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Daily Vegan 25: Leather, silk and wool – by Ben Martin

A dilemma often faced by new vegans is what to do with all their old leather shoes, woolly jumpers and silk shirts. In fact, I’ve already been asked about this several times over the course of this year’s Great Vegan Challenge. Well, first of all, don’t panic – we don’t expect people taking part in the challenge to go out and buy a new wardrobe just for the sake of one month. But if you decide to stay vegan after the challenge is over – and we really hope that you will – this is a quandary you may experience yourself.

First, however, let’s look at some of the issues with these items, starting with leather. Years ago, even many vegetarians wore leather on the basis that it was a by-product of the meat industry and the animals weren’t actually killed to make leather per se. Whilst leather may be a meat by-product, its production helps to make the meat industry more profitable and, along with EU and government subsidies, keeps it afloat. Without the sale of leather, meat would be more expensive, or cattle farmers and slaughtermen wouldn’t make as much money and would be less likely to stay in business. And, at the end of the day, an animal still has to die in order to produce that leather handbag or wallet.

What about silk? It’s easy to forget that it, too, comes from the slaughter of animals, with uncounted billions of silkworms being killed each year to produce silk. These unsuspecting caterpillars, snuggly wrapped up in their cocoons transforming into moths, are boiled alive in huge tanks. This is to prevent the silkworms from damaging the cocoon as they eat their way out, and makes it easier to separate the dead caterpillars from the silk casing. Around 1,000 silkworms are killed to produce just one shirt.

Unlike leather and silk, animals are not killed to produce wool, so it is often seen as a more ethical product. So then why do vegans shun it? Well, these days sheep are farmed more for their meat than for their wool. Much like leather, wool is a by-product of the meat industry and helps to make its production more profitable. Almost every sheep that is sheared for wool will end up in a slaughterhouse. Sheep also have one of the highest mortality rates of any farmed animal, as they are left out in all weathers, often with no shelter and unmonitored, so that animals usually die before the farmer knows anything is wrong. Shearing itself is a brutal process and is increasingly being done earlier in the year, leaving them exposed to freezing conditions, as shearing sheep during cold weather ensures the sheep put on more weight to compensate.

So, back to our original question: what should you do if you’ve gone vegan and you still own items made from animal-derived materials? Well, there are a few options. Some people throw them away, but I personally think this is a terrible waste. Other people choose to donate them to charity shops, animal shelters, or someone else who can make use of them. But what if you can’t afford to do this, or you have items of sentimental value? Well, a sensible approach might be to hold on to them for now and replace them with animal-free versions as and when they wear out. After all, they’ve already been paid for, so getting rid of them won’t help to reduce demand for such products.

When it comes to buying cruelty-free alternatives, there are plenty of options. Most clothing shops will have items made from plant-based or synthetic fibres, even knitted cotton jumpers, so there’s no need to go naked. Finding substitutes for leather shoes, belts and handbags can be a little more tricky, but it’s not impossible. Many discount shoe shops and clothing stores have leather-style items that are actually made from synthetic materials, simply because they are cheaper to make, and there are a number of online companies that can deliver high quality vegan shoes and accessories right to your door, including:

Ethical Wares
Freerangers
Veganline
Vegan Store
Vegetarian Shoes
Eco Vegan Shoes
Wills Vegan Shoes
Bourgeois Boheme
Beyond Skin

Daily Vegan 24: What about the environment? – by Ben Martin

As well as reducing demand for cruelly produced animal products and improving your health, going vegan helps to tackle some of the biggest environmental and humanitarian issues the world faces – water shortages, desertification, feeding a growing human population, land and water pollution and, of course, climate change. According to the United Nations, for example, animal farming is responsible for at least 14.5 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than all of the planes, cars, buses, ships and other motorised transport on Earth combined.

A recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Oxford similarly concluded that animal products are having a huge impact on climate change. By analysing the diet of tens of thousands of British people, it found that meat-based diets are responsible for more than twice the greenhouse gas emissions of vegan diets.

So by going vegan, you’ve managed to slash your ‘carbon footprint’! But what about your ‘water footprint’? Well, given all the water required to produce feed for farmed animals, not to mention all the drinking water they need, it’s no surprise that it requires a lot more water to produce meat, milk and eggs than their vegan counterparts. For example, it takes half the amount of water to make a pint of soya milk as it does to produce a pint of cow’s milk. And you can get six tofu-based burgers for the amount of water it takes to produce just one beef burger.

This is especially important as climate change causes drought to become a growing problem across the world. Over the last few years, for example, California has experienced a crippling drought. Almond production, which uses ten per cent of the state’s water, has come under particular attack, but it is often overlooked that animal agriculture in California uses around five times as much water whilst providing far less nutrition per drop.

But animal farming doesn’t just use fresh water, it pollutes it too. According to the Environment Agency, it is the single biggest cause of water pollution in the UK, with dairy farms being a particular problem, and other countires around the world have reported similar findings. The trouble is that farming huge numbers of animals means they produce lots of waste, and that slurry can end up in rivers and streams where it kills wildlife and has the potential to spread disease.

I’ve been told many times that vegans are destroying the rainforest because it is being chopped down to grow soya plantations. But whilst it’s true that large areas of former Amazon rainforest are now being used to grow soya, more than 95 per cent of it is used to produce feed for farmed animals, particularly in North America and Europe. Besides, most deforested land in South America – around 70 per cent, in fact – is now used to graze cattle and other animals reared for meat.

As we try to feed a growing global population, it is becoming increasingly clear that doing so will have to involve a shift away from animal farming towards plant-based foods. At present around a third of edible crops are being fed to farmed animals, instead of the millions of starving humans around the world. And the nutrition we get from the meat, eggs and milk from those animals is far less than we would have got from the crops fed to them. Animals use up calories and other nutrients as they move around and do the other things animals do, so they are a very inefficient way of producing food. Globally, animal farming takes up almost 80 per cent of farmland, and yet animal products provide just 30 per cent of our protein and 20 per cent of our calories. Whereas crops, produced on a fifth as much land, provide more than half of our protein and calories.

Put simply, we can feed far more people on a plant-based diet, cause far less pollution and use far less land and water.

Daily Vegan 23: More than just food – by Ben Martin

Throughout the Great Vegan Challenge we largely focus on food. That’s because farming animals is the single biggest cause of animal cruelty in the UK. Almost one billion land animals are killed for food in the UK alone every year – plus a huge but unknown number of sea creatures – and as Animal Aid’s undercover investigations into farms and slaughterhouses have shown, suffering is rife in the industry. Also, for many people, changing their diet is the greatest hurdle to overcome. What we eat is bound up with our culture, our traditions, the way we socialise and so many other aspects of our lives that changing our diet can seem very daunting. But I hope that through the Great Vegan Challenge, we’ve shown you that being vegan is not only easy, but can be a joy!

Sadly, animal exploitation is not just limited to food, of course. Toiletries, cosmetics, and household cleaners, for example, are often tested on animals and may contain animal products. As such, many are considered to be unsuitable for vegans. But, fortunately, it is now easy to find cruelty-free beauty products.

In addition to specialist companies such as Faith in Nature and Honesty Cosmetics, several leading high street companies also sell vegan beauty products. Very helpfully, Superdrug and the Co-op label which of their own-brand goods contain animal products, and almost all are not tested on animals. A special mention must also go to Lush, who not only oppose all animal testing and have a wonderful range of vegan products in their shops (all clearly labelled), but also lend their support to groups like Animal Aid who work to end all animal cruelty.

When it comes to household cleaners, again the Co-op comes up trumps by not only selling products that are not tested on animals, but also labelling which products are also suitable for vegans. There are a number of other companies who specialise in making cruelty-free household cleaners, too, including Faith in Nature, Bio D, Suma, Method and Astonish. The last two can often be found in supermarkets, or even discount stores such as Poundland.

For make-up, Superdrug’s own ‘B’ range is vegan and non-animal tested, and Barry M indicates on its website which of its products is vegan-friendly (although, sadly, not on the products themselves). Beauty Without Cruelty is also completely vegan and many of their products are available from the Animal Aid online shop, where you can also find products from Fairypants and Lavera, not to mention cruelty-free shampoos, moisturisers, household cleaners and more.

Daily Vegan 22: Animals overseas – by Kate Fowler

Travelling overseas as a vegan is not always easy, and that’s before you even think about what you are going to eat. I’ll never forget the romantic weekend in Venice spent offering water to dehydrated and dying pigeons in Piazza San Marco, or the long-anticipated trip to the Pyramids where I spent so much of the day persuading tourists to get out of carts pulled by skinny, lame horses that I don’t think I took a single photo. And as for my travels in China, there were daily upsets, even though I avoided the markets where I knew the worst sights lay.

There are plenty of Brits who have seen similar suffering but, instead of coming home and writing a blog about it, they set up sanctuaries or treatment centres in the country they visited. Animal Care in Egypt, Greek Animal Rescue, Animal SOS Sri Lanka and many more were started because good people did not walk away when faced with suffering. These groups offer a lifeline for animals, but also a helping hand for those of us who visit their country. My advice to anyone travelling overseas is to find out which animal protection centres and services are available before you go, so you know who to call if you need to.

If you’re going to an area where stray animals are common, see if you can volunteer for a day or donate to the local sanctuary. And be prepared to buy a lot of bottled water and spend your days looking after the little ones who follow you around. You may be lucky enough to meet your best friend and, once microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and issued with the correct pet passport, she can come home with you. You wouldn’t be the first. My best friend, Alfie (left), happened to be born on the streets of Bucharest.

It is unlikely that vegans will ride on elephants, pose for photos with chained monkeys or visit a bullfight, but you may be confronted by these things all the same. Or you may find yourself in a region where birds in tiny cages are hung outside every door, innocently visit a tiger ‘sanctuary’, only to find the animals are chained and sedated, or unknowingly drink Kopi Luwak, the coffee produced by feeding coffee cherries to caged civets and waiting for those poor, tormented creatures to poop out the remains. Cynical as it might sound, it is safest to assume that, if animals are involved, they are being exploited, unless you know otherwise from your own research.

If there are sights you know you cannot bear, but about which you can do nothing, it is better to avoid them, either once you are in the country, or by boycotting the country altogether and letting their tourist board know why. If you see something you don’t like, speak up at the time, and tell the world later. There are animal protection groups working in all countries, so let them know what you saw. If you have photos, send them too. You can always write a letter to your local and the national newspapers once you’re home, urging people not to get involved in the kinds of events you saw. And then join the campaign group that works on that issue to ensure things change in the long-term. We are not helpless although we may feel it at times; the world changes when we work together to end suffering.

After reading this, you may decide to holiday at one of the many wonderful UK vegan B&Bs, and who could blame you? But you would not be immune. Where there are people, there are animals suffering. In all countries.

Research, be prepared, boycott the baddies and speak out. What else can we do?

Daily Vegan 21: The plant-based traveller – by Kate Fowler

The availability of good vegan food can make or break a holiday. There are towns, regions and countries that surprise you by the overwhelming choice, while others you might expect to be progressive turn out to be something of a disappointment. Like the restaurant in America where the chef came out to look me over before deciding whether to make me a meal, and the waitress said ‘You’re vegetarian? We had one in just last week!’ To avoid being sized up by chefs, here are a few places where you are bound to be well fed as a vegan.

First up, Europe. While eating out in rural France can be tricky, most cities have now veggie/vegan restaurants. La Rochelle, Toulouse, Nice, Marseille and many others have at least one vegan restaurant and many veggie restaurants, and Paris is a vegan heaven. Since Lebanese restaurants are common in towns and cities right across the country, and there are plenty of organic food shops selling vegan products, you won’t go hungry.

Moving east, Germany has seen a huge surge in the number of vegan restaurants, with Berlin becoming the place to go if you want to be spoiled for choice. With an estimated 80,000 vegans in the city, there has been an explosion of catering outlets from a vegan ice cream parlour to a kebab shop to a vegan butcher. With more than 60 totally vegan restaurants in the city, you can visit a different one for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of a three-week holiday, and that’s before you think about visiting the veggie restaurants that have incredible vegan offerings, too.

Perhaps a surprise vegan destination is Poland. Warsaw has around 30 totally vegan restaurants but you’ll be well fed in Gdasnk, Lodz, Wroclaw, Krakow, Poznan, and elsewhere too. There are so many foods to try, from gourmet burgers to borscht, but it would be a mistake not to try pierogi – the delicious stuffed dumplings.

To the north of the continent, an estimated 10 per cent of the Swedish population are meat-free, with that figure rising to 17 per cent in those aged 15 to 34. The future in Sweden is vegan. Stockholm, Malmo and Gothenburg unsurprisingly lead the way with a handful of vegan restaurants each and a larger number of veggies ones that serve vegan meals.

America is a divided nation, that much is obvious. And this also true when it comes to veganism. Some of the unsurprising top cities for vegans include New York, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle. Other cities with more than 100 meat-free restaurants include Boston, Baltimore, Atlanta and Austin. Chicago and Dallas are surprisingly good, according to Pricenomics, the data tracking site, given the ‘meat-centric regional cuisines like brats and barbecue’. But whilst the coastal areas and big cities are great for vegans, smaller towns – especially those in the central and Midwest states – can be a bit of a vegan wasteland, so take supplies if you’re planning to take a long roadtrip across the United States.

Every city in Australia caters for veggies and vegans, with Melbourne perhaps being the best option. In Perth on the west coast, we ate at every meat-free restaurant over a 10-day period and it was the first time I’d been offered vegan pheasant and vegan prawns. Honestly, neither appealed, but the vegetarian burger chain, Lord of the Fries, which has outlets in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, is a good bet.

Around 30 per cent of people in India are meat-free, with Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab having the most vegetarians and vegans per capita. In India – like the world over – it is easy to be vegan in the cities, but the country is both the largest producer and the largest buyer of milk, and dairy products get used a lot, so watch out for milk, cream, and ghee (butter oil). If you want choice, head to Chennai, which has more than 80 vegetarian restaurants.

In Thailand, Chiang Mai is the place to be, with dozens of meat-free restaurants in this beautiful city. In Taipei, you’ll also be spoilt for choice and you’ll be in the birthplace of the Loving Hut, a vegan franchise that has restaurants in Spain, Austria, Vietnam, Singapore, Russia, New Zealand, Canada and four restaurants in the UK, so if you fancy holidaying closer to home, try London, Brighton or Norwich.

If a cruise is more your thing, check out Vegan River Cruises and Vegan Cruises. And if you’re looking for purely vegan B&Bs or hotels, check out Vegan Welcome, which has listings from all around the globe. But wherever you are in the world, you can usually find vegan-friendly restaurants, shops and accomodation near you by using Happy Cow.

Daily Vegan 20: Vegan runners – by Kate Fowler

No one knows why so many vegans run. But they do. And there is a bona fide running club specifically for those on a plant-based diet. It’s called, ahem, Vegan Runners, and is one of the largest running clubs in the UK, with 750 paid-up members and more than 3,000 Facebook Followers. You don’t have to be fast to join, but you do have to be vegan.

This was not the first club of its kind. The Vegetarian Cycling Club – now called the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club – was established in 1888 to prove that you don’t need meat to compete. It’s still going strong.

But there is no Association (yet) for Vegan Cyclists, Vegan Boxers or Vegan Figure Skaters. It seems that a lot of vegans really just like to run. Perhaps it is the simplicity of it; no matter where you go, so long as you have trainers, you can run. Perhaps it is the freedom of it; roads, trails, beaches, woodlands, clifftops, muddy fields and huge hills are all freely available to runners, and sometimes, if you are lucky, all in the same run.

But there is magic in running. Those of us who have embraced a vegan lifestyle have probably seen some of the worst of human nature. We know about the vicious farming practices that see chicks ground up alive and pigs confined to farrowing crates, and we have found these things emotionally devastating. We have seen the brutality of slaughterhouses and cannot get those images of terror and suffering out of our heads.

Moreover, we understand the seriousness of climate change and the threat of antibiotic resistance, and know there are people starving because of food choices made by others. This is a lot of dreadful knowledge to live with. For many of us, running offers a coping mechanism. Whether it’s the repetitive motion, the brain chemicals that are released or the sense of achievement when you’ve gone further, faster or tougher than before, I don’t know. But during the years I monitored slaughterhouse footage for evidence of abuse, I kept my trainers beside my desk, as running was the only way to cope with what I saw.

Even now, after a tough day or if I’m stressed, tired or just plain grouchy, I go for a run and something re-sets in my head. I come home a nicer, calmer, happier person. Running is like meditating for people who can’t sit still.

If you’re interested in running, all you have to do is pull on your trainers and try it. Join a club, run at your local parkrun or sign up to a race. But if you want to meet others who are Vegan + Runners, join the Vegan Runners, wear the T-shirt and campaign for a better world while you’re running through it.

Daily Vegan 19: Meeting vegans – by Kate Fowler

Being the only vegan in the village can feel a little lonely. It’s not so bad if you are surrounded by people who support you, respect your decision, and keep a packet of Linda McCartney pies in the freezer for when you pop round for dinner. But for lots of people, it can feel like it’s you against the world.

But it isn’t. Really, it isn’t. There are 542,000 vegans in the country and I bet some live closer to you than you think! When I moved to a new small town, I was amazed to find a lovely vegan woman – now a good friend – lived just six doors away. Vegans are everywhere; you’ve just got to find them.

Start with Facebook, The Vegan Directory and Meetup.com to see if there is a vegan social group in your area. These groups usually meet once a month at a local restaurant and you get to spend the evening enjoying a meat-free meal and the company of like-minded people. But what if there isn’t a group near you? Well, it’s really not that difficult to start one.

First, choose a date and a venue – probably a café or restaurant that can cater for vegans. It is easiest if you choose, for example, the second Thursday of each month, so people get used to the routine. Start by inviting anyone you know who is vegan or vegan-curious. Contact the national vegan and animal protection organisations to see if they could invite their members in your area. Are there any local animal sanctuaries, yoga classes or healthfood shops? Could they put up a poster or pass on the details? What about an online noticeboard for your town, the local newspaper, magazine and radio station? They might run a feature about the new Vegan Meet-Up Group.

It doesn’t matter if you get four people or forty, this is a wonderful way to spend some time with others who understand why you’re vegan, and have made the same commitment themselves. And you’ll find that over time, as word spreads, the numbers increase.

One of the great things about being part of a vegan meet-up group is that it supports local meat-free businesses (if you are lucky enough to have a vegetarian or vegan restaurant near you), but it also encourages other pubs and restaurants to add vegan meals to their menus. Many vegan social groups also go on to organise other events, like vegan fairs, film screenings and their own vegan challenges, but it’s best to start small and work your way up to these things.

Eating out each month can be expensive so, once you know the group’s members, why not start a pot luck night where everyone brings a vegan dish, and you all tuck in together? It’s cheap, it’s fun and you get to try new foods and swap recipes, too.

If organising your own group is not possible for you, find the nearest group to you, even if it is 50 miles away. Just joining their Facebook group can be a great way to pick up local tips and advice, even if you never go to a gathering in person. Or perhaps you could get to their meals every now and again, and stay in touch with the people you meet there in between visits.

Daily Vegan 18: Vegan savoury snacking – by Kate Fowler

If you read one of our earlier blog posts, you’ll have seen the huge number of vegan sweet treats available, but what is there for those of us who don’t have a sweet tooth or prefer to avoid large amounts of sugar? The answer is: a lot!

Let’s start with our old favourite: the humble potato crisp. Walker’s crisps are found everywhere, so choose from Ready Salted, Salt & Vinegar, Worcester Sauce and Prawn Cocktail. If you’re ‘Old Skool’, try Skips, Crispy Bacon Wheat Crunchies and Walkers Salt & Vinegar Squares. Many of the supermarkets’ own-brand bacon-flavour ‘frazzles’ are vegan, too, but strangely real Smiths/Walkers Frazzles aren’t vegan as they contain milk products.

As for Doritos, try Lightly Salted or Chilli Heatwave with either their Hot or Mild Salsa Dip. And if you like a snack that scoops, Pringles labels on the packet which of its flavours are suitable for vegans. Currently, they are Original, Texas BBQ, Paprika, Tortilla BBQ and Smokey Bacon (warning: these are addictive). Need your crisps in a cute shape? Pom-Bears are the snack for you.

Moving on to posh crisps. Try Kettle Chips (Lightly Salted, Sea Salt & Black Pepper, Sea Salt & Balsamic Vinegar) and Tyrrells (Naked, Lightly Sea Salted, Sea Salt & Cider Vinegar, Sweet Chilli & Red Pepper, Sea Salt & Cracked Black Pepper, English Barbecue, Red White & Blue, and their Mixed Root Vegetable Crisps).

And what about crisps that are not quite crisps? Have you seen Hummus Chips made by Eat Real? Their range of flavours are all vegan and it says so on the front of the pack. Try Chilli & Lemon, Creamy Dill, Sea Salt or Tomato & Basil. Pop Chips are good, too, and less fatty than some other crisps. Vegan flavours are Sea Salt, Sea Salt & Vinegar and Ridged Smoky Bacon.

For something a bit different, try Crosta & Mollica’s Crostini with Oregano or Chilli, or their fennel seed-flavoured Tarallini (oooh, fancy). Or mini poppadoms which can be dunked in mango chutney (also vegan). We like Walkers Lime & Coriander Chutney Poppadoms.

Going to the movies? Butterkist Cinema Sweet Popcorn and Sweet & Salted Popcorn are vegan. Try Tyrrell’s Poshcorn (Lightly Sea Salted, Sweet, Sweet & Salty) or Propercorn (Sweet & Salty, Lightly Sea, Smooth Peanut & Almond or Fiery Worcester Sauce & Sundried Tomato).

You would expect salted nuts to be vegan, and you would be right. But, obviously honey-roasted nuts are not vegan, and watch out for milk products in some dry-roasted brands. Try Walkers Sensations Thai Sweet Chilli Coated Peanuts, KP Jumbo Salt & Vinegar Peanuts or, if you are feeling brave, Tesco Vindaloo Jumbo Peanuts and Cashews.

And don’t forget the humble breadstick. Lots of the plain and sesame seed ones are vegan, and both Morrisons and Asda stock a Black Olive variety, and Tesco’s a Rosemary one. Perfect for houmous-dunking.

By now, you’ll have read about the availability of dairy-free cheese (if not, then this is the blog post for you) and you’ll be wanting a cracker to go with it. Thankfully, there are a LOT of vegan crackers, and I’ve listed just a handful of them.

Counterintuitively, cream crackers are vegan, and so are most Ryvita Crispbreads (watch out for honey in the Fruit and Seed Crunch), melba toasts and water biscuits. Ritz Crackers are good, too, and supermarkets tend to stock their own brand of Poppy & Sesame Seed Thins. Try Hovis Extra Wheatgerm Crackers, Jacob’s Flatbreads (Salt & Cracked Black Pepper, Mixed Seed) and their Salt & Cracked Black Pepper Savours. Lots of oatcakes are vegan and you’ll be pleased to know that sweet pickle and piccalilli are vegan, too.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to create a canapé from a cracker, then pile olives, sundried tomatoes or artichokes on top of vegan cream cheese. The lactic acid they are preserved in comes from a vegetable source. Just watch out for olives filled with anchovies … what kind of madness is that?

Daily Vegan 17: Why don’t vegans eat honey? – by Kate Fowler

Most people understand why vegans choose not to eat meat and dairy, but even some vegans are puzzled as to why they don’t eat honey! Until quite recently The Vegan Society viewed honey consumption as a matter of individual conscience, but today it says that honey is absolutely, definitely not vegan. Surely, there is more to this decision than just a rigid principle of not eating any product from an animal?

There is.

If you’ve read Laline Paull’s extraordinary award-winning novel The Bees, you’ll already have an insight into the many dangers faced by these insects. One such danger are the people who remove honeycomb, having first subdued the hive with smoke. Inevitably some of the bees are killed during the process. In the book, the bees call this terrible act The Visitation. ‘Unable to come down through the powerful smoke, sisters glimpsed the atrocity and roared in disbelief.

Bees work hard to produce that honey, extremely hard, collecting nectar from five million flowers in order to produce 1 pound of honey, which they need to feed the hive over the winter months. Commercial hive owners replace the honey they take with a sugar water solution, which has neither the nutrients the bees need nor the power to protect their immune systems. This coupled with exposure to pesticides and destructive varroa mites – which were accidentally introduced when bee geneticists tried to make bees more productive in honey – means these insects are facing a rough future.

Even their natural behaviours are denied them in bee farms. Bees swarm to reproduce, and this creates significant genetic diversity in the population. Some conventional beekeepers prevent this process by clipping the wings of the queen, and may kill and replace the queens to keep them young and fertile. Without a robust genetic pool, bees inbreed, further compromising their ability to deal with mites, pesticides and other challenges.

Some commercial farmers even ‘cull’ hives after harvesting the honey as it is cheaper than feeding the bees through the winter months. Of course, they wouldn’t need feeding if someone hadn’t stolen their honey.

Any and all of these reasons may help explain why bees are in serious decline and whole colonies collapsing. Buying honey does not help bees; but having your own hive where the bees are not interfered with might. Other ways to help them are to plant clumps of bee-friendly plants in sunny places, plant flowers with single petals, and to provide nest sites for bees.

The good news for vegans is that there are alternatives to honey, including agave nectar (which comes from the same plant tequila is made from), but also maple, rice, barley and date syrups. Chestnut jam, which is popular in France, has a similar texture and taste, and various recipes for this, as well as homemade vegan ‘honey’ (made from apple juice and dandelion flowers) can be found online.

Still not convinced that honey is cruel? You might want to see this video by Redneck2Vegan, but be warned that it makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Daily Vegan 16: Vegan Fairs and Festivals – by Mark Gold

A really good way of getting to try different foods and learn more about cruelty-free living is to visit one of the growing number of vegan fairs and festivals held around the country. Some of these are well-established events, attracting thousands of people, such as the huge Vegfest events in Brighton, Bristol, London and Glasgow. And many people are now organising smaller, local events in their home towns and cities. But, whatever their size, they usually have an amazing array of sweet and savoury food, toiletries and cosmetics, gifts and other vegan products, not to mention stalls for charities and sanctuaries helping to protect animals. They’re a great way to discover what’s new and interesting in the vegan world – I find something different every time I go to a vegan fair. But they’re not all about shopping, they’re often a learning experience, too, as most vegan festivals also have talks, film screenings and cookery demos, not to mention children’s activities. There really is something for everyone.

Animal Aid runs two such annual events itself in the run up to Christmas, so – surprise, surprise – here comes a plug!

This year’s South West Christmas Without Cruelty Festival will be held on Saturday 19 November at Exeter Corn Exchange, Market St, Exeter, EX1 1BU and runs from 10am-4:30pm.

Then on Sunday 4 December it’s the Animal Aid Christmas Fayre, held at Kensington Town Hall, Hornton St, London, W8 7NX from 10am-5pm.

Both events offer a great opportunity to buy Christmas gifts and cards from companies and charities that are trying to make the world a kinder place. London is much the bigger, with more than 100 stalls, several vegan caterers, and interesting talks. As always, there will be plenty of cakes, chocolates and meat-free goods – as well as shoes, clothes, cosmetics and much more.

At Exeter, there are 40+ stallholders, plus a fabulous restaurant and, for this year’s 10th anniversary, special guest comedian Sara Pascoe will be giving a performance at 12 noon. You can buy everything from vegan beers, cosmetics and food, to crafts, cards and fairtrade clothes. One of the event’s fans is leading poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who, after visiting called it ‘very special’. ‘The food is great, the goodies are great, and the place is full of loving, compassionate people… It’s the best event of its kind,’ added Benjamin. This year, the first 250 visitors will receive a free gift.

You can find the details of other vegan events taking place across the UK on the Animal Aid online events diary, which is updated regularly.