About Eleanor Plumstead

Eleanor Plumstead was raised on the side of a hill in Malvern, an area of stunning natural beauty that has always inspired her creative side. She has written poetry and prose from a young age and currently studies English Literature and Creative Writing with the Open University. She enjoys good food and parties, is always on a quest for 'the ultimate wine' and dreams of being a full-time writer. Eleanor loves to support and empower people and is passionate about equal rights, for her own LGBT community and for all those who are marginalised in society. She is currently working on a number of projects including a historical novel, a book of prayers and of course, several new articles for City Connect.

My Childhood Bookshelf

“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 

 ~ Dr. Seuss

 The power of a good book cannot be underestimated. Children read many things when they’re young, from textbooks to comic books, and I would encourage every parent to have a few age-appropriate novels on their bookshelves (or their e-readers, whatever the future holds!) Reading for pleasure can be enriching, instructive and highly enjoyable. I am a big advocate of books, being a Literature student, and as a child I hungrily read everything I could get my hands on. Fictional books can not only instruct, but inspire creativity, resilience and a sense of adventure. From what seems like nonsense, children can form their attitudes and opinions on life, and grow a healthy imagination. I certainly would not be the same person without the fantastic stories I read as a child; let me illustrate this point by telling you a little bit about my childhood bookshelf and what my favourite books taught me.

Lemony Snicket- A Series of Unfortunate Events:

These are the stories, collected into 13 novels, that a very imaginative and twisted man called Lemony Snicket (aka. Daniel Handler) wrote about three unlucky orphans. Klaus, Violet and Sunny Baudelaire are remarkably resilient and intelligent, but their tale of misery and misfortune is so unfortunate that the blurb of every book warns the reader off the book altogether. This, of course, is very cleverly intended to make a child want to read more.

Though the fantastically bleak situations the Baudelaire siblings face are undoubtedly awful, I waited eagerly every Christmas for the latest one in the 13-book series. The childrens’ flight from the evil Count Olaf and the mystery that dogs them from a lumbermill to a boarding school and beyond taught me that life is an adventure and challenges are there to be overcome. More than anything else, the main characters’ spirit, determination and loyalty to each other taught me how to flourish in adversity. Obviously I am never going to find myself having to make orange granita out of snow for evil villains, or being forced to run laps all night by an evil gym teacher (don’t ask). Nevertheless, the random recipes, bits of code-breaking and snippets of trivia included in this book captured my imagination.

The great thing about these books, though, was the way that Lemony Snicket acted as a personal thesaurus without being boring; introducing big words and complicated literary concepts in a story for young people. These books broadened my vocabulary and taught me proper grammar, making me the writer I am today. These books are totally addictive and are suitable for boys and girls from 10 upwards. Even the parents will be fascinated. I’d also like to mention that there is a film, but it doesn’t follow the plot very well and in my opinion, it’s not a patch on the books. Under no circumstances should you investigate these troublesome tales.

Walter Moers- The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear:

This is a hefty volume for true adventurers. I read this in a few weeks and then read it again. And again, and again…I carried the book around until it fell apart. Anyone who’s into fantasy worlds filled with magical creatures (think Middle Earth, Narnia or Hogwarts) will probably love this. The illustrations are also fantastic. Walter Moers’ alternative world Zamonia has its own encyclopedia (literally) of strange places and wildlife. The sheer imagination needed to create an entire world astounded me as a child. It still does. Not only is the story of the loveable Captain Bluebear’s 13 and a half lives a great tool of escapism, but it made me think, dream and start to write. Bluebears have 27 lives and Moers only tells us about half of them. What better start for a kid to start thinking up more adventures?

Expect a bit of everything in this book: minipirates, sea monsters, desert islands, a professor with seven brains and even a life-saving pterodactyl. This is pure craziness on paper and takes a huge leap of faith to engage with. In short, this is less a novel and more of a catalogue of wonderful places and things for a young person to explore. All curious children, and all adults in need of an imaginative boost, should give this book a try. It’s an epic journey that Captain Bluebear invites the reader on, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Enjoy the ride! It’s available.

Enid Blyton- The Faraway Tree

Moon Face, Saucepan Man and the Angry Pixie: just some of the magical characters you’ll meet if you read the Faraway Tree trilogy. These are fairy stories of the best kind, with delightful but naughty children having adventures away from the prying eyes of their parents. Jo, Bessie and Fanny are three curious kids who are led by Brownies to discover the secret world of the Faraway Tree in an enchanted woodland near their house. This tree is populated by an assortment of strange and wonderful characters who form a community that welcomes the children into their world. At the top of the tree is a whole world that changes with every journey. There is a delightful Land of Birthdays but also more alarming environments like Topsy-Turvy Land.

Each time the children venture up the tree, they take their readers on a quest that always ends happily, like any good fairy story, with a narrative that is well-constructed and teaches a child the value of friendship and doing the right thing. The children often have to save each other from various predicaments, solve problems and negotiate with difficult characters; such as the aforementioned Angry Pixie, who hates people prying into his business. These are useful social skills for a child to learn. I personally learned a lot of good values such as tolerance, curiosity and teamwork whilst reading these books, as well as being delighted by the prospect of extraordinary adventures just beyond my garden gate. Like all the other books I mention in this article, The Faraway Tree books develop and stimulate a healthy imagination, which in my opinion can never be a bad thing. You can find out more about these books here.

Eric Carle- The Very Hungry Caterpillar

While this book is aimed at a considerably lower age group than the other books I’ve mentioned, this article wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging its genius as one of the first and most engaging books I have ever read. It continues to give me great joy at the age of 21 and I consider this book (in its original hardback version) essential reading for any child. There are so many things that The Very Hungry Caterpillar can teach a small child as they first begin to discover the world. Its colourful pages and engaging illustrations are so alluring to a young child and taught me an appreciation for art and an understanding of colour. The caterpillar’s meals are organised by days of the week and by numerical quantities, which taught me about time and mathematics. The different categories of food in the book (fruit, meat, sweets etc) taught me about food groups and the importance of a balanced diet. The caterpillar’s life cycle is explained in a simple enough way for children to grasp the basics of biology, and this fun-filled description of a caterpillar’s life cycle stuck in my mind throughout my childhood. In short, this story is so full of information about the world around us that it should be on the National Curriculum.

It is also the interactive potential of this book that makes it special. Eric Carle has created a book that the child can actively participate in reading and with a little imagination, many craft activities such as collage-making can be undertaken in a primary school classroom. The book’s simple text can also be used to teach basic concepts of English language to non-native speakers, or translated into other languages, can help high school students to learn the basics of French or German in a much more interesting way than recitation and grammar exercises. The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s strength is in its simplicity and relevance to almost every aspect of a child’s early learning. Eric Carle is a delightful author and all of his books are worth reading and using in a teaching environment. To discover his whole catalogue, visit here.

Now, go forth and read, teach and enjoy. What’s on your childhood bookshelf?

Image reproduced from http://www.thetwincoach.com

The Insider’s Guide to Living with Depression

I am a young woman who has suffered from clinical depression intermittently throughout my life. I have had counselling, psychotherapy, anti-depressants and cognitive behavioural therapy; whilst these treatments work and should always be carefully considered in a case of mental illness, I have learned to manage this condition in my own little ways. I can tell you this: it gets easier every time and fighting is the only way you’re going to get out of it. You deserve to get better and be well. You deserve to do all the things you want to do. And let nobody tell you that you are a failure or a weaker person because you have depression. No-one would say that if you had diabetes! It’s a disease, nothing more, treatable and manageable and much more common than you think. There are many things you can do to help yourself. Just give it a try. You have nothing to lose, right?

1. Attitude:

Your attitude to your illness is one of the main things that defines how you deal with it and how quickly you can recover. I used to think of myself as a ‘depressed person’ who would always have a tendency towards the condition and never get out of it. Why should I try to get better? It’s who I am, right? Wrong. That is simply not true. A quarter of UK adults suffer with some form of depression at some point in their lives, so you are not different or less strong than everyone else. You are not a ‘depressed person’. You are a person with depression. Do you see the difference? It is only a chemical imbalance in your brain, an illness just like diabetes or flu or anything else, and of course it doesn’t change who you are to begin with. You can manage it just as other conditions are managed and you can be sure that it does not define you. Think about all the other things that you are! For example, I am also a writer, a friend, a daughter and a sister. I am a student, a wine enthusiast and a French speaker. What are you? What have you achieved in your life? Depression is something inside your head that shouldn’t even be there. It’s not your fault, it’s not your personality and it’s not here to stay. Remember that no-one has a right to judge you for the way you feel. You didn’t ask to be depressed and you have every right to work through it in your own way. There is hope, there are treatments and you aren’t alone. If you see this as a battle against an outside enemy rather than yourself, you have no need to beat yourself up. You aren’t the problem, even if it feels that way. Depression is not who you are.


2. Exercise:

Believe me, I know the feeling. It’s 3pm and you’re on the sofa, in your dressing gown, watching your 10th episode of Friends that day and feeling so tired and unhappy you just can’t move. I know that in this situation, the last thing you want to do is get on a treadmill. But consider this: 10 minutes of exercise in the morning raises your endorphins, gives you energy and ultimately makes you happier. I can’t understate the power of an energetic dance session around your room to your favourite song. It’s actually fun. Swimming is another good one too: No sweat, no pressure, you can go at a quiet time of day and you can easily build up laps each time. It’s scientifically proven that cardiovascular exercise raises your mood. You won’t regret it.

3. Food:

I am not going to bang on about fruit and vegetables here, don’t worry! I watched an interesting programme recently on Channel 4 called ‘The Food Hospital’ (http://foodhospital.channel4.com/) which sought to prove that medical conditions could be cured with food. There was a case of a woman named Debbie with severe depression who didn’t change her medication or treatment, just her diet, and in 10 weeks she was happier, more confident and scored very low on the PHQ9 questionnaire (a measure of depression used by doctors). Did she have to cut out carbs? Go vegetarian? Eat goji berries and nettle soup? Guess again. To boost her serotonin, Debbie ate more protein, which contains tryptophan, an important amino acid which the body uses to boost serotonin. That’s the same thing SSRI antidepressants do: boost serotonin to make us happier. Some good proteins are eggs and cheese. The other important feature of this diet was wholegrain carbohydrates (good news for me, as I love pasta). She also ate foods rich in zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, which include nuts, chicken and oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. Of course, fruit and vegetables are important too.

Since watching the programme, I have taken to eating a lot more chicken, fish, nuts, eggs and green leafy vegetables. I’ve switched my rice, pasta and bread to wholegrain but still eat a lot of it! Not only have I lost weight but, along with a few other factors, it’s really helping kick my depression. I call these foods my ‘happy food’ and the beautiful thing is, it doesn’t even feel like a diet! I also recommend taking an Omega-3 supplement, this has been proven to be effective and many people, including myself, swear by it as a supplement to diet and anti-depressants. I also take B-vitamins for energy. (I strongly advise you to talk to your doctor before taking any new medicine).

4. Keeping Busy: 

Sitting and doing nothing, though you may feel like it’s what you want, is the worst possible thing to do. It gets you feeling more and more trapped and irritated and you then find it harder to get out of it. At first, just try to plan to do one useful thing a day: help with the washing up, take the dog for a walk, go and visit a friend, bake a cake, sort out a messy drawer, or go shopping. If you achieve something, you will feel better at the end of the day, just by knowing that you didn’t give in to depression completely that day. When you become more confident at doing things, you could then start making yourself a rough schedule, divided into morning and evening, for what you will do on particular days of the week. Try to get into a routine, just so that you know that your day will not be empty. It’s a daunting prospect getting up in the morning and not being sure what to do with your day; often if this is the case you will just stay in bed or switch the telly on. After you’ve done what you said you were going to do, treat yourself: listen to your favourite CD, watch a film, eat some cake or have a bath, whatever makes you feel happy. I know that it’s hard to find something that you do want to do, but it helps to self-motivate and make the effort worthwhile. For example, I’ve spent the morning cleaning the house, so I’m going to have a cup of tea and watch my favourite programme. It’s as simple as that. The sense of achievement is reward enough: If you feel useful, you are fulfilling your own needs and you will feel better about yourself. Prove that you can win over self-loathing thoughts and lethargy. Get up and do something!

These four factors are the things that have helped me the most in dealing with my depression and I have seen that with a positive attitude and a little bit of effort, every bout of depression is easier to cope with. I have also seen a very good psychotherapist and would always recommend this, as a lot of issues can trigger depression and talking about them can help. I have also been on anti-depressants, so I have taken every possible avenue of treatment and sincerely believe that, though I have been hugely aided by medical help, some of my depression was due to my own lack of effort and my utter surrender to the way I was feeling. It was when I started fighting for my own mental health that things began to look up. I’m now talking to my doctor about reducing my medication and I believe that the end is definitely in sight. If depression comes back to plague my mind again, I will be ready for it. I hope that you will be too.

Images reproduced from: http://www.depression-survival.com, http://www.questmachine.org, http://www.prairiespine.com, http;//www.orientalmedicine.co.uk and http://4.bp.blogspot.com

An Exercise in Being Assertive

I dare you to be assertive. Don’t be aggressive or selfish, just recognise that you should be getting the same respect that you give. You deserve as much recognition as other people do. By asking to be treated in a certain way, by speaking out, you aren’t being unreasonable. You’re just making yourself equal with others. No matter what people say to you or what you think about yourself, you are not worth anything less than the people around you. You deserve respect.

Be assertive and you can send a steak back when it’s overcooked. You can ask a sales assistant for a different sized shoe. More importantly, you can tell friends when they’ve upset you instead of ignoring them. You can stop disrespectful behaviour from your partner before it escalates into something worse. You can stand up for yourself, because you deserve it.

A good way to start being assertive is to figure out where your line is. Where are your boundaries? What is unacceptable behaviour?

This is a simple exercise that will help you figure it out. All you need is a pen and paper.

Think about what you do not want people to do to you. Write down a list of behaviours under this title:

“People are NOT allowed to…”

You can have separate lists for friends and romantic partners, for colleagues or family, as certain behaviour is appropriate from some people in your life and not from others.

Give yourself all the time you need. The things on your list can be tiny, like borrowing your clothes without asking, or big, like unwanted sexual contact. Whatever would make you feel small, upset, angry or embarrassed needs to go on your list.

These are your lines. Now you have a black-and-white list of things that you do NOT want in your relationships. Next time someone crosses the line, tell them! If they continue to break your boundaries, you will be able to clearly see the ways in which they are disrespecting you and do something about it.

This is being assertive: protecting yourself, teaching other people respect and taking an important step to better self-esteem.


Image reproduced from www.zimbio.com

10 Secret Ingredients from an Experimental Cook

I’m a Jamie Oliver sort of cook: Chuck in a handful of this, a pinch of that and see what happens. Over the years though, I’ve learned that certain flavours work well with others and sometimes the craziest ingredients make the tastiest food. My 10 secret ingredients are from my favourite tried-and-tested recipes which have earned me ‘compliments to the chef’ time and time again. These combinations may look mad, but trust me, they work. Go on, make your dinner a little more interesting!

Marmite…in Spaghetti Bolognese

Some of you love it and some hate it, but a little Marmite makes Bolognese sauce tangy and rich, enhancing the flavour of the tomatoes and the beef perfectly. I would use about half a teaspoon to serve four people, adding it in at the beginning of cooking the sauce to let the flavours develop. Just don’t mention it to the Marmite-haters at the table.

Dark Chocolate…in Chilli con Carne

Chocolate is not just for sweet dishes. A few squares of 70% or higher chocolate grated into a chilli con carne thickens, richens and adds a wonderful earthy flavour. If you can get it, dark chocolate with chilli is even better to add a spicy kick.

Cinnamon…in Shepherd’s Pie

Add a generous pinch of cinnamon to the meaty bit of your shepherd’s (or cottage) pie and you’ll gain a beautiful flavour which makes this English favourite extra-special. Cinnamon and beef are perfect partners.

Mint Tea…on Roast Lamb

Before roasting your lamb joint, open a bag of mint tea and mix it with a little olive oil. Rub it over the outside of the lamb (score the skin for extra flavour) and massage into the skin. Black tea gives an interesting smoky flavour and of course, we all know that mint was made for lamb.

Apple…in Curry

I grew up eating my curry with freshly sliced banana on top of it, and after having Peshwari naan bread with raisins, I concluded that fruit and curry is a match made in heaven. Stew small cubes of apple in your chosen curry sauce until soft but not mushy and you will discover the delights of sweet and spicy flavours in harmony. Alternatively, have your curry with thinly sliced fresh apple and raisins. Perfect.

Parmesan…on Roast Potatoes

This weird tip was from a taxi driver, believe it or not. He describes the ideal roast potatoes as parboiled, roughed-up with a fork, tossed in hot olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan cheese before roasting. He turned out to be a culinary genius and I discovered the crunchiest, tastiest roast potatoes I’ve ever had. Try it, you won’t regret it!

Cherry Coke…on Gammon Ham

Next time you’re boiling a ham joint, consider using not water or cider but cherry flavoured Coca-Cola. My mother developed this odd habit and her ham roasts have been absolutely delicious ever since.

Honey…in Black Coffee

My morning coffee isn’t complete without a teaspoon of honey. It gives a beautiful burnt caramel flavour that is hard to resist and the health benefits of honey can’t be underestimated.

Chilli Sauce…in Mushy Peas

Nando’s restaurant have a side dish called ‘Macho Peas.’ I loved it so much that, after trial and error, I recreated it at home: Cooked peas are perfect with up to a cap-full of any good chilli sauce, a squeeze of lime juice, a knob of butter melted through and a sprinkle of mint and parsley. Roughly crush with a potato masher and you have the perfect side dish for chicken, fish or pork.

You can buy Nando’s chilli sauce here.

Image reproduced from www.tescorealfood.com

A Metaphor for Self-Esteem

Where does your self-image come from?

If your opinion of yourself often comes from what people say to you and how they treat you, then perhaps you will find this idea helpful.

Imagine yourself as a blank canvas. When you hear negative comments, if you take them to heart and start to believe them, you are letting others splash paint on your canvas. They can make of you what they like; your sense of who you are is then defined by other people’s opinions. This is their arrogance winning over your confidence; it leaves you confused, doubting, miserable and self-loathing. You are allowing them to tell you who you are. You have no control and no significance in your own life.

Truthfully, your canvas is not blank. You are covered in complex painted images, accumulated throughout your life. You are a painting, complex and unique in your own way. You are the only one who holds the paintbrush, because your self-esteem is all in your own mind. The only one who is living your life, the only one who has the right to decide what you are is you. People may mistake you for a blank canvas but that simply isn’t true. You are a complete painting already, with your own talents, interests, values and thoughts.

All paintings invite interpretation. That’s as far as others can go; they can interpret you, but they cannot change what’s on your canvas. Art critics are not painters. Some people enjoy portraits, some enjoy nature scenes. Just because someone does not understand or appreciate your personality, they do not change you. You are no less valuable. Some people hate Picasso’s paintings but he is still one of the greatest artists in history. His work speaks for itself.

What’s on your canvas? What do you believe in, what are you good at and what have you done in your life? Nobody can change those things. Frame your painting, study it, and own it. It’s the only one of its kind.

Image reproduced from http://paint-brushes-guide.blogspot.com

LOAF: Eating Ethically Without Going Vegan

I have a problem, and this is it: I love meat and dairy. I love rare steak, Cumberland sausages and bacon. I regularly crave a good roast chicken and furthermore, I love buttery potatoes and cheesy pasta bake. Recently, I’ve been eating a lot more fish, meat substitutes and vegetables in this new coupled-up lifestyle of mine. My partner is all for vegetarianism, not being that much of a carnivore anyway, and I am happy to go along with this. After all, with a good palate and a handy recipe book vegetables can be filling, nutritious and exciting. However, if she does try to take my sausages away I may have to beat this idea out of her with a parsnip.

animal friendly LOAF

I have an overactive conscience as well, and after some research into the matter I have concluded that it isn’t acceptable, from my moral standpoint, to eat something that has suffered needlessly for its short, miserable life so that it can end up on my plate. I don’t enjoy the kind of cheese made from the sore infected udders of perpetually pregnant, drugged-up dairy cows. I fin    d that my roast chicken tastes worse when it’s been cooped up with 2000 others, never seeing daylight and fed on God-knows-what. I also find it unnerving to say the least that pigs have over 40 different ‘words’ that a human can learn and successfully speak to them with. Perhaps I’m exaggerating a little, but it doesn’t sit well in my stomach.

What’s the solution? Go vegan? I don’t have the willpower to eat tofu and mushrooms for the rest of my short life. I believe (in fact, I know) that there is another way to eat meat and dairy ethically. It’s called the LOAF system. If you feel the same way as I do about the welfare of the animals who kindly give their lives for our nourishment and enjoyment, please read on.

L stands for Local. This is more of an environmental issue than an animal welfare one, as buying locally ensures that less ‘food miles’ go into your dinner. This means less pollution, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a good thing. There are many good directories of local produce online, but I suggest BigBarn. You can search for any kind of food producer in your area with customer ratings and contact details all there. A lot of producers sell directly via this website, doing the leg work for you. There is even a symbol to indicate producers that are cheaper than the supermarket. You’d be surprised how many there are!local LOAF

If you are the hunter-forager type with a bit of spare time, I highly recommend visiting that local butcher or deli you’ve always driven past on your way to the supermarket. The food will be better for you and for local producers. You will benefit from their time and expertise, discovering new cuts of meat and how to prepare them, often guaranteeing not only cheaper but also better quality meat. In short, you will know where it comes from, unlike that 50p chicken kiev at Iceland. Small, local food shops are businesses that suffer in a recession, so please give Dave the butcher your business; Tesco won’t miss it.

Another twist on the ‘Local’ theme is keeping your own chickens if you have some space. This website gives you all you need to get started. It’s a great way to get fresh eggs every day for a start, and you and any children you may have can learn a lot about caring for animals. They make amusing pets and are a wonderful source of protein-rich food; what’s not to like?

O stands for Organic. Now, you may be sick of this word- perhaps it’s a marketing gimmick and not to be trusted. On the contrary, organic food is not only free of chemicals and drugs, it is often free of animal cruelty. Any food bearing the logo of the Soil Association, Organic Farmers & Growers or The Organic Food Federation has passed, and continues to be examined on, a strict set of standards on animal welfare, chemical use and sustainability. For example, a dairy cow producing milk for a certified-organic product weans her calves, feeds and breeds as naturally as possible and lives a spacious, mostly outdoor life with her herd, minimising stress and disease. Non-organic cows are injected routinely with antibiotics, calves are housed separately and many male calves are killed at birth as surplus to requirements. The dairy cow is typically forced to produce an incredibly high yield under horrible conditions. Organic standards are striving to change that.

organic LOAF

Professional bodies like The Soil Association realise that stress makes animals ill. They try to work with the earth and the animal’s life-cycle as much as possible, not forcing high milk yields or cramping animals together to save space. This may be harder to achieve and may cost more, but the differences for the environment and for the animal can’t be underestimated. It takes two years on average for a dairy farm to go organic but the cows are certainly happier, as The Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative explains.

If you’re wondering about taste, my local organic meat and poultry farm has won awards for taste 3 years running and has been featured by Rick Stein and Radio 4. Nutritionally, organic food is better for you; for example, organic milk has been shown to contain more Omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic. One tip about organic: If it isn’t certified, it isn’t worth buying. Certified products have a rigorous set of standards, as The Soil Association explains: http://www.soilassociation.org/whatisorganic/organicstandards. They have set the bar higher than the EU regulations and even cover areas such as fish farming and textiles. Always look for a logo you can trust.

A is for Animal-friendly. As well as buying organic meat and dairy products, the RSPCA Freedom Food logo is what you should look for to guarantee the psychological and physical health of the chicken in your casserole. Here are the Freedom Food standards and a list of the scientists and industry experts that compile them. Most supermarkets stock Freedom Food and Waitrose is a particularly good example of a supermarket trying to stock animal-friendly products.

happy pigs LOAF

Animal-friendly, for me, means meat that gives the animal a natural and happy life. It means healthy, appropriate food provided but not force-fed, the use of drugs only as a last resort, time outdoors with the animal’s social group and a quick and virtually painless death. A lot of animals intensively farmed for meat are transported far from their farms to be killed (I’m sure you’ve seen lorries full of sheep on your nearest motorway) and by the time they get there, they are so distressed that there is no fooling them into thinking they’ve been taken on holiday. I would suggest only buying meat that has been slaughtered on the farm or at a slaughterhouse a stone’s throw away. It’s not fair to drag out the dying of an animal. The RSPCA Freedom Food experts agree, with a strict list of rules for pig slaughter. Pigs must be slaughtered as close to the place they were born as possible, kept in their social groups and killed quickly with the minimum of pain and stress. I believe that if an animal is born, raised and dies for human consumption we must manage that animal kindly and responsibly, being grateful for the gift of that animal’s life and death.

F is for Fairtrade. We’ve all seen fair-trade coffee, chocolate and biscuits, but what does fair-trade mean when we buy meat and dairy? Recently, there have been many blockades and protests by dairy farmers in the UK news. For all their hard work, dairy farmers are getting a raw deal from supermarkets, meaning that families and small farms are losing out and facing the end of their businesses. For example, at a protest in Shropshire, farmer Paul Rowbottom described the situation: “People are going to go bust. They’re getting paid about 25p a litre and it’s costing 31p a litre to produce it. All the supermarkets and dairies have got to get the price back to the farmer.” The mega-dairies and supermarkets in-between the farmer and your milk bottle are costing people their livelihoods. Supermarkets and dairies have to get the cheapest milk possible, to pass on the price cuts to customers whilst still getting their profit.

fair trade LOAF

Buying from the farm directly means cheaper food for you, more profit for the farmer and a better deal for everyone. There is no middleman between you and the producer, so they can charge what they know is a fair price for the time and work they have put in. I try to buy meat and dairy with the least links between the producer and the consumer, minimising the financial and environmental cost of transport. The other plus is, I know where my food has come from and how the animals have been treated.

The LOAF system is by no means ‘my’ system, or an original idea. In fact, I got the acronym LOAF from some Benedictine monks! But that’s another story. Happy eating, readers. The planet will thank you in its own delicious way.

Pictures reproduced from:

Article icon: http://planetoftheanimals.blogspot.co.uk/2010_06_01_archive.html
Local: http://www.friday-ad.co.uk/article/supporting-your-local-business
Organic: http://www.wpwines.com/ascella-pure-white-organic-wine
Animal friendly: http://www.redhillfarm.com/about-us/about/what-we-believe-in/
Fairtrade: http://www.broadstripebutchers.co.uk/our_story.aspx

The Student Migration: International Students in the UK

A Benedictine monk and a Ghanaian walk past each other…

No, this isn’t the beginning of a joke. This is university. In the UK, our universities serve to bring together all nations, colours and religions in one place, an eye-opening experience for any student and representative of one of our country’s great assets: multiculturalism and diversity. I have met students from all over the world, from Iran to Cyprus in my time as a student. Their experiences have in many ways marked me, with a sense of our common humanity, and also, with a profound understanding of how differently we see the world.

International students often come to the UK to work hard, learn and experience new things: for example, a German friend of mine, Hans*, refuses to speak in German whilst he is in England. He wants to respect the land he is studying in and improve his English, or, as he puts it, what’s the point of coming here? This enthusiasm can enable international students to not only learn but teach UK students to appreciate their country. I knew a Nigerian, Ikenna*, who was sitting next to me as the first snow fell. The look on his face was like a child’s; so delighted and awestruck at seeing what had only been in pictures actually falling outside his window. He was grinning like a boy on Christmas day, while trains and cars came to a standstill around the campus. I had never appreciated the cold white stuff so much. The weather we grow up to complain about had become a magical thing again.

Other cultures can often teach us to let go and have fun. In the endless repetition of going out, getting drunk, and recovering from a hangover, I was shown one night that I had forgotten how to enjoy myself, how to listen to the music and actually dance. At a reggae and R&B night on campus, I found myself in a group of students from Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria, and El Salvador. Decidedly, this was the most talented group of nations in the art of dancing. So we had a street-dance type contest in the middle of the bar: African vs. Caribbean vs. Latino. Having learned to dance in West Africa, I represented the group I most identified with, but we were soundly beaten by the Caribbeans, who had the benefit of a soundly muscled dreadlocked guy who rolled his hips like no man I’ve ever seen! Clapping and whooping in a circle of so many different faces was exhilarating. That night, I learnt to feel something different, to let go of my English inhibition and really enjoy myself.

On the other hand, this lack of inhibition can be daunting for some students who have come from a country that has stricter codes of behaviour than ours, often enforced by law. For example, I met a postgraduate student at a karaoke bar named Yousef*. He was put off by the noise, the binge drinking and the sexual promiscuity, all things that would not have been allowed in his native Iran. He said that the culture shock was, at first, hard to get over. The most controversial part of UK life, he told me, was something we take for granted every day: I, a woman, not his sister or aunt or wife, was sat talking to him in a bar. Men and women mingle everywhere, talking and laughing and hugging each other, all in the spirit of friendship, and this is entirely normal; but not for Yousef. He recalled an incident in Iran where he went for a drive with a childhood friend, drinking coffee and talking. Sounds innocent enough, no? Apparently not, as the car was pulled over by the Iranian police and Yousef was almost arrested. He had to beg for mercy and was let off with a warning, for the crime of sitting next to a woman in a car. This was his idea of normality. And after the free socialising of different genders in the UK, when he went home for the holidays he admitted that it was hard to keep himself in check and his time away sometimes shed a harsh new light on his native country. Despite this, he is apprehensive of the promiscuity of women and men in the UK and the damage this may be doing to our young people. I can see his point.

How does one return home after a taste of such freedom? Yousef admitted that he was considering staying in England, and I’ve heard this opinion before, from Ikenna, who has not returned to Nigeria after his Postgraduate degree. He found life in the UK far too tempting and really made himself a home here. I guess, for him, the grass really was greener on the other side. Some people don’t integrate so well, however. A flatmate of mine from Bermuda, Serena*, never seemed to leave her room and found it hard to socialise with our all-white, loud, mostly English corridor of students. I don’t blame her. She was a long way from home and obviously found it hard to be away from everything she had ever known.

There are others for whom the choice to stay or to go is not so easy. Another postgraduate friend of mine, Fatima*, is from a troubled country in the Middle East. She found herself unable to return home, fearing for her safety in her war-torn homeland, and spent the Christmas holidays on campus. She faces not only danger but prejudice back home; being a lesbian, she has been free to explore her sexuality and meet like-minded people at university. Back in her home country, homosexuality is illegal. There have been many stories like hers, of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people making the most of their liberty in the UK and dreading the return to a homophobic culture. I know people who have come from Middle-Eastern and African countries that can’t be out on Facebook, have to control their interactions carefully, and could never come out to their families and friends back home for fear of victimisation and even imprisonment.

On the one hand, our more tolerant society offers opportunities to live openly and unashamedly as an LGBT person, as a woman, as a person with equal rights. On the other hand, as me and Yousef have discussed at length, how will their respective native countries ever change and progress (in terms of tolerance) if the international students never return home to contribute their experiences and knowledge to their national future? I can see both arguments, and would never judge either choice. All I know is that I personally am glad to have widened my worldview, met some extremely interesting people and learned to understand and appreciate the unique benefits that living in this country provides.

*Names have been changed to respect the subjects’ privacy.