“Why Don’t People Like Vegans?”

I tried to be vegan for a bit but then I ended up working in a restaurant where I got given leftover food at the end of the day and that included really tasty meat. It was a slippery slope back to a pretty meaty diet. But I shan’t bore you with my personal history instead I want to flag up a documentary of epic proportions called Simon Amstell: Carnage. It’s over on the BBC and Amstell the comedian wrote, directed and narrated it (his name in the title might be slight overkill though) and it is fuming hilarious. The blurb reads: “It’s 2067, the UK is vegan, but older generations are suffering the guilt of their carnivorous past. Simon Amstell asks us to forgive them for the horrors of what they swallowed.” And whilst it’s largely fictitious and the talking heads tend to belong to people who don’t exist I think it’s one of the best arguments I’ve come across in favour of veganism.

The show speaks for itself so I think the simplest thing to do is just watch it. However, for me, what it did was brilliantly re-present the argument by showing it the other way around. Rather than have lots of meat eaters make fun of those silly, vegan hippies it had those highly intelligent, compassionate vegans boggle over our manic, meat and dairy eating habits. It flipped the narrative and revealed our obsession with torturing and forcibly impregnating livestock to be pretty messed up. It made me sympathise more with cows, pigs and chickens. So now, when I go into a supermarket and see that pack of smokey bacon, yes, I’m thinking how blooming tasty it would be in a sandwich but I’m also thinking that those slivers of meat are basically the product of suffering and torture, rashers of pain if you like.

However, there is still one very important question that needs answering: “Why don’t people like vegans?” Kirsty Wark, non-fictitious presenter, asks it during a faux Newsnight interview in Carnage and it’s a good question. Perhaps it’s because their lifestyle appears to be a threat to ours and when they talk about soya milk we start to feel a latent guilt related to animal suffering that we’d rather deny. Maybe it’s because some people think veganism is a cult. Maybe it’s because we work in the dairy industry. Or maybe we should just live and let live, and realise that should include the lives of animals too. Cows, pigs and chickens don’t need to die for our gustatory pleasure when there is just so much other ace food out there. And I’m not saying this to be moralistic or judgemental because one thing I certainly am not is a vegan but I still feel pretty terrible about all that slaughter. And let’s face it, vegans aren’t the threat here, especially as they’re not the ones running an industry that kills millions of animals, pollutes waterways and is a huge contributor to climate change. So, go on, try some nut cheese, it’s much tastier than churned up cow pus.

Bake Off: Climate Change Week

Week 7 of the Great British Bake Off and things got environmental. As comedian Mel Giedroyc explained at the start of the show it was a Bake Off first, Botanical Week: “We wanted to highlight the plight of nature as bee populations collapse, sea levels rise and numerous species become extinct due to human’s inability to live peaceably on the planet. We felt it was important to stand up for Gaia.” So those bakers got baking with flowers, herbs, leaves and other things that grow out the ground (y’know, like most things)

Round 1 was a classic: lemon meringue pie. Except they wanted a further citrus twist. “This might appear a controversial decision,” explained celebrity chef and national treasure Mary Berry, “But the reason we wanted them to use a wider panoply of citrus fruits such as grapefruits, oranges and clementines was to raise awareness of global warming. Just this summer Gravesend recorded a temperature of 34.4C, that’s the hottest day of the year since 1911, incidentally the year I was born. Ironically this will make Britain’s climate more amendable to the growing of citrus fruits and whilst I love a good lemon meringue pie I don’t want it to come at the price of numerous small island states going underwater, the Arctic melting and more hurricanes. I get that this is too little too late but if Bake Off can’t be used to make important political statements then what’s the fucking point.”

Round 2 was fougasse, a type of bread typically associated with Provence in France. Judge Paul Hollywood chose this one: “I don’t actually believe in climate change and care little for the environment but a fougasse should be made in the shape of a leaf. So it was my token nod towards nature but who really gives a shit about nature. I mean, I’m off to Channel 4, I don’t have values, I just want cash. Sure if we each did our bit and consumed less, recycled more, became more politically active and challenged power then things might change. But that sounds like too much effort.” Swiftly onto Round 3 where the bakers had to make 3+ tiered cakes covered in floral patterns. It was contestant Candice who did a 4 tiered cake with each one representing a different season. She purposefully misaligned them as she piled them one on top of the other to ensure they looked, in her words, “higgledy-piggledy, like the seasons.” She went on to explain: “Because climate change has ransacked seasons around the world. They used to be predictable and delineated but now summers are cold, winters are even colder and there are heat waves in October. Basically the seasons are screwed and I wanted to convey that with my cake.”

And so the episode drew to a close and whilst it was lovely guy Rav who got booted off the last word went to Andrew. The adorable Welsh perfectionist, sitting on a rustic stone step surrounded by trees and flowers, was reduced to tears: “These tears are partly for me and my insatiable hunger for affirmation from octogenarian Aga users but they’re also for nature. I mean, why do we treat her so badly, polluting the seas, trashing mountains and killing baby seals. If only Mary Berry ran the UN.” Next week Bake Off will be focussing on plight of the worker under capitalism because, as Berry says, “If we can give a toss about 12 randomers in a tent then of course we can care about the exploitation of labourers around the world.”

The Dildo Dilemma: Solved

I recently posted about my friend’s dildo dilemma: get her favourite vibrator fixed or chuck it away and spend less money on a new one. The former would not contribute to landfill, employ a friendly vibrator repair-man and ensure she could enjoy her favourite dildo for longer. The latter course of action would yield a fresher dildo in better shape and be cheaper (the Rampant Rabbit has 20% off). Amazingly, in response to the dilemma posed many of my friends got back in touch to offer some innovative solutions. So here’s how my friend can have her vibrating cake and eat it.

Ethical Vibrators And Hardwood Dildos: Ethical sex toys are a thing, hurrah! EthicalSextoys.co.uk is just one example, committed to producing phthalate free products (i.e. less nasty chemicals) and doing their bit for the environment. In their own words: “[we] do not promote the disposable culture we live in – wasting resources and creating landfills of cheap short-life products. All the products on our site are the highest standard of design with durability in mind; an EthicalSextoys product will give many years of pleasure which can help to help to reduce consumption of resources.” Meanwhile, if you want something even more durable, albeit less vibrating, you can invest in a hardwood dildo. Yup, made from trees and those things last for ages.

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Recycle: And when your Rampant Rabbit finally runs its last race you’ll be pleased to know that Lovehoney will recycle it for free! So you needn’t worry about throwing it on a giant rubbish pile, you can let them do the hard work.

Stop Malaria: Of all the other great suggestions I had in response to the Dildo Dilemma someone suggested donating the money you’d save from buying a discounted vibrator to the Against Malaria Foundation. As they say, “100% of public donations buys long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs). An LLIN costs US $2.50. We work with distribution partners to distribute nets and ensure use. We conduct net use surveys and track monthly malaria data.”

So not only can you ethically dispose of your dildo and buy a new, long-lasting one you can also help the global fight against malaria. Everyone wins! Although the dildo repair guy wouldn’t win and it is important to support local business. So, maybe, my friend could get her old vibrator fixed, recommend ethical vibrators to any of her friends thinking to invest in a lifelong companion and then donate to AMF. And everyone lived happily ever after.

The Dildo Dilemma

My friend has a problem: her favourite vibrator broke. She absolutely loves that hunk of reverberating rubber and it has brought her great comfort for many years. Like a top teddy or a preferred mug, she’s very fond of her dildo – it’s more than just an object, more than just a piece of consumerism, it is something with which she is intimately acquainted. Naturally, my friend looked to get it repaired but soon discovered the cost of repair was more than buying a replacement. Thus, the dildo dilemma.

But is that really a dilemma, you might well ask. Why not just buy the new one and save some cash? Indeed, this does seem like the obvious option as Ann Summers has reduced the Rampant Rabbit in their summer sale and now it’s only £25.90. Meanwhile, after all the faff of finding someone who doesn’t discriminate on ‘small item’ repairs it turns out their starting cost is £30 per item. Quids in, right? Unfortunately, it’s not so simple because my friend is also an avid environmentalist. She likes nature, y’know, trees, rivers and the like. She also hates pollution and waste but our consumer culture tends to produce a lot of that. Things aren’t built to last anymore instead they’re designed with ‘built-in-obsolescence’ which basically means their shelf life is shorter. And the weird thing is that this actually makes business sense because you’re more likely to fork out more cash to buy more stuff so the economy can keep churning.

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This premise, that the economy must keep growing, is right at the heart of our economic theory. It’s got a long history but the combindation of 19th century industrialisation, mass production and a couple of world wars ensured the US became an economic powerhouse. However, when the wars stopped and there was less money to be made from producing tanks and bombs the US switched to mass producing consumer goods like cars and ironing boards. Yet the premise of the economy was the same: produce, consume, produce, consume, ad infinitum. It’s a system riddled with paradoxes and my friend doesn’t want to add to the mess by throwing yet another dildo on the rubbish pile. Our seas are already full of plastic rubbish, our air teeming with pollution and our earth riddled with land-fill sites.

But we can’t put all the blame on my vibrator-loving friend. The environment is all of our responsibilities but whilst we shouldn’t waste stuff it would be great if our governments and corporations could actually initiate some planet-friendly economic policies that aren’t dependent on unsustainable levels of consumption. If my friend does end up buying a new dildo it won’t spell the end of the planet but what a better world we would live on if we perfected making things that lasted rather than churning out yet more unreliable iPods and bombs. And for those of you yet to get your hands on one of those Rampant Rabbits here’s a link to the Ann Summers sale.

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Monsters, Inc. & Fossil Fuels

Slowly catching up on unwatched Pixar films and I’ve finally got round to Monsters, Inc. What an ace film – funny monsters, incredibly cute children, a brilliant premise for a world (scaring kids to harness energy – who comes up with this stuff!? Genius!), an extended cast of ace characters (the giant slug receptionist – haha), lots of heartfelt moments and a great, final message (big spoiler coming): that kids actually produce more energy when they laugh rather than when they scream and cry. Who’d’ve known!? Naturally, this is an apt metaphor for the fossil fuel industry.

The monster economy is predicated on traumatising children. This, ultimately, is horrible – how tragic that for the monsters to thrive they must instil fear and suffering into the hearts of endless children. So too for our energy industry – fossil fuel extraction has always been dangerous and is increasingly so. For example, the extraction of oil in the Niger Delta has led to huge amounts of pollution, high levels of corruption within the Nigerian government and many human deaths – due both to poisoning and murder. Of course, we can’t just blame other countries and their governments for the problem. Companies like BP and Shell are notorious for colluding in and profiting from corruption. In Monsters, Inc. a typical fossil fuel company CEO is represented by the five-eyed humanoid crab Henry J. Waternoose III.

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The company has been in Henry’s family for three generations and the pressure’s on for him to keep it running. Unfortunately, scream energy supplies are dwindling and Montropolis is experiencing frequent black outs. At first Henry appears harassed, proud but well-meaning until we discover he is colluding with one of his employees to use extreme-extraction techniques on children. So too for energy companies like BP as they’re forced to use more dangerous modes of extraction to get at lessening fossil fuel supplies. The Deepwater Horizon oil spillage of 2010 is a potent reminder of how dangerous this is – a BP owned rig exploded off the Gulf of Mexico killing 9 and causing untold levels of pollution. I was at a talk given by an ex-BP member of staff and they admitted that the reason it was a BP oil rig that exploded rather than one owned by another energy company was “bad luck” – yup, oil rigs are accidents waiting to happen because energy companies want energy fast to boost their profits now. They ride rough shod over health & safety and concerns for the environment and the results are tragic. Fortunately, Henry J. Waternoose III ends up in prison for his nefarious dealings (as should CEOs of dangerous energy companies, instead they get £14 million pay deals but at least the BP shareholders are making a fuss about Bob Dudley getting paid loads to trash the planet).

Meanwhile, James P. Sullivan is a big, blue, fury scarer. He’s the best scarer on the block having spent years terrifying children. However, when one kid gets into the monster world – an adorable little girl called Boo – James is forced to think twice. They become friends but there’s a moment when he accidentally scares her. Naturally, she cries. The moment is caught on camera and James has to come face to face with who he really is. He realises his whole life has been spent causing misery and harm, so he changes his mind and changes the company. He becomes the new boss of the company and sets it on a sustainable path – collecting laughs not screams. In rea life, the CEO Ray Anderson turned the textile company Interface around, from dirty to clean; John Browne once told us that BP would go Beyond Petroleum (although that all turned out to be spin and lies); and Charles Grant was a businessman who profited hugely from slavery but became a major advocate for its abolition. So, it’s possible, people can change and so can business.

So let Monsters, Inc. be a lesson to us, especially the heads of fossil fuel companies. Climate change is continuing unabated, the world is heating up and sinking. Weather is becoming increasingly unpredictable and extreme. And all the while societies are being picked apart at the seams and so much human misery is caused. We desperately need a few CEOs to step up and have some climate-based epiphanies. There are benign energy sources out there like that giant ball of molten fire in the sky for instance. If the monsters can do it, so can we, and here’s to a future of laughter, not screaming.

The European Dream

The United States of America has one, a dream, “the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.” It’s basically the Cinderella fairy tale made available to all Americans. By ‘all’ Americans I mean white, straight men born into wealth but sometimes a woman slips through the net and occasionally a person of colour does as well. That the dream is founded on huge levels of debt, totally unsustainable levels of consumption and dog-eat-dog capitalist politics is by-the-by, the point is America has a dream, a big one, and apparently it’s for everyone. But what does Europe have?

Europe also has huge levels of debt, totally unsustainable levels of consumption and dog-eat-dog capitalist politics but I’m not so sure Europe can simply adopt the American dream. For starters, Europe didn’t begin as one country (or at least one colonialist attempt to make a country), it started as many, often belligerent nation states vying for power with each other. A history of Europe is often a history of war until the end of WW2 when people had had enough. Successive generations of the same families had gone to war twice in the 20th century and people knew this couldn’t last. So, as I described in a previous blog, the beginnings of the European Union were formed to ensure Europe did not go to war again.

However, European societies are going through yet more social, political and economic upheaval following the 2008 financial crisis and ongoing policies of austerity. Similarly to after the Great Depression of 1929 countries are becoming increasingly isolationist and extremist parties are on the rise. Now, more than ever, does Europe need a dream because it’s clear we cannot leave things in the hands of Brussels based bureaucrats and technocrats. Sure, they get to swan around the corridors of the European Commission and Parliament looking all self-important but how many of them have tried to run a sheep farm, worked in a hair salon or held any number of ‘real’ jobs that people across Europe may have?

For those of us who care about Europe who, despite how disappointed they may be at the EU itself, believe it’s important to get on well with one’s neighbours and to form transnational organisations to combat transnational issues such as climate change, terrorism and corporatism, and to champion transnational solutions such as human and environmental rights, coming up with the European Dream is our responsibility. It will be different for all of us (and maybe that’s part of its strength) but, boy, do we need to start articulating positive and exciting messages about what it means to be European. So, I’ll take a stab but I reckon you should too.

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The European Dream: a continent where people are happy to make fun of one another’s accents and national cuisines knowing that underneath the banter there’s grim accord that the world is a dark place but if we work together we can make it lighter. We might often do things differently (e.g. how we do or don’t worship; how we eat our steak; how we do or don’t protest) and whilst we will talk about these things (eventually) we also know there’s nothing worse than tyranny, oppression and war. Europe has to be a family – a queer, straight, Muslim, of colour, trans, white, polyamorous, Atheist, monamorous, hippy, business family – and even if the siblings don’t always get on we’ll still stick it out for the sake of our brood. Perhaps, at its simplest the European Dream is to ensure a stable and prosperous continent upon which the inhabitants can freely and peacefully eat different dishes and make fun of each other for doing so. I mean, snails, gross.

Now, what’s your European Dream? You can write it in the comments below but because not that many people read this blog why not share it on your facebook, blog or twitter – get it out to your networks and see what else people come up with. Especially useful for us cynical Brits who talk of ‘continental Europe’ as if tiny island Britain is still its own Great Kingdom (c’mon, we can British and European at the same time!)

Welcome To World War 3

“It’ll probably start on a Friday. What will seem like an attack on America by terrorists or Russia, driven by a well-oiled, well-armed and multi-national group of elites using alien technology that governments have been hiding for seventy years…” Art often reflects reality and this is an excerpt from the trailer for the latest series of The X-Files (my thoughts on this series here). Save for the bit about alien technology it’s a prescient observation of the rapidly escalating violence the world is witnessing right now. And, as ever, the news is bleak.

Terrorist attacks in Belgium, Yemen, Iraq and France. A war in the Middle East that has killed and displaced thousands. Pakistan’s entry into the nuclear arms race. China and Japan’s conflict over the southern islands. An economic cold war between the US and China, the former struggling to maintain its status as world emperor, the latter vying to take that title. The implosion of the EU with a worsening refugee crisis and the rise of the extreme right, including the Nazis. Russia and Ukraine. Islamic State. It almost seems as if the world has never been at peace.

Now, I’m not writing this blog to depress people (although the news is depressing) and nor am I saying we should stop striving for peace. Of course not, if anything, the violence we see in the world is yet another rallying call for the peace movement. However, perhaps what I’m saying is that this isn’t as simple as war and peace anymore – two seemingly time bound and delineated events. World War 2, for example, had a beginning and an end, whilst the Cold War was a far more uncertain series of events it has nevertheless ceased. Yet the legacies of both conflicts live on, so perhaps we could say neither have ended. Likewise, new forms of technology make different sorts of war possible – drones and terrorists navigate borders differently to ground troops and armies. Meanwhile, diplomatic and economic threat can also function as tools in campaigns of imperialism. Often war need not be declared for it to be happening. So maybe it’s not about war ending and peace beginning, maybe it’s about navigating the grey territory in between.

It is not that now more than ever do we need to call on the better angels of our nature because this has always been true – we have always needed the better angels of our nature. Our compassion, care, altruism, love and joy – possessed and enacted by all. Even these angels might not prove to be enough but I’d question the notion of enough anyway – is enough when all fighting ever has ended, is enough when climate change has been abated, or is enough just doing the best we can in the time we have? I’d love to see world peace enacted and global warming avoided but the reality I’m living through is very far from that. And yes, that makes me despair, but no I won’t stop blogging! And to conclude here’s The X-Files trailer in full. However, I’d like to categorically remind everyone that the world’s problems will not be solved by one FBI agent called Fox Mulder – instead we all need to channel our inner Fox Mulders to step up to the challenge. Or just avoid X-Files metaphors entirely as it’s a pretty ludicrous programme.