Vegan Camp-Out 2019

A year after becoming Vegan my partner and I decided we would go to the Vegan Camp-Out at Newark Showground, a two day (and only one full day on the Saturday) festival event that promised great talks, like minds, all-Vegan food, activism, music and stalls.

Vegan Camp-Out 2019 signage
Vegan Camp-Out 2019 signage

Arrival

We’d had a very difficult week prior to Camp-Out and didn’t know if we’d make it (mainly due to a poorly hen who has thankfully recovered). So what turned out to be not a three, four, but five hour drive on little sleep meant we were a bit wired by the time we finally parked up and joined the sizable queue to get through the ticket gate and into the event. Luckily everyone was chirpy, and even the guy on the ticket thing was pleasant, despite the fact there were literally only two people and a security lady to deal with seeing people in and out and checking everyone’s tickets!

Camping from above - Vegan Camp-Out 2019
Vegan Camp-Out 2019’s layout from above – top-left red dot was our car (-ish) and top-right red dot was our tent (-ish). Very convenient!

I felt equal parts trepidation and excitement at the idea that we’d be surrounded by Vegans, but left feeling weird about the fact most people outside of Newark showground on that particular weekend aren’t. I suppose I worried that some of the Vegans we met would be great, but some would be super-uber judgemental in a way that everyone seems to be on Facebook and shoots you down for not being absolutely perfect all of the time (which of course, nobody is. Most of us live in houses, use central heating and shop in supermarkets). I couldn’t have been more wrong: everyone seemed friendly and stoked to be there. Knowing we were in a queue and later a field full of people who at least shared something of what we’re about – and something more fundamental than a film or some songs, felt quite life-affirming.

Food stalls - Vegan Camp-Out 2019
Food stalls – Vegan Camp-Out 2019

We’d bought along a bottle of rum and a 2 litre bottle of coke so we didn’t need to buy any alcohol all weekend – splendid! On the Friday night I had one of the best nights sleep I’d had in ages followed by the Saturday night where I had the worst nights sleep I’d had in ages (others need less beauty sleep than I and there was neverending tent music and chit-chat. Then I realised we both needed about 5 more layers each as the chills crept in). Swings and roundabouts!

Talks and Activism

The great thing about the talks was that most people weren’t born Vegan and had no real plans to become Vegan until some big life event (usually watching a documentary like Dominion or Land of Hope and Glory). Most spent a little time reciting the story of how they came to be speaking in front of us.

AxR climate and animal emergency activism talk at vegan Camp-Out 2019
AxR climate and animal emergency activism talk at vegan Camp-Out 2019

If I was to sterotype, Matt Pritchard (of Dirty Sanchez and more recently Dirty Vegan fame) would not be my first suspect in an all-Vegan line-up. Pritchard, who is a massive foodie and all-round lovely bloke (if you can get pass him peeing on Dolph Lundgren), provided a sort of flipside to Earthling Ed, who entirely looks the part and is also a lovely bloke. Both were captivating in their own right, and prove that anyone can be Vegan regardless of our pasts (after all, most of us profess to love animals).

Through the course of the camp-out we also heard talks from the following:

  • Mic the Vegan – utterly fantastic, and I plan on listening again as his facts and figures came thick and fast
  • That Vegan Couple (only the tail end, sadly), but they sounded great, and you can see their talk here.
  • James Aspey – the sort-of headliner, who had us all shouting en masse by the end (in a good way)
  • Juliet Gellatley from Viva! gave an impassioned speech, showed some of the horrors of commercial farming on-screen and spoke extensively about Hogwood Farm, which had the “Red Tractor” seal of approval and was sold by Tesco (ex- Tesco board member Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe was appointed chairman at Red Tractor in 2017), but Tesco later withdrew all of their products based on pressure from Viva! and their exposure of the terrors of Hogwood. Unfortunately there’s a whole lot of corruption and poor legislation that often means conditions for animals are abysmal. On a purely dispassionate level we’re effectively eating animals that are often stewing in their own faeces, disease and other dead and maimed animals, some of whom are cannibalised or attacked due to environments that are so incredibly unnatural and cruel (and of course there are so many other arguments to boot). People talk about buying “free range” – and I wouldn’t trust the labels if I were you* – at the end of the day it’s all sentient beings dying massively prematurely for a quick snack. The dairy industry is just as bad. **
  • Dóra Hargitai (from AxR / Animal Rebellion), delivered one of the most hopeless and yet uplifting talks of the weekend. Despite the grim stats on climate change, she and the folk of Animal Rebellion remain optimistic. Of course we need to act now, but sadly until it’s law or affecting people directly in their homes I fear direct action won’t make the general populous (I hear someone mention Vegan’s are around 2-3% and growing, but ideally need to be at least 10%). We should be doing everything we can. We should be talking about it. Unfortunately a lot of powerful people and meat, dairy and fuel people won’t see the benefit in going green.
  • Anonymous for the Voiceless gave a great talk on what they are about, how to join them and what to do (you may have noticed the V for Vendetta masks and “cubes” of people standing back-to-back dressed in black and holding muted laptops open showing upsetting animal abuse scenes.
  • *, ** – again, see Land of Hope and Glory for more info.
Vegan World Through Social Change Alex Hershaft activism talk at vegan Camp-Out 2019
Vegan World Through Social Change – Alex Hershaft
  • Alex Hershaft gave two of the best talks I’ve ever heard. His speech at the main stage brought us on his journey from a Nazi deathcamp as a child, through to present day and how he became Vegan. Comparisons with deathcamps is kind of a no-no when arguing your point as a Vegan, – it’s too charged and often seems OTT to the unnitiated. Alex lived through a holocaust but even he mostly wont talk about it when attempting to argue the merits of Veganism. The strength of this speech came mainly in that he presented all of the facts and did not dwell on the horrors of his past. He is the most incredibly open-minded eighty-four year old I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to and puts most half his age to shame.
  • Alex argues that opression starts with animals as the most defensless victims on Earth and acts as a sort of gateway drug – permission for us to do other terrible shit as we’ve done throughout history. Also comparing the oppression of people to animals which he thinks is the wrong way of looking at things.
  • Alex’s follow-up at the Activism stage – “Vegan World Through Social Change” dealt with a number of different issues including appropriated/ taken on views, mental frames, anecdotal evidence and cognitive dissonance. Basically the things that often stop people from becoming Vegan or even entertaining that it’s not a wholly bonkers concept in the first place.

Following all of the talks there was plenty of Q&A time to tackle differing points of view and awkward questions.

“ZeBadger”: a fantastically generous Youtube user has uploaded videos of several of the Camp-Out talks on Youtube, which are well worth a watch.

Vausages Vegan diner - Vegan Camp-Out 2019
Vausages Vegan diner – Vegan Camp-Out 2019

Food

While at Vegan Camp out we indulged in “filthy vegan junk food” (the name of the stall, and how you could define most of the stuff we ate there), pancakes, burgers from Vausages Vegan Diner (twice, for breakfast). The “healthy” vegan food was relegated to the furthermost two stalls, offering fresh fruit and smoothies. We tried these and they tasted brill, but honestly we’d come to the festival to unwind and eat crap, in lieu of no longer really being able to get takeaway food as a treat as we used to in our pre-Vegan days. I know this was problematic for some and I understand, but I expect to see the alternative healthier options grow in the coming years. The simple fact we didn’t need to check what we could actually eat felt fantastic!

Vausages breakfast bap - Vegan Camp-Out 2019
Vausages breakfast bap – Vegan Camp-Out 2019

Shopping

The Main Stage had in previous years been what was now the Activism Stage. Outside were a number of clothes stalls including “Heartcure” an Anonymous for the Voiceless stall and several more. There were also several charity stalls and the option to try the VR experience “iAnimal“. There were also plusher boutique-esque stalls for home furnishings. I managed to grab (and pay for!) some badges, patches and stickers (from “The Hectic Vegan”), so was pretty happy.

My bag - Vegan Camp-Out 2019
My bag – Vegan Camp-Out 2019. Freshly festooned with an AxR banner, “Vegan – off the meat” (Vans shoes parody) badge and a wee hen badge.

Music and Wellbeing

Wellness stage yoga - Vegan Camp-Out 2019
Wellness stage yoga – Vegan Camp-Out 2019

We didn’t spend a lot of time watching music or at the wellbeing tent, although both had packed schedules. Shikari Sound System headlined the main stage on the first night, and there were a number of other artists – mainly a mix of DJs, grime, hip-hop and bands.
My partner did some outdoor Yoga by the wellness tent on the last morning and really enjoyed it.

Anonymous for the Voiceless activism talk at vegan Camp-Out 2019
Anonymous for the Voiceless activism talk at vegan Camp-Out 2019

Closing thoughts

Every interaction we experienced felt genuine. I’m sure had we needed help there’d have been someone at Vegan Camp-Out willing to.

As it’s a small festival, there were some logistical things that weren’t so great. I know these things have been mentioned on Vegan Camp-Out’s Facebook (queues, mainly), but honestly nothing that would spoil the weekend.
At times it could be a bit difficult to hear the speakers, but again, we mainly just had to move a little forwards. It makes me sound old but I do like a sit down when I’m listening to a talk, so being able to appear with our fold-out chairs, rum-and-coke in hand, felt pretty awesome.

It felt great to be part of a shared cause/moral code, and among mostly well-mannered people, who were proud but not preachy. All-in-all, Vegan Camp-Out feels like any festival but kinder, and it feels like you can help to make a difference.

Nothing is for sure, but I’d be quite surprised if we didn’t head to the camp out again soon. Hopefully by that time, the movement will be closer to that crucial 10% and we’ll all be doing something about climate change too.

No one is too Small to Make a Difference – Greta Thunberg (2019)

“I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” – Greta from her speech “Our House is On Fire” at the World Economic Forum, Davos, 25th January 2019

Greta Thunberg – a student climate activist – wouldn’t want me to be impressed by her or what she says and she certainly wouldn’t be much bothered about me getting a selfie with her, but she would want me to panic. As it stands: I am impressed by her and what she says, I wouldn’t be too fussed about a selfie, but I am panicked, as we should all be. Save for catching an excerpt of her London speech at the Extinction Rebellion rallies earlier in the year, this little book has been my first real exposure to her work.

NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE, front cover.

The book is a simple thin volume with a price tag to match, and as its modest name and cover suggests, no one is too small to make a difference. The book comprises of many of Greta’s speeches to date, which carry some powerful messages.

“We will never stop fighting,” says Greta, “we will never stop fighting for this planet, and for ourselves, our futures, and for the futures of our children and our grandchildren.”

I’m terrified and embarrased that we’re admist the planet’s sixth mass extinction for which we’re at least mostly responsible, but what’s worse is that most people – and certainly most people in power – don’t give two hoots about it. They live safe in the knowledge that at the end of their terms, some other buggers will have to deal with the problem. And it’s a flippin’ doozie.

Despite being unanimously correct, Greta certainly has her detractors, like Extreme weather forecaster Piers Corbyn who was evidently annoyed when his brother Jeremy met with Greta, labelling her an “ignorant brainwashed child”. His barely intelligable Twitter account drones on about Extinction Rebellion being a hashtag “Death Cult” and Climate change as a mammoth hoax. He comes off as a narky conspiracy theorist, calling out in his eyes the corruption behind the Paris agreement, which agreed to bring all nations together “…to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”* and stoked the fire of an (albeit limited) climate crisis acknoweldgement around the world. Piers and others basically don’t think this crisis is man-made, or even a crisis. “People tell me im retarded, a bitch and a terrorist,” Greta recalls, “and many other things,” addressing those who have attacked her head-on. “I have aspergers syndrome, and to me, everything is black and white.”. She sees it as a gift, not an encumbrance, so she can easily bypass the spin and bullshit and look only at the facts. Good for her, and I’d imagine anyone with Brexit fatigue who happens to believe in climate change will feel the same; this is clearly a time when we should be as afraid as our children and uniting with Europe, not squabbling like adults over how everything will be dissected and we’ll be a much lesser force to combat our hardest trial we’ve had to face as a species so far. And we may not even have the luxury of twelve years to turn things around, but maybe as little as eighteen months.

I’m not saying there’s not the slightest possibility 97% of scientists who agree that climate change is man-made are wrong, but I’m certainly not saying the 3% of scientists who presumably disagree with the IPCC are right, either. I’m erring on the side of caution and going with the 97% – besides, even if climate change isn’t man-made – we’re hunting and killing animals to extinction, destroying coral reefs, poisoning ourselves and everything else with plastic and fumes and other terrible shit. Surely what we’re doing is wrong? Perhaps we should do something about it, right? Although I don’t understand why anyone would contest climate change. One woman commented in a Facebook reply with “We’re all fucked anyway!”. This from a woman holding a child in her photo, possibly her daughter. Don’t get me wrong – I’d love to be wrong and I’d love for Greta to be some sort of carbon tax based propaganda tool. If it means the world is fine albeit corrupt (hey – look at the guys running the show!) and we can carry on without worrying then that’d be fine; take my fucking money. However, this isn’t a dream we can just wake up from and Greta is not a fake prophet. She’s a scared child, like the rest of us. I’d wager the people who verbally attack people like Greta are mostly projecting – knee-jerks from those who feel guilt from doing nothing, from being afraid, or from some other motive e.g. who profit from harming the environment and it would not do to defend it.

If you’re interested in a quick crash-course in Climate Change – should you belive it’s even a thing – you’d do worse than to pick up this little book. It’s a swift read, factual and brings you up to speed on Greta’s thinking. There’s a fair bit of repetition given the relatively short space of time between speeches documented in the book, but this is reflected in the price. To close her TV Awards speech in Berlin Greta muses: “We are failing but we have not yet failed. We can still fix this,” she assures, clearly not pulling any punches, but there’s still an element of hope – “It’s up to us.”

You can buy the book from Penguin.

*Taken from the United Nations Climate Change website.

Hens the first few days

For the first few days we kept the hens in the run to slowly acclimatise. It was a pretty bright September day when they moved in, and everything was new and unexplored.

Despite having been “Free range”, our girls were missing feathers and undernourished. Nothing compared to some of the images you’ll see, and the great work rehomers do -before after after photos are extremely heartening- but enough for us to question the words “free range”. The hard-hitting documentary “Land of Hope and Glory” sadly reveals what it most often means and after 18 months – scarcely half a hen’s life, they’re all for the slaughter anyway, while the male chicks fare even less well.

We’d purchased an Eglu Go Up and a run extension. I can’t stress enough how important it is to spend a morning/day setting this up prior to your feathery beauties arriving. And for a few days as instructed we kept the hens in the run. We’d love to know their pasts – had they spent much, if any time outside? Had they ever felt grass beneath their feet? And we had other questions about what their lives were like before, although I imagine there were some things we were better off not knowing!

It sounds odd, but I couldn’t believe how much you could hear their stomachs gurgle as they drank their water, or the amount they pooed! And the very first egg simply appeared in the run, not in the nest box, like some magical artefact. We created perches from fallen branches from the local wood and they happily leapt, flew and sat on them, just as they happily stood on one leg without the slightest wobble (that’s not to say this doesn’t happen when their concentration is down – like when they’re preening on a branch and occasionally they’ll just trip over things!).

In an upcoming post I’ll highlight the stuff we’ve purchased and found essential and non-essential for our hens. We’re not experts, but we know a lot more than we did. We probably wasted quite a bit of cash on stuff we didn’t need early doors, so it’d be nice to save someone else a bit of cash if possible. However, as a starter for ten, hens need the same basics we do – food, water and shelter. Ensure you have a pre-constructed coop and remember foxes can jump and scale boundaries that are 6-7 feet high, sometimes during the day. Ensure as minimum you have layers pellets and corn. Pellets are their main food source and corn is a treat, which should be fed to them in the evening (at a ratio of 20% corn to 80% pellets). Mixed grit is what they use in place of a stomach to grind up their food and strengthen their egg shells (this is important to prevent eggs breaking inside them, which I believe is usually fatal). Also ensure they’re getting enough calcium – mealworms and/or liquid calcium in their water are good for this. You’ll need at least one water point and one feeder. Hens like any other bird, pet and/or companion animal need looking after. If you have ex-batts they’ll need more looking after than regular hens as they haven’t had the best start in life. Once they’re settled and are happy to have you in their flock, the pay-off is incredible!

Hen Collection Day

We got our first hens on 23/09/2018 from The British Hen Welfare Trust, who last year won JustGiving Charity of the year (I like to think my vote helped). If you’re interested in keeping ex-battery hens, they’re a brilliant charity and everyone I’ve spoken to there seems lovely and incredibly enthusiastic about what they do. And hens themselves? They’re the most incredible little fluffy-bummed creatures you could want to know.

Ex battery hens acclimatising to their new home
Two of our girls acclimatising on their first day of retirement

We’d waited for what felt like years to get our hens, such was our excitement. After registering our interest, it was a good two/three months until we could go and pick them up. When hen collection day finally came around we arrived at the farm with the best darn foldable pet carrier we could afford (although we soon learned a sturdy cardboard box with holes in would’ve worked just as well). Of course, we arrived early, and so grabbed some food in a local cafe first of all.

Carrier between us, we marched up to the collection point and the poor bedraggled ladies who were racing around a barn. They had traveled down from Slough en masse and either we went to rehome them, or they would go off to slaughter for no longer producing an economical number of eggs. We stated the number of hens we could rehome (four) and the friendly handlers lifted them into the top of our zip-up carrier. I was told to hold my hands over the open lid, while the handlers scooped up the other girls. Of course one tried to jump up through my hands in a bid to escape. Looking back, I’m almost positive the thwarted escapee would’ve been Speckles (they all have very unique characters, and although bottom of the pecking order, she was by far the most adventurous).

Speckles the ex battery hen perching
Speckles the explorer – the first to jump and perch, the original Hendini

We’d already seen a little hen escapee scooting across the courtyard of Farrington Gurney (eventually one of the adept handlers was able to grab her before she reached the car park, after a succession of failures from green soon-to-be henkeepers).

The journey home was stressful, but I can’t imagine what it would have been like for the girls. Looking to the car’s back seat and our carrier (which barely fit our Kia Picanto), through the blanket covering most of it in an effort to chill them out, it became apparent to me how like dinosaurs they were. They peeked through with their little dinosaur eyes, blinking and twitching and making their little dinosaur sounds. I felt every lurch of the carrier and every complaint as my partner tried as gently as she could to maneuver the car around road bends and back home.

One of my first “discoveries” was that the sound I ordinarily associated with hens was actually the alarm call and the main sounds they make are flute-like, Gizmo (of Gremlins fame) -esque woo-oohhs, samples lifted directly from the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park (or vice versa) and occasional creepy Predator purrs. Thinking the alarm call/stressed hen sounds are the norm makes sense, given our exposure to them is generally a massive flock in a confined space where they’re likely to be stressed and the pecking order is messed up through sheer numbers.

Our hen, Broken wing aka Dumpling
Original name “Broken Wing”, this sweet hen became Dumpling. Not because of Chicken dumplings, but because she often maker herself a little pudding-like ball. Despite being “free range”, our hens were undernourished and unhealthy when we got them, and all free range egg-laying hens go to slaughter (to become pet food and the like), when they start to lay less and a thus, less economical.

I was (and ten months on, still am), struck by how little I knew about these creatures before we collected them, and indeed how little I still know. I find myself getting more and more angry at my previous hypocrisy – thinking of chicken as just a snack I could not live without, but getting all teary-eyed when I saw an abused cat or dog. For me much has changed, but speciesism rages on. Even though I have a guilt complex associated with this, I don’t really have any right to preach about it unless provoked (over thiry years a carnivore), which in my eyes is a good thing.

The next blog will cover what happened when the hens arrived in our garden and the first few days. Would we be accepted into their flock?

Salutations from the Henpunk

Henpunk is a website all about hens – namely ex-battery hens, and my experience of keeping them. It will not just be about hens, however. I plan to write about wildlife, sustainability, being green and green-fingered, veggie/vegan diets and existentialism. I don’t claim to be an authority on any of these things, although I’m learning loads and can at least bring my experiences (eg. of keeping hens) into the equation. Hens aren’t necessarily difficult additions to your flock (or rather, you to their flock!) but there are things you should know, and you won’t always be fully prepared for what’s to come, or how much you may fall for them and where this may take you!