The difference between vegan and cruelty-free

26/09/2017

Two buzzwords in the beauty, skincare and haircare industries at the moment are 'vegan' and 'cruelty-free.' The terms tend to be used interchangeably, but they mean different things. So what exactly are they, why are they different and which brands tick both boxes? 

Definitions: 
Vegan means that a product does not contain any animal products or animal-derived ingredients. It describes the ingredients, rather than the production process. Surprisingly, items that are tested on animals can claim to be vegan.
Cruelty-free* means that the ingredients and final product have not been tested on animals. It refers to the testing process, not the ingredients, which means it is possible for a cruelty-free product to contain animal derived ingredients, such as beeswax, lanolin, collagen or gelatin.

*Some of you may be aware that testing products, or any of the contained ingredients, on animals has been banned in the UK since 2013. While that is all well and good, in some countries, (most notably China) products must be tested on animals in order to be sold there. NARS is the latest brand to be stung by this, as many fans have sworn to boycott their products now that they have expanded into the Chinese market.
Some things to keep in mind when you're shopping for vegan, cruelty-free products:

  • Vegan and cruelty-free doesn't mean you need to have basic make up, many tops brands such as Kat Von D, Anastasia Beverly Hills, Charlotte Tilbury and Marc Jacobs tick both boxes.
  • Some consumers choose to boycott brands who are owned by a company that isn't cruelty free, for example Urban Decay is owned by L'Oreal, while some don't. This is totally down to personal choice. 
  • Look for accreditation by known and respected organisations such as The Vegan Society or Leaping Bunny in order to know that the brand's claims of 'vegan' and 'cruelty free' are supported.
  • Vegan and cruelty-free do not necessarily mean that an ingredient list is eco-friendly or natural - products may still contain chemicals you'd rather not put near your skin, so read the label carefully. 
There are excellent shopping resources available online to help you in this minefield - Cruelty Free Kitty and Logical Harmony are definitely good places to start your research. Happy shopping!

I just spent two days meditating and this is what I learnt

19/09/2017

At the weekend I attended a meditation retreat. I've only practiced meditation in a group setting once before in Bali so my experience has mostly been confined to practicing alone in my bedroom. Needless to say, I didn't know what to expect from a weekend long retreat with a bunch of, rather lovely, strangers. Before I jump into what I learnt I'll briefly explain my first impressions and the basic structure of the two days which took place at Cowdrey Hall, West Sussex

On Saturday we started the day scattered about on chairs around the perimeter of a large hall drinking herbal tea. There were 30 or so people, far more than I anticipated, and a real mix of gender (slightly more men than women), age (20's up to a man easily in his 80's) and, once we got talking, experience, some people had never meditated before.

Once our teacher, Burgs, asked us how we were feeling (on a scale from 'Amazing' to 'Flat' most were 'Average' or 'Above Average' - I was an 'Above') he invited us to stand in a space in the hall large enough to swing our arms around us. We then practiced Qigong, something I've never even heard of before, yet alone practiced. Qigong is a gentle exercise composed of movements that are repeated a number of times, often stretching the body, increasing fluid movement, building awareness the body and the breath and redistributing energy. We did Qigong half a dozen times or more throughout the weekend and it felt strange at first, but once we'd all relaxed everyone seemed to get into it.

After our first session of Qigong our days loosely followed this structure: Break, qigong, meditation, break, discussion... break, qigong, mediation, break, discussion.... That being said sometimes this varied, on Saturday we practiced Qigong before lunch and then came back and did a meditation straight away... more on that below. 


So what did I learn? Here are my three main 'take aways': 

Redistribution of energy is a thing and it has a noticeable effect 

In one of our discussions Burgs spoke about why deep relaxation is important for the body and the mind, and how a lot of people often function with a slightly frazzled, hyper, energy - even when tired or doing something mundane, like the dishes, the body and the mind is jumpy and unsettled. He explained that this feeling was due to unsettled energy or 'charge' and that Qigong helps us redistribute this energy, while meditation helps that energy to settle in the body. I was sceptical at first but I actually really noticed the effect of this. My meditation practice was greatly improved, more focused and less interrupted by my mind straight after practicing Qigong and I was particularly sluggish, sleepy and had a tendency to drift in thought during the meditation following Saturday's lunch.  

The act of meditation is as easy and as difficult as it sounds

Sitting in stillness and focusing all awareness on the body or the breath and not on thoughts is difficult until its not, but then it can quite easily be lost again. During a couple of the meditations I managed to really focus on my awareness, tap into the stillness of my body and silence the mind - until a little voice popped up saying 'I'm doing it! I'm totally doing it!' and then, like a kid learning to ride without stabilisers, I fell off... and got wrapped up in my thoughts again.

Visuals can be helpful when learning, although we were told the importance of not relying on (our awareness should be with our body, not on the mental image of waves quietly lapping at the shore somewhere.) A recurrent theme in Burgs' guided meditations was that of the body as a mountain and the heart as a mirror-like lake. We were encouraged not to 'throw stones into the lake' because that would unsettle the water. 

During the discussion sessions several people spoke about what they were struggling with and everyone experienced similar issues - feeling sleepy, not being able to stop thoughts, getting uncomfortable, focusing on sounds outside the room - which was comforting. It all takes practice. 

Meditation is powerful 

Two out of the three Sunday afternoon meditations were particularly powerful for me. I was able to completely let go of my mind and sat beaming on my mat as wave like feelings of euphoria washed over me. That has never happened to me before and I was giddy with joy afterwards. I definitely wasn't the only one. The effects of our activities could be felt in the collective energy in the room, and one lady, who talked openly about problems in her personal life that had been making her feel lonely and down for weeks, confessed she hadn't felt so happy and clear headed in ages.  

Two days since the retreat ended I still feel very centred, calm, and clear headed, more so than I can remember feeling for years. 

 *

I would highly recommend one of these weekend retreats if you're interested in learning more about meditation or connecting with yourself. I feel that I have come away with shiny new tools for self care, including the ability to make myself feel damn good with nothing more than my own concentration (and maybe a comfy cushion).

You can read Burgs' blog, and find out more about meditation and other retreats here: https://theartofmeditation.org


Why going vegan is not the same as plant-based

11/09/2017
One of the big sound bites from the recent outpouring of health food documentaries has got to be 'Whole Foods Plant-Based' diet (those that have seen Cowspircy, What The Health or Forks Over Knives will know where I'm coming from.) But isn't that just another way of saying vegan? Nuh-uh my friend.


So what are the differences?


Vegans do not eat any animal products AT ALL
No little smidgen of milk chocolate here, or a piece of cheese there, no honey, no fish sauce, absolutely nothing animal derived passes the lips of a vegan. Whereas plant-based eaters will mostly consumer fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, and minimise, or eradicate, animal products for health reasons.

Vegans do not wear clothes, shoes or use make up, soaps, furnishing etc. that are made from animal products
No leather shoes or leather chairs, no wool jumpers or blankets, no silk scarves, no detergents or soaps that contain ingredients derived from animals (note: most of the mainstream products do) and no make up that contains animal derived ingredients or has been tested on animals. Vegans seek out products that don't come with any added animal cruelty whereas those that follow a plant-based diet may choose to wear or use products with animal derived ingredients.

Vegans can eat junk food
Some non-vegans seem to believe vegans exist on not much more than fruit, salads and humous, but that really isn't the case. As a vegan I could eat just as much junk food as a non-vegan (greasy burgers, gooey brownies, fake cheese, chips, all the Oreos....) whereas those following a plant-based diet focus on whole foods and reduce or eliminate the amount of processed food they eat (even if those foods are vegan.)

Being vegan is much more than a diet choice, it is a lifestyle choice.

And, just to confuse you further, I consider myself a plant-based vegan.

Some little definitions for you: 
Vegan = a person who does not eat or use animal products.
Plant-based = a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat, dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil.

Meditation

03/09/2017

Recently, I booked a place on a meditation retreat. In a couple of weeks time I will be giddy with anticipation and nerves as I face two whole days of meditation practice, in a hall, with complete strangers, with very little but myself and my thoughts. So why do it? Because I've been meditating on and off for several years now, have read and researched around the subject, know and have felt many of its benefits and am wanting to deepen my knowledge, experience and understanding. Perhaps I sound like a fairly dedicated practitioner? Well I'm not as, despite all my interest, I can't quite get a meditation practice to stick. I have meditated daily for weeks at a time, loved it but 'fallen of the wagon' and gone without for months.

When practicing, I often remind myself that meditation is not about emptying the mind and it's not about having a completely 'pure' and 'perfect' practice. It's about coming back to the breath time and time again. It's about allowing the thoughts to come, without judgement, and let them go again, without judgement and coming back to the breath. Over and over again. And so I will return to meditation again, without judging myself for not practicing for so long, and pick up where I left off, with my breath.

Mediation can be beneficial to everyone, it reduces stress, increases self-awareness, can help with feelings of anxiety and generally makes you feel more present. There are brilliant apps you can try, I'd recommend Buddhify, and there are excellent guided meditations on YouTube. But you honestly don't need anything except somewhere quiet, and preferably comfortable, to begin meditating. You can practice anytime of day, but I recommend first thing in the morning so you can reap the benefits for the rest of your day and, believe me, you'll feel them.

First, find somewhere quiet where you won't be disturbed and where you are able to sit or lie comfortably for 10 minutes or so. Close your eyes. Make no effort to control or manipulate your breath, just allow your breath to follow its natural rhythm. Inhale and exhale through your nose. Draw attention to where you physically feel your breath coming in to and leaving your body. Your chest, rib cage, your tummy, your throat, your nose. Simply focus on the sensations and sound of your breath. If your mind wanders bring it back to your breath without judgement.

By the end of those 10 minutes if you have managed to instil a sense of calm in your mind and your body then you have 'successfully' meditated. If not, no worries, keep coming back anyway.

3 New Plant-Based Food Documentaries (And Where To Watch Them!)

22/03/2017

 

Few recent documentaries have caused discussion and divided opinion like Cowspiracy - the 2014 film was executively produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and garnered both rave reviews and fierce criticism over its portrayal of the role of animal agriculture on climate change. Now the directors of the film have produced What the Health, which follows Kip Andersen as he uncovers the negative dietary impacts of animal foods. Watch it here

 


It's 2067, the UK is vegan, but older generations are suffering the guilt of their carnivorous past. Simon Amstell asks us to forgive them for the hours of what they swallowed. Carnage is an amusing mockumentary that presents the benefits of veganism in an entirely new way. Watch it here


 


Featuring leading medical experts and researchers, Eating You Alive takes a scientific look at the reasons we’re so sick, who’s responsible for feeding us the wrong information and how we can use whole-food, plant-based nutrition to take control of our health. Watch it here

So you want to work in publishing?

28/01/2017

I dreamt of working with books for a long time; mostly in the vague 'wouldn't it be great if' way, like how I imagine some people feel about the music, film or fashion industries, a job for that rare lucky one for whom the stars align... But the reality, I've learnt, is quite different. It's difficult yes, but far from impossible! I went from graduate to a fully employed publishing professional in less than a year and as someone that sought resources to help me when I was first starting out, I thought I'd create one by sharing my tips. 

Prepare/know your stuff!
  • Firstly, you should know what area of publishing you want to get into; marketing, publicity, editorial, sales or rights. I work in publishing publicity (you can read more about that here) but have gained experience in editorial and marketing too. Look at your skills and experience and be realistic - not everyone can work in editorial at Penguin Random House. 
  • Once you know what area you'd like to get into start looking into publishers you would like to work for (there are literally hundreds.) Find out where they are based, how long would your commute would be and whether you need to have some savings together before you switch careers (probably!) A good resource for finding publishers is The Publisher's Association and this site is handy too. (Note: Please understand and accept that the biggest publishing houses in Britain operate out of London. But, if you're not within commuting distance of the capital don't fret, there are many other publishers spread across the country.)
  • Sign up to newsletters to keep up with what's going on in the industry. I receive emails from The Bookseller and BookBrunch daily and cannot recommend them enough for insider information (and gossip!)

Show you're passionate
  • It is crucial that, when you're applying for any level of job, you know what's going on in the industry, so do keep up to date with trends in book buying and the next big authors and must-have books.
  • Use social media to share your love of books and book shops. Potential employers will check out your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, so ensure you're showcasing your bookishness.  
  • It sounds obvious but read and read widely. You will be asked in interviews what sort of books you like and who your favourite authors are, and you'll be expected to know about their books and authors too. (Some publishers have a quarterly or bi-annual catalogue available on their website so ensure you have a read about their upcoming titles pre-interview.)
  • Attend book events and literary festivals (chances are, as a proud book nerd, you're doing this already) and sign up to their newsletters. It's useful to know whose 'headlining' at Hay and Cheltenham and who is doing a nationwide Waterstones tour - particularly if you're interested in publicity.
  • Consider joining an organisation such as The Society of Young Publishers, which is aimed at those in the industry and those hoping to be soon. Not only is the SYP a great resource but being a member will look good on your CV.

Get out there and network
  • My one key tip for publishing is: it's not what you know but who you know. Publishing appears to be this gigantic beast of an industry but it really isn't. You see the same faces time and time again, and these connections can be invaluable to your career. I got my current job (Account Manager at Midas PR - the leading PR agency for publishing) because of a connection I made at a work experience placement six months before. It's who you know. 
  • Go to book events and literary festivals - this looks good on cover letters and CVs and both are great places to meet people in the industry! Book events are crawling with publishing professionals - from book bloggers and journalists to editors and publicists, as well as authors of course - so they're a brilliant opportunity to promote yourself and showcase your passion. Who knows a two minute chat with a stranger at a book launch could result in a career opportunity.
  • Networking doesn't necessarily need to be face to face, connecting with people and publishers on twitter or Instagram is also a good idea.
Get experience
  • Internships and work experience placements are pretty much essential unless you already have sound experience in a similar sector. I did four internships before securing my first permanent role in the industry and each one was incredibly useful. Not only did these internships give me a chance to hone my skills and network, but they helped me choose a career direction - had I not gained publicity experience at Penguin I would likely be on a totally different path. 
  • Don't pigeon hole yourself too early on, if you're not sure if you want to work in Marketing or Editorial get experience in both and find out. And don't discount agencies, they usually provide a wider variety of work (and books) than an in-house role would. 
  • Internships aren't normally advertised in the same way as full time roles, so do look on individual publishers or agency websites for these. 

Apply for jobs
  • To find roles I recommend signing up for the weekly jobs newsletter from The Bookseller or browse the job section on their website here. (The Publishers Publicity Circle has an excellent job site for those looking to work in publicity - they list internship opportunities too) 
  • If you've identified a specific publisher you'd like to work for ensure you're signed up to any careers newsletters they might have. If they don't have a newsletter check out the careers section of their website weekly (and put a reminder in your diary/phone to make sure you do.) 
  • When you've found a role you're thinking of applying for do your research thoroughly. Your cover letter should not only explain why you're good for that job role but why you're the best person for that particular role at that particular imprint at that particular publisher.
  • Set up Google alerts for the publishing house/imprint/agency you're applying to so you're up to date with what they're putting out to the media. Keep an eye on their social channels too. 
I hope this has been useful - good luck, keep reading and keep trying!

5 books I'm reading right now

09/08/2016
It's been a while. Sorry about that. I've been busy. Reading a lot, working a lot, moving house just the once, but I'm back and it's National Book Lover's Day - hurray! 

When pondering this wonderful day of bookish celebration, I realised I had five, very different, books on the go. Before I get on and finish reading them I thought I'd share them with you - enjoy and read books long into the night.