Category Archives: Blog

Blog posts by members

Feed our Future: providing meat-free and plant-based school meal options for all

FEED OUR FUTURE: Calderdale 

Sometimes it can seem hard enough to get a school just to provide vegan meals for vegan pupils. Many parents have faced this battle. Feed Our Future aims to go much further than this. Working with ProVeg UK and Plant-based Health Professionals, the campaign wants schools to have two meat-free days every week and offer attractive plant-based options on the other three days. Asking for two meat-free days per week doesn’t display lack of ambition – it’s all that’s possible under the current School Food Standards, which require meat to be served three days per week, dairy five days per week and fish once every three weeks. The Standards are due for review but there is no timetable for this so far. 

Where local authorities have declared a climate emergency, this proposal can be presented as a measure which will help them to meet their climate change targets. Plant-based menus also improve children’s consumption of fruit and veg and are more inclusive in terms of dietary and religious requirements.  

Calderdale has declared a climate emergency – indeed it was one of the first to do so – but does not have control of school meals, delegating the matter to individual schools or groups of schools. There are also several academy schools which are not under local authority control at all. However, Calderdale is working with an organisation called Food for Life, which is part of the Soil Association. Liz and Myra  met the Calderdale lead from Food for Life, and found her to be very responsive to our proposal. Indeed, they had already trialled some plant-based meals with school caterers. Unfortunately, the cooks were not impressed and considered that the children would not like the food.  

We are undeterred, however, and have held a second meeting attended also by Colette Fox of ProVeg UK. By means of its School Plates programme, ProVeg UK has an innovative approach to designing menus in a way to make all kinds of food appealing to children, and also provides free training to school catering teams 

Our next step is to set up a meeting with the Calderdale Public Health officer with responsibility for sustainable food. We hope she will be able to help us make some vital contacts with school heads. 

Food for Life so far works with 11 local authorities in the north of England and the midlands. We hope via this campaign to be able to make a difference to school food in Calderdale and beyond. Watch this space! 

FEED OUR FUTURE: Bradford 

3 Valley Vegans member Anne Taylor lives in the Bradford area, where the situation is different from Calderdale. Read about her experiences campaigning on school food. 

Following my own family experience of trying to get vegan school meals under the free school meals system unsuccessfully until near the end of the free period, I have been writing to councillors and my MP in Bradford. Emails to my MP have resulted in communications between myself and Vicky Ford MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, regarding the School Food Standards, which make it mandatory for schools to provide meat 3 times a week and dairy every day to all school age children. I have found out the School Food Standards are underpinned by the Scientific Advisory Committee for Nutrition (SACN) with their public health nutritionist a member of the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board beef and lamb sector board and acting chair. The AHDB provides educational resources for schools about where our food comes from, though no mention of the impact on the planet.  

I have discovered there are many groups involved in trying to change the school meals system, and recently came across Joe Brindle’s campaign Teach the Future, which is about making all school subjects include climate change education. I have emailed Joe regarding the importance of the food provided at schools too which he has replied to and agreed food is something that needs to be looked into, so is passing on to his team. 

I have emailed various councillors with influence over health or the climate emergency but have had a poor response so far. I have also made a Freedom of Information request for a list of which schools get their meals from private catering companies and which have school meals provided by the council. I am awaiting a reply. 

I believe the more people who contact their MP or councillors or talk to schools about this the greater the chance that change will eventually come. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to focus on the Feed Our Future campaign for two days meat free days per week. 

You and your gut microbiome!

What is the microbiome?

Did you know that there are as many microorganisms living inside and on you as there are cells in your entire body?  That means that half of your body is made up of other living beings – microorganisms – which are so small that they can only been seen through a microscope. Microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae and viruses. They live in and on different parts of your body but most of them are in your digestive tract (gut) and most of the microorganisms in the gut that affect your health are bacteria. Collectively, all these microorganisms are called the microbiome (or microbiota) and recent research indicates that the microbiome has a huge impact on your health!

Everyone’s microbiome is unique to them with different numbers and types of microorganisms; some of which are good for you and some are not. There is still so much we don’t know about the microbiome but this article will discuss how the it affects our health and what you can eat to improve your own microbiome.

The microbiome and our health

Many different factors affect your microbiome including how you were born (e.g. by caesarian), whether you live with other animals, lifestyle factors, such as diet and exposure to toxins, use of antibiotics and other medicines and stress. These factors affect both the number of bacteria, the types of bacteria and the diversity (how many different species there are).  Everyone’s microbiome is different and there is now research looking at how different foods could be used with different people to improve their health.

The bacteria and other organisms in the gut depend on us for their survival but they also give us something back, as long as they are healthy and there is a good variety of bacteria. Some bacteria that live in our gut are good for us, some don’t have any effect and some are not so good for us. The ones that are good for us can do lots of different things, for instance:

  • Produce nutrients such as vitamin K and some of the B vitamins.
  • Digest some types of fibres to produce short chain fatty acids and gases which fight a number of diseases (more about these later).
  • Produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of other microorganisms that cause disease e.g. Clostridium difficile and E. coli.
  • Produce other chemicals that interact with the nervous system or reduce levels of inflammation in the body.

There are many different ways in which we think the microbiome helps to prevent disease. For instance, it is particularly important for a healthy immune system. The body interacts in a complex way with the microorganisms in your gut to improve your immune response to infection so that you can fight off the invading bacteria or viruses without fighting your own cells and organs.

Some species of bacteria in your gut produce chemicals called short chain fatty acids which are vital in tackling a range of diseases. For instance, one of these short chain fatty acids called butyrate provides energy for a type of human cell that destroys cancer cells. Butyrate also helps to regulate glucose levels. Another short chain fatty acid called propionate regulates the body’s feeling of fullness after eating. Acetate, another short chain fatty acid, regulates cholesterol in the blood and again may help to regulate appetite.

Some microorganisms produce chemicals which produce an inflammatory effect in the body whilst others produce an anti-inflammatory effect. Inflammation is linked to a wide range of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

There is increasing evidence that the microbiome is linked to a healthy brain and to your mental health. For instance, research suggests that eating certain foods can improve your feeling of well being and a healthy microbiome is involved in the production of the brain hormone serotonin which helps to stabilise your mood and make you feel happy.  Other research suggests that conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are more likely in people with an unhealthy microbiome.

Unhealthy bacteria produce chemicals which help to cause disease, such as a chemical called TMAO which raises the risk of heart disease. TMAO is produced by the bacteria in the gut when you eat animal products, so vegans are at an advantage here.

The microbiota may also play a part in the development of obesity. People who are obese have different microbiota from healthy weight people. In fact, recent trials have taken place to assess whether transplanting microbiota from the gut of a healthy person into an obese person can improve their recipient’s microbiota, although the findings have so far been inconclusive.

At present research indicates that the microbiome is also linked to a range of other conditions and diseases such as autism and allergies. Sadly, many of the studies that show these links have been done on mice and it isn’t clear how the findings translate to humans.

What can you do to keep your microbiota healthy?

Foods which produce an unhealthy microbiome are processed foods, foods high in sugar, alcohol and animal-based foods. So, the key is to reduce these and increase healthy foods which are those that your beneficial bacteria need to survive. These foods are carbohydrate rich plant foods and are collectively called prebiotics. This means a varied plant-based diet with a wide range of unprocessed vegetables, fruits, nuts and pulses; these all contain the fibre which your healthy bacteria love. Research shows that the greater the variety of food eaten, the better the diversity of the microbiota. If your diet is currently low in plant foods, build up the amount of fibre slowly so that your gut bacteria have a chance to adapt.

In addition to prebiotics, research also suggests that probiotics may be useful. These are foods which already include the healthy live bacteria, such as Lactobacillus, in them. Probiotics are fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and live (plant-based) yoghurt. Other foods may contain probiotics, such as tempeh, miso and some nut cheeses.

To summarise, eat lots of different types of mainly unprocessed plants and include a variety of plant-based probiotics.


Words by Liz Readle, Certificate in Plant-based Nutrition, University of Winchester

Image by Geralt via Pixabay

Inspiring interview with authors of new book: ‘Rethinking Food and Agriculture’

Watch an inspiring interview hosted by the Vegan Organic Network

Rethinking Food and Agriculture, New Ways Forward. Dr Laila Kassam and Tony Martin

The book ‘Rethinking Food and Agriculture is edited by Laila Kassam (Animal Think Tank) and Amir Kassam (University of Reading) with chapters from a range of academics and activists.  The book highlights the urgent need to ‘rethink’ the food and agriculture system and highlights ‘new ways forward’, including alternative paradigms of agriculture, human nutrition and political economy that are more ethical, sustainable and just.  Contributors include Robert Chambers, David Jenkins, Tony Juniper, Dr. Shireen Kassam, David Montgomery, Vandana Shiva and many others.  It’s a wonderful contribution to the science and philosophy supporting the urgent need to transition to a non-violent vegan food system and restore a right relationship with ourselves, other species and nature.

The book outlines how the multiple health, climate and biodiversity crises we are facing are deeply interconnected and that these interconnections need to be better understood for meaningful system-wide transformation to be possible. In order to understand these interconnections the book explores the different stages in the food system from farm to retail and the different participants in the food system including farmers and their communities, civil society groups, social movements, development experts, scientists, and other food system actors who have been raising awareness of these issues and implementing more sustainable and just food system solutions. 

The book also undertakes a deep exploration of the underlying beliefs, values, ethics and motivations, which drive the global capitalist economic system including the food system.  The authors comment that, “injustice toward and suffering of humans, other animals, and nature is ultimately an issue of values and ethics. Responsible food and agriculture systems must be shaped by ethics, equity, quality of life, and informed engagement of civil society that is connected both locally and internationally.“  The concluding chapter distills some of the key themes and ways forward explored in the preceding chapters.  It uses these themes to inform the concept of “inclusive responsibility” which embodies a vision of a healthy food and agriculture system. 

“An inclusively responsible food and agriculture system would encourage society to focus on agroecological sustainability as an integral part of overall ecosystem sustainability based on planetary boundaries.  Such a system would place importance on quality of life, pluralism, equity, and justice for all.  It would emphasize the health, wellbeing, sovereignty, dignity, and rights of farmers, consumers, and all other stakeholders, as well as of nonhuman animals and the natural world.  The concept of “inclusive responsibility” is ultimately based on an understanding of the interconnectedness of nature and the place and responsibility of human society within it.“

The authors have created a website, which shares extracts from each of the chapters.  You can read a brief summary of the chapters and…you can also ask your library to order a copy.

Viva! campaign to protect against future pandemics

Calderdale based group 3 Valley Vegans are backing the Viva! campaign which highlights the risks from the coronavirus to those with underlying health conditions.  A healthy vegan diet can help you lose weight, reverse type 2 diabetes, and protect heart health, reducing your risk of severe Covid-19.

Viva!,  the UK’s leading vegan campaigning charity,  have written an open letter to Boris Johnson, urging the government to support and encourage plant-based food initiatives to transition our food system and eradicate our reliance on unsustainable animal agriculture.

Covid-19 is just one of many zoonotic diseases including SARS, MERS, Ebola and HIV – all of which came from animals – and new viruses are appearing with increasing frequency. It is a stark warning of what’s to come if we don’t act now.

In their letter, they state that

“…across the globe animals are kept in horrific conditions in factory farms and wildlife markets. These settings provide a fertile environment for the transmission of viruses between different species and are the leading contributor to global heating. Meat and dairy production are responsible for 60 per cent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, while the products provide just 18 per cent of calories and 37 per cent of protein levels around the world (Poore, 2018).”

Avian and swine flu are particularly worrying due to the often thousands of chickens and pigs kept in one shed, with over 800 mega farms in the UK. In Cheshire recently an avian flu outbreak, although so far not posing a risk to humans, has resulted in the culling of 13,000 chickens at one farm, and an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has now been declared across the whole of England meaning that it is a legal requirement for all bird keepers to follow strict bio-security measures to help contain the disease.

Bird flu hit the headlines in 1997 when it was found that a strain of flu virus was spreading from poultry to humans in Hong Kong.  Luckily this strain didn’t spread quickly between humans and therefore didn’t spark a global pandemic, but Dr Greger has warned of this possibility in the future, in his book published in 2006 “Bird Flu, A Virus of Our Own Hatching” especially as chicken consumption has increased dramatically.  Swine flu in 2009-10, however, did become a global pandemic originating in Mexico, near some of the largest pig farms housing thousands.

Ending factory farming of animals is the only way to prevent future pandemics.

For more information visit Viva.org.uk

3 Valley Vegans takes a break to recharge and reflect

Did you know, 3 Valley Vegans has been running for six and a half years now? In this time, we have delivered countless workshops, stalls, talks, films, our own music concert and our own festival. We have spoken to hundreds of people in the upper Calder valley and beyond, with visitors to our website from as far away as China, India and Australia. (Quick fact: our most viewed recipe is for Dorset apple cake.) Furthermore, there are over 200 posts on our blog, and we have a volunteers award from The University of Manchester.

Over these years, we have seen the vegan landscape shift. Supermarkets are reporting staggering increases in sales of plant-based alternatives. There are more people eating vegan food and following a vegan lifestyle than ever before, some inspired by the time to reflect during lockdown for COVID-19. At the same time, the impact of climate change only increases, while both systemic and localised animal welfare issues continue to cause concern.

The core group of members who arrange, plan, organise and review the online and face-to-face presence of 3 Valley Vegans has recently shrunk and we have decided it is time to take a break. We would like to use the next few months to recharge and reflect on what the aims and activities of the group should be, most appropriate to the needs of the community as it now stands. We are planning to come back around Veganuary 2021, hopefully we will be allowed to conduct one of our ever-popular cookery demos (without the worry of social distancing). 

Until the new year, we will continue to run our Facebook page and Facebook group; in fact, we strongly encourage you to share your news and events or local businesses to our Facebook group. We will keep our Twitter account running, and our eating out guide and shopping guide. If you would like to get involved as a volunteer in the new year, you can tell us at any time! Until then, keep doing what you’re doing, talk to each other, and maybe we can all help to realise the recent forecast that 12 million Brits will be meat-free by 2021.

Adapting to climate change: the vegan answer to declining agricultural yields

Rob Baylis, MSc, MIEMA, CEnv
July 2020

The decade between 2020 and 2030 is probably the most important in the history of humanity.

There is a choice to be made between two alternative futures.  The first is to treat the Climate Emergency with the same level of urgency as the Covid-19 pandemic by cutting emissions of greenhouse gases sufficiently to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Centigrade above what it was before the industrial revolution. In doing this, the quality of everyone’s lives will be much improved through better jobs, lifestyles and health along with reduced air pollution, more natural open spaces, more comfortable homes and less scope for conflict.  This will be especially important for the most vulnerable people in societies across the globe who will otherwise suffer the increasingly unequal and unjust impacts of climate change.

Scientific analysis channelled through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us that this choice will necessitate a reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050[1].  To achieve this, the level of emissions in 2020 will have to be cut by 50% by 2030, halved again by 2040 and the remainder eliminated in the following decade[2].  ‘Net zero’ will mean that any unavoidable emissions will have to be absorbed by carbon ‘sinks’ such as through restoring forests.

The second choice is to take inadequate, token or no action to limit greenhouse gas emissions, or even to grow them as is happening now with increases in consumption of animal products in some parts of the world, Amazon deforestation, Australian investments in coal mining, enlarging airports and the G20 nations (including the USA & UK) providing £95.5bn of unconditional support for fossil fuel firms between March and July 2020[3].   This business as usual choice will trigger irreversible climate changes (tipping points).  It is currently projected to deliver a disastrous global average temperature of over 4 degrees Centigrade by 2050[4].

Regardless of which path is chosen to the future, humanity will be forced to adapt to the changes in climate that are already with us now and those that are on their way as a result of historic emissions and the remaining ‘carbon budget’ that cannot be exceeded if global average temperature rise is to be no more than 1.5 °C above what it was before industrialisation.  Climate change is the cause of slow but already unstoppable rises in sea levels, retreating glaciers, more erratic monsoons and increasingly severe storms and heat waves.  The more frequent and intense instances of flooding in Calderdale must surely be local manifestations of climate change and the very heavy downpours it brings.  

Adaptation to the consequences of climate change is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media other than in the context of flooding.  One example of this media vacuum was a landmark report published in September 2019 by the Global Commission on Adaptation.  That report, Adapt now: A global call for leadership on climate resilience[5] indicates, amongst other things, that food insecurity is worsening because of more intense and frequent droughts and floods.  These impacts will be accompanied by a greater prevalence of pests, parasites and disease thereby reducing the productivity of land further.  

The Adapt Now report contains a very chilling forecast that agricultural yields could decline by as much as 30% by 2050 if ambitious action is not taken to limit climate change[6].  This would be linked to global demand for food increasing by 50% and prices rising by 20% for billions of low-income people.  At the same time, the report posits a 70% or higher growth in consumption of animal products.

To accept growth in the consumption of animal products without question or without proposing action would seem to be misguided but that is what the ‘expert’ authors of the Adapt Now report do.  Their proposals for adapting to declining agricultural yields are confined to that age-old substitute for action – more research – along with ‘digital advisory services for small-scale food producers’ and ‘expanded access to and use of adaptive technologies and agroecological practices’ that support ‘climate-resilient crops, fish and livestock’.  Or simply, tiptoeing around the edges of the symptoms rather than tackling the root cause of the problem.

Whilst it is laudable to focus on small-scale food producers and co-operatives, especially those in the less privileged parts of the world that will suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change, the Adapt Now report proposes no actions to reform large-scale food production.

Meat and dairy consumption accounts for at least 14.5% of worldwide carbon emissions[7] and so there is already a compelling case, on climate change grounds as well as health, ethical and other reasons, for a widespread switch to a vegan/plant-based diet.  However, animal products also account for 83% of agricultural land-use whilst serving only 37% of protein and 18% of calorie consumption[8].  Therefore, vegan/plant-based diets must be a solution to food insecurity and discriminatory injustice associated with the projected decline in agricultural productivity.

The IPCC’s Climate Change and Land report, published in 2019[9], did attract media attention because it was brave enough to address animal-based agriculture. It argued that ‘dietary changes could free several million km2 (medium confidence) of land’ by 2050.  Others have estimated that a global shift from animal to plant-based foods would reduce agricultural land-use by 76%, and water pollution by 49% compared with 2010 levels[10].

Recommendations to cut consumption of animal products are regarded by the media and politicians as contentious because people would need to change their addictions and habits to make the reduction happen.  Governments, particularly right-of-centre governments, are keen to avoid what they see as limiting personal freedoms[11].  Despite dietary change being a low-cost tool for tackling climate change, another key reason for institutional resistance to it  is the noisy and misleading objections from animal-agriculture’s vested interest groups and lobbyists.  Moreover in the UK, for example,  parliament is well known for being dominated by MPs with animal agriculture interests. In a future article, I will return to analysing the validity or otherwise of arguments by vested interest groups but dietary change has to be taken seriously if humanity is to adapt to a 30% decline in agricultural productivity.

Logically, there has to be two ways to make this adaptation.  Either, use more land for producing food, or eliminate inefficiencies in the production and use of food.  Given that the availability of land for agriculture is limited and there is much inefficiency in the use of existing agricultural land, it makes sense to tackle inefficiency as a priority. 

There are various aspects of inefficiency in food production.  One aspect is the estimated 9.5 million tonnes of food wasted in the UK every year[12].  Out of this, 380,000 tonnes of meat is wasted with a  value of £3 billion according to a  meat industry initiative Meat in a Net Zero World[13].  There is room for optimism here since both the public and private sector In the UK agree that food waste should be cut dramatically.

Not surprisingly, Meat in a Net Zero World fails to address the fundamental inefficiency inherent in meat (and other animal-derived foods).  Animals exploited for human food spend their lives converting plants into flesh, eggs and milks at the same time as releasing greenhouse gases, defecating, urinating and converting food into energy.  In contrast, vegans eat plants directly.  The result of this is that the mean area of land required to produce beef is 164m2 per nutritional unit compared with 3.4m2 for peas[14].  That’s 48 times more land for beef than needed to grow peas to provide the same level of nutrition. 

Part of the reason for the huge disparity in land requirements is the large areas dedicated to growing animal feed instead of food for direct human consumption.  Changing to a vegan/plant-based diet will therefore be crucial in liberating the land necessary to cope with the forecast drop in agricultural productivity if cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are not enough to limit global average temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Centigrade.   It will also release land for restoring natural vegetation, such as forests, to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.


[1] https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/

[2] J. Falk, O. Gaffney, A. K. Bhowmik, P. Bergmark, V. Galaz, N. Gaskell, S. Henningsson, M. Höjer, L. Jacobson, K. Jónás, T. Kåberger, D. Klingenfeld, J. Lenhart, B. Loken, D. Lundén, J. Malmodin, T. Malmqvist, V. Olausson, I. Otto, A. Pearce, E. Pihl, T. Shalit, Exponential Roadmap 1.5.1. Future Earth. Sweden. (January 2020.)

[3] https://www.edie.net/news/11/G20-nations-funnel–151bn-of-Covid-19-recovery-funding-into-fossil-fuels/

[4] Interpolated from https://climateactiontracker.org/

[5] https://gca.org/global-commission-on-adaptation/report

[6] This is in addition to forecasts that the UK has less than 40 years of fertility left in its agricultural soils due to intensive farming.

[7] http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/

[8] Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360, 987–992

[9] https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/

[10] Poore & Nemecek, op. cit.

[11] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45838997

[12] https://wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/Food_%20surplus_and_waste_in_the_UK_key_facts_Jan_2020.pdf

[13] WRAP, 2020, Banbury, Meat in a Net Zero world

[14] Poore & Nemecek, op. cit.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay