Vegfest London Countdown – Vegan Athletes Summit – Kate Strong

When gazing at her list of achievements, you may wonder if there’s anything Kate Strong hasn’t done – World Champion triathlete, multiple-award winning entrepreneur, multi-linguist, globe-trotter, philanthropist, author, engineer and of course vegan! I caught up with Kate this week to find out what we can expect from her at Vegfest London.

What are you most looking forward to about speaking at VegFest London?

I am looking forward to meeting 14,000 other positive individuals who are all committed to making a positive change in the world! I want to meet as many people as possible from the business owners, the cooks, chefs, vegans and people interested in this movement!

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When and why did you choose a vegan lifestyle?

I’ve been vegan for over 2 years. Initially, the choice was motivated through me ‘feeling better’ when I was eating fruit and vegetables and eliminating dairy and animal products, yet after having researched and read more about the impact on other species, the environment and other communities, I am 100% committed to whole-food plant-based diet as I see it as the answer to saving the world.

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You’ve had some pretty amazing achievements! What would you say has been your biggest challenge in your athletic career?

Thank you :). My biggest challenge in my athletic career occurred last year when I started hanging around quite a few successful athletes, yet their attitude was one of ‘Have to achieve’ and comparing results to others. I started to do the same, which led me to loosing my passion for the sport and the reason why I started in the first place: because I love it!
Breaking free from this group and investing time into rekindling my passion to strive for excellence without any ego attached meant I’m back on track and raring to go!

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What’s next for you?

At VegFest, we are arranging for me to attempt to break a World Record on a static bicycle, so for the next month or so, I am gearing up for this. Afterwards… who knows! I want to help more and more people transition into a more positive and conscious state of living and working, so there will be courses, books, seminars and events rolling out under my brand very soon so watch this space!

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An exciting time indeed! You can find out more about Kate and her incredible achievements here.

Don’t forget to catch Kate’s talk on Saturday 22nd October – Vegan Athletes Summit – 4pm – Vegfest London.

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VegFest London Countdown – Vegan Activists Summit – Marta Zaraska

So as the countdown to Vegfest London continues, this week I got to talk to Marta Zaraska – Science Journalist and author of ‘Meathooked’. ‘Meathooked’ takes a look at the human obsession with meat, and questions why humans eat meat at all. So I decided to find out a little more about what exactly Marta will be discussing at VegFest.

“I’ll be talking about why so many people find it difficult – or simply don’t want to – try vegetarian diets. Despite all the data we now have about the negative effects of meat-based diets on our planet and health (and the animals, of course), meat consumption is still going up, even in developed countries. Just a few days ago there was new data released that showed meat consumption in US in 2015 – it went up again, reaching a staggering 193 lbs/year, up from “just” 184 lbs in 2012. In my talk I’ll address all the reasons that keep people hooked on meat – from its taste (a unique mixture of umami, fat, and the flavors of the Maillard reaction), its role in our evolution, culture, history, etc. I’ll also look for solutions – how can each of us use science to make it easier for ourselves to reduce meat consumption, go vegetarian or vegan? What can be done on the level of a society or a country to lower meat consumption considerably?”

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Marta also explains how she has something for everyone, as her talks target meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans. Everyone can feel like they’ve taken something away after listening.

“I’ve had everyone in the public from meat-lovers to vegans. For meat-lovers it can help them understand why they found it so difficult to let go of meat, and find strategies (if they so wish) to reduce their consumption. For vegetarians and vegans it can help them realize why not everyone follows in their steps, and why so many people react with anger if prompted to let go of meat.”

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‘Meathooked’ was released in February of this year, and is introduced as ‘The History and Science of our 2.5-Million-Years obsession with Meat’.  So is Marta happy with the feedback she has received so far about the book?

“I am. There were some critical voices, of course, there always are. But I’ve had great reviews in big outlets such as the Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Discover magazine, New Scientist, etc. And last but not least – my book was named by the prestigious journal Nature as one of the top science picks in the spring.”

What a fantastic achievement! So what’s next for Marta and ‘Meathooked’?

“I’m mostly writing articles these days, for the Scientific American, the Washington Post. And soon Meathooked will be coming out in Japan and then in Poland, so I’ll have more work once again.”

You can find out more about ‘Meathooked’ here.

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Catch Marta on Saturday 22nd October, 12pm, at the Activists Summit at VegFest London!

Interview with Gregg Lowe: X-Men Actor, Sea Shepherd Volunteer & Vegan

Last month, I met English actor (appearing in X-Men: Days of Future Past) Gregg Lowe. Having recently returned from Toronto, Gregg is now settling back into the London lifestyle, so I got to ask him a few questions about his experience working with marine animal protection organisation Sea Shepherd as part of their Operation Milagro II campaign to defend the endangered vaquita porpoise. Gregg explained that volunteering with Sea Shepherd was certainly an eye-opening experience.

“Sea Shepherd are amazing, I felt so blessed to be able to work with them. I think they’re such a great organisation and just being on the ship for a week was a great experience. What was amazing was that most of these people are there as a volunteer, because they want to make a difference and help in some way. It was a great energy. I’d love to work with them again for longer.”

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Operation Milagro II. Copyright: Carolina A Castro.

Like many others, I have felt inspired by recent documentaries such as The Cove, shining light on the annual dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan. You can read my blog about a screening of The Cove with ex-dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry here and find about about my experience of the London Against Taiji Dophin Massacre March here. Gregg has also felt inspired by such game-changing documentaries to take action for marine animals.

“The Cove was just traumatic and engrossing in so many ways. It really inspires you to do something because you don’t realise stuff like that’s actually going on. I think we all know something’s happening, but when you’re faced with the realness of it, it really affects you.”

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Illegal gear retrieved during Operation Milagro II. Copyright: Carolina A Castro.

In light of shocking statistics such as the prediction that there won’t be any ocean life left within the next forty years, I was interested to see what somebody who has actually been out in the oceans to defend marine life believes the biggest threat is to the under-water world.

“The biggest threat to ocean life? Us, probably! Over fishing, over consumption, silly markets like the Black Market and Chinese Medicine Market. In Mexico, the reason we were there was to try and save the vaquita (a type of porpoise). It wasn’t because they were being fished – a seabass called the totoaba was being fished for its gall bladder for the Chinese medicine market. They’re the same size as the vaquita and were being caught in the nets and getting wiped out – there’s only around twenty of them left now. It’s silly things like that, and also shark fin soup – shown in documentary Shark Water. We are the biggest threat to animals, well to our planet really. So I think its time that we recognise that, as people are, and start to live in more of a symbiotic relationship with animals in the ocean.”

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Great white shark found entangled in a totoaba net. Copyright: Carolina A Castro.

In Operation Milagro II, Sea Shepherd have worked with local governments to prevent illegal fishing in the area, and are in turn protecting endangered marine life. So could working with governments be the way forward to protect the ocean?

“Definitely, it makes things easier and is a huge support. The problem with working with governments is a lot of them are so corrupt and if you’re taking money away from the country, they don’t really want to know because they don’t really care that animals are being killed when they’re making money out of it. That’s always the problem that you come up against. But the more support you can get, the better.”

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Sea Shepherd speaking with the Mexican authorities. Copyright: Carolina A Castro.

As a vegan activist, Gregg’s interest in animal rights grew when learning about eastern philosophy. This developed into a strong interest in Buddhism and living a life centred around compassion, causing as little harm to the earth as possible.

“I was living in Thailand and Napal for a while, staying in different monasteries and studying Buddhism – it was during that period I was looking at things to do with animals. I haven’t always been vegan – I used to eat meat when I was younger, but during that time I found a new appreciation for life and started to see things from a different angle.”

There are a number of reasons why people may decide to choose a vegan lifestyle – personal health, environmental impact – but for Gregg the main basis for this decision stemmed from this idea of compassionate living that he discovered in Buddhism.

“As I learned more about compassion, it was definitely more of an ethical thing. Later on, I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and watched more documentaries like Vegucated. Once you start learning all that – you can’t unlearn it. It’s all about being passionate and living the most compassionate life possible, and for me taking care of animals, humans and everything around me is like the baseline for compassion.”

And with more information, naturally comes more debate. It’s fantastic that the vegan lifestyle seems to be something that is popping up all the time in the news, but this has also come with some criticism. One common topic is the palm oil debate – a product which is found in a lot of vegan (and non-vegan) products, the production process for which is causing severe deforestation to the planet.

“You can’t do everything to save the planet, you can only do as much as you can. It’s all about having the right intention. Being 100% cruelty-free is an ideal, not a reality. They talk about this in buddhism, their first precept is that they can’t kill, but inevitably they stand on the ground and they might kill some ants, but its having the broader knowledge of knowing that your intention is not to harm, so once we’re informed that something has palm oil in, which is harming the environment, then we can make those choices. Its a journey. Of course we all do things in our daily lives which can have a negative effect down the line, but its about trying to balance it out as much as you can.”

Gregg continues to explain that although the production process of products such as palm oil is devastating to the environment, there is still one clear factor that is the leading cause of deforestation, global warming and climate change amongst so many other things – animal agriculture.

“Palm oil is horrendous and it is causing deforestation, but as I’m sure you’ve seen in Cowspiracy, nothing is causing more deforestation than animal agriculture, so I still think you’re winning by living vegan. There’s cause and effect to everything, every action has a reaction so even doing good things will somewhere down the line have some kind of negative effect on something, but if you’re intention is right, then you can let that go.”

As well as appearing in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Gregg has also appeared in several TV series including Murdoch Mysteries, Doctors and Beauty and the Beast. So I was curious as to whether he has had the opportunity to incorporate his passion towards animal rights into his acting.

“I’ve been acting for a long time and I got to a point where I needed more of a purpose for doing what I do, other than just because I want to do it. I think we all get to a stage like that in life where we sit back and think ‘why am I doing this?’ ‘what can I offer to society and the world other than i’m doing this just because I enjoy it?’ and animal rights and veganism became my purpose for doing it because I can do interviews like this and put my name to things. Actually having those beliefs has supported me through tough times, it gives you more of a purpose and that extra support. When you’re not driven by a passion or a purpose, it feels kind of empty.”

Currently, Gregg has just finished computer game Assassin’s Creed which was released in February, and has just decided to move back to England to do some more voice-over work. Having enjoyed his experience volunteering with Sea Shepherd, he also hopes to get involved with more of their projects in the future.

“I’d love to work with Sea Shepherd again, but I’m staying in London for now…saying that I change my mind like the wind, and also with my work I travel quite a lot, but for now my base is in London.”

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Operation Milagro – Farley Mowat and Martin Sheen ships. Copyright: Carolina A Castro.

Welcome back to London, Gregg! Thank you for taking the time to talk about animal rights and your experience volunteering with Sea Shepherd. Sea Shepherd do some fantastic work protecting marine life in our oceans and need your support. Find out more about them here. You can also keep up to date with all of their latest campaigns on Facebook and Twitter.

Get Informed!

Gregg mentions a number of animal rights and environmental documentaries and books, check out the following links and inform yourself about important issues that are affecting our planet:

The Cove

Shark Water

Eating Animals

Vegucated

Cowspiracy

Toronto Pig Save – Bearing Witness

I decided to write about an organisation called Toronto Pig Save because, well to be honest I haven’t really stopped thinking about it since I saw one of their videos on YouTube. You can view it here.

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I’m helpless towards cute pig pictures, normally involving bright green grass, sunshine, and the pigs looking adorably happy. Toronto Pig Save, however, shows pigs in a very different light; they show the harsh reality that the vast majority of pigs are living in today. This couldn’t be further from our fairytale vision of pigs – the green grass has been replaced with a dirty, grey truck containing sometimes hundreds of terrified pigs that are cramped together with little space to move. The sunshine has been replaced with darkness inside the truck, with small holes of light coming through. The happiness has been replaced with sheer terror, as they make their final journey to slaughterhouses which can kill up to 10,000 pigs a day.

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So what do Toronto Pig Save actually do? Well, they go to the destinations that the trucks containing the pigs will be passing through, and when the truck stops they provide the pigs with water and watermelon to keep them hydrated, some in heat waves up to 45 degrees celsius outside the truck, inside obviously much hotter. The conditions that the pigs are forced to endure are unbearable, with pigs showing common signs of heat stroke; heavy panting, lack of co-ordination, weakness, vomiting and even unconsciousness. But what they actually do, is so much more.

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Toronto Pig Save bear witness – they look into the eyes of the pigs inside the trucks. There are so many stories of people that have attended vigils who have had a life changing experience, by having eye contact with a pig as they make their way to slaughter. These terrified pigs who have been viewed as simply a commodity throughout their entire lives are looked upon as living beings with feelings and emotions, for the first time. They feel love and compassion from those taking part in the vigil, and bearing witness to their final struggle. At this stage, this is really all anyone can do for these animals, and to just work towards a world where future generations of them won’t have to go through the same thing.

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As well as this, they document what is a daily operation for these trucks destined for the slaughterhouse. Paul McCartney once said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian,” which implies that if people really knew the truth about the meat industry, they would refrain from paying towards it. This is what Toronto Pig Save does. It shows the pigs bred for meat in the final part of their horrific lives, that the industry has tried so hard to hide. The YouTube video that I mentioned earlier alone has had almost 100,000 views, which goes to show that people really aren’t okay with what is happening to these animals being hidden. In 2002, PETA released the documentary ‘Meet Your Meat’ which so many people have regarded as responsible for their transition to a vegan diet. Toronto Pig Save takes it from watching the footage, to actually seeing these animals, face to face. For this reason, I think Toronto Pig Save has the power to encourage people to make the connection between the food we eat, and the animals that we are so used to seeing in pretty pictures, and in turn to adopt a vegan lifestyle that doesn’t condone and pay for this treatment of animals.

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Toronto Pig Save holds frequent vigils throughout the year which anybody can join, including some lasting for 24 hours. I was able to speak to animal activist and vegan lifestyle blogger for her own educational website and YouTube Channel, Emily Moran Barwick, also known as Bite Size Vegan. Emily will be bearing witness with Toronto Pig Save for the first time on 24th September at an all day pig, cow and chicken save. Here’s what she had to say about it:

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How did you find out about Toronto Pig Save?

I’d heard the name here and there but then James from Toronto Pig Save reached out to me about potentially featuring them on my channel about some of the vigils they were doing, and I thought that it was incredibly valuable. I had seen the video of their’s online where they were giving water to pigs on their way to slaughter. That might have been my first actual exposure to them, and it was heartbreaking and incredibly important.

Will the vigil you’re attending on September 24th be your first ever one?

It will be my first one with Toronto Pig Save, and my first one of this nature. I’ve been around animal agriculture and these places of death, but never in an organised manner…if that makes any sense!

Obviously bearing witness to these pigs as they make their journey to slaughter will be highly emotional, how do you plan on getting through it?

Well I always say in my head, because watching these things is horrific and difficult but for me, I try to look at what the animals are going through. My own discomfort is nothing compared to what they’re going through. This is what I think of with graphic footage as well – if they have to live through that, and die by that, the very least I can do is watch and bear witness to what they’re going through, and try to bring an iota of comfort to them. It’s not about me, it’s not about us and how sad it makes us; it’s about them. They’re the ones who are having to go through this, and they’re the ones that are going to die at the end of the day, so my emotional comfort is really of little relevance.

Do you think that organisations such as Toronto Pig Save have the power to encourage people to go vegan?

I think they can. I think any action that draws attention to what the animals are going through has great value. I don’t know exactly how people are grabbed or engaged by it, but I think it’s an important action.

Finally, what inspired you personally to go vegan?

I don’t know, because I was four when I started to refuse meat. I think its always been inherently within me, its just never made sense to me to hurt, consume or do any of that to animals. Honestly, I never understood why other people seemed to go through life as if nothing was wrong. Even as a child I sensed that something was horribly, horribly wrong with the way that we live and I was just baffled that everyone just went about their day when we’re living in a horror movie. So at the core of it, the animals were always my reason.

Keep up to date with Toronto Pig Save, who also work with sister organisations in Ontario Toronto Cow Save and Toronto Chicken Save, on Facebook and Twitter on all the amazing work they’re doing. Let’s hope that important vigils such as these will take place all over the world so more people can bear witness to these animals on their final journey.

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