London is a Paradox

A place that evokes romantic visions of a glittering city built on the famous River Thames, home to millions from all walks of life. For many, it’s the centre of the universe. However, it’s also home to extreme poverty, rampant homelessness, high crime rates and the place where, quite literally, manners have gone to die.

I fell under London’s spell back when I was a young Brownie on a day trip to the Natural History Museum. The big, busy streets, grand buildings and black cabs were like another world to the one I’d grown up in. As I got older, day trips to London were still immensely thrilling; seeing the London Eye glide past as my train pulled into Waterloo Station would give me a frisson of excitement and I could not wait to be out, mixing with the swell of commuters and tourists like I was one of them, like I belonged there.

Moving there in February 2005 marked a major change in my life and a huge step forward to achieving something I’d always wanted.

The first six years there were brilliant. The first place I lived was in a flat on the Isle of Dogs, my favourite part of the city. For the first couple of days though, I felt a bit nervous of going out and just stayed at home which was really silly as I was finally in the place I’d always wanted to be, I soon realised I should just embrace it! My first proper venture out was straight to Oxford Street and after that, it was just a question of familiarising myself with the area and my commute.

From the Isle of Dogs, I eventually moved to New Cross in South (or Sarf) London which was an interesting place to live, to say the least. Living there taught me to be streetwise, it was a completely different vibe and feel to the East End (which I loved) and I got to know places like Peckham, Lewisham and Deptford.

Back to the Isle of Dogs I eventually went, a nice house share with some nice people, back in my comfort zone. A house sale forced another move and I ended up in Muswell Hill in North (or Norf) London. As different to New Cross and the Isle of Dogs as day and night. As lovely as Muswell Hill is, it does have a every elitist element with its posh shops, quirky restaurants and the sort of yummy mummy element parodied on social media. It didn’t suit me and I only lived there for ten months before high-tailing it back to the Isle of Dogs.

Alas, the dream had to end and end it did. With the advent of the Olympics in Stratford, rents and house prices in East London began to sky rocket. People were being turfed out of their homes so greedy landlords could rent them out for three or four times the normal rent just for the few weeks of the event. I moved further out to an area of South London where I ended up staying for three years.

I’d never liked the general attitude of people in the city. Rudeness and selfishness go hand in glove there. Manners are a thing of the past. Getting on and off busy tube lines is like a rugby scrum, some people think nothing of elbowing, kicking, pulling or pushing someone out of the way just to get on a train. Ridiculous really, when the next service is usually only a couple of minutes behind. The cost of living is beyond what most people can afford, travel is very expensive, it’s overcrowded, dirty, smelly and not very safe.

I remember being on the District Line one morning, travelling to work as usual and a thought popped into my head; “Why am I doing this?” I had a real moment of clarity and knew that the time had come, I was ready to leave.

How fortunate it was, that I changed jobs in 2014 and discovered that my new employers, being a very large company, had offices outside London. Less than a year after starting my new job I had relocated lock, stock and barrel to a beautiful market town in the country. I have gorgeous countryside all around, a car instead of an awful train journey, a 3-bed house cheaper than my 1-bed flat, a nice office to work in and my stress levels have massively reduced.

So, whilst this post isn’t written to put anyone reading it off the idea of ever going to London I would just like to invite people to think about why they might covet the idea of going to live and work there. As I discovered, London is not the centre of the universe; there are so many other cities and towns in the UK with thriving prospects, vibrant life and better opportunities. Ok, the wages may be a bit lower but this is offset by lower cost of living, lower house prices etc.; it’s all relative.

I do have very fond memories of my ten years there and I enjoyed my life. I had a lot of fun, met loads of interesting people and made some lovely friends so don’t think for a moment that I regret it because, I don’t. I guess I’m just older and wiser now 🙂

The Despairing Veggie

It was probably only a matter of time before I got onto this subject.

Two questions I am asked most frequently are: “How long have you been vegetarian?” and “Why are you a vegetarian?”

Ok, the first question is simple enough to answer; I’ve been vegetarian since Christmas 2014 which is when I had my last meat based meal.

The second question, for me, is also easy to answer. I became veggie because I no longer, could, in all good conscience, continue to eat meat in the knowledge of the suffering that goes hand in hand with the modern meat industry.

But why are people so bothered about me being a vegetarian? That baffles me.

I came late to the veggie party but better late than never, as the saying goes. I’ve been aware for some time now, that the modern-day methods of factory farming are not conducive to treating animals in a fair, ethical, moral and humane way. I chose to educate myself on where my food was coming from. The more I found out, the more I became eager to make changes to my diet.

I moved in with my boyfriend in 2012, he has been vegetarian since he was 18 and I adopted a veggie diet at home simply because it was easier and more economical than having to cook and prepare two different types of meals. Eating out socially would be my “time off” from being veggie.

As someone who is always keen to learn about things and educate herself however, I made the choice to learn more about modern-day factory farming. The things I have learned, are not for the faint of heart.

“But, humans have eaten meat for thousands of years!” I hear you cry.

True, but, thousands of years ago, factory farming did not exist. Our cave dwelling ancestors killed only what they needed to survive, they lived in equilibrium with the land and what it offered them. They also relied on what they could grow.

In my opinion, it is simply not right, that animals are crammed into tiny cages and crates with no room to move. That they are kept in warehouses on concrete floors with no sunlight, no grass under their feet, no freedom to roam. This is prison of the worst kind.

My boyfriend is going down the more vegan route. I admit, I find this more of a challenge but there are some changes I have made to my diet which have been very easy.

Milk – humans are the only animals on the planet that consume milk from another animal. We don’t need cows’ milk, it’s meant for cows, not humans. I made the change to soya a couple of years ago and have since moved onto oat milk which is lovely. The flavour is soft and nowhere near as strong as cows’ milk.

Cheese – a bit harder this one, cheese is really quite delicious and the vegan versions are a long way behind replicating that but, to be honest, I only ever have cheese when eating Italian food and apparently, the vegan parmesans are very good so I guess I will get used to not having my usual cheddar.

Eggs – I used to eat a lot of these, poached is my favourite way to do eggs and in baking, they are a binding ingredient. However, the dairy industry is incredibly cruel so I’ve simply stopped buying them. My diet includes Quorn products though and egg is used in a lot of their food so I’m not quite there yet.

I no longer wear animal skins. My old leather shoes and boots are from a time when I was less informed about the choices I was making so now, I make do with the fake versions (I have always been anti-fur). I haven’t worn wool or silk for years.

You could call me a hypocrite and perhaps you’re right. I grew up on the traditional diet of meat, potatoes and veg. I never really gave much thought to where my food came from until I was much older and it still took me some time to make the changes I wanted to make. Make them I did, however and I feel within myself, much better for doing so.

Aside from the health benefits of going to a plant based diet there are benefits for the planet and our environment, something which every single one of us should be concerned with.

On a simpler level however, vegetarianism challenges me to create and cook meals that are varied, healthy and full of flavour. I don’t go hungry and I don’t get bored either. I have a shelf full of veggie cookbooks and I’m always keen to try something different.

I am not telling you to go veggie, I am not telling you to change your lifestyle overnight. What I am doing is asking you to perhaps have a little more thought about where your food comes from. You might want to continue eating meat, if so, perhaps go to your local butcher instead of the supermarket, buy direct from source where there is a chain of traceability. Support your local community instead. Still want to eat eggs? Buy organic, better yet, get yourself a couple of hens and have fresh eggs every day. Lots of people have their own hens, what better way to have ethically produced eggs?

I love animals. They are sentient creatures, just like humans. They have brains, nervous systems, they breathe oxygen, they feel fear, pain and joy. We keep cats, dogs, rabbits etc as family pets but think nothing of eating a cow, lamb or pig – why are they any different to the rest?

Hopefully, I have given you food for thought (pun intended) with this post and if even one person reading this blog decides to make changes or educate themselves further on the meat and dairy industries or replaces a couple of meals a week with a veggie option then my efforts will have not been in vain.

http://www.quorn.co.uk/

http://www.oatly.com

https://www.vegansociety.com/

https://www.vegsoc.org/