animals, other nations

This blog was written when I first started to go vegan, in 2012. I imagine there will be passages I might update now, but for the moment I’m pasting it verbatim. I don’t apologise for the fact that there’s hard stuff in it.

animals: ‘other nations, caught with ourselves’

‘We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.’
Henry Beston (from The Outermost House: a year of life on the great beach of Cape Cod)~

From an early age I was lucky enough as to be brought up with animals, both as family companions and as wild species whom I was taught to recognise, respect and learn about, and from. Our house was always filled with animals, whether chosen pets or wild animals in various states of injury and healing (both I and another sister had wounded animals brought to us from when we were quite young).

It’s inconceivable to me to live one’s whole life without developing relationship with one or more animals. There’s a dislocation, a dissociation, happens in a society where humans form an isolated stratum in the eco-system, disconnected in any real way from our near-neighbours. For a child, time spent looking after an animal is a natural and important way of learning compassion and empathy.

More, it seems to me that the measure of an enlightened culture is not just its treatment of other humans, but its treatment too of the animals from whom and with whom we’ve evolved. We have grown up as a species alongside (other) animals; and some, like dogs and horses, have been close companions to humans for thousands of years.

At an ancient and profound level our souls resonate with the animal kingdom, and we can learn much about our own species and this planet by learning from them and their (and our with-them) interrelationships. Spending time with the animal kingdom opens doorways we may have forgotten, and can restore a kind of meaning as we are reminded of our interconnectedness with them, and the whole great web of life. It’s through the animal kingdom too that we can start to reclaim our healthy instinctual nature.

In shamanic cultures animals are recognised as spirit-guides, representing not only themselves but archetypal aspects of our human psyches too; they may well perform the role of soul-restoration.

Animals in vision and dream can be teachers. In shamanic practice, ‘meeting’ in the Otherworld of dream or vision a particular animal or type of animal three times is seen as significant, and the dreamer does well to find out all he or she can about the characteristics of that animal in order to see more deeply into his or her own psyche, and its messages and needs.

Animals can be healers: there’s much documented testimony to the power of pets to alleviate symptoms in humans, whether psychological or physical (though of course that’s a false dichotomy; my guess is that being around animals is restorative to the soul which in turn boosts the immune system). For myself, time out walking with the dog, time alongside horses, time watching the birds feeding in the courtyard is profoundly healing and uplifting; sometimes subtly, sometimes more obviously.

Today, with my poetry group here, over and over in my writing and the gaps between I returned to watching the birds, with their different characteristics: the woodpeckers flitting in – the youngster who hangs on the feeder motionless for ten minutes, digesting the nuts and preventing anyone else from arriving; the nuthatch with its insistent upside-down fierce pecking; noting the bluetits queuing up to sip drops of water from the forest of ice-spears on the quarry-face that walls one side of the courtyard, their comic acrobatics, their speed, their little tricolour faces and clockwork head-tilts; the little drab-shy dunnocks, hedge sparrows that are not actually sparrows at all but members of the robin family:


Watching all day
the dunnocks
in the courtyard puddles
on their little stick-legs
playing ‘grandmother’s footsteps’
with the rain, with my gaze –

how big the world is,
how diverse,
how unmappable!
And how wise it would be
to be in love with


As a child I was, and as an adult, too, I am entranced by those stories of animals who help each other, and help if needed humans, also, to survive: the stories of dolphins who raise drowning dolphins, and humans, to the surface to breathe; that video on YouTube of a small dog dodging traffic to pull its injured dog companion across a three-lane highway to safety; stories of dogs who trek hundreds of miles to find their human companion; those stories of children raised by gazelle, by wolves.

And how do we reward them? With captivity. With torture. With eating them. What we do to others we do, of course, to ourselves.

Our relationship to animals surely needs to change as we move towards meeting the spiritual, and material, demands of our time.

The transport of live food animals from Britain to Europe has started again. Calves just weeks old are shipped to Europe to be raised in the dark and have their throats slit for veal (darkness and bleeding to death makes the meat white). That is, if they’ve survived: far more often than one would like to hope they arrive broken-limbed or with dislocated hips from being dragged, pushed or dangled by one leg in being winched on and off planes or ships.

Geese are force-fed for paté de foie gras. Ducks are intensively-reared, and like hens de-beaked.

Pigs, these most intelligent of animals, are largely confined to tiny cages as breeding sows throughout the ‘developed’ world, where they literally go mad. Smuggled video cameras in abattoirs show pigs being kicked, punched; having cigarettes put out on their snouts.

Many if not most cows in the UK, hard though it is to believe, spend at least half their lives and sometimes all of them away from grass, close-confined in barns. If the big corporations have their way, much more of this will happen in intensive mega-dairies.

Salmon are farmed, which means that their natural migrations simply don’t happen.  In common with all farmed animals, quite apart from the misery, the intensive farming methods used, plus interference with their natural health and welfare means that disease is rife.

Shark are de-finned live for the tables of the East, being thrown back into the water to die.

Dolphins and whales of course are hunted for food.

Monkeys are, or were until recently if not any longer, served as ‘delicacies’ in Japanese restaurants where, live, they are penned by the necks and their brains eaten.

And dancing bears, caged, live a life of utter misery with rings disfiguring the soft tissue of their noses, being beaten and electro-prodded to make them ‘dance’ for tourists.

Of course this raises questions about ‘right relationship’. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could restore animals to their rightful place, as respected co-habitees of this amazing planet – third in line from the sun, conditions just right for life as we know it; one degree hotter or one degree cooler and we wouldn’t even be here – alongside us? How would it be to ease back on the pedal, to consider how many lives are given to satisfy our appetites, and whether those appetites and therefore lives lost are truly necessary?

For me, I made the decision at 16 to become vegetarian. It was also consonant with my Buddhist practice, in which I’ve taken the precept of non-harming. (I knew, too, that if push came to shove I couldn’t actually kill an animal; if I could, maybe I’d feel better about eating it.)

For many years, though, I made my living as a shoemaker. This was part of a whole drive on my part to learn the basic skills of smallholding: growing, cooking, animal-husbandry, cheese-making, bread-making, wine-making, pottery, spinning, weaving, knitting, vegetable-dyeing, medicinal herbs, healing, woodcraft. And for many years I was aware of a deep-seated hypocrisy in myself regarding the use of animal products that involved taking an animal’s life (as opposed to, for instance, eating an egg from a sterile hen – yes they produce eggs even without a cockerel in the flock – or wool shorn from a living sheep). From time to time people challenged me on the leather use, and I’d respond, glibly, that I was using up the waste ‘you carnivores leave behind you’. But that was simply a pat answer. It is true that if one is going to take the life of an animal at all, one should perhaps use the whole of it, with gratitude. But I didn’t want to be involved in animal exploitation at all.

So then I was eating cheese and drinking milk (albeit organic, which at least guaranteed minimum welfare standards for the animals involved), both of which practices involve cow pregnancy and the killing of unwanted calves, and in any case almost all the male calves; and although many cheeses use vegetarian rennet to set the curd, many still use an enzyme from calves’ stomachs.

I’d always said that when my daughter left home (I’d brought her up vegetarian) I’d become a vegan. I didn’t. It took me ten years, until very recently, to take this logical next step, ethically speaking.

I couldn’t imagine giving up tea completely (I don’t have many addictions, but that’s a small one), and I couldn’t imagine enjoying tea without milk. To my utter astonishment, I actively liked the taste of the Co-op’s organic soya milk (and nothing’s perfect: there is still the question of both food miles and processed foods); and it only took a week or two before I started to actively dislike the taste of cow’s milk – too fatty, too animaly. (And it is, after all, made for calves – who wants bones like cows?? ‘We are what we eat…’)

Cheese has been much harder. I really miss it.  I have found that for me the way forward is not to be utterly rigid. If I cut cheese out completely I crave it badly. My compromise has been that if I go out and there isn’t a vegan option I eat cheese; and on a poetry day where everyone brings food to share, I usually do, too. Allowing myself to do this has had the desired effect: I rarely want to; but when I do, I really enjoy it, without guilt.

I confess I do still eat eggs. They have to be free range and ideally organic, and I prefer to buy them from flocks where I know there isn’t a cockerel.

I’m lucky that The Man is supportive. He’s been a vegetarian for many years, but relies very heavily on cheese, yoghurt and milk. We share the cooking, and he has adapted to cooking a vegan evening meal, topping his dairy levels up (big-time) at lunchtime. There are any number of really tasty vegan meals which many of us eat without thinking about it – veggie shepherd’s pie, many  cous cous and rice dishes, paellas and risottos, veggie spag bol, soups and stews, pasta and sauce, salads, ratatouille, nut and veg roasts, corn on the cob – and on and on. We mostly make our own dishes up, based on what’s in the garden (leeks, potatoes, onions, garlic, purple sprouting broccoli, chard and errr quite a lot of cabbage). Yes, there’s an issue with both iron and B12 – dark green leafy veg, nuts and veggie red wine (some is ‘fined’ with bull’s blood) for the iron, Marmite or another yeast extract for the B12.

And now I’ve run out of steam. I don’t want to proselytize; but if I say to you that we could feed ten times as many people, globally, on a veggie diet as on a meat one…?

And can I recommend the wise, beautiful and committed blog of fellow Buddhist and virtual friend, David Ashton, for his insightful and passionate responses to the eating (or not) of animals?

Also interesting is Jungian Jeff Howlin’s blog; this one is on animals and learning from them:


Vegan sweet potato, courgette & spinach korma

A Month in the Country 18 – Making it up as I Go Along, by Roz Cawley


There are cooks who religiously follow recipes, shopping for the exact ingredients and not deviating from the set of instructions given – and there are cooks who look at what they have got and make up a recipe to fit. I belong to the latter school – ‘What I’ve got is what you’ll get’!!

This is what I conjured up last night after looking at the contents of the fridge and larder – It’s a Vegan  Sweet Potato, Courgette and Spinach Korma – and I have to say that it did turn out rather well. I think it was the extra Garlic and ginger paste that cinched it!)

Here’s the recipe (Serves 4) – and even this is not to a ‘professional cookbook’ standard…I just made it up as I went along!

1 Sweet Potato

1 medium Courgette

2 medium Red Onions

1 Green Sweet Pepper

6 cubes frozen Spinach

3 tbsp Red lentils

1 tin full fat Coconut milk

1 tbsp Sunflower oil

2 tbsp Korma paste

2 tsp garlic and ginger paste


Pre-heat oven to 200C.

Peel and cube sweet potato

Peel and chunky-cut onions

Chunky cut courgette (I do not peel)

Cut pepper in half, remove seeds, chunky-cut.

Open the tin of coconut milk without shaking. Pour off the coconut water from the separated coconut cream on the surface. Reserve the water for later.

Fry  the courgette, onion, pepper and sweet potato for 10 minutes. After five minutes, add the Korma paste and extra garlic and ginger paste, stirring constantly.

Add the coconut cream – allow to melt in, then add HALF the reserved coconut water.

Bring to a simmer. Cover and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, stir in the lentils, place the frozen spinach cubes on top of the other ingredients. Re-cover and bake for another 30 minutes.

Slightly fork in the spinach before taking to table.

While the Korma is cooking, cooking, brush 4 Naan bread with Olive, sunflower or other flavoured oil. (Butter can be used, but meal will not then be vegan). Bake on bottom shelf of oven for last 5 minutes

I served this dish with Samosas, but Basmati rice is a good alternative.


With thanks to Roz Cawley, who writes a blog here:

The (ill-)health of our poor planet

To my huge distress, I have been noticing the lack of house martins and swallows this year. Last year, I saw my first on the Isle of Iona, on 28th March. Iona is more than 600 miles north of where I live, in gentle temperate surroundings, where now, end of the first week in May, I have seen, in the immediate locality, just three swallows where normally I’d expect to see around 15 or 16. I still haven’t seen a single house martin, and they normally arrive earlier.

I tell myself the hirundines are all just late; but we know there’s drought and insect loss (and pesticides) affecting watering holes and feeding places in mainland Europe, Spain and France, on their long journey from Africa.

I’m heartbroken at this.

We really can’t keep ignoring species loss – as big a problem for the rest of the natural world as climate change – and of course the two are inexorably linked.

And although it’s way past time we focused only on our human needs – it’s anthropocentrism that’s caused all this in the first place, in my view, and my own focus now is on shifting to an ecocentric approach in my life and my work – there is still the truth that we actually depend on everything else in the ecosystem, from pollinating insects to trees, and everything in the earth and water zones between or adjoining. We live in an utterly interconnected and interdependent web of being.
Today, May 7th 2019, The Guardian’s leading articles, based on the very recent UN’s Global Assessment Report (‘…the most thorough planetary health check ever undertaken’) are sobering, if not ‘new’ news.
Decline in global biomass of wild mammals is 82% in fewer than 50 years (or at least, that’s my understanding from the graph).
In terms of our diet, there has been change, driven by young people mainly, over the last few years: it’s much more mainstream now to eat a vegan diet; but a great many people still don’t want to look at this problem, and its effects:
Meat & dairy production accounts for 83% of farmland; 58% of greenhouse gas emissions; 57% of water pollution; 56% of air pollution; 33% of freshwater extraction; and ironically provides only 35% of our protein (2nd-hand at that, so to speak), and 18% of our calories.

The Vegan Cook & Gardener (book)

piers vegan book cover

Hooray! Here’s the new book I was just embarking on writing – but Piers Warren and his daughter Ella Bee Glendining got there first. And I’m delighted – plus there’s probably always room for more.

This one’s had entirely positive reviews. Here’s some blurb for you:

The Vegan Cook & Gardener: Growing, Storing and Cooking Delicious Healthy Food all Year Round

Piers Warren and Ella Bee Glendining

Do you want to eat more healthily? Lower your carbon footprint? Banish animal exploitation and suffering? Then this book is for you!

Vegan father and daughter team Piers Warren and Ella Bee Glendining show
you what fruit and vegetables you can grow at home, how to turn them into satisfying and delicious recipes and how to store any excess to keep you going all year round. The combination of growing your own organic food and a vegan lifestyle makes the perfect path for those wishing to live more lightly on the earth.

Join the fight against food miles, agrochemicals and climate change, and discover the pleasure and huge sense of satisfaction that comes from cooking something you have produced yourself. Learn about vegan gardening, self-sufficiency, year round growing techniques and seasonal recipes, plus lots of vegan resources!

The title of this lovely book really says it all: but what it cannot convey is the sheer joy of learning so much about the beautiful vegan cuisine available to us, and how easy it is to make sensational dishes which will delight everyone eager to eat well and healthily. At once scholarly and entertaining, it is gloriously illustrated and the recipes are easy-peasy to follow. It’s for everyone who wants the world to be a better place for animals, for plants and for us. Delicious in every way.
Joanna Lumley

If you have a small plot, this is for you, if you have a balcony, this is for you, if you have a window box, this is for you, and if all you have is hope, this is for you. This book works at all levels, and it has compassion and love on every page. Piers and Ella have created a very special book that is informative, and demystifies the art of being vegan and growing vegan. Their knowledge is vast, and the journey they take the reader on, from the soil to the plate, and to the kitchen, through the year, is original and insightful. That said, there is something else I get from these pages, and that is an overwhelming feeling that they both really care. After reading this brilliant book something strange came over me, I just wanted to eat it. It’s that good.
Benjamin Zephaniah
poet, writer and musician

Piers Warren and Ella Bee Glendining are a father and daughter team who are both experienced vegan cooks.

Piers is a conservationist, author and keen grower of organic fruit and vegetables. He is the founder and Principal of ‘Wildeye – The International School of Wildlife Film-making’ and has written a dozen books, including bestseller How to Store Your Garden Produce. He has a long interest in self-sufficiency and permaculture and is convinced that growing your own food and following a vegan lifestyle are important contributions to lowering your carbon footprint and living more lightly on the Earth.

Ella Bee is a passionate advocate of animal rights, having been vegetarian since the age of five and making the transition to veganism several years ago. She’s spent much time since experimenting with different ingredients and developing delicious new recipes. Ella is also a film-maker and physical theatre performer.

The Vegan Cook & Gardener: Growing, Storing and Cooking Delicious Healthy Food all Year Round. The publishers are currently offering 10% off with free delivery (UK):

buckwheat pancakes with a (part-foraged) summer filling

In Brittany, where I spend a lot of my writing time, the speciality is krampouez, or galettes de blé noir, which is buckwheat crêpes. I love these, and they are so easy to make.

Buckwheat is not a grain but the seed of a plant in the sorrel/rhubarb family, so it’s gluten-free too.

It’s very satisfying to gather one’s own fresh organic vegetables and cook them just minutes later. It’s equally satisfying to forage for wild food.

I’ve done a lot of foraging over my adult life (long before it became trendy!), from the hedgerow foods and the dye-plants I’d gather, baby daughter slung on my chest, on the North Devon coasts and in the woods in my early incarnation as spinner, dyer, knitwear designer and knitter, to the autumn-turning-winter we spent in a campervan on the coast in Les Landes, southwest France, where we lived on chestnuts, berries and mushrooms, with shellfish for the non-vegetarians (my ex-, now late, husband and my toddler daughter).

Because it’s foraging season, in this recipe I used fat hen (chenopodium album; photo above) and wild sheep’s sorrel in the filling in mine. The fat hen was self-seeded in my squash and courgette bed (it likes disturbed ground and is common on eg waste areas), and I’ve deliberately left it to grow as the pigeons have taken all our chard, and this is a good chard or spinach substitute. (I think it’s ‘lambs’ quarters’ in America.) Fat hen is highly nutritious, and is also a dye plant. You can use spear-leaved orache as well; this is atriplex rather than chenopodium, but is the same family. (Worth buying a really good photographic guide for identification; I use Roger Phillips Wild Flowers of Britain book.) Obviously you can use spinach or chard instead.

An equally good substitute would be rock or marsh samphire; also plentiful this time of year in certain places, usually near the coast.

If you include a few leaves of foraged sheep’s sorrel, do be sure not to mistake one of the wild arums, like cuckoo pint (‘lords and ladies’) for sorrel – get a good ID.

Since they’ve gone nuts, I have to include courgettes from our abundance of them (and oh! those beautiful yellow flowers that the bees love! – See below.)

But vary the filling as you like – it’s good with creamy mushrooms, ratatouille, mashed avocado with seasalt, tabasco and finely-chopped nuts and yeast flakes, or garlic-sautéed courgettes with onions – and any number of other fillings.

For the galettes for two people (two small ones each):
4 heaped tablespoons buckwheat flour
8-12 tablespoons water, added gradually and beaten well
half-teaspoon salt
half-teaspoon+ of any, or combinations of, tagine spices, turmeric, cumin seed, mustard seed

For the filling:
A big handful of spinach or chard, washed, destalked, torn up – OR fat hen/orache/samphire, plus sorrel
2 courgettes, sliced
bunch parsley, finely chopped
3 or 4 leaves mint, finely chopped
clove garlic, finely chopped
grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
a little olive oil
juice of half a lemon
(Coyo coconut yogurt if you want to use it)

First make your pancake mix. I make mine fairly thick as they’re less likely to stick, and I use a small cast iron frying pan (about 8 inches bottom diameter in old money).

Sauté the courgettes in a dash of oil on a low heat until soft. Throw in spinach, chard, or fat hen, garlic, and herbs. Lid the pan and let it all wilt gently. Add the other ingredients, turn heat right down.

The secret to a successful pancake is a) proportions (roughly twice as much water as flour, or a little more than that), and b) the pan. Smear a heavy-bottomed pan with a very little oil and heat till smoking. Test it with a drop of the mix. If it sizzles, it’s ready. Pour a ladleful of the mix in, and immediately tilt the pan so it covers the bottom. After about a minute, turn the heat down slightly. Let it cook (but don’t burn it) for two or three minutes, until a knife slipped under the pancake will easily lift it. Then flip, and cook for another minute or two,

Hope you like it as much as I do. Let me know!

Butchery of the Planet

We can’t afford not to take this step.

A few years ago George Monbiot advocated veganism, then backtracked, but has over the last year or two consistently declared that if we want to save the planet, its other beings and ourselves, the ONLY way to do it is via a plant-based diet.

As someone who hasn’t eaten meat or fish since I was a teenager, and has been predominantly vegan for 5 or 6 years now, of course I’m in favour.

There are paths we can afford to take. There are paths we can’t afford to take. There are paths we can afford not to take, and there are paths we can’t afford not to take. This falls into that latter category.

Leaving on one side how we might feel about creating such enormous suffering for animals (my own initial reason for stopping eating them), we know that environmentally there is no choice now. Monbiot backs up his words with informed references.

I’d just raise two provisos in relation to his article below: yes, eating soya directly is a much more efficient way of using land, and of feeding ourselves protein. However, it’s worth sourcing soya that is a) not genetically modified, and b) relatively local (we can grow it here in Europe. AND if you are a post-menopausal woman, it might be worth limiting your intake as it can deactivate the thyroid if eaten in quantity. There are many beans that contain plenty of essential nutrients that we can grow in Britain, and freeze for winter. We grow pea beans, cobra, borlotti and broad beans (cobra can be frozen green; the others we shell and freeze).

The other thing I’d raise is that we need to be really certain that we don’t, collectively, use Monbiot’s words on the rearing of free range animals (more inefficient in terms of land use etc) to justify a further move to factory farming.

Now read on…

Defending the living world and its people requires a shift from meat to a plant-based diet By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th June 2018 Whether human beings survive …

Source: Butchery of the Planet

feeding the world

The thing is, it’s not just about animal welfare, though that is my great passion.

It’s also and very starkly about our species not starving to death in a world in which we may, experts say, have only 60 harvests left.

There are choice to be made. In addressing our food consumption, we benefit humans and animals, plus the climate and habitat too. Win/win.

And time is running out.

As always, George Monbiot gives us the picture: