Be a light consumer of animals

Why not try becoming veggie for a week to reduce your carbon footprint

For someone who has put a lot of effort into confounding the stereotype that Green Party members are all beardy, sandal-wearing, lentil-eating (etc. etc., insert your own favourites – the best one directed at me so far is ‘bunny-hugging’ from a caller on Radio 2), it may seem a bit odd that I have decided to give a big plug to National Vegetarian Week.

But no, not odd at all. The theme of this year’s event, run by the Vegetarian Society from this Monday to next Sunday, is how going veggie is good for the planet. And the fact is they are completely and utterly right.

Farmed cows and sheep are responsible for nearly two fifths of the total quantity of methane generated by human activity. As a greenhouse gas, methane trumps carbon dioxide many times over, so the contribution of animal farming to climate change is actually more than our entire transport system. This makes a lot of sense if you think about it. All of us eat things and most of us aren’t vegetarian, but not everyone has a car or a mini-break obsession (in fact only a tiny proportion of us globally have either).

Rearing animals also uses far more water than growing vegetarian food – thousands of litres go into making a kilogram of beef – and it uses up vast amounts of land, providing crops for food for animals for food for us. A madly inefficient way of managing the world’s resources.

What appeals to me most about the environmental argument for cutting down on meat is that it’s not an all or nothing thing. Reducing your carnivorousness is as easy as adding just a couple of new vegetable-based dishes to your repertoire, and every meal without meat helps to cut your carbon footprint. Simply bearing this in mind while you look over a menu is far less daunting than taking a pledge not to ever have a bacon sandwich again.

Nevertheless, I am going to take up the Vegetarian Society’s challenge and be completely veggie for the next week. To be honest, I’ve been a very light consumer of animals for ages – for precisely the environmental reasons listed above – and I already steer well clear of battery eggs and intensively farmed, frightened meat of all kinds.

Recently, I have unintentionally become even more virtuous, since discovering I prefer garlicky tofu to chicken in stir fries and developing a taste for a delicious recipe involving big green lentils mixed up with cabbage and drenched in vinaigrette. This latter fetish has amused my local shopkeeper, who knows all about my political work and chuckles, “Green Party, green lentils” when I go to stock up.

For myself then, with most days going by without meat touching my plate, and with the only flesh I can find in my fridge today a chunk of East European sausage, giving it up completely for a week shouldn’t be too hard. But I’d urge everyone to give it a go. Starting with a week of real vegetarianism is a great excuse to try some new things and start eating a bit more healthily – for yourself and for the planet.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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“I felt very lonely”: addressing the untold story of isolation among young mothers

With one in five young mothers lonely “all the time”, it’s time for employers and services to step up.

“Despite having my child with me all the time, I felt very lonely,” says Laura Davies. A member of an advisory panel for the Young Women’s Trust, she had her son age 20. Now, with a new report suggesting that one in five young mums “feels lonely all the time”, she’s sharing her story.

Polling commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust has highlighted the isolation that young motherhood can bring. Of course, getting out and about the same as you did before is never easy once there’s a young child in the picture. For young mothers, however, the situation can be particularly difficult.

According to the report, over a quarter of young mothers leave the house just once a week or less, with some leaving just once a month.

Aside from all the usual challenges – like wrestling a colicky infant into their jacket, or pumping milk for the trip with one hand while making sure no-one is crawling into anything dangerous with the other – young mothers are more likely to suffer from a lack of support network, or to lack the confidence to approach mother-baby groups and other organisations designed to help. In fact, some 68 per cent of young mothers said they had felt unwelcome in a parent and toddler group.

Davies paints what research suggests is a common picture.

“Motherhood had alienated me from my past. While all my friends were off forging a future for themselves, I was under a mountain of baby clothes trying to navigate my new life. Our schedules were different and it became hard to find the time.”

“No one ever tells you that when you have a child you will feel an overwhelming sense of love that you cannot describe, but also an overwhelming sense of loneliness when you realise that your life won’t be the same again.

More than half of 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed said that they felt lonelier since becoming a mother, with more than two-thirds saying they had fewer friends than before. Yet making new friends can be hard, too, especially given the judgement young mothers can face. In fact, 73 per cent of young mothers polled said they’d experienced rudeness or unpleasant behaviour when out with their children in public.

As Davies puts it, “Trying to find mum friends when your self-confidence is at rock bottom is daunting. I found it easier to reach out for support online than meet people face to face. Knowing they couldn’t judge me on my age gave me comfort.”

While online support can help, however, loneliness can still become a problem without friends to visit or a workplace to go to. Many young mothers said they would be pleased to go back to work – and would prefer to earn money rather than rely on benefits. After all, typing some invoices, or getting back on the tills, doesn’t just mean a paycheck – it’s also a change to speak to someone old enough to understand the words “type”, “invoice” and “till”.

As Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton explains, “More support is needed for young mothers who want to work. This could include mentoring to help ease women’s move back into education or employment.”

But mothers going back to work don’t only have to grapple with childcare arrangements, time management and their own self-confidence – they also have to negotiate with employers. Although the 2003 Employment Act introduced the right for parents of young children to apply to work flexibly, there is no obligation for their employer to agree. (Even though 83 per cent of women surveyed by the Young Women’s Trust said flexible hours would help them find secure work, 26 per cent said they had had a request turned down.)

Dr Easton concludes: “The report recommends access to affordable childcare, better support for young women at job centres and advertising jobs on a flexible, part-time or job share basis by default.”

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland