Weaning Your Baby

Everyone wants the best for their child, especially when it comes to their diet. When you’re at the start of the weaning journey though, it can all seem like a minefield. What to do and when – and where to start? Annabel Karmel will advocate for purees, and the baby led weaners will insist that steamed carrot sticks are the way forward. Your friends will have differing opinions based entirely on what worked for them. Mumsnetters will tell you four thousand different things. As always though, you are the parent, you are in charge. So all you have to do is simply read the evidence, and then make decisions based on the evidence, and on what feels right for you and your baby.

WHEN?

The World Health Organisation states that ‘infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.’ (It is a sad truth that with regards to breastfeeding, the vast majority of women in our country are not supported nearly well enough; as a result only 1% of mothers are breastfeeding exclusively by 6 months despite this recommendation.)

Previous generations were told to start weaning their babies much earlier, before it was understood that an infant’s digestive system was too immature to cope with solids before six months of age. So beware the mother in law who suggests putting the Sunday roast in the blender for your four month old; stay strong and stick to your guns.

HOW?

The baby led weaning method may improve fine motor skills but the puree method may get a bit more food into your child. If you are out and about a lot the hand held foods may make life easier, or maybe you’ll prefer to pop a tub of mush in your buggy. But we are living in a world where many children starve to death every day – in the great scheme of things, how you feed your baby doesn’t really matter. You’ll probably end up doing a bit of both; some of those steamed carrots with some pureed parsnip as well, and the odd breadstick with some yoghurt spooned in afterwards.

‘Up until one, eating is just for fun’ – so spend these second six months of your angel’s life helping them to simply enjoy food. Milk is still the main part of their diet and so you needn’t worry too much about how much food they are getting. Babies aren’t daft – they get what they need. Your job is simply to expose them to as much delicious as you can. It’s messy – but fun! There is nothing like watching someone taste a strawberry for the first time. Bit like the first time they see the sea or snow. It’s a little bit of magic happening right there in your kitchen.

WHAT?

And now for the controversial part. This will not make comfortable reading for most. I became a vegan nine months ago after discovering that the meat, dairy and fishing industries are destroying our planet faster than any of us can even begin to comprehend. (If we continue to demand meat, dairy and fish at the rates we are currently devouring it, we will need TWO PLANET EARTHS by the year 2030.) I also learnt more about the desperate cruelty of the industries, and also the very real dangers of eating animals and their secretions, and decided to cut all animal products out. (You can read about our journey into veganism here.)

Extensive research that has been conducted over the past fifty years confirms that the healthy consumption of flesh is an oxymoron. (An example can be found here, but note that of the iceberg, this is only the tip.) We are not designed to eat meat, and when we do our bodies pay the price. Dairy too, an infant food not even intended for human consumption, is hugely detrimental to health. There are 51,000 species of mammal on planet earth and we are the only one who consumes the breastmilk of another. Over 70% of the population are intolerant to dairy, (it is designed to grow baby calves, not humans), and research proves that the number one cause of colic is intolerance to cow’s milk proteins in the diet of the breastfeeding mother or in formula. Dairy is full of casein, the biggest cancer promoter ever discovered, and growth hormones which clog pores and cause acne and eczema. The calcium in milk is poorly absorbed compared to plant based calcium, and addictive dairy products such as cheese are packed with saturated fat and cholesterol which increase the risk of heart disease. The idea that you need dairy to get calcium is a lie sold to you by the dairy industry – calcium is a mineral found in the ground. Calcium, not cowcium. Fish is bad for us too. It contains no fibre or vital phytonutrients, too much mercury and too few omega-3s. It is also contaminated by all sorts of nasties, and damages our bodies nearly as much as overfishing damages our oceans. Scientists estimate that by 2050 the human population will be immune to antibiotics. A threat greater than that of Ebola or even cancer. Why? Because 70% of all antibiotics produced are given to livestock.

I had none of this information when I was weaning my babies. I worked from the healthy eating pyramid that is practically tattooed onto all of our minds, so familiar is it to us all. I fed my babies vegetables, fruit, dairy, meat, and fish. It was fun and messy and exciting, and not for one second did I consider that what I was feeding them was in any way unhealthy. I worried about sugar obviously, and tried (and still try) to keep them away from processed foods, but serving up chicken casserole, roast beef, toad in the hole and fish pie gave me a great sense of satisfaction. I fed them the diet I had grown up on and was very pleased when they ate it all up.

Now I know what I know I wish I could go back in time and do it all again very differently. Eating behaviours are learned through very early experiences with food and eating, and I regret feeding them the addictive foods I fed them in their infancy. Today nearly a third (31%) of children aged 2–15 are overweight or obese – a figure that could be significantly lowered if more parents knew the damage that meat and dairy (and sugar of course) cause. I don’t feel guilty – we can only do our best from our own level of awareness and I simply didn’t know any better, but I’m angry that I was so unaware. There are reasons why all this research has been hidden from us for years, and they all stem from corporate greed. (The pyramid above was designed by the dairy industry itself.) My children are now fully and very happily vegan but the transition was hard for them because they were addicted to meat and dairy – as are 99% of the population in the West.

I hope that if you’re reading this as you venture into weaning, it may help you and benefit your child. If this information is new, you may well be feeling very shocked, maybe angry, probably extremely doubtful of the truth of it, so strongly is food culture ingrained in us all. I understand that, but urge you to seek out the information for yourself, digest it, and then make an informed decision for yourself as well as for your child. It could change your life and the future of your whole family. Being vegan is easy, delicious and really exciting – message me if you want to find out more!

Further Reading:

Articles:

http://www.firststepsnutrition.org/pdfs/Eating_well_for_veg_infants_for_web.pdf .

https://www.wri.org/sites/default/files/wri13_report_4c_wrr_online.pdf

https://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/flexitarianism-environmentally-friendly-diet-47222.pdf

Books:

‘Comfortably Unaware’ by Richard Oppenhanger

‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer

‘Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows’ by Melanie Joy

Documentaries (all on Netflix):

‘What The Health’

‘The Kids Menu’

‘Forks Over Knives’

‘Cowspiracy’

‘Food Choices’

‘Vegucated’

Vidoes and Speeches:

 

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ONE WEEK EASY PEASY VEGAN MEAL PLAN

Many people have told me that they want to try being vegan but they just don’t know where to start. It can feel like way too much of a commitment and if you’re not someone who enjoys cooking, a massive ball ache. Of course you can be a vegan who lives on chips and skittles – you’ll be dramatically reducing your carbon footprint and saving animals’ lives – but you won’t feel the amazing health benefits. The truth is that you do have to put a bit more effort in – because you’re cooking from scratch – but it’s totally worth it because this is your body and your health we’re talking about. It really doesn’t have to be tricky though, and I can prove it. I’ve written up the EASIEST and YUMMIEST (not to mention most nutritionally valuable) vegan recipes for you, and compiled them into a menu for one week. I’ve given you seven breakfasts, seven lunches and seven dinners so you can mix and match. So why not have a read, buy what you need, cook it up and eat this way for one week only.  Then see how you feel; physically, emotionally, and in your soul, and go from there. Just one week!! Go on……………….


Easy Vegan Breakfast Options:

  • Porridge made with plant milk (almond, oat, soy or rice – find your favourite).
  • Toast with dairy free spread and marmalade, jam, or peanut butter.
  • Cereal e.g. cornflakes or muesli served with ice cold plant milk – check the labels as some contain milk – WTF. (Label checking is actually a very important life skill. Get into the habit of looking at the ingredients list on everything you buy because it makes you realise all the crap that goes into processed foods. If you don’t recognise the ingredient, it isn’t good for you!)
  • Massive smoothie – chuck in whatever you have lying around e.g. bananas, apples, celery, spinach etc, and then add oat milk or orange juice and some oats to thicken it up. You do not need me to tell you how much your body will thank you for this.
  • Avocado on toast.
  • Beans on toast.  Protein for breakfast! (Or lunch, or tea.)
  • Vegan Fry Up = Vegetarian sausages, fried mushrooms, fried tomatoes, baked beans, spinach, hash browns and toast with dairy free spread served with fresh fruit. LUSH. (We have tried all on the sausages on the market and Linda McCartney sausages are the bollocks.)

Easy Vegan Lunch Options:

  • Pasta with dairy free pesto (available in all large supermarkets). Mix in spinach and add basil, chopped tomatoes and pine nuts for extra nutrients and yumminess. (This is also perfect as a kid’s tea served with plenty of chopped carrots, sugar snap peas, celery and hummus for dipping.)
  • Falafel is a great friend at lunchtime. Eat with a leafy salad (because IRON), sprinkled with sunflower seeds, pine nuts and superfood chia seeds. Or all three. Make your own dressing in seconds using olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, and a teeny bit of golden syrup.
  • Sandwiches or wraps (or a jacket potato if you’re really hungry) filled with any (or all) of the following; vegan sliced cheese (Violife is good), tomatoes, avocado, hummus, guacamole, pesto, beans, beetroot, grated carrot, cucumber, lettuce etc. The options are endless – you DON’T need cheese!
  • Put some chick peas, chopped red onion, apple and celery into a food processor with some vegan mayo (‘Follow Your Heart’ does a great one called ‘Vegenaise’), season with salt and pepper, and shove into a pitta pocket with some fresh tomatoes. You can also add pesto to this if you fancy it. Delish.
  • Cous-cous – buy it already made with roasted veg or make your own. Eat with a leafy salad (because CALCIUM).
  • Make a bean salad  (because PROTEIN), by mixing together a chopped red pepper, a chopped avocado, some sweetcorn, a tin of black beans, and dress with lime juice, maple syrup, and a pinch of cumin. Serve with crusty bread dipped in garlic infused olive oil. MMMMmmmmmm.
  • Sunday Roast – If you don’t fancy making a vegan roast lunch you can easily buy one and then serve it with all the trimmings. You can even make vegan yorkshire puds if you can be arsed.

Easy Vegan Dinner Options:

  • Vegan shepherds pie. OMG you guys, this is SO tasty. Worth the chopping I swear on my whole life. Boil some potatoes and then mash them using dairy free spread and some plant milk. Season with salt and pepper. Then just chop an onion, a stick of celery, and three or four carrots and saute in some rapeseed oil (which contains the lowest saturated fat of any oil and has 10 times more omega 3 than olive oil). Then add a tin of sweetcorn, and a couple of tablespoons of tomato puree or ketchup and mix it in. Make up a mugful of veggie stock (using a stock cube or builion), and slowly stir it into the mixture. (You can thicken with a bit of flour if you want to.) Lastly add a teaspoon of thyme and another of sage, and then season with salt and pepper. You can also add a dollop of maple syrup if you want. (YUM.) Simmer until the veg are soft, and then cover it all with the mashed potato and bake until bubbling. YOUR FAMILY WILL GO WILD FOR THIS TEA!
  • Cauliflower and potato currySo easy! And so good! Just saute an onion, and then grate in some fresh ginger, three chopped garlic cloves, a teaspoon of cumin, another of curry powder and a pinch of tumeric. A minute later, add a can of chopped tomatoes, and a teaspoon of sugar.  Break a whole cauliflower into florets and add them all, along with two potatoes (peeled and cut into chunks). Simmer for 30 mins, stirring occasionally and adding a drop of water if needed. Serve with toasted pitta bread and a green salad. 
  • Anna Jones’ Tomato and Coconut Cassoulet is one of my favourite dinners EVER. I literally dream about it at night. You can find the recipe here. You’re welcome.
  • Veggie burgers are super easy and most are really delicious. Pull them out of the freezer and serve with whatever you like to serve burgers with. You can also make dirty hot dogs by putting Linda’s veggie sausages in hot dog buns and lacing them with fried onions, ketchup, vegan mayo, and American mustard. Heaven! Don’t forget the corn on the cob!
  • Dhal curry. Packed with protein and absolutely delicious. This recipe has become a firm favourite in our house. Yes you have to concentrate when you make it for the first time but after that you’ll be able to do it in your sleep. And everyone will become your best friend because dhal is the freaking BEST. (Mix in some spinach before serving it with brown rice.)
  • Sloppy Joes are the nuts. Saute a red onion and a couple of chopped garlic cloves in some rapeseed oil until soft. Add a chopped red pepper, and two cans of chickpeas and continue to saute. Then add a can of tomatoes, two tablespoons of tomato puree, a tablespoon of maple syrup,  and a teaspoon each of oregano, cumin, paprika, thyme and some salt and pepper. (All this stuff should already be in your spice rack because you are a grown up.) Simmer for ten minutes and then serve in burger buns with a leafy salad. Perfect.  OR, just fry a chopped red onion, add a can of chick peas, some ready-cooked lentils and a tin of sweetcorn as a taco filling.   (The tacos kits you can buy come with seasoning and salsa as well as the tacos.) Supper in SECONDS. 
  • Stir Fries are super because you can just chop up and fry any veggies you have in the fridge, and then toss in some egg-less noodles or serve them with rice. For an easy sauce just mix some soy sauce with garlic, ginger, lime and a pinch of brown sugar to taste. 
  • If you come to the end of the week and can’t face cooking – give yourself a break! You’ve cooked all week long! WELL DONE!!! How about a take away tonight? Order yourself a delicious curry (most curry houses have loads of vegan options) or get yourself a vegan pizza. You deserve it. (Incidentally www.allplants.com will deliver a selection of incredible and reasonably priced plant based meals straight to your freezer and it doesn’t get easier than that.)


Vegan Snacks, puddings and treats:

Being vegan doesn’t mean you have to miss out. You can veganise literally ANYTHING. Fancy an apple crumble? Just use oil instead of butter for the topping. Want a cake? Vegan bakers reach for the oil, use a little extra baking powder, and rely on apple sauce, bananas, or flaxseed instead of eggs. Supermarkets now stock a wide variety of dairy free chocolate and there are a whole world of vegan yoghurts and ice creams out there too – many of which are really bloody amazing, and many sweets and biscuits are accidentally vegan as well. But bear in mind that half the fun of going vegan is all the shopping you have to do when you’re suddenly so slim that none of your clothes fit anymore, and so you don’t want to screw that up by eating shit in between meals. If your main motivation for veganism is weight loss – try not to snack. The recipes above should fill you up beautifully so you shouldn’t feel hungry until the next meal time, but if you do, get into the habit of reaching for a carrot instead of a biscuit.


Eating Out:

Don’t freak out when you eat out. There are more and more vegan options popping up on menus every day, but if you can’t see one just ask the kitchen to make you something vegan and delicious please. And they will.


 

Ok so that’s it. Just check you have the ingredients – and go for it!!! I would LOVE to hear how you get on. Message me! Huge love. X

Vegan, but WHY?

Oh no. A blogpost on veganism. I know I know I know –  you’re regretting clicking on it, and you want to stop reading right here. I understand that. But please, please, read on. The following comes from a place of love, and I promise you that you will not regret it in the end.

It’s coming up to my six month ‘Veganversary’. (Stay with me guys.) This weekend I will have been a vegan for six months. Since it’s been quite a ride, I’ve written about how my family and I have done it here, but before we get onto that – let’s talk about WHY. Because why would you, right? Surely it’s a crippling sacrifice and a daily torture – because ….. BACON! And CHEESE!! Right? Well, actually, no.

Eighteen months ago my husband and I watched a documentary which smashed my mind and heart wide open. I learned things that I had no idea about until that night. They upset and frightened me so much that I spent most of the next day trying to find evidence against what I had seen. Trying to reassure myself that it wasn’t true. There has been controversy over the film because the way that all agriculture affects the environment is complex, but it was just the start of our discoveries. The tip of the enormous iceberg. And now, after a year and a half of reading everything I can find on both sides of the argument, I have found fairly conclusive evidence to back up the following (and many more) statistics:

  • Animal agriculture is responsible for more worldwide greenhouse gas emissions than all modes of transportation combined.
  • Methane is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 and has a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2.
  • 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef, 477 gallons of water are required to produce 1lb. of eggs, almost 900 gallons of water are needed for 1lb. of cheese and 1,000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk. (Fresh drinking water is not infinite, or renewable in our lifetime – read ‘Comfortably Unaware’ by Dr. R. Oppenlander.)
  • Livestock (if we are happy to call things that are alive ‘stock’), take up 45% of the earth’s land (with more and more forests being destroyed every day to make room for cattle), and animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean ‘dead zones’, water pollution and habitat destruction.
  • We are losing species at a catastrophic rate (the number of wild animals on earth has halved in the past 40 years), and filling our oceans with plastic as we plough through the natural world to satisfy our seemingly unsaitiable western appetites.

(Above stats are taken from the WWF Living Planet Index)

These stats lead us nicely onto the first reason for going vegan:

Reason 1:  FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Obviously we need major changes in energy, transport AND food production to create affordable, climate-friendly alternatives for all. As individuals we can hold onto the hope that our political vote will make a tangible difference. We can try and eat foods that are in season. We can minimalise. We can drive and fly less. We can stop buying cheap clothing and indulging in ‘fast fashion’. But the truth is that these are very tiny drops in a deep and dying ocean. Changing our diet is by far the easiest and most effective way to make a (thrice!) daily difference as an individual. What we choose to eat massively affects the planet. For the sake of our children’s futures, we have to take responsibility – and we have to do it now.

Like global warming, the plight of our oceans is an issue that affects every country in the world. The seas can no longer absorb the damage inflicted by the 7 billion people on earth. Over many decades, the human race has overfished key species to near extinction, and polluted them with carbon dioxide emissions, toxic chemicals, and discarded plastics. Coral reefs, home to a quarter of the ocean’s fish, have declined by 40 percent worldwide. Stocks of swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and other large fish that people avidly eat are down by 90 percent. Since fishing became industrialized just over a century ago, most commercial species have been reduced by more than 75%, and some by 99%. As stocks dwindle, fishing fleets are increasingly resorting to “bottom trawling,” a hugely destructive technique that involves dragging a large net up to 60 meters wide along the seabed, scooping up everything in its path. And as well as all this, our oceans contain an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic. Marine scientists say that if we do not dramatically change how we treat the oceans and their inhabitants, many marine species will become extinct — with catastrophic consequences for the food chain. The solution? What about considering sea ‘food’ as sea life, instead?

Now no one likes a preachy vegan, but a survey by the Royal Institute of International Affairs found that people are not unwilling to change diets once they become aware of the problem of animal agriculture, but that many have no idea that it is harming the planet. So it would appear that education is key. Hence the necessity of spreading the word …………. And so onto reason 2:

Reason 2: BECAUSE IT’S KINDER

All animals share our human desire to live. And I feel absolutely confident that if you knew how animals are killed in order to become your food, you would re-think your diet.

Veganism is not new. For thousands of years, great minds have advocated the plant based diet. But people disagree, and probably always will, on the morality of eating animals. Some believe that God put animals on the earth as food for humans. Others say taking the life of another living thing for culinary pleasure is wrong. Some people say that to live you have to take life and that eating meat is a natural thing. Others say they could never kill an animal and so they shouldn’t eat meat. Some people have no emotions on the subject whatsoever.

Whatever you believe about the morals of eating animals, there are other ethical issues that need consideration. Take a look at the dairy industry. Apart from the dire environmental impacts of crops that are fed to dairy cows, it is hideously cruel. In any species of mammal, milk is only produced after a pregnancy. If we want cow’s milk, the cows will have to have babies in order to produce it for us. So cows are repeatedly inseminated and forced to give birth to to calves who are then torn away from them within a day of birth, so that the milk intended for their calf, can be sold for human consumption. They simply cannot allow the calf to consume his own milk because it would cost the farmer too much. Removing the calf is the only way that dairy farms can make any money.  Separating mother and baby, causes huge distress to them both. Male calves are usually a waste product, (although some are reared for burger meat, the current estimates are that 100,000 to 150,000 bull calves are shot within hours of birth in the UK), and female calves (reared on commercial milk replacers), will join the diary herd in order to replace their worn out mothers. A cow’s natural lifespan is 25 years long. But a typical dairy cow only lives until the age of 5.

I feel furious with myself for not even thinking about this for the first 36 years of my life but like most people, I was conditioned not to. Completely removed from all the processes animals go through to become food on our plate, we simply just don’t think about it. But if you do stop and think about it you’ll realise that it’s a feminist issue. It’s motherhood. Eating animals is one thing but using them in this way is worse if you think about it. One is ‘just’ murder. The other is rape, kidnap and then murder. Sounds dramatic – but that’s because it is. You can’t make this pretty. I have contacted many, many dairy farms and so far only two have answered my questions. Initially defensive and scared to talk to me, they both eventually told me that yes, babies are removed from their mothers within 24 hours. They said the quicker the better, as allowing the mother and baby to bond only delays the distress.  images-27.jpeg

Cows are incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and sensitive animals

Many mother cows can be heard calling for their calves for days. Their distress is so acute that they often self harm if they are physically able to. They grieve, just as we would if someone stole our brand new babies. Do we have a right to cause this suffering? Why do we love and care for dogs and cats, and eat cows and sheep and pigs and chickens? Who decided which animals were worthy of love and life, and which deserved neither? Something to ponder on as we walk our adored dogs and stroke our treasured cats. The truth is that we have been conditioned since birth to think that eating certain animals is normal, natural and necessary, when in fact it is exactly the opposite. Our brains are shut off – we do not think rationally about this. You can learn WHY your mind thinks eating animals is so normal HERE.

Another ethical consideration is the egg industry. Once hatched, female chicks are sent to farms where they are forced to grow at such a speed that their bones cannot hold their weight. Male chickens cannot grow as fast as females and are therefore a waste product. These chicks are suffocated or ground up alive in macerator blades in the hatcheries.  Most chickens lead horrible lives and are treated very badly. Their beaks are cut off to prevent them pecking each other, and they live in cramped cages, squashed up together in their own excrement. I have phoned many ‘free range‘ farms over the last few months to ask them about the industry. They confessed that whilst their chickens live in better conditions, they only receive female chicks to rear. They confirmed that all I have read about the fate of all male chicks is true. So spending more on organic and free range eggs doesn’t absolve anyone – buying these eggs supports an industry that grinds up live baby chicks, simply because they are not profitable. And as for free range farming itself, it may be kinder to the animals – but it is much more damaging to the living world. 

Animals are used and abused for human enjoyment every single day. Being a vegan means considering what you put on, as well as what you put in your body. The use of animals, who have no choice in the matter, is a form of exploitation. If we care, we should avoid, to all extents possible, all forms of that exploitation. Be it products tested on animals, or leathers and feathers, everything should be considered before it is purchased. Vegans aren’t always necessarily big animal lovers. They just want to do the right thing.

You may feel rather removed from these environmental and ethical issues. Everyone is different. So maybe rather than argue about the rights and wrongs of eating meat and dairy, perhaps it would be better if we asked the question of whether or not we are supposed to?

We are not carnivores. As a fellow vegan wisely asked online recently, if you put a baby rabbit and an apple in a cot with a baby – what would happen? The baby would play with the bunny and eat the apple. If you put a baby rabbit and an apple in front of a lion cub what would happen? Something very different. You do not leap on a squirrel when you see one in a fierce desire to kill and devour it.  When you spot a deer you are in awe of it, not dreaming of attacking it  (as a true carnivore would). We are not born with the desire to eat animals. (Obvious if you think about it.) By the time an animal has been killed, cleaned, chopped up, packaged and presented on the supermarket shelves we are so hugely removed from where it came from that we don’t even think about it. Eating meat is so ingrained in our culture that we never question it. We pass the habit, culture and tradition of eating animals onto the next generation, and so it continues. And the undeniable and very sad truth is that it is making us sick. Which brings us onto reason 3:

Reason 3: FOR YOUR HEALTH

More people than ever before have heart disease, breast cancer cases have increased 80 per cent since 1970, diabetes has reached epidemic proportions and one in four children are overweight or obese. (These are all diseases that carnivorous animals do not suffer from.) The Western diet, full of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein, is killing us.

Meat: Animals are eaten out of habit, tradition and culture. We don’t need to eat flesh, and in fact it is really bad for our bodies. Like other herbivores we have long intestines which are designed to digest plants. Meat stays in our lengthy guts for a long time and causes damage. (True carnivores however have much shorter intestines and they don’t chew like we do, they swallow their food whole, relying on their extremely acidic stomach juices to break down flesh and kill the dangerous bacteria in meat that would otherwise sicken or kill them. Our stomach acids are much weaker in comparison because strong acids aren’t needed to digest pre-chewed fruits and vegetables.) Apart from the fact that when you eat meat you are consuming all the antibiotics farmers use to prevent disease as well as all the adrenaline and cortisol that floods an animal’s flesh just before it dies, meat and dairy seriously harms us. We would never eat human flesh that had been dead for four weeks, yet four week old dead flesh is exactly what we are eating every time we order a burger. Animal welfare aside – meat and dairy is seriously bad news for our health.

Diary: There are 51,000 mammals on the planet and we are the ONLY mammal that drinks the secretions of another mammal. Think on that. Milk is bad for us because it is designed to grow and bulk up calves, not humans. It’s no wonder dairy makes us fat! Plus, we are not very well equipped to digest it (in fact over 70% of the worlds population cannot tolerate it at all. The majority of mammals, including humans, naturally stop producing significant amounts of lactase — the enzyme needed to properly metabolize the sugar in milk – after they have been weaned. Why? Because milk is an infant food!) Apart from being very unfair to the calf who the milk was intended for, it’s very weird of us to drink a cow’s breastmilk if you think about it. Some more facts for you: one 8oz glass of whole milk has the same amount of saturated fats as four pieces of bacon. Overwhelming evidence has shown that cheese, ice cream, yoghurt – Greek yogurt included – is full of harmful animal protein which promotes tumors and cancers, especially ovarian and prostate cancer. We have all been lied to. Far from boosting our calcium intake, this type of animal protein actually leeches calcium from our bones, and is harsh on our kidneys and livers. Dairy is responsible for many respiratory issues too, and since our skin absorbs all that we eat, it can be badly affected as well. Ditching the dairy means better breathing, clearer skin, and countless other health benefits.

What about eggs though? Essentially chicken periods, eggs contain all the necessary fats and cholesterol to grow and sustain a baby chick for 21 days with no outside energy source. Eating an egg a day is as bad as smoking five cigarettes a day in terms of life expectancy. (This is not new research, it has simply been kept from us by profit driven food industries. Watch ‘What The Health’ on Netflix.)

Fish: it isn’t quite as healthy as we’ve been led to believe either. Aside from the environmental concerns, the evidence on the health risks that come with eating fish is impossible to ignore. Fish contains saturated fats and cholesterol, and a large percentage contain highly toxic, cancer-causing chemicals. They provide no antioxidants, fibre or phytonutrients. All the necessary omega-3 and 6 (that you are probably at this very moment thinking about) can be found in plants such as soy, walnuts, flaxseed, seeds, beans, leafy greens, cabbage and berries, and seaweed – which is where the fish got it from in the first place.

Plants have it all. Plants contain all that we need and more, including calcium, iron, and ALL the necessary proteins. Humans have no known anatomical, physiological or genetic adaptations to meat or dairy consumption. The opposite is true – we have many adaptations to plant consumption. Take vitamin C – this is made in plants. Carnivores don’t eat plants so they are able to make vitamin C themselves. We don’t make it ourselves because we are not natural born carnivores. We need to get it from plants.

The next bit is so important that it justifies bullet points:

  • Our dental arrangements are the same as herbivores like cows and horses and monkeys. Like theirs, our jaws move up and down AND side to side for chewing.
  • We don’t have the specialist teeth that true carnivores have to shred meat. Because we are not true carnivores.
  • We have no means of catching animals either – like all herbivores, our hands were designed to pick fruits and vegetables, not to kill.

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But haven’t we always eaten meat? Well yes, cavemen did eat meat, but not domesticated vegetarian animals like cows and sheep and pigs. They would’ve eaten smaller animals (that they would kill themselves – if you’re going to eat it, shouldn’t you be the one to kill it?), and consumed all the bones and marrow and organs – and only in places where plants weren’t readily available. Recent studies have been able to analyse the actual plaque on fossilised paleo diets and have found an abundance of plant remains inside the dentistry of ancient peoples. There is a wealth of information from the experts if you want to find out more. Just Google ‘Veganism, TED talks.’

What about B12? Vegans are often advised to take a vitamin B12 supplement. We need vitamin B12 to make nerves and red blood cells. It also helps us obtain energy from our food. It’s often said that animals are the only source of B12 in food, and strictly speaking (excluding unfortified food) that’s true. But B12 is actually produced by bacteria that live in the soil, and animals get their B12 by eating food (plants) that has these bacteria on it. B12 is then taken up into their flesh (or milk). But we don’t have to eat animals to get B12; we can cut out the middle man, and get it from the same place that animals do – plants. The animals humans eat are vegetarians. Think on that a while.

But why don’t vegans eat honey? There is a common misconception that honeybees make their honey especially for us – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Honey (essentially bee vomit), is the honey bees’ single source of food, and fundamental to the hive’s wellbeing. When farmers remove honey from a hive, they replace it with a sugar substitute which is significantly worse for the bees’ health since it lacks the essential nutrients, fats and vitamins of honey. The vast majority of the honey industry is profit-driven so the welfare of the bees is always secondary to commercial gain. Buying organic may mean less harmful chemicals but it doesn’t protect the bees because organic or not, they are specifically bred to increase productivity. Already endangered, this selective breeding process narrows the population gene pool and increases susceptibility to disease which then spreads to the thousands of other pollinators that we and other animals rely on. As we know, without bees humans would be wiped out because agriculture as we know it would collapse. And bees are now dying at an economically unsustainable rate.  But here’s the GOOD news; unlike bees, humans can thrive without honey in their diets.  Luckily, there are LOADS of yummy alternatives like date syrup, maple syrup, molasses, butterscotch syrup, golden syrup, and agave nectar. All completely plant based and absolutely delicious.

We need change. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. The entire food industry has changed beyond all recognition in the last few decades. Our population has trebled in the last century and factory farming and processed food has become the norm. These foods are often the cheapest option meaning that the health of the nation’s poorest suffers the most. Fifty years ago people got educated and learned that smoking was bad. We need to get educated now – about food.

Animal protein is THE most carcinogenic food we consume. It actually activates the cancer cells that exist in all of us. Only 5-10% of cancers are due to an inherited gene defect. In fact, “80-90% of cancers, heart disease and diabetes could be prevented by adopting a plant based diet.”  Colin Campbell, MD, author of The China Study

What about the famers? Everyone needs to make a living. But it is possible to do that without causing suffering. Reduction in the sale of dairy products will mean farmers will adapt and turn towards arable farming. Soy is being farmed for human consumption on a much larger scale now, and there is money in it. Just as there is money to be made in all areas of the sustainable production of ethical food and energy.  In this hugely overpopulated world of ours the biggest problems; war, famine, poverty, and the current refugee crisis are all caused primarily because of unfair distribution of resources. We have enough for everyone’s need – but not nearly enough to match our greed. The earth grows plenty of food every day which could feed all 7 billion of us, with leftovers – but we feed so much of it to animals (who we then eat), that millions die of starvation. (Look away from the screen and take five seconds to think about that. Insane, no?) Our greed is killing the world’s poorest. Poverty is man made and totally unnecessary, and we have the power to change things – because everything works on a supply and demand basis. If we demand plants and ethically produced goods instead of meat and dairy, then plants and ethical goods are what we will get. Like with all industries, the development and evolution of technology makes some jobs/sectors redundant, and so new roles emerge to replace them. It is a natural process that happens in all industries. Look at black cab drivers. Bus conductors. Supermarket cashiers. Photo developers. Typists. Blockbusters! They’re all virtually gone. It is a question of evolution and finding a product or service that is required by society. Rather than forging ahead in the face of diminishing demand. And it’s already happening. Food industries, catching onto the soaring increase in plant based diets, are producing more and more ‘vegan foods’.

But how can one person make a difference? Because – the ripple effect. Veganism is one of this country’s the fastest growing lifestyle movements in the UK. And globally, many celebrities and countless elite athletes are adopting plant based diets, from Samuel L Jackson and Ariana Grande to Serena & Venus Williams and Scott Jurek, the marathon legend. Taking action encourages others to do the same. And so it grows. The food industry is already changing to meet the demands of so many people who are turning to a plant based diet. So you see, your choices are important, and significant,  and they matter.  Plus it’s EASY  (I promise!) and getting easier every day! It is now possible to live a life that involves delicious food and drink, delivers significantly better health, leaves a MUCH smaller carbon footprint and avoids killing innocents – so why not consider living that life? Veganism is simply the kindest, most compassionate, and healthiest way to live. Sound WAY too tricky? Read about how we did it here.

May I end this post by thanking you for taking the time to read it.

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(And now have a listen to these guys:)

And now watch the following:

EARTHLINGS
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3d1MLRKYX8

COWSPIRACY: THE SUSTAINABILITY SECRET
www.cowspiracy.com (Or watch on Netflix)

And while you’re on Netflix, watch these:

VEGUCATED

FOOD INC

LIVE AND LET LIVE

FORKS OVER KNIVES

FOOD MATTERS

SUSTAINABLE

WHAT THE HEALTH

(Your life will change – beautifully.)

VEGAN: 2015
www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYzlfPdpAeY

Vegan, but HOW?

Seriously, HOW? My transition from being a meat-eating cheese lover to passionate vegan has sparked quite a varied response from those I know and love. Those who have been interested enough to learn more have asked me why, and then how I made the transition. I have felt so much love for those people who have been open and honest with me about their feelings on this subject because I know it’s not an easy thing for most people to discuss.

Most people are keen firstly to know the basics of WHY a person would go vegan; (for the environment, because of ethics, and to improve their health – you can read more about these reasons here), but there is zero point in talking about why, if you don’t follow up with how. Many people find just the thought of going vegan terribly overwhelming. Others view it as a middle class fad and imagine tiny portions of quinoa marinated smugly in gluten free soy sauce on a side of bok choi and kale, and imagine vegans slowly starving to death. But the truth is that not only is making the switch delicious, it’s simple, cheap, and easy too. But how?

A gradual process. Very few people can become vegan overnight, and we were no exception. The beginning of the journey that has lead us to where we are now started on an evening in November 2015 when we sat down to watch Cowspiracy. This led to a lot more reading and research and to  a change in our eating habits. We started by cutting out meat Monday to Friday. We decided on vegetarian dishes during the week, fish on Fridays or Saturdays, and then meat on a Sunday. I was careful to visit the butcher instead of buying from the supermarket and made sure that the meat we bought (usually a whole chicken), was organic and free range.

You cannot un-know the truth. In amidst all these transitions, we were rearing rescue chickens in our back garden. The irony of eating a roast chicken while the birds we had rescued and then painstakingly and lovingly brought back to health pecked around at our feet, was not lost on anyone. Soon I stopped going to the butcher. But I still felt unsettled. Every time I poured milk in my tea or used cheese in a sauce I felt my heart contract. I knew all about the cruelty of the dairy industry. After while I couldn’t bear it any longer. It was obvious that being vegetarian was simply not good enough. So when in January this year ‘Veganuary‘ appeared in our inboxes and on our social media feeds, it was easy to commit to going vegan for one month. We had to at the very least try it. We were doing Dry January as well and figured that we might as well ditch the meat and dairy as well as the booze.

Veganuary. The Veganuary website had some great recipes and a meal planner so I stocked the fridge and cupboards accordingly, and we went for it. There were quite a few ingredients for what they call ‘the transitioning vegan’, like vegan burgers and ‘prawn style pieces’ to ease us in gently. Discovering new recipes was really fun and we really enjoyed the changes we were making. As January came to a close though we had to have some serious conversations about where we wanted to take this new diet. Would we just be vegan at home? Would we allow ourselves meat in restaurants? Would we have cheese on special occasions? What about when we went to friend’s houses? Would we ask them to make special food? Or take our own? How would we explain our decision to our families? And what about the kids? It felt like a minefield. But it actually happened really organically. It turns out that you can’t really be a part time vegan. In the same way that you can’t be partially racist or a a little bit sexist. There was no going back. It was daunting. I felt alone and if I’m really honest, like a bit of a freak. But day by day my resolve got stronger. And the lovely thing was that friends were really accommodating. I never asked anyone to make me a vegan meal, but only because I didn’t have to. People seemed to like the challenge of cooking without meat or dairy. There were veggie curries with coconut cream. There were rice dishes and vegan starters and dairy free deserts. There was a lot of love in that food. If friends invite us over now I tell them about our new diet (and hold my breath and feel my heart rate increase slightly because I thrive on not being a nuisance), and then suggest that they come to us. This means that I don’t have to be a nuisance, and also that I can have the opportunity to cook them some really good food and dispel a few vegan myths along the way. (Sneaky.) More often than not though, people say that no, they’d love to have us, and then they cook us something yummy. I always take something divine for dessert – vegans can still have fun, and the proof is in the pudding.

You can veganise literally anything nowadays. Suddenly pudding is (almost) good for you!

What about lattes?! Although this new diet has left me feeling lighter and more energetic than ever before, I still love a good cup of coffee in the morning. After much trial and error I’ve found that almond milk is the perfect accompaniment. It froths up beautifully and tastes delicious. And I put soy milk in Early Grey tea which works really well. I hate being a pain at other people’s houses so for ease I’ve trained myself to like my tea and coffee black when I am out and about. And I’ve discovered a whole new world of herbal teas too.

But what about the kids? Well, it’s been a journey for them too. I have always been adamant that having not raised them this way since birth, this new decision had to be theirs too. Forcing them would never work – I knew that they would need to get to where I was in their own time. So at first I was just serving them vegan food at home, and then they went to the dinner hall at school or to friends houses or birthday parties they were allowed to choose for themselves. After a while they started to feel funny about eating chicken and sausages. And then sad. They started to ask if there was any dairy in the food at birthday parties. They started telling their friends that they were vegan because if they were a lamb or a pig they wouldn’t want to be killed and eaten. They explained to people that they didn’t eat cheese or drink milk because they weren’t baby cows. Being vegan makes perfect sense to them, but it can be hard because they face temptation every day. Birthday cakes are tricky and I’m going to have to re-think halloween! But we talk about it all the time, and I’m confident now that they own their decision to accompany us on this journey. It’s taken a while, but the whole family is totally on board now, and all of us feel great now that we’re feeling all the benefits of going vegan. Both the physical ones (Mr G and I have both lost weight, my hay fever has disappeared and the kids’ eczema has vanished), and the emotional perks too. No longer are we watching Peppa Pig before gobbling her up for tea. Gone is the absurd practice of serving the kids the animals they have been encouraged to adore since birth, with ketchup or gravy.

Is it fair to the children though? (I get this a lot.) The answer is YES! If I’ve found the most superior diet of all – why would I feed anything less to my most precious people?! We have gone from a family that ate whatever they fancied to one who considers all that passes their lips. We have posters up in the kitchen to show which foods give us calcium, protein, iron and healthy fats. We check labels on all the foods we buy. Mr G (who has been on his own journey and now considers himself “95% vegan”), has switched to packed lunches at work and has discovered all sorts of cool vegan places to eat in town. And wherever we are the children always ask before eating anything; “Mummy – is this vegan?” They really care, (as most children innately do). I feel really proud of my little tribe. They’re mini pioneers.

Feeling alone. At the beginning I knew only one other person who was a vegan. I won’t lie, it was a really lonely time. This lifestyle change was all consuming initially, and I felt really isolated with no one to really talk it all out with. Then a friend put me in touch with her friend who was raising her three small boys vegan, just a few streets away from me. I clung onto her for dear life. She gave me advice and tips, cooked delicious food for my kids, and made me laugh. Her attitude reinforced mine. I am and always will be so grateful to have her and her family in our lives, and will always endeavour to support anyone else who wants to try this lifestyle in the same way that she supports me. There is loads of help and advice to be found online too. My instagram is full of inspiring people who boost my resolve every day. There are too many recipes to even mention, and more and more places are offering vegan options for when you are out and about. It’s never been easier and I am confident that it will become even more so with the passing of time. I no longer feel alone! I’ve met SO MANY wonderful people in the last six months – vegans will find each other – and so my life has been hugely enriched by some really lovely new relationships, as well as a new diet.

Surviving in a meat and dairy eating world. It was soon after making my new friend that I took some further steps forward. At Easter time I asked those who usually bought the kids chocolate easter eggs to get them a book or something else instead, and hid dairy free treats all over the garden to find on Easter Sunday. At the start of the summer term I went to see the chef at the boy’s school and asked him to alter the menu for them. He tried really hard to veganise the school meals but he couldn’t fully manage it with the ingredients at his disposal, and so now I make them packed lunches. I took packets of cow-free sweets into their teachers so that when a classmate has a birthday and hands out treats, my kids don’t feel like they’re missing out. And now most of my friends are aware of the choice we’ve made and most of the time manage to serve meat and dairy free food at playdates, which I’m really grateful for.

But what about fussy eaters? Like lots of kids mine can be fussy, but now there is no dairy free junk in the house they have limited snacking options, and so come to the meal table pretty hungry. They’ve been trying lots of things they wouldn’t touch before and meal times have become a lot less painful! One of the number one rules of feeding your kids according to the experts is to avoid making some foods seem good and others bad. We shouldn’t be rewarding the consumption of (calcium packed) broccoli with ice cream for example. It is REALLY hard to follow this rule and stay sane though, and so recently I switched things around. The kids now get ‘pudding’ as an after school snack. I make sure I have dairy free cakes, or cookies, or home made rocky road bars (with sesame and sunflower seeds snuck in) and other treats available. Sometimes they’ll get an ice cream cone, (and no one can taste the difference if you buy the Swedish Glace soya brand). So then if they are fussing over their tea I tell them that they don’t have to eat it and that they may get down. They know they’ll be nothing else and so invariably, after a bit of sulking, they eat. And when they do, they realise that mama makes yummy food! And then a new taste is added to their list of acceptable tea items.

What about entertaining though? I feed friends, family and all my new mamas and papas delicious plant based food, cooked from scratch with love. I bake for people all the time too, and so this was a bit challenging at first but I’m getting better at it and learning all the time. (My cherry cake is to die for even if I do say so myself.) There are many other fats to use instead of butter, and omitting eggs isn’t hard; all they do is hold the mixture together and there are MANY plant based ingredients capable of that job. Whenever anyone pops in for a cuppa, I use RAW cow’s milk from The Calf At Foot Dairy which I order online in bulk and freeze. I still wince when I pour it into their hot drinks because YUK, but at least I know it has come from a cow who has been allowed to keep her calf.

New ideas

I have some new cookbooks that have become my bibles: There is so much more variety in our diet now. Before I just pulled the same old recipes out of my brain and cooked them without thinking. Now I dive into my new books and pick out new things all the time. There is garlic and ginger and lime juice everywhere, and everything tastes SO GOOD. I feel like I could cook a different dinner every night till I’m one hundred and that I’ll still be trying new things even then. There are lots of alternatives out there and you may feel like you need them if you choose to start moving away from meat and dairy. As the industries catch onto the fact that more and more people are turning to a plant based diet, sales of vegan cheese are soaring. They are getting more and more yummy as they evolve too – Zizzi’s and Pizza Express being the leaders in melting vegan mozzarella! Having said that, a pizza with a sweet tomato sauce and a world of veggies on top is just as good as one covered in cheese. If not much better. Not to mention a million times healthier. I’ve honestly forgotten all about cheese now. It happens! Taste buds change. They really, really physically change. If you’d told me a year ago that I would soon be vowing never to eat milk chocolate again I would assume you were drunk. But now a cube or two of dark chocolate with a mug of peppermint tea, should I fancy it, is all that I want. I no longer crave the things I used to. Our food bills have gone down and we’ve never felt better.

I do miss brie though, and the fish with my chips. But my brain is more powerful than my belly. And to be honest I don’t really think about animal products anymore. Cutting them out completely enables the black and white attitude of ‘food’ and ‘not food’. I’m fitting into clothes that I haven’t worn for twenty years. My skin, hair and nails have never been in better condition. I rarely even wear deodorant – without animal flesh or their secretions inside your body it doesn’t sweat out anything defensive. Literally everything, from your dental health to your sex life, radically improves when you embrace plant based nutrition.

I feel so fortunate to be able to protect myself and my family as best I can by putting the best food inside of them. At our wedding nearly ten years ago, we served every guest a massive steak, and had a wedding cake that was made entirely out of cheese.  Now we are impassioned vegans. A U turn is completely possible.  It takes time, but soon a vegan diet feels completely natural and becomes absolutely second nature. Aside from having my babies – becoming a vegan has been the very best thing I have ever done. My huge and only regret – is not doing it sooner.

If you’re interested in adapting to a vegan diet here are some excellent links to help you:

BRILLIANT hints and tips for going vegan gradually

The 30 day Vegan Challenge

Your vegan starter kit

Going vegan – PETA

How to go vegan – The Vegan Society

Should you need it – some more motivation

You can do it!

 

 

 

A New Tradition for Advent

The materialistic consumerism that has become such a central part of modern life seems to be on steroids during the lead up to Christmas. It makes my teeth ache and my knees sweat. All the gift-sets on the shelves in Boots (10 very plastic wrapped chutneys from around the world – WHY? Also isn’t this a CHEMIST?).  All the plastic plastic plastic toys everywhere. The madness that is Black Friday (just been a bit sick in my mouth) and Cyber (what?) Monday. Too much! We can counteract all the greed in society, with lots of the opposite. And the best place to starts is in our own homes, with our own families.

The first thing you read in my kids’ school reports are how they are doing in terms of behaviour, effort, and consideration for others. The school recognises the truth that these things are more important than anything academic. Their teachers are helping me unfold my children into the kind, giving and loving people that they were born to be.  And at Christmas time there is loads we can do to promote giving instead of grabbing.  I copied an idea from a Facebook friend last year and it worked really well. This year I am doing it again and thought I would share in case you’d like to take on the tradition for your family. So here is what you do:

 Print out the below (or your own version) onto paper and cut out into strips. (This year I think I’ll print onto card and cut into heart shapes because why not.) These are just the things the kids and I are going to be doing this December. (You’ll notice that I like baking but that five minutes into any craft activity I lose the will to live.) Feel free to take these ideas or make up your own depending on what you like to do with your kids – it is supposed to be fun for you too!

 Then place each strip of paper or cardboard heart into twenty-four separate envelopes labelled with dates on the front, from 1st – 24th December. Along with the piece of paper/card, put a tiny treat in the envelope – I put a chocolate button for each kid inside.

 Next hang them all up in a tantalising and decorative way. I use teeny tiny little clothes pegs from the craft shop and hang each envelope onto a piece of string like a washing line. Then from 1st December onwards, open one envelope each day. Have fun!!

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 1st December

Shall we make cup-cakes for all our lovely neighbours today?

2nd December

Let’s write letters to Father Christmas today! We can post them in the morning.

3rd December

Today we can make our sweetie wreath for the front door. Then everyone who comes to see us can help themselves to a sweet and enjoy a sugar rush while they wait for us to open the door! (We can keep adding sweets throughout December.)

4th December

Shall we take a Christmas gift to the old people’s home today?

5th December

Let’s bake a cake for Anna White today, and then take it to her house.

6th December

Today we can pack a hamper for the food bank.

7th December

Let’s draw Christmas pictures to send to Nanna today.

8th December

Shall we make bird food to put in the garden to feed the birds through the winter today?

7th December

Let’s write down all the things we are grateful for and put the lists up on our bedroom walls.

10th December

Shall we buy and decorate the Christmas tree today?

11th December

Let’s go and buy presents for the teachers today!

12th December

Shall we take the toys we don’t play with anymore to the children’s charity shop after school?

 13th December

Let’s make a big cake to take into the staff room for all the teachers.

14th December

Shall we pack up the clothes we are too big for and take them to Little Village today?

 15th December

Here are some new toothbrushes!! Let’s clean our teeth until they are extra shiny and SMILE at everyone we see today.

16th December

Shall we write down all the things we love about Pops and Nona and Granny? (We can put them in a jar for them to open whenever they need cheering up.)

17th December

Shall we take carrots to the horses in the New Forest today?

18th December

Let’s make flapjacks for the bin men today!

PS: HAPPY BIRTHDAY DARLING WILL!

19th December

Shall we make biscuits for the milkman today?

20th December

Let’s make cupcakes for the postman today!

21st December

Shall we take the books we don’t read anymore to the Doctors surgery today?

22nd December

Today we could make and decorate bookmarks. (We can secretly tuck them into other people’s reading books!)

23rd December

Shall we fill a stocking for daddy today?

24th December

Today we need to make reindeer food (oats, raisins and glitter). We can sprinkle it onto the lawn tonight so that the reindeer can eat it while Father Christmas delivers your toys!

Bodies After Babies

So your baby/ies have ‘ruined’ your body. Sad but true? Not really. Here’s why:images-7
A is for awesome. Your body made a person. How the feck did it do that? All KINDS of awesome.

B is for boobs. Big when pregnant, REALLY big when full of milk, and impersonating those things you hurl over the side of boats when mooring them after that. But they FED and GREW your amazing baby which your awesome body made. Plus you are now entitled to fancy lift up bras because you made somebody else.

C is for caesarean scar. Scars are COOL.

D is for dimples. On butt cheeks. If you have these be proud. You MADE somebody and so if your bum is dimpled because you ate too much cheesecake because you made somebody, then so be it.

E is for everyone. Everyone’s body changes; man, woman, baby or no baby. No one gets to keep their 18 year old body. (Celebrities are pretend.)

F is for funny. Can your teenage baby-sitter fart the alphabet or flap her bingo wings about in an amusing fashion? Exactly.

G is for girlfriends. Everyone has that one friend who inexplicably ‘bounces back’ after childbirth. But if her tummy pings back you can bet the poor love has haemorrhoids. No one goes completely back to normal. Remember – we are all in the same boat.

H is for hair loss. Hormones sometimes means hair loss (amongst other things). Never mind, less to wash and blow dry.

I is for inner thighs. Probably wobblier than they were. Probably touching. That’s ok. Marilyn Monroe’s did too.

J is for jumping. Hard to do without peeing your pants now, but pelvic floor exercises can be done anywhere, at anytime so be getting on with those and soon that trampoline will be YOURS.

K is for kissing. When you feel like a knackered old frump, don’t forget about kissing. Your mouth hasn’t changed much. Use it. Kissing turns ‘have you taken the bins out’ into ‘Mmmmmmmmmmm’. Your fella loves your mummy body. He wants to kiss it.

L is for laughter lines. Loads more now. Because you have been laughing lots.

M is for Motherhood. You are living it. But you will definitely know someone who isn’t and WISHES she was. Be grateful. There are a trillion women who would give anything to have a wobbly belly and a flappy bum if it meant there could be a baby in their arms.

N is for nose. I’ll bet it hasn’t changed one bit! And now you are no longer pregnant things will no longer smell so rank that you puke at the very thought of them.

O is for OTT. Banging on about how fat you are is annoying and boring. You are not fat – you had a baby, and now you have a belly. See the letter M.

P is for pelvic floor. A massive muscle that served you and baby well. Elasticity comes back. You can make this happen. SQUEEEEEEEEEEEZE.

Q is for the Queen. Every single body gets old.

R is for running about. Nature’s postnatal workout. Once a GP asked me what form of exercise I undertook. I told him I had three children.

S is for strangers asking are you having another baby already?! All those sleepless nights will give you plenty of time to think of an appropriate come back. “No, I’m not. This is the left over packaging from the first one”. You may still look a little bit pregnant, but at least you’re not rude.

T is for tummy. The most wonder-fullest place for your baby to grow in, and then lie on.

U is for underwear. Your pre-baby thongs cutting into your lovely handles like cheese wire? Ditch them. Buy some lovely new pants. Comfy ones. Lovely.

V is for vagina. A baby came out of it. See the letter P.

W is for water balloons, AKA post baby buttocks. You could go to the gym or get a personal trainer. Or just use them to sit on whilst you’re watching telly.

X is for x-ray. If you saw one you’d see that even your skeleton has changed. Pregnancy hormones cause the pelvic bones to widen in preparation for birth. This is why your skinny jeans no longer fit – clever bones.

Y is for yummy mummy. You.

Z is for zips. If they don’t do up, don’t worry. See all of the above.

Caring for Calais

Sometimes I am bruised by the love I have for my children. Sometimes I curse it and resent it and push against it. It’s the kind of love that makes you feel vulnerable as hell. The kind that appears suddenly when you watch them sleep, thumping you in the chest. Your heart goes cold and the blood freezes in your veins. It’s a terrifying love, as painful as it is joyful. If I wasn’t saturated in this much love, life wouldn’t be so scary. If my children didn’t pepper my everyday with all these insane moments of such extraordinary and searing joy, life wouldn’t be so bloody terrifying. If I didn’t have so much happiness, I wouldn’t have so much to lose.

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I saw a counsellor for a while, and she told me I was ‘sensitive.’ Sensitive people feel joy deeply. Which is fantastic. But the flip side is that they feel pain deeply. My sensitive heart means that I feel intense joy, and I feel acute pain.

When I first laid eyes on the photograph of Alan Kurdi, the little Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in September last year, my heart shattered into a million pieces. My heart was broken because I know that I am not alone in having a sensitive heart. Because I know that other mothers love their children in exactly the same all consuming way that I love mine. Other mothers ache simply because their children exist. When you have a child, your heart beats on the outside of your body. I’ve never known vulnerability like it.

In the early hours of 2nd September 2015, having fled several Syrian cities which had been attacked by ISIL, Alan Kurdi’s mother paid traffickers the equivalent of $5,860, and put her two small sons into a small rubber boat. She swallowed her terror of the open sea, she faced the extreme danger they were all in, and she took the ultimate risk. Because she had no other options left open to her. There were sixteen people in the boat, which was designed for a maximum of eight. The life jackets provided were fakes, so they did not work. The family were trying to reach the Greek island of Kos, when the boat capsized. And the family drowned.

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When I heard that Alan’s mother had not survived, I was shocked at my feelings, because they were feelings of relief. I was relieved that she didn’t have to suffer the agony of the loss of her family.

After that, my consciousness was continually littered with the image of Alan and his story. With the understanding that he and his brother could so easily have been my two boys. With the knowledge of how if they had been mine, my love for them would have destroyed me in this situation. Their suffering as they fled and as they died in that cold water, would have been too much for me to bear. I became haunted by the knowledge that although her suffering was finite, their mother spent her last moments in acute terror for her children. I could not even begin to imagine her distress. But I made myself try to imagine it. Because once you climb into someone else’s skin, someone else’s pain, and walk around in it, then you experience empathy and with empathy comes action. I knew that had to do something to help, where now, she could not.

I was completely overwhelmed. How could I, a busy working mum of three small children, do anything of any significance? Then I saw a post from a woman collecting blankets for the babies who had made the journey to Greece and were facing terrible cold and hunger. I know how to write a story, and I knew that if I started sharing these stories and needs online I could rally support. And when you have support you feel less alone, less overwhelmed and much, much stronger. I started a collection in Tooting and saw immediately just how badly people wanted to help. Within an few days I had a car full of warm, fleecy love, which I was able to take to be shipped to those small babies who needed them. It was embarrassingly easy.

Soon after that I read about family who were trying to get to Greece when their boat was hit by a storm. A young father suddenly had his tiny daughter ripped from his arms by a huge wave. He dove into the freezing water and frantically searched for her. He went down and up again, down and up, searching with more desperation that anyone I know could ever begin to fathom. But he could not find her and she was lost forever. She died in a cold and violent sea, one month before her second birthday. My own daughter was exactly the same age at the time. Stories like this SMASH your heart to pieces. They hurt to think about. This story would not leave me and it hurt me, physically, to think about. Physically. But I decided to sit in the pain. I made myself imagine searching for my baby in that water. I made myself think about it and I cried and I hurt and then I made myself do it again. And my sensitive heart was in agony and so I had no choice but to do more to help. And when I started doing things, the pain eased up a bit.

Mother Theresa said “We cannot do great things in this world. But we can do small things with great love.” And Margaret Mead said that we should “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” And Glennon Doyle Melton, (who is my daily inspiration and if you don’t follow her on Instagram or read her books and blog you SHOULD), says “We can do hard things.” And we can. We already have.

Soon after that story broke I read about an American woman who started an appeal for baby slings and went to Greece with hundreds of them, strapping babies onto their mothers as soon as they came off the boats in order to make their journeys just a tiny bit easier. I wondered if I could do the same. But as the weather grew colder and more vicious we heard more and more about people suffering in Calais, so very, very close to home. Unlike the families in Greece, these were people that I could physically get to, really easily. Ideas started sparkling. At times I felt thoroughly defeated. It’s very overwhelming to stare at a problem of this scale and feel useless. It’s very easy to feel so helpless that you cannot see how your help will help. It can seem pointless to even try. But we must never think that because we can only do so little, that we shouldn’t bother to do even that. (If you think you’re too small to make a difference – spend a night in a tent with a mosquito.) I had to start somewhere. I knew from the blanket collection that I would have a ‘small group of thoughtful, committed citizens’ behind whatever I tried to do.

So I made a plea for help – cash for a Crowdfunder, and sleeping bags from an Amazon wish list for those who so desperately needed them. The response was MIND BLOWING. Within 48 hours, our kitchen was full of brand new sleeping bags. The Crowdfunder grew and grew and grew before our eyes and soon we had £2K. My children’s response thrilled me as much as anyone else’s. They may not eat broccoli or turn the telly off when I ask them to or get their wees into the toilet bowl, but they were, and are, deeply compassionate. And that’s all I really give a shit about. They wanted to learn all about the crisis and understand how they could help.

Soon it was time to go. The kids and their friends filled our car with the sleeping bags, and I cashed the Crowdfunder into Euros. Rupert and I kissed the children goodbye and drove to the Eurotunnel. We reported to the L’Auberge Warehouse, in a secret location in Calais, ready to do as we were told. We were put to work sorting clothes, and bagging up tinned food for the families to use to cook for themselves. One of our main jobs was to make up ‘grab packs’ so that families could grab them and run should they be evicted from the camp as was the (very real) threat back then. Soon it was time to go to the shops and spend all the money everyone had kindly donated. And that was when we met Tina.

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In October last year, Tina took a week out of her studies on ‘Humanitarian Crises’, in order to come and help out in Calais. And when she got there, she found herself IN a humanitarian crisis. So she left her life here, and she stayed there. And she is still there. And every day she looks after thousands of refugees; delivering food, phones, clothes and HOPE. She took us and all our Euros to the big cash and carry, and on the way she told us that the French police hated the refugees and that the locals hate them too – the presence of such an enormous group of people is a huge concern to them, and so we were to respect their feelings however much we disagreed with them. We needed to be highly inconspicuous and to play down the fact that we were helping the people in the camp. So off came our muddy wellies and high vis jackets, on came our fake smiles. Once we had bought and paid for the food, casually joking with the staff and acting as if we were ordinary holiday makers who just happened to need enough food for hundreds of people for no particular reason at all, we drove it back to the warehouse. It was pounced on  gratefully and immediately chopped and cooked and put into stews and curries and salads ready to be driven out into the camp, which is a few minutes drive away, a few hours later. The warehouse feeds thousands of refugees every single day. Hot, nourishing, delicious food. All volunteers are fed too, so we got to taste it all. I was blown away – it was sensational. You could feel the love in every bite.

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After lunch, it was back to clothes sorting. We met some incredible people. One woman had just returned from a stint in Greece where she was collecting babies off the boats. Her stories of hurriedly dressing screaming and sodden and freezing babies, and finding dead children in the bottom of boats had me madly googling flights to Greece as I folded children’s clothes and wept. As we worked, people would fly in and ask me to pack a bag of clothes quickly – one for a seven month old boy whose father was missing, another for a newborn whose mother had died. I could hardly bear it as I scrambled together the warmest items I could find and packed up some formula and bottles. I couldn’t believe what was happening.

There is a common misunderstanding surrounding this situation. Many people assume that charities are on the ground, helping. But the fact is that no official aid organizations or charities are being allowed into the camp. This is because their involvement would mean the camp would gain official refugee status, which would mean the refugees would have rights to be there, which would mean that the authorities could not go in and tear them up whenever the want to do so. Which is exactly what they did, just two days after we left.

The absence of official aid organisations is bad – it means that the residents in the camp are only being kept alive by normal people whose hearts are breaking enough to want to do something. If we do not continue to give, they will not eat. But our presence, although by no means professional, is wildly powerful – it means that the people keeping these desperate people alive, care. The people who are helping are not being paid by Oxfam or Save the Children or anyone else, to be there. These people are there because they want to be there. Because they want to help. Our determined presence there offers much more than food and shelter. It offers hope – which is more vital to the human condition than anything else. With a little bit of hope in your pocket, you can survive most things.  Our presence there says ‘our government may not care, but WE are not our government. We care, and we want to help.’  Every grass root organisation working on the ground, every single volunteer, is working as if there has been a natural disaster – because the scale of the situation really is as bad as if there had been.

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The first time we went into the camp it was bitterly cold. We were taken in by Toby and his girlfriend Rachel, volunteers who were living there in tents, alongside the refugees. Toby was beside himself over the brand new sleeping bags we had with us and couldn’t wait to give them out to his cold friends. The camp is next to a motorway, on a landfill site, completely unfit to build anything on, with a large swamp in the middle. Because it floods easily and all the time, disease and infection are rife. Medical treatment is in short supply. The lives of these people depends entirely on the goodwill of people willing to help. Until recently there was no running water or toilets. Now there are a few, but the refugees have to make do with portaloos and should they want a shower they will have to queue for hours and hours, for just two minutes washing time. As well as serving hot food, the incredible volunteers respect their various cultures and everyone’s dignity by bagging up food packages containing essential items so that families can cook for themselves as they would do at home, rather than just receive handouts. But there is a huge problem with sourcing and storing cooking gas and so many people are spending hours searching for firewood to make fires to cook on. This causes fires to break out in the night which leads to more panic and chaos.

Toby took us into the camp and showed us the eviction notice that the French authorities had displayed in the camp as was their legal obligation. It was a piece of A4 paper, torn and sodden by the rain, stuck onto a post with some tape, and completely unreadable. The French police, wearing balaclavas and armed with guns searched our car and questioned us at the entrance. With no reason to detain us, they eventually let us into the camp. Toby explained that the police hated him with a passion for helping the refugees. (He has since been arrested for ‘standing in one spot for too long’, and is not allowed back onto French soil for three years.) We met some refugees who wanted to speak English with us. They were talking in groups about how they would be able to cope if they were attacked. They showed us their church, their little school, and their makeshift shelters. Two grubby little boys played at our feet with sticks in the dirt while we talked. My toes soon went numb with the cold. It seemed unthinkable that I had to leave these poor people in such horrendous conditions. And then things went from bad to worse. Just two days later, we were watching footage of the destruction of the South of the camp, live, in real time on social media, posted by those who were there, witnessing it happening. It was truly devastating. It wasn’t just the refugees the French were trying to send a message to with their bulldozers and their chainsaws – it was to all of us who were trying to help too. ‘Stop building shelters’ their actions said – ‘stop, because we will tear them down. Stop providing food and clothing – we will burn it all’. After all our efforts, this was hugely demoralising. But all I knew was that if they were going to destroy the thousands of pounds worth of practical support, there was only one thing to do – raise thousands of pounds more.

I started another Crowdfunder and when there was enough money in it I went out again – this time leaving the kids with Rupert, and taking some friends with me. As well as cash, we took with us more sleeping bags and lovely squashy sleeping mats, and this time colouring books and pens for the children as well. This time I took an individual care package to a refugee named Ali, whom my friend Alice had been looking after on her own trips out there. My friend Sarah and I sat in his tiny shelter, hiding away from the rain and drinking tea. Ali was in the jungle because ISIS had demanded that that he join them. They had threatened to kill him if he refused. His only other alternative was to flee. Since his wife had been killed in Syria ten months ago, he made the decision to leave their 18 month old son with his mother and make the journey alone. His plan was to make it to the UK, find accommodation and work, and then to send for his son once he was settled. We gave him a few treats, and a phone charger. His phone lit up and so did his face – now he would be able to speak with what remained of his family. It was devastating to watch him stroke pictures of his son and cry quietly as he talked about his wife.

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The alternative accommodation that the French authorities were offering since the eviction, the ‘containers’ which the media presented as cosy and warm, were actually wholly unsuitable. If the refugees were to accept a bed in one, they were not permitted to stay with their families, as men and women were and are separated within them. Should any inhabitant decide to leave at any point, what little possessions they had would be thrown out and the space given to someone else. It was astounding to witness such extraordinary lack of compassion. The people in this camp are despised, and made to feel like animals. After all they have been through, I cannot even begin to imagine what this must feel like.

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Calais is not somewhere you can turn up to, drop donations off, and say your cheerios. When you get involved, you become involved. The first two Crowdfunders raised nearly £4,500 in cash. By this time I had also gathered £5,000 worth of brand new donations. But having saturated my own network of friends and family and community I knew I had to throw the nets out wider in order to raise more. When I was teaching in school we always said that teachers themselves are the greatest resource of all. So I knew that by taking PEOPLE with me the next time, by filling my car with willing hearts and hands, the support we could offer would go a great deal further. And so that’s what I did. Wonderful, warm hearted people came forward and committed to coming with me. The youngest volunteer was twelve year old Callum, who after a day of working in the warehouse told his mother that they had to go back and help again. Once home again she told me that this experience has brought out something truly beautiful in her son. Just as it has in mine. We can all be part of the solution to this atrocity. Together, we can do hard things. We have raised £12,000 in just three months. Just through Crowdfunders and shameless begging. And this is only the beginning. Many, many wonderful people are helping, in many wonderful ways. Alice has been going out monthly, since August, and taking huge amounts of food and new clothes and toiletries with her each time. There are many warm hearts invested in this – but we need more.

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On this last trip out we were met by Tina who simply fell into my arms and held me tight. She gave my team a tour and explained that the shelves were nearly empty, that thousands of people were depending on her to feed them, and that more were arriving every day. The pressure on these volunteers in unbelievable. Tina recently managed to strike a deal with a cash and carry outlet in Lille and now she can get large quantities of food for a reduced price. She was able to restock the kitchens with the money we turned up with.  We unloaded the car with fresh cakes lovingly baked by the good people of Tooting and the reaction of the full time volunteers reduced me to tears. Again. They were SO excited and so happy and so touched. They are so tired and so weary and at times the hopelessness is so crushing, especially with zero governmental support, and so the love that arrived in those cake tins REALLY gave them a boost. After the passionate debrief from Hettie who is one of the young volunteers who works full time and tirelessly, we were put to work sorting clothes. This is a massive job – before you can fold everything into piles you have to weed out dirty, torn, and wildly inappropriate items. The warehouse has received wedding dresses, ball gowns, high heels, and all sorts. (One of my team found USED THONGS, an actual poo in a pair of trousers, and too many glittery outfits, suit and ties to count). People have sent ripped tents, torn and dirty sleeping bags, dvd players and other completely thoughtless and unhelpful items which costs time and money to dispose of. It has become apparent that people are trying to clear out their wardrobes and their consciences at the same time. But how would you feel if you were starving, cold and desperate, and all you were handed to sleep in was a crappy, ripped and stained sleeping bag from 1974 ? Nothing would spell out ‘charity case’ more clearly. The volunteers will only take new or very high quality items into the camp. The refugees already feel like animals – our job is to make them feel like welcome guests. The notion that if it’s for charity then it can be crap, has always riled me. (One of my favourite hashtags throughout this whole venture has been ‘onlythebest’.)

Certain sections of the media would have you believe that the camp is full of healthy, strapping, young men who have left perfectly reasonable lives in order to find even better ones here on the golden pavements and the green pastures of the UK. Others would have you believe that these people are a threat to our securities and our economy. But the reality is that NO-ONE would consider the camp a better alternative to anything. Yes there are a huge number of young men. But the majority of these men are men who have REFUSED to join enemies. Men who have REFUSED to make these enemies stronger. Many have wives and families whom they have left behind. And many have wives and children huddled inside the tents and shelters of the Women and Children’s Centre in the camp. The media photograph things in very misleading ways, always remember that. The media LIE to us. And what you also need to remember is that Calais is the last point, the dead end currently, of a very long and arduous journey. One volunteer found two twelve year old girls who had WALKED to Calais. From Afghanistan. Unimaginable, but true. The residents of the camp are the fittest and the strongest, simply the only ones who have survived the journey. Assume nothing. NO ONE would live in the squalor of Calais if they had a better alternative. Everyone has a story.

Tina asked me to go with her on her food distribution this time, and so we drove into the camp and again, it broke my heart. People were begging me for food – mostly onions! The shops were closed it being a Sunday, and the food from Lille wouldn’t arrive until the next day. After we had given out all we had, I ran back to my car and managed to find a local market where a pal and I bought every onion they had. You should have seen the looks on these people’s faces when we gave them out at the camp!!  I met a helicopter pilot from Afghanistan called Aminullah. He was easily one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever laid eyes on. He was in the camp because Al queida ordered him to join their forces. He refused, and so they shot his father. He still refused and so they shot his brother. They told him they would continue to shoot members of his family, until he surrounded. So he ran away. Now he is in Calais and his family are on the run. He hasn’t seen his two tiny daughters in over a year. I also met a Sudanese man who left his town when rebels came and started killing everyone. His family was scattered and he has no way of communicating with them. He was half way through a degree at home, and wants to continue his studies in the UK so that he can have half a hope of finding a job that can pay for him to start the search for his family. The media would have you believe that these two, ‘healthy, fit’ young men, are trying to take us for a ride. But nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone of them has a story. Stories that need to be heard. Everyone I met smiled at me. Everyone I met hugged me. The people I met and drank tea with and talked to all had good English. They were all well educated, with hopes and dreams and with a great deal to offer. These people have not been born into poverty. They are not used to living in this way. They are shocked and traumatised and suffering beyond measure. As we left I met a woman and her tiny son. I handed over one of my boys’ toy lions that had hitched a lift with me without my knowledge, and was nestled in my pocket. The boy’s eyes lit up and his mother’s beautiful face broke into a wide smile. I didn’t insult anyone by crying, but saved all my tears up for when I was home again.

People try to escape every night. They’ve been trying for months on end. They climb under trucks and try to sneak into lorries. The French police are EVERYWHERE though, and when they find them, which they do, they toss them back into the camp. So people sleep, they eat whatever they can, and then they try again. And again. And again. Why do these people want to come to the UK? Because they speak our language. Why else? Because the third of those who have reluctantly accepted asylum in France have reported back to those in the camp. They say that it is so awful that they are considering coming back to the ‘jungle’. Why else? Because asylum in France takes 8-9 months whereas the wait in the UK is much shorter. And why else? Because 90% of those of us who are out there helping, are British. The friendly faces that hold their hands and serve them food and sit and drink tea with them, are British. The French spray their children in the face with tear gas and fire rubber bullets at them and shout at them as if they were dogs. Would you want to stay in a country that treated you like that?images-4

In the camp currently are 40% Sudanese people, 40% Afghans, 20% of other ethnicities, all escaping different atrocities.We hear a lot about the devastating war that has destroyed Syria over the last five years. It has displaced more than 4 million people, which according to the UN Refugee Agency,  is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation. But there are currently 14 other conflicts going on in the world, many in the Middle East and North Africa. While some politicians have said that economic migrants make up the majority of those arriving, in reality the majority are refugees fleeing extreme danger in Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan. Neighboring countries such as Turkey and Lebanon have taken in Syrian refugees, but camps there remain overpopulated, forcing those people to continue on with their journey. Here in our little corner of Europe, we are facing only the tip of the iceberg. There are FAR more refugees worldwide. In fact, there are 59.5 million forcibly displaced people on our planet. That is one in every 122 people in our global population. And the countries taking in the majority of these refugees? Developing countries. Poor countries take in 86% of the world’s refugees. A figure that should make us, as the fifth richest nation in the world, hang our heads in shame.

Germany has called for a quota system to be implemented across the EU that would allow for a more even distribution of the number of refugees, with each country’s size and economic strength taken into consideration. They have said they expect to take in 800,000 refugees this year. However, Central and Eastern European states have opposed that proposal, and David Cameron rejected a plan for the UK to take in 10,000 more refugees. Cameron argued that countries needed to focus on finding solutions to the conflicts that have caused the crisis. But there are cold and hungry and desperate people who need our help NOW! My eldest, Will, wrote to the Prime Minister to ask him to at least accept the unaccompanied children, (78% of the children in Calais are alone), a request which much to our delight the PM seems to have acknowledged, although no numbers or time frames have been committed to. With traffickers pouncing on and raping vulnerable children in the camp each and every night, and 129 already missing, it is imperative that we take children in NOW. Foster parents are on standby ready to receive them. All we need is permission to allow them in.

What can you do to help? You do not have to go to Calais to be of use. You do not even need to give money if that is something you cannot do. But everyone can contact their MPs and councillors. Everyone can use their voice and their power and their freedom. And everyone should.

Did you know that 5.5 million Brits live abroad permanently? That’s one in ten of us. Did you know that Immigrants are 60% less likely to claim benefits than a British born person? Did you know that between 1995 and 2011, EU immigrants contributed £8.8 billion more than they gained? And did you know that most studies suggest that as long as the government protect low wage earners – immigration has no significant effect on overall employment or British unemployment? It’s all true. I checked. Yet despite all this, the UK processed fewer first time Asylum applications in January to March 2015 than six other EU countries.

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On my first trip out I met and spoke with Rob Laurie – the guy who was in the press after he attempted to smuggle a four year old girl back home with him to where she had an uncle who lived just streets away from his own house. He had built up a friendship with the girl’s father who had been begging him for weeks to take her back to the UK. One freezing night, she climbed inside Rob’s coat, curled up on his lap, and fell asleep. Later he said he knew he shouldn’t have done it. But unable to bear her father’s tears anymore, he carried the little girl into his van and drove her out of the camp. Sniffer dogs pounced on them at the border and found her in the sleeping compartment of his van, all tucked up, and still fast asleep. She was sent her straight back into the camp and Rob faced a six month long trial and suffered enormously before being finally let off with a thousand Euro fine. Now he drops as many donations as he can gather from his trips around the UK, at the warehouse every week.

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People are getting absolutely desperate. They are terrified and panicking and violence is escalating as it would in ANY group of people in this situation. But in their desperation to get out of the hell hole in which they are festering, more problems are springing up. People are drugging their children and stowing them away in vehicles in the hope that they will stay quiet throughout the journey should they be able to even make the trip. People are suffocating to death in their attempts to find freedom. Some do make it, but the vast majority do not. Ali, the refugee we met on our second trip, was one of the so-called ‘lucky’ ones. He managed to make it to Dover two weeks ago. After seven months of trying to escape, he eventually borrowed 2,500 Euros from his brother and paid people smugglers to help him find his way to a Spanish truck with a secret compartment and a driver who was prepared to turn a blind eye. They made it through, and with Alice’s help, sought asylum here once they arrived. The camp was physically awful, but it did offer them community and belonging. Now Ali and people like him face isolation and loneliness, as well as a huge struggle to integrate here.

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This escape story highlights the insanity of the current system – by forcibly keeping people out, we have created an illegal industry of people smuggling. Genuine people like Ali who need really asylum, are resorting to paying illegal and dangerous smugglers.  As a result, huge amounts of money is being pumped into illegal activity in the UK. So instead of pouring money into building higher fences, and more barbed wire and more sniffer dogs and a higher police presence, we must invest in improvements to our asylum system. If there is to be any hope of getting out of this, ALL authorities must start processing asylum claims safely, so that we can make sure that the people who are coming into our country are the people that really genuinely need to. Then we can give them resources we have available. But at the moment, our government are frightened and they are being governed by their fear. When Sadiq Kahn became Mayor he congratulated London on overcoming fear with hope, and choosing unity over division. This is what we must do as a nation, and we must do it now.

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I am sensitive. In the best possible way. I wake up most days feeling really happy. Because I feel so unbelievably lucky to be alive. My precious little step-sister died when she was hit by a car. She was 7. My darling cousin James was killed on his motorbike when he 28. And my gorgeous mother died from cancer when she was 42. I know how someone can be here one minute and then gone the next.  The reality of life is death. I could die tonight. Morbid, but true! We all think we have time. Maybe we do  – but maybe we don’t. So I wake up every day thinking if this is going to be my last day – I want to have made it count. And although at times I feel guilty that I have this life, the gorgeous, happy, wonderful life that so many others would KILL for, I choose to feel gratitude over guilt. Because I have a duty to those people, to treasure my life. So I choose to feel grateful and I choose to have a good time, and I choose to do good things. I choose to make it count.

Remember – the life you lead is yours down to luck, and nothing else. It just so happens that you were born into a life of freedom and safety. But it could be us in this situation. It was us, 70 years ago. So we have to look after these people in the same way we would like to be looked after, if it were us. It is pure chance, that it is not.

“The greatest secret to success and happiness, is helping other people become successful and happy.” Deepak Chopra

If you are interested in helping us help those in Calais in any way, then please ask to join our ‘Calais Support and Fundraising Network’ on Facebook to find out more.

You can also donate to the fourth Crowdfunder here:

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/user/antonia-godber/dashboard/continued-cash-for-calais?project_live=1