A Rude Awakening

Last week I found myself taken aback, angry and confused to see an Instagram post from the company Rude Health declaring their support of the dairy industry. For those of you unfamiliar with the Rude Health brand, they produce an array of high-end, dairy free nut, oat and rice milks, and I have to admit their products are, well were, among my favourites. Like many of the other people who saw this post, my initial assumption was that either their account had been hacked or someone on work experience had made a massive PR error. However, a quick search on their website revealed neither of these scenarios to be the case. In fact, what I discovered was a ‘rant’ blog post from their Co-founder and Brand Director, Camilla Barnard, in which she categorised vegetarianism and veganism as fad diets.

While I don’t often get angry about many things, the messaging from Rude Health really wound me up, not least because it shows such a total lack of understanding on so many levels. It’s a lack of understanding of the motivations behind a plant based lifestyle (which Barnard describes as a fad diet ‘to save you from cancer and early death’ and a means by which to ‘claim the health and moral-high ground’), a complete misreading of who the people are who actually buy their products, and from a brand and marketing perspective, an apparent ignorance about how and why people align themselves to particular brands and brand identities.

Since seeing the Instagram image and reading the blog post, I have found myself morbidly fascinated in following the backlash of these postings, reading the thousands of comments that have resulted – many from people like me, who really don’t understand why any company in its right mind would seek to alienate one of its core audiences – and watching and waiting for some kind of explanation, apology or rationality from Rude Health. None has come.

I have also decided, along with many other vegans, to boycott Rude Health products. Reiterating the points above, my decision to buy Rude Health’s dairy-free milks was not just based on the fact that they were tasty; just as my decision not to eat animals and animal products is not just part of a fad to ‘save me from cancer’.

The fact is, that many vegans, myself included, made this lifestyle choice because we are fundamentally opposed to the meat and dairy industries and the impact they have on the well-being of animals and on the environment. We have seen the dark side of these industries and have come to our own conclusions not to play a part in the perpetuation of them. I didn’t become a vegan on the back of a ‘celebrity exclusion diet’ or to claim ‘the moral high-ground’. I became a vegan because I find the idea of killing another sentient being and consuming its corpse for pleasure totally barbaric and abhorrent. If my decision not to eat meat at the age of 8 was a fad, then it has been a bloody long one. Likewise, I don’t see that I have any business in drinking the breast milk of another species, not least when getting that milk involves cows being raped, having their calves taken away from them, being pumped full of hormones and steroids, being forced to express milk to the point of suffering from severe mastitis and then being culled when they are no longer of any use to the industry. No Camilla I am not ‘forced by an allergy’ to follow this diet, but I am compelled to, by the facts of an industry which I find to be inhumane. Eating may be a social activity and you may want ‘positivity and fun around food’, but this is equally possible while following a wholly plant-based diet and the fact is when I eat what I eat, no one has to die in the process.

Moreover, I’d be really interested to see who are actually buying Rude Health milk-alternative products. In insulting the vegan community, Rude Health clearly believe that there is a large enough market of non-vegans who are prepared to pay a minimum of £3.50 on a weekly basis for a carton of cashew milk and I just can’t believe that to be the case (although I’d love to be wrong on this). Even living in the lefty, middle-class bubble of North London, I don’t know any non-vegans who would be prepared to splurge on three different types of dairy-free milks on a weekly basis in the way that my vegan friends and I do. I know a few people who might buy almond or soya milk as a one off, but even then it is usually a cheaper brand, not Rude Health.

Finally, you don’t have to be a marketing expert to see that people buy into brands not just products. Whether it is in fashion or food, we like to align ourselves to the brands that we feel either reflect our personalities and our values, or that we aspire to imitate. In pledging their support for the dairy industry, Rude Health have isolated themselves from a massive vegan community who are fundamentally opposed to that industry.

And the big question for me is, why say anything at all? Why kick up this storm so unnecessarily? Is it just a case of massively misjudging and underestimating your audience, or is there something more sinister like a cash injection from an interested party behind it?

I’d be really interested to hear both your and Rude Health’s thoughts around this. I’ll also be keeping a keen eye on the Companies House site for their next accounts statement. 


A good influence?

Like many health and wellness bloggers I try to surround myself with positive and inspirational people and media, not only to stay abreast of the latest fitness and diet trends to report back on here, but also to keep me motivated, optimistic and to try to help mould me into the best version of myself (or a slightly better version at least!).

Occasionally I find that something I read, hear in a podcast, or glimpse on social media resonates with me in a much more profound way than the usual interesting, but less effecting, information. While so often the latter type of nuggets will have an instant impact, their effects are, more often than not, only short-lived – a magazine article that pushes me out of the door do a workout, or an Instagram picture that drives me to make a healthier meal choice. However, on the occasions that I read or hear something which has a deeper influence, I find it seeps into my subconscious in a way that goes on to shape the way I think, behave and interact with others well beyond the initial point of impact.

This was of course the case when I switched from a vegetarian to a vegan lifestyle some ten years ago now after learning more about the dairy industry and realising the effects that dairy products had on my body. Once I was equipped with this knowledge the fact of veganism seemed an obvious conclusion.

In recent weeks I had my eyes opened again in this regard as I listened to an interview with Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn, makers of the documentary film Cowspiracy. While this documentary had been on my radar, I hadn’t prioritised watching it as I had thought it would just be a case of preaching to the converted. However, what the interview revealed was how little I actually knew about the detrimental effects of animal agriculture on the environment and why grass-fed meat is not the often vaunted ‘sustainable’ solution that many meat eaters claim. Again, equipped with the knowledge that the animal agriculture industry is responsible for more of the ‘human-produced’ greenhouse gasses than all means of transport combined, or that whole ecosystems are disrupted by the land requirements for grazing cattle, and that this is the leading cause of species extinction, habitat destruction and wildlife culling, reaffirmed in my mind my lifestyle choices and made me want to share the message with others (with almost evangelical zeal!).

My attitude to exercise has also taken a positive turn in recent months and this was further solidified by a excerpt in Adharanand Finn’s new book,The Way of the Runner, which I read this week.

After a series of hip issues and my decision not to run the marathon this year I had felt my relationship with running sour somewhat. However, once the pressure of training for an event was removed, and I was able to let my body recover without the anxiety of missed training sessions, I found that I was able to reconnect with the real reason I go out running: just because.

Finn voiced these sentiments perfectly in his book:

I know some people run to loose weight, to get fit, or maybe they’re running to raise money for a charity. But for me…these are just by-products. Running itself has its own raison d’être…[W]e run to connect with something in ourselves, something buried deep down beneath all the worldly layers of identity and responsibility. Running, in its simplicity, its pure brutality, peels away these layers, revealing the raw human underneath…[I]f we push on, running harder, further deeper into the wildness of it all, away from the world and the structure of our lives…we begin to float…Our minds begin to clear and we begin to feel strangely detached, and yet at the same time connected, connected to ourselves…

In this modern world we need excuses…The world is set up to cater for the rational, logical mind, which needs to see tangible reasons and benefits behind any effort. We need to dangle the carrot of marathons and best times in front of ourselves to justify this strange habit of getting up, running around outside, coming back having not actually gone anywhere…And this, on some superficial level motivates me to run. But really, deep down, I know it’s just a front. What I really want to do is get away from all of the structure, the complexity and chaos of my constructed life, and to connect with the simple human that lies buried under everything else.

I don’t doubt that this is a message that will resonate with many other runners.

Finally, with my daily practice of yoga and discovery of the wider mindfulness and meditation movement, I can feel another shift taking place. Partly responsible for this greater sense of connectedness and peace with myself is my recent discovery of Rich Roll. Roll’s podcast is full of interviews with inspirational ‘paradigm breakers’ in different fields from business, music, fitness, meditation, sleep and nutrition, and his unapologetic approach to health, wellness and veganism (the tagline to his bio is ‘a life transformed by plants’), have all served to motivate me to feel more at peace and proud of my lifestyle choices, while also compelling me to strive for more in work, exercise, wellness and diet.

You need only to listen to his interviews with Ariana Huffington, John Joseph, Light Watkins, Jedidiah Jenkins, Mishka Shubaly, or indeed any of the other motivational interviewees he has had on the show to realise what an incredible resource this is.

There are some really powerful lessons to be learned: Roll is a recovering alcoholic turned ultra-athlete and he is pretty frank that to make a change in any element of your life you already know what to do:

There is no secret bullet or life-hack that is going to help you to accomplish what you want to do, it’s simply a case of stopping what you doing and switching to take the actions that will move you closer to your goal. It’s tough to hear because people want to hear that there is an easier, softer way. The short-cut is to make that goal your absolute one priority and do anything you can to achieve it.

The podcast makes me think about life in a holistic sense: in an interview with Jason Garner, Garner highlighted the problem of compartmentalising different aspects of our lives and how ‘we talk about work life balance as if work isn’t part of our life’, something which really struck a chord with me. In another episode our engagement with social media was brought into question and the focus was placed on the importance of ‘being’ rather than ‘appearing to be’, a shift that would serve many of us.

At it’s essence is the message that life, success and happiness is all about perspective – two people can have the same experience and perceive it totally differently, so what you have to ask is how much responsibility are you prepared to take for your mindset and approach to life?

I will finish with a Viktor Frankl quote that I particularly like, which Roll cited in an episode I was listening to this week:

Between stillness and response there is a space and in that space is our power to choose our response and in our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Happy inspiring.



Race or pace

Gallery Cafe, Bethnal Green
The Gallery Cafe, Bethnal Green

This weekend I’ve experienced the two polar-opposite elements of marathon training. On the one hand, Saturday saw me enjoying a sports massage and physio session followed by an afternoon in the spa with the girls to help ‘loosen my muscles’. On the other, Sunday involved a 20 mile race requiring a 5am start.

On Friday I made the last-minute decision to book a physio appointment to make sure I was in the best possible condition for Sunday’s race. Luckily, they were able to fit me in before breakfast on Saturday morning and I enjoyed a more hands-on massage session than I’d had before.

I was reassured by the session (if not mildly embarrassed by my general nakedness around what was a very handsome male physio!) and despite some sore points around my hips and knees, I was pleased that the physio didn’t think I was in too bad shape. I also got an extra 15 minutes at the end as the physio had no one booked in right after me, when I enjoyed a bonus neck, shoulder and head massage, which left me totally relaxed.

falafelsaladThe afternoon saw me scheduled in for a trip to The Gallery Cafe, a vegetarian favourite in Bethnal Green, for a delicious lunch of falafel salad and a vegan banana flapjack, with the girls.

This was followed by a visit to the spa nearby.

We were booked in for 3 hours, but as it always the time flew by as we moved between Turkish baths and steam rooms, glugging plenty of water to stay hydrated and catching up on gossip.

By stark contrast to what was possibly the most relaxing day ever, Sunday was the Clapham Chasers Thames Riverside 20.

The race started at 8am in Putney on a route which meandered to Richmond along the river and back again. The early start to the race combined with the late start to the tubes on a Sunday saw me up at 5 to get showered ready to leave for a bus just before 6.

I arrived at the race start in good time to collect my number, drop-off my bag and have a quick pre-race stretch.

I positioned myself with the 9 minute-mile pacer and sat comfortably in the front of the group for the first 7 miles, at this point a struggle with a gel (I couldn’t get it out of my back pocket and I’m not great at taking them while running) and a toilet trip at mile 9 saw me drop back a little.

Thames Riverside 20
Thames Riverside 20

Actually dropping back was quite nice as it gave me a bit more space and took the ‘race’ pressure off a little. I kept hearing my friend Clay’s voice telling me not to worry, to take the run at my own pace, to stop and stretch if I needed and, most importantly, to ‘just enjoy it kiddo’.

I had decided that I just wanted to finish the run with this focus on enjoying it and trying to keep my mind in a positive place. My Strava was playing up and skipped the first 5 miles of the race, which actually helped take any time pressure off. It was actually incredibly refreshing not to be aiming for a particular time and with the knowledge that any time would actually be a PB for the distance!

I felt good at the turnaround in Richmond and enjoyed sharing smiles and nods with runners coming the other way. I even got a high-five from a guy from Serpentine running club.

At about 14 miles I started to flag and let my pace drop again.

I tag-teamed with another runner going at a similar pace, taking it in turns to take the lead, and we had a bit of a chat to help spur each other on.

At around 17 miles I stopped to stretch and had to do the same at miles 18 and 19 as my hip and knee were really hurting.

One of the event 9:30 pacers who had reached me by mile 18 really helped to keep me going for the last two miles when, I have to admit, my own mental grit was leaving a lot to be desired and I was nearing tears. Thanks to her I managed to choke them back and get my head back together.

Boats in Richmond
Boats in Richmond

I finished how I most wanted to finish – running and smiling – and celebrated with a rather squashed peanut butter and apple sandwich from my backpack!

The event was really well organised and the marshals and pacers were amazing. Despite a few moments of self-doubt when the going got tough, I was really pleased that I took part.

It also made me realise my priority for the marathon: just to finish running and smiling! I really don’t care about my final time or splits; if I have to stop and stretch, or even walk a few steps to take on a gel or drink some water, as long as I enjoy it and finish that’s all that matters to me.

So a successful weekend all round. More of the same next week.

Happy running!

Massage, relaxation and leaving the wallowing to the hippos

wo-tibits-080712-lgn-5146804The Friday fractured foot debacle (FFFD) cast a rather disproportionately large shadow over an otherwise pretty amazing week. I’d spent a lovely couple of days with my parents who had come down to visit, which included a delicious trip to Tibits (our favourite vegetarian haunt – so good that even my carnivorous parents love it!), a Garden Party at the Palace with all the pomp and ceremony that goes with it, and a theatre trip to see the stunning Miss Saigon. I had also finally booked my flights to Slovenia having confirmed a print date for my book and found out that my work trip to New York for July has been approved. All in all a pretty damn good week.

Two sunny days, lots of rest and plenty of painkillers later I am seeing things in a bit more perspective. While all running, climbing and hot date plans for the weekend had to go on hold, I’ve had some time to reflect properly on my attitude towards exercise and my body and have come out of it feeling a lot more positive.

vitaI’ve also been overwhelmed by how amazing and supportive everyone has been. From my colleague Nina getting me into a cab to the hospital for my x-ray, to the care package of Coyo yogurts and coconut water from my lovely water polo team pals. The lifts around town, cups of tea and supper out with the girls when I was at a low ebb, the strategising for future training plans with my running buddies, the straight-talking, life coaching from one of my oldest friends, Becks and all of the lovely comments from readers of the blog. All of this has allowed me to start thinking about how I’m going to take my training and lifestyle forward in the weeks to come.

The problem with injury is not only the physical pain, but also the frustration and negative feeling it generates towards your own body for not being able to function in the way you would like it to. It’s the annoyance that something which, to all intents and purposes should be doing you good, is actually doing you harm and the anxiety of having something which is so essential to your everyday life being taken away.

I’ve always been the sort of person who pushes myself to do better in all aspects of my life, often, as in this case, to the detriment of my health. So my first lesson of the FFFD is to work with my body, rather than against it; in short, if it hurts in a bad way, don’t do it! I should have stopped running on Thursday when it started to hurt, I didn’t, we all know the result, lesson learned.

broccoli-on-a-forkOur bodies are pretty awesome things and despite the fact that we abuse them in various ways they still prove pretty resilient. I think it’s sometimes easy to forget all of the things our bodies bounce back from and it’s only when they fail to do so do we begin to reflect on the damage we are inadvertently doing. So, lesson two: love and appreciate your body, fuel it with good things and cut out the bad.

While cardio and weight-bearing exercises are important, so too are those that increase flexibility and keep the muscles supple. I’ve been saying I’d get back into yoga for months now, but running and climbing have been taking over, so now they are out for a while, here’s my opportunity. Lesson three: stretch, stretch and stretch again.

Finally taking time to recover is essential to any training regime. Active recovery uses light resistance exercise to increase blood flow and nutrients to muscles after exercise and helps to remove waste products that can hinder muscle recovery. Active recovery can include walking, light biking, yoga, swimming, or indeed any other low-intensity exercise. Sleep is also essential for recovery. Lack of sleep can not only lead to weight gain by reducing the levels of leptin, (the chemical that makes you feel full) and increasing levels of ghrelin, (the hormone which stimulates hunger), it can also inhibit muscle recovery by leading to a decrease in protein synthesis.

massageThis weekend I began to implement this kinder approach to my body. I started with a deep tissue massage at Whispers Spa, which is just across from my house on Abbeville Road. I admit it was a little bit of an extravagance, but the new fitness regime calls for me to take better care of myself, and what better way than with a massage? While the effects of massage on muscle recovery are inconclusive, many studies show that it can aid recovery after exercise. At the very least, the symptoms of delayed-onset muscle soreness can be mitigated through massage. In any case it was heaven and I even got slightly more than my allocated hour and herbal tea afterwards. The spa is small but perfectly formed and the staff are really friendly – definitely worth a trip if you’re looking for retreat in the heart of south London.

The next step is locating an affordable yoga centre and keeping my fingers firmly crossed for the x-ray results next week.

Vegan Valentine

Vegan cupcakeA guest post from my fellow blogger and newly-vegan friend Georgina Phipps, especially for Valentine’s Day:
Six months ago I took the plunge of going from being a meat-chomping milk guzzler to a committed vegan. It was a transformation achieved quite literally overnight: one evening I went to bed with a bellyful of chicken and milky hot chocolate, and the next morning woke up swearing off all animal-derived products – forever, or at least so remains my intent.
Since that fateful day, I have learnt an awful lot about my diet, what foods I can’t and ought to eat, and which cuisines and supermarkets and restaurants are vegan friendly, or bafflingly not so. What has surprised me the most however is how becoming a vegan has altered other not insignificant aspects of my life, in ways that I never foresaw. Not least among these is my love life.
For it turns out that we who play the dating game as vegans have certain obstacles to surmount that our carnivorous competitors can blithely side-step, yet also have the decided advantage of being dealt a couple of extra tricks with which to test the suitability of our vying men-folk. In short, while I have never looked back from going vegan, the fact of being a vegan has made me look twice at my male suitors.
To would-be vegans and would-be daters, I therefore humbly offer the following advice, gleaned from six months of viewing men through vegan-goggles:
The First Date
It is almost inevitable that the fact of one’s being a vegan will be mentioned on the first date, or at the very latest on the first occasion at which the possibility of eating food together is mooted. How your suitor reacts to the announcement can be crucial in determining whether to grant the honour of a second date. In my experience, men invariably fall into one of three categories:
1. Most men, no matter their actual opinion or the extent of their knowledge on veganism, will, if they like you, react with non-committal understanding and polite curiosity, possibly shaded with amusement or admiration. These men deserve a second date, though be alert: if they forget in the intervening days that you are a vegan, which is after all fairly definitive to your identity, then he is either rudely inattentive or hopelessly incompetent.
2. A minority of men, namely those who think the matter on your plate does not warrant the label “meal” unless it includes meat, may attempt to point out the absurdity of your life choices and persuade you, for your own bodily health and mental sanity, to eat a steak and kidney pie. These men are to be walked out on mid-date.
3. Finally, it is perfectly possible that you may find yourself on a date with a fellow-vegan. Be wary however of reacting with too much enthusiasm to this discovery, for it may mislead either party into the false belief that they have found their soul mate. Veganism may well be fundamental to both your characters, but it is equally plausible that all other aspects of your characters are fundamentally opposed. No man, or woman, should be judged on their dietary preferences alone. If in doubt remember: even Hitler was a vegetarian.
Romantic Dinner-Date
The choice of what to eat on your first dinner-date is always fraught with potential pitfalls. Any dish that is likely to end up wedged between your teeth, fouling your breath or falling off on the journey between plate and mouth is never lingered on during the menu perusal. Unless you are a vegan, in which case you will find, at most restaurants, that there is but one option for you, and that option is invariably the messiest. Be it pasta in tomato sauce at an Italian, or noodle-soup at an Asian, a vegan’s lack of choice at “normal” restaurants (that is, eateries which serve bits of animal arranged with cheese) will transform her in minutes from sophisticated, alluring lady to a sloppy, slurping, bib-requiring two-year-old.
Valentine’s Day
For non-vegans newly dating vegans, Valentine’s Day poses a challenge. Chocolates, romantic meals, strawberries in cream – all suddenly apparently impossible due to your sweetheart’s ethical choices. Ah, but it is not so. If vegans couldn’t eat chocolate, I wouldn’t be one. I would simply find it impossible. Yet fortunately, there are many dairy-free choccie options on the market, ranging from high-quality dark chocolate, to raw cocoa “cakes”, to “milk” chocolate produced with soya or rice milk. And while it is true one may struggle to find such delights packaged in nauseating – sorry, romantic – heart-shaped boxes for Valentine’s Day, the effort one’s beau must go to to procure your sweetmeats is a far greater testament to his affection than his ability to pick out the pinkest, fluffiest, biggest, most vomit-inducing box in the shop. What is more, if he really likes you, he could try rustling you up a vegan treat himself – chocolate avocado cupcakes being my particular Valentine’s Day tip.