VegFest London 2016

VegFest 2016: Picture the scene from the 1971 ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’, the doors opened and a whole world of wonders lay waiting as we rushed out to explore. There were mountains of dairy-free ice cream, seitan trees and a river of cacao… okay, it wasn’t quite as dramatic but that is how it felt! It was truly inspiring to see stall upon stall of goodies that were not only suitable for vegans, but were made for vegans.


From confectionery to clothing VegFest had it all, filling up two huge areas on the 1st floor, loads of stalls upstairs on the 2nd floor, as well as several large rooms for talks and presentations about athletics, cooking and activism. It took me all day to make my way around (I was there from around 10:00 until 17:00) and I still only managed to get a quick glance at some of the stalls, I really regret not being able to attend both Saturday and Sunday.

It was great to see some of the vegans and brands that I knew such as Vegusto, Bute Island Foods (Sheese), Jollyum and the Dr. Hadwen Trust, as well as so many new and upcoming ones. I ended up spending far too much but there was hardly any guilt since I knew that my money had gone to support vegan friendly companies and groups (as well as some actual donations such as the Hillside Animal Sanctuary). I couldn’t resist getting a new t-shirt and hoodie (thank you Anticarnist!) patches for my jacket, stickers and plectrums (thank you Vegan Sidekick!) and an awesome new strap for my bass guitar made out of a recycled bike tire!


All in all it was a great day to be vegan, being surrounded by so many wonderful people really was a treat, I’m ready to book my ticket for next year already! I highly recommend you go to one of the VegFest events around the country if you haven’t already done so, it really is an amazing experience.

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How and Why to Help Bees: Top 10 Tips

You’ve most likely heard that disaster is heading our way in the form of bee populations declining, but not everyone knows exactly why this is bad or what they can do to help. Hopefully this article will help you understand the importance of bees (and other natural pollinators) and give you some ideas on what you can do to help bees, and save the planet.

Nature’s Matchmakers

The reason bees are considered so important is because they are natural pollinators, taking pollen from the male part of the plant (anther) to the female part (stigma) and triggering the formation of the fruit, seed or nut. Some plants can pollinate themselves, but others rely on animals to help them reproduce which is why natural pollinators are so important. Bees are especially good at this job because they tend to visit the same plant species in one outing, leading to an even distribution of pollen from other plants of the same species instead of randomly spreading pollen to different plants, in other words their pollination is of higher quality.

Bees are able to pollinate so well due to certain characteristics such as stiff hairs that catch pollen and leg pockets that store it, allowing for efficient transportation from plant to plant. They are responsible for pollinating around one sixth of the planet’s flowering plant species and approximately 400 types of agricultural plant. This is an extraordinary amount, experts suggesting that bees are responsible for around one third of everything we eat!

Impending Disaster

'dying bee' by oliver.dodd is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Now we know why bees are so important for the planet, why do they need saving? There are several factors that have led to huge drops in global bee populations that are threatening the environment and our very existence. Without bees doing the work of pollinating plants, humans would have to step in to do it manually, yes that’s right manually, which simply wouldn’t be possible. Imagine how much time, money and how many people it would take to use small brushes to pollinate food plants in the US alone each year, food prices would soar as availability dropped and starvation would follow. Even Albert Einstein appears to have commented on the issue saying:

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

So what is causing bees populations to drop?

The term CCD, colony collapse disorder, is used to describe the death or disappearance of bees from a hive and has become a major concern for governments. After several studies, evidence suggests that a combination of factors are affecting bees:

  • Shrinking habitats: As more and more land is used for development, bee habitats and foraging space is obviously being destroyed. Bees rely on large areas to forage, flying up to three miles from the hive in search of food. The problem is that large areas of wild plants and trees are destroyed for humans to build, and every time the space needed by the bees is taken away.
  • Poor nutrition: Farms are becoming monocultures of commodity crops such as wheat and corn which provide very little in the way of nutrition for bees, meaning the hive cannot be sustained; bees are literally starving to death. Also in attempts to maximise honey yields (especially in the US), the entire stock of honey is removed and replaced with cheaper high fructose corn syrup for the bees to eat during the winter. Honey contains all the nutrients, including bee specific hormones and enzymes, that are needed for the bees to remain healthy and boost their immune system against the viruses and parasites that now threaten them.
  • Parasites and viruses: One of the most destructive parasites are Varroa mites which are closely associated with CCD on a large scale. They are resistant to pesticides and have been a cause for concern since the 1980s. Chemical giant Monsanto hastily introduced chemicals to combat parasites and viruses, but instead made the problems worse. They produced an insecticide called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) derived from genetically modified corn which affected the bees, breaking down the stomach walls and essentially stopping them eating. This caused bees to become extremely weak and vulnerable to viruses and parasites, however powerful lobbying from powerful chemical companies such as Monsanto has kept these chemicals in use (even today) causing the continued destruction of bee populations worldwide.
  • Insecticides, pesticides and fungicides: Carrying on from the previous point, harmful insecticides are still being used in large quantities. Designed to kill off ‘pests’ that attack crops, these chemicals also kill off other insects, including bees. Chemicals such as neonicotinoids cause acute poisoning that destroys the central nervous system of bees, affecting entire hives even when used at what are considered ‘safe levels’. Bees take contaminated nectar back to the hive causing extreme toxicity and vulnerability to viruses and parasites which then spread. As said in the previous point however, these chemicals continue to be used due to the influence of the likes of Monsanto who place profits before lives.

As you can see bees are facing terrible issues thanks to human influence, so now we need to make changes to avoid their extinction. The effort must be made from both bottom up and top down action, but this affects us all so do your bit to help bees!

Top 10 Tips to Help Bees

'Bijenhotel Grimbergen Belgium' by Geertivp is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

  1. Plant bee friendly plants: Providing bees with forage is a great way to give them a helping hand. The best way to do this is plant patches of specific flowering plants (I will provide a list of examples below) since bees like volume of forage, a sq. meter is a good estimate. Avoid horticultural plants that are double or multi-petalled, these usually have extra petals instead of anthers, and bees prefer flowers that are blue, purple or yellow. Don’t forget that many plants we consider weeds, such as clover, are actually perfect to help bees, so letting your lawn or garden live a little can be a huge help. Here are some examples of plants that bees like:
    • Achilliea millefolium (Yarrow)
    • Verbena spp. (Verbena)
    • Rosemarinus officinalis (Rosemary)
    • Salvia spp. (Sage)
    • Lavandula spp. (Lavender)
    • Helianthus spp. (Sunflower)
    • Aster spp. (Aster)
    • Borago officinalis (Borage)
    • *Remember to buy seeds or plants that aren’t treated with pesticides, and if possible it is best to get native plants.*
  2. Plant Wildflowers: Set aside an area in your garden to allow wildflowers to grow freely, making sure to grow native plants. This will provide some excellent foraging spaces for the bees without taking much effort or space (unless you make your entire garden a wildflower paradise!). Certain grasses can be be quite resilient so you may have to opt for stronger plants such as Rhinanthus minor (Yellow Rattle) which can out-compete the grass. These areas are great not only to help bees, but many other insects and animals and can be quite a beautiful addition to any garden.
  3. Don’t Kill Bees! Many people get scared at the thought of bees because they don’t want to get stung (or may even be allergic) however we must understand that bees are not out to get you. Most bees are herbivores, and will not attack unless really provoked, and in fact will avoid doing so since they will die if they sting a human. Stay calm and still if a bee is around or lands on you, they will detect both the carbon dioxide from breath (usually someone screaming or shouting) and pheromones released with fear or anger that can stress out the bee and cause them to attack. However for the most part simply trying not to get in the bees’ way as much as possible by avoiding entrances to hives or paths to plants is the best way; don’t get in their way and they will leave you alone. The insects to look out for are actually things like wasps and hornets etc. that are carnivores and are much more likely to sting you and are attracted by things like sugary drinks.
  4. Provide Habitats and Help: Many people are now familiar with the concept of ‘bug hotels’ and the like, but did you know these are great for bees too? A friend asked me recently how these could help bees “because bees live in hives”, this is true but there are many species of bees that are solitary. They usually burrow underground or into wood to lay their eggs and spend their time foraging alone, so providing a safe place for them to stay is a great way to help (and making a bug hotel can be very fun). Don’t forget that bees need water too, so put out a shallow bowl or basin of water with some stones in for the bees to crawl on and let them have a drink, they’ll thank you!
  5. Don’t Use Pesticides: As you read before chemicals can have disastrous effects on bee health, so avoid using chemicals on your garden especially when plants are flowering. Chemicals may be an easy way to make your lawn or garden look pristine (and unnatural if you ask me) but they are causing terrible damage to wildlife. Try to find organic, chemical free methods of pest control to avoid causing damage and attract lots of pollinators.
  6. Try to buy local, organic produce: Farms that supply supermarkets use huge amounts of chemical pesticides and monocultural methods to meet demands, and as we have seen these are some of the main reasons behind bee population loss. So by trying to buy produce from local farmers that you can verify whether the food is coming from a monoculture or not you can avoid personally contributing to destructive farming. This is also a great way to contribute to your local community and reduce your food miles. You can also grow your own fruit and vegetables, which is a very rewarding project! Obviously if you aren’t vegan yet, buying honey from local raw honey is the best but not consuming honey at all would be better (you won’t add to global demand or exploit bees for their food).
  7. Allow Your Vegetables to Bolt: Allow a few leafy vegetables to ‘bolt’ (go to seed) after harvest. Seeding plants are the best for bees stocking up on food before the colder parts of the year. Unlike wasps that die out, bees just slow down and wait for Spring so make sure you help them gather supplies and they’ll be much better equipped to last.
  8. Spread the Word: One of the best ways we can help is by educating others; sharing your knowledge can have a ripple effect and do so much more good. Many people are only vaguely aware of the issues at hand, so spreading the word can alert them to the problems and kick them into action. You can share with friends and family, or even take the initiative to educate your local community as long as people are made more aware you are doing a great job. Children need to be shown that compassion is the key and shown that they can help, they are the ones who will carry these thoughts on and avoid making the same mistakes.
  9. Tell Councils and Governments That Bees Need Our Help: Not all the effort has to come from us at a household level, in fact top down pressure from councils and governments is necessary to change policies and make the world a friendlier place for bees. You can write letters, sign or start petitions and campaign to help natural pollinators, because when people stop calling for change the councils and governments will ignore the problems and allocate funding elsewhere. Only by fighting hard can we ensure the future of bees and thus the environment (and ourselves!).
  10. Consider Learning to Become a Beekeeper With Sustainable Practices: You can actually take beekeeping courses, as long as they are sustainable practices, and directly look after hives yourself. You can obviously keep bees without harvesting honey, which is great for vegans, but you have to learn about splitting hives etc. Although another option is to keep Mason bees which are solitary, don’t produce honey or wax, are resistant to Varroa mites and are excellent pollinators.

So now you know a little more about bees, why they are important, what the issues are and a few ways to protect them. As I said before one of the important aspects of fighting to help bees is to share knowledge and awareness, so share this article and do your best to protect the pollinators!

Don’t forget to subscribe to the website to receive updates for new content, you can also follow the Fox Eyed Man on Twitter, Facebook, Google+Tumblr and now Instagram for further discussions.

Image credits:

Featured Image: ‘Bee-apis‘ by Maciej A. Czyzewski is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

 ‘dying bee‘ by oliver.dodd is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Bijenhotel Grimbergen Belgium‘ by Geertivp is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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Being Vegan in Iceland

I’ve heard on several occasions that being vegan in Iceland was nigh on impossible, even to the point where the phrase “if you can be vegan in Iceland, you can be vegan anywhere” was created. This seemed like a challenge I would love to take on, and amazingly I was given the chance to do so when my university course announced an Erasmus partnership with Iceland. I jumped at the chance to see such an amazing country and examine the vegan scene and was on a plane to Keflavík as soon as possible.

I was to stay in Reykjavík for around six months to study at the University of Iceland, so I had plenty of time to explore and see how vegans, if there were any, lived in Iceland. What I found was completely unexpected, and I’m happy to say that the surprise was pleasant! Not only was I able to survive (uh, obviously) but I found the experience largely enjoyable; veganism is very much alive and kicking in Reykjavík. Now just so I don’t get caught out for misleading anyone, I am talking almost exclusively about the Icelandic capital Reykjavík here, I honestly cannot guarantee that it is as easy to be vegan anywhere else in Iceland. 

Firstly I was very pleasantly surprised by the ready availability of non-dairy milk alternatives in all of the supermarkets (soya, rice, oat, coconut, you name it they had it), even the ‘cheap’ market Bónus had a great selection. It was also easy to find all the vegan essentials such as plant based spreads (without palm oil!), peanut butter etc. There were loads of great things like chia seeds, vegan burgers and vegan cheeses such as Violife that were surprisingly cheap, well compared to the UK anyway.

However, and this is quite a big however, the fruit and veg situation is quite disappointing. It’s actually understandable since the climate is really not the best for growing things, and the geothermal powered greenhouses can only produce so much. Therefore the stuff you get from the fruit and veg section of the supermarket that has had to be shipped in is a little expensive and looks quite pitiful. Many of the more delicate items, like tomatoes and peppers, had to be used promptly or else they would go bad extraordinarily quickly, but as a vegan, eating through your food inventory fast is to be expected! Just to go back to the greenhouses though, they are actually very impressive and can produce some amazing crops such as coffee and tropical fruits because of the heating capabilities of the geothermal energy, so hopefully we’ll be seeing more from Icelandic greenhouses in the future.

As for eating/drinking out, there are actually several great places to go. Most cafés stocked non-dairy milks and many had snacks that were suitable for vegans, one of my favourite spots was an artsy little coffee shop called Café Babalú near the iconic Hallgrímskirkja. Not only did they have friendly staff and a welcoming atmosphere, but they had an amazing vegan carrot cake! I even went out several times for evening meals in Reykjavík, since there were a few places to choose from. A couple of my favourites were: Núðluskálin, a Thai noodle bar that could make any of the menu items vegan by using tofu and vegetable broth, and Gló, a restaurant that not only had a full vegan menu, but had raw options, yes you heard right raw options (including raw desserts!).*

vegan in Iceland - 'Cafe Babalu, Reykjavik' by anja_pfeiffer is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

My usual spot, Cafe Babalu

So I had a full belly and a fully stocked fridge, but what about other supplies such as clothing? Many traditional Icelandic items are based on animal products, since plants weren’t very abundant and animals were kept by most people. Clothing such as woollen jumpers (sweaters) were common and fashionable, and leathers and furs seemed to be widespread, but I am happy to say that there were many places to kit yourself out with synthetic materials that worked just as well (besides most people realise Iceland is cold and turn up with their own gear from home anyway, but it’s reassuring to know all the same).

So all in all I would say that being vegan in Iceland is indeed possible and isn’t really hard at all. There are many options and lots of vegan friendly things available, which is really impressive considering the population of Reykjavík is around 120,000 (the whole country of Iceland has only 300,000 people!). Just a few warnings for anyone considering a visit, make sure to avoid any establishment that serves whale meat as a special dish (which is unfortunately quite common), this is to send a message that whaling needs to stop. I honestly find it quite sickening that some tourists will pay to go on a whale watching cruise to ‘connect with nature’ and will step off the boat straight into a restaurant and order whale meat as a delicacy! Also, be prepared to completely avoid the meat section in the supermarket unless you want to see piles of frozen sheep heads… seriously people, wtf.

[Edit: I was recently reminded of a great little café in Reykjavík called Kaffi Vínyl, just of the main shopping street Laugavegur. I visited on several occasions and thought it was a super place to hang out, as the name suggests they play LPs (and sell them?). The very same person who reminded me of Kaffi Vínyl also let me know that they are currently travelling across Iceland and are having no trouble.]

*I was doing some research and found a thesis from 2015 that was trying to evaluate the prospective success of a vegan restaurant in Iceland (read it here), and I guess the idea has been proven somewhat successful with the opening of Gló, isn’t that something!*

Thanks for reading boys and girls, I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about being vegan in Iceland, and maybe you would like to visit now right? Honestly though it is an amazing place, so beautiful and unique it was painful to leave. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below!

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Featured Image by The Fox Eyed Man

Cafe Babalu, Reykjavik‘ by anja_pfeiffer is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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