So, last Friday I got some pretty world-shifting news. In one relatively short phone call, I was suddenly going to be a PhD student.
This was never something I really aspired to. I felt I lacked the ambitions and the background to make such a thing happen. I was happy with getting a degree in environmental chemistry and helping the world in that way.
As I might have mentioned before, the recession hit as I graduated, and my aspirations towards working in an environmental monitoring lab was temporarily stalled. In London my crafting hobbies were difficult for some reason, which led me to pick up my age old hobbies of reading and writing instead, which was relaxing and enjoyable. I still wanted a job though. Something permanent and preferably related.
Then this PhD position showed up in my job searches back at the university where I did my MSc. It was pretty much an open application. You contact the supervisor, together you craft a proposal, and then you send in a personal proposal along with your application and CV. It was a rare chance, but I avoided it, intimidated by the prospects.
At some point, I realised I was being an idiot. What better chance would someone get to delve deeper into environmental science than to actually have a hand in crafting the proposal yourself? In the ever famous words of… who knows by now? “If not me, who?”
So we crafted a fantastic proposal on new and emerging pollutants and how such pollutants can be easily studied and analysed. And, to my astonishment, we got it.
So now I am in this strange place where I suddenly have to realign my thinking into not just looking up at those ambitious PhD students I’ve spent time with in university already, but actually being one of them. It is an intimidating and at the same time humbling experience.
I suppose since I want to work on environmental issues, I might as well give it my all!
I really want to do this right. The feeling of being equal parts excited and intimidated does not seem to fade. I am still waiting on the official contract from HR, but I have no reason to believe there will be any issues this time, not like the unfortunate incidents around my exchange to Brazil.
I still hope to keep writing though, even if I know there will be far less time for such things. Far less time for anything, really. And still I have every intention of living and enjoying life back in Norway with forests and nature at my doorstep and crafty, inventive friends ready with a cup of tea and long discussions.
It has been two interesting years in the English capitol, but I am ready for a new kind of adventure now.
So, my partner got tickets to the Two Man Show at Soho Theatre this weekend. Not just that, but when he mentioned the show to his supervisor, she made sure his entire class got tickets to see it. He’s been hyped up about it for months, seeing as he missed his chance last time when the tickets had sold out.
As with the time when we went to see the amazing Kate Bornstein last year, I am afraid to admit that I had very little idea about just what it was we were going to see. It is very much my partner who is the theatre geek, but I do appreciate it when it is not too loud.
Two Man Show was well written. I am not sure how it might look to someone who is not at least somewhat familiar with feminist concepts, but I have an inkling that such people might not have found their way to this show. It was located all the way at the top of Soho Theatre, a small, intimate room with limited seating and close proximity to the performers.
It was raw, and aggressive. But it did so without ever really ridiculing the humans they were performing. The men were, make no doubt, men, and yet they were perfectly human and at the same time annoyingly blind to their own privileges. The kind of man you just want to shake because they just don’t get it, and no matter how you try to talk about it, it just isn’t taken or comprehended in the way it was intended.
Both the women and men were presenting several facets in a way that, hopefully, will make us all remember that gender is more than stereotype and expectations. The female characters were tough and vulnerable, just like the male characters were. They hi-lighted issues around problematic tropes like “wearing the pants in a relationship” and “being a man”, not to mention how the entire language we use is structured around male dominance and female submission. Naturally, they opted to turn away from spoken language for several sections of the show, relying on body and dance instead to make their point.
Without giving too much away, I can say that it was good. Well timed to run just before 8. of March. I was thoughtful when I left the theatre. Stuck in my own head for the duration of the trip back home. How can I help? How can I be supportive? What is the best way to reach others with all the issues close to my heart? Veganism, feminism, pollution, overpopulation, discrimination, global warming… don’t ask me to pick just one, because they are all important to me and I want to fight for them all.
At the same time, I am amazed at what has been accomplished in the last 100 years. From Votes For Women to female professors lecturing university halls on feminism and equality. There is a long way to go still, but a lot has been accomplished as well.
My father recently made a comment when I was home for the holidays last time that he had noticed I had grown more political over the last years. Although one of my initial thoughts was just that I had finally grown some opinions.
So, last weekend while I had the flat to myself, I went and joined the Animal rights march in London. It had popped up in my facebook feel way back when and, being somewhat concerned about out environment and treatment of fellow planet inhabitants, I half-heartedly signed my interest and forgot all about it.
As random luck would have it, my partner went on a trip that weekend and I suddenly had both the time and the means to head over to Hyde Park and join the shenanigans. I donned my most political tshirt and went on my way.
Having little experience with these things, I never quite know what to expect. I joined the climate march last year as well and, well, going alone is just a bit… uninspiring. You spend a lot of time waiting around, and then you try to yell some chants while you walk down a road before you eventually end up in front of Westminister where there are a couple of speeches before you break up and head home again. I’m guessing going there with a group or just with one other person might have made a huge difference to my experience of these marches, but that is on me. It was still an interesting experience. I am glad I went. The energy was certainly palpable and more than half had made their own signs.
As always, I am reminded of how veganism is still mainly a thing for privileged, white people, varied though the demographic was in other way, I counted less than 20 people of colour throughout the march in which there were at least a thousand people (I think).
The only thing that made me downright uncomfortable about the whole thing was when the march passed a McDonald’s and almost every one started booing and chanting “Shame on you”. It was bad enough that our police escort stationed at least 3 police officers in front of their door.
I did not join in. That sort of negative behaviour is not a movement I want to be associated with. Shaming someone for their food choices does not make them likely to change, but giving them a positive alternative might. The behaviour displayed that day just goes to enforce the “angry vegan” stereotype. Quite counterproductive when I would much rather strive for inclusive and engaging behaviours which entice people to give recipes and restaurants a go without attacking them or trying to make them feel bad.
I suppose I’m a bad protester as well as a bad vegan. I did not leave the march feeling invigorated and energized, I just felt a bit fatigued and a little confused as to how it would help in the long run. That might just be my anti-social self talking though, who knows?
Being a child of my generation, at least I got a selfie to prove it actually happened.
Since we are currently living in London, there are many positive things to see and attend for a fledgling environmental activist. The vegan scene is bigger and way more varied than even a fraction of what you might find in the biggest city in Norway. Accessibility to a range of vegan alternatives in grocery shops and restaurants being only a couple of the perks.
This weekend, we ventured a trip to the London Vegfest, a much anticipated event that we had chosen to support by buying tickets weeks if not months in advance. If you know me at all though, you’ll know that I mostly go for the noms.
Sadly, I forgot my camera, but I can assure you there were noms. We gorged ourselves on wraps, hemp burgers, several different kinds of ice cream and lemonade, and that was not even the half of it! We could easily have spent the entire day eating, had the queues to the best stuff not been so long, and had we not become full so fast.
Still, we made sure to stock up on some cake before we went home, for leaner times, of course.
I love food.
I will admit so easily. I always have, and cooking have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I love to cook, and I love to eat. So when I go just about anywhere, you can be assured that food will be on my mind.
But I also like souvenirs. Preferably useful ones, and herein lies some of the crux. It took me a pretty long time to find anything that didn’t either scream of snarkasm, or a condescending attitude to those who are not yet vegan. I am not a fan of condescending attitudes anywhere, and clothing/apparel, even to make someone think or raise a question, is no exception.
This leads me to think about my own faulty attempts at veganism. After all, it was only this year that I was able to afford a new pair of vegan autumn boots, to replace my much beloved old non-vegan pair from before I went vegan. They are microfiber though, which is a cause of some concern for me, environmental studies and concerns and all that.
I also still wear wool. Most of this, as well, from before I went vegan. But there are also a lot of things from thrift shops and friends. I am sorry, but when a friend offers me several skeins of yarn from her own flock of a dozen well-loved sheep, I am not going to feel too bad about turning it into a snuggly sweater. Those sheep had a good life, and I am not going to throw good, useful things on the landfill in favour of “vegan” alternatives like polyester and fleece made from petroleum and contaminating the planet.
For me, the planet comes first. This creates some other issues as well. In the Arctic winter, most people rely on wool to keep warm. Some people with allergies use super underwear made of polyester instead, but I prefer natural fibres. If you have ever gotten sweaty or wet in below freezing, you will know that cotton just doesn’t cut it. If cotton gets wet, it steals body heat, wool does not.
What I am trying to say, albeit in a roundabout and difficult way, is that there needs to be more intersectionalism in veganism for it to be palpable to me. I am fully aware that I am not a proper vegan by the strict definition because I wear wool, but the definition given by The Vegan Society goes as follows:
A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.
I try to reduce my footprint, as much as I can. I bike, take public transit, and I shop second hand, organic when I can, and I repair my clothes. I seek to reduce suffering of all creatures by making sure I do not own a lot of useless junk, and I try to keep things off the landfill. Is this un-vegan?
Another issue that I see often online and in places like these is the argument against horse-riding. I have never been much of a horse girl myself, but there is one thing I think makes it sound very ableist to a lot of people. If a horse should be free and not work, what about the thousands of guide dogs, therapy dogs and other dogs and animals providing an essential service to less able people? Should they not work either? Or are dogs and horses different? Does veganism not promote the idea that all lives have value, simply by being alive? I would not dream of walking up to anyone with a working service dog and try to argue that their dog should be nothing but a companion and a pet. In most cases I have seen, the animal is unmistakeably both, and an exceptionally valuable companion to boot.
But if dogs can work, why not horses? Is it because horses do heavier labour? Do we feel more sorry for them?
Yet I would much rather live in a world where animals worked and were greatly appreciated, than the one we live in now, where they are slaughtered.
I must admit, I do not know. I believe wild animals should have value in and of themselves. Not for whatever service, aesthetics or feel-good the provide humans. But at the same time, I am unable to feel that it is inherently unethical to keep pets, or even working pets, when I see the amazing effect they can have on mental health and quality of life.
I am not even sure if I feel that it is inherently wrong to keep a couple of sheep or goats for their wool, if their right to life was valued as anyone else’s. I have been a member of viking reenactment groups for years, and their knowledge, skill, humour, enthusiasm and warmth is not something I easily let go of. Vegan or no, I believe their excitement and enthusiasm for culture, traditional crafts and living softly on the earth would be a great loss if it vanished. I’ll still avoid the fur though, and the leather. But they don’t mind, because that’s just how awesome they are.
All in all, I do not know.
Some times I wish that I could see the world as black and white. It seems so much easier that way.
I’ll probably be dead before I have a properly clear-cut answer to just about anything.
Edit: After thinking about it for some time, and seeing some other responses to the issue, I think that my stance on wool is not what I want it to be. I don’t believe we have a right to take something from another species like that, warm and snuggly though it might be.
I will continue to explore alternatives to wool in brushed, organic cotton and hemp, hoping that it will provide what it promises. Slowly but surely, my wardrobe will continue to change until even those weather worn, countless times mended woollen socks will be exchanged.
I don’t know when though. I do not like throwing away items I can still use, or buying things I don’t really need…
What to do about viking re-enactment and all their woollen garments, I still do not know.
In a small attempt at some peaceful vegan activism/nudging, I tried to send a letter to Sainsbury’s to urge them to include more vegan products in their Freefrom range. It’s only a tiny thing, but hopefully it could be a tiny drop in the right direction.
With their new vegan, coconut based cheese range launched this week, it would be awesome if they would extend their vegan range even further!
It was so exciting this summer when we came back to Great Britain only to find that you had expanded your Freefrom range to include a lot more cakes and snacks.
However, upon reading the ingredient list, it quickly became evident that almost all of the new products contained either eggs or milk, with the only exception we could find being raspberry flapjacks which contained neither.
I would have loved to try some of the new products, such as the chocolate covered cornflakes. It would be really awesome if you would consider developing some more products or recipes to exclude both eggs, milk and other animal products. This would make your new products even more accessible to people with multiple allergies and vegans!
I know that I could’ve written a much stronger and more punchy letter, but it is a start!