Can vegans support zoos?

I want to have a discussion with you all, because it is something that I have been very interested in for some time. When I was at university I actually did a whole dissertation on whether zoos were good or bad for animal welfare. I went in thinking that there was no way that zoos could be a good thing, however through my research it actually turned out to be a very grey area of animal welfare. I am therefore very keen to see what all of your thoughts are on this subject.

Now this is by no means a comprehensive essay: My dissertation was 10,000 words and even that required a lot of editing down! But I wanted to bring to light some of the main arguments for and against zoos, and the issues that come with them. I have tried to include as many links as I can to articles and research, but as I say I cannot include every single piece of research that I have ever done on this subject. If you have any other interesting or useful reads, please do leave them in the comments below!

Animal welfare

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, any animal in captivity is covered by this act. Zoos and aquariums are also covered by the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 although this act was amended in 2002 to create more obligations on Local Councils when deciding whether or not to license a new zoo, as well as to ensure that animal welfare practices were more in line with the EU directives. In summary, the animals are to have a suitable environment, prevention and protection from harm, suitable food supplies and their living must be as close to the wild as reasonably possible to achieve.

The issue with legislation though is that it is a blanket. It has to cover so many different species, situations and objectives that it can fail when it comes to practically applying the rules contained within it. A study carried out in 2002 by Clubb and Mason found that elephants die far younger in captivity than they do in the wild. One suggestion is that these animals especially have very complex social structures, one that can be hard to recreate in a captive environment. Their social structures are also constantly changed by the zoo, either to keep groups small or to trade members for a new member to either increase chances of mating or to bring in new visitors to the zoo. Elephants are known to create lifelong bonds with the children and other members of their group, and to constantly have your social group changed undoubtedly has a negative impact on the animal’s emotional and mental well being. They are also huge creatures that are used to walking miles everyday – roughly the same distance from London to Oxford! There is no way any zoo are able to create an environment that really allows for this amount of exercise, and when they do not have the adequate amount of exercise, they can develop a number of physical conditions which they would not have had they been in the wild.

There is also the common knowledge that highly intelligent animals struggle to cope mentally within captivity: If you have not yet watched the 2013 movie Blackfish, I would highly recommend it. It shows very graphically what can happen when a highly intelligent animal is stuck in an stimulating and unrewarding environment. The film highlights very clearly that not only is animal welfare needed for the safety of the animals, but also for the safety of the staff, handlers and keepers who look after these animals. There are countless articles about zoochosis, whereby animals in captivity begin to show symptoms of mental and physical illness: This can include pacing, biting and headbutting the environment around them, heightened aggression towards keepers and other animals in the enclosure, swaying and over grooming to name a few. Some animals, such as great white sharks most infamously, do not even survive a year in captivity: The longets a great white was ever held in captivity was for 198 days.

However this tends to be most common in the larger (usually hunting) animals: bears, killer whales, elephants, big cats and primates. Prey animals, such as meerkats, giraffes and gazelle, tend to do quite well in captivity and are less documented in exhibiting signs of zoochosis. The logical conclusion to this information is that prey animals undoubtedly live longer in captivity because they are not being constantly hunted by bigger animals: they do not need to run and hide at every noise, they do not need to be on alert while eating. For many captive prey animals, the ones born in captivity have probably never even seen a predator. Granted some of this nature will be innately woven into their DNA – to be skittish and scared and on edge at all times – however if you have never seen a lion before, would you know to run? Are these animals still suffering? Of course there is a lack of research surrounding this area and the affect it can have on every animal, but it does make you wonder and is something to be contemplated.

Conservation

A paper by William Conway suggested that while conservation efforts were needed, regulation still is not universal enough to ensure that every single zoo does the same level of work and to the same standard. Every country has their own legislation in place to ensure that zoos carry out a degree of conservation work, however this varied largely across the world. Conway suggests that work needs to be done to create a more cohesive world wide plan, since zoos rely so heavily on other zoos for their animals.

London Zoo, for example, spend a large amount of their profits carrying out conservation efforts, with Woburn Safari Park carrying out multiple conservation projects at their own zoo as well as fundraising to support the efforts of conservation charities abroad. A large part of conservation though is understanding the animals and their natural behaviour and this may not always be possible to monitor in the wild. Zoos allow scientists to observe animals around the clock, to check on their psychical and mental characteristics so that this information can be published to other zoos and experts, and better conservation efforts can be made to suit the needs of the animal in question. Conservation methods can be made to be specific and measurable for that exact animal species in question, rather than trying to use a blanket method for a number of different species.

Education and awareness

This is probably the biggest reason why zoos exist, especially nowadays. I remember going on many a school trip to London Zoo and getting to spend all day hearing about the animals and their different characteristics. As a massive animal lover, there is something truly magical about seeing these amazing creatures in real life. I imagine for some people, it gives a real life animal to put to the horrible stories of deforestation, poaching and climate change that we see on the news. It is one thing to see images of a poacher standing proudly over their kill of a wild lion, but quite another to see that same lion standing before you in a zoo. You see the animals that we as humans are affecting and impacting with our actions and it can really drill home to you the changes that need to be made worldwide to protect them.

A large part of zoos (and I know in some of them they do this anyway) should be to show the impact that we humans are having on these animals. Yes these animals should be in the wild, however these are why animals cannot survive in the wild anymore: orangutans are losing their habitats to deforestation and rhinos are being poached to extinction for the belief that their horns hold medicinal remedies. More awareness needs to be raised around these issues, and it is up to zoos to not only educate the general public to take action, but to also step up and demand better protections are granted to these animals so that they do not end up in zoos as the only means for these animals to actually survive. In 2020 alone, roughly 50 species of animals went extinct (not including the 100s of species of plant life which also went extinct), and the number of animals classed as endangered rose by 16,000 in the last year alone. There are now around 40,000 endangered species around the world, and for many people the only time to ever see these endangered species in the flesh will be at a zoo.

Animal trade

This links very closely to conservation and animal welfare, because unfortunately the trading of animals amongst zoos is necessary for conservation efforts: The European Endangered Species Programme is made up of a number of zoos across Europe, who all work together to increase managed breeding within their endangered species. It is quite obvious therefore that animals are constantly being traded between each zoo, especially when you think that without trade between these zoos, the risk of inbreeding heightens with every new generation born – and this is clearly not going to be helpful for conservation plans.

Now I think we all know that the animals are not transported in first class accommodation: of course there are laws in place to say what an animal must be transported in, but I doubt they are in a luxurious plane all to themselves with entertainment and food available whenever they wish. They’re not on Qatar Air right? Unfortunately that is just a reality of the industry, and way more work needs to be done to ensure that these practises are improved and sustained for the future. But as with all of these things it is a work in progress and it will take more than this blog to kick the whole world into implementing change.

Is the trade industry necessary? For conservation plans, yes, undoubtedly it is. Without these trades, managed breeding programmes would not be able to exist past the first new generation as the risk of inbreeding becomes far greater and harder to manage in one zoo on their own. However, would the entire EEP even exist if better measures were put in place world wide to stop the unsustainable killing, deforestation and poaching of these animals in the wild? Another debate for another time but it is something that needs to b e weighed up when discussing this issue.

Economic/tourism implications

Something that also needs to be considered is the economic impact that zoos have on a city. London Zoo alone have roughly 1.25 million visitors every year and with a day ticket costing around £35.00, that is an obscene amount of money being raised. That doesn’t even include the amount of revenue brought in for the food and drink, plus donations from supporters. The taxes that they pay must be in figures that the likes of us may never even imagine. Zoos are also a massive tourist draw, with people travelling all over the world to see different animals. San Diego zoo on its own is an entire day out – look at the size of this place! Every country in the world relies heavily on tourism to bring people into their country and to show off their what their country has to offer, and a massive part of that may be their world renowned zoos.

This also doesn’t even begin to cover the amount of people it takes to run a zoo and the amount of jobs that a zoo creates: Aside from the actual keepers and handlers, you also need to account for chefs, waiting staff, retail assistants, security, account teams, corporate managers, HR staff, garment makers for the clothes on sale and the toys which can be bought, the graphic designers for the zoo signs and information boards and the architects and labourers who build the exhibits and the enclosures. Millions of people world wide are employed by zoos, so to get rid of them completely would mean millions of people lose their livelihood. Even I worked at a zoo while I was studying at uni, as a part time waitress, and I was just one of a team of 50 people. Zoos are a massive industry and for many keepers, I imagine their entire life has been in training to work at a zoo, to care for these exotic animals that very few people ever have the chance to see let alone care for.

My thoughts?

Personally, I am still so conflicted. I know that zoos are important and I think it would be incredibly damaging to abruptly close down an entire industry. I also believe that zoos are beneficial for some animals and actually provide a better quality of life than they would have had in the wild. But that does not mean I am happy that these animals can’t live in the wild. In an ideal world, these animals would all be left to live, thrive and enjoy their environment without us humans barging in to take from them. I try my best to always advocate for animal welfare, but it would be naive of me to ignore the impact that zoos have on this work. The donations they provide to other charities that carry out real groundwork in other countries is fundamental in helping create change.

Now would I chose to go to the zoo if I had a day off and nothing to do? Probably not. But if my nephew or my family wanted us to take a trip to the zoo as part of a family day out? I would go, not only so that I could spend time with my loved ones and see these beautiful and majestic creatures up close, but also because again it is the education and awareness that zoos can create that can inspire new people to take a stand to protect an animal they have just fallen in love with. I hope one day every animal can be at peace and at home in the wild, but until then I want to support conservation and education efforts.

As I said, this is by no means meant to be comprehensive, and it is only meant to provide you with a basic overview of some to the main issues surrounding zoos and the work that they do. But I hope it has at least inspired a thought in you, and has inspired you to do more research into what you as an animal lover can do to help protect them – both in captivity and in the wild.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments, and if you guys have any other interesting articles to read, then please do leave those in the comments as well!

T xxx

Couch to 5k programme

I used to run all the time and I used to really enjoy it. But about 3 years ago it started to be more of a habit than an actual hobby. I was going to the gym to run for 25 minutes, purely so I could say that I had been for a run. My thoughts started to get quite disordered with it too, where I started to think that if I went for a run, I was then allowed to have that chocolate biscuit for dessert. If I didn’t run, I was only allowed x amount of calories, or I was only allowed a ‘healthy’ meal rather than what I actually wanted. My runs started to become a bargaining move, rather than something I did for my health and overall well-being. As someone who has previously struggled with an eating disorder, it started to feel like a very thin line I was walking.

I started running because I wanted something that would improve my health, but also allow me to get out of the house and to just have some me time. I have never really tracked how fast I am, or how far I could run. I would have my routes that I would run, and I would usually decide on the day where I felt like going. When I joined the gym, it was nice to have a constant speed, so I could zone out on everything and just enjoy the movement. I would put my music on and in a way it felt like dancing. It was nice to have a proper break from my racing thoughts and everyday stresses of life, and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

Lockdown then hit and any chance of me going to the gym was squashed. I did a few runs during our allocated one hour of outside time, but other than that I tried out some different workouts: HIIT, yoga, barre, dance. It was nice to try movements that were actually fun, and made it seem more like a game than an actual challenge.

But a year later I missed the routine. I missed having that little hour that was just for me to focus on me and what I was doing. So once gyms were allowed to reopen, I signed up and decided to truly commit to an actual training programme. Before, I had always just sort of winged it, making it up as I went along. I have done so many workouts in my lifetime, and know enough about fitness that I know the basics of what you do to work each muscle group. I could make up little routines that would do what I needed them to. But I have never really followed a proper workout plan, so I decided that I shall commit to one and just see how it goes.

Enter Couch to 5k. I used the official app created by the BBC to encourage people to become more active, and I have heard so many say that it was a really good introduction to running. Now I knew that I could run for 30 minutes without stopping (if i really put my mind to it), but I thought I might as well just start as an absolute beginner and see if I can just enjoy the process. The app is really simple, but it does exactly what you need it to. You can also chose from a group of celebrities to be your voice guide as you run – I chose Sarah Millican (an comedian here in England) who has the thickest Geordie accent so was automatically way more entertaining. She also had the cutest little pep talks (I may even calling people flower and pet more often!) and being naturally funny means the runs were a lot more relaxed and more enjoyable.

You start really small – 60 seconds of running, 90 second walking – on repeat for about 20 minutes. Each run also starts with 5 minutes of walking, and ends with 5 minutes of walking to give you a proper warm up and cool down. As you progress each week, these intervals go up until you can run for 30 minutes solidly without any walking breaks. The programme is 9 weeks long, but you are able (and sometimes encouraged) to repeat weeks if you feel you need a bit more practice or are not ready to step it up just yet. Personally, I think I may have been better to repeat weeks 7 or 8 before I finished week 9, as the jump from 60 second walking breaks to none at all for 25 minutes was actually a bit jarring on some days. It is also designed to only be 3 runs a week, and it states that you should try to leave one day of rest between each run. Which is actually really good advice. In most plans I have seen before, they seem to want you to run 4-5 days a week with ‘active rest days’ (a day where you maybe go for a long bike ride or walk, rather than actually resting) which I have always found to be unsustainable in the long run.

If you have ever wondered about running and whether it is for you, I would definitely recommend this app. It starts off very easy, as it is designed for people who have never ran before in their life. It builds slowly, yet allows you to see real progress as you go through. There is also no leader board or competitive aspect to it: you can’t add friends so they see your progress, or compares your times to those of other app users. It is purely for you to run for you. To allow you to see your progress and no one else unless you wish to show them. I found this refreshing, as I have never been a competitive person so being forced to compete just makes me feel inadequate and uncomfortable.

This app also allowed me to enjoy running again. It built up in such a way that even after a 25 minute run, I didn’t feel too gassed and would actually have been happy to run for a bit longer. In the later weeks as well, you do start to recognise what your comfortable pace is and also when you hit that rhythm, you fully understand the elusive ‘runners high’. I did a 5k run as my penultimate run in week 9 and actually beat my goal! I had wanted to see if I could run 5k in under 40 minutes (as I say, I have never been a fast runner so was not expecting anything ground breaking) and I managed it in 39 minutes! It may seem small, but when you start running you realise what a massive difference a few seconds can make to your entire mood. Also for someone who hasn’t run properly in about 2 years, it felt so good to enjoy running again.

That being said, there were definitely days where running felt like death: my legs felt like rubber, my feet felt like cement, I was tired and stressed and couldn’t think of anything worse than going for a run. But I found I genuinely felt 10 times better after I forced myself to go for a run. I felt lighter, and more awake, and I also felt like I had accomplished something that day. Some days I was clearly faster than other days, and some days I definitely needed longer to recover my breath at the end, but I never regretted going for a run. It was also a good kick of extra endorphins to see myself completing a new run, and actually progressing through the programme. Once I hit my rhythm, and fell into the flow of my run, I could actually let my mind wander: sometimes I would plan what I was going to buy with my next paycheck, other days I would plan out whole new story ideas. But sometimes I couldn’t think about anything at all. I would just listen to the music, and let my body move as if on auto pilot, and just watch the people around me whether in the gym or on a run outside.

I know this is a bit of a different post to what I normally do, but I am so bloomin’ proud of myself for completing not only this programme but also my first proper 5k in 2 years! I feel I got myself out of my little funk and I am now actually quite inspired to keep it up. Maybe I will try now to work on my time, to see if I can complete a 5k in under 30 minutes. Maybe I might also sign up to do a charity fun run, where I can push myself that little bit further while also raising money for an important cause.

I thought I would therefore share my experience because I know I can’t be the only one who has found this last year and a half a bit challenging. Here in the UK, we are still not really able to go on holiday (well we are but it comes with so many conditions it feels like it’s more stress than simply staying at home) and many places are still restricting how many people can come in at one time. Making plans is also quite stressful, as everything now comes with the added stress of a potential ‘pinging’, meaning you have to self-isolate and potentially cancel more plans moving forward. Everything is still very uncertain, and while you try to do your best, sometimes you do just wish things could go back to normal. Perhaps I am just feeling a bit emotional (endorphins are so great omg) but this little app genuinely gave me a goal to work towards that depended purely on me: I didn’t have to rely on anyone else to make it all happen, I just had to go outside and run.

There are also a number of Couch to 5k apps available, so it may be worth trying one that suits your goals. I have seen there are a few that actually track your run, so you can see each week what your time and pace is like if that is something you may want. I went with the BBC version purely because it is the most popular here in the UK. Moving forward, I may even repeat some of the weeks as part of an interval training programme. But have a little search around to find one that works best for you.

Overall: 50/10. Even if it running ends up not being for you, this is such a great programme to give a try. You will most likely surprise yourself.

T xxx

Taking a break

Yesterday, on Saturday 13 March 2021, we made the heartbreaking decision to put our lovely Sasha Bunny to sleep.

We had her for 2 years, and in that time we spent 16 months dealing with her health issues. This started out as the odd evening where she would stop eating, and this eventually would turn into monthly vet visits, week long stasis bouts, and many a sleepless and stressful night for all of us at home. We had a medical kit in our kitchen which included pain relief medication, gut stimulants, Critical Care and a large stock of syringes to hand feed her everything whenever she stopped eating.

We would spend some evenings setting multiple alarms throughout the night so that we could get up and force feed her Critical Care so that her gut didn’t go into complete stasis. An activity that no one enjoyed but she would have died a painful and slow death if not for this type of intervention.

We were on a first name basis with our local vets and almost every single month we were having to carry her down there to get them to check her over. We took her in a car journey (a 2 hour round trip) to see a specialist vet in London and have more tests done on her to find out why she was so sick.

And everything came up blank. The specialists weren’t sure what was wrong with her and our local vets had no idea. We were told that we could arrange to have a CT scan and MRI scan done of her, but that these would most likely come back blank as well and there was also a heightened risk that she wouldn’t wake up from the anaesthetic.

We discussed re-homing her, to give her to a family that could dedicate the time, energy and money needed to look after her complex but unknown needs. But the reality was that such a person would never come along. That it would take a very special kind of angel to take her on and for her to be ok. And the thought of her being in one of those cages, watching people walk past her day in and day out with not one person stopping to rub her head or play with her, would be the cruellest fate imaginable. That we would never know where she was or if she was even still alive. If she ended up in a hutch in someone’s back garden and would never again be able to flop or binky and be her true playful self.

We decided that the best thing we could do for her, the kindest and most loving thing we could do for her, was to put her to sleep. And it was the hardest decision we have ever had to make. For the whole week beforehand, we had watched her hunched over and in pain, and just watching her knowing that we couldn’t do anymore for her. All we could do was sit with her and make her as comfortable as possible and hope that this episode would move on quickly. The worst thing was that on that Saturday morning, while we came into the room expecting to find a dead bunny, we found our silly Sasha back in action. Binkies galore, zoomies around the room, and we were both nearly mauled when we gave her pellets. Pellets which – for the first time in 5 days – she happily ate without any issues.

But we couldn’t keep putting her through it. Our vets and even the specialist vets were completely out of ideas as to what it could be and the only way we could have found out would have been to put her through very invasive, highly risky surgeries and procedures that would more than likely not even lead us any closer to answers. We went back and forth with both sets of vets multiple times discussing the outcomes, and for 5 days I don’t think either of us slept or ate or drank anything as we tried to care for Sasha and do what was best for her.

It was a horrible day. At least for us. For her though, she got to have one final day where we played with her, chased her around the room and cuddled her as she napped. She got to binky like a mad bunny all morning and eat banana with no limitations. She was her wonderful, silly, happy bunny once more and I will forever be thankful that we got to spend one more day with her as that silly bunny that we loved more than anything.

We started March 2020 as a family of 6, and yet a year later we are now just a family of 3. Merry and Pippin hurt, but they were old and it was their time. Sasha was only 2, and by rabbit standards still a young bunny with a long life ahead of her. But whatever was wrong with her was something that we believe she had been born with. It was something that we could never have anticipated and it was something that we could very likely never have found out the truth about without putting her through hell. But I also know that in her two years, she never went a single day without binkies, without a warm rug to sleep on and a huge living room to play in. She never had to fear for predators or the elements because every night she was snuggled up with us and Lola in front of the TV. She could flop wherever she pleased and pellets and fresh greens were never in short supply. She had us wrapped around her little paws and she never knew a day where she wasn’t loved or safe. She never had to question if she mattered. Because she was, and always will be, our darling Sasha.

I did not know it was possible to cry so much. I love her. I will always love her and I will always miss her. But I also know that now, finally, she is at peace and will never have to experience that pain ever again. She will be our happy binky bunny forever. Even if this mean that I am miserable for the rest of my life, it would have been worth it to know that she never had to experience pain ever again.

I am sorry for the somewhat depressing note. If any of you have ever lost a pet then you know how heart wrenching it can be and just how big a hole they leave in your life when they go. I am so honoured to have been Sasha’s mom and I am so thankful that we got to spend even 2 years with her. She taught me to never take anything too seriously. To always appreciate a soft rug and good banana. To always be willing to play. She also taught me just what I am capable of withstanding and I am very proud of me and my partner for making this decision in her best interest and not ignoring the issues just so we could keep her with us. It was not fair on her and it would have been unkind to keep her living in pain just so we didn’t have to say goodbye.

I am going to take a week off from posting now to just…be. I am going to celebrate the life of a truly special little bunbun and spend some extra time with Lola and my partner. Just us three. I’m going to give Lola so many cuddles that she will probably end up hating me! Our family may have gotten smaller this year, but I truly believe that we have managed to give all of our fur babies the best lives possible, and that is something that I will never doubt.

Sweet dreams Sasha Bunny. I will love you endlessly and your brothers will be there to meet you at the end of the rainbow bridge.

Stay safe everyone, and give all of your pets extra treats and snuggles in honour of our silly bean. I’ll see you all next week.

T xxx

Why perfection is a myth

Following on my previous post, I wanted to take another little opportunity to reiterate that veganism is not an all or nothing lifestyle. That just because you are vegan does not mean that you also have to try and right every other wrong in the world. The idea of the ‘perfect person’ is a myth and it is not something I would ever tell people to try and aspire to be.

I have met so many vegans who burn themselves out because they try to do too much. The reality is, the world is a very messed up place and there will always be someone in need of help. I have nothing but admiration for those people who do try to help everyone they meet and to fight for every cause under the sun, but I also see these people burn out so quickly and get so bogged down in the badness that they don’t ever stop to just enjoy even the smallest things.

I try to help the homeless as much as possible, but I also do not earn that much money and at the end of the day I still have my own bills to pay, my own pets to support and my own roof to support. I give food when I can and spare change when I have it, but I will never advocate for anyone to bankrupt themselves just to help others. Because that doesn’t help solve the larger situation nor is it a long term solution for the homelessness crisis.

I try not to support big corporation businesses, but if the only place available for me to meet my friends for a coffee is a Starbucks then so be it. I make sure to always have a reusable mug in my bag or to use my own metal straws. But no matter how good a person you are you will never be able to do everything, and I think it is so damaging to have that perfectionist mindset.

As I have mentioned previously, one of the most damaging parts of the vegan community is the idea that veganism is about being perfect. That if you cannot be perfect then you might as well not even bother being vegan. The reality is though that everyone has their own life outside of their vegan one: We all have hectic jobs and busy family lives and complex social circles that we are constantly trying to juggle. So yes, you may want to only go to a locally owned, completely plant based bistro, but if your family want to go to a chain because it’s the only place that offers an option for everyone, then it doesn’t mean you are a ‘bad vegan’. If you work somewhere which involves working with a lot of paper or plastic, then you are not a ‘bad environmentalist’.

Over the years I have tried my best to help as many as possible in the best way that I can. I cannot financially support every homeless person I see, but I can donate old clothes to homeless shelters, and share resources with my wider community in the hope of inspiring them to also assist. I donate to charities that can provide long lasting support to those in need and I try to always educate myself on how these situations come to be. It can be anything from drugs, to mental health issues to just bad luck and tough times. I do my best to signpost people to charities or resources that could help them get back on their feet and to move forward with their lives.

I also cannot save every single animal from torture. At least not over night. If the most I can do is simply not eat meat and dairy and eggs, then that is still a powerful statement to make. I share resources on my social media, on this blog and in my general discussions with people that I meet who ask me about why I’m vegan and sometimes those little acts can inspire someone else to start refusing meat products or to swap their dairy for nut milk. In the grand scheme of things I am not on the picket lines protesting against factory farming, but I am still doing what I am able to do in my current situation.

And I think that is the most important thing to remember when it comes to any type of activism, is that you can only do what you can do. In many cases you simply sharing resources or information online is more than enough. One of your followers could see that picture of a baby cow being torn away from it’s mother and change their diet there and then. They could then forward it onto to other people who also decide to change their diet and to stop supporting the meat industry and it snowballs from there. All because you shared one little picture. Sometimes it can be so hard to see the far reaching influence that we as individuals have, even though there is literally an entire career market based on being an influencer. If someone can convince you that you need to try this new make up product, what’s to say you can’t convince someone else to give up eggs?

Veganism is about living a life that causes as little pain as is possible. No matter what you do, you will never be perfect and someone who obsessed over ‘Perfection’ for the majority of my teens and twenties, let me tell you it is never achievable. There will always be an injustice somewhere int he world that will need righting and so you will never achieve that utopia you chase after. Sometimes, when I get so depressed at the state of the world and the issues that are so prevalent within my society, I stop and I just sit for a moment. I try to remember that even if I was the only vegan in the entire world, by not eating beef I saved at least one cow’s life. By not eating eggs, I have saved at least one female hen from a life of demand. By not eating dairy, one baby cow gets to stay with their mom. And if I never achieve anything else in my life, I know that at least I have done that.

If you ever need a reminder of the impact that you as one person can have, even by simply changing your eating habits, see this calculator. Even the smallest of acts matter and over time those tiny acts can have massive impacts across the world. Veganism is going from strength to strength and the number of people changing to a vegan lifestyle are doubling every month, let alone every year. Below is my impact and…ignoring everything else, 1915 animals are alive today because of me. My goal in life has always been to save animals, so I am pretty bloomin’ chuffed!

Above all things I want people to remember to look after themselves. If you don’t look after yourself, you will not be able to do as much as you want to do and it will inevitably lead to you to feeling nothing but disappointment and sadness. Their is a wonderful phrase which says that when you are on an aeroplane, the first thing they say to you if there is an emergency is to put your own mask on first. Once you have your own mask on, you can then help everyone around you. It is a phrase that I have been hearing more and more, especially with 2020 and the whole COVID19 malarkey, and yet it is such a true statement. You need to look after you first, and everything else will come together easier.

I made this blog as a little way to share my vegan journey, and if I happen to help a few people come to grips with the lifestyle then I consider this a success. I want this blog to be a place of open and free discussion, so if you have questions, or resources or thought that you just want to share, my comments and emails are always open to you.

Stay safe everyone, and I shall see you all soon!

T xxx

Should vegans get vaccinations?

I have been seeing a lot of stuff going around online lately about whether vegans can have vaccinations and still call themselves vegans. It is an issue that is very much up for debate, even if you are not vegan. Personally, I will always advocate for modern medicine as much as possible and it is something that I feel very strongly about. I do not think it makes you any less of a vegan or any less of an animal activist if you require modern medicine or vaccinations throughout your life time.

One of the biggest issues I have with the vegan community sometimes is the thought that veganism is an all or nothing approach: If you cannot be 100% vegan in every single aspect of your life, then you are not truly a vegan. And it really really REALLY bugs me. It is an impossible standard to try to achieve and it can be hugely damaging to people who are just starting their vegan journey.

Obviously you need to do your own research in vaccinations and medicine and make your own mind up about it all. But for me, I will never and have never advocated that vegans should not take modern medicine or should not take vaccinations. It is a reality of life that you will, at some point, require medication – even if it is just painkillers for a headache or some cough medicine for a cold. While animal testing is – unfortunately – a very big aspect of modern life for the sake of medicine, it is one of those areas that is constantly progressing too. There is constant research being carried out to find alternatives to animal testing and I truly believe that soon animal testing will not be necessary.

That being said, this change – as with all changes in the world – happens gradually., and i think it is even more damaging to the cause to think that the issues within society around animal exploitation can be changed overnight. These issues will take years, possibly even decades, to fully eradicate and it would be naive and dangerous to ignore the reality of this. If you need medicine to cope with day to day life (such as if you are asthmatic, have allergies, depression or mental health issues that need medication to regulate) then I will always encourage you to take that medicine. You need to look after yourself first. If the vegan community does not look after themselves first, then who will be there to fight for the animals and to challenge the practices currently in place? It does not make you a hypocrite, especially if you depend on medication to just get you through the day.

The vaccination for COVID19 is being rolled out very quickly now and I for one cannot wait to get the vaccine. Yes, I know that thousands of animals had to suffer in order for this vaccination to be allowed for commercial use, but once we have all been vaccinated we can get back to demonstrations, talks and protests to continue fighting that fight for the animals. If anything, the fact that animals are the only way to test medicine is a huge issue: If we had multiple alternatives that were correctly funded, researched and utilised within the medical industry, then vaccines and medication could be rolled out way faster and in much larger numbers due to the fact that we are not relying on only one method of testing to green-light any of the products.

Society is constantly evolving, and there have been huge steps forward for animal rights in the last five years. Imagine what we could do in the next five years?! The idea that veganism and activism requires a certain degree of perfection is damaging, illogical and – quite frankly – idiotic. NO ONE can ever be perfect in any aspect of their lives and I think it is horrible to try and force the vegan community to aim for that. You can only do what you can do: The entire ethos behind veganism is to live a life which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. It is about doing as much as possible with what you have, and in some cases that may be something as small as sharing petitions on social media or simply following a plant based diet.

You need to look after you, and in the modern world in which we live that includes taking modern medicine when you need it. I for one will definitely be getting the vaccine (and any other vaccines and medicine that is required of me throughout my life) as it will keep my body healthy and allow me to continue doing the activism work which I am so very passionate about.

Some further reading if you are interested in learning more about this topic:

There are hundreds of resources out there, so if you find any that you find very helpful or informative please do leave a comment below with a link.

Stay safe everyone, and look after yourselves and each other.

T xxx

Veganuary!

Happy New Year everyone! Welcome back and to the best month of the year…Veganuary! Veganuary is a monthly campaign to encourage and support people trying out a vegan lifestyle. You can find their website here. It has a lot of helpful information and recipes to help you navigate your first month of a vegan lifestyle. I shall also be attempting to post every day throughout Veganuary to give as much information as possible throughout!

If you are new here, allow me to reintroduce myself. My name is Taylor and I have been vegan now for about 5 years. Veganism has recently really taken off, with hundreds of options now available for you to try. However with so many options it can be very overwhelming knowing what products are worth trying and which are just going to be a waste of money. So being the kind soul that I am though, I thought I would share my thoughts on all of the vegan things I come across.

Veganuary is now in its 7th year, and it really has become a massive campaign. Everywhere seems to do a veganuary deal and it is also the month where the majority of new vegan products are released. To help navigate some of this, I have created the below list of all of the brand new items that will be on offer from today. I shall try to keep it updated as the month goes on but if I have missed anything please do leave a comment and I shall make sure to add it in!

Sweet treats

Subway double chocolate cookie
Wicked! chocolate cookies
Wicked! oat and raisin cookies
Magnum salted caramel ice creams
Krispy Kreme glazed donuts
Oggs millionaire shortbread bites

Fast food options

Subway T.L.C (tastes like chicken) sandwich
Domino’s Chick-Ain’t pizza

In stores

Gregg’s sausage rolls and steak bakes can now be bought frozen from Iceland
Higgidy are also releases a number of new vegan quiches
Quorn peri peri chicken deli bites
Quorn turkish style kebab deli bites
Chicago Town releasing two new frozen pizzas

I shall do my best to keep this all updated as best I can! But rest assured I shall be making my way through all of these goodies over the next month…stay tuned!

T xxx

Dealing with the loss of a pet

On Christmas Eve, our Pippin finally crossed over the rainbow to be with his brother Merry. We had noticed him slowing down for a few days – not as energetic and a bit unsteady on his feet – and when we woke on Christmas Eve he was in his final moments. As with most pets, it happened quite quickly, and we sat by him and held his paw as he took his final breaths in his home. He was home, he was safe and he was loved more than anything in this world.

I’m glad the last picture I ever took of him was such a handsome one.

Needless to say, our Christmas didn’t feel the most Christmassy. Add on top of it all COVID and the Tier 4 restrictions we are currently under, and we couldn’t even be around our family. I am very lucky though that I and my partner at least have each other, and we still have two very healthy, happy and trouble-making bunnies in our lives. But the house already feels a bit too big now. After Merry back in May and now Pippin, I think I am well within my right to say this one f-bomb on my blog: Fuck 2020.

People sometimes say that when a pet dies it is not the same as when a human dies, and to some degree I agree. But at the same time, it still hurts a whole bloody lot when the little creature that you have loved and cared for and played with and shared a home with for the last 3 years does pass away. The average age for a gerbil is 2, so our boys making it to 3 makes it a bit easier to deal with, as I know that both Merry and Pippin had long and happy lives with us.

Literally stopping everything to say hi to us

I think that is the main thing that you can take away with you when you own a pet. There is the knowledge that in almost every case, you will outlive your pet. Nature is a cruel and unforgiving thing and try as we might we cannot stop it from taking it;s course. All we can do, is ensure that we give our pets the best life possible, even if it is only for a small amount of time. Give them as much love as they will let us and make them comfortable when that rainbow bridges finally beckons for them.

We are also trying to think of ideas of what to use their cage for. It feels wrong to throw it away, but it also feels wrong to just put it in some dark storage room. We are thinking of using it as a sort of terrarium to grow some herbs in the house? If you guys have any other suggestions, please do let me know in the comments!

In honour of Pippin, please give all of your fur babies extra treats and as many cuddles as they can stand today. I know that Pippin is now with his brother and they will both have endless chocolate drops and loo rolls to chew on, and that while they both may have become grumpy old men in their old age, they knew how loved they were and how loved they will always be by us.

My Boys

On a slightly lighter note, I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and all got to forget about the mess that 2020 has been. It is suffice to say that I very much spent Christmas eating my feelings, so I have a lot of good stuff for you guys moving forward.

T xxx

FAIL – why does my coconut milk hate me?

This was not pretty.

So I saw a recipe online that was vegan chocolate mousse. All you needed was:

  • coconut cream (2 cans worth)
  • caocao powder (2 tablespoons, or however much to your taste)

Simples, right?

WRONG.

Who knew that coconut milk could be such a cruel, cruel mistress? For those who do not know coconut creme is the top part of a can of coconut milk. When you open the can, the milk and creme is likely to have separated where it has been sitting for so long in the can. You then just scoop the creme layer off and are usually left with just under half a can of milk. Did this happen with me? Of course not.

It was all milk! I thought maybe it had been left in my cupboard for too long and the creme had melted, so I tried putting it into the freezer for a bit to let it harden up again. That didn’t work. I then left it in the fridge for 4 hours as suggested and that still didn’t work. I then left it in the fridge OVERNIGHT and it still did not work. I did this with both cans of milk and they both did the exact same thing. No matter what I could not get the creme and milk to separate. After over 24 hours in the fridge I still attempted to try the recipe and while attempting to whip it (with a proper electric whisk too!) it just didn’t solidify as it was supposedly meant to do. It did form very good frothy milk though…so I guess if you ever need some for your coffee then this could work?

Needless to say it was a hard few days…I know that baking and cooking is hard and that people train to be experts at these skills for years. But…it’s just whipping creme right?! Am I missing something?

If you guys have tried this before please leave me a comment and let me know how you got on with it. Please also let me have any advice…I ‘d like to try out a load of new recipes!

T xxx

Plant Menu chicken burgers

Aldi is seriously killing it with the vegan food selection! I think I may have worked out how to really improve my burger eating experience.

2 words: Brioche. Buns.

It has been a while since I have had brioche anything, so I was very excited to find these in Aldi. They are exactly what they say they are: Vegan brioche burger buns. They taste exactly like brioche and add a very nice little flavour to my burgers.

We also tried these chicken burgers and they were…ok? I never really understood the allure of chicken burgers anyway (ignoring the whole, having to kill a chicken side of it anyway), but I know that they are meant to be healthier than the beef/red meat varieties that you could buy. But we saw this and as it is a new vegan option that we haven’t tried before, we gave it a go!

They don’t really taste of much. They are however very filing, so I guess that’s good if you’re looking for something light that will still make you feel full. The brioche bun was good with it, although since the chicken doesn’t taste of much, all you could really taste was the brioche. Make of that what you will…

We also added a few slices of Violife cheese and overall it did make a pretty decent burger. Nothing overly special, but a decent burger none the less. If you have anything to really amplify a burger let me know in the comments!

Overall: 7/10. Brioche buns are a game changer…the chicken burgers, not so much.

T xxx

Mental Health and lockdown

This is slightly different to what I usually talk about, but I feel it is important and needs to be addressed. Mental health, to me, is just as – if not more – important as physical health, and 2020 has been a year that has truly tested us collectively. From the threat of a global pandemic, to world-wide lockdowns, to the constant fight for many social justice issues across the globe, it has been a very trying time. I am someone who has always had issue with what I like to refer to as ‘The Mean Reds’.

Shikhaa Talks: The Mean Reds
Made famous by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

They have been particularly bad during this year. Now I am a very logical person, so I know that there are very real reasons to be afraid right now: Covid is very much a real threat and even though it’s been nearly a whole year since it was discovered, we still don’t seem to be making much progress in finding out how to fight/combat/deal with it. I also hate that this is the first time in a long time where I feel like so much of my life is no longer under my control. I cannot simply go wherever I please, travel where I please, see who I please. I haven’t been able to hug my parents or my best friend in nearly a whole year, and there is no guarantee when it will be safe to do so again.

Now I am in no way qualified to give anyone advice about how to deal with their own mental health, and if you are struggling to manage it on your own I beg of you to go and speak to a professional. Some very useful links are:

www.mind.org.uk
Anxiety UK
Beat Eating Disorders
CALM
No Panic
Samaritans


Some of the coping methods I have found though that really help my own mental health though are as follows. I have used these over the years and find that when done regularly they really do help me keep my head on straight and keep my mental health in check.

Journalling

My biggest thing is journalling. Having somewhere to just completely brain dump all of your thoughts and feelings can be such a helpful exercise. I just use a standard notebook and just word vomit onto the pages. I very rarely go back through my journal to read past entries, as I have found it never helps and just reminds of me of things that I was otherwise trying to not dwell on. But it has also been helpful to sort out my thoughts and my plans, letting me have somewhere completely private and non-judging where I can say whatever I like and to stop all of my thoughts rushing around my head.

Exercise

In the winter this can be hard to keep up with, but even just going for a nice long walk in the evenings can work wonders. It can be good to do something that allows you to move your body and also get you out of your head for a bit. For me, my go to exercises are running, yoga or barre workouts. They don’t have to be very long runs or a really bendy yoga flow, just taking ten or fifteen minutes to move your body and to completely focus on something else for that time. I find that when I do take that little bit of time to just really get into my exercise, I come away with a clearer head and a calmer outlook. Mainly because I’ve usually forgotten about all of the tiny little things I was worrying about before I started!

Being creative

Right so I cannot draw. Nor paint. And really my sewing skills are lacking. But there is something very freeing about completely losing yourself in a creative act. For me, writing has always been my outlet, and even if it is just a couple thousand words, it gives me a way to stretch my imagination and also gives me something concrete at the end of the day that I alone have created. Even my paintings, which look like a four year old could have painted them with their teeth, are a fun way to spend an afternoon where I can just have a bit of fun and make something completely my own.

Connect with people

This is even more important in 2020 than ever before when it can so easily feel like we are all way more isolated from one another. But that is the joy of modern technology: I can call anyone, at any time, and usually get through to them. I can phone my Mom and hear about how her gardening is going, or call my friend to hear about her work dramas. I can play online video games with friends and send my friends funny pictures of my pets. While 2020 has felt like a somewhat lonely year, it has been very helpful for me to have the reminder that we are all feeling this. The entire world has had to sort of stand still for the year, and everyone is finding something about that situation that stresses them out. It’s what makes us human and it is sometimes a nice reminder that you are definitely not alone in any of this.

What do you guys do to look after your mental health? Are there any methods you’ve found that really help you get through the Mean Reds? Let me know in the comments as I am always up for trying something new.

T xxx