Remembering Tom Regan, from an empathy perspective

With sadness, I learned that Professor emeritus of philosophy, Tom Regan, has died at the age of 78 on February 17, 2017.

Regan is famous for his 1983 book The Case for Animal Rights, and he authored numerous other books and papers on animal rights philosophy that have significantly influenced the modern animal rights movement.

Regan argued that non-human animals are the “subjects-of-a-life”, similar to human beings. He believed that, if we want to ascribe value to all human beings regardless of their ability to be rational agents, then to be consistent, we must similarly ascribe it to non-humans.

It is therefore not relevant to ask what the consequences would be of using non-human animals for human purposes (Will they suffer? What is their welfare?), but the fact that animals are used in the first place, which is deemed problematic. We don’t use mentally challenged people in experimentation and research. Non-human animals, who have just as much an interest in life, shouldn’t be used for food, in research or for any other purposes either. There is no justification to using non-human animals as a means to an end.

I met Tom Regan in 2005, where he led a workshop on compassion. Regan mentioned that he believed there are three types of people:

  • Those born with high levels of empathy or compassion, who often go vegetarian and vegan at an early age
  • Those who experience an event in life that has a profound impact on the way they think and which makes them see things differently
  • Those who will never really have sufficient compassion for others

Given the recent global socio-political changes, the heavy influence of social media and online information, and the existing strong traditions and values on people’s attitudes and behaviour, I believe that there are two strong forces at play:

  • On the one hand there is a retrogressive development that seems to undo decades of social progress and increasing tolerance for ‘others’, in particular those who are unfortunate enough to be living in less than ideal circumstances. Egocentrism is on the rise, and a number of people with diminished empathy levels seem to be increasingly found in positions of power. They often got there because ‘good people’ didn’t play the game well enough, as they believe in being honest, and diplomacy. Why so many people reward men (in particular) who are dishonest and demonstrate a lack of diplomacy seems a mystery to me.
  • On the other hand, because the realities of suffering people and non-human animals, and the damage to the environment have never been clearer before, largely thanks to social media and online information, more people seem to care. They are making changes in their own lives, and changes to improve the lives of others. This gives hope.

I believe humane education is one of the most important remedies to ensure we continue to pursue a social, just and caring society, in which non-human animals are given the consideration they deserve.

I am sure that millions of people will remember Tom Regan for the profound impact he had on people, and by extension, on non-human animals. I am grateful for his iconic contribution to animal ethics, and I hope that his writings continue to inspire millions more.

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(New Zealand kea)


What could Brexit mean for veganism?

Winnal Nature reserveBefore the referendum I shared my personal view outlining reasons to Remain in the EU, and I was hopeful that a small majority would back staying in. Unfortunately, the result of the Referendum on 23 June was marginally in favour of leaving.

The political establishment is in disarray, but I prefer not to comment, as I believe it isn’t black and white (well, with regard to the actions of some Conservatives I believe it is). However, I would like to consider a few impacts that the decision to leave the EU may have on veganism and related topics.

Please read my blog on the Huffington Post: Brexit Impact on Veganism


In or out, that’s the question (on ‘Brexit’)

What ‘Brexit’ means for animals – a personal view

At a live comedy night recently, the topic under discussion was immigration. Plucking up courage, I announced to the comedians and listening audience that I was an economic migrant. They didn’t really know what to say, because I ‘looked’ just like them, and I almost talked like one of them. Are Western Europeans not seen as migrants, I wondered, while those from Eastern Europe or Africa or Asia are viewed as being here to take ‘our’ jobs, houses and healthcare?

My job prospects are somewhat limited in The Netherlands. I was fortunate to work in further and higher education there for over four years at the start of my career, during which I was privileged to have worked for the political Party for the Animals (PvdD), in a voluntary capacity. However, England offers many more opportunities to help other animals, and I’m grateful for the jobs and experience I’ve gained here.

But I’ve recently been asked what I think about Brexit. Despite having paid taxes for nearly 12 years and contributing to UK society I am not allowed to vote in the referendum. Some would say that’s just one of the limitations of the EU, although the fact that people are free to move and work within the EU in the first place is certainly a blessing. (However it does feel slightly bizarre that I can still vote for Dutch referenda where I’m no longer based, on affairs I no longer know much about.)

Free movement of goods and services is generally very positive for the EU. The problem however, is that animals are seen as property, and are traded as ‘goods’. Would Brexit help or hinder animals in the EU? Article 13, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states:

“In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

Better or worse animal protection legislation?

National governments may adopt more stringent rules provided they are compatible with the provisions of the Treaty, but Community legislation concerning the welfare conditions of farm animals lays down minimum standards.

The question is whether the UK would act any differently with regard to the treatment of animals, if it were no longer part of the EU. Nothing prevents the government from drafting stronger animal protection laws (or promote more vegan-friendly policies for that matter), at present. However, given the government’s track record, it might well, if the UK left the EU, reverse many animal protection regulations. As with so many questions relating to ‘Brexit’, ranging from economic security to what would happen to the 2 million Britons living abroad, the impact currently remains uncertain.

I am highly sceptical that the plight of other animals would be improved following a Brexit. EU legislation does often adopt the position of the lowest common denominator, but Member States can still introduce more progressive legislation in particular areas. For example, the UK is committed to spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on foreign aid. But the strong voice for animals that was once a driving factor behind EU (and UK) legislative change in the eighties and nineties, too often seems reduced to a whisper today. There may be quiet ‘official’ UK condemnation of whaling by Japan and Norway, or dog eating in Korea and China, but when it comes to the suffering and killing of hundreds of millions of ‘farmed’ and laboratory animals in the UK, the industry seems to be found in too many politicians’ pockets.

In, on balance

I am quite sure that, on balance, staying in the EU would be more beneficial for animals than leaving. Just having a voice at the negotiating table is priceless. Even though the current government’s animal advocacy voice has nearly disappeared, I am hopeful a more animal-friendly government will be elected within the next ten years. We must therefore remain in the EU, and hope that compassionate government returns to the UK sooner rather than later.

I did hear an interesting viewpoint yesterday. It is something many people have hardly heard of in the UK because most of the media and the government are doing such a brilliant job of keeping it quiet. 38 Degrees and some other social justice groups and political parties, such as the Green Party, have highlighted it for many months, but the public at large is unaware. This is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement between the USA and the EU, and its sister agreement for Canada ‘CETA’. TTIP means trouble on many levels, but is particularly disastrous for ‘farmed’ animals.

An animal friend said last night he would vote for Brexit to try to get rid of David Cameron, who is one of the main champions behind TTIP. I agree we should certainly support campaigns to stop TTIP, but I wonder whether a Brexit would do the trick. Suppose the UK left the EU, and the EU went ahead with TTIP without the UK (still a disaster for billions of animals). The UK would need to forge new trade deals, not only with the EU Member States, but also negotiate ‘bilateral’ agreements with the USA, Canada and so on. The Conservative government would happily replicate a TTIP-like deal with the USA. Would the Brexit have helped animals in that case? I believe it’s better to try to work with activists, advocates, and policy makers in other EU countries, rather than potentially being left out of key negotiations.

Regardless of the Referendum outcome, there is still a lot of hard work to do both in the UK and EU to educate consumers and citizens, to lobby policy makers, and to influence companies, to become more animal and vegan-friendly. We should join forces with our EU sisters and brothers!

Pigs in EU transport

Pigs in EU transport (c) CIWF

 


Mallorca – my number 1 vegan holiday destination

Sun, sea and island parties are the images that immediately spring to mind when thinking of the beautiful Balearic islands and particularly, Ibiza and Mallorca. But the islands offer so much more. While the beaches are indeed one of the main attractions, we can now enjoy fantastic vegan food everywhere whilst naturally getting our Vitamin D. However, care is needed with that strong sunshine, which I experienced on my penultimate day whilst attempting my first Triathlon (mentioned at the end of this blog).

In May I was cordially invited by the founders of Mallorca Vegan, Stephanie Prather and Manuel Lynch, to sample the many vegan menus across the island. I was pleasantly surprised to find foodies, and moreover vegan foodies, virtually everywhere. The standards of the vegan cuisine on offer are fantastic, and I have to admit many of the restaurants outperform those in the UK (I’m sorry, there are many wonderful UK vegan restaurants too, but Mallorca is just… different!). Who would have thought Mallorca would become Europe’s number one vegan holiday destination, and how did this happen?

My whirlwind gastronomy tour of the island took me to four towns, and in Palma alone I was served the most wonderful vegan food, in five places during three delicious days.

Bagel Café

On my first morning we visited the Bagel Café in Palma, which has the best fresh bagels, croissants, pastries and coffee in town, including gluten-free options from less than €2 to around €8. The majority of the choices on the menu are vegan or can be made vegan. Owners Andrew and Stephan have introduced thousands of people to veganised versions of what most people are used to, including a vegan ‘ensaimada’ pastry (traditionally made with lard). Their reputation is further enhanced by their stylish café ambiance, featuring high beams, a mezzanine and cosy seating arrangements. With relaxing Balearic music playing in the background, this an ideal place to hang out for breakfast, brunch or lunch.

Jasmijn Stephan and Andrew_Bagel cafe

Jasmijn, Stephan and Andrew at the Bagel Café

Bagel cafe

Healthy and delicious breakfast at the Bagel Café

Sabor Vegan Culinary Academy

In the afternoon we went to the Sabor (‘flavour’) Vegan Culinary Academy, founded by Stephanie, which raises standards in plant-based chef training. Very reasonably priced chef courses from 4 days to 4 weeks run throughout the year (sabormallorca.com).

The first graduating class of chefs showed off their skills by creating the most wonderful and amazing vegan dishes. Seven internationals, who called Mallorca their home but hailed from the USA, UK, Germany, and Hungary, loved their training, along with their local Spanish counterparts. Most of them had no prior culinary training. They had started their level 1 vegan molecular culinary course in February. Around 70 hours of taught contact time and homework that included learning about health, flavours and culinary techniques had made these students into competent and very creative plant-based chefs.

First class of Sabor Culinary Academy1

First class of chefs at Sabor Vegan Culinary Academy with Stephanie Prather (far right)

Brazilian colour salad1

Cuban Romance with Brazilian Colours (at Sabor Vegan Culinary Academy)

We were presented with a fantastic seven-course Mediterranean degustation lunch. Senses were aroused by flavour, texture, and creative presentations of intriguing sounding dishes, such as Collision at HollyRoot and Vine, Cuban Romance with Brazilian Colours, From Land to the Sea and Tartly Insane. Gastronomy techniques I had never heard of were skilfully applied. The Santanyi Triple mushroom shots, for example, were wonderful. Batter consisting of pureed asparagus and another one containing sweet potato was scooped up and placed in a liquid mixture of algae. A membrane formed on the outside while the asparagus and sweet potato remained liquid on the inside [see video]. Drinking the ‘shots’ resulted in the balls bursting open in one’s palate providing a very interesting sensation. ‘Spaghetti’ made from almond meal and other ingredients were presented with ‘sweetballs’, made of raw dates, nuts and other ingredients, which were then very briefly deep-fried. It was amazing.

Molecular culinary cooking techniques, with Rafael

Collission at HollyRoot and Vine2

Collision at HollyRoot and Vine (at Sabor Vegan Culinary Academy)

Sushi

From the Land to the Sea in preparation (tomato ‘sushi’ at Sabor Vegan Culinary Academy)

Vegan paella

 From the Land to the Sea in preparation (Vegan paella, at Sabor Vegan Culinary Academy)

Santanye mushroom shots

Santanyi Triple Mushroom shots (at Sabor Vegan Culinary Academy)

The lunch guests included three chefs of a Michelin star hotel; a radio presenter; the Editor of the Mallorca Daily Bulletin; Tony Rodriguez, the head chef of the oldest vegetarian (now vegan) restaurant in Mallorca, Bon Lloc; Svenja Gallé, head chef of Bellaverde Restaurant; General Manager Sven Rausch of the 4-star hotel Valldemossa; the Director of Tourism; and raw food goddess Mimi Kirk, who was named ‘sexiest vegan over 50’ at the age of 71, by PETA, several years ago.

Restaurante Bellaverde vegetariano & vegano

That evening we were pampered, once more. Of 133 restaurants in Port de Pollença, vegetarian and vegan Bellaverde restaurant ranks number one on Tripadvisor. Head Chef Svenja Galle has built up standards over the past three years and now enjoys a fantastic reputation. She aims to create vegan food that non-vegans really enjoy, that takes them by surprise, and make them want to come back for more. It is a place where people feel happy and relaxed. It is set in a romantic courtyard under 80-100 year old fig trees, accompanied by very friendly staff, as well as cats and dogs, which have been rescued by Coloma, who runs the lovely Pension Bellavista adjacent to the restaurant. Accordingly, Bellaverde is a major vegan hotspot. The inspiring haute cuisine dishes include as many locally sourced and sustainable ingredients as possible. The bread and olives were served with olive oil from 100-year old trees. I tried the delicious fresh truffle paste spaghetti, and my partner had the sweet potato filo pastry with sautéed spinach, cherry chutney and edible flowers. The vegan wines are clearly marked, and the desserts were to die for (we shared three between the two of us). Prices range from €6.50 for starters, and from €12 up to around €25 for mains.

Bellaverde filo pastry (iPhone pic)1

Sweet potato filo pastry with sautéed spinach, and cherry sauce (at Bellaverde Restaurant)

Spaghetti with truffle pesto

Fresh Truffle Spaghetti (at Bellaverde Restaurant)

Bellaverde sorbet2

Elderflower sorbet (at Bellaverde Restaurant)

Bellaverde

Bellaverde Restaurant courtyard

AK Svenja JdB and Stephanie

Andrew, Svenja (Head Chef at Bellaverde Restaurant), Jasmijn and Stephanie

Valldemossa Hotel and Restaurant

After a healthy and tasty Bellaverde breakfast and a yummy muffin the next morning, we made our way to the mountains where an amazing 5-course lunch was being prepared at four-star Valldemossa Hotel and Restaurant, which has magnificent views over the hills and valleys. Manager Sven Rausch is one of several at top end Mallorca hotels and restaurants who have embraced the vegan and vegan-curious visitor. Their reputation extends to Germany and beyond. Chef Ricardo had crafted two beautifully presented starters, two divine main courses, particularly the special risotto, and a mouth-watering dessert tasting including balsamic strawberries with mint gel, ‘Piña colada’ foam, chocolate cake with vanilla crème and Brazil nuts, and a touch of fruit tartar with ‘Pisco sour’ foam. Call ahead for an experience that will make you want to stay there forever.

Valldemossa

Valldemossa Hotel and Restaurant

Creamy rice at Valldemossa

Risotto with coconut cream (at Valldemossa Hotel and Restaurant)

Beetroot couscous at Valldemossa

Beetroot couscous (at Valldemossa Hotel and Restaurant)

Valldemossa dessert tasting

Dessert tasting (at Valldemossa Hotel and Restaurant)

Stephanie-JdB-Ricardo

Stephanie, Jasmijn and Ricardo (Valldemossa Hotel and Restaurant)

Cantina Vegana

Our tour continued that evening, with Kerstin Hering at Cantina Vegana. Kerstin has made an art of veganising local Spanish dishes and tapas, such as ‘sobrasada’, a traditional meat dish, which is a great combination of sundried tomatoes, spices and nuts, at Cantina Vegana. The mushroom ‘anchovies’, and homemade succulent vegan burgers are also best-sellers. Her juices and green smoothies are legendary. Kerstin commented that being in the business district of Palma meant that her clientele mainly consists of non-vegans who love the food so much, and keep coming back for reasonably priced healthy brunch, lunch and dinner options, ranging from around €4 to €12.

Cantina vegana

Cantina Vegana

Bon Lloc

On the third day we visited the oldest Mallorcan vegetarian restaurant (now completely vegan), Bon Lloc, founded by Juanjo Ramirez, who offers everyone a warm welcome and infects you with his smile. I had expected tasty but relatively simple dishes. However, I couldn’t be more wrong. Each dish is prepared with skill, talent and above all, dedication, by international high-end vegan chef, Tony Rodriguez, who creates the most wonderful raw and cooked dishes offering an adventurous menu. Hidden in the raw cannelloni that I tried was the richest creamy cashew paste I had ever tasted. I am highly motivated to buy one of Tony’s best-selling books. If you visit Palma, Bon Lloc is a must-stop destination. Prices vary from around €8 to €25.

Bon Lloc vegetarian restauran

Bon Lloc Restaurant

Canneloni at Bon Lloc

Raw Cannelloni (at Bon Lloc)

Cake at Bon Lloc1

Dessert (at Bon Lloc)

Tony and JdB

Tony (Head Chef at Bon Lloc) and Jasmijn

Ziva to Go

More raw vegan goodness came my way the next day at Ziva to Go, run by charming Swedish Petra Wigermo, who has a substantial following of both locals and internationals who have made Mallorca their home. A wide range of smoothies, juices, raw ‘burgers’ and ‘lasagne,’ as well as delicious chia seed porridge, spicy Mexican red cabbage salad and other amazing raw delights, feed the body and soul. Petra echoed Kerstin’s words and mentioned that many of her non-vegan patrons keep coming back as they just love the food. Drinks and food start at around €3.50 up to around €9 or €10.

Jdb and Petra

Jasmijn and Petra (at Ziva To Go)

‘Taste of the Mediterranean’

We ended the gastronomy tour, but not our stay, by visiting the Sabor Culinary Academy once more for a tasting event. Vegan versions of traditional dishes of 21 Mediterranean countries were served to around 60 people, including savoury and sweet treats, such as Greek dolmadas (stuffed vine leaves), flatbread and hummus from Syria, French mini quiches, creamy fake oysters, broadbean falafel from Cyprus and celebratory Hamantash (a triangular pastry stuffed with prunes) from Israel. The public verdict was unanimous; stunning food!

Fake oysters

Vegan ‘Oysters’ (at ‘Taste of the Mediterranean’)

Vegan-fuelled athletic attempt

After four days dedicated to just eating, my very overfed partner and I had been entered into the Mallorca Olympic Triathlon the next day. We feared we might sink during the 1.5 km ocean swim phase, but despite virtually no training, and never having swum in a wetsuit, or in fact doing a triathlon of any kind, we somehow managed to finish in respectable times. Compared to the top international triathletes present my result at just under three hours was nothing special; however, even finishing it, not coming last, and, more importantly, having hardly any pain afterwards, can only be attributed to a vegan diet, and in particular, all the amazing vegan food we had enjoyed during the previous week. Clearly vegan food is not only delicious, but seriously good for you too. Next year I hope we can field a large vegan team in the triathlon as it is amazingly good fun, and the best part is gorging on vegan food for days prior to the event, which I now consider an essential part of my preparation.

JdB finishing Triathlon

Finishing the Olympic distance triathlon in 2:58:50 (women started 5 minutes after the Elite men)

AK JdB triathlon finishers

Andrew and Jasmijn completed the Triathlon

JdB and Bruno

Relaxing with Bruno before the race

Need to know

Bon Lloc

http://www.bonllocrestaurant.com

Facebook Bon Lloc Restaurant

facebook.com/bonllocrestaurant

Cantina Vegana

Facebook Cantina Vegana

facebook.com/cantinavegana

Sabor Vegan Culinary Academy

http://www.SaborMallorca.com

http://www.VeganGastronomy.com (videos)

Bellaverde restaurant

http://www.restaurantbellaverde.wix.com/bellaverde

Facebook Restaurante Bellaverde

facebook.com/RestauranteBellaverde

Ziva to Go

http://www.Zivatogo.com

Bagel Café

facebook.com/BagelPalma

Valldemossa Hotel and Restaurant

http://www.valldemossahotel.com

Mallorca Vegan

http://www.MallorcaVegan.com

http://www.EuroVeganVoyages.com


Vegan in the Caribbean

Coconuts, beaches, sun, the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea…

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Coconut juice

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I have been privileged to be staying on St Kitts for nearly 4 weeks. Sadly, I’ll be flying back to the UK tomorrow evening. It’s been a great opportunity to work remotely with the world’s best office view (see below) and have time to relax, have adventures, enjoy the amazing wildlife and the occasional rum punch or other cocktail.

Peninsula view

Bird in flight

Of course there were the daily household chores, and helping my partner, Andrew, to move back to the UK after having worked here for over 1.5 year. But I will be sad to lose this view, and all the outdoor opportunities. Vegan life on St Kitts is somewhat more challenging than being in the UK or USA. While most food can be bought from the supermarket, it can be screamingly expensive as a lot of it is imported from the UK or North America. It is hard to find cereals without honey, and a bag of gluten-free (the only honey-free) muesli is a Waitrose-branded 500g bag for 37 East Caribbean Dollar – a whopping £9.25! Oops! I guess I should have stuck with porridge…

Even a lot of fruit is imported, whereas I can see papayas growing right outside the apartment (out of reach). Unfortunately, it was the wrong time of year for native mangoes, which are really sweet and tasty. So I’ll have to come back! papayas out of reach

When eating out, veganised pasta is usually available, and there is Indian cuisine on the island (which we didn’t go to this time). We bought Ital food (vegan Rastafarian) twice, which was really nice. We were invited to a posh restaurant on the peninsula last week, where Andrew and I decided to do a little salsa dance between courses. Andrew has had classes since January and expected me to follow in just a few training sessions, and it was surprisingly fun.

Highlights included:

  • A very steep hash run in soaring temperatures, something that the Birmingham Hash House Harriers would have loved 😉
  • A lovely trip through a gorge to a bat cave. We were advised not to walk in the water due to Leptospirosis, however, it was difficult to stay dry. As I slightly slipped on a rock at one point I smashed my shin.

JdB ladder

Gorge

  • An ascent to the volcano rim, descent into the crater, crossing to the other side to the sulphur vents and back, which took us 8.5h, and we only just managed to get out of the forest by daylight

Ak and JdB tree

JdB descent

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  • A catamaran cruise to Shitten Bay, where snorkelling was great, followed by a visit to Nevis, the sister island, and dancing on the cat on the way back

Brain coral

Stingray 2

Fish

JdB snorkel mask

Nevis beach

  • Kayaking from Whitehouse Bay to Shipwreck beach (Andrew swam it in about 1.5h)
  • Seeing amazing awe-inspiring waves crashing on ‘Black Rocks’. I held my breath when Andrew crossed the whirlpools and suckholes to get to the largest rock (‘the castle’, which is about 4-5m high), climbed on it, had a wave washing over him and then jumping off it and swimming back to shore…

Black rocks

This wave is big

  • Going down water slides and climbing a bouncy castle climbing wall
  • Dinners with Andrew’s colleagues and friends
  • Visiting Nevis for the weekend. This included high-end dining and breakfast, as well as borrowing a kayak and going across the ‘channel’ to Booby island (between St Kitts and Nevis), where we saw three massive green turtles, and on the way back we saw two of them. On Sunday we were mad enough to do a roundtrip run of around 12K over a 250m hill at the hottest time of day (12:30-14:30)! I haven’t run further than 5K in months! We walked a bit, fed a starving pig, took some wrong turns, visited Andrew’s former neighbours and went off road to run on Lover’s Beach…

JdB kayak

Turtle

JdB Booby Island

Ak and JdB

AK and JdB start run

Starving pig

JdB AK Nevis airport

JdB running Lovers beach

JdB AK finish

  • Seeing the wild green vervet monkeys gorge on ripe palm berries

Monkey snack

Monkey snack ground

  • Enjoying the swooping pelicans right outside the apartment window (the one below is drying its wings)

Pelican close-up

  • Amazing sunsets

Sunset Nevis

Sunset SaltPlage

Oh, and did I mention lying on deck chairs by a pool or beach?

Deck chairs

Sadly, I didn’t do much of that! I was also hoping to visit St Eustatius or Saba, the Dutch Antilles, which are visible from here, but unfortunately, there were no ferries and flying was too expensive.

So tomorrow I’m heading back to a cold, dark and probably wet UK. However, I will treasure the memory of this beautiful place for a long time.


From Wimbledon to Birmingham via the world in ten years

Sunset over London

Exactly ten years ago I started my new job in London. Freshly arrived from the Netherlands on the 14th of October, I immediately left the next day for a conference in Austria, which was still part of my previous job. So I celebrate my 10th anniversary in the UK today.

I was thrilled to be living in Wimbledon – so close to the city centre! In the Netherlands I had to commute at least 4 hours, if not more, to get to and from work. Who would have thought I’d only have a 30 minutes commute in London! I loved Wimbledon Common and frequently explored the area.

I soon settled in at work, where I was thrown in at the deep end, organising an international workshop in 6 weeks, which was a great way to meet my international team. I am grateful for the opportunities, travel and career development in the four years that followed. I am proud that most of the programmes I developed are still running today, six years after I left.

In the meantime I’d moved to Kennington, where I lived for five years, which is the longest I’ve lived anywhere since leaving my parental house the day before I turned 18. Living so close to South Bank, and in cycling and walking distance of Leicester Square was brilliant. My sister visited at least every year, but unfortunately this stopped since I moved to Birmingham three years ago, where she’s only been once…

I love travelling. In my twenties I was dreaming of travelling around the world before or around my 30th. While I wasn’t backpacking, London was the base from where I flew around the world to organise or contribute to education workshops, conferences and animal protection projects. I also worked for another animal protection organisation in London for a year. Countries I visited during those five years for work purposes include: the USA, Brazil, Tanzania, Uganda, Egypt, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Norway, Belgium, Ireland, India, Pakistan, South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines. I went to several other European and Australasian countries for personal trips.

Yes, flying is bad for the environment. Up until a few years ago I offset my carbon emissions by contributing to a tree planting scheme, until Responsible Travel said the only way to reduce CO2 emissions was by flying less, and that the schemes were not the answer. When my partner later moved to the other side of the world I flew there several times. I do feel bad about this. But at least I don’t own a car, and the effects of being vegan mean that the food we consume has a much lower impact on the environment. Farming other animals is responsible for at least 14% (although some estimates are much higher) of greenhouse gas emissions. Rearing animals for meat is responsible for 18% of CO2, 37% of methane and 65% of nitrous oxide and 64% of ammonia (FAO, 2006). Methane and nitrous oxide are far more polluting than CO2. Anyway, that doesn’t make flying OK, but it puts it somewhat in perspective.

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I moved to Bristol where I lived for 10 months, which I enjoyed. Then back to London for six months before moving to Birmingham, where I’m lucky to live in the city centre overlooking a canal. Just like being back in the Netherlands, except that I never lived near any Dutch canals. I did live near Dutch ponds and reservoirs, and not too far from the IJsselmeer when I was a child (this is the largest lake in Western Europe, which used to be a sea before the Afsluitdijk was built). One is never far from water in the Netherlands. But Birmingham is landlocked, and I must admit: I do miss London, which grew on me. Birmingham doesn’t have the same kind of vibe. It is a bit of a mismatch of areas and people that make up the second largest city in the UK. I can’t complain though, as I’m very lucky to be where I am in life and to have achieved my goals so far, thanks to the great opportunities that the UK offers.

So here’s to celebrating 10 years of British culture, living and work, and a big thank you to my friends!


The shredding of chicks

Hen at a UK animal sanctuary

Hen at a UK animal sanctuary

On the 10th of October Dutch MP Marianne Thieme of the Party for the Animals submitted a Parliamentary motion for debate on the 14th of October to ban the culling (i.e. shredding) of one day old chicks. Unsurprisingly, the motion was lost, as politicians from the mainstream parties voted against, including Labour, the Christian Union and the larger, right of the centre, parties Christian Democrats and Liberal Democrats.

 

One day old chicks are seen as a ‘by-product’ of the egg industry. Most people do not realise that the eggs they consume come with deadly consequences. Only hens lay eggs, so female chicks are kept alive for a while, destined to live a horrific and short life in cages. Naturally, chickens could live to well over 15 years, but after only two years laying eggs, they are considered ‘spent’ and are killed by being hung upside down, electrocuted and having their throats cut until they bleed to death. Not all die before they reach the scalding tank where they are plucked and rinsed in hot water; shockingly, some are still conscious at that stage. Having been to an abattoir I have seen the fear of these poor hens when being shackled upside down. Only very few hens live under so-called ‘free-range’ or organic conditions, and even they face many health and welfare problems and a premature death at the slaughterhouse. There is nothing glorious about eggs; it’s pretty miserable all round.

 

Newly hatched chicks

Of course, any male chicks are considered ‘useless’ to the industry. They are either gassed or shredded, and used for companion animal food etc. While these killing methods are relatively quick, they are not 100% effective, and obviously entirely unnecessary. There is no need for people to eat hens’  eggs, as there are plenty of plant-based alternatives that are healthier, and avoid the killing of one day old animals. Imagine human babies being taken away from their mothers just because they were the wrong sex, and killed (sadly, this scenario is not even completely fiction, however does not occur at the same rate as the killing of hundreds of millions of male chicks every year).

 

Politicians frequently protect industrial vested interests and prioritise human life over non-human sentient life. In this respect Dutch politicians are fundamentally no different from most other EU politicians. However, at least this motion was discussed in the Netherlands, whereas MPs in the UK are generally not championing animals’ rights (except for a few, who often have other portfolios and priorities, and generally do not get support from their own party members, let alone from the government parties).

 

As long as people eat eggs, killing day old chicks will continue. Veganism is the solution that removes this demand. In the absence of moral action by politicians, it’s up to us to make personal lifestyle changes. November is World Vegan Month, and The Vegan Society, or if you want materials in Dutch then the Dutch Vegan Society and EVA, are here to help.

 

I am certain that the tide will turn, in my lifetime, and that we are on a path of becoming more aware of ‘others’ in society, whether they be people in vulnerable circumstances, non-human animals, or whole habitats and ecosystems that need protecting. Before it is too late, humanity will change to preserve, rather than destroy life. A collective consciousness is working towards this peaceful goal.