Tuesday 26 September 2017

10 Things That Have Changed In My 10 Years Of Being Vegan

This month marks ten years of me being vegan which makes me feel painfully old but also pretty proud. It feels like a milestone, a whole decade of veganism. And the vegan scene was so different back in 2007, I’ve seen huge changes happen during that time. I don’t have an official date I went vegan, I cut things out of my diet slowly over a month and while that might be lame by today’s standards, it worked and I was vegan by the end of the month so stop your judgement. Laurie went vegan in a day, but he pays no attention to dates so we have no idea when that was (though he always tells Ebony how he went vegan first), so all we know is that by the end of September, we were vegan. So, ten Septembers later, I thought I would write a little bit about the changes I’ve seen during my first decade of being vegan:

1. People know what ‘vegan’ means now
Ten years ago, nobody knew what vegan was. Every time I went to a restaurant or cafe I would have to explain exactly what I did and didn’t eat to the waiting staff who would then have to go and explain it to the chef. Not anymore. Nowadays, vegan has made it into society’s vocabulary. I never have to explain veganism anymore. This is probably saving me, on average, two hours a year, time which I treasure.

2. There’s more of us
This vegan thing is contagious, I think. According to one study, the number of vegans increased by 360% between the years 2006 and 2016. Now, obviously, I can’t claim all of that as my personal success, but, you know, maybe a bit of it, right? There used to be hardly any vegans so nobody knew what veganism was and most people you met said “Vegan? What’s what?” in a way that implied it might be a deadly disease. Now, it’s only my grandma who still does that, everyone else is more likely to say ‘Oh, you’re vegan? Yeah, my friend/sister/boss is vegan.’

3. Everything is labelled
Ok, not everything, but way more products say they’re suitable for vegans these days. Most of the major supermarkets have started labelling products as vegan now which saves lots of time. When I first went vegan, I used to spend a long time scouring the ingredients of everything in the supermarket, but now a quick glance will suffice. I find this really useful and I’ve been vegan for ages, so I can’t imagine how much easier it makes things for brand new vegans who need to check pretty much everything they eat. I have the Safe For Vegans app on my phone which means it’s easy to find out if products are vegan even if they’re not clearly labelled, all I have to do is scan the barcode.

4. The media coverage has improved
Veganism has gone mainstream. Ten years ago, veganism was rarely mentioned in the press and, when it was, it was presented as extremism (one newspaper accused the charity I worked for of being a load of ‘anarchists in an attic’). Now, there are constant news stories talking about the benefits of being vegan. Sure, there’s still the odd article making out that all vegans are extremist nut jobs committing child abuse, but on the whole, the media is a lot more vegan-friendly.

5. It’s easier to eat out
Ten years ago, if I wanted to eat out, my safest bet was to head to a vegetarian or vegan eatery. I used to hate going out to ‘normal’ places and enduring the pitiful looks of my friends while I tucked into a portion of chips and side salad. In 2017, loads of places offer vegan options. And not just stuffed aubergines, actual tasty vegan options that make it worthwhile eating out. Manchester is great for vegan food, but even Romiley (the little place I live) can cater pretty well for vegans now. Ten years ago, I had to ring a week in advance to warn restaurants that I was vegan, but now most places have vegan options or are used to catering for vegans.

6. There is so much vegan junk food
I can’t tell if this is a good thing or a bad thing. In terms of vegans being healthier, it’s probably not good that there is now an abundance of junk food conveniently available. In terms of me liking junk food, it’s definitely an improvement on 2007. Back then, I had to trek to a vegan shop to get my fill of chocolate, burgers and ice-cream. And those things were expensive. Now, the supermarket shelves are filled with vegan fudge, sweets, cheese, burgers - it’s the stuff my vegan dreams were made of circa 2007.

7. There is such a thing as vegan hospital food now
Back in 2008 or maybe 9, I forget, Laurie ended up with an overnight stay at Bristol Royal Infirmary. Bristol was a bit of a vegan paradise back then (in that there were some other vegans and a Holland & Barrett) so you could be forgiven for thinking the hospital might be able to cater for vegans. They gave Laurie… a plate of broccoli. Not even a big plate and not even piled high with broccoli. Just a side plate with a few florets of broccoli on. Skip forward to 2016 and I was in hospital for the worst part of a week and I expected the food options to be similarly dire. After all, if they couldn’t manage vegan options in Bristol (the city of vegans), how the hell was Stepping Hill Hospital going to do any better? But they did. They had soya milk and vegan butter and they fed me three meals a day the whole time I was in there. My first (of many) foods I ever dropped on my baby’s head were from an amazing creamy pasta thing they made me.

8. There is a lovely online vegan community
There has always been a lovely vegan community, but it’s easier to be part of now. I was lucky because I knew a lot of vegans when I went vegan so I had plenty of people around me to ask about vegan foods. Now, I see these conversations happening online in groups of strangers. People will post that they’re in M&S and wondering what they can eat and in a matter of minutes, they’ll have a comment thread filled with suggestions. People share new vegan products they find in Facebook groups and there are groups providing support to vegan parents like myself. My Instagram feed is filled with amazing looking home-cooked vegan meals and people sharing photos of vegan restaurants they have visited. It’s easy to find inspiration when I’m wondering what to have for lunch.

9. Vegan is seen as healthy now
I think one of the biggest change to veganism over the past ten years is how it is portrayed. People used to think of vegans as being skinny, pale and miserable. It’s probably down to the vegan celebrities that this is no longer the case. The general public is more aware now that animal products perhaps aren’t as healthy as they were once thought to be. And, when you realise that and see the number of vegan products available, it’s pretty obvious that a vegan diet is healthy. Ten years ago, vegans were animal rights activists. Nowadays, there’s a mix of people eating plant-based for the animals, people doing it for the planet and people taking that step because they want to improve their health.

10. Vegan meringues exist
I love meringue. My dad used to make these meringue pavlovas with strawberries and cream and they were so much a part of my childhood that I can still remember exactly what they tasted like (the same is true of his butterscotch sauce and his chocolate sauce and, yeah, my childhood mostly revolved around pudding). And, for the first seven years of being vegan, meringue was the thing I missed. I used to eat loads of cheese, but I don’t miss it. I used to love dippy eggs as a kid, but I don’t miss them. But meringue, oh man, yeah, I missed it. But then, something amazing happened. Somebody discovered a way of making meringue out of chickpea water (I know it sounds gross but I swear it’s not) and my life changed forever. Now I have nothing to miss.

Saturday 9 September 2017

An autumn wardrobe with Lyst

I like summer, but it doesn't really feel like we've had much of one this year, so I have been keenly awaiting the arrival of autumn. As soon as September arrived, the temperate dropped and the evenings are now cool enough for me to snuggle under a blanket and think about how I should really get on with knitting that winter hat for Ember. I will, at some point, actually start it, but it takes me a good few weeks of thinking about before I pick up my needles.

After months of wearing vest tops and summer dresses, my mind is now focused on clothes for cooler weather. I need to stock up on warm jumpers and long-sleeved t-shirts and, best of all, some winter boots. I hate doing the school run in trainers when it's raining, my feet end up drenched by the time I arrive home.

https://www.lyst.co.uk/Online shopping portal Lyst asked me if I'd like to put together some of my favourite pieces from their site, so I figured I would share my top autumn picks. Obviously, my school run duties leave me loving practicality and clothes that will shield me from the rain so that's what I've focused on. Bare legs and cropped tops might be ok for the young, but they're no good for me when I'm running down the street in the rain because I'm about to be late for pick up.

Here's what I picked:

1. Mustard yellow floral print scarf £9.99 from Starvidarious (is it even autumn if you're not wearing any mustard?)     //   . 2. 60s swing coat £45 from La Redoute (I couldn't love this coat more if I tried, anything with 60s in the title gets a vote from me) .    //     3. Stencil floral birdcage umbrella £23 from Fulton (Birdcage umbrellas are the ultimate umbrellas. I let Laurie borrow mine and it came back completely broken, so I need to get a new one and I love the floral detailing on this one)     //     4. Denim pinafore dress £35 from Monki (I love pinafore dresses, I think they are so comfy and I love how they look, plus they remind me of being pregnant and finally embracing my lifelong love of all things dungarees)      //     5. Stripe long sleeve t-shirt £12 from Weekday (stripes and dungarees, it's the obvious choice)     //     6. Gangster wellies £18 from ASOS (I have these and I love them, they're so shiny and really good quality)

This is was inspired by Lyst. 

Wednesday 6 September 2017

A first birthday paint smash photoshoot

I love cake smash photography shoots. I think photos of adorable babies completely covered in brightly coloured buttercream are painfully cute. However, I'm also way too strict to let my baby consuming that much sugar. I know, I know, they probably don't eat much of it and it's only one time and it's their sodding birthday. But still. I considered it and, in the end, I decided I wasn't keen on the idea. 
I did want to do something, though. I wanted to end up with a few beautiful pictures of colourful chaos that would serve as a reminder of just what life was like with a one-year-old (chaotic, messy, exhausting). I considered a tower of fruit, Ember can make so much mess with a punnet of raspberries I figured she was born for such a challenge. But the thought of having to change the resulting nappy put me off. 

I finally settled on the idea of a paint smash. I knew it would result in a colourful mess and that was exactly what I wanted. Also, as part of Ember's Second Child Syndrome, she had never been near paint before so I thought she would probably enjoy it as well. 

I ordered a photography backdrop (this one for £13.55 from Amazon) so that the photographs wouldn't be lumbered with my usual backdrop of pasta-handprint smothered walls. I also bought some colourful decorations to put up, as well as some painting accessories to let Ember explore. And I bought a huge roll of white paper to cover the floor. I was planning to buy a lamp to use for lighting, but I decided to take the photos in the conservatory which guaranteed me some decent natural lighting (and meant my living room would be protected from paint spills). 

I dressed Ember in a beautiful white bridesmaid dress Ebony wore when she was a bridesmaid a couple of years ago (Ember is a giant compared to Ebony) and poured out paint across the floor. Laurie and Ebony were on standby to make loud noises so that Ember would glance in the direction of the camera at least occasionally, and they helped out with keeping her entertained while I took photos. 

As predicted, things got pretty messy. Ember and the dressed ended up covered in paint (and so did Ebony who wanted to feature in a few of the photographs). I really love the photos. They're not perfect, far from it, but they are something I will treasure for a long time. I love the bright colours and the fact I didn't have to deal with a sugar-induced temper tantrum as a result. 

Tuesday 5 September 2017

7 things I didn't do on the first day of school

The first day of school, the cold hard jolt back to reality after a summer of lazing around, hiding from the rain and visiting various tourist attractions. I had a plan. I was going to be organised and the whole day was going to run like clockwork. Well, that was my aim, obviously, it’s not exactly how things panned out because, well, life. I woke up tired (a constant affliction), realised we didn’t have anything exciting to offer up for breakfast (porridge, anyone?) and gave my daily lecture about the importance of good timekeeping while leaving the house later than planned.

If anything, today served as a reminder that I will never be the organised, well-presented shit-together woman I dream of being. Here are seven things I didn’t do on the first day of school:

1. Shout
Hooray for small mercies, right? I didn’t shout or get exasperated this morning, even as the time ticked away while I scraped porridge from the neck folds of my toddler. I didn’t have to cajole the eldest into getting dressed because she appeared by my bedside fully dressed as an ungodly hour. I didn’t storm around the house lamenting the lack of matching socks because, by some miracle, I had got all the uniform ready the night before.

2. Cry
I didn’t cry from the frustration of always being late or the misery of watching my big girl skip happily into the classroom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad she wanted to go. The few days where she hasn’t, my heart has broken as I’ve tried to peel her from my leg and gently push her in the direction of the school gates. And I didn’t cry with relief either. I haven’t been counting down the days until the end of summer, I have loved having her home with me. The past five weeks I have watched the bond between my two kids flourish and strengthen as they have played and giggled and cuddled. I’m not going to say I’ve loved every minute of it, but it has definitely been a pleasure having them both together for so long.

3. Get there on time
I thought I would, truly I did. I thought we’d get up bright and early and be out of the house on time. I was woken up early, but I was far from bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Porridge for breakfast is not a good idea when you’re short on time. It takes a ridiculous amount of time to make porridge and even longer to clean it off a sticky one-year-old. Despite all of the stuff we needed waiting at the front door, it took a long time for us to gather it all up and get out the damn door. We walked out into the street in a cloud of the usual chaos while I moaned and groaned about the stress of being late (again).

4. Tidy the house
I had plans, such big plans. I was going to get the house in order. It was going to be spotless. I did not achieve this dream. Instead, it’s messier than it was this morning. In fact, the only room that is tidy is Ebony’s bedroom, a room that I don’t spend much time in. I did manage to clear the kitchen side though you’d never know it now after Ebony suggested lasagne for dinner (the messiest of meals). I thought perhaps I’d get on top of it tonight after the kids were in bed, but alas, bedtime was so drawn out that I don’t have the energy now. Instead, I will add it to my stresses of tomorrow, along with the laundry and everything else I didn’t do today.

5. Work
After taking a few weeks off for the summer holidays, my to-do list is now scarily long. I have a lot of articles I need to write and I was looking forward to getting stuck into them today. In reality, I managed to write a title before Ember woke up from a ridiculously short cat nap this morning. And then when I put her down for her long nap in the afternoon, I fell asleep myself. We slept like babies, cuddled up under the duvet as the rain tapped against the window. It was lucky I had set an alarm to remind myself to do the school run because otherwise, I wouldn’t have been there to pick her up when the school day finished.

6. Pick her up on time
And that alarm didn’t really account for the fact that I might be asleep. It allowed me enough time to stick Ember in the sling, grab Ebony’s after-school snack and run out of the door. It didn’t give me enough time to wake up, wake Ember up, calm her down (she has inherited my hatred of being woken up), get her dressed, scrape the smudged makeup from under my eyes and find shoes and slings and umbrellas. So, we were late. Luckily, they were late coming out so Ebony had no idea that I wasn’t there when the bell rang otherwise she’d probably have been mad.

7. Get organised for tomorrow

I managed to find some uniform and hang it on Ebony’s door before they eventually fell asleep and I bought something for breakfast in the morning, but I didn’t do any of the other things I wanted to do. I have no idea where her school shoes are, but I would put all of my savings on that they aren’t at the front door where I so need them to be. And I can already feel my long-anticipated early night slipping away from me. And the kitchen is messy so breakfast will be joyless. And I really, really need to do better tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow I can get on top of things and be more organised and get to school on time… right?

ps, the photo is Ebony holding a sign saying what she wants to do for a job (an idea I stole from my clever friend Adele from Beautiful Tribe) and it says 'sanctuary' because that's Ebony's dream job.

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