Going Vegetarian

I very recently made the decision to become a vegetarian! I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while, but could never bring myself to give up lamb chops or bacon. I’m too poor to buy meat on a regular basis, but I love a slither of something crispy.

However, as you may have realised I am extremely passionate about protecting the environment and reversing the damage we have done to the planet. I’m the first to admit that I can get pretty heated and preachy about it all, but I realised that by continuing to eat meat I am being incredibly hypocritical. So I’ve decided to give it up – and it feels great!

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So why go vegetarian? My reasons are mostly environmental. I absolutely love animals and have always bought free-range where I can, but I chose to become a vegetarian because of the bigger picture. In July The Guardian reported that the red meat industry has a larger carbon footprint than the motoring industry, producing 18% of the world’s global carbon emissions. If that statistic isn’t enough, we are given constant visual reminders of the devastation caused by the industry. Huge areas of rainforest are legally and illegally logged every day to make room for grazing. If you didn’t like Saruman’s treatment of Fangorn Forest in The Two Towers, imagine it happening every day in the Amazon…

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I love doing anything I can to combat our environmental crisis, and it feels really good to finally have the balls to give up meat and fish. The main reason I’ve given up fish is because of our global problems with unsustainable fishing and wildlife destruction, and also because of something my friend told me, who works in marine conservation: Our oceans are now so full of plastic that they are starting to find plastic molecules in the fish we eat. Lovely!

‘A recent study into historical records has revealed that since we started fishing on an industrial scale 120 years ago, our major fish stocks have shrunk by a staggering 94%.’
Rabbit Science

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I’d like to go the whole hog and become a vegan one day, because the dairy industry can be just as cruel and carbon-consuming as the meat industry, but a dairy-free diet is such a massive lifestyle change. However, it would be a great thing to do and I will one day! For now, I’ve asked for vegetarian cookbooks for Christmas, and I’ve been experimenting with lots of intriguing pulses and funky vegetables.

I’ve also bought one of those lovely brown Paperchase books to collect vegetarian recipes together as a sort of food journal, so please let me know any delicious recipes you’d like to share!

You can follow these links for more information…

Why Go Veg? (Vegetarian Times)

Solutions to Deforestation (Greenpeace) 

Working for Sustainable Fishing (WWF)

A Short Rant: Climate and Celebrity

A few weeks ago I joined half a million people across 166 countries to protest against climate change, and marched through London from Temple to Westminster. It was a fantastic event and inspirational to meet so many people who are passionate about saving our planet from ecological disaster. Being a fundraiser for a wildlife charity, life can get extremely depressing when you speak to a hundred people and not a single one is interested in the environment, or even know why it needs protecting.

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Lots of celebrities used their influence positively and marched in London, New York and across the world. Emma Thompson, Peter Gabriel and Vivienne Westwood joined the London march, with Thompson and Westwood giving glorious speeches outside the Houses of Parliament. New York saw celebrities Mark Ruffalo, Evangeline Lilly, Sting and Leonardo DiCaprio take to the streets alongside the normals, using their global fame to highlight the catastrophic changes global warming will bring.

It was great to see so many famous faces taking responsibility with everyone else for our destruction of the natural world, but in many ways I was disappointed. Think of how many ‘celebrities’ there are in the world; that is, how many people are watched, judged and idolised by the rest of humanity. Can you imagine what it would have been like if every one of these people had marched for climate change, and talked about the subject with their fans? Can you imagine how many ridiculous teenagers would have actually shown an interest in renewable energy and Sumatran tigers if One Direction had tweeted about it beforehand?

I am generally very optimistic about the future of our planet, because otherwise it is just too depressing to think about. I’m fighting alongside wildlife organisations, conservationists and naturalists to start fixing the damage we’ve done – but I just wish the people who eat and drink money would gain a little perspective and use their influence for something worthwhile.

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Poem of the Month: October

Despite the unnatural mugginess of the London streets, it is now officially Autumn! It’s hard to say, but I think this may be my favourite season of the year. I’m not one for warm weather; I like fresh, crisp afternoons with blackberry crumble, dog walks and lots of tartan.

The poem I have chosen for October is from the Romantic period, which I believe to be the best literary era. Think Wordsworth, Coleridge and Austen, and the emotive language used to describe the wonders of our natural world. George Monbiot wrote a fantastic piece in the Guardian today about our reckless destruction of the planet, and it seems fitting to reflect on this poem by John Keats, from a time when the world was greener and people were deeply connected with nature.

I find the poem comforting in its reminder not to be sad that the warm months are gone, because Autumn has its own music to play.

To Autumn by John Keats

1

Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells.

2

 Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

3

Where are the songs of Spring? Aye, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too -
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day;
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

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Thoughts on Meadowland

Since deciding to pursue nature writing as a career, I’ve been collecting and reading delicious works of naturalist and environmental writing to help influence my own! After spotting a review of John Lewis-Stempel’s Meadowland online it seemed just my cup of tea, and a few days later I was kindly sent a copy by Doubleday.

MeadowlandThe book explores a life in the year of a farmer’s meadow on the border of England and Wales. Through the author’s careful, quiet prose, we watch badgers, foxes, rabbits, woodland birds and livestock as they survive the British seasons, and witness first hand the ruthless process of natural selection.

Yet, it is not the gritty reality of the life cycle that overpowers this book; it is an incredibly pleasant read and left me with a feeling of peaceful tranquility after every visit. Yes, the rabbits were pursued by hungry foxes and tiny songbirds froze in the deep winter, but the warmer months were brimming with life and rebirth. The final effect was one of contented acceptance of nature’s magnificent state of flux.

Meadowland also provided a fantastic insight into the relationship between farming and the natural world. I’m very interested in farming from a consumer point of view, and I take particular care to source my food ethically and organically when possible. Lewis-Stempel doesn’t appear to be a mass-producing farmer on a large scale, but the intimacy he has with his crops, livestock and the wildlife on his land is something I admire him for, not only as a farmer, but as a man wholly connected with the food he eats. Too many modern consumers are completely disinterested in how groceries end up in their fridge.

This is a lovely book for anyone interested in the secrets of our vulnerable hay meadows, something Iolo Williams spoke passionately about in his speech at the State of Nature conference in Wales last year – absolutely worth watching. I recommend Meadowland to anyone who cherishes our countryside and the wild things within it.

An Evening of Taxidermy..

Last night I had the most spectacular evening at the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, to celebrate the launch of Kate Mosse’s new novel The Taxidermist’s Daughter! The Horniman is a beautiful set of buildings housing a collection of cool objects and natural history specimens. I’ve been waiting for the release of this novel for months, and I actually mentioned it in my blog post about Jamaica Inn in April. Kate was inspired by the infamous collection of Victorian amateur taxidermist Walter Potter, which featured creepy tableaux such as ‘Kitten Wedding’ and ‘Gambling Squirrels’.

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The evening started with a discussion between Kate Mosse and Sandi Toksvig about her inspiration for the novel, and afterwards I got my copy of the novel signed and talked to her about seeing the Potter collection at Jamaica Inn. Then I met one of my favourite authors on extinction, Errol Fuller, who’s book Lost Animals I mentioned in my summer reading post! He was giving a talk about the weird world of taxidermy.

Afterwards we listened to a presentation by ethical taxidermist Jazmine Miles-Long! She only uses animals that have died from natural causes, and it was absolutely fascinating listening to the complex processes involved in taxidermy. It’s a surprisingly clean and creative craft, and although I’m not sure I would have the stomach to do it myself, I would love to give it a go. I also found it really interesting how she chooses not to work with domestic pets, as the pressure of recreating such a beloved friend is too stressful. I can really relate to this when doing pet portraits; it’s easy to draw a wild animal, but trying to draw a specific animal that is so familiar to the family is very hard to perfect!

It was a fantastic evening and I cannot wait to crack on with the novel! I also got a delicious photo with this miserable fox.

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The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse is published by Orion and available now!

Poem of the Month: September

I am currently starting two very exciting things. Firstly, I now work for the RSPB as a fundraiser and I am loving it! They are my favourite organisation and to be actively helping wildlife whilst earning a few pennies is an absolute dream. Secondly, I am prepping for the induction of my Masters in English, which starts in less than a month! I have really missed studying and I cannot wait to return to writing essays about syntax and pathetic fallacy and all that.

As literature is going to be a big part of my life once again, I thought I’d start a Poem of the Month on my blog! I love poetry and learning about the poets themselves, so I’ll be sharing some of my favourite poems and new ones I have discovered. The first one is a salute to my new job, and one of my absolute favourites: Little Trotty Wagtail by John Clare. During our RSPB training, they let us all pick a pin-badge to wear and I chose the Pied Wagtail, a happy chappy with a bobbing tail.

Born the son a farm-labourer in 1793, John Clare was an English poet who became famous for his representations of the countryside and rural life. He lived in Northamptonshire but spent large parts of his life in literary London, and often felt torn between the desire to write poetry and the need to feed his family through farm work. He has written several harrowing poems about 19th century survival and the disruption of the landscape, but this simple, bouncy little poem about one of our commonest birds is my favourite.

Little Trotty Wagtail by John Clare

Little trotty wagtail he went in the rain,
And tittering, tottering sideways he neer got straight again,
He stooped to get a worm, and looked up to get a fly,
And then he flew away ere his feathers they were dry.

Little trotty wagtail, he waddled in the mud,
And left his little footmarks, trample where he would.
He waddled in the water-pudge, and waggle went his tail,
And chirrupt up his wings to dry upon the garden rail.

Little trotty wagtail, you nimble all about,
And in the dimpling water-pudge you waddle in and out;
Your home is nigh at hand, and in the warm pig-stye,
So, little Master Wagtail, I’ll bid you a good-bye.

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Hate the Media, Love the Corncockle

A few months ago I wrote about Kirstie Allsopp after an interview revealed her controversial views on women, careers and parenthood. My qualms were not with her opinions on the balancing act between pursuing a career and having children, but with the ridiculous way our newspapers twisted her words into highly inaccurate, profiteering headlines.  It is the utter lack of dignity with which journalists carry out their work that convinced me journalism was not the career for me, and I’m jolly glad I am not pursuing it.

When I woke up the other morning, I browsed through the early news stories and found (unsurprisingly) a new piece of nonsense from the riff-raff at The Telegraph, accusing the BBC of trying to poison the inhabitants of the British countryside. Goodness! I hear you cry.

A marvellous wildflower campaign was featured on Countryfile in April, offering free seeds to viewers to encourage the growth and survival of wildflowers across our landscape. Wildflowers are an integral part of the survival of many insects, butterflies and small creatures, and an increase in their coverage would undoubtedly increase the numbers of other dwindling species. It was a truly great idea to give free seeds away, and for the entire summer adults, children, Girl Guides and schools have been planting seeds where they can in order to give our wildflower population a much needed boost.

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But apparently this fabulous act of ecological kindness isn’t quite good enough to evade the claws of our friend David Barrett at The Telegraph, who’s article promises almost-certain death to those who take part in this monstrous project organised by Beelzebub himself. Being the genius he is, he’s cottoned onto the fact that one of the flowers, the rare and beautiful corncockle, is toxic when ingested. Yes it is, Dave. But so are daffodils, laurel, ivy, hellebores, lupins and foxgloves. And any true Poirot fan will know the common yew tree produces taxine poison.

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We have lived alongside poisonous plants for thousands of years, yet amazingly the human population still struggles on. Most instances of corncockle poisoning have resulted in little more than stomach-ache and vomiting. Seeing as we’ve screwed up the entirety of our natural landscape and ripped out acres of meadowlands, do we not think it might be wise to spend a little time trying to revive species on the brink of extinction? And when we’ve finished, perhaps we could spend a little time telling our children not to eat random seeds and flowers (what are they, rabbits?). I remember being told about the dangers of foxgloves and I still won’t go near them at the age of 22.

Dave (can I call you Dave?) has demonstrated to me once again how journalist desperation really can make an entire story out of a nothingness. And what’s worse is that many of the people who read his article will now doubt the positive intention behind helping wildflowers, and may even destroy struggling patches of corncockles. If you would like to continue the good work of our conservationists, please look after our wildflowers and plant more! You can buy wildflower seed mixes here. Please also avoid newspapers; they waste trees, life minutes and reading time.

And remember. Don’t eat flowers.

My new website is here!

I’m very, very excited to announce that I have now finished creating the website for my wildlife illustrations and greetings cards!

It’s still in it’s early stages, and I’m sure I’ll be tweaking it over the next few weeks or so but you can buy my cards safely using PayPal and I’ll send them through the post! I feel like Alan Sugar.

Please have a browse and let me know your thoughts, and feel free to buy some cards.. A couple of my designs are currently sold out, but I will be updating it over the next few months with new stock, my Christmas range and new products like tote bags and stationery!

You can visit my new website at tiffanyimogen.moonfruit.com

Thank you!

Summer reading..

For the last two Augusts I’ve been lucky enough to find myself at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but sadly I wasn’t able to make it this year. The best thing about the Fringe is that it coincides with the Edinburgh Book Festival, and although I’m also missing that spectacular event, it has prompted me to write a list of the books I have read, am reading or planning to read this summer!

These are a few books I’ve bought or kindly been sent for review, and I’m enjoying them immensely!

Lost Animals: Extinction & the Photographic Record by Errol Fuller

k10215Since reading The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, I’ve fostered a morbid obsession with extinction and the damage caused by the human race. A kind Twitter pal from Bloomsbury offered to send me this fantastic book filled with rare photos of animals which have since become extinct. These include the Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger), Yangtze River Dolphin and the Laughing Owl. When you think of extinction, it’s usually the Dodo or something from a seventeenth century etching, so it’s amazing to remind myself that extinction is a modern problem and to read the stories behind the photos.

Tweet of the Day by Brett Westwood & Stephen Moss

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I’m a huge fan of the Radio 4 series Tweet of the Day, so I was very excited when they released a book to accompany it! If you’re not familiar, it’s a short programme each morning with soundclips of a different British bird and a little information about it. Stephen Moss is one of my fave naturalists, and the book is beautifully illustrated and ordered into each month so you can listen out for different birds at different times of year. It’s also a great bird guidebook if you don’t own one, as I think all people should.. You can listen to all the Tweets of the Day on Radio 4 here!

101 Reykjavik by Hallgrímur Helgason

101I’m a bit obsessed with Damon Albarn and everything he’s ever done, and when I was browsing his discography on Spotify I saw he had composed the music for the film 101 Reykjavik. I’d never heard of the film but in true English student style, I bought the original novel out of curiosity. It’s a strange Icelandic story from the 90s about a guy called Hlynur who still lives with his mother and develops feelings for her lesbian lover. It’s sort of a contemporary stream-of-consciousness novel with some really bizarre sections, but it’s funny and I’m still not sure whether or not I like the protagonist. I definitely recommend it for a pleasantly uncomfortable read.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

fuji13I’ve wanted to read this for a looong time, and I’m hoping to somehow tie it into my MA thesis when I eventually get there.. It’s one of those books that people say ‘changed the course of history’, and I’m really enjoying it so far. Rachel Carson was an American marine biologist and conservationist who was one of the first people to realise how catastrophically damaging synthetic pesticides are to both natural wildlife and human health. It’s a pretty scientific book and isn’t exactly a joyful read, but it’s incredibly disturbing and has already made me switch to buying organic whenever I can. Aside from that, it’s also really interesting to see how things have changed in the 50 years since it was written.

Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel

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After reading a review of this online, I was lucky enough to have my own copy sent to me by Doubleday and I’m so excited to read it! I’ve always wanted to be a writer in some way, and I’ve only recently realised that I’d like to specialise in nature writing and naturalism. John Lewis-Stempel is an exceptional naturalist and having read the first few chapters I am loving this piece of writing about the life of an English meadow and its inhabitants over the seasons. It’s great to have some inspiration for my own work, especially as this edition has some beautiful illustrations to accompany it. A great book for anyone who loves the intricate workings of the English countryside.

  Virginia Woolf’s Garden by Caroline Zoob

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I remember cycling very close to Virginia Woolf’s house in Lewes when my friend and I cycled the South Downs Way, and I’ve always wanted to go back and see it properly. Now I live in London, everything is just a stone’s throw away so I have been flicking through this book for inspiration. I love Virginia Woolf’s political literature, and I also love National Trust houses and beautiful gardens, so this really is my cup of tea. It’s a fascinating insight into her life when she lived there, and the quirky illustrated maps even point out the River Ouse, where she filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself. It’s a great coffee-table book!

My Eco Revamp

Once again, sorry about the sparsity of my posts. I’m currently in the process of launching a second blog which will act as a portfolio for my nature writing and illustration. Once that’s set up I will distribute my attention more evenly between the two! Watch this space…

Before moving to London, I was worried I might get distracted from my love of wildlife and all that kind of thing. There are lots of fabulous London things to in London, and I thought I might get caught up with pasty shops at train stations and other exciting diversions. Fortunately, I was wrong! I’m loving the pasty shops, but I’ve spent more time thinking about enviro issues here than I did in Bristol. I’ve also managed to get a job fundraising for the RSPB (amaze), which is making me realise more than ever how important it is to co-operate with the natural world.

Consequently, I’ve managed to give my life a little eco revamp. I’ve always tried to buy things ethically when I can, but I’ve now decided it’s the sort of thing you can’t really do half-assed. There’s no point in buying organic leeks and then hobbling into Primark. So here is a quick run-down of a few nice changes I’ve made to make the world a little less crap:

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Cool cosmetics

Like many ladies, I use lots of cosmetics. I have thick, curly hair so I need a million hair products, and my dry skin means I must always have moisturiser at arm’s reach WITHOUT FAIL. I remember reading something about how little we know about the chemicals in our beauty products, and how easily we will smother ourselves without thinking. There has also been an awful lot in the media recently about animal cruelty and cosmetic testing. With both of these in mind, I am now slowly replacing each of my cosmetic items with products from Lush and The Body Shop. I know there are plenty of other companies that produce eco-cosmetics, but I haven’t done enough research yet! Lush are famous for their fresh, natural products and The Body Shop never test their products on animals, and use sustainably-sourced and Fairtrade ingredients.

I’m currently using Trichomania coconut shampoo from Lush, Banana conditioner from TBS and Early Harvest Raspberry shower gel from TBS.

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Tubular trainers

As I mentioned, I’m starting a new job with the RSPB soon, hoozah! They’re my favourite charity and I can’t wait to get cracking. My job involves being on my feet and moving around London every day, so I decided I would invest in a good pair of sneaker-trainers. I remember hearing that Lily Cole (very interested in eco-activism) had collaborated with a French company called Veja, so I had a sneaky peek and found that they make eco-sneakers using organic Brazilian cotton, wild rubber from the Amazon and vegetable-tanned leather. I was most excited about the wild rubber, because they enable Brazilian people to earn an income from sustainable rubber-tapping rather than resorting to logging.

Needless to say, I bought this delicious pair of Taua Grafite Emeraudes for €69, made in the Ceara region of Brazil.

Free range chicken at the Food Animal Initiative (FAI) farm in Oxford, UK.

Free range, organic & seasonal

This is probably the easiest thing you can do to improve the lives of both domesticated and wild animals, yet it’s the one thing people avoid. Free range chicken speaks for itself: chickens deserve to lead a natural, safe and happy life before they’re eaten or while they provide us with eggs. A quick comparison on the Sainsbury’s website reveals that you can buy free range eggs for just 35p more than normal ‘barn’ eggs (caged). As for organic produce, I can’t stress how much of a difference it makes. I’m currently reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, and although it was written in the 1960s, everything she says rings true today. Pesticides find their way into soil, rainwater, insects, wild birds and animals, and our own digestive systems. They kill wildlife and are undeniably dangerous to our own health, yet we feed our children pesticide-coated fruit and veg. Another Sainsbury’s search reveals that organic leeks are a mere 50p more than regular leeks. If you buy produce seasonally, you’ll find it to be even cheaper.

If you think you can’t afford a few pennies more each week, think of the last stupid purchase you made that you could have spent on better food. Mine was a band t-shirt I bought ‘in the moment’.