National Vegetarian Week, 11-17 May

Despite the lockdown, this year’s National Vegetarian Week goes ahead as scheduled, with celebrity supporters including Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley and Chris Packham, although it will inevitably be a largely online affair.  The Vegetarian Society have devised seven classic, comforting meals with a plant-based twist for you to try.  You can download the recipes straight away, sign up for an email newsletter, or follow the action on Facebook.

Paul Appleby

Feeding Britain rationally

How resilient to the coronavirus epidemic will Britain’s food supply prove to be?  Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London, has warned of the fragility of the UK food system, pointing out that only 53% of the food consumed in the UK is home-produced and calling for “a rational system of rationing – based on health, equity and decency – to see the country through this crisis”.  His latest book Feeding Britain: Our Food Problems and How to Fix Them was published on 26 MarchAcknowledging the need to transform Britain’s food system, an editorial in The Guardian pointed out that around 70% of all UK farm animals are farmed intensively in indoor units”, with a 7% increase in the number of industrial-sized pig and chicken farms (classified as holding more than 2,000 pigs or 40,000 birds) since 2017.

Paul Appleby

The ‘war’ we have brought on ourselves

In 1954 a post-apocalyptic story entitled I Am Legend presented the idea of a sole human survivor after a deadly pandemic, spawning several movies including The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971) and the abysmal I Am Legend (2007). In Stephen King’s superb epic novel The Stand (1978) a flu-like virus wipes out 99% of the human population. All of these (and every modern plague-themed novel and movie) conclude that pandemics are totally disastrous. In the film Contagion (2011) a killer virus creates worldwide panic, and the tagline on the poster proclaimed: “Nothing Spreads Like Fear.” However, now that the world is actually in the grip of a pandemic the reality is very different. Most countries are in ‘lockdown’, and this unprecedented scenario has effectively brought the human world to a standstill.

The current global lockdown can be viewed as the biggest human experiment ever conducted, and it is fascinating to see how people are responding, but the disaster movie storyline (rioting, anarchy and cannibalism) hasn’t occurred. Instead, there has been BRM (Bog Roll Mania) in several countries and in the UK persistent moaning about the scarcity of pasta. However, in the USA gun shops have been designated as “essential businesses” and armed groups have protested the inequities of being forced into lockdown. In Baltimore the Mayor issued a heartfelt plea to the city: “Please stop shooting each other, hospital beds are urgently required by victims of coronavirus.”

It’s a truism that major pandemics change society, but will coronavirus instigate any lasting and fundamental alterations to the way humans think and operate? We know exactly where Covid-19 originated (a wet market in Wuhan, China) and that it’s a zoonotic disease (transfers from animal to human). A century ago the so-called ‘Spanish Flu’ infected 500 million people (about 25% of the global population in 1918) and killed an unknown number with estimates ranging from 17 million to 50 million and as high as 100 million. Research published in 1999 by a UK team led by virologist John Oxford concluded that a British military hospital in Etaples (France) was the epicentre, and that a type of bird flu was responsible.

Despite the avalanche of media reports any mention of the Wuhan ‘wet market’ is perfunctory, and stating that “the virus jumped the species barrier” conveniently passes the blame onto bats. In fact, humans are entirely responsible for this infection and if our activity and attitudes don’t change then it could easily happen again. If the crucial warnings of coronavirus aren’t heeded (as they probably won’t be) then we could slide into an inexorable era of pandemics, with each subsequent infection even more devastating than the previous outbreak (the virus won’t find it difficult to outwit not-so-smart humans). If regular pandemics are combined with the loss of effective antibiotics (another self-inflicted catastrophe) then humanity is heading into a very grim future. The tragedy is that numerous scientists, environmentalists, and animal rights groups have spelt out the danger for decades. Since the BSE epidemic in the 1980s we can trace a depressing series of highly infectious zoonotic diseases including Ebola, SARS, MERS, H5N1 (Avian Flu) and H1N1 (Swine Flu). Nonetheless, this pandemic isn’t the big one. The levels of global infection and deaths are low so far compared with the 1918/19 pandemic, and most of the fatalities occur within the elderly or people with underlying health conditions (UHC), most commonly heart problems, obesity and diabetes. UK corona death statistics in March 2020 showed that 90% of the victims had UHC, and by mid-April the official global figures estimated 1.7 million infections, with over 100,000 deaths.

The advice and opinions of experts and scientists are now sacrosanct, but listen to what some of them said before the infection had spread beyond China. On BBC Radio 4’s The Briefing Room (How dangerous is the coronavirus?, 23/1/2020) the virologist John Oxford (mentioned above) stated: “I really don’t think we could ever envisage the 1918 [pandemic] scenario coming again. We have vaccines and anti-viral drugs. I’m not worried at all about the Wuhan virus.” He praised the Chinese state and the strict lockdown in Wuhan, but suggested that in the UK any similar policy couldn’t possibly work because the UK isn’t a totalitarian regime. He explained how bats carry diseases, and the dangers of handling them, before boasting: “I’ve eaten a bat; once you’ve cooked it you’re OK.” Another ‘expert’, Dr Natalie McDermott, observed that: “In (the Wuhan wet market) you possibly don’t have ideal hygiene conditions.”

Referring to the pandemic as “a war” and the virus as “the invisible enemy” is misleading. If it is a war then it’s one that humans have declared against themselves, and is only part of a long running suicidal campaign against nature. Describing the virus as invisible implies that it’s deceitful – we can’t see it and that’s not fair. In reality, we’ve repeatedly opened the gates and invited a whole range of nasty viruses to infect us.

Wouldn’t it make more sense if we attempted to avoid zoonotic diseases in the first place? It should be blindingly obvious that humans have to stop destroying the natural world, and our appalling cruelty to animals must be curtailed. Unfortunately, implementing these positive changes would involve the application of intelligence, compassion and morality. The Asian wildlife meat trade is worth an estimated £58bn a year, and it seems unlikely that the dominant human traits of greed, stupidity and aggression will be superseded by a flood of kindness and enlightened thinking.

Paul Freestone

Wordsworth at 250

Today is the 250th anniversary of the birth of the British poet William Wordsworth (7/4/1770 – 23/4/1850).  By way of tribute we include these lines from his poem The Tables Turned first published in his and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads collection of 1798:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things;
—We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up these barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

The lines above are included in The Extended Circle: A Dictionary of Humane Thought (Centaur Press, 1985), a collection of quotations compiled and edited by the author and publisher Jon Wynne-Tyson, who passed away on 26 March 2020, aged 95.  Wynne-Tyson’s other books include Food for a Future, first published in 1975, which argues from anatomy, physiology, and pathology that humans are naturally vegetarian and puts forward ecological reasons for giving up eating meat.

Paul Appleby

Online Vegan Fair, Saturday 11 April

With public gatherings cancelled around the country, Vegan Fairs have come up with a novel way of bringing their events to the comfort of your home.  Just click on the media link below for details of their first ever Online Vegan Fair on Saturday 11 April 2020.


Paul Appleby

VfL’s self-isolation survival guide

Vegetarian for Life (VfL) have published a handy self-isolation survival guide aimed at older vegetarians and vegans but suitable for anyone who needs to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic.  The guide includes tips on what to buy for your store cupboard and freezer and how to keep your spirits up during lock-down, including the importance of keeping in touch with family and friends.  VfL have also published a simple guide to help ensure that community grocery boxes are inclusive for all, including veg*ns and coeliacs, and a list of companies that are still able to deliver veg*n ready meals and hampers to your door.

The Vegan Society have weighed in with their own page of ‘top tips for self-isolating vegans’, including links to simple recipes and documentaries and films on veganism such as Cowspiracy and The Game Changers, and it’s good to know that magazines such as Vegan Life and Plant Based are currently free to download from Prime Impact.  Among the offerings on social media are a weekly animal rights show with “in depth interviews and discussions alongside leading vegan activists” and a weekly round-up from Plant-Based Professionals UK.

Paul Appleby

You’re being shadowed

Owing to cutbacks the police are using ‘shadow dogs’ to prevent citizens from going outside during the coronavirus pandemic. A spokesperson claimed that: “The technique is very effective, apart from at night and when it’s a bit cloudy.”


Words and photo by Paul Freestone

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