Travel theme: Environment

Environment is the subject of Ailsa’s travel theme this week (click here to see more entries). This is a topic that has so many meanings, and a word that I have heard used a lot for as long as I can remember. Nowadays, when we hear the word ‘environment’, a lot of us immediately associate it with things like climate change, extinction of species and deforestation. As a modern, Western human being, I am constantly torn between wanting to experience as many parts of the Earth’s environment as I can and at the same time preserve it for as long as possible. I am not naive, I know that every time I hike up a mountain, ski down a slope or use a concrete building, I am contributing to the destruction of our beautiful environment. So I try to strike a balance. I’ve been a plant-based vegetarian for over three years now, so my impact on the planet through my dietary choices has greatly reduced. I try to create as little waste as possible, and use biodegradable products whenever I can. By taking these small steps, and more, I hope that I deserve to explore my environment a little more.

When I visited Iceland in February 2014, I encountered many varied and breathtaking environments…

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In any ski resort you don’t have to look far to spot humanity’s impact on the environment. However, the views are still stunning…

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The Grand Canyon was top of my bucket list for so many years, and is one of the best places I have ever visited. It is also a reminder that, no matter how much we play with our planet, we will never be bigger than nature…

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We are now able to fiddle with the environment so much that we can even write in the sky, as I discovered in Los Angeles…

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We can build our structures, but other creatures will still find their space in this environment we share…

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And finally, a display in Las Vegas that reminded me you sometimes have to put yourself in the position of others’ and see things from their viewpoint…

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Plant-Based Pause No 50: Make a Pledge

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Life is an echo. What you send out — you get back. What you give — you get.’ – Anonymous

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So, you’ve been reading my posts about living plant-based and it’s got you curious. Maybe you’ve read or heard other things about converting to a vegan or plant-based lifestyle. If you’re still not convinced, making a pledge could be a good idea for you. Pledging to cut animal products from your diet for a week, month or year is a great way of trying the lifestyle and experiencing the benefits without having to commit to anything long-term.
I’ve pledged with The Vegan Society, and their website has lots more advice and guidance about living a healthier and more environmentally friendly existence. What about taking the pledge for Christmas and experiencing a cruelty-free Christmas?
Don’t want to go the whole hog (excuse the pun)? Meat Free Mondays ask you to pledge to give up meat for just one day a week. If everyone made just this small change, it would drastically affect our impact on the planet and prevent many unnecessary human deaths. A friend of mine recently joined the Meat Free Mondays movement with his family, and amongst the many benefits they have happily noticed they are much more creative in the kitchen and are eating a much larger range of food.

Plant-Based Pause No 41: 4 Easy Steps Everyone Can Take

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘I don’t want to be running around barefoot, pushing my car like Barney Rubble. I don’t want to go back to the Stone Age. I just want to maintain what we have for a long time… for ever.’ – Cameron Diaz

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My dream would be for everyone on the planet to live plant-based. However, I am a realist and I know that is very unlikely to ever happen. There are a lot of people out there, though, that still strive to be more environmentally conscious even if they choose to continue consuming animals. The meat and dairy industries are a huge threat to our planet and our species, but there are other areas of your life where you can make positive changes. Here are four easy steps that everyone can take to help reduce our impact on Earth.

1. Carry reusable shopping bags with you wherever you go. It is estimated that UK shoppers go through 13,000 carrier bags in their lifetimes. That’s a whole sea of plastic you’re creating by using single-use bags.
2. Refill ink cartridges or donate them to charity. Over 65 million printer cartridges are sold each year in the UK alone, and it takes 3 pints of oil to produce just one of them.
3. When buying wood or paper products, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo which shows that the product comes from a responsibly managed forest.
4. Go paperless. Banks will now email your statements straight to your inbox. Not only does this save paper, it reduces clutter in your home and is a lot easier on the postman’s back.

Plant-Based Pause No 36: Shop Ethically

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.’ – Voltaire

Once you become plant-based, you naturally start to question other areas of your life. It’s no longer just about the food you choose to put in your mouth. Before I became plant-based, I rarely questioned where the goods I consumed came from. Food just arrived in my kitchen and on my plate, and clothes and other goods were in the shops ready for me to buy. I blindly trusted the people that put them there.

As consumers, we hold a massive power over producers and sales outlets. When I was a kid, the issue of clothes retailers using sweatshops to produce their goods was highlighted in the British press and the nation reacted angrily. Many people vowed to boycott shops that were revealed to use sweatshops. Nowadays, clothes shops have to be open about their ethical policies and practices to be successful on the high street. They may not yet be perfect, but things have certainly improved. That’s the result of consumer action.

Living ethical does not necessarily mean making your own gifts from recycled waste or pickling your own vegetables, although these are both respectable ventures if you choose them. There are plenty of honest, environmentally friendly businesses out there who provide plenty of options. Here are a few of my personal favourites:

Ethical Superstore – This is my one stop shop for all things ethical. They can deliver almost everything you need to live ethically, right to your front door. I regularly stock up on toiletries, biodegradable baby wipes and kitchenware. And at Christmas, Ethical Superstore is one of my first stops for great gifts. The site is also great value for money, with lots of offers and promotions to help you make more ethical choices.

Vegetarian Shoes – In an ideal world I would own every pair of women’s shoes from Vegetarian Shoes. I regularly order shoes, belts, accessories and even biodegradable pens from their website. They also have a fab shop in Brighton, which I use as an excuse to visit one of my favourite towns whenever I can.

Playmobil – If you’re looking for suitable children’s gifts, Playmobil is a great choice. It’s made in Europe, and they have a great ethical policy which you can read on their website.

Hipo Hyfryd – If anyone ever tells you that vegan chocolate is boring, send them in the direction of Hipo Hyfryd. I use the excuse that I’m shopping for gifts when I buy chocolates from this local Welsh company, but I’m actually just treating myself.

Plant-Based Pause No 35: Why Living Plant-Based is Better for the Planet

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Pollution is a symbol of design failure.’ – William McDonough

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So far in these plant-based pauses I’ve talked a lot about how eating plant-based is better for your personal health, but did you also know that ditching the animal products is also much better for the planet? This week, I thought I’d share with you some of the things I’ve learnt during my research into plant-based living. Rather than me rant on too much, though, I think I’ll just let the facts speak for themselves.

By eating plant-based, you reduce your carbon footprint by a third. Livestock production is responsible for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions (more than the entire transport sector put together). Animal protein requires 11 times more fossil energy to produce than plant protein. Cows’ milk is 5 times more carbon intensive to produce than an equivalent soya drink.

A hectare of vegetable based foods produces five times as much food as the same area devoted to animal protein production. And, if we all went plant-based we wouldn’t even need as much land for the vegetables. 45% of worldwide grain production and approximately 66% of soya is fed to livestock in the form of animal feed. It takes an average 16 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of beef.

Animals require 10 times more water than plants to produce the same amount of protein. It takes no less than 4000 litres of water to produce a single steak. Factory farming wastes so much water that you can save as much water by not eating a pound of beef as you can by not showering for almost six months.

Animals raised for food in the US produce more manure than people. This manure is not treated and is stored in lagoons or sprayed onto crops. As it decomposes, urine and manure from farm animals releases hazardous gases into the atmosphere. Manure from factory farming operations contains pollutants such as antibiotics, pathogens, heavy metals, nitrogen and phosphorous which enter into the environment and threaten water quality.

Years the world’s known oil reserves would last if every human ate a meat-centred diet: 13
Years they would last if human beings no longer ate meat: 260

Green Gathering 2014

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I’m not sure whether I’m crazy, stupid or just adventurous but for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to take my two godchildren (aged 9 and 3) camping to the Green Gathering festival at Piercefield Park, Chepstow. On my own.

View of the Severn Bridge from the festival
View of the Severn Bridge from the festival

The Green Gathering is four days of fantastic fun and learning for like minded people who are interested in environmental awareness to get together. The whole festival is run off-grid (which makes for some interesting sourcing of energy) and is particularly aimed at children and families. Under 11s even get their tickets completely free. My godchildren have been begging me to take them camping again all winter, and after a bit of effort I managed to convince them that camping in sub zero January temperatures in the UK is no fun at all and we should wait for the festival instead. I also thought that, as I would have to take them on my own this year, a family focused environment with lots of other children and parents around such as the Green Gathering would make it slightly easier for me. Besides, I wanted to go to the festival anyway and seeing as I didn’t have to pay for the kids’ tickets it seemed a win-win situation for us all.

I was entertained, educated and captivated by every aspect of the Green Gathering, so I can only imagined how itDSC_0426
looked through a child’s eyes. Every inch of the site was packed with offerings of music, arts and crafts, theatre, games, workshops, campaigns and much, much more. I’m sure there are stalls and tents that I didn’t even find during my time there. Although I assume there is some organisation to the event, the festival has the feel of being randomly thrown together. It’s like stumbling across a magical place where fantastic, talented people from all walks of life have suddenly decided to come together and pitch tents to display their wares and talents. Stalls selling recycled clothes and notebooks sat alongside the teenagers’ tent (strictly no adults allowed), a sauna and shower tent and food stands selling some of the best vegan, gluten-free food I have ever tasted.

DSC_0420The site is roughly divided into areas, which not only makes it easier to find what you’re looking for but also maintains the peace. A friend of mine who also visited Green Gathering this year told me about a similar festival he’d attended that hadn’t put quite so much thought into their planning. A stall offering chain-saw wood carving had been set-up between his mum’s disco tent and a relaxation tent. Cue some annoyed disco dancers who couldn’t hear what they were listening to and patrons of the relaxation tent coming out more stressed than when they went in. Thankfully, we had none of those problems at Green Gathering. Village Hill, the central area of the site, offered food stands, clothing and goods stalls and cafes and restaurants to chill out in. Right next door, the kids had their own area DSC_0402complete with vintage fairground rides, trampolines, cargo nets, climbing frames, theatre tent with dress-up, slack-lining and circus skills workshops. A couple of the crew had also set up a construction area and were asking children to help build a ‘pallet palace’. On the Thursday, they began with a huge pile of wooden pallets, saws, hammers and nails and by Sunday afternoon they had created and decorated a fun fort and play area they could all enjoy. The fairground rides and trampolines were good value for money too. Each one was priced at £1.50 per ride, or you could purchase a weekend ticket for £15 that gave you unlimited access. I was even more delighted to discover that the price for the weekend ticket reduces every day, so when I bought them on the Friday morning it only cost me £12 per child. A bargain for something that kept both children entertained for the whole weekend.

Traditional Victorian swing boats. I used to love these too when I was a kid!
Traditional Victorian swing boats. I used to love these too when I was a kid!

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One of the crew gets a free workout operating the carousel
One of the crew gets a free workout operating the carousel
The fairy glade
The fairy glade

Just off from the children’s area was the fairy glade, a magical place where you could learn about nature and maybe even spot a few mystical creatures. The Healing field was suitably situated away from all the action and offered therapies from head massage to reflexology and sessions in yoga and tai chi. The Campaigns Field was a must for information junkies like me. I loved the eclectic mix of tents in this field, where a charity helping traveller communities in Cornwall sat between a vegan sailing school and the women’s tent. I thought it really symbolised the coming together of all the different people who enjoy the festival. A walk through the craft area was difficult to do at any great speed because you were constantly distracted by opportunities to try wood carving, basket weaving and stone masonry to name but a few. Children aren’t patronised at Green Gathering either. If they want to try one of the crafts, they get to do it with the same tools as the adults would.

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Possibly the most carbon neutral paramedics I have ever seen
Possibly the most carbon neutral paramedics I have ever seen

I could go on and on about all the attractions there are to experience at the Green Gathering, there was literally amazing events popping up all over the place. The only downside to festival for me, apart from having to cope with a three-year-old having hourly tantrums, was getting on to and off the site. Moving all our camping gear was not as easy and organised as the festival organisers made it sound on their website and it was a big effort, especially on my own with two children. Having said that, once we were on site we had a great time and I would definitely return armed with the information I have from this year to help me. In fact, my godchildren have already asked me if we can book for next year.

Everyone loves bubbles
Everyone loves bubbles

#inyourpalm

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Following on from Nicole’s informative and inspiring post over at Thirdeyemom, and to prove that I did my part too, here is my photo for #inyourpalm. It’s super easy to upload your own photo, just click on this link. Even I managed to do it, with no facebook, smartphone or fast internet. All it took was five minutes, my little instant camera and my crappy old laptop.

To my fellow Brits – remember, this issue isn’t just an American one. A lot of US brands hold an interest in British companies, including well-loved names such as Cadburys. Shops in the UK also stock a lot of these brands, and boycotting them to reduce the use of palm oil is just another good excuse to cut back on processed foods.

It’s time to face our future

‘And the first problem in the way we think about the climate crisis is that it seems easier not to think about it at all. One reason it doesn’t consistently demand our attention can be illustrated by the classic story about an old science experiment involving a frog that jumps into a pot of boiling water and immediately jumps out again because it instantly recognizes the danger. The same frog, finding itself in a pot of lukewarm water that is being brought to a boil, will simply stay in the water – in spite of the danger – until it is… rescued.’

Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore published his book warning us about the climate crisis in 2006. I’d love to be writing a post about how, since then, we have all learnt our lesson and now make conscious decisions whenever possible to reduce our impact upon the Earth. Unfortunately, we haven’t progressed much in the past seven years. We are still hurtling head first towards our own extinction, and we only have ourselves to blame. Like the frog, we are largely ignorant to the danger because the changes have so far not seemed drastic in comparison to our individual lifespans. In terms of the life of our planet, however, things are happening very quickly.

Over the past couple of months I’ve heard lots of people complaining about the long, cold winter we’ve had this year. Countries all over the Northern Hemisphere have experienced unexpected snowfall into April, including here in Wales. That’s our water boiling.

News stories about floods, tsunamis and hurricanes are now sadly common occurrences. That’s our water boiling.

Famine is becoming a bigger and bigger problem as we leach the soil of its nutrients and turn the planet into a wasteland. We are already developing our own dust bowl here in the UK (East Anglia), and we are experiencing crises over food such as milk shortages and the horse-meat scandal. Within the next ten years, we will all start to run out of food, no matter where you live on the planet. That’s our water boiling.

I could go on and on.

But what’s the point of us trying to do anything now, right? Surely the problem has gone on so long that there’s nothing we can do to reverse it now.

Wrong.

When I was in primary school in the 1980s, the hole in the ozone layer was highlighted as a major concern to our survival as a species. A lot of people took the attitude that the problem was too big for us to tackle. Me and my peers were educated about the danger of CFCs, and we pledged to stop using them. Within a generation we have managed to at least stop the hole getting bigger, and are well on our way to stabilising it.

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My hope is that the next generation will think us crazy for how we lived our lives. The thought of the mountains of plastic bags and take-out coffee cups building up will disgust them. Re-using and recycling will be so normal to them that discarding unbroken items simply to upgrade them will be the stuff of archaic myth. The notion of flying produce in aeroplanes halfway across the planet when you can grow enough on you doorstep will be considered idiotic. And they will live in a world where there is enough food for everyone to survive, food which grows in healthy soil that provides them with the B12 that they need to be strong.

But they need us to educate them, and show them the right path. Let’s not make the same mistake the frog did.

My Friday Night Treat

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Since committing to living a plant-based lifestyle, I’ve faced varied challenges and had to make lots of changes. Controlling what I eat at home is fairly easy, but when I’m out and about I have to plan ahead wherever possible. I also have to be prepared for lots of questions. One of the most common questions I get is ‘Isn’t your diet really limited?’ My answer is no. I’m finding that I’m eating a much more varied diet than when I was an omnivore, and more varied than a lot of omnivores I know. And, believe it or not, I can still eat out and enjoy social gatheirngs that involve food. My gluten allergy throws up a few more problems for me, but I don’t let it stop me.

One of my favourite places to eat out, or order take away, in Cardiff is Noodlebox. They do an awesome Veggie Soba Box with Rice Noodles that is both vegan and gluten free. Most Friday nights, I treat myself to Noodlebox and a glass of wine.

Whilst I’m on the subject of my glass of wine, my wine glasses are one of the coolest discoveries I have made. They are made from reused beer bottles (if you take the base off the wine glass, put it on the top and flip the whole thing upside down you get the original beer bottle). So not only are they stylish, they’re also made from reused waste. Everybody who sees them always asks about my awesome wine glasses. You can also get tumblers made from the same bottles.

I did slip up today though. At the start of this year, I made a pledge to create less unnecessary waste. I’ve been try to cut down on the amount of disposable paper and plastic I use. Since January I’ve made an effort to use my washable handkerchiefs over tissues, to resuse scrap paper at work and, so far, I’ve only thrown away one disposable take-out coffee cup (I was with a new group of people and, in a ditzy moment, I completely forgot my pledge when someone asked me if I’d like a coffee). Anyway, back to today. At 4.20pm, I raced off on my bike to one of our local leisure centres to take part in a spin class. It was only as I arrived at the leisure centre that I realised I’d forgotten my water bottle. I always carry my water bottle with me, to save using plastic cups and bottles, and I would have kicked myself if I hadn’t been wearing so much restrictive cycling gear. There was no way I could face a 45 minute spin class followed by twenty laps in the swimming pool without water, so I gave in and bought a bottle from the vending machine. I don’t just want to throw the empty bottle away, though. I want to find a new, practical use for it. Not only will this ensure that it is reused, it will also serve as a reminder to me to take my water bottle with me next time. I think I’m going to take inspiration from my beer bottle wine glasses, and turn the plastic bottle into a flower pot using a similar design. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Snacking – Plant-Based Style

Water Bottle

Looking over my recent posts, I’m aware that I haven’t blogged about living as a plant-based vegetarian much recently. I’ve got so used to living a plant-based lifestyle that it has just become normal to me. Most of my friends, family and work colleagues are aware of my lifestyle choice and, I have to say, have been incredibly supportive. Quite often, though, when meeting new people or bumping into someone I haven’t seen in a while, I have to explain what being plant-based means, why I’m doing it and what I can and can’t eat. Add in my gluten allergy, and I can totally understand why a lot of people find it confusing. Most people I talk to about it have a lot of questions and opinions that they need to voice. One of the most common comments is ‘your diet must be very restrictive’. So I thought I’d take a moment to give my answer.

The short answer is no, my diet isn’t really restricted at all. As a plant-based vegetarian I eat a much more varied diet than I did as an omnivore or normal vegetarian, and certainly more varied than a lot of omnivores in the western world. The biggest change for me is that, as a plant-based vegetarian, I have to be organised. But I don’t see that as any bad thing.

Eating at home is really easy. I cook most of my meals from scratch, and I’ve made cooking and preparing food part of my daily and weekly routine. It’s when I’m out and about that the challenge arises. I can’t just grab something to eat at a service station or fast food restaurant, I have to know where I’m going and what I’m going to eat.

To illustrate how I don’t let my ‘restrictive’ diet stop me living my life, I thought I’d use the YMCA Sleep Easy Challenge as an example. Although the YMCA organised hot drinks and snacks for us throughout the event, I knew that my allergies and plant-based diet would prevent me from eating most of it. Here’s what I packed instead:

Water bottle and flask containing decaf coffee with soya milk – these are standard for me on any day of the week. Not only has carrying my water bottle and flask ensured I always have a drink to hand, but it’s saved me money that I would usually spend on take-out coffee and soft drinks, and I’ve cut down massively on my plastic and paper waste. At the start of this year I made a commitment to use fewer take-out cups, and my flask is the best tool I have to accomplish this mission.

Fresh fruit – British of course! Apart from a few pears, apples have been our main fruit this winter. Cameo, Kanzi and Braeburn are really tasty at the moment, or Cox’s if you fancy something sweet.

Gluten-free bread – The first time I tried gluten-free bread (about 6 years before I found out I was allergic to gluten), I swore that I’d rather give up bread completely than eat it again. Thankfully, gluten-free products have progressed a lot since then. While I don’t think they’ll ever match ‘real bread’, there are some brands out there that are really tasty. My favourite is the DS range as it contains no dairy or egg either. Their brown ciabatta rolls not only taste great, they come in a handy four pack that make them really easy to throw in your bag on the way out the door. Gluten-free pretzels and also a good option.

Seed/nut/fruit bars – Although I try to avoid eating processed foods, I do make exceptions. Ideally, I’d like to snack on fresh, local, organic fruit and vegetables, but between Decemeber and April local produce in the UK is very limited. I quickly get fed up with apples, pears and carrots. Especially after a long winter like we’ve had this year. If I do resort to processed snacks, I try to make healthy choices that are still produced loacally. My current favourites are 9 Bar. Apologies to any vegans reading (they contain honey), but they are free from gluten, dairy, lactose, wheat, egg, yeast, preservatives and artificial colours. Plus, they taste amazing and they’re made in North Wales!

Dark chocolate – Everyone has their vice, and this is mine. I thought I’d miss milk chocolate when I gave up dairy, but dark chocolate is exactly the fix I need when I have a craving.

So, no, I don’t find my diet restrictive because there are so many great, healthy foods out there that I can still eat. And I really had to think hard to make this list, because living plant-based is just living to me now.