Tag Archives: Water

An ocean of plastic

I’m a 34 year old environmental scientist, and I’ve just been schooled by a nursery on an environmental issue.

All eyes seem to be on the subject of plastic pollution at present, thanks to the combined efforts of environmental groups from Surfers Against Sewage to Greenpeace, the takeup by large businesses who are getting rid of or phasing out single use plastics like straws, and of course the BBC wildlife show Blue Planet.

Personally, I’ve felt closer to the issue since living near the coast, and seeing how much rubbish washes up on the strandline every day. I try and remember to take a rubbish bag with me when I go to the beach to do a spot of beach cleaning before I leave.

But it was the news last week of a nursery school ‘banning’ glitter to reduce microplastic pollution that really got me thinking.

I love glitter! I have a stash of it myself, which I use for crafts and homemade cards, and more in the form of makeup, which I use for samba performances, gigs, parties and festivals. It sounds ridiculous to me now, but it had simply not occurred to me that most of it is made of tiny pieces of plastic, which end up in the environment.

I was well aware of the plastic pollution issue, that the plastics we don’t see can be even more harmful than the ones we see on the beach, of the microbeads added to certain cosmetics and cleaners, and the damage they cause, and would never knowingly buy or use them. I also know that when we throw or wash something away that there is no ‘away’; everything ends up somewhere, be it landfill or sewage treatment or eventually the oceans. But it turns out I had a sparkly blind spot!

It got me thinking. Where else am I releasing plastics into the environment without realising? The stuff that my home recycling bin gets shamefully full of is the obvious stuff. But if glitter is a plastic then that can’t be the end of it.

My toenails are currently painted blue. A small piece of varnish chipped off a couple of days ago whilst I was in the shower and I saw it wash down the drain. Varnish. Plastic. Hmm. I can try and stop bits going down the drain I suppose by being more careful with it, not getting it outside the edges of the nails in the first place so it doesn’t wash off my skin, and removing it and binning the paper I removed it with once it threatens to chip… but maybe I should stop using it, or at least see if there’s a truly biodegradable alternative. I now genuinely wonder if there’s plastic in any of my other cosmetics?

My mind wandered back to a conversation with my dad a while back. He’s already switched on to this, and is busy replacing most of his wardrobe with natural fibres. Now I’m thinking of it, that makes sense. How much dust and fluff do our clothes and furnishings give off all the time? If they are made of synthetic fibres, that is more microplastics that we’re releasing into the environment every time we do laundry, empty the vacuum cleaner, or even in tiny quantities just whilst out and about.

And today I’m working on some DIY. I just scrubbed a painted wall I am renovating with a scourer, and the water coming off it contained tiny flecks of white paint and green scourer. I flushed it away… but there is no away, right? Cleaning sponges, cloths and scourers are made of plastics and synthetic fibres too (as is the paint – at least what I’m replacing it with is a less plastic based mineral paint, even if that’s not perfect!), and as they wear, they are losing tiny plastic particles into the water. The same goes for my plastic chopping board and utensils in the kitchen.

My life is full of plastic!!

I know I can’t fix the problem by myself and that my own impact is small compared to the scale of the problem. I also know it may not be that smart to throw away useable items just because of this. But I am thinking about it now. Maybe when it comes to replacing things I’ll think a bit more carefully about what I replace them with. There are alternatives out there, even including eco glitter, as a colleague of mine joyfully shared with me! Maybe I can become more conscious of what I am releasing into our water and soils in future, and take better care over the small things.

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A decade vegan

I have been vegan for ten years this year! I was 24. I get asked about it a lot, so here’s my story:

I never actually went vegetarian.

I grew up a real meat lover in a normal omnivorous household. My favourite foods were roast dinners, steaks, seafood, and meat stews. And pizza. But it had to have pepperoni on it really. If I was taken out for dinner, it was always my mission to order the meatiest thing on the menu that I was allowed; the biggest steak, a whole chicken, a mixed grill… When my younger sister went vegetarian when we were older children, I mocked and criticised her mercilessly! Surely it was unnatural, we evolved to eat meat, we need it to be healthy..?

So, what happened?!

I’ve always been passionate about nature, science and the environment, so studying environmental science at A-Level and then university made perfect sense (if you’ve not come across it, environmental science is the scientific study of all aspects of the natural world; the physics, chemistry, biology and sociology behind weather and wildlife, geology, oceans, soils, landscapes and more, and the way they interact…). I was 17 when my A-Level ‘Env’ class studied a module on agriculture and food production. For the first time, I had to really look closely at the way my food was produced. I knew meat was made of dead animals; I unemotionally thought this a fact of life and quite natural. It wasn’t a surprise to me to learn about how animals are grown for food and slaughtered. What did shock me was how unnatural we have made the farming system, and how much of an impact it has upon the rest of the natural world.

The kind of farms I thought of as a child, small land holdings run by a family, keeping small flocks and herds of a range of farmyard animals, are largely consigned to history.

Today, most of our food is industrially mass produced. Animals do not have names. Large companies run the farms purely for profit. Many animals, chickens in particular, never see sunlight or reach anything near adulthood before slaughter, and have been selectively bred away from their natural shape and size to produce more meat or milk than their bodies can physically support, crippling them in various ways before their early slaughter. Those that are kept outdoors are kept on huge scales, and unable to be supported by grazing the land they live on, require feeding with tonnes of mass-produced animal feed. This has to be grown of course. To do this, vast amounts of land many times the size of the livestock farms themselves are required; land is constantly being deforested to grow more and more animal feed, including in the rainforests, and to keep producing the quantities of animal feed needed requires constant inputs of industrial fertilisers and pesticides to be produced and sprayed over the land. Gallons of water are needed to irrigate the feed crops, as well as to rear the livestock themselves and produce the meat. Both the production of feed and livestock farming cause shocking amounts of pollution; water pollution from run-off contaminated with fertilisers, pesticides, slurry and bacteria, impacting aquatic life and human health; air pollution from spraying agrochemicals and from ammonia from industrial poultry units; greenhouse gases from the methane the livestock produce, fertiliser production and transport of feed. In addition, stocking animals at high densities of the same species leads to disease outbreaks. In many places, this is mitigated by routinely feeding antibiotics to livestock, but this is leading to the rise of antibiotic-resistant disease in both animals and humans.

The more I learnt (and there is more), the more I became convinced that industrial livestock production was not environmentally sound. I cared deeply about the world we live in, so because I could no longer eat meat without knowing how it was produced, I felt I needed to make sure that any meat I ate had been produced to good environmental standards.

So I did some research, and decided that certified organically farmed meat was  produced in much more sensitive ways, with much higher environmental and welfare standards than factory-farmed meat. So I decided to go ‘organic vegetarian’ – vegetarian, unless the meat was organic. Because organic farming has higher standards it costs more to produce, so is more expensive. So I therefore ended up eating less, but better quality, meat. I was not at all vegetarian, but I was eating many more vegetarian dishes, and eating vegetarian food or seafood when eating out. I got used to eating a wider variety of foods, and to the vibrant flavours in vegetarian cooking, though I still loved my meat.

I lived like this for a couple of years before it occurred to me (or I had to admit to myself!) that eggs and dairy were also factory farmed, so for consistency if I was going to cut out all my support for intensive livestock farming, I’d have to go organic there too.

And this is where things got tricky.

Milk and eggs are ingredients in a lot of foods. Reading labels to find out if they contained animal ingredients, and if so, how they had been produced, got boring and time consuming. And the social impact – having to ask, before anyone fed me, ‘Is it organic?’! Nope.

I was living this awkward ‘organic vegan’ lifestyle when I moved to my second university. And it was here I met several real-life vegans, including the man who became my boyfriend and then husband. They seemed to have it a lot easier than me! They didn’t spend hours in the shops scouring ingredients lists. They could shop and eat out in normal shops and restaurants. They didn’t have to ask socially awkward questions – a simple ‘I’m vegan’ sufficed to explain their diets. And they could eat chocolate!! I’d previously assumed being vegan was miserable and difficult, and probably unhealthy, but the reality I encountered was anything but!

So, I gave it a try. I was helped by the discovery that, to me at least, soya milk tasted far, far better than the cows’ milk I’d hated the taste of all my life! I missed and craved all sorts of animal-based things. But I made what turns out to have been a very wise decision to be extremely gracious with myself; if I had a craving (for cheese or pork for example), I would wait a short while to see if the craving went away (as it sometimes would). If it didn’t, I would allow myself to go and get some (if I could find it organic!), eat and enjoy it, and then, be vegan again the following day. I found over time the cravings got fewer and further between, and went away more quickly. I found I was having to give into them less and less, and eventually, after a couple of years, I found I just wasn’t feeling the need to buy animal-based foods. Today, whilst I do remember what animal-based foods were like and that I enjoyed them, it no more occurs to me to eat them as it would for me to eat cardboard. It doesn’t register to me as food.

The final straw was unexpected. I was on a train, passing through some beautiful countryside, where a few extremely sleek and contented looking cattle were happily grazing in a huge, open landscape. I thought to myself as I passed, ‘This is how farming should be…’, and was just beginning to feel pleased with myself when I heard God say to me, ‘So who are you to cut short those happy lives?’. Wow. I was hit with the compassion for animals that I’d never really experienced before. It was a perspective I’d not even thought of, that yes these animals were living happily on such farms, but that in demanding meat from them, I was taking that happy life away prematurely. So. No more meat.

Over that time I’d also learnt more and more recipes. I’d got a lot more creative and adventurous with my cooking (and started writing recipes!), finding ways to produce my favourite meals, desserts and snacks without animal ingredients. I actually put on a lot of weight (this was a positive, I’d been underweight for years), mostly I think from baking more than ever!

The last thing to go was the seafood; I’d been convinced for a long time that this was free from the concerns of factory farming, which was largely true for wild-caught fish at least. However, much of our seafood is also farmed, with similar associated problems, plus requiring huge amounts of wild-caught small fish for feed, to the detriment of seabird populations (as a bird lover this is the killer for me!). And wild caught seafoods have a myriad of associated environmental and ethical issues of their own. I realised, reluctantly, that this was also an ethical minefield I was best off out of. In my 24 years to that point I concluded I’d already eaten my fair share of the world’s fish stocks, so I decided to stop. That was a little sad; however, there is so much good food still out there for me it really hasn’t been a major loss. Including chocolate. 😉

Most foods are not made from animals at all, and are therefore on the menu. Almost everything that is can be replaced straightforwardly, especially if you have a good grasp of what flavours and ingredients suit the cuisine you are cooking. For a long time, the only things I couldn’t replace were cheese (for sandwiches and crackers – I could make cheesy sauces and substitute tahini for melted cheese in many recipes), meringues and seafood. Hardly a hardship, especially gotten used to over a period of many years as in my case.

When I went vegan a decade ago, veganism was about where vegetarianism had been in the 1970s – very much a minority lifestyle, seen as a bit unusual, not generally well understood, and you’d have to go to a vegetarian restaurant if you wanted a good meal out, though you could find something to eat in most places, especially if you looked them up beforehand and explained what you did and didn’t eat. There was great icecream and chocolate and yogurt and cream cheese available out there, in specialist shops mostly, but other ‘cheese’ substitutes resembled vanilla-and-Wotsit/Cheeto-flavoured plasticine!

Over the past decade, veganism has grown by over 350% in the UK, and the revolution has been really noticeable the past couple of years. Today veganism is about where vegetarianism was when my sister went veggie as a kid around 20 years ago; you could find something to eat almost anywhere, it was normal for a restaurant to have vegetarian options marked on the menu, sometimes including desserts, and there were a few lazy options like ready meals available if you searched, most people knew a vegetarian, and people generally knew what being vegetarian meant.

We’ve discovered that coconut cream whips like double cream, that the water from a can of chickpeas froths up just like egg white and makes a mean meringue (admit it, egg white is just as gross in its original form…), and even cheeze is becoming edible as some sort of cheese, even if it rarely resembles the particular variety of dairy cheese it claims to mimic. I now have a few brands I buy regularly, after almost a decade cheese-free! And oh how I am having to re-learn the art of self-control now that new vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants are opening up all over town, and café after bakery after tearoom, that I have to walk past every day, now serve irresistible vegan cakes..! Waistline expanding.

My favourite foods today are thai curries and stir fries, chocolate ganache pies, and pretty much anything involving roast aubergines! And pizza. Especially with veggie pepperoni. 😉

As now a relative old-school vegan I’m having to up my game with baking and cooking, and re-learn what I thought were my limits. But over the years I’ve also discovered more and more reasons I’m convinced that veganism is a step in the right direction; it’s no longer just about the environment, though that remains my passion; it’s about loving my global neighbours, about walking kindly alongside other species, about health, about my worship and that of the rest of creation, about understanding others with special diets, and about a love of food and creativity.

Let’s see where things head over the next ten years; I hope we can really begin to shape the world into something a little better.

Looking for Europe 8: Budapest – Floating!

June 4th

Budapest! It was a beautiful day again, and the city is stunning!

After a somewhat inadequate amount of sleep we went for a breakfast wander. Very little was open; it turned out it was Pentecost, which I’d forgotten, but we found an incredible café, which blew my mind by serving my iced tea packed with forest fruits! It was already hot by then, we just wanted to jump in the fountains!

We wandered back to the hostel to pick up swim things, admiring all the beautiful buildings on the way, then headed to find a spa. Budapest is famously full of amazing thermal spas and grand bath houses, so it was something we both felt we had to try, especially since we were in need of a bit of relaxation. The first one we went in was too big and imposing for someone who’d had very little sleep, so we went to a smaller one; it didn’t look much from the outside but was perfect for us. It had a lovely little swimming pool so we chilled out, swam some lengths, then went to the gorgeous thermal pools. The main pool was octagonal, surrounded by pillars holding up a beautiful domed roof with coloured glass stars set into it, with the sun shining through them onto the water. We hung out in there, wowing, for a while, then tried the little corner pools, which turned out to be set to different temperatures, 28, 30, 33 and 42oC. I didn’t go in the cold one but went in the others. When I put my foot into the 42 oC pool I thought it was going to cook me! But I stepped back in… and eventually got in fully… and then decided I didn’t want to leave!! Cook me anytime, please! 😀 Eventually we went back to the main hot pool, and floated where the light shone through the stars… 😉 A quick last swim in the pool to get rid of the very slightly smelly mineral water, then we wandered back. On failing again to find a shop, we ended up eating at a Hungarian restaurant, where I was served a nice stew of peppers, and some mind-numbingly fiery fresh chillis, which I took as a challenge and was indeed victorious! It felt good. Then it was back once again to the hostel to get ready for the show, and back out.

It was all so beautiful! Amazing, elaborate architecture, beautiful hills including one with a church built into it, patterned roofs, and the Danube cutting right through the middle of the city. We could see the venue, a boat on the river, so it was very easy to find. A friend we’d met in Germany was there already, so we went in and had a drink on the deck with him and a guy from Ecuador but living in Spain, who had a Where I Belong banner with him. I told him I had one too but I’d make sure his got on stage this time.

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VIP was on time this time, but later in the day and very short. When we got in, the guys were just jamming together; it sounded incredible, very different to when they’re performing something, and they were all turned to face one another, so it was great seeing how they interacted. At one point, Jon looked like he was teaching Drew a riff… were they learning something new?? It was really fun to watch anyway and they were all showing a lot of skill and looking like they were enjoying themselves. Then they said hi, and played us Learning to Breathe, which was just lovely.

At Meet ‘n’ Greet the band got given a gingerbread artwork and a Hungarian football shirt. And Jude was all the giggles! She had her hair in Princess Leia buns and gave the guys a bunch of silly Star Wars themed gifts to go with a Star-Wars-punning poster she’d made to promote Bro Am…! She even brought some bubble wands that looked like light sabres. Legend. Drew used the bubble light sabre to make bubbles, and Chad rolled up the poster and used that as a light sabre, complete with sound effects, to pop them!

I had composed the guys another letter on the journey (written into a card I made at 5am in the hostel!) and I handed it to Chad; I had a job getting him to take it, I think he was surprised I was giving it to him but I had written a message to each of them this time, with only one (silly) line in it for Jon, so I was keen for one of the others to take it. I asked how they were as they all looked so tired, and thanked them for putting themselves through all this for us. My friend prayed with Jon at the end and encouraged him to keep writing. Jon said he couldn’t help it, he didn’t know how to stop, so I said ‘Please, don’t ever!!’ 😀 Music addict 🙂

The show – wow! I was shattered by this point and had trouble staying awake through the opening band, even though they were again really good, and extremely loud, and using a lot of strobe lighting. I literally was falling asleep. But then the crowd got really hyped up. There was a lot of chanting, silly selfies, sitting on the stage, Switchfoot puns…

Then they were on!

So many feels. As predicted, the awesome Romanian crowd was indeed there again; the room absolutely erupted when Jon asked who was from Romania! Again you could tell they were thinking they needed to play a show there, and they actually asked where they should try to play if they came (Cluj!) There were also fans there from India, Dubai, Nigeria, and of course us, and we all got a little shout out. Jon also remarked how amazing Budapest is, and that it isn’t a place they ever hear of in the USA, though he thought they should – we were quite surprised!

Jon took the mic stand into the crowd to sing When We Come Alive and Love Alone…, and got up on the bar to sing. Someone had a Love Alone… banner that he held up on stage. He came back right through the crowd to where I was stood, so I helped lift him back up onto the stage. Everyone started ‘Oreo’ing again after the song supposedly finished so Jon had to sing some more of it!

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Jon once again picked me out to sing ‘Don’t let go’ to in Needle, the same line he’d sung me at an earlier show. Deliberate? Probably not, but I wonder if he thought I might… But I got a lot more interaction in general. All four of them who could move were right up front a lot, leaning right out over us and easily within touching distance. Romey spent more time than ever up front with the guitar playing to the crowd, almost more than he was at the back with the keys!

They were having a lot of fun on stage that night, with each other and with the crowd. Drew soloed like crazy, totally original as ever. And he and Jon had some fun with Where The Light Shines Through (WTLST); there’s a section where they break it down and sort of play solo tennis, Jon playing a phrase and Drew playing a reply. This time Jon had a mischievous look in his eye; he gave Drew some really weird solo lines, and it seemed like they were messing with one another, trying to throw one another off by playing the unexpected, but they were both coming up with awesome ‘replies’ each time! That was very funny to watch! The ‘samba breaks’ were epic too!

Jon came over to me as he introduced WTLST, took my banner, and this time handed me it straight back saying ‘thank you, it’s beautiful!’ He came over as they began Where I Belong too, again as if to ask for the banner, but this time though I had it in my hand I didn’t hand it to him, and instead turned around to look for the other fan’s one. Sure enough it made its way to the front and Jon took that one and held it up instead. Then during the song I got mine out and a bunch of us held it up at the front for a bit… until Jon took it anyway to wear/ use as a towel!

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They stuck completely to the setlist this time, but got encored again twice, so they played Mess Of Me, We Are One/ Shadow Proves…, and then as they couldn’t finish with the crowd going so crazy and Jon having so much fun, he carried on and played 24, the others rejoining him at the end again. For the second encore, Jon came back on wearing the Hungarian football shirt – and turned round part way through the song to reveal that it had ‘Foreman 24’ written on the back! The crowd went wild!

Towards the end the crowd was giving them so much love and encoring so much the guys all had big teary smiles, Drew, Jon and Romey especially, which was so sweet to see. I can’t get enough of Drew smiling like that! I applauded them all a whole lot, and managed to mouth ‘thank you!’ to both Drew and Romey. And at the very end, Drew came over and emotionally clasped big handfuls of our hands in his saying ‘thank you, thank you’. It was the best feeling seeing them feeling the love. I managed to catch Josh and Chico packing down to say thank you too as well.

Afterwards we stayed on the boat as there was a rumour Jon wanted to play an aftershow on the deck; in any case, an aftershow seemed inevitable! The tweet eventually went out, aftershow on the boat in 15 minutes… but then the staff cleared the venue so we decamped to the gangway and waited there. And then after a while, a clean Jon emerged with a detuned guitar, ready to be packed away, and he led us down onto the steps of the Danube, playing there for us with the city lights reflecting on the water behind him. He joked that the river was ‘exactly like the Pacific Ocean.’! I got front row again, wearing the Where I Belong banner partly because it was wet again 😛 and needed to dry out, and partly because it had actually turned cool and windy by then, I think there had been a storm whilst we were inside.

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Thanks to Jude for capturing this shot!

He played Caroline, The Moon Is A Magnet (WOW! There was indeed a pretty moon, though it wasn’t full and kept hiding behind clouds. Very special!), Vice Verses (he asked did we want a sad song or an upbeat song, and started strumming Just Rob Me! But though I confess I voted for both, Vice Verses won; someone called out we’d had lots of upbeat at the show and it was time for a sad one), and Your Love Is Strong, with everyone singing.

At the end, he said to us that in his mind, the perfect way this would end would be for us all to leave as equals; ‘No elevation, no photos; we’re all one family here, we leave as equals…’ It was both very smart, and very sweet! I let him go; but I did stop him briefly as he passed me just to thank him sincerely for this tour, and I found myself clasping his hand again, just as in Mannheim. And then he was gone, with minimal mobbing. We waved him off and cheered as he returned to the boat down the gangway.

Jude was top of the world as while that was happening she’d met Drew again to hug and thank! We went back to the hostel; a whole group of us across the bridge, then four of us back to get a taxi from the hostel, then after some deep late night conversations with new friends we dropped the other guys off en route and headed to the airport.

We spent an uncomfortable night on the floor of the deserted airport, me wrapped in the banner to keep warm. At 4am the place began to fill up… and suddenly I spotted Josh amongst the crowds, pulling two huge cases of gear!! :O Sure enough, sooner or later we spotted most of the others, and witnessed them checking in the most enormous mountain of kit. That was quite a sight. They were on the flight after ours!! We stayed well out of their way and out of sight at the other end of the check-in hall, and went off to get ourselves some much needed coffee as soon as the café was opened, then checked in for our flight. We saw most of the guys eventually come through security and head to the lounge, looking beyond tired 😦 Love them so much! Their flight was announced just after ours was, their gate was in the same area as ours, and as we boarded, the last person we saw was Romey walking towards it. As our plane took off, we saw theirs pulling out from the terminal (tears!), and then we flew directly over the venue and aftershow spot (more tears!!) and away from them.

Oh the love miles!! Such pain of being pulled (temporarily!) away from these lovely guys, and so many wonderful new friends across the continent and world. I knew I was going to miss everyone so much. I just wanted to stay and hang out with everyone… oh my heart! It was all beautiful, and I cannot wait for more. ‘147 days!!’*

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Read Part 7 here

*I set up a countdown app on my phone when the first tour date was announced; as they announced more dates for the autumn whilst still with us, I reset the countdown on the last day of the tour to give myself something to look forward to when they were gone 🙂