Vegan – Your Way

As January comes to an end, the paths we paved to good intentions merely four weeks ago become harder to follow. The image of our summer bodies and Instagram perfect lifestyles become clouded by the reality of work, classes and our 2018 habits that refuse to die. The annual fad that is “Veganuary” is over just as suddenly as it began, but does it have to be? I want to give my thoughts on the very topical “vegan lifestyle” and what that means to me, and I challenge anyone reading to keep an open mind.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “VEGAN”?

If I was asked this question one year ago, a gory image of intense PETA protests displaying the horrors of a skinned lab bunny, overbearing animal rights activists and “tree huggers” forcing their beliefs down passerbyers’ throats, automatically would fill my head, did you have similar thoughts? I want to help plant a seed in those minds who are open enough to consider simple lifestyle changes for a cause that will benefit personal health as well as having a lasting impact on the world we inhabit.

My Experience

For me, my journey began with my sister, a vegetarian of two years (at the time), challenged me to try out “Veganuary” with her in 2018, to which I surprisingly agreed. Bearing in mind I had no previous restrictions with my diet whatsoever (except for a peanut allergy lol), I considered myself a true foodie. However, it was a fun concept to me and with a love for animals I was interested in becoming educated in the industry that I was previously so ignorant too. I always claimed that I had an adoration for animals but when it really mattered, I turned a blind eye and ignored the major ramifications that my choices had on the environment.

To kickstart these revelations and find out the truth regarding my food, I began binge watching documentaries on Netflix; “What the Health” and “Cowspiracy” are two that stick in my mind and I recommend for anyone curious enough. It was fascinating to me that what products we purchase and consume can have such a direct effect on the environment and in most cases a detrimental impact on our health. I won’t bore you all with major statistics and facts that may very well fall onto deaf ears, with the likes of…’the water usage to produce ONE burger is the same as taking one hundred days’ worth of showers’, (that was the only one I promise.) One thing that really resonated with me was the simple statement, that cow’s milk is just that. Its purpose is to nourish a calf, humans were not designed to digest this produce. I am not a baby cow, I don’t think anyone reading this is a baby cow, so what human being decided to milk a cow for the first time and what did they think they were doing? Clearly, I had many unresolved questions and as these thoughts marinated in my brain, the more I found the transition to reducing my dairy intake to be easier. Key word being “REDUCING”.  I know this will only resonate with very few people, but I personally don’t need to cause the death of a life, in whatever form, for simply the pleasure of my taste buds. It doesn’t make sense to me.

The Bad Rep

The stigma that we attach to the label “vegan” is something that I personally prefer not to associate my diet or lifestyle with, as I definitely don’t follow a strict plant-based diet 24/7. I choose not to use labels because in my experience it gives people free rein with the belief that I validate their opinion on MY eating habits. Over this past year I have seen more “concern” for my protein intake than I care to acknowledge, questions like “So what can you actually eat?” “You’ll have some bacon still though?”  Frankly these labels carry too much backlash if some-day I fancy some halloumi sticks or some cheesy pasta. My point is, I want to remove the pressure that people feel when they are just trying to do their own bit and to try and diminish the scrutiny we put each other through.

Shaming someone for dietary habits whatever they may be, isn’t okay and I disagree with the approach some activists choose, although I do believe it is a truth that needs to be told. The importance of showing the gritty reality behind mass consumerism is something we all should be exposed to.

So what can you do?

Simple changes that I made in the beginning was delving into the cosmetic industry, which I appreciate is easy to overlook as I took for granted that we can trust our favourite lipstick can go from production to hand bag ethically.  But unfortunately keeping up with the latest makeup gurus and trends, causes major unnecessary suffering to animals. So currently, I only purchase makeup that I know is cruelty free, and that goes for skincare products too. It sounds alarming but genuinely as a make-up lover myself, I can tell you it is easier than it sounds and is beyond worth it. (Although say goodbye to MAC makeup, they really need to step up their game in that department.)  Cruelty free is a huge growing market and more and more brands are jumping on board which will include some of your favourites i.e. Nyx, Too Faced, Charlotte Tilburry, Dove etc. The options continue to surprise me, and it will only improve, so if you are considering making the switch there really is no better time than the present.  

A vegan diet shouldn’t be thought of as a chore or something that you resent, if this sort of lifestyle is intriguing to you why not begin with baby steps? For me personally, I no longer include any form of meat/fish in my diet and I have switched from dairy milk to alternative milks (preferably almond or oat) for my morning coffee or cereal.

I try to make my weekly meals at home rather than eating out, that way it is easier to keep track of what is going into your food and will ultimately be more beneficial for your health. A good idea to cut down your animal produce intake would be to designate a day of the week when you will plan meat free meals. It sounds daunting, but no your only option is not rice and beans. A favourite for me is Quorn “chicken” nuggets, I am happy to say that they taste identical to McNuggets, I have four of my housemates who will back me up with this if you don’t believe me. The variety of vegan friendly food on the market continues to surprise me, and if interested, I recommend Instagram accounts “AccidentallyVegan” and “TheVeganKind” to help your exploration.

I hope this little insight will inspire the small few of you who may be interested, to educate yourselves further and become more compassionate consumers. Don’t let the labels scare you off, everyone is trying their best and the smallest change can make a huge difference.

Bronagh Carey is a second year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram: bronaghcarey_ and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bronagh.carey.1

Why being a part-timer is OK

After watching a recent episode of Dragon’s Den I couldn’t help but sit and think about a comment Deborah Meaden gave to the final contestant. Durham-based Peter Smith pitched his idea of a liquor, tiger nut milk and chocolate company. Albeit a strange combination of products, he had quite an interesting idea and just needed a bit of help with streamlining his portfolio. Whilst I would love to be a multi-millionaire investor on Dragon’s Den, sadly my opinion on the product isn’t really valuable. However, one thing struck me from his encounter that I can’t seem to shake. Following his pitch, Deborah asked the punter if he was vegan himself and questioned why he created this alternative milk. After he admitted to being a full-time vegetarian and vegan ‘sometimes’ Meaden went on to joke about her 1-2 hour period of being vegan daily. Although I’m sure the dragon didn’t mean the joke to sound as condescending as it did… well, it still did?

How can we expect people to make a change when every little change gets criticised?

Believe me, I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t eat a steak or ban yourself from ordering a Boojum or Bao or whatever it is that tickles your fancy. I am a meat eater and I highly doubt I’ll ever not be. What I am trying to say is that cutting back on meat or dairy, even if it’s just 1 meal that day, WILL make a huge amount of difference. According to National UK Food statistics the average person in 2016/17 consumed 193g of chicken per week. This amounts to a colossal amount when you take into account the number of people on this earth. To put this into perspective, if the average person reduced their consumption to 170g per week (that’s only 23g- less than a quarter of the average portion) this would save over 42 million grams of chicken. In Northern Ireland alone!!

What we don’t need are people speaking disapprovingly to people who are trying to make a change.

It’s hard because I can understand where people are coming from. It’s hard to listen to someone singing their own praises about going all-vegan (acai bowls, tofu, flax seeds- the lot) when in reality they’re wearing leather Nike shoes in 75% of their Instagram posts. However, they’re probably doing more than me, and maybe you too?

When did nutrition become all or nothing? We need to end the stigma with vegetarianism and veganism and whatever else-ism. Why should they be criticised for not being at 100% when the critic is only at 15%?

In early 2018 the global environmental health company issued a final warning about climate change. Imagine we were told the world could deteriorate before our children grow up? Well, here’s the fact- we kind of have been told that? And no one seems to be listening.

https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/

Here’s a few tips on how I (a long-time lover of milk and meat) made some small changes in my diet and in day-to-day life to limit my global impact;

1) Try out an alternative milk

It’s definitely worth trying out some flavours because they’re an acquired taste but breakfast is an easy way to cut meat or dairy out of your diet for 1 meal. Swapping out cow’s milk for soya milk also means consuming the same level of calcium and protein, while also reducing calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

2) Save the 5ps and get a reusable shopper bag

Understandably this is something easily forgotten but bags really do  seriously damage the environment due to the quantity produced. Surprisingly they also contain animal fat which is used as a slipping agent to reduce friction in the material. Check out Amazon for cheap, durable alternatives or even purchase a bag holder so any previously-purchased bags can be re-used.

3) If you want to cut back- stop making meat the main focal point of all your meals 

Instead of choosing a meat and then choosing your sides of veggies and carbs- make the entire dish the focal point. Try out stirfrys, pastas, chilli or stew with more emphasis on the other elements of the dish perhaps even substituting the meat for mushrooms, tofu, lentils or beans.

4) Try out meatless Monday

Check out the website below explaining how different countries around the world use this international campaign to reduce meat consumption.
https://www.meatlessmonday.com/the-global-movement/

5) Be adventurous with your cooking

Check out these vegetarian and vegan recipes (or the other thousand on Google) for some inspiration.

Vegan chai-spiced chocolate chip cookies http://recipe-chai-spiced-chocolate-chip-cookies

6) Cut out plastic water bottles

I’ll hold my hand up and say I’m so bad for this. I find reusable coffee cups and Love Island water bottles dirty and hard to wash, however, cutting out plastic bottles is a simple way to adopt a more sustainable approach. Invest a bit more, the environment will thank you.

While I believe cutting back on your consumption of animal produce can and will help the environment, we can’t ignore the environmental impact of alternative productions. Check out this article from BBC to find out the impact all foods have on the environment. (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46459714). 

Animal products are hard to escape from, there’s traces in your car tyres, nail polish, shoes, perfume, beer, sweets and even certain types of toothpaste- so why does vegetarianism have to be a permanent nutritional change when it could just be a cut-back?

Anyway, hypocritically I’m going to get a Nando’s once I finish this post. Why? Because I did my bit this week. I did what I could to help the environment and I’m happy for that to be part-time because I think that’s OK and it’s helpful. And no individual (even a dragon) should tell anyone that’s not OK or not helpful, because it is.

Lauren Wilson is a third-year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University, currently undertaking a year’s placement at Belfast City Council. She can be found at: LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/laurennxwilsonn/

Why Does it Feel So Good to be Banned?

Earlier this month, Iceland unveiled their Christmas TV ad for 2018 in partnership with Greenpeace which told the story of ‘Rang-tan’, an Orangutan seeking refuge after humans had destroyed his home and killed his mother in pursuit of Palm Oil. The poignant, ethical and yet simple animation had high hopes to deliver a clear message to viewers over the Christmas period and Iceland had a £500,000 media spend across TV channels to really help push the ad. However, on release it was announced that the ad was banned from TV after being deemed “too political”.

So where did it all go right?

In most instances I can image that getting your ad banned from TV would be a disastrous backfire of hard work – a very deflating feeling. But by the looks of things, the opposite can be said for Iceland.

After posting their ad to their Twitter page and letting the public know that the ad had been banned for being “too political”, there was a public outcry and people tweeted in their thousands protesting the ban. Even celebrities such as James Corden and Stephen Fry tweeted the ad which now has 17m views on Twitter.

tweet 1 (2)

tweet 2 (2)

 The response to the ban was massive and according to Iceland’s Managing Director, Richard Walker – unexpected. Despite claims that the company knew all along the ad would be banned, Richard Walker stated, “We went into this with a straight bat and I genuinely thought this [the advert] was going to get past.” Perhaps this was for the best. Since posting, their original tweet has 92k retweets, 4.4m YouTube views and a petition to get the ad that has been signed by 670,000 people. It has tripled the views from last year’s ad and created an audience of somewhat unexpected vocal advocates in support of Iceland and what they stand for. Done deliberately or unexpectedly, the video packed a punch in terms of reactions.

IT’S A FRONT!

mean girls

Iceland have come a long way from their TV ads featuring the latest B-list celebrity standing in front of a ridiculous spread of party food, aiming to persuade us to buy a frozen pig wrapped in a chicken and bacon blanket and served in a vol-au-vent. Those days are behind them. I imagine the company look back at that time in their business lives in the same way we look back at old profile pictures.

But what’s with the new image? Why aren’t they focusing on frozen sausage-stuffed asparagus? What about our platters? Where’s Coleen Nolan? What’s changed here? Is Iceland breaking up with their old image? Well, yes.

When I first watched the ad I thought “Hmm, yeah it’s good but why do Iceland care?” This thought was a shared one with many people claiming that Iceland taking an ethical stance to their business was all a front to attract a new demographic of customers. A PR smoke-screen for sales. But I’ve come to learn that that actually isn’t the case.

Environmentalism isn’t just for Christmas

Iceland have been publicly talking about the plight of orangutans for most of the year and became the first UK supermarket to vow to remove palm oil from every item in their own-brand food label by the end of 2018. Earlier this year, they also released a stream of video footage of how palm oil was destroying orangutan’s natural habitat:

The videos were part of the #PalmOilAlarmCall hashtag (similar to their #NoPalmOilChristmas hashtag) and for everyone who shared the hashtag on social media, Iceland promised to donate £1 to International Animal Rescue to fund rescue and care for orangutans left ‘homeless’. Their vow to remove palm oil from their products is expected to reduce the demand for the product by 500 tonnes a year.

On top of this, Iceland have been a leading retailer in banning single-use plastics. In January, their #TooCoolForPlastic campaign drew attention to the fact that they were the world’s first mainstream retailer to fully remove plastic packing from all of its own-label products by 2023. Who thinks it’s a front now?

Their commitment to sustainability is quite clearly not a smoke-screen but a solid foundation that they continue to build on. Their determination to lead the way into environmentally friendly business practices is admirable and something I expect other major retailers will soon follow. Iceland have set a sustainability benchmark and not just because it will make them look good, but because it is right.

Overall, whether you think it was a cunning plan as part of a marketing masterpiece or a backlash that turned out for the better, you can’t deny what Iceland have actually done. They have opened up an umbrella of conversations about the ethicality of companies, what’s in our products and what is the true price we pay for everyday items.

Our attention has been got. Everyone is listening.

Being banned wasn’t so bad after all.

Scout Dobbin is a third year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University, currently on placement as a Marketing Assistant. Scout can be found on Linkedin – Scout Dobbin, on Twitter – @scoutdobbin or Instagram – @scoutdobbin