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Living life with good intention, loving with soul, and consuming with a conscience

June 19, 2019

Book Club No. 20



It's time for another Book Club post gang and this time around, it's a total mixed bag in terms of genre and my ratings! Reading has kind of taken a backseat for me recently and I really need to get out of the funk. Myself and some friends were talking about this recently and we all said that we find it *much* easier to read more when we're away from home and therefore away from other distractions such as Netflix, scrolling through our phones for hours at a time... Can some of you relate?! That being said, I did finish these two very different books over the past month and thought I'd share my opinions on them in case you're looking for a new read:



Sons of Cain - A History of Serial Killers from the Stone Age to the Present | by Peter Vronsky
If you're new around here, you might not know my strong interest in serial killers and true crime. I've blogged about some of my favourite true crime books before but I'm always open to reading many more! This one came to me in the form of a Christmas present from Matt and I was intrigued from the outset. I'm aware of Peter Vronsky and his true crime/serial killer publications but this one seemed so unique as it spans the full extent of serial killing. It explores cases and recorded incidents throughout history that were not deemed as "serial killings" at the time as the phrase and definition had not yet become "a thing", but that could fit the mould now now that we know more about the term and what it defines. As a qualified archaeologist, this instantly peaked my interest as the promise of looking at historical accounts that predate the "well known" killers, as far back as the stone age, just sounded too good.

Sons of Cain does a great job of covering so many historical cases that I otherwise wouldn't have heard of (think "werewolf" reports from the 18th century and more) and also talking about the psychology behind serial killers. It talks in depth about how and why there was such a spike in serial killers in the 70s/80s and it was interesting to learn how other historical events could impact the most famous individuals we think of when we consider this topic. Although I did enjoy this book, it's not receiving a totally a 5/5 star review. A running theme I find very common in true crime writing is the author dropping their other released work all over the place. Vronsky refers to his other works quite regularly throughout the book and whilst that's absolutely fine and makes sense to do, if I find it really noticeable and it distracts me as a reader from the actual content of the book, that's when I just find it frustrating and unnecessary and unfortunately, that's level of name-dropping Vronsky hit for me. Sons of Cain is very well researched with mentions of other books or source materials throughout but I found sometimes that it went almost into too much detail. For example, if Vronsky mentions some magazines from the 60s/70s that were blamed for influencing some serial killers, he literally lists every single magazine - even if there's 30 of them - and thus I totally switched off mid-sentence more than I thought I ever would with any book. He uses quotes and information from these sources he has evidently read which again, is a positive thing but, they're very rarely paraphrased or used just to emphasise a point being made. Instead it almost comes across as if Vronsky had a certain page number to aim for and just bulked out chapters by including a two-page long quote every now and again. The quotes themselves I started to skip over because it just seemed to pull me away from the content more than it added to it so it was a bit lost on me.

One last gripe I had with the writing style was Vronsky's seemingly limited vocabulary, particularly towards the end of the book. I noticed more and more as the chapters went on that he referred to male serial killers as "male reptilian" when discussing their mindset, thought process etc. and I honestly shut the book in frustration and stopped reading for the evening on more than one occasion because of this. When you're writing a book, surely a variety of language and wording is something that you want to strive for to keep the reader engaged, not simply use your most favourite phrase to the point that it pisses off the reader, y'know? All in all, I would recommend this book despite it's few flaws in the way it is written because you are getting that unique insight into serial killers and historical accounts that are not usually mentioned in other works. You're also getting more information about the psychology behind the killers and statistics that show traits and developments in this topic area whereas I find many true crime books I've read focus on particular individual cases rather than producing general information about how those individuals are actually categorised and analysed by the police and other professionals. Sons of Cain is available for around £9.43 here



More Than This | by Patrick Ness
At this point, I wouldn't even be that surprised if a Patrick Ness book makes its way into each Book Club post for the foreseeable future because by now, y'all must know how much I love his writing. More Than This is my most recent read of his and surprise surprise, I thought it was bloody brilliant. It centres around a young teenage boy named Seth who drowns in the ocean and wakes up on an empty, abandoned street in England. He can remember the feeling of drowning, his bones breaking and the injuries he endured, but wakes up absolutely fine with no signs of the injuries he sustained and what's stranger is he drowned in America - how has he ended up in a desolate street in England? A street that seems to have seen no life for a considerable amount of time?

Seth believes that he must have woken up in hell because nothing else makes sense to him at this point. He comes to realise that he's actually back in his childhood street which he lived in with his mum, dad, and younger brother many years ago before they moved to the USA and it raises so many developing questions for him. I feel like if I say anything more at this point, it will completely give the whole plot away so instead, let me say what I liked about this book because yet again, I fell in love with Ness' writing. I read More Than This in three days and struggled to put it down. It's a very easy read (which is a bold statement for me to make as someone who is a very slow reader and who is easily distracted) and I believe Ness' fast-paced but slow revealing writing style was responsible for this. The story creates such a great sense of urgency and action needed with each page turn whilst somehow developing the characters well and giving them and the overall story and world a great level of depth. I enjoyed the fact that we jump from Seth in the present - in the "English hell" that he's woken up in - to past Seth and learn more about his life, why he drowned, his friendships and more. Ness manages to create a world in which you as the reader of Seth's journey can feel the isolation he is experiencing and the freedom of time and not having commitments in this new world he's woken up in but also desperation of needing answers and a sense of familiarity to stay sane.

The book builds so well in my opinion and took on twists and turns that I wasn't expecting and couldn't predict so it kept me on my toes from start to finish. The story escalates in the last third of the book in such a way that I found myself feeling really attached to the characters and wanted the best outcomes for each of them, no matter what was happening. There's an element of almost humour from Ness in the fact that he writes Seth as quite a sarcastic guy who seemingly predicts what's about to happen next which, almost threw me off the scent of what was actually going to happen next because Seth had already suggested that so you assume that's not what will happen but then - bam! Sometimes that's exactly what happens. You feel part of the plot as you read along as the characters are so palpable through the pages and like I said, I found myself wanting them to succeed in each of their individual stories. With the characters in mind, I laughed out loud at times due to their interactions as a group and thought that Ness does an astounding job of discussing difficult themes such as suicide, violence, abuse etc. in a way that is incredibly mature given the book's target audience. It's has incredibly sobering themes running throughout shrouded by the overall sci-fi feel and I honestly think very few authors would be able to pull of something similar.

Although I did love reading this, it's not my favourite book from Ness purely because I had some questions throughout it that aren't answered at any point or they felt a bit like a plot hole. The book ends on *such* a huge cliffhanger as well and is comes swooping so bloody fast that I was almost pissed off that I was finished the book. In an odd way, I don't totally hate that it got that reaction from me, but it does mean I'm now sat in this limbo between wanting a sequel so my many questions are answered whilst also hoping the book is left as a standalone and the mysteries it doesn't answer become the best qualities about it. If you want to read something that's incredibly gripping but easy to lose yourself in for just a few hours or days, definitely grab More Than This for as little as £6.48 here



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June 13, 2019

Low Waste Eco-friendly Transitioning Tips: Groceries & Food Waste



Welcome back to the Low Waste Transitioning Tips mini-series! One of the first things that immediately springs to mind for many of us considering a more low waste/eco-friendly lifestyle is without a doubt our groceries and food waste. Although in my first post in this mini-series I talked about our consumer culture, it's hard to apply that so much to food as it's something we need to sustain ourselves and simply well, live! I'm also a big believer in enjoying food and not feeling remotely guilty about any of it so we will see none of that sort of negative ninniness here. When it comes down to being more low waste with your food and groceries, it's not so much the consumer culture you need to watch out for but more just approaching your decision-making in the supermarket etc. a little differently. So here's some easy tips to think about next time you're out or online doing your big food shop:

Look for products that are in glass or cans:
A nice easy way to immediately cut down on how much packaging waste you consume during your grocery shop is buying items that are in recyclable containers. Tin cans, jars, glass bottles, cardboard boxes etc. can all be locally recycled whereas items in plastic trays, bags etc. aren't so easily disposed of. Of course some items will only ever come in plastic packaging and that makes it unavoidable to have a totally plastic-free shop but, if you are purchasing something such as ketchup for example, opt for the glass bottle alternative compared to the squeezy plastic bottle. Some plastics used for food packaging can actually be recycled but it's worth familiarising yourself with whether or not they can be as it is usually stated on the packaging itself if it isn't recyclable. Another bonus to buying items in glass jars is that you can repurpose those after you've finished the food item. Think drinking jars for on-the-go hydration, storing ingredients like sugar, oats, seeds, using glass bottles as vases - there's so many possibilities!

Use reusable bags in every sense:
We're all aware of the push to use reusable carrier bags when shopping in general, but have you considered the single use produce bags you might run into in the fruit and veg or bakery/deli counter sections? Many items such as loose fruit and veg or even bread don't necessarily need a bag to keep them in but if you do want to use some for things such as deli counter cheeses, cold meats, bakery pastries etc., invest in some reusable bags for those items too! There are many great options available online and anything from net bags to beeswax wraps can be helpful. Most food stores and supermarkets are more than happy for you to use your own containers and bags as long as you ask in advance if items need to be weighed so your choice of container doesn't tip the price over!



Avoid plastic in store and overbuying:
I've already covered this more or less but, if you do not need to buy fruit and veg in plastic packaging, then don't. It's really that simple. Of course this is dependent on need, availability, and whether or not the store you are using actually stock plastic-free fruit and veg (looking at you, Aldi - you tend to have a lot of packaging and not a lot of loose items!). Sometimes loose fruit and veg can be cheaper but other times it can be more expensive. It's all about getting familiar with your local shopping options and making choices that suit your needs and how you want to tackle being more low waste. It's also important to not overbuy produce just because of the price tag or convenience. I used to be *so* guilty of this in the past and would do something like buy a big plastic bag of carrots instead of 3 loose ones because "the big bag was only £1.20 and that's the same price as the 3 loose ones!". That mentality is a fine argument if you actually intend to use all of those carrots, but if you're just going to end up throwing them out, save yourself the trouble and food waste by not even purchasing them in the first place.

Plan your meals:
Oh my goodness, I cannot stress enough how helpful this point can be for minimising your groceries waste. Planning and cooking your own meals instead of using a lot of "instant food" can improve your cookery skills, widen your pallet and knowledge of food, but also stop you from wasting produce. Planning meals ahead of your food shop not only stops you buying unnecessary extra items "just because you fancied it", but it also means you don't overbuy fresh produce that may go out of date in the next few days. Planning meals can prevent you from getting overwhelmed by the amount of produce you have at home and makes it easier visually to know what you have in stock and thus what you can use. If by the end of the week you've planned you have some things left over, you know you can include them in your next meal choice to minimise that produce going in the bin too. I've noticed a considerable difference in how much food waste is in my household since becoming stricter with meal plans. The only times I feel that food gets thrown out is when the devil on my shoulder has convinced me to have a takeaway and thus, fucked my plan up for the week. Which leads me onto my next point...

Do you really need that takeaway?:
Don't worry. I'm not about to suggest that getting a takeaway is the devil incarnate, but something I've thought a lot more about recently is the excessiveness that can come along with it. We all know takeaways can be pretty expensive and therefore many of us see them as a "treat" - including me - but something I've been thinking about more and more is the fact that I often over order due to deals (remember what I said about the supermarket store deals earlier?) and how much effort is involved in getting it to my door. Delivery options such as Deliveroo with bicycles isn't so bad but, when you consider that someone jumps in a car or on a motorbike to bring you a single meal to your door, when you're trying to have a more eco-friendly impact on your environment, it does make you stop and think "what the fuck am I doing?!". Of course everyone gets a takeaway at some point, but if it's local - maybe go and collect it. Don't have them as frequently. Or even go out for dinner instead if it's an option.



Eat less meat and dairy in your diet:
This point is always a common one when promoting a more eco-friendly diet and for good reason. Although I am still a meat-eater myself, over the past year especially I have made a conscious decision to eat a lot more vegetarian and vegan meals in my weekly meals and it's *such* an easy change to make. Meat is expensive for your bank balance but also for the environment. The meat and dairy industries produce 60% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and even the meat and dairy products with the least impact are still more environmentally harmful than the least sustainable vegetable or cereal agricultural growing. Meat and dairy production create greenhouse gasses but also use a lot of water and land resources that of course, could be better used elsewhere. I'm not suggesting that everyone becomes vegan overnight because of course, that's a) hypocritical of me and b) completely unrealistic due to an array of reasons such as dietary requirements, accessibility, financial constraints etc. but choosing to take part in meat-free Mondays for your evening meal or dabbling in plant-based milks or yoghurts? That is something attainable that if everyone participated in, could have a huge positive impact on the environment. It has also totally widened my knowledge of food, recipes, tastes, textures, and health. Even making better, more informed choices when it comes to your meat can help. It was only yesterday that National Geographic published an article suggesting switching beef for chicken can half your dietary carbon footprint which is such a good stepping stone in the right direction to becoming more eco-friendly.

Support stores who make the pledge:
Over the past year or so, supermarkets have come under fire for either their packaging choices, sales of certain products (like items with palm oil as an ingredient), amongst other things. Therefore it's important to support all stores - major chains and independent - who have made a pledge to make low waste changes. These could be changes they have already actioned that you agree with or something that they're working towards. Either way, it's good to acknowledge pledges to show stores that these are changes that we want to see and that they have the support of the general public. Some great recent changes and pledges have been Morrison’s becoming the first supermarket to banish single use plastic on their fresh produce and Waitrose have just opened their first store that has bulk buying sustainable options for anything from grains, fruit and veg, to beer and wine! I always suggest shopping locally for fresh produce if and when you can as it's important to support local suppliers and their trades (it also minimises consuming produce that has clocked up air-miles/pollution/a carbon footprint count due to transport) but of course, if your local supermarket are making positive steps and changes - give them your backing!



Bulk shop if you can:
One last point in terms of shopping - if you can buy bulk, absolutely do it. I'm not talking bulk as in amount (we've already discussed how those "bargains" can actually be pretty wasteful), but more like the zero/low waste store kind of bulk. Unfortunately the "local" low waste bulk store for me is actually a train ride away so I can't really use it, but if you live close by to one or you can plan time to go to one if it's convenient or you have a friend who is happy to help you carry your goods home, you should jump at the chance. Buying from bulk stores means you can buy a range of products - from shampoo to pasta to cereal and more - and not pay for any packaging or labels because you take along your own containers. Bulk stores are of course low waste and eco-friendly due to this fact and you can often save money in the long run as you can buy large amounts of your favourite ingredients and products.


That's it for this instalment of my low waste eco-friendly transitioning tips mini-series! Hopefully these few pointers can make shopping and food prep just that little bit easier and you will hopefully see results in no time. To check out other transition tips, click here


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June 09, 2019

Sustainable Sundays: Sustainable Fashion on a Budget



There's been a fair few fashion-related Sustainable Sunday posts on the blog over the last year or so and back in March 2018, I shared some brands and schemes on the high street to get more into sustainable fashion if you're on a budget and therefore can't contend with the price tag that is usually connected to sustainable, eco-friendly, ethical etc. brands. Since then though, it's come to my attention that actually? There's a lot of other ways you can get more sustainable with your wardrobe when you're on a budget because I've been there and done that.

So let's go through some easy transition tips and reminders that can serve you well throughout a sustainable wardrobe change and can help you stay on track whether you have 1p or £1000 to spend:

Use what you already own
It might sound obvious but, when we think of creating a sustainable wardrobe, we unfortunately go straight into consumer mode and start to think about all the new things we need to buy but *the* easiest way to get more sustainable is starting with what you already own. Of course having a good clear-out and Marie Kondo sort out can work wonders but you can also switch up items that you own so that you actually use them more. Dying items, changing buttons on a shirt to make it more on-trend, DIYing a pair of jeans into shorts... there's so many possibilities! Changing your own items so they get a second chance means they can be changed to suit your style or a new purpose and of course, its the cheapest way to get some "new" items in that wardrobe.



Take care of what you own
If you want your clothes to last, particularly if you're heading into a more slow fashion/sustainable lifestyle, it is paramount that you take care of your items. It's embarrassing to say but until fairly recently, I used to just toss all of my clothes in the wash and pay zero attention to the laundry instructions on their tags. Since gaining more and more sustainability within my wardrobe, I've learned to care for my clothing more and it has made the world of difference to keeping my wardrobe in good condition and helping me get the most out of my clothes. Some top tips I swear by are:
- re-wear items as much as you can before washing them
- try using refresher sprays between washes if you need to!
- always make sure to wear a top underneath a jumper (for example) to stop sweat contacting the jumper - you'll get some extra wears out of it that way!
- I said it before but: read the labels! They're there for a reason
- store clothes kindly too (don't hang up heavy knitwear as it will lose it's shape overtime, clean and polish leather goods - especially winter boots)
- put your clothes away. We are all guilty of throwing clothes around our rooms when getting dressed or never tidying away the clean laundry pile for ages, but your clothes all have a home. Use it and keep them in a suitable cool environment that is out of direct sunlight to really help them last

Create a capsule or seasonal wardrobe
As someone who has tried a capsule wardrobe numerous times, these either work for you or they simply don't. But when I first transitioned into slow fashion over 2 years ago, creating a capsule wardrobe in my head and in real life really helped me get the most out of the pieces I loved and already owned and helped me become a more conscious consumer from the start of this new lifestyle choice. It helped me gain some focus on what my personal style truly entails and thus helped me save money by avoiding out of character purchases and spur of the moment spending. I'll be honest and say that I've struggled to maintain a capsule wardrobe and loosely have a seasonal one instead, but it has still helped me to think twice about my investments and what new items I want to bring into my wardrobe.

Another great reason to try a capsule or seasonal wardrobe is it helps you truly appreciate what you own and shop your wardrobe! I actually really enjoy putting my thick winter knitwear away in storage in spring to revisit in autumn/winter as I forget which items I've stored and get a chance to fall back in love with them all over again. It also helps create a constant learning curve as I can analyse which items I didn't really wear or what I've grown out of wearing and enjoying when next winter rolls around.



Get capsule with your colours and silhouettes
If a capsule wardrobe sounds too restrictive, you can still use some of its philosophy to positively influence your spending and choices when buying new items. Looking beyond fast fashion trends and instead turn in on yourself and really get to grips with your personal style. For me, I've realised that blue denim, grey/white/tan knitwear, midi and maxi flowy dresses and 3/4 sleeve tops are my go-to's so if I'm debating buying a bright pink short dress, chances are I'm going to look at it in my wardrobe, 6 months later, and it will still be sat there unworn. Knowing that silhouettes, fits, and colours I gravitate towards helps me make positive decisions when getting something new but also helps making a switch to a sustainable wardrobe much more effective, readily used, and most importantly - loved!

Buy Secondhand
Another potentially obvious point, but sourcing items secondhand is an easy way to get more sustainable when budget is tight. Not only is it kinder on the purse or pocket, but there's so many items of clothing already out there that providing clothing with a second home can be kinder on our planet too. 26 billion pounds of clothing are sent to landfills each year and 95% of them could be reused or recycled. Those are some staggering statistics that have helped me fight off the fast fashion consumer demon temptation at times. The average person wears an item only 3 times before getting rid of it too which is a hard stat to get your head around when clothing is meant to be an investment; not disposable items.

Not only are there benefits in preventing clothing from going to landfill by buying secondhand, but it can also help lower carbon emissions and the waste caused in the creation of many items. For example, to make one single t-shirt, it takes 2720 litres of water - that's equivalent to what a person drinks over a 3-year period. Don't even get me started on denim because it's even worse! A fascinating statistic I saw not too long ago was that if every person in America bought one single secondhand clothing item in 2019 instead of it's new clothing alternative, it would save 6 billions pounds of carbon emissions. When you realise the impact fashion has on the planet, that new dress just really isn't worth it.



Invest when it's needed
Although we can all agree that sustainable fashion is often quite pricey, there are obvious good reasons for the price tags and also good reasons when the price tag shouldn't put you off. I used to very much be *that person* who was quantity over quality when it came to clothing but now I've realised that items I know I will wear for a long time should be investments so they can truly stand the test of time. I always recommend creating a small list of the sort of items you know you wear almost daily or will wear year in year out that are your timeless "staples" and investing in these items (things like black winter boots, a leather jacket, or a good fitting pair of jeans) by saving up for them. It might seem steep to pay out for these items at first, but because you're investing in quality items that are made well and from good materials, the cost-per-wear will become so low because they will stay in great condition for years to come.

Natural vs. synthetic fibres
Speaking of "good materials", researching and learning what fibres and materials are good to look for in your clothing can really help when you're on a budget. Knowing what to look for can be good for when you're buying secondhand and when you're investing so it's a win win situation no matter what. A lot of fast fashion items can be made with synthetic fibres such as polyester which can take anywhere between 20 to 200 years to decompose or nylon which takes 40-50 years to decompose in landfill. Natural fibres however - such as cotton, linen, bamboo etc. - have a much shorter decomposition cycle and therefore if they do unfortunately end up in landfill, they won't take as long to erode away. Natural fibre decomposition cycles look a little like this:
- linen: 2 weeks
- hemp: 2-4 weeks
- cotton: 5 months
- bamboo: 1 year

As you can see, these natural fibres break down much quicker and not only that, they are much easier to replace and grow in an agricultural sense. A lot of sustainable and ethical brands focus on using these natural fibres because of this and it makes the whole consumer cycle much more friendly for the environment. For instance, tencel has become a very popular material to use recently because not only is it quickly biodegradable as it is plant-derived, but it also requires less water and energy during it's manufacturing process than cotton does. Even if you're buying fast fashion secondhand, checking the labels and buying items that are 100% cotton, for example, is a small but smart move for a more sustainable wardrobe.



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