We Love Soya!

Just a little bit of love for Sainbury’s Love Soya products. Have you tried them? Contrary to popular belief, they taste nothing like the cardboard that they’re packaged in. I have just polished off a couple of sausage sandwiches for my lunch, in fact (The ketchup on my jumper gives it away).IMG_20140821_131705

And it’s not just sausages that are available. Soya mince, meatballs, burgers, quarter pounders, you name it, I reckon you’ll find it in Sainsbury’s freezers. I think we became vegetarian at the point when Love Soya was re-branded, because I don’t remember seeing it much before (but I suppose I wouldn’t have been looking for it). Having these lovely meat substitutes to hand means when someone asks me “Well, what the hell do you eat then??” I can gleefully tell them I eat toad-in-the-hole, lasagne, shepherd’s pie, burger and chips, bolognese and I can even indulge in a hearty cooked breakfast when I fancy. This usually ends the conversation because they expect me to tell them about the lentil stew I have been cooking for four days, or the salad — the only thing I could possibly be allowed to eat. I’m not even a big fan of lentils, so there.

Now, I can be the lazy vegetarian that just chucks things in the oven for a half-hour, but apparently Ben does like my cooking, so I try not to cook the ‘easy’ meals too often. For instance, last night, we had burritos for dinner. It took less than twenty minutes to cook, because I threw some soya mince in a pan with the sauce and it was cooked. Very tasty and very filling. Tonight (or tomorrow!) I will cook something from scratch — a gravy dinner, for Ben, because they’re his favourite. Speaking of which, Sainsbury’s, if you’re listening you need to make a pasty or something with your chicken-style and mushroom pie filling in it. They are literally the best tasting pies we’ve ever eaten as veggies.

So where were we? Yes, lots of options for us. Not only is there Love Soya, there’s Love Veg, too. Another array of tasty treats that we often indulge in, found next to Love Soya in the freezers (and also the chilled vegetarian aisle). 

If you’re thinking of going veggie, or even doing the Meat-Free Monday thing, why not give Love Soya a go? There isn’t one thing that we’ve tried and haven’t liked, and I think that’s really saying something.

 

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Have you seen my shampoo??

Let’s play a game of Spot the Similarity… Can you see it yet?

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You have to look quite closely… Got it yet? Yes, they all carry the Cruelty-Free International logo (or leaping bunny, as I call it).

Why have I showed you this picture? Well, it’s to show (UK people mostly) that it’s really easy to buy cruelty-free. In fact, you might even be buying products without realising. You might recognise some of the brands there. Here’s a picture of them all facing the correct way:

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This is the little fella you should be looking for.

So, as you can probably gather, this is my bathroom. And these are the products Ben and I use every day. Looks pretty normal doesn’t it? Let’s do some name-dropping. There’s Sainsbury’s, Autograph by M&S, Co-operative and Superdrug. There are also a couple of names you might not have seen before — Bulldog and Faith in Nature. The former is actually sold in Sainsbury’s and the latter is often found in the health food shops like Holland and Barrett. What about when it’s time to clean the bathroom? Well, if you’re on a super tight budget, I’d head over to somewhere like QD stores or ASDA, more recently, and pick up an armful of Astonish products. They’re often only £1.00 a go and we’re quite impressed with their efficacy. I wrote a post about Astonish a few years back. You can read it here.

Anyway, I thought you might like a little peep into a cruelty-free bathroom.

The Little Rabbit — A short story.

 It was a chilly morning and the little rabbit shivered into his mother’s soft, musky fur. He felt the autumn breeze biting into his back as they laid together. They always liked to snuggle closely in the cold. He remembered there was nothing more comforting than laying with his mother and family when it was raining or windy. As he waited next to her, he heard a familiar noise in the distance — it was coming closer again, like before. It roared loudly, a monster coming to get him, he thought. He nudged his mother’s side with his nose. but she didn’t react. The little rabbit was too tired to get up and run. His heart beat faster as the monster growled over him and his still mother… It sped away into the distance. Quiet again. He looked around at his surroundings. The road he lay on glistened with dew in the low morning sun. It was very cold and even her fur wasn’t warm any more. It was damp and cool against his nose. As he turned to look at her staring brown eyes, he saw a trickle of red falling from her velvet-soft nose. That nose that had snuffled through the grass on a hazy afternoon. She stared into the nothingness. He looked over her body, remembering how she would clean her face with her now spiritless paws. How she had listened for danger with those pale ears.The little rabbit and his mother laid together on the wet, unforgiving tarmac as the cars drove past them and over them, too busy to stop and ask them why they were there.

 He heard the birds beginning to sing. It was a wondrous sound to hear on such a pretty, autumnal  morning. The robin, with his liquid song and the wood pigeons, cooing to each other high up in the trees. So many different little voices, all singing, all talking to one another. The dawn chorus dripped down over the pair; he was sure the birds were singing a sad song, remarking on their situation. Then, he heard the clack-clacking of the hungry black and white corvids. Perhaps they followed the sad songs in order to cash in on such a circumstance. They circled the mother and son, chattering to each other as they did so. They began to make for his mother, when the little rabbit pulled enough strength together to move a little. No, he wasn’t dead yet. And he wasn’t going to just leave her here, on her own in the cold. The magpies flapped out of the way as another monstrous car whizzed over them. He almost wished that the car would knock him again so he wouldn’t have to be apart from his mother any longer. His little body was aching greatly, and all he could do was nuzzle up and daydream they were back in their cozy warren. He dreamt of the dewy morning grass and the warm afternoon sunshine on his back. It felt like days that they laid there. Him trying to ward off the scavengers, her keeping him company in her silent state.

 Now, the sun was up and the day was beginning to warm slightly. He scarcely clung on to his little life. It was hard to keep his eyes open; he was very cold and tired now. Tiny ears were laid flat and little eyes were heavy, laying next to a dead rigid mother. Many cars had now driven over them, and he didn’t even have the strength to be frightened any more. Again, he heard an oncoming car in the distance. But this time it didn’t zoom past. It stopped before them. He heard the tick-tick-tick of the engine close to him and footsteps running over. Before he knew what was happening, he had been scooped up from the wet road into the warm arms of a human. He was wrapped up and deposited in a cardboard box, then loaded into her car. He dripped clashing red blood onto the silky cerise scarf. Suddenly, everything became quiet. He laid in the dark of the box, a chink of light seeping in above him. What about my mother? Don’t forget her… He thought. It was a little while before the human got back into the car with him. She had moved the other rabbit into the hedges. His mother didn’t appear in the box with him. He could still smell her on his fur, though. He closed his eyes, and embraced the quiet darkness. Resting in the comfort of the big box, he now felt his body hurting. He remembered the clip he took to the face as he ran out with his mother into the road. He had been behind her just as she was run over. He sighed heavily at the thought of leaving her behind.

Now he could feel that he was moving; he was travelling to somewhere. Moments later, the movement stopped and he heard the human talking to him. Opening the car door, she peeped into the box, and stroked his soft ear. He had warmed up somewhat now, but continued to spill spots of blood from his mouth over the garish scarf. She carried him and the box into her house and carefully placed the box down. She spoke hurriedly to another human about him. A quiet place was cleared and phone calls were made. He was carried away by a thankful uniformed man and the little rabbit’s sad story was explained many times more.

Something Lovey-Dovey for my 50th post.

Gotcha. Yes, it’s a pair of collared doves that were sunbathing one afternoon a few weeks back. They did start to make a nest in the guttering of our roof, but probably got fed up of all the noise we make and abandoned it. That, and it was a terrible place to make a nest. Very cute to see them nestled up together, though. Enjoy.

A pair of in-love doves outside my bedroom window.

How To Be Nice and Normal (part two)

So that’s how it all started for me. It became part of my daily life and eventually seeped into other areas of it. In fact, I remember the day I became a vegetarian quite clearly. It was a nice day, and I was at home. The post arrived and my Ethical Consumer mag was in it. Leafing through it, a jumble of inserts fell out, and one from a charity called Viva! caught my eye. It had pigs on the front and inside told the story of farrowing crates. I read it and sat on the sofa thinking “I don’t think I want to eat those sausages in the fridge”. And that was it. I didn’t eat meat from that day on. My husband was a little dubious at the time as we’d both previously guffawed at vegetarianism. But very soon after I gave it up, so did he.

Again, another steep learning curve to tackle. No more sweets, some wines were clarified with bits of fish, some cheesecakes had gelatine in… It was interesting. We were also now that awkward vegetarian couple who you dreaded cooking for. And let’s not forget the age-old questions: “Do you eat fish?” and “How do you get your protein?” People joke about it, but I am always being asked about my protein requirements. Sometimes I feel like saying, “After this much time without enough protein I think I’d be dead by now.” But I don’t. Because I’m nice.

Which brings me to the point of this little exercise. How to be nice and normal. By which I mean how to live a compassionate life without wearing any hemp trousers or foregoing sanitary towels. I’m sure those cups are brilliant, but I’m just not into that. And if you’re a man reading this and you don’t know what I’m talking about, I suggest you keep it that way. For your own sake.

Now, I’m no saint. I can be horrible if I want to be and I can gossip and stir as well as the next woman. But since meeting my husband (a very compassionate man), I feel like I want to be a better person. I guess it’s catching. And doesn’t it give you that great feeling when you do something nice? Instead of going out of your way to avoid the Big Issue seller on the street, why not go and buy one? They’re actually an interesting read, and he’s really trying to make a difference in his life. Yes, it’s cliché, but you know I’m right. If there’s anyone you should avoid in the street, it’s those bloody ‘Chuggers’ that follow you into the doorway of the nearest shop:

“Ello there darlin’, how are you today?” A handsome young man in a pleather tabard moves in.

“Er.. No thanks…I’m just on my way to…” I begin hunkering down, walking quicker and removing eye contact. A forced smile is plastered on my face.

“Aw, babes, you break my heart… talkin’ of which, would you like to dona-”

At this point I run away into Boots and hide behind the lubrication aisle.

No, I do not like the Chuggers.

But I do have time for the older gentleman standing quietly outside M&S who is collecting for the donkeys. And I will buy the homeless man sat on the ground a bacon sandwich (I won’t force vegetarianism on the homeless — I know how bloody tasty bacon sarnies are) and a cup of tea. You know, I felt amazing after doing those really little things. I jumped out of an aeroplane for charity once, and I can categorically tell you that buying someone a sandwich is infinitely more fun than a tandem skydive from 11,000 feet. You know what they say: no act of kindness is ever wasted.

Another, maybe odd, thing to do is move animals out of the road (if it’s safe, of course). I often drive early in the morning and it’s like a horror scene some days. On the best days there are no dead bodies or they’re squished beyond recovery. On the worst days they are still alive, lying in their own blood in the road. On more occasions than I’d like to mention, I have stopped my car to move an animal, only to find it severely wounded, slightly maimed or just dazed. I have also seen the worst side of humans on these mornings. Now my husband tries to tell me that sometimes people don’t realise they’ve hit an animal. Yes, this is true. Only yesterday I moved a handsome young fox that had obviously run out and clipped his head on a car. Probably went unnoticed. A quick death I reckon (and hope). What I absolutely cannot understand is how people can drive over (yes, over) a live, injured animal. The image sticks in my mind and I don’t think it will ever leave me. Let me tell you a couple of stories that I hope will stir something in you, as it did with me.

On this morning I had stopped on the side of the road to move a muntjac deer. I thought he was dead, but being a large obstruction in the road, I decided to move him.  As I ran towards him, I watched in horror as the cars trundled over his body. Sickeningly, I saw him flailing around in the road. I picked him up and placed him onto the grass verge. I sat and called the RSPCA, and whilst doing so, he died next to me. I think I cried all the 25 miles to work.

A few years later I was again, driving to work when on the crest of a hill I saw some magpies fly up. A dead animal ahead, I thought. Yes. A dead rabbit? I’ll move him. I got out, rubber gloves on and began to walk over to him. Just then, a motorcyclist stopped next to me and, thinking I’d hit it, asked if I was ok. I explained that I hadn’t, what I was doing and said thanks anyway. Off he went, and I turned to the rabbit. Then I saw it. This wasn’t a rabbit. It was a leveret. I’ll never forget the moment I looked into its gorgeous eyes, because they were looking up at me. It was alive. Its entrails were hanging from its bottom and there were long circular blood trails all around it where it had tried to move out of the way. It looked at me, panting desperately. I wasn’t and never will be prepared for something like that. I didn’t know what to do. I really don’t think that I could kill something myself —  And isn’t that selfish? I looked around. There he was — the motorcyclist! For some reason, he’d stopped up the road. I frantically waved him down and he came back. I explained that it was still alive and asked if he would be able to put it out of its misery. Yes. I watched this little leveret close his eyes and then slowly open them again; he must’ve been so tired. The motorcyclist told me to turn away. And I did. I heard his heavy boot crush that beautiful little creature and then he moved him into the hedges. I thanked him and we parted ways. It was a long time until those blood trails disappeared from the road, and I think it’ll be even longer before that little leveret disappears from my memory.

So the point of those awful stories? Please don’t assume they’re always dead. I’ve picked up many more animals that have successfully recovered from the roadside — a maggoty hedgehog, a dazed pigeon and a baby rabbit (lying next to his dead mother) to name a few. If you’re prepared correctly, you can easily collect them from the roadside and drop them at a vets or have them collected by the RSPCA. Just make sure you have a box handy or you could have an escaped pigeon in the foot-well of your car, shitting all over your carpets and seats (don’t do this — it’s stupid and dangerous, obviously).

Compassion is a wonderful and terrible thing, because it makes you empathetic. And it’s empathy that keeps me awake at night sometimes. I tortured myself for weeks thinking about how much pain that leveret was in. What it must’ve thought when the magpies were pecking at it. How tired it felt. How scary the cars were as they roared past. The coldness of the tarmac on his paws. That, more than anything so far, has disturbed me. And you know, sometimes it makes me not want to stop because it might happen again. But if it’s not totally squashed into the road and it’s not too dangerous to stop, I’ll move it. It’s also a bit of respect, too, don’t you think? You wouldn’t leave your grandma out in the road to get mushed into the tarmac, so why leave that cat / deer / rabbit / pigeon / other silly animal that doesn’t know the green cross code? I know that it can’t be helped most of the time, and not all people are monsters, but it makes me sad all the same.

How are we doing so far? I haven’t depressed you too much, have I? The basics really are: don’t buy your blusher or your bleach from shitty companies. Go vegetarian. Or if not, have one veggie day a week. Chuck a hi-vis jacket, a box and some rubber gloves in your boot and go save some animals’ lives (safely, of course… Hazard lights, people!). Oh, and buy a Big Issue once in a while. Do it all, or nothing at all… This is just the way that I like to live. It’s my opinion and we all know that opinions are like arseholes. Everyone’s got one (and sometimes they stink).

A few other awesome things to do:

  • Give your stuff to charity. By the time you listed it on eBay, sold it, wrapped it and took it to the post office, you could have dumped it on the lap of some lovely volunteer and gone on your merry way. One man’s tat is another man’s soon-to-be tat. And so the world keeps turning…
  • You could be the volunteer in the charity shop, having someone’s stuff dumped in your lap. Imagine nosing through all that. All for the charidee, man. Or do a bit of cat-cuddling for Cats Protection. Yes, you can cat-cuddle. I did, and it was great.
  • If you like meat too much to give it up, then do the Meat-Free Monday thing. You could have mac’n’cheese, omelette and chips, veggie pizza… there are lots of things to choose — it’s all tasty. Supermarkets do great vegetarian foods nowadays. Except the bacon. Don’t try the bacon. And if you cannot go without your steak and chips try to buy organic meat.
  • Smile. I am a care assistant and it’s actually amazing how much difference smiling can make. I think it makes you a cheerier person inside. Smile and the world smiles with you. It’s true, ya know.
  • Say please, say thank you, say sorry and always cough into your elbow. It’s good manners, dammit. Thank you

So like I told you at the beginning — I’m a normal person from a normal background. I don’t have hairy armpits or wear toe-rings. But I want to be a nice normal person. Not the normal person that spits in the street or chucks their McDonald’s bag out the window of their car (because they couldn’t possibly leave it in the foot-well until they got home). And just to clarify: I’m nowhere near the nice person that I want to be — and I probably never will be. None of us will be. It’s impossible to be nice all of the time. I’m a person and you’re a person and we might not like each other. We might go home and bitch to our husbands about each other. But the next day, we’ll wake up and think: maybe she had a bad day / maybe she’s scared of me / maybe I’m scared of her / maybe I’m crazy and I imagined it.

In all, be nice to everyone and everything whenever you can. Please (see?).

How To Be Nice and Normal (part one)

Okay, let me start by saying I am a normal person. I was brought up in a normal street, in a normal town by my normal parents. I have a normal job and have normal interests.

I grew up in a town called Colchester in Essex, but I was born in Germany in 1988, where my father was posted in the British Army. When I was six months old, we moved back to England and my father left the army and went to work for British Rail. My mother, a night care assistant, had a keen interest in Persian cats and her and her sister bred pedigrees for a while in the 90’s. We always had at least five cats and one dog in our house. Although I don’t condone cat breeding, I believe this was how my love for animals bloomed.

My parents bought their first house when I was about three and it eventually became a home for a menagerie of animals. Although it wasn’t always perfect, it was great to have the experience of looking after so many different animals. We had cockatiels, fish, canaries, dogs, hedgehogs, cats, rabbits (to which I was allergic I later found out)  and best of all, ferrets. The first ferret we cared for was an injured little fellow who was found by the railway tracks. I’ll never forget Monty, as he was the friendliest, gentlest rescue animal I’d ever met. We kept him, along with other rescues for many years.

So, a fairly normal upbringing. I say fairly, because there came a time in my parents’ lives when they became interested in animal welfare. I think it was around the time we first heard of the link between bTB and badgers. They joined the local badger group (North East Essex Badger Group) and became very involved in sett monitoring and the like. Many times I sat in the car while my father loaded a dead badger he’d been called about into the boot. We would bring it home to measure it, weigh it and record any other information about it. I don’t remember what he did with the corpses, but I’m sure it wasn’t anything weird! We would spend hot summer days at shows and fairs, sat with two taxidermied badgers on a stall, giving out stickers to children and getting people to sign petitions. I also remember my father spending hours cutting out badger shaped mdf boards with his jigsaw and painting them. The best bit was that he would sneak out after a night shift and put them on roundabouts to raise awareness of badgers’ plight. My dad, the original Banksy.

The badgers inevitably led to other wildlife causes, and we ended up becoming members of the League Against Cruel Sports. My mother was proud of her navy LACS mug and would use it whenever we had people come over. We went out a few times with the hunt saboteurs and I distinctly remember being threatened by a very effeminate huntsman on his very large horse. A few times we went to the anti-hunt rally on Boxing Day in Maldon and one year I almost got on the news, had I not been gurning so much in front of the camera (I did get in the newspaper, though).

All this took place before I became a moody, uninterested teenager. I think it all became a bit uncool when I (being on the chubby side) was named the “Ten-tonne badger” by some boys in my class.

And so passed my awkward teenage years, my early working life and my first boyfriends. I eventually met my now husband and my interests began to change. I can’t even remember what started it, but I took to spending my mornings on Twitter. I was that person on your feed that bombards you with petitions to sign. I signed up to various animal charities and even did a skydive for Wood Green Animal Charity (which I wouldn’t recommend to anybody in their right mind. The skydive, that is.) I would receive magazine after magazine telling me of the plight of animals in circuses, zoos, abusive homes, slaughterhouses and laboratories. I began to read about the lab animals in particular. They were being experimented on for cosmetics, household cleaners, medicines, you name it, they injected or ingested it. I suppose I could see the reasoning behind medicinal experiments (not that I agreed), but mascara and detergent?

I must admit that I probably read some far out stuff about it all, but I also read some decent material, too. Most of which came from the BUAV (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection). I liked their Cruelty Free campaign. It was simple: boycott the brands and companies that condone vivisection and choose a company that carries the ‘Leaping Bunny’ logo instead. So, I looked at every product we bought — shampoo, detergents, toilet cleaner, toothpaste, bars of soap and all of my make-up.

Boy, was I surprised at what I found. Turns out that the majority of mainstream products are really owned by about six big companies. These big companies are, according to information provided to me on the net, unscrupulous. But then, they are massive corporations. The big names I found in our cupboards belonged to Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser, Procter and Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Mars and L’Oreal. I had no idea, for instance, that Wall’s ice-cream belongs to Unilever. James Wellbeloved pet food belongs to Mars. Pampers nappies belong to Procter and Gamble. Even more worrying is that The Body Shop, who specifically sell their products on the premise that they aren’t tested on animals, are owned by L’Oreal, a company that does test on animals. Now sure, you could buy from The Body Shop and their products won’t have been tested on animals, but you’re then effectively giving L’Oreal your cash to spend on other products that may be. Did you know that Marmite and Dove are both owned by Unilever? I don’t much care for Marmite (I hate it, actually), but it’s funny how these huge corporations have their fingers in so many figurative and actual pies. It may or may not interest you, but I think it’s interesting when you can dig deeper and find out who belongs to who.

Anyway. One day, after much reading, I emptied my cleaning cupboard and my make-up bag and gave what could be used away. I discovered that The Co-op was a brand that was BUAV approved and had been for some years. It was very handy and we stocked up on our household and personal essentials there. It was a steep learning curve though, as we hadn’t anticipated that food items would come into the matter. All of our regular brands were now out of bounds and we didn’t even have the BUAV to help us there. It was best just to stick to own brands. We gradually found some nice companies and some big names that we could buy — Superdrug’s own branded cosmetics were all BUAV approved, as were M&S and Sainsbury’s and later on, Morrisons. The list gets bigger every day, I’m sure, and it’s quite heartening. When I first set out on this journey I felt like it couldn’t make much difference, but I believe consumer power does work. Speaking of which, I couldn’t have gotten very far without the help of a magazine called Ethical Consumer, which does just that. It gives you the knowledge you need to use your consumer power well. Based on a points system, it tells you which companies are most ethical in each field — say environmental impact or animal welfare and the like. I found it really useful and found some great companies because of it.

Are you bored of your nut roast?

I’m not the biggest fan of Sunday dinners. Never have been. I think I was forced to eat beef stew as a young child and since then, I avoided gravy dinners whenever I could. I favoured pizza, pasta, and all things cheesy.

But then I had to turn into a grown-up and moved in with Ben. Ben loves gravy dinners. He obviously wasn’t traumatised as a child and that meant I couldn’t just feed us both on Domino’s pizza.

I learned to cook, and did the roast beef, roast chicken etc. etc. And then we did the veggie thing. Well, we were introduced to the Nut Roast. Very nice. We aren’t lavish with our dinner ingredients — we’re quite happy with Sainsbury’s own brand nut cutlets. There are various ones to try, another nice one is by The Good Life (about which I wrote a little while back).

Then, like most things in my life, I got bored with them.

All hail Pinterest! I spend a lot of time perusing Pinterest and after looking at many vegetarian recipes, I found the Mushroom Wellington recipe. I was interested because Ben and I had recently been to a vegetarian restaurant near our home (The Veggie Red Lion) and I had had their Mushroom Wellington. It was divine.

OK, I thought. I’ll give this a go. It’ll probably taste awful, but I’ll have a go.

I ate it and liked it. Ben ate it and LOVED it. I’ve cooked it twice more since and it is lovely. One thing I would suggest though — use mini portabella mushrooms. They seem to taste better than using large portabellas. I found this purely by accident. I did my shopping online at Waitrose, ordering portabella mushrooms. They were out of stock and sent me portabellini mushrooms (to my shock at nearly £7.00!!) but they tasted awesome. For a much cheaper alternative, Sainsbury’s sell mini portabellas for £1.00 a box. Just as good.

It’s really easy to make and super tasty (even reheated). So if you’re a bit fed up of nut roasts, give this a go — it’s really worth it.

Mushroom Wellington recipe.