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Crowd Pleasing Mac & Cheese

Source: Crowd Pleasing Mac & Cheese

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The UK shouldn’t become vegan, but factory farming is evil

Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour Party leadership contest earlier this month, but a lot of people are still unsure and a little dubious about his views and what he plans to do with the party. This only seems to have been exacerbated by a recent statement made by new shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Kerry McCarthy, who was a rather strange choice for the position as she is a vegan. She is quoted as having said “I really believe that meat should be treated in exactly the same way as tobacco, with public campaigns to stop people eating it.”
The reaction of some people after this statement may have been a bit over the top, as she did later clarify her comments and told Radio 4 that she knows the UK isn’t going to turn vegan, and that she accepts, although does not like, the farming industry. She claimed her attention is on increasing animal welfare and sustainability. However, the comparison between eating meat and smoking was a bad analogy, a little insulting to meat eaters and smokers, and it got me thinking about what would happen if the UK did indeed turn vegan, what that would mean for us and for the animals, and whether the government should be in charge of what people can and cannot eat.

A lot of people took offence to these comments, and rightly so. We have public campaigns to raise awareness about the harms of smoking (and second hand smoke) because smoking can make health problems much more likely, and is linked to cancer, bronchitis, strokes and numerous other serious conditions. We do not try to ban smoking and we should respect peoples right to do what they want with their own bodies as long as they are not breathing their smoke onto us, but we try to make sure everyone knows the risks. As far as I am aware, there are no significant health problems linked to a healthy meat based diet. Meat has a lot of protein, iron and nutritional properties that are necessary for a healthy diet, and although it is perfectly possible (and fairly easy, as you can see from my blog) to have a healthy vegetarian diet and incorporate all the protein and vitamins you need, it is harder to get enough protein and iron as a vegetarian simply because you need to actively think about it and consciously add it to your diet. It is not hard to be a vegetarian, and eating meat can be more expensive and the added risks of not cooking meat properly and foor-and-mouth disease are concerns, but I see no evidence that eating properly cooked and good quality meat is significantly harmful to humans, and therefore the analogy between eating meat and smoking makes no sense. It cannot be a public health campaign if public health is not a concern.

Of course, she may well not have been talking about harm to humans. Obviously farming harms the animals in that they are ultimately killed for their meat, and I have heard quite disturbing stories about farmers continuously breeding animals so they will produce milk, and then killing the babies. I don’t know how common that is, but it is not a nice image and, although I continue to eat milk products, it does worry me. I am a vegetarian, and personally I think sheep, goats and to a lesser extent cows are cute, pleasant creatures and it makes me sad to think of them living just to be killed. When I look at a sheep, I do not want to eat it. I want to stroke it and bid it a good day. It is wrong to assume animals have the same mental processes that we do, and to assume that they share our emotional responses, but it is also wrong to assume they are devoid of all emotion and feeling. They do feel pain, they do form bonds and I believe that when they are about to be killed, they often know something is wrong and they are scared. They may also notice when members of their group go missing and it may cause them distress.
I do have a personal problem with animals being bred to become food, and the attitudes of people and how much many of them do not care that the meat they are eating used to be alive does disturb me. Simply put, whilst I do not think my views should become law and people should be forced to share them, my personal views are probably quite similar to McCarthy’s. Vegetarian pressure groups and individuals have every right to spread awareness and promote their agendas, and they can produce documentaries, pamphlets, books and blogs in which they try to persuade people to their way of thinking. However, I strongly question if this agenda should be implemented by the government itself, and that trying to enforce change rather than trying to persuade people by logical arguments is the way to go.
All of the above refers to the free range animals you will often see grazing in fields as you pass in a train or coach, not factory farming which imprisons these animals and does not allow them any freedom. Factory farming is not acceptable, and I agree there should be campaigns to raise awareness about it and try to prevent it, and laws to make it illegal. This does not mean that meat should be illegal, but factory farming should be without a doubt.

Personally the idea of any type of farming and people caring for, sometimes naming and building a relationship with these animals, and then killing and eating them has always freaked me out. However, a lot of animals do seem to have fairly free and peaceful lives until they die, when I recently went to Scotland there were fields full of free range sheep and cows and, although some of them had markings on them that I assume meant they were going to be killed or milked, they were able to move around, interact with each other and graze in peace. Whilst I do not like the idea on an emotional level, I do have to ask that if we did not farm these animals for our own use, would they exist today? I do not believe they would, as we keep them alive and breed them for our own purposes. If we did not do that, I believe these animals (at least in the form they are in now) would not exist, they would be extinct, in fact the reason they are the way they are is because of farming. Also whether we like it or not we do currently have farming in this country, and we do have these animals in abundance, and if the UK was to suddenly go completely vegan what would we do with the animals? Would they just roam free and evolve on their own? Would they change beyond recognition? Or would people get sick of them taking up land without benefiting humans and carry out a mass farm animal genocide? I don’t know, but I can’t personally imagine a world where we could co-exist with that many ‘wild’ animals in peace, or indeed that people would not end up killing and eating them again. The UK becoming vegan would also destroy animal farmers, would put a lot of people out of business, would raise unemployment and would destroy a whole livelihood that some people are proud of and skilled in. I don’t like farming, but I can see the problems this would cause, and I’m not sure its the best solution where humans are concerned but also where the animals are concerned. Many vegetarians argue that as we have a higher intellectual capability we have the power to choose not to eat animals in the way lions, tigers and other carnivores do not, and that’s perfectly valid. However, whether you agree with it or not you do have to accept that not everyone shares your views, and if people want to eat meat we do have to allow them to do so, in the same way that it would be completely wrong for carnivores to try and make eating meat compulsory.  McCarthy does accept the UK isn’t going to go vegan, but she does seem to wish it would, and I’m not sure if she’s thought it through.

The Article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/agriculture/food/11887317/Treat-meat-eaters-like-smokers-warns-Jeremy-Corbyns-new-vegan-farming-minister-Kerry-McCarthy.html

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Lazy Vegetarian Meal ideas #13: Black Bean Chilli (vegan)

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I’ve finally found black beans in a supermarket! Black beans are fantastic, very tasty and high in protein and I definitely recommend you search around the World Foods section of your local supermarket and get your hands on these beauties.
Vegetarian chilli is a great  and very easy recipe which you can have with tacos, nachos, burritos, rice, pasta, potatoes and pretty much anything carby!

Note: I don’t like mushrooms, but because they are high in Iron and protein I try to trick myself into eating them. If you don’t like mushrooms but want to be a healthy lazy vegetarian, try chopping them up really finely and then adding them to your recipe. Chances are the other flavours will drown them out sufficiently and you’ll be able to gobble them all up.

What you need: Tomato purée (canned), Vegetable stock (I used one cube and boiled water, because who has time to actually make it?!), one can of black beans, one chopped white or brown onion,  four finely chopped mushrooms (I normally use chestnut), olive oil, a few basil leaves, a pot, an oven and some cooking foil

Spices: Hot chilli powder, chilli flakes, ground pepper, salt, mustard seeds.

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1: Heat the olive oil in a medium sized pot and let it heat up. When the oil starts to get hot add the mustard seeds and a pinch of salt and wait for the mustard seeds to start popping

2: Add the onion and stir on a high heat until the onions start to brown, then turn to a low heat until they are translucent and soft (altogether should take around 8-13 minutes depending on your cooker and how soft you want them)

3: Add the mushrooms, a bit of chilli powder, chilli flakes and pepper and stir for a few minutes on a medium/low heat

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4: Add the black beans and repeat the process

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5: Add half the tomato purée and stir in, then add the vegetable stock and the second half of the tomato purée. Make sure the chilli is neither too watery nor too thick by adding the purée a bit at a time and stirring frequently, then turn to a lowish heat, add the basil leaves and some more chilli and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally

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6: Serve with baked potatoes (or literally anything else) and enjoy!

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Coming soon: How to make great baked potatoes

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The Scottish borderlands

I’ve been on holiday for the past few days in a Scottish border town called Yarrow.

Where I stayed literally had about five houses spread out across miles of fields, and it was completely surrounded by countryside, cows and hills. I’ve only ever lived in cities and am quite the londoner at heart, so the whole thing was a bit of a culture shock and I did wonder how someone could live that far away from people and buildings all the time without going a little mad, although I’m sure it does have its own benefits. The house I was staying in also happened to be attached to a cemetery and a church that had been around since at least the 1600s, so that combined with the endless nature was a little unnerving for me and I am pretty sure I heard some of the ghosts talking to each other at night. The cemetery was disturbingly compelling during the day and had some really interesting symbols on the graves (some that were also rather disturbing), but I don’t think I’ll be buying any cemetery adjacent houses anytime soon.

It was an awesome trip in spite of the ghosts though, I’ve never seen that much nature (and sheep!) before in my life and although it has definitely reinforced the fact that the UK is pretty un-populated and could easily increase their population without any real issues, it was a very unique experience and was incredibly beautiful. See below for some  photos of the Scottish Borderlands

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Assisted Dying Bill and the right to a dignified death

MPs are going to debate a new proposal which, if it goes through, will allow terminally ill adults who are deemed sound of mind and who have less than six months to live the option to end their own lives by being prescribed a lethal dose of drugs by a medical practitioner. They will need to take these drugs themselves, as a doctor is still not allowed to be directly responsible for the suicide, so if the individual had a condition which meant they could not move, they would not be able to have an assisted suicide.
Assisted suicide is a very controversial subject, and many people fear that if this bill goes through it will pave the way for more people to be pressured into ending their own lives, people with disabilities being seen as a burden and being encouraged by selfish relatives to die and even a new wave of eugenics, in which those with mental and physical disabilities are seen as un-worthy of life and ultimately murdered for the ‘health’ of society, as was advocated in America during the 1930s and taken to horrific extremes in Nazi Germany. Since the end of Nazi Germany and in light holocaust, people are rightly concerned about anything that could allow this type of eugenics to reappear, and obviously there would have to be precautions and laws that ensure it never happens again.
However, the crucial difference between the right to die and the eugenics movement is that the right to die is the individuals choice. Society is not deciding that this person should die, the person has made the choice themselves. It is a right to die, not an obligation to do so, and two people who have the same condition may well react differently, with some choosing to live as long as they naturally can and others choosing to die on their own terms. Both responses are perfectly valid, and one person deciding that they personally want to die in no way means others with the same condition should do the same or will be encouraged to do so, or that this is a correct or incorrect response to a terminal illness. It is about the individuals choice, not what society deems is appropriate or morally correct, and this applies both to the right to die and, equally, the right to live. The government and society should not have the right to say who should die, but they also should not have the right to say that everyone has to live regardless of what the individual wants.
The people who wish to end their lives will already be terminally ill under this bill, they are already going to die within six months. They may be in extreme pain, may no longer be able to move and look after themselves and have decided, given their options, that they would rather a fairly painless death on their own terms then to wait for nature to take its course. It does not mean that people would be encouraged to end their life, or that it would be a case of deciding to die on the spur of the moment and being able to do it straight away. A person would be fully aware of all their options before they could begin the process of assisted dying, and it is not a short process. In Switzerland there are many precautions that try and ensure that the system is not abused. Dignitas acts as a third, un-biased party and before the assisted suicide happens the person in question is given several consultations and appointments over a period of time and is frequently asked to confirm that they still wish to end their life. They are also subject to medical checks to ensure that they know fully what they are doing and meet the criteria for an assisted suicide. Before they die they are asked again to confirm that this is their final decision, and it is ensured that they are fully aware of what they are doing and understand that if they proceed, they will die. Of course there is a chance that this may sometimes be abused, and that some people may be pressured into it, but as these people would be consulted on their own on multiple occasions and would be prompted many times to say if they have changed their mind, they would have the power to stop the process in a safe environment away from people who may wish to sway their decision.
Legalizing assisted suicide allows the person in question the power over their own life, and the decision is expressly decided by them alone. It is true that some people may not fully understand what they are agreeing to, but there would be trained medical personnel who would on several occasions review the person and be able to determine that they are fully aware of what they are agreeing to, and that it is an informed decision which they have considered at length and chosen to go ahead with out of their own free will. We have to keep in mind that people can and do kill themselves without assisted suicide, and these methods are often far more painful. You cannot stop suicides from happening, but you can allow people who are suffering, and who are not going to recover, to end their life on their own terms.
You may remember the case of Tony Nicklinson from several years back. Tony suffered from locked-in syndrome as a result of a stroke, which means he was paralyzed from the neck down and could not speak. He was literally trapped inside his own body, he described this feeling as ‘agony’ and frequently stated his wish to die and his belief that he should have the right over his own life. Because he could not move, in order to die by assisted suicide he would have to be physically assisted and could not carry it out himself.  As he was not terminally ill,  not deemed to be in enough pain and could not move, he would not have been able to end his life under the currently proposed legislation, but he and members of his family repeatedly appealed for the law to be changed and for a doctor to be legally allowed to help him end his life. His appeal was rejected, and in August 2012 he died after refusing food for over a week and contracting pneumonia, for which he declined medication. He killed himself, but his death was far more painful then it could have been.
This case made me really angry. How can the government, or a pressure group or the general public decide that someone who is in agony-mental or physical-does not have this choice over their own lives? What right has the government to ban euthanasia in these circumstances? We may not like the idea, we may have moral qualms about it. But ultimately, it is not up to us. Who cares if we don’t like it? We don’t have to go through it. Emotional responses are all very well, but it is not helpful to the person in question. If someone is suffering enough that they wish to die, and they wish to do so as peacefully as they can under their own terms, why should we have the right to say they can’t? If someone is not going to get better, why should they have to live against their wishes because we can’t deal with the idea that some people would genuinely choose death over life? Why do we condemn them to find other ways to kill themselves, often with unnecessarily painful consequences. The choice should be the choice of the person whom it effects, in consultation with family and loved ones, and them alone.

Does this mean everyone with locked-in syndrome should die by assisted suicide? Of course not. But if someone with this condition does wish to die, if they have fought for their right to die and if they have maintained for a long time that this is their wish, why are they denied this basic right over their own lives? Tony’s family loved him, they didn’t want him to die. But they could see how much he didn’t want to continue living under those conditions, and they respected his decision and fought for his choice. If someone’s own family can decide that, even though they love someone, a person has a choice over whether they continue to suffer or not, why does a complete stranger feel that they have the right to control this persons right to die? This is not in any way denying anyone’s right to live, or that people with illnesses terminal or not should want to die. It is about the individual, not the group, and what the individual chooses for themselves. Everyone who was born has the right to life, and if someone wants to live they should be given every opportunity to do so and should be able to continue to live as long as their natural life will allow, regardless of their physical or mental capability. But everyone also, whether we like it or not, has a right to their own death, and it is not up to complete strangers to condemn someone to living against their will if it is against their express desire to do so.

Basically, I believe that if someone is in pain, and if they are not going to recover, and if they have chosen to die and maintain their choice over an appropriate length of time, they should have the right to do so and doctors should be able to assist them without persecution. It should be regulated, and it should not be open to everyone (the ‘right frame of mind’ clause would effectively rule out those with depression etc who may want to die as a result of their mental health) and should be limited to those with a permanent condition that is not likely to recover over time. It should not be forced upon people, in every instance it would be a last option, but it should be given as a choice to those who expressly ask for it. This bill is an important first step in giving people the right over their own lives and their own deaths, and for the sake of those who want it, I hope it goes through.

Reading

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/9492991/Tony-Nicklinson-dies-saying-Goodbye-world-the-time-has-come.-Ive-had-some-fun.html

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/25/assisted-suicide-campaigners-supreme-court-verdict-right-die

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jul/31/right-to-die-court-paul-lamb

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/16/right-to-die-assisted-suicide-incapacitated-supreme-court

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-28310868

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-34208624

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20570785

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-19341722

http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/oct/02/nicklinson-case-ethics-appeal

http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/jan/03/tony-nicklinson-family-right-appeal