Ranger Things: 40ish Days Vegan

Veganism, as many of you will know is avoiding all traces of animal products in foods and in your lifestyle, meaning no eggs, milk or leather products. SO NO CHOCOLATE! Yet for some reason I was determined to experience that torture and live as a vegan for Lent and thanks to peer pressure I am sharing my experience.

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The rules sounded easy but within first couple days I realised everything I was used to eating contained some trace of egg or milk. I was tired because I wasn’t eating enough proper food and I had to find substitutes in vitamins and calcium tablets etc. It wasn’t going well.

After spending hours procrastinating by looking at recipes on Google and downloading vegan cookbooks, I realised the food that looked the best was made up of the most stupid ingredients. Like seriously what is egg emulsifier? Do supermarkets sell Liquid Aminos? And I am convinced now that Lucuma ice-cream doesn’t exist.

Even if you find these ridiculously rare fruits, vegetables and substitutes, they cost a freaking bomb. Legit, you’ve got to take out an extra student loan to get your shopping from Ocado. (Personally, I feel that being a vegan should entitle you to have a higher maintenance loans. Just saying.) I was definitely making eating ethically way too hard for myself.

Then the Lord answered my prayers. An angel in the form of Lucy Watson came to me in the form of a cookbook leaving me somewhat enlightened as I discovered that Oreos, Bourbon Biscuits, Popcorn and Heinz Ketchup were vegan friendly. The book became my bible, but her suggested ingredients were still a little out of my price range (after all I do not have an SW3 postcode).

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I began to delve further in my research becoming more and more passionate about my little project. I read a similar blog to this, where a girl in America explained to me that loads of foods were vegan friendly but couldn’t have the explicit label because they were made in a factory that handled other meat or dairy products, and may have come into brief contact etc.

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Relief. I could eat some of my favourite foods again, with the obvious exceptions.

It was in the relief I discovered the Vegan Society, where they had cheap easy recipes that even I couldn’t go wrong with; vegan lasagne, fajitas, cauliflower steaks, couscous, Thai curry etc.

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I purchased the essentials: sunflower oil, butter, almond butter, Linda McCartney vegan sausages, dairy free cheese, salt and vinegar twirls, rich tea fingers, a variety of fruit and vegetables, garlic bread, almond milk, wholemeal bread and, the Holy Grail, HOUMOUS!!! I was good to go!

It felt good to eat ethically and I physically felt better. After overcoming the shock that I could no longer eat my weight in chocolate digestives, I had ended up removing all processed and unnatural sugars from my diet.

Best of all, I was eating so that no animals were being harmed or mistreated in any way.

This all went swimmingly until I returned home for the Easter Hols.

Now normally meal times in my house are a right faff. Mum is pretty much the fussiest eater in the modern world, my sister is celiac and I was a vegetarian, meaning for a normal dinner time 3 different meals would need preparing. Safe to say Mum was not impressed by my new decision.

I go back to working full time when I home, meaning the majority of my meals are at work. Work is a small pub close by where the vegan diet isn’t exactly catered for and when I announced this to my colleagues, you would have thought I had told them that I had contracted cholera. So basically by diet there turned in jacket potato with beans.

Nevertheless, I made it through to the 39th day, and nearly the 40th until I practically had Ben and Jerry’s shoved down my throat.

Anyway my experiment ended just in time for me to begin devouring Easter eggs. Whilst it’s safe to say I enjoyed my vegan experience, I will not be following it so religiously. I intend to eat more vegan food, and think more carefully about where the food I’m eating comes from, but I miss wearing my Docs and eating quorn scotch eggs too much to maintain it.

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*If anyone has found anything in this article or wants to find out more information on how veganism is healthy and environmentally friendly, or has any general questions about veganism the listen up. John Ellis, a representative of the Vegan Society from Country Durham, will be delivering a talk and open Q&A session on Wednesday 2nd May, so keep your eyes peeled for details.*

An Interview with Stevo’s BUCS National Champions

This week I had the distinct pleasure of catching up with two of the four of our students, Isaac Perry and James Spicer, who have recently achieved University sporting greatness by lifting a BUCS National Championship with the Durham Saints American Football team. The team defeated Derby for the third time in the season by a score line of 17-6 to end their season undefeated and I managed to get the insight of two of the defensive line who were on the ground at the Sixways Stadium.

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Durham’s #23 Spicer prepares to defend a Derby play seconds before the snap

Q: Gentlemen, you sit in front of me as National Champions. How does it feel to hear that?

Isaac: I can’t lie that does feel great. Weeks later, I still don’t know how to express it properly, but knowing I got to be part of such a great team with all the talent on the field and the personalities off it is pretty special…. The added label of National Champions is a bonus.

James: It’s a great feeling! Having lost in the national final last year by a missed kick it was such a great experience to be on the winning end this year and it was even sweeter knowing we finished the season 11-0.

Q: Now, despite being National Champions, I know both of you are fairly new to the sport. When did you both start playing?

Isaac: I have dabbled in the past attending a couple training sessions as a Fresher but this was my first year playing the sport properly.

James: I started playing last year as a Fresher having watched the sport for a few years before. There really aren’t any British players who come to University already having played the sport.

Q: Having never played in a National Championship for anything, can you describe the process for me? Is it just like a normal game where you get the coach to the ground or are there a few extra perks?

Isaac: Running out onto the pitch really with the crowd getting loud really got the juices flowing, there was also a ‘mini’ national anthem adding to the professionalism. Additionally, as the game was further away than usual we got a hotel overnight and included the all-important buffet breakfast, which was certainly a nice perk. I certainly wouldn’t mind having that luxury for every game!

Post-game was where the perks really came through, if I’m not mistaken we were posted in the VIP box. There was an open bar for us to open some Champagne and celebrate as well as countless pizzas available to us after the game.

James: As for the day of the game, our preparation doesn’t change, only the atmosphere we are in but it is completely different. We arrive seeing the Division One final being played which allows us time to check out all the camera crew and BAFA (British American Football Association) officials. Also, the facilities are much nicer than the cramped changing rooms we are used to for most of the year!

Q: What’s it like to play in a full stadium in front of a crowd, as well as being streamed to the entire world on YouTube?

Isaac: I do think the stadium alone added to the games atmosphere. The crowd were really energetic and supportive (for both sides) right until the final whistle which was brilliant. Knowing we were being streamed to the entire world did make me nervous, after hearing there would be thousands tuning in I felt the pressure more so than normal. Saying that, I loved that all my friends and family were able to watch and support myself and the team.

James: Having already experienced this the year before as a fresher it wasn’t that overwhelming. However, when you’re playing you’re only focused on what’s in front of you, not who or how many people are watching. The best part of the stream for me was knowing all our old teammates were able to watch from places like America.

Q: I suspect the whole occasion was a bit of a whirlwind and remembering what happened is difficult but are there any standout moments from the game? (We won’t hold it against you if you’re a bit selfish here and mention a moment of personal glory).

Isaac: To be honest, simply being chosen as a starter in the National Championship ahead of a couple ‘veterans’ as a ‘rookie’ (as they’d be referred to in the NFL) was a standout moment for me. But, one of the best moments has to be when Eric Poindexter (our Quarterback, who is actually a wide receiver) came on the field for the defense in the final quarter and broke up a deep pass with a really athletic play on the ball.

James: Probably getting a shout out during the halftime discussion on the live stream for a standout first half performance. Especially as it was by one of my brother’s coaches from Birmingham’s team!

Isaac: Oh and we can hardly forget the moment the final whistle blows! Giving the coach an early shower (pouring the water cooler over him), and the whole team jumping up and down is a memory I’ll never forget.

Q: American Football is a growing sport within the country and obviously you are both now National Champions, so do you see this as being the start of your affinity with the sport?

Isaac: I certainly like that idea; as I’m graduating this year the National Championship may have been my final game, and now that I’ve lived it I’ll definitely do my part in promoting the game in the future as it would be great for the sport to continue growing at the rate it is!

James: As far as playing goes I’ll be pushing for my third national final visit in three years during my final year. But apart from that, I won’t be doing more than watching the sport and going to the occasional Durham game in the future.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me gents, I really appreciate it and hope that you get that opportunity for a third National Championship game next time around James! 

 

Ranger Things: Love in Motion – Volunteering

With it only being a month until the end of Epiphany Term and summative deadlines looming, it’s easy to forget that university is about more than gaining a degree. It’s a place where you meet new friends, find your passions in life and try new things. Over the past two years, I have found that there is no better way to do all those things than by taking part in volunteering. Through volunteering you get to meet people from all walks of life, gain new skills such as communication, and make an impact on the local community through exciting activities. What’s more, gaining all this real-life experience increases your employability, complementing your degree. A study by Oxfam (2017) showed that 80% of employers are more likely to hire an applicant with volunteering experience. So what’s stopping you? Time is often a big barrier but, whilst there is the option to volunteer weekly, you could do a ‘one-off’ session and volunteer just once this year. If you are not convinced yet, continue reading because I’m going to share my volunteering experiences with you!

Volunteering abroad

There are so many ways to get involved in volunteering, you just need to know where to look. Last summer, DUCK (Durham University Charities Kommittee) led me to Peru. Here, I volunteered for 3 weeks at an after-school programme which provided a safe place for the children. It kept the kids off the streets and gave them a decent childhood, as well as a good education to increase their chances of escaping the cycle of poverty in the future. After my volunteering placement was done, I trekked to Machu Picchu!

It has to be one of the best and most meaningful summers I have had. Volunteering is more than gaining skills for your CV. It is the best way to meet new people and get to know other cultures better. It also gives you so many opportunities to try new things and go to new places, like Peru! And all these little things you do greatly impact the local community in the long run.

Volunteering closer to home

Back in the UK, every Wednesday I volunteer at a beautiful farm in the North York Moors through Student Commuity Action. This farm is a safe haven for adults who are physically and mentally disabled. Here, we join in with and facilitate whatever activities they are doing, like woodwork, arts & crafts, and animal care. Sometimes we just take a relaxing walk with them in the woods. One of the reasons I keep on going back is the people. Although I am the volunteer, I always feel like the adults I am volunteering with are the ones helping with all their excitement and joyful personalities. Going to this sanctuary helps me to de-stress and get away from all the university work for a while.

When I can, I get involved in ‘one-off’ events to try new things. One memorable event was when we went Christmas carolling at a Dementia care home. As an international student I can’t celebrate Christmas with my family, so it was nice to share the Christmas spirit with the residents who were also unable to be home with their family! Volunteering brings so much you to and the people who you help; it’s really worth getting involved.

Your Turn to Get Involved!

If anything I mentioned intrigued you to volunteer, get volunteering!

Next week from the 19th – 25th February is Student Volunteering Week, when the whole country will be volunteering together. Student Community Action (SCA) is organising almost 40 activities to give you the opportunity to volunteer, both in Durham and Stockton. With opportunities ranging from conservation projects, to kids’ parties, to horse riding and visting to Fowl Green farm, we have many options for you to choose from. Head to https://www.facebook.com/events/1985326794827946/ for the Stockton timetable, and https://www.facebook.com/events/1587849067918800/ for the Durham timetable.

Ranger Things: You Will Never Ride An Elephant After Reading This

Last summer I travelled with 7 other girls to Petchaburi (Thailand) to volunteer with various abused animals for a month being the Deputy Expedition leader of the DUCK expeditions 2017. Since then, I am much more aware of animal abuse and want to share my experiences with as many people as possible. We volunteered at a sanctuary called “Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand” (WFFT) which is responsible for over 550 animals.
 
Some animals were previously used as pets with some being forced to wear clothes and eat human foods which were harmful to their bodies. Bears were trained to walk on two legs and dance to entertain humans. This upbringing has changed them forever, leaving many sadly unable to return into the wild. At the sanctuary they received the care that they deserved. If an animal was hurt and brought to the sanctuary, it would stay as long as necessary at WFFT until it was strong and healthy before returning to the wild. There was a strict ”no hands policy” meaning you could not touch the animals (except the elephants as they were so mistreated that they would stay in the sanctuary) to make sure none of the animals were humanised and to give them an upbringing closest to as it would be in nature. The animals I worked with ranged from different ape species, otters, bears, iguanas and my beloved cassowary, Bernie.
 
However, not all animals are brought directly to the sanctuary and a major problem was that a lot of hurt animals were brought to temples because monks must take the animals in. Even though they had good intentions, a lot of them just have no idea how to take care of wild animals. Often monkeys were chained and even when they grew bigger their chains were not removed or changed, meaning their flesh would be hurt and their body deformed as a result.
 
During my time there I also visited and volunteered at an elephant refuge. Here I learnt many things however the main thing I found out was: don’t ride elephants. Many people wrongly believe all elephants are gentle giants who are so powerful that riding on them causes no harm. Nevertheless, despite elephants being extremely powerful animals, their strength does not lie on their backs but in their legs and trunks. They are exploited for the logging, begging, trekking and the film industry and even when they are hurt, they are forced to work. No elephant would let a human sit on them naturally. In order to do so they have to go through the torture method called ”phajaan” when they are still a baby. No mother would give up their baby by choice so in order to train a baby elephant the mother is killed. Then the elephant is deprived from food and sleep. The aim of this cruel torture is to break the animal’s spirit. Eventually, the elephant will give in and let the tourists sit on her for many hours even though they are hurting her back. Most elephants here at WFFT are still scared from being abused for so many years, a lot of them have deformed spines or other visible injuries and, of course, all are traumatized. My daily work included cleaning the cages and preparing food for the elephants. I especially enjoyed going on walks with elephants and showering them. Some people might here ask what it felt like to be so close to these fantastic animals and I must admit, at first I was quite scared as elephants are very strong and big animals. However, after some time I felt comfortable and there was always an elephant trainer with me so I felt secure.
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Now I am much more aware of animal abuse and the global wild life trade. Please don’t ride elephants or take pictures with monkeys or lorises who are being exploited to be used as photo-props. They are poached from the wild as babies and their families are killed. Especially in Bangkok the tourists attractions start from crocodile shows, taking selfies with chained animals to watching elephants draw pictures or play football. Don’t pay into this cruel industry! This does not only happen in Asia and countries far away. I think in today’s society we see animals as our property and want them to entertain us in shows, dress them up as humans and take selfies. However, we do not own wild animals and should ensure they are wild and free.

Ranger Things: Working Abroad

Isabelle gives us the low-down on all of the skills she developed whilst working abroad before University

The idea of taking a ‘year out’ to work abroad may seem daunting to many young people. Some fear not being accepted, not being ‘good enough’ or are generally frightened by the unknown prospect of living, and working, in a different country with different customs and expectations. All of these thoughts were racing through my head just over a year ago but taking a year out suddenly became one of the best decisions I ever made.

After a period of hesitation, my parents were the ones who finally persuaded me that this would be a good idea (proving that time really is the enzyme that turns experience into wisdom). The year out, or gap year, was not just a time to ‘find myself’ as so many joke, but time for me to learn invaluable life lessons, gain extra brownie points on my CV and expand my knowledge about the world through experience. But surely all of these benefits are blue-sky thinking? Surely I can’t have an incredible time and also boost my CV? Anyway, where do I even start?

Well, for my year out, I started by working on a ski season in the mountains as a chalet host in La Rosière, France for just over 4 months. During the rest of my gap year, I worked at a Summer camp, just outside of New York, lifeguarding. All of the work I did was tiring and difficult at some point, but after completing it I was met with an amazing sense of achievement that I had, all on my own, worked and lived in two different cultures and I had done it successfully.

 

Looking back on my year out, I have realised a few things. Firstly, I am capable of so much more than I ever expected of myself. And secondly, I’m now, so much more outgoing, confident and determined to do what I want to do and that I can do it – heck, I lived and worked in two different countries on my own.

As you can see my experience was transformative and inspiring and if I had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of taking some time to travel, work abroad or just try a new career it’s that everybody you will meet is in the same boat as you: nervous, anxious and a little uneasy, but you will find that these like-minded people will become your friends for life. It is incredibly rewarding when you succeed during your year out, as you get to discover new places and learn new skills. None of that can ever be taken away from you.