How to stick to Veganuary

veganuary Logo-how to stick to veganuary

Good news for celebrity vegans attending the BAFTA awards (Sunday 14th February) as this year vegan food is on the menu. Hoorah! Finally, a plant-based diet without dairy or meat is coming out of the shadows and being noticed by the mainstream as something desirable to try.

I was away for most of January but it seems Veganuary was a huge success. According to the organisers, around 23,000 people had pledged to give up meat and dairy so far, up from 3,000 in 2014. Very impressive.

nondairy milk at morrisonsI’ve been a vegan for around 10 years now (and vegetarian since I was nine) so it’s no new thing for me but there’s never been a better time to go dairy and meat-free.

Blogs and websites are full of inspiration for cooking and health (Green Kitchen Stories, Natural Kitchen Adventures and Sprouted Kitchen are a few of my favourites) and supermarket shelves are exploding with non-dairy produce. Years ago I’d be lucky if found one variety of non-dairy milk. Look at it now! (That picture was taken in Morrison’s a few weeks ago.)  

Years ago it was not the coolest of lifestyle choices. I was usually too embarrassed to say the V-word in case people thought I was weird let alone promote it as something to try. I would always say I’m ‘vegetarian and I didn’t eat dairy’ (mumbled quietly and quickly before anyone really noticed).

Now doing the big V is like proudly wearing the latest wellness badge and touted as the must-try new thing to help you lose weight, stay slim or eat more superfoods. Luckily they were never my primary motivations but definitely an added bonus of not eating butter, cheese, cream, eggs or meat. Some people will try Veganuary as it’s another trend to try, for others it will resonate more deeply and they will hopefully stick with it.

Sticking to a vegan diet has never been hard for me as it was never a fad or fashion. It was something I believed in

I did it for fairly strong ethical and health reasons of my own will. It came from an unwillingness to support the very act and nature of meat and dairy farming. I realised the problems that motivated me to be vegetarian (inhumane, unnatural and intensive farming) still very much existed in the dairy industry so it didn’t make sense to eat dairy and not meat. The more I read about the dairy industry the more I knew I couldn’t support it.

I didn’t want to buy into an industry that’s unethical in its practices (see ethicalconsumer.com report here), pumps its animals with antibiotics and growth hormones which we end up ingesting, puts unfair pressures on farmers to meet unrealistic supermarket quotas, and intensive farming methods that have massive environmental and human impact. I don’t agree with any of those things and don’t want any of them on my conscience.

So whatever your reasons for going vegan, whether it’s to less meat, be more healthy, lose/manage weight or even do your bit for the environment, the secret to sticking to Veganuary after January is to make sure the motivation comes from within.

The more the decision resonates with you personally, the more likely you are to stick to it.

Read up about what you’re doing, learn how to make it work, what sacrifices you may have to make, and how to eat well – being vegan means you omit a few major food groups so it’s important to substitute well so you don’t fall weak or ill. Discover where your boundaries lie (e.g. will you eat honey, but say no to a leather sofa? Or are you happy to have a bit of cake on special occasions (like I am!) particularly if your friend has baked it, but won’t wear a leather jacket. Experiment and you’ll discover what’s right for you and your lifestyle and where you can draw the lines.

If you’re going from full meat eater to vegan then it’s a massive jump so take small steps rather than going cold turkey, excuse the pun. Don’t be hard on yourself for having a bit of cheese after dinner and be open to trying new and alternative ways of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. In restaurants, be creative with the menu but always smile sweetly at the waiter/waitress when making your extra special requests.

Remember, it’s not a punishment so enjoy it. Done with an open, relaxed and flexible mind it can be a really vibrant and creative way to eat.

It’s the best thing I ever did and if you’re giving it a go, let me know how you’re getting on and hope you love it too.

sticking to veganuary

x

Massive Attack calls for donations to UNHCR

I was at a Massive Attack gig in London’s Brixton Academy last week and through LED light projections, visual art and photographic images the British band channelled messages about the Syrian war, refugees and humanity in general. Using powerful photography from photojournalist Giles Duley, they captured attentions and moved emotions. At the end of the gig Massive Attack invited donations to UNHCR – the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

I’m glad Massive Attack chose to use their platform to project these images and messages. Who cares if some people think we shouldn’t see and hear the hard truths and realities of humanity’s struggles at a music gig. It’s important we don’t forget what’s happening or turn a blind eye.

Here are a few snapshots from the night with a link to donate at the end.

massive-attack-changing-lives-large_CREDIT LIVEPIX
Photo: Livepix

massive attack refugees instagram

massive attack giles duley gig

massive-attack-giles-duley
Photo: Giles Duley

Photographer Giles Duley, who was seriously injured in Afghanistan a few years ago (he lost both legs and an arm but miraculously recovered and returned to work as a photographer). On the UNHCR website he explains how his work ended up as a backdrop to Massive Attack’s European tour:

“I was in Lesvos last October and the scenes there were overwhelming. In all the time I’ve worked, I’ve never seen such emotion and humanity laid so bare as I witnessed on the beaches of Lesvos.

One of the first emails I sent was to the guys in Massive Attack. Seeing such events, I felt so powerless, I needed to do something. At that stage I had no idea how the collaboration would work, but I knew the band would want to act. 

Within minutes of seeing the images, they had replied to my email. As with me, they were shocked that this was Europe, this was now. So when they suggested using the images during their European tour it made total sense – as they played in Europe, they would be showing the scenes that were occurring all around us.”

See more of Giles’ work at gilesduley.com and donate at unhcr.org 

Whoop! Best Blog for Green/Eco Living

Cooperative-Energy-logo

Cooperative-Energy-logo-best eco blogs

Thrilled to hear my humble little Brighter Shade of Green blog has been chosen by Cooperative Energy as one of the top 5 blogs to ‘help you stick to your green goals in 2016’. Thank you Coop Energy!

They had these lovely words to say:

“If you’re tired of being lectured on global warming and rising sea levels, why not cast your eyes over Yanar’s green living blog, A Brighter Shade of Green. Offering a different perspective on sustainable lifestyle choices, Yanar offers her thoughts on decluttering her home, fashion made from recycled car parts and whether it’s actually worth buying eco-friendly cleaning products. If you want to go green but feel talking about climate change is all doom and gloom, Yanar’s optimistic and engaging posts could help you stick to a few green goals this year.”

top 5 blog for greener living

Check out the rest of the top 5 for eco blogging at cooperativeenergy.coop – I’m in pretty good company!

Thanks again Coop Energy x

Stuffocation – a new challenge for 2016

stuffocation new year resolutions 
The issue of stuff seems to be a popular one right now. Not only is it the time of year to de-clutter our cupboards and minds but two books that came out last year are still being talked about now: Stuffocation by James Wallman, about excessive consumerism, and The Life Changing Method of Tidying by Marie Kondo, Japan’s expert declutterer who everyone seems to be quoting. I haven’t read either but I feel like I’m on a similar mission of mindfulness right now.

Basically, I’ve always owned way too much stuff and it’s been bothering me for some time. I’ve always been a thrift lover, never one to miss a charity, vintage or second hand shop and always spotting a hidden treasure in a junkyard, brick a brack shop, sale or market. Between the ages of 15 and 17 I would quite often come home to tell my parents of yet another ‘amazing’ wardrobe or dressing table I’d just bought from our local charity shop and poor them, would have to make space for it in the garage.

For longer than a decade I’ve collected fabulous things from these kind of places – never junk in my eyes, but usually something unique, unusual and always one off. I’ve never been attracted to designer handbags or glitzy high heels but I do find it hard to walk away from anything circa 1950s, 60s, 70s or 80s.

But recently I decided to clear the clutter. No more 70s platforms I can’t walk in, no more 60s playsuits I can’t wear out.

 So I listened to friends tell me about Kondo’s book and the line where she tells you to ask yourself if an item ‘sparks joy’. This sounded great in theory but realised there was a flaw.

What if everything you own brings you joy? What if you love every bit of clutter you’ve collected? That’s the problem with people like me – all their stuff brings them joy!

So I’ve tweaked Kondo’s rule of ‘sparking joy’ to make it more effective for me:

My new rule: ‘Does it bring me joy AND is it useful?’. 

I’ve finally decided I no longer want to hold on to so much stuff unless it’s useful.  For example, there’s no point keeping a beautiful pair of vintage Ralph Lauren silk trousers (which bring me a lot of joy) if they’re too long and I can’t wear them. If they fail the useful test, they have to go!

Having to tick both boxes definitely helps limit accumulation and aid elimination. With this rule in mind, recent edits and clear outs have been far more ruthless and extensive than they were a few years ago.

My recent recent house move involved several harsh culls across from kitchenware to coats. I slashed everything down and it felt really really good. I’m no longer cluttered and there’s plenty of space in my new flat BUT that’s not a reason to start collecting, buying and owning again. 

I guess that’s where the mindfulness comes in – it’s being aware and connected to what’s in our lives, physically and mentally, and assessing our relationship with it. 

>> My aim this year is to get to the point where I’m not just a non-hoarder but, in an ideal world, I’d like to get to the point where I only own what I use. I want to own a curated collection of things, not everything. I realise it might be a tall order but there’s no harm in trying.

There’s something cathartic about the notion of owning less. I’m looking forward to the feeling of lightness and simplicity. Of quality not quantity. I feel like this whole experiment (and I do see this as an experiment of sorts)  could be a form of psychological and emotional release too.

I appreciate this new attitude towards stuff jars with the super-charged commercial and highly materialistic world we live in but I’ve got to the point where I actually want to be free of it all.

If I could halve what I own in the next six months I’ll consider it a success. In the meantime, I’m operating on a one-in-one-out basis which is an achievable way of keeping on top of things, especially good if you’re not quite ready for a complete cull. Let’s see if I am!

Wrag Wraps: Try eco wrapping paper this Christmas… 

Worried about excess waste at Christmas? Trying to have a festive season that treads a little lighter on the planet? Fear not, I assure you it’s possible! Yes, Christmas is probably one of the most un-eco times of year but if going green with wrapping is on your radar then check out Wrag Wrap – reusable, fabric gift wrap. A innovative new way to wrap and give.

wragwrap eco wrapping paper 4

I discovered Wrag Wrap on Twitter  – a small company inventing a novel approach to wrapping. A lot of thought has gone into making Wrag Wraps as ethical and as sustainable as possible.

Did you know that the UK sends 5 million tons of paper waste to landfill every year? And it takes six mature trees to make one tonne of paper. That’s 50,000 trees for the 8,500 tonnes of paper used at Christmas.

The ‘paper’ is made from 45% plastic waste (from recycled plastic bottles) and 55% polyester (although they would like it to be 100% recycled materials in the future). The type of recycled polyester used has a 50% lower carbon footprint than organic cotton, and apparently keeps 900 million plastic bottles a year away from landfill. Read more here about why WragWrap choice recycled polyester over cotton or other sustainable fabrics.

wragwrap eco wrapping paper 3

Wrag Wrap founders know that people like the tradition of wrapping and unwrapping presents so they added crackle into one of the styles: A 30cm x 30cm square with vibrant, fabulous prints, a cord and button attached so you don’t have to use tape, plus a tag pouch so you can write a message – they’ve thought of everything!

If you’re wondering about the crackle (could it be some un-eco cellophane paper?), I can tell you even that’s been considered: made out of discarded music festival tents, collected before being scooped up and taken to landfill. Brilliant!

wragwrap eco wrapping paper 2

If you’re wondering how to make reusable wrapping work for you, WragWrap co-founder, Nick has this note of inspiration: “Some prefer to keep their Wrag Wraps in the family, starting a new tradition and passing them around from year to year.  Others like to send them out on a journey – give one to a special friend, who then gets to pass it on.”

I love the ingenuity of Wrag Wrap and hope they go from strength to strength!

Read more about the staggering problem of paper waste here and the shocking stats of plastic waste here.

Favourite kitchen gadget: Almond/Soya Milk Maker

I’m lucky I get to try out all sorts of gadgets and fun things for work and very occasionally one will stand out from the rest, be genuinely fabulous and earn a place in my everyday life. This year I found one of those star products: Tribest Soyabella Milk Maker. If you love non-dairy milk, check out my full review of this milk maker and get it on your Christmas wishlist.

Tribest-Soyabella-Nut-Milk-Maker-Healthista-Reviewed-384

Non-dairy milks are massively on the rise and have never been as popular with supermarkets and health food shops exploding with choice, more than I’ve ever seen. So if you are regularly buying soya or almond milk, making your own could be a healthier, cheaper and more ecological way to enjoy it.

Apart from the obvious being fresh, natural and homemade almond milk, the best bit for me is the speed and ease. Making things quick and easy is the sign of a good gadget! 

Once you’ve soaked your almonds for a few hours or overnight, you just pop them in the maker and it takes less than 60 seconds to turn the almonds into milk. Incredible! I believe a 200gm of almonds makes me just under a litre of milk, and that lasts a few days. The water and pulp does seperate slightly once it’s been sitting in the fridge so you just need to give it a stir before using. 

You also know exactly what’s going into it and it’s actually very little – just almonds and filtered water! Flavour is optional so you can add a couple of drops of vanilla or agave syrup but I make it completely flavour-free and tastes great.

For my full review and verdict, including what to do with nut or almond pulp left over from the milk, my review of the milk maker is on Healthista.com here and let me know what you think, and if you have one or tempted to buy one let me know too!

Bit of a non-sexy subject: Tampons

Ok, so it’s not the sexiest subject in the world but here’s a quick update on what’s come my way on the topic of tampons since the tampon tax debate blew up in October.

After MPs voted NOT to change the law on taxing sanitary products (check out the list of MPs who voted ‘no to change’ here – proof of our widespread patriarchal society?) – some sanitary product companies (see below) have announced they will take on that 5% tax on behalf of customers. This definitely deserves a mention.

I also very recently discovered, via my work friend Leah Hardy, that 5% tax on sanitary products is the very lowest rate allowable under EU law (did you know Denmark applies 25%!). The UK government has also just a few days ago announced money raised from this ‘tampon tax’ (estimated to be around £15million) will be donated to women’s charities: Eve, The Haven, SaveLives and Women’s Aid, says the BBC, which is also worth a mention.

Two brands who are taking on the tax and not passing it on to you include:

Organyc – a brand passionate about producing organic, unbleached and non-toxic sanitary products – announced they will pay the tampon tax on their products. The tampons are also biodegradable.

SanitaryOwl.com – a subscription box that delivers sanitary products by post each month has announced the same. SanitaryOwl also provides tampons and pads to homeless hospices around London.

While on the very exciting subject of tampons, Organyc has produced this cool little graphic which highlights the importance of choosing cotton and organic cotton tampons. Being organic means no pesticides were used in the growing of the cotton (better for workers, environment and us).

Tampon Tax Graphic Organyc

With a bit of research I’ve just discovered conventional tampons contain non-cotton ingredients (said to be for maximum absorbency), such as rayon and viscose which are non biodegradable, and contain wood pulp which requires a lot of chlorine bleaching and chemical processes. So the argument is why not choose an alternative that uses natural and organic ingredients instead that can break down easily and made without synthetics or chlorine bleach.

Several friends have moved onto Mooncup, and while it seems a bit weird to get your head round at first, I do believe it’s the best option forward in the long run, for health, pocket and environment. At the end of the day tampons flushed down the loo, which I’m sure is what most people do despite being told not to, clog drains and sewers and eventually end up on landfill.

Check out this video produced by Mooncup which is really cleverly done (I admit I didn’t think a ‘rap about tampons’ would be any good but I eat my words!).

While I get my brain into gear to move over to Mooncup, I’ll be sticking to chlorine-free and natural cotton/organic tampons such as those from Organyc for sure. They are about a pound more expensive than other brands but I don’t think that’s too much.

One more thing…for a long time Boots has only sold conventional non-cotton sanproducts which has always bothered as an unfair, and a disservice to women. Now you can pick up cotton tampons which, of course, is an improvement but still no organic option! I’m sure the more women demand to see natural and organic sanproducts the quicker Boots will be to deliver.

Would love to know what you think… if you’re a Mooncup convert, thinking of becoming one, committed to cotton and organic, or don’t see what the fuss is about and love your conventional sanproducts! Let me know in comments below (just click + button). x

 

#QuoteOfTheDay…

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” – James Madison (1751-1836), US politician and 4th president of United States.

Quote of the Day Sophia Loren James Madison

Thanks to Kay Montano for sharing this on her Instagram feed which I then regrammed on my Instagram). Marking one week since the horrifying terror attacks in Paris, which had followed equally terrible attacks in Ankara Turkey and then Beirut. Not to mention the daily attacks in Baghdad, and of course Syria. Later in the week it was Nigeria and we ended with Mali. Thinking of everyone. Praying for peace.

x

What’s all the buzz about organic beauty?

soil association's organic beauty week part of organic september

soil association's organic beauty week part of organic september

Organic this and organic that. From tea and coffee to cotton and clothes, it’s like a buzzword that’s everywhere. So what’s all the fuss about and why should beauty be organic too? Organic Beauty Week part of Organic September backed by Soil Association, is a time to celebrate the beauty of organic and promote the organic in beauty.

Why? Because pesticide-free farming is kinder on the earth, the farmers and workers and ultimately on us. Oh, and it makes beauty products that little bit better too as plants are usually grown in healthier, nutrient-rich soil making their power more potent.

But the word organic (and natural) has been banded about so much and stuck on labels wherever possible, even if a product carries only small traces of organic ingredients, paying lip-service to an important movement and maybe even misleading consumers. So the Soil Association launched a Campaign for Clarity to help people make some sense of the minefield that is organic and natural beauty.

Being an organic brand truly reflects a company’s commitment to the environment and being accredited goes that one step further in building trust. Always look for an official stamp of approval by Soil Association or another body such as EcoCert (they will soon all merge under the umbrella name of COSMOS so look out for that in the near future too).

I wrote a quick cheat sheet on organic beauty for my column on Healthista.com, check it out:

7 Things You Need To Know About Organic Beauty.

I also featured the Campaign for Clarity as my top beauty news (see a little snap below) in September’s issue of Health & Fitness magazine. Did you see it?

To make choosing organic beauty that little bit easier here is a full list of accredited beauty brands by the Soil Association – bookmark it and don’t go shopping without it!

My favourite organic brands are included in my Healthista article so do check it out, and if there’s a brand that isn’t on there and you think it should be, let me know! Give me a shout on Twitter @YanarBeauty.

Happy organic beauty week x

Organic Beauty Campaign for Clarity by Soil Association

Alternative Ways of Being #3

“We’ve become an increasingly harsh world, and when we become harsh with each other and forget our humanity then we end up in these standoff positions. We need to rediscover what it is to be human, and that every human being matters.” – Reverend Trevor Willmott

I’m not usually one for religion but these are wise words, from The Church of England, in response to David Cameron’s stand against migrants in Calais this weekend.

I keep wondering myself where people’s compassion and empathy have gone recently, so glad to hear someone speaking out about this.

A friend of mine wrote a wonderful piece in The Pool about her family’s escape from Vietnam in 1979 – she was lucky as several countries back then opened their borders in response to the crisis and her family eventually resettled in the UK, but others today, have not been so lucky as governments (and people), show less empathy and compassion.

I think whether people are fleeing war, violence, persecution or leaving a non-war torn country simply for better job or education opportunities, why shouldn’t everyone have the right to seek a better life? Not just the privileged. Nick Cohen sums it up in this piece, “If you hate the migrants in Calais, you hate yourself”:

“Human beings move. We are a restless species. If you have never moved to a new country to find work, your forebears certainly did. Go back far enough in your family, my family or any family on this planet and you will find that our common ancestors were migrants. In hating them, we hate ourselves.”

Migrants-in-Calais-Pascal-Rossignol-Reuters
Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

The point I’m trying to make is we don’t have to carry so much negativity in our eyes, minds and heart towards others. However different they are to use. However alien their life might seem. There are alternative ways of being. 

We could be a little more understanding to each others’ struggles. Every single one of us is trying to get through life, survive and make it work. Others have a harder time than others, and some, of course cheat their way round, giving others a bad name. But in general I try to see the human story in each person, not the headline.  

Clean and Green – is it worth buying eco-friendly cleaning products?

Everyone wants a clean house, but what price do we pay for our spotless counters and clean loos? In the US, 69 percent of streams contain traces of disinfectant and detergent compounds from household cleaning products. Some ingredients will break down in wastewater treatment plants but others don’t so they end up discharged into seas and rivers to pollute aquatic life (and threaten our own water). Seeing as it’s still Earth Month, it’s seems apt to chat pollution.

Water pollution is a big problem – WWF says 80% of marine pollution comes from land based activities – and it’s not just industrial waste that’s to blame. Household cleaning products contain major culprits too. There are so many that can be harmful to our health and environment, but two to highlight are phosphates and APEs (alkylphenol ethoxylates).

APEs can mimic the hormone oestrogen harming the reproduction of salmon and other fish (I actually wrote about the feminisation of fish in The Ecologist a few years ago) and phosphates act as fertilisers which promotes the growth of algae blooms that starve marine life of oxygen. So it basically all dies. The over-use of farming fertilisers causes a similar contamination in waterways and imbalance in marine environments. There’s a ton of info online about other chemicals and their effects – for starters check out the Wiki page on the environmental impact of cleaning agents.

So what can we do? Go green with our household cleaning products of course…

Ecover-green-cleaning-products

I moved house recently and had to do the fun task of stocking  up on new cleaning products – none of the local corner shops had anything as advanced as eco-friendly cleaning products so I bought the nearest thing to a natural ingredient, Bicarbonate Soda Spray.

Then by chance, the Ecover PR team got in touch (magical timing) and asked if I wanted to try some Ecover cleaning products – of course, would love to. I’m already a consumer – I use Ecover Laundry Liquid, Stain Remover (it’s excellent) and Washing Powder, as well as Floor Soap (when I had wooden floors).

My favourite Ecover product that I was sent to try was Window and Glass Cleaner; because I have to actually be inside my shower cubicle to clean the glass walls, I don’t feel like I’m suffocating myself with crazy chemicals with this. I can jump in, clean and not worry about how I’m going to breathe.

What’s under our kitchen sink and in our toilet bowl inevitably ends up in our rivers and streams so choosing greener products, where possible will at least help minimise our contribution to the problem (obviously it won’t eradicate the problem, but what if we EVERYONE used better products? Then we’d really make a difference!).

I’ve always been aware of toxic waste, whether it’s the environmental impact of manufacturing chemicals, the potentially harmful pollutants we expose ourselves to at home, or what we release into the wider world. Who knows, maybe in years to come it will be law or standard practice to use safer and greener products. Let’s hope so. 

For brands like Ecover products still do the job of anti-bacterial cleaning but ingredients are plant-based so they actually break down and don’t pollute the environment. It’s a no brainer really! For more reading, Ecover gives a nice round up of the ingredients it does and doesn’t use in its FAQs section here. Ecover also now owns method (another green-clean brand I love using) so there’s even greater chance that more people will convert. And on the subject of household / waterways pollution, I read a good post on what we should and shouldn’t flush down the loo (hint: it’s not very much) on another green living blog.

Oh and talking of loos, I might as well impart some random hygiene trivia: Did you know that around 16,000 germs hang around a toilet seat and up to 40,000 in the metre square area after the loo is flushed with the lid up? Since reading that a few years ago, I’ve always flushed with the lid down, to keep all the pesky bacteria in, and never keep my toothbrush above the loo either.

Happy cleaning xx

Why isn’t every day Earth Day?

April is Earth Month and, in case you weren’t aware (and who can blame you with the multitude of national and international days / weeks / months we have now), Wednesday 22nd April 2015 is Earth Day. It’s the official time that brands, governments and communities might raise awareness about our footprint on the planet.

It’s easy to be synical about another commerative day (especailly if brands muscle in on the action and turn it into a big money making machine. Read: Breast Cancer Awareness month) but Earth Day has been going a long time – this year is the 45th anniversary so it’s no newbie. It’s also raised a lot of support over the years for grassroots projects.

Haircare brand Aveda, alone, has pooled together an impressive $32 million for environmental and clean water charities since 1999 and pretty much owns the Earth Day movement in the beauty world.  I hate to say this but it’s a shame more brands don’t get involved – not to make it really commercial – but because commitment to the environment is still a minority movement so it wouldn’t hurt for a few more brands (eco and non-eco ) to push messages of sustainability forward, even if it is just for one day.

In my ideal world, everyday would be Earth Day! But hey, I guess any given opportunity to speed up our thoughts towards a more sustainable future can only be a good thing.

Aveda Earth Month 2015 Clean Water projects

Throughout April, there are all sorts of activities and fundraisers planned worldwide to celebrate the world’s natural beauty, remind us to take a bit more care of it, and support international environmental charities and green projects. This is mainly through local community projects, schools, art initiatives and brand events. So check out earthday.org for more info.

If you’d like to give through your beauty purchases, Aveda’s Light The Way candle (£16; aveda.co.uk) has 100 per cent of the retail price going to environmental groups and clean water projects (unlike other charitable products which donate a token percentage, usually 10-20%). In fact, one candle purchase can provide a year’s worth of drinking water for someone living in Madagascar. The aroma is of organic essential oils – vanilla, cinnamon and ylang ylang – all sourced from Madagascar.

Aveda Light the way candle forEarth Month 2015

Beauty brand, Origins, is giving away a free tote bag, eco and beautifully illustrated, for every total purchase at an Origins beauty counter nationwide. Plus, for every tote bag gifted, Origins will plant a tree, so there’s something in it for everyone.

Happy Earth Day – and remember, why not make every day Earth Day? xx

A Win! Brighter Shade of Green in Top 20 Greenest Blogs

Top 20 greenest blogs by GreenMatch

It was very cool to hear that my little blog, Brighter Shade of Green, has been named one of the Top 20 Greenest Bloggers list by GreenMatch, an energy sustainability and green energy comparison site, as part of its Top 100 Green Initiatives list.

The Top Greenest Blogs list was a fabulous who’s who of environmental champions, from charities and brands to independent blogs and families – from Green Peace and The Ecologist to the Transition Network, Wrap (promoting sustainable resources) and ScrapStore (a community group that puts clean material waste to good use). I’m particularly passionate about re-using and recycling so those last two organisations really stood out – congratulations to all.

GreenMatch says: ‘At GreenMatch, we strive to encourage more people to go “green” and take advantage of different eco-friendly energy sources. For that reason we really love seeing people like you, promoting the same cause in any possible way.’

Top 100

As a magazine writer and online editor in the beauty industry, I’m surrounded by brands and activities that are far from green so I set up this blog to try to share and celebrate the products and people I come across that tread more carefully on the planet and on us. I do believe a greener and more sustainable commercial world can exist, we just need to be encouraged to work towards it.

As well as Top 20 Greenest Bloggers there was also Top 20 Greenest School, Greenest Projects and Community Projects, all featuring a plethora of amazing initiatives. Totally thrilled (and pleasantly surprised!) to be in such great company – thank you GreenMatch!

x

Fashion made from recycled car parts

Yes, you read that right – one of my favourite press releases of late – Ford, the car manufacturer, challenged 10 emerging fashion designers to create pieces using recycled Ford car parts and textile waste. Dresses, shirts, jackets and skirts were made from seat covers and other parts and shown at Hong Kong Fashion Week. An inspiring piece of news for the possibilities of recycling, and the future for sustainable fabrics…

Ford fashion recycled material car parts

Ford already uses plastic bottles and post-industrial waste to make recycled fabric as part of its upholstery in its cars so it partnered with Redress, a Hong Kong based charity that promotes sustainability in the fashion industry, to see how designers could transform materials and waste from vehicle production.

The Redress Forum: Ford Design Challenge was born and held during Hong Kong Fashion Week. From ten finalists from around the world, including UK, there were two winners, from Malaysia and Sweden

How did they do it? If, like me, you’re intrigued as to how you get from plastic bottle to bolero, check out this video which explains how to make fabric (polyester) out of recycled bottles – it’s amazing!!!

 

I can’t believe the whole recycling process is so long and intricate; so many miles, countless stages, so much energy and hours of manpower (someone has to manually fish out the floating bottle lids from pools of broken down plastic?!). This complex process is carried out in China and probably only possible because of cheap labour. So now you know what happens to our plastic once we’ve chucked it in the recycling box – a long and arduous journey to reincarnation.

Ford fashion recycled material car parts 2

Ford states that ‘on an annual basis it recycles enough plastic bottles and postindustrial waste to make more than 1.5 million yards of recycled fabric.’

This recycled fabric is then used as car seat covers, an initiative that has apparently been so successful Ford has committed to using at least 25% recycled fabrics in every car. Some, like this one, uses 100% recycled fabrics.

Ford fashion recycled material car parts 4

Interestingly, I’ve been told that Ford is also working with Heinz to investigate the use of tomato fibres in developing sustainable plastics. It’s also decreased water use in its vehicle production, from 64 million cubic meters to 24 million cubic meters so it seems like Ford is on a bit of a sustainability mission.

It feels a little weird talking about a car manufacturer on an eco beauty blog but as I’ve always said, let’s champion the brands trying to tread more carefully on the planet – the fact that it’s a car manufacturer makes it all the more interesting.

I think innovation in sustainable fabrics is really cool and even high street stores – Marks & Spencer and H&M – are getting involved and experimenting with recycled fabrics.

Hopefully in the future we’ll see more and more products and materials made from post-consumer waste and hopefully it will become a second nature thing for brands and manufacturers to use recycled materials as a first port of call instead of virgin plastics.

I guess it all comes down to economics at the end of the day, so if and when virgin plastics become too expensive to use, brands will be forced to innovate and turn to recycling post-consumer waste. It’s not inconceivable that day will come sooner rather than later and thankfully there are already brands leading the way.

Ford fashion recycled material car parts 3

Quote of the Day…

‘Wouldn’t we all do better not trying to understand, accepting the fact that no human being will ever understand another’

Read this great line today in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American (catching up on old classics) which sounded so apt in light of recent events in France and other terrors around the world. Can we ever really understand the mental mechanics of another person’s mind?
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Happy New Year, 2015!

Happy new year! Wishing everyone a peaceful 2015 rich with love and laughs. My only resolution this year is to do more of the things I love and less of things I love less.

happy new year 2015

While we celebrate, it feels wrong not to spare a thought to people around the world who may not be seeing the new year in with much joy – families of the tragic Air Asia accident, people fighting and struggling in Syria, Iraq, Gaza and other countries, and anyone else surviving in the face of adversity. New Year wishes to everyone. x

Why We Should Never Stop Reading The News

‘I still believe that when we turn our back on human rights, we numb the knowing parts of our minds and make a space for something terrible to happen to someone else’ – Deborah Levy

This year the campaigning group Liberty celebrates 80 years – launched just after the end of 2nd world war, it’s been campaigning for freedom and equality of human rights around the world since.

Earlier this year The Guardian rounded up renowned writers and asked them what does Liberty mean to you? It was a powerful and thought provoking piece. Today’s issues affecting human rights and suffering where all touched on, from freedom of expression and speech, to privacy, surveillance and freedom from torture – each writer was essentially calling out for us not to turn our backs on these issues and each other. My favourites contributions were from Deborah Levy, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Barbara Taylor.

“Protest is a crime, prisoners are held in secret on charges not disclosed, not even to lawyers. Torture has been unofficially facilitated by our state, which colludes with America’s vengeful and nebulous “war on terror”. Terrorism and fanatical Wahabi Islam are bringing out the worst in the west. And I feel again that old terror in my tired bones, the feeling that life now is entirely dependent on the whims and power of those in charge. The little people suffer and fear for themselves and liberty,” – Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

Unfortunately, so many people, including friends of mine, have started to consciously stop reading the news or what’s happening in the world. I’m not sure whether it’s because we’re now bombarded by more media coverage than ever before thanks to social media channels, so it’s become overkill, or whether they simply care less.

I personally avoid daily tabloids and free papers but I will make an effort to read news from around the world (totally addicted to weekend papers for in depth coverage) and then Twitter for a range of different voices.

Can we have too much news? Columnist Katharine Whitehorn recently discussed this earlier this year – here’s her advice on how we’re supposed to decide what news to read.

‘Maybe those of us who go invariably to the same interests should – let’s say once a week – choose something at random and read it through, just to look over the parapet of our own concerns.”

For me, reading news and features is not just for general knowledge but more importantly, it builds awareness and empathy towards others. Whether someone is the other side of the world to us or simply next door, reading about the human story behind the headline is essential to keep human empathy alive.

When we listen to the news, people can become just another statistic but when I read stories like this one about Syrian refugees in Lebanon it’s the grave reality of what they are living through that brings home the general horror of war.

 

Photograph: Giles Duley
Khalida was shot by a sniper, leaving her paralysed from the neck down. She now lives with her four children and husband (pictured), who provides her care, in a makeshift tent in the Bekaa Valley. Photograph: Giles Duley

It might feel uncomfortable, depressing and might even make us feel helpless when change is out of our hands – (‘what’s the point in reading about it when there’s nothing I can do to help‘) – but it’s not about stopping a war, it’s about raising our levels of empathy so we’re more in tune with each other – whether it’s someone in London facing the injustices of disability benefit cuts or someone being tortured in Guantanamo, without empathy there can be no fight.

Apathy can only lead to inaction. Turning a blind only makes things worse for others. Having an greater awareness of what’s going on around us, means we’re less likely to let the injustices of the world pass us by.

And if we ever think it’s just easier not to know, then we just have to go back to Deborah Levy’s words: “We are all connected to each other’s cruelty and to each other’s kindness.”

 

How to Grow Avocado Plants

how to grow avocado plants
Avocado plants in bloom – the tall ones in the centre of the pic

Clearing out some old pictures I found this one of my old avocado plants. Taken over two years ago just before I moved from my old house, I remember snapping a pic as they were in full bloom and feeling so sad to be leaving them, my avocado babies.

It’s not the best pic but if you ignore the spider plants on the left and right, the avocado plants are against the wall and one tall one in the window.

They were my babies, all planted from real avocado stones. They love to grow long, tall and fairly quickly. Unlike native avocado plants, which are like big trees, these are slightly gangly with tall, thin stalks and floppy leaves.

Give it a go – after eating your avocado, pop the stone into a pot of soil and see what happens. First a little shoot and before long, hopefully, you’ll have an avocado baby of your own.

(Funnily enough just found a post on this already, had completely forgotten I’d written! Oh well, two posts on this amazing plant)

Reviewed: Forget Chelsea, GROW London fair is for the modern, urban gardener

GROW London Fair reviewed

If you follow me on Instagram (@yanarbeauty) you’ll see I’m partial to the odd floral bloom or pretty plant so I couldn’t resist the new GROW London fair when I read about it in the paper. Described as the garden fair for contemporary gardens, GROW London seemed perfectly pitched for modern, urban living.

So I quickly organised a ticket (with the help of the lovely crew at Camron PR) and grabbed my green fingered editor friend Pat McNulty (who knows how to make a small city garden look like a country cottage oasis) and went off to get green-eyed on a lovely (and thankfully, hangover-free) Sunday morning.

GROW London Fair reviewed
GROW London is showcased on the same site and organised by the same founder of the Affordable Art Fair in London’s Hampstead Heath, which cleverly makes double use of the structure. It’s also conveniently close in the calendar to Chelsea Flower Show.

I’ve never been to Chelsea but Pat says it’s big and can be difficult to navigate. In comparison, GROW is compact in size, but still spacious, with around 60 stands ranging from florals to swoon over, to outdoor furniture and accessories for the wish list and everything in between to create your own dream garden. It’s just the right size to hop between stands, remember favourite flowers, take second looks and contemplate which foxglove was the one (we did a lot of foxglove-comparisons).

The succulents definitely stole the show though – The Urban Botanist was perfectly situated at the front of the fair to catch everyone’s eye as they entered.

The herbs at John Cullen Gardens (not forgetting the guy who was so passionate about their plants I think he definitely should be on TV) captured our hearts and I’ve now got my sights set on growing African Blue Basil so I can shred it into salads and admire its good looks while I sit under a Sunbeam Jackie parasol.

These Sunbeam Jackie garden parasols were right up my street, made from vintage and reclaimed fabrics, I spotted and bookmarked them in my mind in a flash. Just look at how beautiful they are! (below).

GROW London Fair The Urban Botanist

Succulents and inspiration at GROW London
Succulents and inspiration at GROW London

 

Succulents at GROW London Fair
You can’t go wrong with succulent displays – GROW London, Hampstead Heath
Sunbeam-Jackie-Hand-Crafted-Parasols-Grow London-BrighterShadeofGreen
Sunbeam Jackie Sun Parasols at Grow London Fair – on my wishlist!

 

John Cullen Gardens at GROW London Fair
The John Cullen Gardens herbs stole our heart at GROW London Fair
John Cullen Gardens at GROW London Fair
Blooming herbs at John Cullen Gardens, GROW London Fair

Pat fell for nearly all the foxgloves but finally chose a favourite one and I gravitated towards Riverford Organic Farm veg delivery boxes and signed up to receive one. I’m an avid fan of Abel & Cole organic delivery boxes so I’m definitely up for trying another.

Riverford is a family run business (which is what appealed to me the most) and the fruit, veg, meat and dairy comes from their own farms as well as regional UK farms to support the local and farming community. I picked the medium veg box, which comes with free delivery and there’s no commitment to order every week, just as and when you need, which is perfect for me. Looking forward to it!

Sensational foxgloves at GROW London Fair on BrighterShadeofGreen
Sensational foxgloves at GROW London

In between all nurseries, plant companies and garden designers vying for our attention, the show also had its own amazingly dressed displays. If that wasn’t enough, there were also expert talks, workshops, children’s areas, a cake-filled cafeteria and a wine-stop. Plus being situated in Hampstead Health, it’s easy to make a gorgeous day of it.

Displays at GROW London
Stunning displays at GROW London
Fantastic floral displays at GROW London
Attention to detail – fantastic floral displays at GROW London

As well as lots of cool-looking older people (it’s north London after all), it was also refreshing to see lots of younger people and young couples. Gardens and gardening used to be an interest people grew into in their late 30s and 40s, but in a similar way that younger people are part of a revived trend for home crafts and cooking, there definitely seems to be fresh interest in plants and gardening – particularly in an urban setting – from people much younger.

So it’s great that GROW London can be part of making gardening cool again and appeal to people who want to be inspired wherever they live, or whatever their age. Coupled with the fact that more and more people live in flats with limited outdoor and indoor space that they’re desperate to transform.

Wow-plants at GROW London
Wow-plants at GROW London
Spotty Dotty plant at GROW London
Spotty Dotty plant at GROW London
Pat Mcnulty and the winning foxgloves. GROW London.
A great day out. Thanks GROW London!

After lots of brilliant chats with cool garden geeks, endless inspiration and hours of eye candy, we left feeling totally inspired, refreshed and eager to get planting. All I need now is a garden!

Failing that, I’ll just keep adding to my ever-expanding indoor garden collection. Either way, see you at next year’s GROW London. x

Tickets cost £10 www.growlondon.com

Quote

Alternative Ways of Being #2

Alternative Ways of Being 2 on life, love, happiness relationships.jpg

“When two people want to love and be loved, and when they are willing to grow and change, something mighty emerges.”

This quote, which I read in a magazine I randomly picked up recently, might sound a little hippy and hopeful, but it struck a chord as it’s full of the possibilities and strengths of human relationships.

It also struck a chord because it’s exactly what I failed to achieve in my own relationship so it carries with it an element of hope for next time. Failed relationships can make you feel like a big fat failure so it’s good to be reminded that alternative and more positive outcomes are possible.

The ugly parts of a relationship may have broken things up but the good bits in that person are still there, they’re just not hanging out with you any more, and that’s what hurts the most. Especially when there was so much hope, and everything was so entwined but somehow it was unpicked, it unravelled and it all came crashing down.

Instead of trying to explain, justify or understand the loss – because, let’s face it, the countless questions that are left unanswered are likely to remain precisely that – I thought it might be more fruitful, mentally at least, to look to alternative ways of being.

As there’s no way to go back, change what happened, change what was said, how it was said or react in a different way, there has to be another way, a new future, and a new hope. Hope that somewhere, somehow another mighty thing can happen – it’s just sad it didn’t happen with that person. In the spirit of another saying, we almost had it all…..

Imagine a world run by women – for International Women’s Day

What better way to mark today’s International Women’s Day than with the French short film, Oppressed Majority, that went viral earlier this year with 8 million hits. It follows a man’s typical day in a matriarchal society, playing out his everyday experiences as well as a sexual assault.

The best bit for me is in the police station – the way the policewoman breezes over the attack, doubts the details of the man’s account and is more concerned with her ‘cutie’ colleague – which is so representative of the way violence against women is still treated today.

Reminds me of a great Instagram post (via make-up artist Kay Montano) from One Billion Rising which tells a story we’ve probably all heard – that one that suggests women are somehow partly responsible for crimes committed against them.  

One Billion Rising International Women's Day

What shocked me this year is the treatment and reactions towards Bridget Harris – the former advisor to Nick Clegg – whose allegations towards Lord Rennard caused an avalanche of shocking responses from men and women. I happened to listen to her interview on Radio 2 and was completely stunned by the women calling for her to ‘stop being so silly’ and suggesting there are more important things to worry about than a creepy touch up the leg, or that reporting is simply playing the victim. Why should any level of touching or groping become something women dismiss with tut or a slap? No level should be accepted, let alone by a high powered male senior.

It’s absolutely shocking that women have not stood in solidarity against stories like this. Today the Guardian debates feminist dissent with fabulously wise words from Selma James:

“There is a new division among women…they are at best an instrument of the other side; at worst they are the other side.”

If we start judging ill-treatment against women on a scale then how, who and where do lines get drawn? Should we not complain about a colleague’s sexual advances here because there are women being stoned in Iran? If we start becoming indifferent about battles in our own yard then battles elsewhere won’t get won. As Bridget says,

“…to all these young women coming into workplaces now I just want to say: please don’t think you have to put up with that, with sexual harassment or bullying by men. Shout as loud as you can.”

And if that’s not enough to get you fired up then let’s not forget that two or more women are killed each week in the UK by violent partners – a shocking reality that still goes relatively unreported. And what about the misrepresentation of women in the media, an issue that never goes away.

That’s why we must never close our ears to what is happening to others; that’s why we must never stop seeking out stories of injustice or discrimination because even if they do not affect us, then our turned-backs just pave the way for more.

I hope the day will come when being female doesn’t play a part in our experiences of crime, careers or politics. When we’re not seen and judged by our gender. A point perfectly expressed by Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt when she was interviewed for the FT earlier this year and berated the journalist for focussing on the wrong things:

She looks intently at me: “To be honest, I don’t want to engage in that conversation. I think it’s a shame if you interview a female politician that the first half of the interview has to be spent on being female in politics. It sort of defies the object.”

Well said! When was the last time an interview with a male politician revolved around his experiences of being a man? That’s because we live in a man’s world. But imagine we lived in a woman’s world… now, wouldn’t that be good?

For more inspirations and discussion around women follow today’s Women of the World event at Southbank Centre via hashtag #WOWLDN on Twitter and check out a few of my favourite female voices:

Natasha WalterSuzanne Moore, Helen Lewis, Hannah Pool, Bidisha

Happy International Women’s Day xx

Iraq: an alternative Christmas

Iraq, Kurdistan, Shaklawa area in the mountains near Erbil

I can’t quite believe I’m in Iraq. Not your usual holiday destination but a fascinating experience being in a country I’ve heard so much about. I’m visiting family, some of whom haven’t seen me since I was born there, and spending a couple of weeks exploring northern Iraq – Erbil, in the region of Kurdistan – and Kirkuk. I won’t be going to Baghdad unfortunately as security in the capital is volatile again but Kurdistan is a very different and much safer environment so nothing like a war zone. It’s been an extraordinary experience so far and nothing like I expected!

Iraq, Kurdistan, Shaklawa area in the mountains near Erbil
Shak’lawa region in northern Iraq, Kurdistan

This oil-rich country which now produces around two million barrels of oil a day, has been practically off limits for the past thirty years thanks to a few decades of Saddam-rule (1979-2003), an Iraq-Iran war that lasted a gruelling eight years, a conflict with Kuwait, 13 years of sanctions, a US-UK invasion in 2003 and then, if that wasn’t enough, a decade of insurgency and heavy sectarian violence. I’m so glad I’ve been able to visit and here’s a snap shot of what I’ve seen…

ERBIL

In the north of Iraq, in the semi-autonomous state of Kurdistan, Erbil has gone from a small town to a sprawling city in less than ten years. It’s a lot more developed than I thought it would be – malls, high rise apartments, land cruisers and buildings in construction everywhere! Life in Erbil seems relaxed and comfortable – I’ve heard it’s reminiscent of how Iraq used to be in the 70s: restaurants, parks, social life, shopping, work and travel. It’s very very different to the rest of Iraq so it’s more of a boom town than a bombed town.

Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq is a boom town
It’s a boom town in Erbil, Kurdistan/Iraq

Security is tight (tailbacks to enter the city by road are long as security guards check every car entering the city) so it hasn’t suffered from the level of insurgency attacks other parts of the country have. With so much investment it’s apparently a bit like Dubai was as it was just being built, 10-15 years ago.

There are many international oil companies here – nearby Kirkuk is abundant with oil as is the south of Iraq –encouraging a domino effect of investment; high rises and new villages filled with expats are dotted around, international hotels stand tall and there are countless, shiny new malls.

I hate mall-life, I find it so artificial and stifling, but I made it a mission to visit as many as I could (for research purposes!) and managed four: Majidi Mall, Royal Mall and Family Mall and  Mega Mall. Christmas was in full swing with festive lights and Christmas trees pulling in crowds; these malls are full of young families hanging out, perusing the floors for hours on end.

Family and Majidi Mall in Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq
Family Mall with Carrefour and Majidi Mall in Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq

Among the string of unbranded, foreign clothes stores, I spotted a few recognisable names: Clark’s, Mango, DKNY, Levi’s, Ecco, Bourjois, Rimmel London, Max Factor, Nivea, Dove and others.

Beauty in Erbil, Iraq - Bourjois, Rimmel, Maxfactor

There’s also a super-sized mega mall being built with a big sign on the scaffolding naming Aldo, Nine West, and others on their way.

There’s an old town too: Not all of Erbil is fresh out the wrapper – like Baghdad, Erbil is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world so there’s rich history to absorb too. By the citadel (old fortress) which dates back thousands of years (yes, this was my favourite part of town) there’s a traditional market, full of character. The citadel is currently being restored and has been listed as a Unesco historic site – Petra, eat your heart out.

Citadel in Erbil, Iraq, Kurdistan

Erbil Citadel town life, Iraq, Kurdistan

Jeffrey Archer, after his visit to Iraq in 2010, noted back then, the region, particularly Kurdistan, was ‘a boom town’. He said:

If I were a young man, looking to make my fortune, I would be off to Iraq like a shot….I would say, go east young man, go to Kurdistan. You could make your first million, and what’s more, you won’t be taxed at 50 per cent.’ You can read the full article here.

Construction, investment, business opportunities and vibrant life is on every corner – will Erbil be tomorrow’s Dubai? Let’s see!

KIRKUK

Where Erbil’s shiny good looks are attracting magpie eyes, Kirkuk is a lot older, dustier, more tired and more ravaged by effects of troubled Iraq than Erbil. Put simply, it’s seen better days.

But there’s a wonderful charm and an amazing history. Some parts of the town – like ‘Khal’ah’ (which means ‘castle’ or citadel in English) where my dad grew up – date back up to 6000 years. This used to be a little village on a hill overlooking the city but Saddam tried to bulldoze it down back in the 80s and what remained was left to crumble. We walked around, took many photos and saw my dad’s old school and bit of land his house to be on. Totally fascinating!

Kirkuk Citadel, Historic site, Iraq

There are plans in the pipeline to restore some parts so watch this space, maybe it will be the next must-see historical tourist destination along with Erbil.

Down the hill in the surrounding market place I felt like I’d stepped back in time as we jostled, shoulder to shoulder, with hijab-clad women doing their shopping or looking for a bargain. Food, clothes, household goods, and even animals are found in this bustling, dusty and windy market.

Kirkuk market, Iraq, Kurdistan

It’s very difficult to take photos in public areas, and definitely not allowed if police, officials or army are around, so I had to be careful – frustrating as I would have loved to capture the scenes. It’s also sometimes frowned upon by locals, so I grabbed a few sneaky pics when there were gaps in the crowds.

Citadel, market and demolished bridge in Kirkuk, Iraq

Kirkuk doesn’t have the advantage of international investment and sadly security is still a problem so the knock on effect is that it’s less developed, rundown, tired and faces regular bombings – just a few weeks ago the hospital and shopping mall were attacked which really shook the city. People are surviving in a better environment than in Baghdad, where bombings and violence from militias are destroying neighbourhoods on a daily basis, as bad as it was in 2008, but in Kirkuk, locals still live in anxiety over when and where their next attack will be.

FOOD

Food, glorious food! It’s the cornerstone of Iraqi culture (as it is in most of the Middle East and Mediterranean). Our days revolved around meal times, and for local women who are at home looking after the house and children, much of their day is spent preparing and cooking meals. Nearly everything is bought fresh from the market and cooked from scratch – a food lover’s paradise!

Roadside fruit and veg stall, selling radish, lettuce and fruit, just outside Kirkuk, Iraq
Roadside fruit and veg stall, selling radish, lettuce, spring onion and more, just outside Kirkuk, Iraq

The concept of being a vegetarian is totally foreign and bewildering to everyone here but the choice and quality of vegetables is vast so it’s more than possible to get round the meat-heavy culture. My relatives and most locals, however, simply couldn’t understand it: how and why could I live without meat? So they offered me fish and chicken instead! Even though standard dishes all involve meat it’s possible to create veggie versions of almost anything.

Grilled aubergine, salad, herbs and dips. Kirkuk home cooking, Iraq
Grilled aubergine and yoghurt dressing, salad, herbs and rice. Home cooking in Kirkuk, Iraq

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My favourite traditional dishes that are just as great without meat are: Bamya (ladies fingers or okra) and rice; grilled or pan-fried aubergine/egg plant; aubergine and pepper bake; white beans in tomato sauce; pan-fried cauliflower with rice; green beans in tomato sauce; lentil soup, the list goes on.  Pomengranates are locally grown and supersized. Lettuce, romaine style is sweeter than I’ve ever tasted, served as whole leaves, stacked high on a plate, as a snack.

Locally grown pomegranate, Iraq
Locally grown pomegranate is part of daily cuisine, Iraq

Eating out was relatively easy too – the stream of mezzas (starter, sharing dishes) that arrive as soon as bums hit seats (no need to order) are all vegetarian, and delicious – usually hummus, aubergine dip (babaghanoush), salads and few other varieties of dips. There’s an amazing walnut and tomato dip that kept appearing which I need to find a recipe for. Falafel, which I love, is less than a dollar here served in local take away shops, served in Iraqi bread with salad and fried aubergine – delicious!

Local falafel in Ainkawa, near Erbil, Iraq, Kurdistan
Local falafel in Ainkawa, near Erbil, Iraq, Kurdistan
Freshly baked Iraqi bread
Freshly baked Iraqi bread

LIFE

Life in general has obviously changed for millions of Iraqis over the last few decades. People thought toppling Saddam’s dictatorship would fix the country but far from it. Ten years on and there is still no political or day-to-day security.

Author of the renowned blog, Baghdad Burning, penned her thoughts for the anniversary of Iraq’s invasion, this year in her final post, Iraq, Ten Years On. If you’re interested in what the last ten years has been like, please read it!

The violence. The violence and friction that never used to exist has torn through everyone’s lives and killed more than a million people in less than ten years. Growing up, my parents lived side by side with all sects of Muslims and Christians but since the invasion, millions have left their homes and families to escape being terrorised and killed. This fighting is nothing to do with people on the ground hating each other – we’ve never known this friction between people before and have never once considered whether someone is Shia or Sinna – this is a new concoction, engineered by powerful political forces, manipulating the political vacuum and masquerading as religious fighting.

People have changed too. Religion is a dominant force now, as it is across most of the region, but it hasn’t always been that way. It’s generally assumed that as politics breaks down, religion rises in popularity and that’s certainly what’s happened in Iraq and the mid-east. My parents grew up in the sixties and seventies when religion was considered old fashioned; it was unpopular to wear the hijab (head scarf), let alone anything more covered – mini skirts were all the rage instead! It was deemed to be modern to be secular. Now you can’t walk through Baghdad without wearing a hijab, if not more.

Photos of Kirkuk in the 70s for example, show it to be a smart, glossy city with groomed gardens and parks, but years of war and neglect have left it tired and slightly ramshackled. Same with Baghdad, it was once one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and the birth place of modern civilisation. Not any more. Waste management for example is a huge problem across Iraq, with some streets covered entirely with rubbish and debris. Recycling? Forget it! So much needs to change it seems an impossible task.

This, I hope, won’t be my last visit to Iraq. Despite having never lived here I felt totally at home and really comfortable, almost like I belonged. Who knows what the future might hold, but looking forward to more experiences to share!

Stocking filler #4 Chocolate

Eden Project Chocolate with Baobab

I know I’m cutting it fine with Christmas present ideas so close to the festive wire but I’m sure I’m not the only one. Continuing the foodie theme for alternative Christmas giving, I’d say, with most people, you can’t go wrong with chocolate. Chocolate, like tea, has exploded with boutique, artisan and niche varieties enticing everyone to buy, try and eat more of this delicious food – like tea, chocolate is another foodie joy of mine.

Two new chocolate brands I’ve tried and loved recently, which you should check out if you can, are:

The Eden Project Chocolate with Baobab

Eden Project Chocolate with Baobab

Handmade in Cornwall, fairly traded cocoa and featuring that superfood buzz word, Baobab, I took one look at this chocolate and knew I’d love it. I’ve recently been sprinkling the super powder Baobab, produced from the formidable African baobab tree, on my porridge, in smoothies and juices as it’s super high in vitamin C and a great immune booster. This chocolate range is thick and chunky and the flavours strong and vivid. Cool combinations such as Baobab and Watermelon or Vanilla and Baobab along with colourful, illustrated packaging makes this a great gift. Plus Eden Project is an inspiration in environmental, ethical and socially responsible thinking so it’s a great place to shop and support. The chocolates are priced at a very reasonable £2.50 at edenproject.com.

IQ Superfood Chocolate 

IQ Chocolate - Stocking Filler #4 on Brighter Shade of Green

While the Baobab chocolate bar above is thick and chunky, this IQ bar is thin and snappy and equally full of flavour. Using natural, organic, ethically sourced and pure Criollo beans from Peru (I’m told this is a very sought after bean), there is no heat applied (no roasting or baking as most beans are) instead they are fermented at source then transported to Scotland. This makes it a great choice for raw foodies. It’s also blended with coconut blossom nectar (what a lovely sounding ingredient!) for natural sweetness as well as other ingredients to make interesting combinations such as Orange and Wild Raspberry, Plush Peppermint and Lusciously Lovely Lime; my favourite was the Espresso Kick Chocolate.

I tried this chocolate as part of my Raw Food Diet Challenge for Healthista.com and loved it – it was light enough for my 7-day clean diet and flavoursome enough to feel like I was getting a good hit of chocolate. Priced at £2.99 and available from retailers listed on the IQ website (which is fab by the way with cute illustrations to depict their story) or on their Facebook page.

Happy choco-holidays!

Stocking Filler #3 Abel & Cole

Abel and Cole on Brighter Shade of Green blog

Organic fruit and veg. Another not-so-sexy-sounding gift idea you might be thinking (I’m good at these) but we all need to eat so why not give the gift of great food?

Many years ago when Abel & Cole, the organic fruit and veg delivery service, first launched I signed up and was sadly disappointed. High prices for a few unremarkable vegetables, I thought. Then a few months ago a young man knocked on my door and offered an Abel & Cole trial, with a free cookbook. Hmm.. I considered. The trial meant I could order one box without committing to more. Ok. I gave it a try…

Wowee. Abel & Cole have changed and upped their game!

I picked a small vegetable box (no fruit) priced at £13. (Not a press sample). Very reasonable price I thought for a great selection of quality vegetables which included pointy cabbage, squash, mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. Tick one.

Abel and Cole on Brighter Shade of Green blog

Then I checked out the online selection service  and it turns out they have all the groceries covered so you literally don’t need to go anywhere else – dairy, eggs, meat, fish, bakery, cupboard food, drinks, household stuff, the lot.

A really easy-to-use website too so I ended up ordering another box and ton of veg for juicing and some bread. My whole week’s shop, all organic, all for under £20. I was impressed. I then had to speak to customer services to tidy up an error on my account – super helpful and unbelievably lovely. Tick, tick, tick.

All the farmers, growers and produce are sourced for their quality and environmental integrity and their stories showcased throughout Abel & Cole material which brings alive the human story behind the food.

Since my trial box, I’ve ordered several more all without committing to a weekly delivery – I just order when I want. People think it’s an expensive way to shop but it’s not; if you buy organic from the supermarket anyway then it’s about the same, if not more economical as the quality and service is better. Also every order I’ve had has come with recipe cards and a little gift – such a mini pack of eggs or a mince pie. Very cute.

I also love the communication and branding which is very sweet but not in an annoying way. They’ve struck the right balance between friendly, a bit jokey and inviting, and this is carried through everything they do. Maybe I’ve forgotten but I don’t remember the branding being so strong before and I think it really works.

I love the recipe cards and cookbook, full of easy and inspiring dishes which makes a big difference when you’re trying to think of what to cook.

So, if you’re looking for an alternative Christmas gift idea for a foodie friend or family, I can definitely recommend Abel & Cole. For me, great food makes a great gift!

Read more:
Give the gift of tea

Christmas rant

I hate christmas badges on brightershadeofgreen

I hate christmas badges on brightershadeofgreen

You may have noticed by my stocking filler posts that my Christmas gift ideas are not particularly festive but the reason for that is because I’m simply not that into Christmas. I hate the commercialism of Christmas and how it’s been hijacked by extreme consumerism and how everyone feels forced to buy, buy, buy. I think a lot of people feel the same, they just don’t say it or don’t feel like they can do anything about it so I’m airing my views in this Christmas rant.

My anti-Christmas mood starts bubbling as soon as the three-month build up begins and reaches a crescendo around Christmas eve when I’m utterly sick of painful songs in every shop and public space. Buying-on-demand is like forced fun and panic-buying pointless gifts that clog up our world is ugly, even though we all know that owning more things doesn’t make us happy.

Traditions can be endearing, if you like them (and a lot of people LOVE Christmas and that’s totally ok, as well as it being a cultural and religious event which I totally respect) but if you don’t like a tradition be free to break the norm; do something different, give something different, go somewhere different (if you want to) without fear of judgement.

It shouldn’t be a taboo to say you’re not into Christmas, and there’s no need for guilt trips from others. “You’re not getting a Christmas tree?!!!?!”, a friend shrieked at me last night. No, I’m not. It doesn’t make me weird, or a bad person; I’m just not that into it.

If you think a Christmas tree is tacky, why not celebrate by decorating your space with gorgeous winter blooms and berries instead? Don’t like the annual festive fuss? Go abroad and see what other cultures get up to or take a break away from it all. This year I’m going to the Middle East from mid-December and last year I went on a yoga retreat on Boxing Day until early Jan which gave me a welcome end of year recharge.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m no heartless Scrooge for not liking Christmas but I just hate having to conform and do things in a certain kind of way, at a certain time of year, especially when I have no religious or cultural attachments to the occasion. It can also be a sad time of year for so many who can’t celebrate with loved ones, family or enjoy it in the same way as others do.

I’ve still decided to do a Stocking Filler posts to offer alternative gift ideas for those celebrating; they are all great gifts in their own right and would make a fabulously ethical present any time of year, not just for show and not just for Christmas. Great if you’re stuck for ideas and fancy some alternative giving… 

Plus, my favourite Guardian columnist, Suzanne Moore has just written “My Tips for Surviving Christmas” which I absolutely loved as it sang a similar tune. Do check it out!

Stocking filler #2 Tea

tick-tock-lemon-ginger-honey-tea

Tea, glorious tea…

It’s definitely having a bit of a moment in the limelight and it’s my recommended choice for a perfect Christmas gift this year.

Boutique, loose leaf brews with the fancy combinations are catching my eyes everywhere and supermarket tea isles have suddenly expanded packing in new brands, more varieties and prettier boxes than ever before. Even traditional brands such as Twinnings seem to have upped their game.

As a gift, secret santa or just to try for yourself, I’ve picked a few new discoveries. Alternatively why not go for an experience and take a friend/lover/mum/dad/cousin/neighbour/mutual-Christmas-hater (see Christmas rant for more on that) to a tea house in town (sorry for the London-centric ideas):

Amanzi Tea has just opened in central London (just off Marylebone High Street) offering an impressively large variety of teas for all tastes. 40 blends to be precise. It’s like the Harrods for tea I guess. I’m due a visit soon so will be back with more info on that.

Also check out Camellia’s Tea House on Kingly Court in Soho, which I recently discovered (thank you Mark Smith), which serves traditional afternoon teas in a quaint setting.

If you’re enjoying a brew at home, time to put the kettle on…

tick-tock-lemon-ginger-honey-tea1. Tick Tock Rooibos Honey, Lemon and Ginger – a new brew for winter with a warming combination. If you like a kick of ginger this doesn’t fall short and the honey and rooibos give it a mellow edge. It’s gone down a storm in the BeautyMART office and I just about caught the last tea bag today – the rapidly empty box said it all. £1.99 at ticktocktea.com.

Eco credentials? Tick Tock supports the British Bee Keeper’s Association for bee health research; no GM crops, no additives and no chlorine-bleached tea bags; they also trade fairly and work with South African Rooibos Council to protect region’s agriculture.

2. Neal’s Yard Remedies New Organic Teas – a new collection of organic teas coming in eight varieties. The Vitality is my favourite with Siberian Ginseng, thyme and liquorice for a unique and uplifting brew.

Neal's Yard Remedies Vitality Tea great stocking filler on Brighter Shade of  Green

Just noticed NYR also has a glass mug with built-in diffuser which makes a great gift for loose tea lovers, like me. £2.99, nealsyardremedies.com

Eco credentials? 100% organic and Soil Association certified.

3. Camellia’s Handmade Herbal Infusion (not a press sample)

I discovered Camellia’s Beautiful Skin Tea on a visit to Nirvana Spa in Reading with Germaine de Cappucini and bought a box as I was instantly impressed by the interesting combination (dandelion and chickweed) and the way it was wrapped up in natural cloth and hand tied. Too cute.

Eco credentials: Can’t find any info on the website about where the tea is sourced etc but there is some mention of things being handmade in small batches.

4. Choi Time Teas

choi time tea flask with jasmine flower
Jasmine flower unfurling in the flask…

Last but certainly not least it’s Choi Time – a Chinese heritage tea brand, whose founder Melissa Choi is seriously passionate about the benefits of green tea and rose tea in particular. I discovered Choi Time several years ago and was luckily reintroduced to it recently.  The jasmine flower teas which open up as they brew make a visually impressive brew and all the teas are packaged in gorgeous boxes so they make excellent gifts as they are.

Another thing to check out is the Tea Flask, which Choi Time kindly sent me recently and I absolutely love, it’s a staple in my day. This 750ml flask has a compartment for lose tea leaves at the top and a built-in diffuser so you just top it up with hot water throughout the day and tip it upside down to brew. It’s the most convenient way of drinking lots of green tea, great for keeping skin glowing.

Eco credentials: Sourced personally by Melissa and directly from growers in China, who are connected to her family there. No conglomerates, no unfair trading.

So there we have it – tea is my recommended choice for alternative Christmas giving this year. It has an every day use, it’s good for you, delicious and is not a gift that will clog up your loved one’s life with unnecessary stuff!

Burning Man festival pictures

Burning Man Playa 2012 Brightershadeofgreen

Burning Man Playa 2012 Brightershadeofgreen

It was around this time last year I was in the middle of the Nevada desert fighting sand storms, gusty winds, extreme heat and extreme cold at the Burning Man festival. It was an extraordinary festival experience and a shame I never got a chance to write about it then. So, from the archives here’s my Street Style fashion gallery I wrote for Cosmopolitan.co.uk …I know am biased but I absolutely love this collection of party people on the Playa – all so brilliantly weird and wonderful. Take a minute to flick through, it’s totally worth a look!

CLICK HERE FOR MY COSMOPOLITAN BURNING MAN FASHION GALLERY

For anyone unfamiliar with Burning Man, it’s a festival of arts, music and creativity under the theme of Radical Self Expression in America’s Nevada Desert…It began in 1986 in San Francisco with just a few hundred people and now it’s around 60,000. Every year there is a theme and hundreds of people create festival art-cars, structures, sculptures and installations (like the one you see pictured above) which form part of the desert landscape for this week-long festival.

The challenge is to stay alive against the unrelenting desert elements – sand storms and extreme heat and winds are just part of the daily battle. You can’t go anywhere without your goggles (sand or ski goggles), head scarf, water, food/snacks, sunglasses, etc. It’s a logistical challenge!

Burners love to party, dressed up in weird fashion that’s somewhere between Mad Max and S&M. Huge camps set up immense sound systems until dawn, scattered around the festival site, which is a whopping 15-mile radius in the middle of the desert. Just don’t forget your bike.

Burning Man 2012 Art Car

   COMMERCE-FREE FESTIVAL

One of the key principles of Burning Man, is that no money is exchanged – this is a commerce-free festival. That means nothing to buy (apart from ice, tea and coffee) and you have to bring everything with you, (yes, absolutely everything).

The whole event has been created by the people for the people. I know that sounds a bit hippy but it’s cool…hear me out.. People donate their time,skills and resources throughout the year and during the event to create and build every structure, tent, installation, etc.

Imagine.. There’s a bowling alley and roller disco made of wood in the middle of the Playa; there are pirate ships to hang out in, there’s a make-belief Wall Street to burn down and real size temples to pray in… It’s all quite incredible.

Burning Man 2012 The Temple

 

The Playa provides everything you might need by… Feeling hungry? Just keep riding and you’ll stumble upon a big tent making fresh, oven baked pizza and cinnamon rolls (yes in the middle of the desert!); lost your sunnies or simply bored of the ones you have? Turn a corner and you’ll find a sunglasses swap-or-donate shop. There are hundreds of tents providing a multitude of services, activities, fun and drama … from getting your bike fixed to joining a group to write a letter to younger yourself. All the weird and wonderful is there…

Burning Man Japanese Tea Ceremony 2012
Burning Man 2012 Japanese Tea Ceremony

LEAVE NO TRACE

Another key principle is Leave No Trace. That means every structures, tent, building and art installation is built from scratch and pulled down or burnt down at the end with not a trace left behind. That goes for us too – we spent the week collecting every scrap of rubbish, being careful not to leave rubbish behind us. Makes a difference to our UK festivals.. Did you see this jaw-dropping picture taken after Reading Festival this year?! If only there was a Leave No Trace mentality…

The scenery is amazing with the white desert sand against colourful structures and blue skies. At night, it’s jet black (no lights provided on site) so everyone decorates themselves with lights and neon. It looks a bit like you’re in a pinball or computer laser game. Again, very surreal!

Burning Man 2012 Jump aboard the red bus
Jump aboard! Burning Man 2012

 

I could go on but if you want to know anything more just fire away in the comments box!

Burning Man Octupus Art Car 2012

 

Burning Man 2012 Dragon Car

 

Burning Man 2012 A view of the Playa

FOR MORE PICS CLICK HERE FOR MY COSMOPOLITAN BURNING MAN FASHION GALLERY

Dirty Sugar

Clean Sugar Campaign Cambodia

There’s a bitter fight brewing between sugar giants Tate & Lyle and villagers in Cambodia which is putting a sour taste in my tea and coffee. Locals claim Tate & Lyle has purchased land that’s been illegally cleared for sugar cane plantation and Tate & Lyle’s supplier is accused of ‘land-grab’, child labour and human rights abuses although Tate & Lyle denies this.

I watched this eye-opening video tonight on Guardian.co.uk on how Cambodian villages have been destroyed by the sugar cane industry and the not-so-sweet journey from plantation to sugar pot.

Let’s keep putting pressure on the EU and multi-national companies who are involved in this dirty sugar supply chain. Go to http://www.cleansugarcampaign.net/ to find out more…

 

READ MORE: Land grabs and illegal deforestation in Sumatra Rainforest

The Observer Ethical Awards 2013

Joanna Lumley The Observer Ethical Awards 2013 Photograph: Harry Borden
Joanna Lumley The Observer Ethical Awards 2013 Photograph: Harry Borden
Photograph: Harry Borden for the Observer

This week the 8th and annual Observer Ethical Awards were held to celebrate environmental, social and ethical activists and pioneers. The nominees and winners include the people, organisations and campaigners making a difference and doing something that stands out in the way of ethical thinking.

Taken from The Observer’s site (and in association with Ecover), here are the winners of this year’s awards – while I haven’t described what each winner is all about, I’ve included links to relevant sites so you can check out more info if you wish…

National Campaigner of the Year – Joanna Lumley – The Gurkha Justice Campaign and Marks and Spencer’s Shwopping

International Campaigner of the Year – Afghanistan student Malala Yousafzai

Well DressedRosalind Jana blogger of Clothes, Cameras and Coffee

Lifetime Achievement Award – Comedian and founder of Comic Releif Lenny Henry

Big IdeaLoowatt

TravelUnseen Tours (this is my personal favourite! Walking tours of London led by homeless/formerly homeless people who receive a majority share of the income)

Ecover Young Green Champions – students at Queen Elizabeth II High School

Unsung Local HeroFrancis McCrickard

Retailer of the Year – Organic food delivery service Riverford Farms

Arts and Culture – film, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Products and Services – medical supplies ColaLife

Business InitiativeVirgin Atlantic for developing an alternative fuel source for aviation

 

Read more on The Observer’s dedicated Ethical Awards page.

 

 

Could you live a plastic-free life?

The plastic vortex greenpeace environment campaign

Plastics greenpeace campaign

It takes 450 years for plastic molecules to break down and most households throw away a shocking 40kg of recyclable plastic a year – so it’s an environmental nightmare, but can you live without it? Meet a Plasticarian – a person who does not use plastic in The Independent on Sunday is my environmental news pick of the week and while the people in the article sounded a bit extreme (searching for places to buy toilet paper not wrapped in plastic), I think we could all benefit from a less plastic-fantastic life.

In retrospect, and without consciously doing so, I think I’ve definitely reduced my use of plastic over the past few years. I’ve stopped buying bottles of water when out on the go (I have plenty of stainless steel ones instead); fruit and veg I buy loose from the supermarket or market and pass on the small plastic bag; weekly fresh bread comes in a paper bag; there’s very little processed food in my weekly shop (food like chick peas, lentils, beans etc are all in tins); chocolate comes in cardboard; I rarely drink juice and I make my own hummus now (I used to buy at least a couple of supermarket tubs a week) so I definitely save tons of plastic there. I think cooking most things from scratch cuts down on a lot of packaging by default.

But I still use a toothbrush and I work in the beauty industry (so have crates of beauty products in plastic containers) so I’m by no means plastic-free , but my life (and waste bin) are certainly a lot lighter than they used to be.

But plastic is in everything these days and it really kind of upsets me. Even simple things like breakfast porridge has been turned into a plastic extravaganza with fancy microwaveable pots, transparent lids, portable spoons, etc and all ending up in the bin taking hundreds of years to degrade.

What’s wrong with buying porridge in a simple bag or box and cutting out all that waste, pollution, manufacturing, etc. But packaging manufacturers seem adamant on making us consume more and more heavy plastics in more and more unnecessary ways.

I’m not proposing boycotting this modern day convenience like some people in the Inde’s article because I know that’s not realistic but it’s worth being more conscious of the plastic we consume and dispose of. Our oceans, wildlife, birds, animals, marine life, our fish farming and ourselves will be far better off if we reduce, re-use and recycle (and even refuse) where possible.

Check out these sites for more info on plastics and our world…

Newsnight report on plastics polluting our seas

Plastic Oceans

Greenpeace Trash Vortex campaign

Lucy Siegle debates plastic vs glass