ramblings, musings, wafflings and perusings of a vexed vegan!

Of being vegan when you are poor.

Being vegan can be a very expensive lifestyle if you allow it.
But it need not be, especially when you are feeling the pinch and need to save a little money.
Many recipes call for expensive ingredients such as saffron, all manner of exotic fruits and vegetables, and processed vegan meats.
While all of these items are delicious, they are not necessary for you to eat healthfully, satisfyingly and above all, cheaply. Below I will give what methods I utilise to maximise food at a minimal price, as well as some recipe ideas.

This is where a well stocked store cupboard really comes into its element. Dried herbs and spices, soy sauce, garlic, vegetable stock, olive oil and sesame oil. For me, these are the essentials that can make even the most meagre meal exciting. The benefits to having them in the house far exceed the initial cost of purchasing them all.
Forget fresh herbs. Delicious and wonderful for your health they may be, but they are often out of the budget.
Focus on certain foods.
White onions, white potatoes, carrots, beans (either tinned or dried. They are roughly the same price, but tinned require far less cooking time, and need not be soaked the night before), lentils and rice are your friends. I rely very heavily upon them during leaner times.
Cabbage is another good, versatile vegetable to resort to. Wonderfully healthful, and packed with vitamins and minerals, and yet perfect for a budget. A large savoy or red cabbage may be reasonably priced initially, but if you quarter it that is four nights worth of food. The same can be said for butternut/acorn/winter squash and pumpkins. While relatively expensive to buy, they are big enough to last for three or four portions.
Fresh and frozen vegetables are both perfectly healthful options, retaining most of their nutrients and taste. Apart from beans, sweetcorn, chickpeas and chopped tomatoes however, I tend to avoid tinned vegetables.
Another good idea is curry. Making your own are delicious but expensive, and jarred curry sauces can taste a little gross. However right beside the jars of curry sauce, are smaller jars of curry paste. Curry paste has all of the flavour of an authentically made fresh curry, at a fraction of the price. Simply put 1-2 tablespoons into a hot pot with some water, garlic and a can or two of chopped tomatoes and you are done. Add whatever low priced vegetables you wish (or happen to have in, before now I have even used frozen sprouts and apples! It really does not matter what you use) and serve with rice.
Soups too are highly efficient ways to maximise ingredients with minimum effort and cost. A general rule of thumb that I adhere to is 1-2 chopped onions, 4 cloves chopped garlic, 2 chopped potatoes and vegetable stock, accompanying a fruit or vegetable. Examples of some of my favourites are broccoli, cauliflower, leek, squash/pumpkin, lentil, beetroot, asparagus and bean.

What I would highly recommend is making food in bulk. Making a large pot of soup or rice will last for two nights meals. Or alternatively, place the left overs into lunch boxes and have it for lunch the next day to avoid having to buy it.

A meal that may look identical to a previous one can be entirely altered with the use of certain herbs and spices.
The following recipes are very easy to cook. It should be noted that with the recipes that include rice, I am referring to brown/wholemeal rice. I use it because it is, like bread and pasta, healthier than its white counterpart. It is important to note however that this will require an extra ten to fifteen minutes of cooking time, and a little more liquid, so keep on eye on it while it cooks lest you need to add more. The recipes are also aimed to be sufficiently large enough to provide a house of two people with two nights worth of meals. As with all other recipe ideas I have provided throughout this blog, adjust the ingredients according to your own taste, as well as substituting other ingredients if you happen to be at the shop and find something else is on offer for a lower price.

Mexican rice and beans
Cook 2 cups of rice in 5-6 cups of vegetable stock and cook until nearly done.
At this point, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp chilli powder (or more if you prefer a bigger bite) and about 5 cloves of sliced garlic. Stir well, then add 1 can of kidney beans, 4 roughly chopped tomatoes, 1 can of sweetcorn and half a cup of black olives.  Cook for a further five minutes until heated through, and serve.

Italian rice and beans
Cook 2 cups of rice in 5-6 cups of vegetable stock, 1 tsp of dried oregano, 1 tsp of dried basil and cook until nearly done.
Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat about a tbsp of olive oil and and fry 1-2 diced onions and 5 cloves of chopped garlic for about five minutes, until onions have softened. Turn off the heat and leave aside.
When the rice is nearly done, add 2 very finely diced carrots, 1 can of chopped tomatoes, and 2 cans of butter beans (although any white beans will do). Stir, and add the onion and garlic that was cooked earlier. Cook for a further ten minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed, and stir in a final tbsp of olive oil. Serve.

Chinese rice and vegetables
Cook 2 cups of rice in 5-6 cups of vegetable stock until thoroughly cooked. Drain and leave aside.
Once that is done, heat 1 tbsp of oil in a wok (although any type of large pot will really do at a push), and add 1-2 diced onions and 5 chopped garlic cloves for five minutes. Add broccoli florets and sliced carrots for a further ten minutes. Add the rice back to this and stir well. Now include 1 cup of peas, 4 sliced spring onions, 3 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp sesame oil and the juice of half a lemon/lime. Stir well and cook for a final five minutes. Serve with a final sprinkle of lemon/lime juice.

Cowboy hash (of sorts)
A much beloved dish of my Scottish grandmothers, but somewhat altered from her original meat filled version.
Simply place 3 finely chopped onions in a little oil and cook for five minutes. Add 4 cloves of finely chopped garlic for one minute. Add 2 cans of baked beans and 2 cans of sweetcorn, and cook until warmed through. Serve this alongside mashed potato.

Rice and tortilla wraps
This dish requires very little explanation. Simply cook your rice until it is done. Then add to it any ingredients you have around, such as spinach and frozen peas for five minutes. Add some lemon/lime juice. Place in a tortilla wrap, fold and eat. It does not get much simpler (or cost effective) than that.

Pasta and sauce
Cook plenty of pasta according to the packet instructions.
Meanwhile in a separate pot, heat some oil. Add to this 2 chopped onions and 5 cloves of chopped garlic for five minutes. Add in 2 cans of chopped tomatoes, 1 tsp of dried basil and 1 tsp of dried rosemary or oregano. Simmer for ten minutes. Add half a cup of the starchy pasta water to the tomato sauce, then drain the pasta. Add to the tomato sauce. Mix well and serve.

I hope I have succeeded in demonstrating that eating healthfully as a vegan is possible, tasty, and affordable.
You do not have to live off dull, nutrient free cardboard meals just because you elect not to consume animal products on a budget.


Of vegan BBQ’s.

‘Tis the season to be… barbecuing.
In Britain, the summer has arrived. Britain is renowned for raining. Frequently. And in truth, it does. But there is also some truly wonderful weather! Weather that is perfect for heating up the barbecue and enjoying the warmth.
But what is a barbecue?
It is when friends and family get together and enjoy the sunshine! Often on the weekend, people exploit not having to go to work and take full advantage of their fleeting freedom. Drinking slowly during the day throughout the barbecue is another wonderful experience.
Barbecue’s are however synonymous with meat. This is why, of all the social events, BBQ’s are the only event that I refuse to attend. In my opinion, they are nothing but proclaiming out loud ‘the lives of animals are meaningless, look how many different parts of different animals I am cooking‘.
However, to barbecue is simply to cook on an open grill outside of the house, it actually has nothing to do with meat, despite it being characterised as such.
But for me it is about more than that. It is the Christmas of the summer time. It is a time of joy, to celebrate good weather with those you love. Another life loving being does not have to suffer for your enjoyment.

I very rarely advocate the eating of huge quantities of vegan meats. They are incredibly tasty, and are generally considerably healthier than their alternatives made of the flesh of animals. There is absolutely nothing wrong with them, but I think people often tend to rely too heavily on them, and this is when nutritional deficiencies can occur. This is more often than not blamed on veganism itself, rather than those who ate an inadequate diet.
However, BBQ’s are hardly known for their health benefits. It is, also like Christmas, truly a time to splurge! If ever there was a time to eat vegan meats, this is it. Animal free burgers and sausages are at every super market. The bread, onions and tomato ketchup are already perfectly vegan! Make this one tiny alteration for a meal without cruelty. Failing this, you can also use marinated tofu or tempeh steaks. These can be marinated before hand using shop bought BBQ marinade, which are usually already vegan. Sliced aubergine or portobello mushrooms are also fantastic barbecued and placed between a cob/bun/bap/bread roll/bread cake (depending on where you are from).

Many fruits and vegetables stand up remarkably to barbecuing. Aubergine, asparagus, onion (especially red), cabbage, pineapple, pepper, beetroot, courgette and mushrooms.
One way to do this is to chunk them and place them on skewers. Either put them on as they are, or coat in any delicious sauce of your choice. BBQ until soft and slightly blackened (but not burnt!).
Sweet corn is also good, placing the whole thing onto the grill.

And what is a BBQ without the side dishes.
Tabbouleh, coleslaw (both of which I have shared recipes for previously) and stuffed pepper/mushroom.
Salads are frequently featured at BBQ’s. Waldorf, pasta, bean, rice and potato salad have all been mention in previous blog entries of mine.
Tortilla chips and dip is also a crucial aspect for many a BBQ. Dips include hummus, tomato salsa, salsa verde, pesto, guacamole, raita (using vegan yoghurt in place of dairy yoghurt), tzatziki (again using vegan yoghurt), roast aubergine pate, tapenade and oh so many more!
And then, the other bits and bobs. Such as a platter of sun dried tomatoes, olives, grapes, pickled gherkin/beetroot/cabbage/onion/etc…, bruschetta, cherry tomatoes and so forth.

And so, you can see there are near unlimited options for your vegan BBQ. A mere handful of the ideas above will leave you astonished by the taste and variety. Not to mention how incredibly healthy it all is in comparison to its animal filled counterpart. All the while, sacrificing not even one jot of the taste.
Enjoy your BBQ and the warm weather. No animal need suffer for it. Remember that while you enjoy the warmth on your skin, the animal you are eating has probably never experienced what it is to be outside, and never experienced the sun on their backs. Do not fund their misery.

Of holidays and traditions.

Everybody loves holidays.
Special times of year when we celebrate most joyously, embracing life.
Christmas is arguably the most beloved of them all. A time of year for feasting and decorations, merriment of atmosphere and laughter.
Then there is the lesser celebrated but no less steeped in tradition affair of Easter.
There is Guy Fawkes Day, an evening of family and good friends gathering around a bonfire with delicious food and resplendent displays of fireworks.
Remembrance Day. Not so much a family event as an occasion in which people gather together in honour of those fallen individuals who lost their lives fighting so that others may live.

What is the connection between all of these occasions.
As far as I can see there are several, but perhaps the most profound of all is coming together in an appreciation of life, of those you love, and joy.
Of course, as with many things, while humanity indulges in joyful decadence animals will suffer as a result.
Several months before Christmas every single year, many millions of turkeys hatch to a world they could not have foreseen. They will never know their mother who would have acted as their valiant protector, their shade from the sun, and their source of comfort and warmth. They will grow in conditions so confined that they will be able to achieve little movement. If they are especially unlucky, their legs will break underneath their unnatural weight. Some of these will develop infected sores from their own urine and faeces, unable to move to clean themselves. Then, at the tender young age of five months, they will be slaughtered in their millions. Add to this the mutilated pigs in ‘pigs in blankets’, the geese that are slaughtered for their fat to cover roast potatoes, and more.
All of this suffering, for a single meal. For fifteen minutes of enjoyment from humans.
But there is an irony here, that very few people see.
The meaning of Christmas is celebrating the supposed birthday of Jesus Christ. In modern times, it is less about this religious figure, and more about family time. About having a wonderful few days with loved ones. Of hoping for peace on Earth.
How unfortunate that it is at the expense of the family of another.
But I put it to you, how can their be peace on Earth, when the very foundation of this peace is celebrated with violence? The violence involved in taking lives against their will.
You are eating that violence. You eating that sorrow, that rage, that misery, that fear.
If there was ever a Jesus, I can only imagine the horror and disgust he feels at how his birthday is celebrated.

Easter is another example.
It is a time of year meant to celebrate the fact that three days after his brutal crucifixion, Jesus Christ resurrected and returned from the dead.
How is this wonderful gift of life celebrated?
By taking life. Usually the life of millions of lambs.

In all the wars ever fought, 12 million people have been killed.
That number of animals are slaughtered for food every single hour.

Am I literally the only person who detects the irony?
Celebrations of the miracle of life, celebrated with death.
Violent, brutal slaughter.

But there is yet hope.
Ever more people are discovering this great betrayal of what the holidays really stand for, and are electing to leave the dismembered corpses of baby animals off their plates.

Take for example, the Christmas dinner table.
Every feast requires a centre piece, that much is true. Something big and beautiful in the middle of the table.
But it need not be a dead animal.
It might be a stuffed squash, nut roast, roulade, tarts, wellingtons or pies. Inside all of these are almost unlimited fillings.
And do not forget, most of the table is already vegan!
Very little alteration is actually needed. Usually only the centre piece.
The roast, mashed and boiled vegetables. The stuffing, sauces and gravy (if you use the highly popular onion gravy).

Despite being so simple, it is perhaps the most difficult for people.
People are deeply creatures of habit, who desperately adhere to conformity and traditions however archaic and outdated. They fear doing something new, of challenging the supremacy of long held beliefs that are no longer justifiable.
But like any habit, it can be broken.
Not always easily at first. But once broken and repeated, they do not readily seal themselves again.

Yes. Tradition is directly responsible for death.
But however deeply rooted in tradition, and however closely you shield yourself from the lives and deaths of the animals on your plate, there is still complicity. The undeniable fact that while you did not slit the turkeys throat, you paid for it to be done. Responsibility cannot be denied. Contribution cannot be ignored.
But it is never too late to choose a different path on which to walk.
The path that is polluted with poison and venom and drenched in the blood of slaughtered animals.
Or the path of harmony and compassion, mercy and love.

So choose to embrace the true meaning of the holidays.
Live the life that truly reflects your own values, not the values of generations gone by.
Live in accordance to your own empathy, not the missing compassion of those perished centuries ago and knew nothing of animal welfare and kindness.
Choose to live the life that makes you most comfortable knowing that one day, you may have to explain the life you have lived to a higher power. You may have to tell mothers why you thought it was okay to tear their babies from them.
And even if you do not, well, so what?
Treat others as you would be treated.

Of personhood.

Currently in New York city, the lives of two chimpanzees are in the hands of lawyers who would claim that they are persons. By doing so, their current captivity at a university will be terminated, and they will be released into a sanctuary that will emulate their natural life as closely as is possible.
It is an issue that is causing much debate.
Some people are arguing vehemently that in all respects, they are indeed persons, and should be treated as such.
Others (from what I can see, usually people who cannot tell the difference between a monkey and an ape), are staunchly opposed to the idea, stubbornly refusing to accept it on account of the fact they are ‘just animals’.

And so I began thinking.
What is a person?
My definition is that a person is a self aware entity that values its own life.
By this description alone, chimpanzees are surely persons.
A capacity to feel emotion.
Anger and fear are basic emotions, denied to animals today by no people of science.
Other emotions, such as happiness and  sadness, are accepted by slightly less, but still the majority accept this.
Some scientists have even came so far as to accept that animals are able to mourn their dead, feel empathy, love and express acts of true altruism (selflessness).
Chimpanzees demonstrate in abundance that they are capable of all of these attributes.

That however, presents the problem.
Chimpanzees are not unique in this, and so where does it end?
The concern is, if chimpanzees are found to have personhood, then we must re-evaluate our treatment of all animals. Including, much to many peoples dismay, farm animals. If granted a status of being higher than an economical unit, we will have no choice but provide them with a legal protection to match.

Cows for example.
As for the basic emotions of fear and anger, they tremble with fear and cry out desperately when awaiting their death in a slaughterhouse.
For the slightly more complex emotions such as happiness, we have but to look at cows that have spent all winter indoors when they are let out into a field come spring. They bounce and prance and do a very good job of showing just how much they love life.
Mourning too is demonstrated, such as when their calves are routinely taken from them.
And altruism. Unrelated cows will try to help a mother to defend her calf from a farmer as he tries to take it away.

What is a person, if not that?
And as a person, I still cannot fathom why they are viewed as less than us.
Because it tastes good. People are selfish, arrogant and lazy. They will not accept animals as their equals, because they have not got the desire to change. For me, taste is not enough. I think in a civilised society, taking a life should require rather more justification than simple sensory satisfaction.
Indeed, it normally is. When relating to humans, many things are illegal, and quite rightly so.
Murder, rape, slavery, theft, abuse both mental and physical.
Despite the fact that the perpetrators of these crimes enjoy what they do, they are still punished when they are discovered. Because their happiness does not justify the misery of another.
Cows are enslaved and raped, their offspring abducted and murdered, while their mothers are left to mourn in isolation, often in restraints that prevent her movement.
However you will never hear it spoken like this. Murder, rape, enslavement, abduction. These words will not be applied to them, for they are ‘mere‘ animals. Despite the overwhelming similarity between them and us, with only very superficial differences, they are treated as such.
Because people pay for the milk that she produces to feed her offspring.
It is abhorrent.
And truly if there is a God, he/she would consider this as the worst kind of abomination.

All of what is said above is legal.
But what happens when something illegal happens?
When a farmer is caught abusing his animals in a non-legal manner, such as beating them, he is punished.
But not in any meaningful way. It is unlikely he will even see the inside of a prison cell.
And yet if it were a person, they criminal would be arrested for a long time.
Again, why?
Accepting the similarity would mean we would no longer be able to feast upon their flesh and secretions.

But it boggles my mind, it really does.
Why people think they deserve happiness, when they deny it to others.
Mothers are happy people. My Facebook is filled with pictures of their children, who they cherish so much. And yet, they intentionally and systematically deny that same blessing of motherhood to others.
Because they want some milk.
Am I the only one who considers this a crime?
Not only do have have precisely ZERO physiological need for the milk of another species (we are after all the only species that consumes milk into adulthood, let alone from another species). Not only are there alternatives that are just as cheap and delicious, not to mention healthier. We do it willingly, knowing how utterly barbaric it is for the animals involved.
And still, some people have the sheer audacity to fund this, and then complain when something goes wrong in their life, asking what they did to deserve such a minor setback.

So ask yourself.
What do you consider a person to be?
Is it indeed a self aware entity that values its own life?
One that is capable of both feeling and expressing emotions?
If that is so then you have to ask yourself.
How do you justify what you do?
How you do you buy a carton of milk, knowing the misery and suffering it took to acquire every single drop, and then sleep at night.
If your opinion of what it means to be a person is different, and makes humans so terribly unique, what is it?
Scratch the surface but a little and acknowledge the similarity, instead of holding on to archaic, outdated ways of thinking that has no place in the modern world.
Much like the days when a white man was able to own a black man in slavery, the days of animal slavery are (slowly) coming to an end. Which side of history do you want to be on?
The side that forsakes morality, and battles to continue what is so deeply wrong? Only to be the object of disdain and disbelief for future generations.
Or the side that embraces a new world. A world full of love and compassion and peace. A world where a cow is able to carry her precious baby for the full nine months and at the end of it, get to actually be a mother.
Choose mercy for your fellow persons and stop exploiting them.
Persons come in all shapes and sizes. Use your freedom to treat them all in a way that honours your own personhood. Or choose to use your freedom in a way that denies the personhood of others, and perpetuates their endless misery.
The choice is yours.

Of eating out.

When it comes to being vegan, few things pose more questions than eating out at restaurants.
I admit that on the surface, this does seem daunting.
What to do when we live in a world so obsessed with taste and convenience?
Where do you eat?
What sort of things do you ask?
What do you do if, God forbid, your dish comes with meat?!

Slow down.
It is really not so complicated an issue as a lot of people think.
Firstly, there are many amazing vegetarian and vegan restaurants all over the world.
Of course, most people don’t really want to only go to these restaurants, especially if you are dining with non-vegan friends or family.
Nearly everywhere that I have ever been has a vegan option.
There is a chain of pubs in Britain called Wetherspoons. It is known for being cheap and cheerful, with delicious yet simple, inexpensive pub grub. Nobody might suspect for a moment that they serve vegan food. And yet they do. It used to be that the meals were either vegetarian, or not vegetarian. But now they have included vegan to their menu’s. This includes a (delicious) veggie burger I have sampled many times, various salads, and more.
I have never actually been to a pub that does not serve a veggie burger of some description. Some are chunked vegetables bound in mashed potato and breadcrumbs, others are made of beans, lentils and/or sweet potato. The only aspect of it that is not vegan is the toppings. Simply ask for a veggie burger without cheese or mayo and you have yourself a delicious vegan meal from a humble pub.

Asian food is often a saviour for vegans.
Indian cuisine is a vegetarians dream due to traditional religious beliefs prohibiting the consumption of meat which has resulted in many vegetarian dishes. They can often include milk or cream, so simply look for a dish that is tomato based instead of creamy for a vegan dish. These can include such divine delicacies as dopiaza, rogan josh, balti, biryani and many more.

Chinese and Thai cuisine can occasionally be tricky. Many dishes are vegetarian due to Buddhist beliefs, but do not just assume that a tofu dish is vegetarian because tofu is not seen as ‘the veggie option’, but is added to many meat dishes for its health benefits and filling properties. Therefore, it is worth while reading the menu properly. Although this is usually not an issue, simply something to be weary of. Fish sauce can also occasionally present an issue, as traditionally it is added to many dishes. Fortunately, many restaurants have made their dishes more palatable to Western tastes, so is also not often a problem. Simply say ‘no egg or fish sauce’ when ordering for a delicious vegan meal.

Japanese food is almost the perfect vegan cuisine. A country that supports 17 natural foods a day, compared to Britain’s five a day. It contains many delectable vegetable or tofu dishes, without a scrap of meat in sight. Unfortunately, fish flakes are often added to many dishes. As with Chinese and Thai food, this is not so much of an issue as traditional cuisine as dishes have been altered to suit a Western diet.

Mexican food, like Indian, is also a vegetarians (and healthy eaters) dream. Due to many people in Mexico being poor, meat is a scarce food source, as animals are worth far more when kept alive for their milk and eggs. Therefore, many dishes are vegetarian, using beans in place of meat. Regrettably, cheese and sour cream is added to many dishes. Again, this is very easy to get around. Simply order the vegetarian meal while asking for no cheese or sour cream. It could not be simpler!

The same is true of Italian food. Many dishes are vegetarian but for the cheese which is usually added right at the end. Simply order your vegetarian meal and ask for it without cheese. Easy easy easy.

Occasionally, however clear your instructions, animal products will find their way into your meal. It is a rare but inevitable consequence of a kitchen that prepares both vegan and non-vegan food. In my fifteen years of abstaining from meat, it has happened maybe five times. Sometimes it is a matter of accidental cross contamination, other times it is simple mistake in a busy kitchen that is preparing lots of food.
Do not be disheartened however, even if you end up swallowing a little bit. It is not your fault. At the same time, do not be frustrated, as it is very unlikely that the person has done this deliberately. Calmly explain the situation to the server, and the meal will be immediately replaced. When this has happened to me, the waitress/waiter could not have been more helpful or apologetic. I simply accepted their apology and told them not to worry about it, and I received my freshly done delicious meal.

So there. Eating out could not be simpler in an age where vegan food is in all but every single restaurant.
The list of excuses for why not to go vegan wears very thin indeed.

Of the pursuit for personal purity.

The following is only a short blog entry, a reflection upon something that of late, I have noticed more and more.

The actual definition of this concept is living a life free from exploiting animals, as much as is practical and possible.
You do not require butchered animals to survive, and so you should not consume them.
Unfortunately, some people do not quite know where this ends.
They struggle to find the balance between living their lives, and their desire to live a life free from cruelty. For some people, this had developed into what can only be described as their quest for personal purity.
But here is the thing.
Simply by being alive, even the most devoted person is causing harm. Inadvertently killing trillions of bacteria throughout your life time, accidentally stepping on insects as you walk, small creatures such as mice that can be killed by mistake when harvesting vegetables. Everything comes at a cost.
But this brings me back to what I have said many times. We live in an imperfect world, where we must do whatever we are able to do for those around us, both human and non-human animals. Just because we cannot do everything does not mean that we should do nothing.

This personal purity is not only potentially damaging to an individual, but the entire movement itself.
If I go to a persons house and they make a meal of meat, dairy or eggs, I will not eat the food. However, if they have absent mindedly used the same utensils to take my food from the frying pan as their own, I will eat it. You consuming that tiny amount of animal protein is better than making the vegan lifestyle seem impossible. Of course, I would prefer not to have this happen. But the fact is, it can.
Another issue can arise when eating out. I ask that all meat, dairy and eggs be left out of my food. It ends there. Some people go further, and inquire as to whether separate utensils and equipment is used for food, if it is stored together, and so on. This is excruciating for me to listen to. The person in question will avoid a tiny amount of animal protein in their meal. However the person taking their order, the cook and the people around the table will find it altogether tiresome, and it will keep them that much closer from ever even considering giving up their cruelty fuelled lifestyle.

There is a vegan author, named Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, who really made this apparent to me from listening to her podcasts (found at joufulvegan.com). She said ‘Do you want to be right, or do you want to be effective?
It is a completely accurate statement. If put into a debate with a person who eats meat or animal secretions, an educated vegan will generally win. The arguments against veganism are remote in comparison to those in favour of it (which essentially, ends at ‘‘it tastes good’). However, a person has to know when enough is enough. When to laugh at a meat eaters joke you do not actually find funny, when to hold your tongue in the interest of avoiding an argument, when to simply walk away. It is not an easy endeavour, and I speak from a wealth of experience. But by being a part of the group, you will do far more good than if you are ostracised for being ‘that vegan’. The one that nobody wishes to talk to or associate with. Not only have you ruined your own social life, but crucially, you have forfeit any chance you might have had at spreading the seed of compassion to others.

This is not a perfect world.
You must do what is practical and possible if you have any hope of being a good person.
But do not forget, veganism is a means to an end. It is the pursuit of a better world for animals to be born into, not your own personal desire for the purest lifestyle.

Of fighting a losing battle.

All battles can be won.
If we look back on history, evil toward humans has been defeated time and time again. Without exception, good has triumphed.
From tyrannical emperors a thousand years ago, to the Nazi’s of the last century.
Some of the battles took years. Others decades. Some even took centuries, as a new tyrant inherited the throne from his or her parents before them.
But eventually, they all crumbled.
All are now nothing but memories, or remembered only through books.
One day, I truly believe that people will look back on modern day treatment of animals as we now look back on the Holocaust. They will feel nothing but contempt and rage for what we permitted to happen. However people of today will not be able to use of the excuse ‘we did not know’.
I also believe that animal activists will be seen as the courageous women of the suffragist movement are viewed. Or those exceptional people who refused to submit to a world that allowed human slavery. Or those forward thinking pioneers of social justice that decided gay people were not the monsters that everybody had for so long believed.

But as I said, that is in the future.
The rapid spread of veganism is unprecedented, but it will not be a battle that is won over night.
That is why every victory matters. Through my knowledge and advice, there are now two more vegans in the world because of me. There are four more vegetarians in the world as well, also due to me, or an extension of what I began. That is thousands of animals a year that will be spared from the slaughterhouse.
I drop seeds and pray they will take root. I nurture the seedlings as best as I am able, hoping beyond hope that a tree will grow in their garden that was once a morgue. I am of course speaking metaphorically, about developing a persons compassion and turning their bodies into bringers of life instead of harbingers of death.
Those are battles that I have won.

Regrettably, not every battle is such as easy victory. All of the people mentioned above are caring people, compassionate and full of empathy for all creatures. That is the foundation of a vegan or vegetarian.
Not everybody is so.
Some people simply refuse.
I have had discussions twice with the same person in the last three days. A person who is friends with my partner. I am in staunch opposition to animal testing. Yes, I want cures for diseases, but not at the expense of another creatures suffering. I do not want to save lives but lose our humanity. He disagrees.
I am also in ardent opposition to hunting of any description, but trophy hunting is perhaps the one I find the most foul. A hunter was killed by the elephant he was hunting. The fact of the matter is that man died because he was trying to take the life of something else that defended itself. Were he not, he would still be alive today. I am relieved beyond words that it was not the elephant who lost his life that day. Again, he disagrees.
He is known for being opinionated, and refuses to back down. From what I am told, people tend to be passive around him as they already know he will not change his mind, so see no point in further discussion.
I am not one of those people.
I am fully aware I will not change the mind of every person on this planet. I am also aware that it is highly unlikely he will ever submit to my way of thinking. But that is not why I continued the debate. This discussion took place on Facebook, where everybody could see. Other people will read that discussion. If just one of those people has their compassion awakened in some way from reading through it, then it was worth it. The world will not be changed without applying some effort.

The same is true for other situations.
Before now, people have asked me that delightful question about what I would do if I were stuck on an island with a pig. Or commented on how when I shower, I kill millions of bacteria. Or feigning pity for the mice that can be killed inadvertently when harvesting vegetables. Or because I shop somewhere that also sells meat.
Another discussion I had involved a person whose grandmother had died. She owned many furs, and her vegan grand daughter was at a loss as to what to do with them. I suggested that she sell them, and give the proceeds to a charity that focus’s on closing down fur farms/campaigning against fur. This will have the added effect that less fur coats will be bought new. If a person wants to wear fur, they will buy it. By providing one from long dead animals, you will prevent the suffering of new ones since this demand for fur has been met. While she agreed, the number of people who did not was staggering, and all claimed that selling them again was an insult to the animals the coat was made of.
But we live in imperfect world. Imperfect methods must be utilised in order to advance the vegan movement toward a better world for animals. It is truly tragic that those animals lost their lives for vanity. But it is already done. What sense is there in condemning more to the same excruciating fate because of principle? The money raised from those fur coats may go to preserve the lives of many others. Human beings are not Gods. We are not a divine being, merely another species of animal, fortunate enough to have been born in human form. Therefore our ability to change the world is severely limited. We must do what is practical and possible. As I have said countless times, just because you cannot do everything, does not mean that you should do nothing at all.
I admire the passion of the people who commented on the furs. And I wish the world was so simple as they must think it is. But it is not. The world is beautiful, but its human inhabitants are so often evolutions most revolting result.

Yes, all battles can won in the long run. But in the short, we must accept our limitations. That we are hampered by a lack of resources, funding and circumstance. That there will be days when you feel such despair for the plight of animals that it impedes your progress.
But do not give up.
The fact is that some people have no choice but to shop from supermarkets that also sell meat, dairy and eggs. Due to where they live, their weekly budget, what little time they have and a whole host of reasons. But this is how things change. Yes, you are funding an organisation with money that will most likely go directly back to killing animals. But without you purchasing the vegan options, and showing that there is a demand for them, there will be no change. Non-dairy milk and butter is bought in huge quantities for their superior health benefits, often from non-vegans. The only reason they are so readily available today is because over the last decade or two, people have purchased them from supermarkets. Many restaurants serve meat, dairy and eggs. But they now all have ever increasing vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. This would not be so if vegans had exclusively eaten at vegan restaurants, and so would not have exposed people who would never have otherwise thought about veganism to the wonders of vegan cuisine.
Any discussion you have might result in a seed being planted, however unlikely it seems.
My partner three years had a very different stance on veganism. He recalls with shame that he used to get excited over the prospect of a mixed grill, and made the joke ‘I am eating so many animals!’, or how he thought the whole concept of veganism was flawed. When he first told his mother that his new partner was vegan, her words were ‘oh dear’, as his fondness for meat was well known. And yet, a year and a half later after that conversation with his mother, he is a vegan.
Never suppose someone cannot change. Sometimes people will not change because they do not want to. Some people are utterly selfish and value their taste buds over life itself, others are so brain-washed by the media that they cannot accept the truth (largely relating to nutrition and our lack of requirement for animal products), and some genuinely have no idea where to begin their journey to awakening their compassion. Without my previous mention of nurturing that seed, the third reason mentioned has the inevitable conclusion that they become overwhelmed and simply give up. That is why you should never give up on a person. For their sake, or the animals.

Of bizarre defence mechanisms against predation.

The natural world is filled with wonder.
In no small way, one of the most fascinating aspects of it is the methods that animals utilise to defend themselves against predation. Below is a list of seven (I admit, there were originally supposed to be ten but time is short) animals that protect themselves in often unbelievable ways.

Japanese Honey Bee
These insects are much like many other species of social bee. They are relatively peaceful creatures, spending their days searching and collecting pollen and nectar that they then return to their hive to feed their queen and other members of the nest. They are generally reluctant to use their sting unless in a truly desperate situation.
Of all their natural foes, the Japanese Giant Hornet is perhaps the most formidable. Hornets, unlike bees, are predatory. Scouts are sent from the nest to seek out sources of food. When a scout detects a bee hive, it will return to its own nest to muster reinforcements that will return with it to the colony of bees. Their objective is not the bees themselves, but the young. Notorious for their loyalty to their queen, they stand by her to defend their larval siblings. Unfortunately for them, it is not a battle they can win. The hornets are many times their own size, and just 30 hornets can take out a hive of 30,000 in a very short space of time. Once their protectors are massacred, the young are devoured.
It would seem that the future for the honey bees is very bleak. After all, what can these harmonious little insects do to defend themselves against an invasion from such fearsome adversaries?
Well, not much. But there is hope yet. Once the hornet scout leaves to report back to its nest, the bee hive is doomed. The honey bee has however developed a strategy of its own. When the scout finds the colony it will enter slightly to better grasp the situation. Once they have entered just far enough, the bees will on mass attack their would be assailant. They do not use their stings however, but their bodies. They clutch the hornet tightly, forming a ball of bees around it. Ever more heroic little defenders launch themselves into the fray. They remain like this because, inside the ball, the hornet cannot withstand the heat that is created by the bees and slowly cooks. Once deceased, the bees discard the body from hive and go about their daily lives, free from attack for another day.

Termites are incredible. They have a huge queen who is both undisputed ruler and egg laying slave capable of laying up to 30,000 eggs a day (her abdomen swells so large she cannot move, and never leaves the royal chamber where she is fed, groomed/cleaned and protected), a smaller king, solders who defend the nest and workers that build and repair the nest. They are so small that their mounds, if built by humans, would be over a mile in height. These mounds are rock solid, offering protection from the elements and most predators. They also have ventilation systems so that the air within the mound remains fresh.
Termites themselves have also developed defences. Their greatest threats one might think would come in the form of insect eating mammals many times their size. However these animals rarely wipe out an entire colony, as they do not dig deeply enough to take the queen. They stay only for as long as they can withstand the termites aggressive defence, then they abandon the feast and leave for a fresh colony, after which the termites immediately begin repairs to their near impenetrable fortress. One of their greatest threat comes from another social insects, ants. The ants will attack the termites, intent on stealing termite larvae (the babies). Sometimes, an ant colon will even declare all out war and try to eliminate the queen.
However, termites do not simply abandon their queen. The soldiers of many species have immensely large jaws, capable of swiftly decapitating ant after ant with ease, despite being blind. Other species have developed projectile missiles, and spray acid at their aggressors. Others spray a glue-like substance to slow the invasion to buy valuable time for workers to block up holes through which the ants pour in. Other species embark on suicide missions. By agitating their own bodies enough they are able to explode themselves, spilling a highly toxic mixture over the invaders, paralysing and killing the enemies.

A bird that resembles a seagull, but is not one.
Like many birds, adults are capable aerial acrobats, using this defence to avoid capture by predators. The chicks are not so fortunate. They are small, cannot fly or run away, and are left alone for many hours at a time while their parents are out looking for food to feed their chick and so are not able to protect them.
And yet, the chick is not so defenceless as it appears. Potential predators for baby fulmars come in many forms, ranging from other birds to foxes. It waits until the the predator is within striking distance, and then it unleashing a missile. It projectile vomits an oily substance directly in the face of the predator. The smell is utterly putrid, certainly enough to counter many an unsuspecting predators attack, and often enough to deter most predators from a second attempt. The vomit can mat the feathers of other birds to such a degree that they themselves end up dying.

Hairy Frog
For the most part, this is much like any other frog. It begins life as spawn, hatches into a tadpole, and gradually develops limbs strong enough to venture from its aquatic home from time to time.
Most frogs defend themselves in one way or another. Some remain near water then simply hop at surprising speeds until they reach it, dive in and swim to safety. Others bluff. They make themselves as intimidating as possible by puffing their bodies out, lifting themselves well above the ground, and some even go so far as to scream while lunging forward at would be predators in an attempt to scare them away. Some frogs are poisonous. Some only enough to taste unbelievably foul, some enough to give its attacker a stomach ache, and some do not hold back. They produce poisons so potent that anything that eats them will perish,
They hairy frog however goes a little further with its self defence. They break the bones in the feet, force them out through their skin, and use them to stab out at whatever is threatening them.

As the name might suggest, the hagfish is rarely shown off for its beauty in aquariums. But beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and I think they are quite cute in a way that I cannot describe.
They do however have an interesting method by which to survive attacks from predators. When a predator attacks a hagfish, it releases slime directly into the mouth and gills of the predator which can include sharks. The animal will then release the hagfish and depart, sometimes dying of asphyxiation from the slime clogged in their gills. The defence mechanism is employed so swiftly and is so effective that the hagfish often remains entirely uninjured.

Texas Horned Lizard
As the name implies, this lizard is well defended. Its armour is thick and covered with spikes. Many a predator would be deterred and defeated by this. But what happens when a much larger predator comes along?
This remarkable little reptile is capable of shooting blood from its eye socket. With astonishing accuracy, it can shoot blood up to five feet. This takes many predators by surprise and is often sufficient to distract them for long enough for this little lizard to make a speedy get away.

Army Ants (and a little about their would be prey defences as well)
Army ants (of which there are many different species) are themselves devastating predators, using their sheer might of numbers to overwhelm prey much larger than themselves. Other insects, molluscs (slugs and snails), spiders, scorpions, even small reptiles, amphibians and mammals are not safe. Many of the larger species are able to hop away before the invading horde reaches them. Those able to produce silk such as caterpillars simply dangle themselves from a thread of silk and avoid detection. Some slugs stay still and begin producing so much slime that the ants find their skin impenetrable. Beetles remain utterly motionless to avoid detection by the blind ants, relying on their thick armour. Social insects, though one might think their numbers would serve as a protection, do not often survive these assaults and so have developed intriguing methods by which to survive. In some species of ants, soldiers sacrifice their lives fighting a war they cannot win in order to obtain time for workers to evacuate the queen, eggs and larvae to a hiding place until the phalanx of destruction has moved on. Other species use rocks to block the entrances to their nest until the threat has passed.
Wasps are not always so noble and flee with their queen, abandoning the eggs and larvae to their fate. Some wasps are slightly more concerned for their sisters and warn the hive of the incoming danger. Knowing their is no way to succeed, alerted guards at the nest entrance fan their wings, a lot like a retreat signal. Some wasps species mount valiant defences, flying into the ants, picking them up and dropping them far away. Unfortunately, this is often futile, as the ants massively outnumber the wasps. Some wasps forsake their own safety entirely and refuse to abandon their nest and its youngsters. They form a blockade at the nests entrance, creating a death defying wall of mandibles and stings. Usually the wasps are overwhelmed. But occasionally, these acts of heroic devotion to their queen are rewarded, and they manage to save their nest.
However, they are no mindless rabble, rampantly decimating all around them. They never stay in one area for so long that permanent damage is caused, but move around. This destruction actually benefits biodiversity, as new life can flourish where before already established organisms dominated the area.
The ants themselves are quite remarkable. The colony can consist of millions of individuals, but all acting in robotic unison, obeying the will of the queen without question. They are largely nomadic, and have no permanent nest themselves, but when on hunting raids spend their days marching through corridors in the forest. The edges of these corridors are lined with the massive jawed soldiers, defending the workers as they transport the queen, eggs and young as they move. They also use their own massed bodies as bridges to cross gaps, or as boats to cross water. At night they form a sphere. The queen, larvae and young are deep within this ball that is made up entirely of ants (the activities of day and night change depending upon the species, some being nocturnal). Between raids, they do form temporary nests for several days where the queen can begin replenishing her ranks and rest.

Of a few of my favourite things.

I enjoy a lot of things in life.
The following is a list of five of my favourite things in life, and my reasons for why I adore them so.
They are presented in no particular order.

Glorious food.
I absolutely love food.
It begins at home. I listen to my body as it tries in many ways to tell me what it wants, or I scour the internet looking for delicious recipes to replicate, or I even just search through my many cookery books. Then I move on to making the list of ingredients I need. It continues in the shops and the supermarkets. I love the process of walking around the (death free) aisles and selecting whatever morsels excite me the most. My love continues when I get the products home and I begin preparing them. Peeling (only tough skinned vegetables), chopping, dicing, grating, washing. Whatever. The preparation is half the fun for a food geek like me! I then move on to the cooking, be it boiling, blanching, roasting, baking, frying, stirring or whatever. And then of course the best part comes. The eating.
I love eating. Seeing the plate prettily arranged, the sights and the smells, and even sometimes the sound. Whether it is something sizzling or bubbling, or the sounds of food clanking onto the plate as you dish it out. The decision as to what to put on your fork first. The process of chewing to embrace every scrap of flavour, and swallowing. Then even sitting with a very full belly.

The natural world is truly, oh so wonderful. It fascinates me. It mesmerises me. It astounds me. The diversity and complexity of life. The food webs, and how the mightiest whale depends upon the tiniest bacteria. How the largest forest depends on the smallest creepy crawlies that clear away its waste. It is beautiful and intriguing.
Walking through the woods is possibly my favourite activity. Stimulating yet soothing, there is never a boring moment. The beauty of the trees themselves. The emerging roots of the oldest trees that create fortresses for small creatures, the thick and gnarled trunks of giants, the branches that extend in all directions ending in leaves of emerald. Upon the ground lie a rainbow of flowers in spring. Bluebells of sapphire, snowdrops of white, foxgloves of pastel pink, crocus’s of violet, daffodils of yellow and so many more. The insects that these attract. The bees and butterflies. The birds nests within the trees. The squirrels that dart from place to place in their obsessive search for acorns and chestnuts for their winter stores. And if you are lucky, the rare glimpse of a deer or a fox, gracefully walking through with all the stealth and silence of a shadow.
Or out of the trees, in the open meadows. Surrounded by wild flowers and the insects that depend on them. Early in the morning, the intricate spider webs covered with droplets of dew. Rabbits nibbling grass all around, or even hares if you are fortunate. The birds flying over head below the shape shifting clouds. And the lakes, covered with swans and geese and ducks. Or the streams that lead into them, full of frogs, toads and newts.
I love the natural world, and have a true appreciation for its magnificence.

That square object in every home that everybody takes for granted. It is truly a wondrous invention.
Like most people, I love watching films. Getting truly lost in a fantastic film, and utterly forgetting all of the strife in your daily life. But more than film, I love television. Series in particular. Series that go on for many years, and by the end, you feel like you have lost acquaintances and friends. Series that inspire you and impassion you. Series that release all of your emotions, from happiness to sorrow.
One of my absolute favourites being The Legend Of Aang/Aang: The Last Airbender. It is a three series children’s cartoon. However far from the fluffy nonsense children today are usually subjected to, it is superb. It does not shy away from themes such as death, betrayal, regret, accepting that sometimes violence is necessary, suffering, human cruelty toward animals and each other, and grief. One of the few things to have ever made me cry. And yet also made me feel overwhelmingly happy. Couple with this that it is genuinely funny, and offers many moments of laughing out loud. Amazing character growth. One character being spoilt and selfish at first grows into a loyal and lovable addition to the show. Another beginning the journey as whiny and bad tempered, ending as a battle hardened heroin of endless selflessness. I cannot rate it highly enough. Watch it.

I do not particularly care for this distinction, because I do not believe that blood defines whether or not you are a part of a family.  I think emotion and experience do. I am also not one of those people who think being a family member entitles a person to unlimited forgiveness for general bad attitudes.
Regardless, time spent with these people are remarkable. Old friends and new. Those I met at school, and those I met at university. The sister and the mother. And the newest being the other half.
I enjoy the company of all of these people. My best friend Emma. Not a vegetarian or vegan herself, she listens with endless patience as I rant about the animal agriculture industry. For one birthday treat, she took me to a place I have always wanted to visit. A free range monkey sanctuary in a woodland about a forty minute drive away from where we live. This was followed by an impromptu detour to a pub on the journey home for food! An altogether splendid day. But then, so are most days that include the two of us.
The other half, a reasonably new addition to my life coming up to two years. I have never been an overly emotional person. And quite frankly, I still am not. I have always been a bit of a lone wolf. I cherish my own company, and I find alone time in peace and quiet to be absolutely precious. I have little difficulty in standing on my own two legs when times are hard, and have never really understood some peoples need to have a shoulder to cry on. With this said, sometimes it is much relieving to know that if you were to collapse under life’s weight , there is someone there to catch you. That and the physical aspect of helping me stand, such as piggy backing me to a different room when I am feeling too lazy to use my own legs.

I love pets.
From the day I was born, I have always been surrounded by animals. My mother has always had cats and dogs. My grandparents all had dogs themselves, and one grandfather even had a small farm that included cows, goats, chickens, horses and pigs. That and I think 13 dogs. And I loved it.
I do not agree with keeping many animals as pets. Birds should never be caged. Wild animals should be left in the wild, not a pet shop. These include exotic mammals (skunks, coati’s, flying squirrels etc…), reptiles, amphibians and so on. I do not even like rabbits and guinea pigs being kept. For one, so many a year are killed because they are simply surplus to requirement and cannot all be sold. For another reason, so many are neglected and ignored. However, I do approve of rescuing them from sanctuaries. Just as with dogs and cats. Stop being selfish and RESCUE RESCUE RESCUE. If you are really that insistent on getting a puppy, you can also rescue those. Just please, do not buy one and fund the incessant cycle of animal misery.
But yes, I do love pets. Although I do not consider them pets. I consider them a part of the family. My dogs have always been allowed on the sofa and chairs, up the stairs and on the beds. They are my equals, not my inferiors, and I will never treat them as such. If you do not want a dog to make a mess of your upstairs carpet, then do not get a dog. You are EVERYTHING in that dogs world. To deny them access to me just because I am upstairs is not something that I am able to do.
For the first time in my entire life, I have no pets. No four legged, fur covered friends. And I am really missing having them around. I cannot wait for the day I am back in Britain and can march directly to the nearest dog shelter and rescue a soul or two!

Of World Book Day.

It is World Book Day.
Or rather, it was yesterday and I am late in making this post.
For the sake of this entry, pretend it is today.
Almost equal to my love of eating is my love for reading.
Getting lost in a book is just heavenly.
Much like films sci-fi, fantasy and fairy tales are my favourite genres.
In honour of World Book Day, these are my twelve favourite books, in no particular order.

Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)
I am a great lover of Neil Gaiman, and I have enjoyed most of his books. Neverwhere however is my favourite (followed exceedingly closely by The Graveyard Book). It is the tale of a young Scottish man who discovers London is more than just a regular city as he is unwillingly dragged into its fantasy realm called London Below. Here he must find his way through the mesmerising alternative London to regain his normal life, undergoing death defying trials and tribulations every step of the way. One of the best books that I have ever read.

The Book of Lost Things (John Connolly)
Another fantasy classic by an author who ordinarily writes crime and thriller. It is about the plight of a young boy during the Second World War who climbs into a wall  which happens to be a portal to another land. Here he faces perils from creatures of the land and the antagonist The Crooked Man. With the help of a knight he finds on his journey, he must find a way to return home while trying to evade capture from the mysterious Crooked Man. Another book I highly recommend.

Odd Thomas (Dean Koontz)
One of four books I have read by this author, the others being Forever Odd, Brother Odd and Odd Hours (although there are two more in the series that I am yet to get around to reading). It is based upon a reluctant hero, a man in his very early twenties who can see ghosts. While he cannot talk to them, they communicate with him in any way they can, often beseeching his help for either themselves or a still living loved one. He helps these ghosts and living people from  evil people, as well as stopping evil spirits. An absolutely amazing book that, even with the three other sequels I have read, never loses its charm.

Watership Down (Richard Adams)
A tale of a group of rabbits who flee their home after the land is destroyed by people building houses. Most of the warrens inhabitants are destroyed, but the survivors set out on a surprisingly gripping quest to find a new home. The book demonstrates the many perils faced by rabbits in the British countryside. From deliberate killings by cruel people to accidents on the road, as well as the many predators they face and dangers from rival warrens. While they can speak to one another, the author doesn’t massively exaggerate their intelligence, and does a good job of solving problems from a rabbits point of view.

Redwall Series (Brian Jacques)
A series of 22 books (although each is completely independent of each other), these delightful tales are set in roughly medieval times, largely centred around Redwall Abbey, but with a cast of humanised (using weapons and wearing clothes etc…) British animals instead of people. Despite this, the books (of which I have read 19 and eagerly anticipate reading the final three) are all completely different from one another, each one as charming as the last. If asked to choose my favourite, I would simply refuse as I am unable to do so. I have enjoyed reading some more for one reason, while preferring others for another. Do not let the fact they are teenage fiction put you off, I have gotten more enjoyment out of reading this series that perhaps any other.

Halo Novels (various authors)
As a general rule, I really do not like novels outside of the main franchise, be it film or games. The Halo novels are based (not surprisingly) around the Halo games. They offer a rich history that the game never went into, in-depth accounts of what took place elsewhere during when the games were set, and highly detailed stories of what took place after the fall of the nefarious Covenant and humanity’s attempts to rebuild what was lost. Often this is exaggerated, incoherent, nonsensical and downright ruined beyond any form of redemption. However the Halo novels compliment the games perfectly and I eagerly urge fans of the game to read them. Those who are not fans of the game may not enjoy them from the point of view of unlocking secrets and histories not revealed in the game, but will still enjoy the imaginative and elaborate stories therein.

The Deptford Mice (Robin Jarvis)
This trilogy of books (The Dark Portal, The Crystal Prison and The Final Reckoning) features around a group of mice living in London, fighting to survive against the hordes of evil rats who worship Jupiter, the Cat God. On the surface, this may sound infantile. However, the stories are rich and engaging, the characters fully realised. Massively under-rated and receiving little of the recognition and fame it deserves, I encourage all to read them.

The Oaken Throne (Robin Jarvis)
This is actually a single book in a trilogy called the Deptford Histories, written by the author mentioned above, and is set hundreds of years before The Deptford Mice. Unfortunately, I have never gotten around to reading the other two books in the trilogy, but The Oaken Throne is remarkable. My enjoyment while reading it surpassed that of The Deptford Mice. I was utterly hooked by the novels potency. It is a fantastic stand alone book, with no others needing to be read to enjoy it (although I advise you to).

The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkien)
Most likely, this book needs no introduction. Most people have seen the film ‘The Hobbit’ and those that have not have heard of it. It is unfortunate however that so few people have read the book. It is more remarkable than the film, although with my love of reading I accept that I may be slightly bias. Easier to read and comprehend than The Lord Of The Rings saga (which I also definitely recommend reading), it is suited better to those who desire easier reading. Fantastic though The Lord Of The Rings may be, it can be a little difficult unless you’re well focused with no interruption. The Hobbit has less of this, and is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.

Animal Farm (George Orwell)
A book that not so subtly reflects the authors political views. It begins with an unhappy farm, run by an alcoholic farmer who was unpleasant and often cruel to the animals he kept. Having reached the end of their tethers, the animals revolted against his tyrannical dominion, chasing him from the farm. From there, Utopia begins. They live by a set of rules, the foremost of which being that all animals are equal. However as time goes on the pigs begin to assume control, using their intellectual supremacy to gain power and influence. The farmer returns with men from the village in an attempt to regain possession of the farm and its inhabitants. The animals fight back and claim another triumph, scaring the people off for good. The main pig antagonist takes on some orphaned puppies and uses them to enforce his will, eliminating anybody who opposes him, or points out the similarities between his own behaviour and that of the people they had just banished. An absolutely amazing book, albeit quite short, that I urge everybody to read.

Wicked (Gregory Maquire)
This marvellous novel (like its sequel, the equally incredible Son Of A Witch) is a revisionist approach to the old classic The Wizard Of Oz. Revisionism in fiction is retelling an old story from a different perspective. The book is the same story told from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West, who it turns out is a courageous woman, ardent believer in equality and a staunch defender of Animal rights. It is based around her attempts to do whatever she can to hinder the Wizard, who is despotic and sadistic. Those who have seen the musical (which I absolutely adored. Definitely go and see it if you have not) before reading the book may be surprised. The musical is light hearted and comical, while the novel is dark and solemn. An absolute must read, along with its sequel.

Howl’s Moving Castle (Diana Wynne Jones)
Adapted into an award winning animation, the book is a genuinely fantastic read. A young hat maker is cursed with old age after accidentally offending a powerful witch. She leaves home and comes into the company of a self-absorbed and tiresome but good natured wizard and his demon companion who dwell within a moving castle that also acts as a portal to various places. While the two are friends, the wizard and the demon are also bound together by a contract that they cannot break which prevents the demon from ever leaving the castle. Sophie becomes their maid, and they all form believable bonds of affection with one another while avoiding the witch and endeavouring to help each other to break free of their curses.

These are a small sample of fantastic books I have read over the years, and no doubt I have missed some out. these books (or series) are all exceptional, and I cannot recommend highly enough how much you should read them.