not really, Mum……just a little).

In those days I was unusual. In fact, I have always been a little bit different. Mainly due to my Mum, who has always stayed ahead of the trend when it comes to consuming ethically – be it food, washing up liquid or packaging. Ahead of the trend = not trendy by the way…..perhaps a better way to describe it is ‘against the grain’.

And, that was part of the problem. Unlike these kids that grow up in super alternative families: live off the land, wear hemp, sing round the campfire, get immersed in a community and grow up the same, I was part of a much more conventional setup.

My mum was a teacher, my Dad worked in sales. We bought stuff from Marks and Spencer and we went to the Berni Inn (a steak house) for a treat. We appeared an ordinary, 2.4 kids type family – aspiring working class to outsiders. My Dad ate meat, so did my brother and I. Meanwhile, my mum’s publications came through the door covered in pictures of mutilated animals; charities asking for donations. Letters were drafted and posted to local MPs and governments further afield about all sorts of cruelty afflicted on animals and humans.

It was all there, but she didn’t shout about it. It was all done quietly, with little fuss. It was only when challenged that her face would go bright red and her chest blotchy as she prepared to defend herself and all that she stood for. Inevitably it would end with her being ridiculed and accused of being extreme.

So, for me, although I always admired her for her conviction to her beliefs and values, I saw a great deal of pressure, accusation and grief and that came with it. I became desensitised to the pictures – to the reality. I didn’t want to be like that. I thought it was okay to eat meat and stuff. I didn’t join in with the others giving my mum a hard time, but I self-identified with my Dad. He was more rebellious in the traditional sense – smoking and drinking etc. – which was far more seductive a role model – especially as a teen!

It’s only with age and experience that I am able to look back and see things more clearly. I have grown up!

My first bout of vegetarianism came a few years back after reading a book called PopCo by Scarlett Thomas (2004, Cannongate Books) which has a fierce vegan sub narrative. Her description had a visceral effect. I heard and saw cows crying for their babies as they were separated just after birth. I ditched the dairy immediately….and all poultry and meat. I didn’t understand the environmental aspect back then; but the suffering was enough. And it was easy! My then family (ex-husband, couple of kids) were living with my parents, so mum and I ate the same meals together. She was virtually vegan by then anyway (eating only ethically sourced, local, free range eggs – and she’s never stopped the honey).

Only later, when pregnant and living independently again, did I reach for a burger one day (it was the only thing that didn’t make me feel sick) and it all went downhill from there. I did the same as I had always done before – buried the truth deep within my psyche and returned to cooking spag bol and chicken salads – after all, this was now easier. I was a full-time working mum and it was what the family demanded.

Jump forward 5 years, I find myself divorced and in a new relationship with an open-minded, environmentally-aware and super likeminded fellow. We had talked about vegetarianism quite a bit, but it wasn’t until a do in October 2015 that the fantastic documentary by Leo Dicaprio – Cowspiracy was recommended to us. We went home and watched it open-mouthed. How could we have been so ignorant and so naïve? Animal consumption has grown to record levels worldwide and we are literally killing the planet!

I’m not going to go into the detail here, when so many fantastic documentaries explain it better than I ever could, but there are so many things wrong with the way we consume food. The way we treat animals for our own pleasure is barbarically cruel and unnecessary, and the impact on world hunger, rainforest depletion, global warming and contamination of our seas is off-the-scale devastatingly bad.

So, I do my best these days. I haven’t eaten meat for ages. I decided to have a go at veganuary in Jan this year and haven’t stopped trying since!

The secret to success is support, availability and ease. Unlike my Mum, I am not ahead of the trend! According to The Telegraph (18 May 2016) ‘the number of vegans in the Britain has risen by 360% over the past decade’ and there are many signs that veganism is set to continue to rise – especially among the more ethically-sound, environmentally-conscious younger generation.

Even in Woking there are many vegan options in various restaurants and cafes; a Woking vegan Facebook group; vegan runners and even a festival took place earlier in the year.

It’s so encouraging. And I hope not a fad. Meanwhile, I will continue with my own battles at home. My 19 year old (brought up with the spag bol) demanding his daily animal protein fix (what’s wrong with mung beans for goodness sake?) and my 6 year old struggling to give up her ham sandwiches. Not to mention my step-daughter. She is not happy at all about the vegan switch….although she loved her ‘chicken’ nuggets the other day (“are they real?”, “yes, of course they are real, Ams!”)

Perhaps, they will just be late to the party? After all, mums are not cool. Not when you’re young. It’s only later when you realise they were right all along! Especially when you have a super switched on trail-blazer mum like me. Even my Dad has joined in. He switched to a largely plant-based diet not long ago. So there is less discrimination in the family home now…..and certainly a lot more hummus!

Thanks for listening. I promise you vegan food is amazing. And it is so important we all consume less meat – for the sake of the planet and the other humans and animals we share it with.

To find out more please visit:

www.plantbasednews.com

www.thevegansociety.com

And watch:

Cowspiracy (2014, Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, available on Netflix)

Carnage (2017, produced by Simon Amstell, currently available on BBC iPlayer)

That will get you started….and there is plenty more where that came from.  Join the revolution!

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