je suis cecil

pig cratesSocial media outrage can reach such a pitch that mainstream media pick up the story. This is what has happened with the story of another trophy hunter, someone who paid more than twice the average salary in the UK to go and hunt a lion, kill him, skin him and behead him. I imagine it is not easy hunting a lion, but the skill of this is surely diminished since this lion was baited, i.e. tempted into an area that would make him an easy target. Male lions are majestic creatures and this lion bore a human-given name as he was a familiar inhabitant of a National Park in Zimbabwe and one of the subjects of an Oxford University research project.

A similar wave of outrage swept through social media in April this year at the offensive photographs trophy hunters publish on social media sites. Typically they stand or squat victorious over their prey, shiny weapons and shiny smiles on display. At the time, I made reference to the Tory government’s push to repeal the Hunting Act in the UK which would legalise once more the hunting of foxes with packs of hounds and their retinue of scarlet and black coated hunters on thundering horses. All this under the guise of ‘vermin’ control while video footage circulates strongly suggesting foxes are being bred for hunting, as well as showing fox baiting activities.

A commonplace fox does not have the stature of a lion so the outrage does not swell globally, but swell it does because there is something in the human ‘spirit’ that is outraged by cruelty to animals. When you look into the eyes of another animal an un-namebale connection is made. It is not dissimilar to the connection we make through eye contact with each other, something arrests us in that moment as we share the magnitude and intimacy of actually being alive, awake and aware.

Interestingly, somewhere along the line, the animals raised for eating are removed from our view, we not only never look them in the eye, we rarely see them in the fields around us. The food on display in the supermarket is called meat not animal, and there is no imagery on the packaging that relates the body parts to a whole creature, like the ones we remember from our childhood picture books. This is because these animals are usually bred and raised in huge, huge numbers in factory farms, living short and tortuous lives, the sight of which is somehow deemed unfit for human consumption. (Aside: in certain US states it is now illegal to take photographs or make video footage of the conditions inside factory farms as these firms are “private”, and whistle-blowers will face prosecution.)

I am utterly convinced, however, that the vast majority of humans would not be able to bear witness, not be able to hold eye contact with any of these animals, without it touching their hearts and minds, without it impacting the way they choose to eat and live. It might not be an overnight sweeping change, perhaps like me it is a one day at a time effort, even a one meal at a time effort, but collectively we make a big difference to the animals and to the wider environment affected by these farming methods. This is why I chose the title for this piece: je suis Cecil, with all due respect to those affected by the events in Paris in January of this year, to name a connectedness and shared responsibility to all living things however majestic, however commonplace.



Image via, shows pig crates. About only 1/4 of pork produced and eaten in the UK comes from outdoor farms. Nearly 70% is imported from farms outside the UK with standards not permitted in the UK.



cow loveI had never heard of this place, Yulin, until a couple of months ago. I believe, translated it means Jade Forest. It is a city in the north west province of China once associated with coal mining and now with fracking for natural shale gas. What it seems to be most famous for however is a summer solstice tradition for eating dog (and cat) meat that has kicked off a flurry of aggrieved and shocked petitions all over the internet. Tradition seems to be a rather generous term since, in all the articles I have read, it appears to have begun in about 2009/10.

Issues arising from the widespread publicity about the festival are largely around animal cruetly and slaughter, animal theft and smuggling, and public health issues for although you cannot contract rabies from eating dog, you can from handling infected animals, and approximately 10,000 dogs are traded to support the festivities. China has the second highest incidence of rabies in humans in the world, according to the WHO.

I have signed all the petitions. I live with a dog. I am part of a culture that on the whole is dog-loving (I leave aside the horrors of illegal dog fighting, and fox hunting – how far removed is a fox from a dog as a species anyway?) but I am curious about the horrified feelings of my co-petitioners, because while the suffering and slaughter of 10,000 companion animals is a staggering amount it is a small number when the number of farmed animals slaugherterd in the UK alone is considered. These are the latest figures I could lay my hands on, they don’t account for the thousands of deaths on farms due to disease, accidents, transportation or neglect.

“In 2013, more than 989.6 million farmed animals were slaughtered for meat in the UK, according to official figures. Of these, 2.6 million were cattle, 10.3 million pigs, 14.5 million sheep, 17.5 million turkeys and nearly 945 million chickens.”

That is a lot of animals.

This has all left me a bit bewildered about the consensus view of farmed animals and companion animals, for there is something intriguing about the way our minds have been conditioned to find it OK to treat one member of species with love and affection and another member of a species as OK to eat for dinner.  And going back to foxes and internet petitions, intrigued I am again about how the UK government would react if there was a worldwide push from Chinese animal acitvistst against the proposed repeal of the Hunting Act. Now that’s something to think about over my sweet potato pancakes this morning.

Guardian article November 2014, concerning unreported farm animal deaths

Guardian article March 2015, concerning Tory government backing for repeal of Hunting Act

too good to bake too often

vegan chocolate brownies Emily MainquistHabits are interesting. Earlier this year I had got into a rhythm of writing a blog post a day. It was a tall order but there was so much I was discovering that I wanted to note for myself and to share. Even travelling did not upset the rhythm, but eventually general fatigue, severe laryngitis and neuralgia caught up with me. I know the majority of free-lancers and self-employed individuals will agree that our modus operandi is to say yes to every work opportunity as it arises. Sometimes this means we are burning the midnight oil to meet deadlines just in the nick of time and at other times looking at blank spaces in the diary hoping that seeds for new work are germinating from our business cards, mail shots, and networking. Having been in the first mode for several months, my health clearly paid the price.

All this being said, the vegan wagon rolls onwards and I haven’t lapsed into buttery toast or milky chocolate for comfort, I’ve eaten out with some success, and recipe trials have on the whole been well-received, notably an Asian tofu stir fry that has become a weekly staple, a sweet potato pancake batter adapted from Deliciously Ella is now  a weekend favourite, and some gooey chocolate brownies adapted from a recipe by Emily Mainquist (her book is Sweet Vegan) are too good to bake too often.

PEANUT BUTTER BROWNIES – 260g of plain flour, 340g of evaporated cane juice – that was almost a recipe stopper, because I have no idea where you get that, funnily enough though I had found something previously called Jaggery Goor which is concentrated cane juice so I gave that a go -it gave a sort of deep molasses flavour – you can use regular sugar. I also used less because it sounded way, way too sweet. I like brownies to be chocolatey more than sweet), 75g cocoa powder, 1 tsp baking powder, 1tsp salt, 240ml water, 240ml oil, 1.5tsp vanilla extract, 90g chocolate chips (my bag was 100g so I put the lot in). Peanut butter for the golden artwork on the top, except I used almond butter.

Oven at 180. Grease line a baking tray. Combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Add water, oil and vanilla. Mix. Fold in chocolate chips (I will put some walnuts in next time too). Pour into baking tray. Blob on some peanut/almond butter and drag around to decorate. Cook for 20-25 mins. Check at 20, you want them to be a bit wet in the middle, they continue cooking in the tray before you tip them out. Cool for about 30mins. Ease out of tin and divide into squares. Voila!


Image via (I didn’t add the chocolate drizzle on mine)





treading lightly

hands painted as planet earthSometimes you get more than you bargained for. In January, I started this enquiry about switching from veggie to vegan in response to my growing awareness of the scale of industrialised methods in dairy and poultry farming. I gave myself a get out clause in that if I wasn’t able to manage my nutrition well, there were ethically run dairies and egg producers that I could support, but four months on, several books later, and a collection of browser bookmarks too numerous to count, the key learning is about the interconnectedness of my habits and choices.

At the same time as researching nutritional requirements and reestablishing the cooking habit after months of coping with family illnesses and bereavement, I added a few vegan FB page likes, subscribed to blogs and twitter feeds, and headed to the bookshop to replace my cookbooks and gather some associated reading. This for the most part has been a blessing as fellow vegans point me to their tried and trusted recipes, to stories about successful animal sanctuaries, and to answers to questions like, where do you get your protein? However, the other part of opening up the window on veganism is an exposure to the unadorned and brutal facts and practices of livestock farming from gender selection to slaughter, information that has driven me to tears of horror, disbelief and despair on several occasions.

Over and beyond the farming and welfare issues, I have learnt about the knock on effects of the contemporary globalised western diet with its links to poor public health; to pollution and degradation of localised water supplies and soil; to the blanket use of antibiotics in animal feed with its potential connection to untreatable superbugs; and to the concept of BigAg that along with other supersized lobby groups shapes global trade agreements that seek to ride roughshod over sovereign and local interests. The final connection that is gradually coming into focus is between large scale livestock farming and climate change. I can put my hand up now and say that I had not spent anytime in recent years contemplating in any depth the matter of climate change. I know that at home we take more showers than baths, only fill the kettle so far, have changed our lightbulbs, etc but the imperatives of climate change had been lost on me. Of course it is much more complex than farming and lightbulbs, after all there are vast sums of money spent on denying the climate change scenario. Only time will tell who is right, but looking through the vegan window is helping me shape a strategic vision for my household where we tread as lightly as possible on this little blue ball that revolves around the sun.

Image Source via

looking good

isabella rossellini via www.rsi.chDelving deeper into this vegan enquiry, thoughts seem naturally to turn to items other than food that I buy or have bought courtesy of the life and service of a non-human animal. I have never been a big cosmetics user, I subscribe to the view that the less stuff you put on your skin the better, but I suppose I have been a bit a bit of a snob in my time for what I did buy was the best that I could afford. Best I interpreted as higher-end products that had sophisticated ingredients and were backed by some kind of branding or celebrity that I somehow aspired to. Isabella Rossellini was the face of Lancome for 14 years and I couldn’t imagine a more sophisticated looking woman to emulate.

I have been passively aware that animal testing for cosmetics was a continuing practice but along with farmed animals, was not aware of the extent or, not to put too fine a point on it, the torture that is endured. Fortunately since March 2013 there has been a European-wide ban on companies testing new cosmetic products or ingredients to be sold in the EU. The Leaping Bunny stamp gives consumers the peace of mind that not a single commodified creature has had their skin or eyes irritated, burned, scarred or damaged for the sake of what is in their make-up bag or in the bathroom cupboard.

As with most things in life their are exceptions and loopholes, that’s why we have discussions around corporate tax avoidance and evasion (is there really a moral difference?). Cosmetics companies who have markets beyond the boundaries of the EU can continue to test on animals outside of the EU and then sell those products everywhere, including inside the EU (all smacks of something similar to the dreaded TTIP). This let’s off the hook the global  brands especially those who sell to China, a market that has created a bit of gold-rush fever among multi-national corporations who are greedy for the massive profit potentials. The Chinese, you see,  insist on a variety of tests, including those on animals, before a cosmetic product can be launched into their expanding market. So if you want to sell a mascara or a moisturiser in Brighton, Berlin and Beijing you have to animal-test.

Moral of the story is that I look for the Leaping Bunny stamp and check brands on their website. Happily there is a great range of products from specialised brands to supermarket and drugstore favourites. Now, as I run out of a product I replace it with something from a UK or EU  firm that puts compassion at the heart of its business or at least is beginning to realise it’s important to some of us.

PS – Isabella Rossellini is now an active conservationist, board member of Wildlife Conservation Network and a completely wacky film maker – see Green Porno clips here.

Image via





recipe gripes

vintage cooking illustrationIt is a truth universally acknowledged (well if it isn’t, it should be) that a chef in possession of a good recipe must be in want of a good proof reader (apologies to Austen fans).  I am the first to admit that I have been known to make occasional baking errors especially when converting cups to grams, but when I follow a recipe to the letter and it says suddenly that I shouldn’t overstir the batter and what I am actually stirring is something that could be put to good use filling the potholes in my street, then something other than user error is at play. Happily, I baked the lot anyway and ended up with a kind of crunchy chocolate biscuit that broke nicely into squares, but not the gooey chocolate brownies we had hoped for.

This latest experience arose in my efforts to identify a few classic recipes that I can commit to memory and that will replace old favourites I used to rattle out without thinking like sponges, scones, and shortbread. Previously, I almost came a cropper with the odd behaviour of a chef switching measurement methods mid-recipe. I was OK with grams for all the dry ingredients and half teaspoons for baking powder and spices but then was pulled up short with tablespoons for vegan margarine. Why? Why not grams? It’s sold in grams, all the other ingredients are in grams? And do you mean level tablespoons? Or heaped? One woman’s tablespoon I am certain is not as accurate as her grams.

My last gripe concerns alternatives.  If you say vegan margarine and I don’t have it (which is usually the case as it is a poor, poor substitute for butter) can I use an oil instead?  If so, which and how much? If you say soy milk, can I replace it with almond, oat or coconut? And, as I am not gluten intolerant, but you say rice flour or buckwheat flour, should I abandon your recipe or would something else suffice?

Moan over, I shall now go on a mission to compare recipes for brownies and figure out the ratio of dry to wet ingredients so that the next effort has less industrial potential than the last.



Image via Google clipart search

cook & learn

chef on old fashioned tv setThere’s a lot of food on the telly, and a lot of it in prime time. Shows regularly spawn chefs who become household names and their books range from coffee-table art to handy manuals. It seems safe to deduce that people like to cook. Even the timelessly entertaining Come Dine With Me would seem to prove this, although with varying degrees of success.

Last year, a study commissioned by an organic dairy firm sampling 2000 Brits, concluded that 58% of those polled preferred to cook than dine out and most spend an average of 49 minutes on 5 nights out of 7 in preparing an evening meal. 21% cook every night, which would include me with varying degrees of success as in CDWM above, about which I am often less entertained! There are lots of other interesting conclusions from the research (see here) but essentially it seems there are a lot of confident cooks nationwide who are willing to experiment with ingredients and to cook without a recipe.

Importantly, over 60% of those polled say they are influenced by TV chefs and inspired by their use of new ingredients and techniques. So, I am surprised that for example, of the 178 recipes turned up in a BBC Masterchef search there are only 10 vegetarian and only one of those could be called vegan, while the “disruptive force” that is Jamie Oliver (rated first in a poll to find the nation’s favourite TV chef) has 149 vegetarian recipes and 39 vegan on his site – I do make an allowance for this guy as he is on a laudable mission to shift people away from fast food feasting to healthy home cooking, and all for removing food and agriculture from the dreaded TTIP.

I realise there is an art to cooking fancy animal cuts and exotic sea creatures, although if memory serves me well more than half the experience is in the seasonings and accessory veg, so wouldn’t it be exciting to give professional and amateur chefs a meaningful challenge, take them right outside their comfort zone now and again and get them to dream up some vegan dishes? Do some vegan Bake-Offs? And show the TV-foodies in the UK what I already know from the local chefs who have pop-up restaurants in my locale that creating tasty, exciting and nutritious vegan meals is right on point.