Vegetarian Challenge: The Result

I did it….sort of.

Everything continued to be quite straightforward since the challenge began; I’m still amazed at how much I didn’t miss meat!! In fact, it was all so trouble-free that I totally forgot that I was a temporary vegetarian. Thirteen days into the challenge I went out for lunch with my aunt and cousins. Sitting in the unexpected sunshine we sat sipping iced tea outside a rustic, Italian cafe and without thought I ordered a beautiful, crispy, parma ham ciabatta sandwich; it took me another 40 minutes to realise what I had just done, big “oops”.

Although technically this means that I failed the test, I am tempted to argue the opposite view. This momentary lapse in focus proved none other than that I was not eating meat for the real reasons. As a contented meat-eater I was not in the mind set of being totally against the idea of digesting animal flesh; instead it was something that I had to work against.

For the next 2 weeks I was determined not to make another slip up and made a more conscious effort to think before I ate; surprisingly, however, I still didn’t yearn to eat meat. I continued to substitute beef, pork and chicken with eggs, potato and fish. If truth be told I became more and more concerned with the quality of what I was eating. For example, when buying eggs I began buying the free-range, farm reared ones from the town market instead of the cheapest ones I could find which had become the norm during my frugal student days. I also took an interest in the sustainability of the fish I was buying after watching several programmes by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who is a headline campaigner for The Big Fish Fight.

 

The importance of buying good quality, organic, free-range or sustainable products was never overly obvious to me, but since I took an interest this month I can honestly say that I would rather eat less substandard  meat in an attempt to eat better products that will help our farmers and fishermen to maintain good business and stock.

All in all, the month did not have the effects I thought it would. I had expected to be struggling to live without meat but find good alternatives and, although this was the case, a second, more important outcome resulted from the experiment; it provoked a greater consideration towards food as a whole, not just meat. With the country going ga-ga for British products, led by Mary Portas in the fashion manufacturing industry, it is becoming not only essential to support the British  economy, but somewhat fashionable. For whichever reason you may chose to become involved I would encourage everyone to take the view for a fortnight and see if it changes your attitude, if only a little.

Personally, I could not take on vegetarianism for good but I have definitely realised that I don’t need to eat as much I had perhaps thought. And although I do not feel any particular health benefits from eating less meat, I do not feel any worse for it; the simple fact is that I know no greater pleasure in life than a rare fillet steak or a rack or sticky ribs- one month without either was long enough!

Vegetarian Challenge

Did you know that March is Vegetarian Month? Me neither…until a few weeks ago, and it got me thinking; how much meat do I consume in an average week? The recommended daily allowance of red meat is around 500g a week, a limit around a third of us are going beyond. Experts suggest that consuming above this recommended amount could increase the chances of certain cancers.

Knowing this, I began to re-track what I ate the previous week: sausages, pork chops, minced lamb, bacon, chicken pie…..mmm, that 500g limit sounds dangerously reachable! “Right,” I said, “vegetarian month it is.” And so has begun my 31 meat-free days and to show you just how easy or hard it may be to do the same I am going a diary blog the next month…Here goes nothing…..
 

Week one

I set off the week with ample enthusiasm, in fact, far too much enthusiasm. I spent the day searching through the cupboards for beans and pulses, that I had bought with good intentions but have never got around to using, then trawling the internet for recipes that captured my imagination a little more than a three-bean salad (yawn). Spiced red lentil and red pepper, a recipe which not only contained red lentils, as entitled, but also a sturdy amount bulgar wheat. I have to say it tasted quite nice, so nice in fact that I ate it for dinner that night, lunch the next day and dinner the next day….BIG MISTAKE!

First tip of the month: Don’t bite off more than you can chew….or digest.


My body seemed to be dumbstruck by the sudden diet change and I was in a bloatful pain for around 12 hours. I therefore took day three as a comfort eating day and decided to indulge in a cheese, potato and tomato pasty made with thick, buttery puff-pastry, nom nom!

Day 4. I spent the day relaxing in the gym health suite (and not sweating in the gym, slapped wrist) and emerged feeling refreshed and most definitely not in the mood for fatty foods and so concocted an ensemble of avocado, tomato and pepper salad with a sweet chilli dressing, and most satisfying it was too!

Unsurprisingly, however, I awoke on day 6 ravenous and therefore tried something that I haven’t eaten for around three years, and never particularly liked. But this is an experiment; for March I am completely open to new things. To make things a little easier and more pleasant on the palette I added blueberries from the local market and a swirl of honey and I must say, I have rekindled some kind of relationship with the “super-food” rolled oats. With this buzz in my mind I came over all Mrs. Beeton-like and put together a vegetable pie. Shortcrust pastry, carrots, parsnips and potatoes…definitely no meat. This did not go down well with the rest of my family, whom I said I would cook for that evening and who, halfway through the meal, looked up at me from their plates, aghast.

“Erm, what meat is in this pie?”
“Ah. Well, you are all aware that I am not eating meat this month, I was quite hoping you wouldn’t notice and be supportive of this decision,” I replied. What followed was a lot of scraping chairs, clattering of pans and, causing me much jealousy, frying of bacon. You will all be proud to hear that I stood strong and as my own cheerleader and inspiration had vegetable pie on day 7 too!

So week one has come to an end and I am utterly in shock at how I have in no way missed meat, not one bit (okay, well maybe a tad) and am beginning to wonder if I may, in actual fact, last the entire month, which on February 29th I was doubting wholeheartedly. For week one I managed to take charge of the kitchen, but it may not last much longer as the family become fatigued by my ambitions. Perhaps the biggest challenge will come on Sunday when my mother draws a large roast from the oven. I’m not going to let my achievements of week one go to my head, week two will come back fighting, the novelty will wear off and my will power will be tested further…catch up with me next week to see if I made it…wish me luck!

Pretty Woman Lesson 2 – It’s Playtime!!

Yes, playsuits are back big time this spring so do what the name tells you and have some fun!!

I am so glad that playsuits are back on fashion radar after their hibernation over autumn/winter. Since I bought my first one five years ago I have been obsessed by these anti muffin-top beauties (no waistband = no overhang!) as an alternative to dresses.

I’ve always felt self-conscious wearing a dress or skirt as a casual or daytime look. Shorts, trousers and leggings offer a safety barrier to help my underwear stay undercover whereas dresses have always made me feel either daringly underdressed or totally overdressed. The playsuit solves my worries in one foul swoop – the crotch is my crutch! And playsuits offer all the positives I look for in a dress; a more girly look with pretty patterns, lovely shapes and the simplicity of an all-in-one item.

SO what’s hot in the coming season?

Miami style has hit the catwalks big this season with those summery, tropical patterns oozing 50s and 60s American glam. Play around with cut outs such as this River Island number with the classic Miami tie-front which will compliment anyone looking to disguise those pesky lovehandles but show off a flat stomach. Priced at just £18 it’s a sure bargain and it also covers another season trend; scarf print. 

If a classic, pretty look is what you usually go for and you’re thinking that playsuits aren’t really your style then think again. This puff-sleeve, chiffron number by Rare (available at Topshop) will look fantastic on its own or teamed with a bright blazer and this blue, dainty number from Miss Selfridge has a summery, 40’s country feel that would look fantastic assembled with a straw, wide-brimmed hat and to really top it off perhaps a pair of white lace, ultra French-20’s style gloves. Both boast lower neck-lines for those of us with larger “assets” giving a less frumpy look and the capped sleeves give that extra coverage for anyone a tad self-conscious of their bingo wings.

Now, be serious, when you think of playsuits the image of a toddler being dressed up by its parents in easily manageable, themed outfits springs to mind doesn’t it? Well those clever guys at River Island put two and two together and came out with one of THE most amazing playsuits I have seen this season. This sailor-style playsuit has everything; figure skimming, structured shape, a cute peterpan collar, simplicity, elegance, vintage style….tick tick tick tick tick!!!! Just don’t take things too far and get the matching hat with red bobble (you know the one I mean, you have the picture to prove it).

One of the main issues that playsuits cause is the attention that they can draw to the legs. If you’re thigh-shy make sure you keep your heels high to elongate you legs. To flatter those pins even more keep them bronzed and well moisturized with a tinted body lotion; I love Johnsons Holiday Skin as it comes without the biscuity smell of most fake tans, and if you want an instant glow that will wash off before bed then my secret weapon is the bargain “Faking It” instant tan from Primark at just £1.50 a tube!! Match your bronzed legs with an uber-summery outfit, perhaps a looser fitting piece, like this number from Dorothy Perkins.  The draped middle will add to the floaty, laid-back look and will look perfect with a trilby, sandals and plenty of bangles for a beach/ summer festival vibe.

However, with the weather we’ve been having recently you might have to wait a couple of weeks for a glimpse of sunshine…BUT on the upside, this month we have something even mooorrree exciting to look forward to LONDON FASHION WEEK!! Look for next month’s article when we’ll be looking at the new extremes being paraded down the catwalk and see if we can turn them into something totally fantabulous for REAL WOMEN to wear in the coming year. See you soon!

PrettyWoman

      We’ve all been there…gazing at a gorgeous dress, top or maybe a skirt in a magazine or shop window   thinking, “Oh, it’s gorgeous, and how gorgeous I could be wearing you!” You dash into the shop searching frantically for this one item; no other article of clothing in this entire store could match up. Then you spot it, on a rail high above the others, where it belongs, looking down on it’s subordinates, and you dare to touch it…it’s just as beautiful to touch as it is to see, you almost melt inside! But do they have your size? OMG, what if they don’t…..you begin clawing at the hangers desperately searching through the copious amounts of size 6’s, size 8’s….where’s the 10’s, 12’s and 14’s, don’t they make real sizes anymore?????!!!!!!!

And there it is, right at the back, a little miracle on a plastic hanger, as if it’s been waiting to see you. You clutch it tight to your chest as you make your way to the fitting rooms, your paranoia feels like every other shoppers’ eyes are on you, waiting to snatch it away for themselves, even as the shop assistant hands you a number card and guides you to a booth you eye her up and down as if to warn her to keep her distance; “this dress is MINE, you can’t have it, I found it first, you’re too late!!!”

Five minutes later, you’re close to tears, slumped in a heap on the floor in your underwear after a desperate battle with the fabric in your hand….it didn’t fit, and even if it did, it didn’t look good on you- this dress, top or skirt was made for stick insects….We find ourselves beginning to understand how Bridget Jones must have felt walking into Daniel Cleaver’s bathroom.

Never fear ladies….you ARE beautiful-work those trends that you usually don’t dare to try because you think they wont work for your body shape. Ditch that soul destroying diet and learn to work with what you’ve got! My next post looks at the fifties trends.

Feel free to share fashion advice with us-we’d welcome examples of trends which work for you-pictures welcome!

Pretty Woman – LESSON ONE – You can be 50’s-nifty whatever your body shape

The fifties saw waistlines shrink and skirts flare out. A-lines and Chanel suits helped less wealthy women look glamorous with high street replicas widely available whilst animal prints and rock’n’roll brought energy and expression to the fashion industry. Today, fifties fashion is revisiting our high street and everybody can get their hands on something inspired by this extraordinary decade. BUT, those small waistlines and tighter fits aren’t just for skinny-minnies, the fifties were made for beautiful, curvaceous women, women who didn’t have gym memberships, had an average of 2.4 children by the time they were 27 and were not yet taunted by images of Twiggy.

However, this story is a case of “seeing in believing.”  I’d always thought my DD’s, broad shoulders and footballers legs were going to stop me looking more Manson than Monroe! To my dismay, one morning, more out of boredom and curiosity than anything, I saw a crimson skater dress, tried it on, and to my utter astonishment it looked A-MA-ZING! (Well I thought so at least.) The classic fifties shape with a high waistline pulls you in at the base of the ribcage and the skater skirt flares out at the same point, skimming across tummy, hips and thighs, anything that we want to hide is transformed into a sleek lines. If you’re heavy on top, try to keep the neckline low, but remember that although the fifties may have challenged boundaries but was still on the conservative side.

Take inspiration from the ladies of the time such as Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor who made conservative necklines and three-quarter length sleeves sexy, and more recently pay close attention to style guru Susannah Constantine, part of the T.V. wonder double-act that is “Trinny and Susannah”. Note how Susannah indulges her curves with tight pencils skirts which rise up as far as her bust, again pulling her in at the smallest part of her torso. It’s no coincidence that Trinny and Susannah became a stylist duo; tall and slender Trinny and curvaceous Susannah represent glamorous women across the body spectrum. Look into their library of books for insights into new looks, particularly “Who do you want to be today?” which shows both body types how to create outfits such as androgeny and diva!

SO get dressing ladies, and even if the first dress you try doesn’t quite suit you, don’t give up hope, keep looking, there’s a perfect frock out there for each one of us…just be sure not to overkill with leather gloves and pillbox hat a-la Jackie Kennedy, there is such as thing as taking it too far!

False sexual assault claims are making a mockery of a serious crime

This week, prosecutors have asked a judge to drop the sexual assault case against former IMF Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the U.S. Mr. Strauss-Kahn was alleged to have raped 32 year-old African immigrant Ms. Nafissatou Diallo who was working as a hotel maid at the time. It was argued that Ms. Diallo had been inconsistent in details of the alleged attack therefore questioning the credibility of her story, and that “reasonable doubt” could not be fathomed. It is reported that Diallo spoke to a friend in prison about the case, mentioning his wealth, suggesting the possibility of a financial motive. Following a decision next week, if the case is dropped, Mr. Strauss-Kahn will be allowed to return to France.

Sexual assault allegations have traditionally been complex cases to draw judgement upon due to difficulties in forensics differentiating between a perhaps hurried or rough sexual encounter and a violent assault. Problems determining whether the incident was consensual or indeed even took place at all are also an issue due to the lack of witnesses usually present in such circumstances.

 

 

“Reasonable doubt” is of extreme importance in rape cases due to the hefty sentence that conviction carries, but, due to an increase in the number of false allegations made against celebrities for money or five minutes of fame, or made against sexual partners for revenge, women across the world who have suffered real sexual assaults are failing to acquire a conviction for their assailants.

Earlier this month Mr. David Tune of Doncaster was cleared of paedophilia claims after his former lover Victoria Haigh manipulated her seven year-old daughter claiming sexual assault from her father. The high court had heard how Miss. Haigh had “coached” her daughter to lie convincingly, posting the accusations on the internet.

It’s another tale to add to the string of false allegations women make against innocent men, tainting their integrity for the foreseeable future and slowly destroying the reliability of women’s’ claims in genuine attacks.Miss.Haigh could face imprisonment for her false accusations but her crimes against women across the world will be far worse in the long term.

Since the sexual liberation of women in the “swinging sixties” and subsequent decades, more and more have come to use sex not only as a weapon but to attain their much desired five minutes of fame. Many will remember the famous allegations made against David Beckham in 2004 in which his alleged extra-marital partner also became famous. In the past seven years Posh and Becks have had to repeatedly defend their marriage whilst Loos went on to enjoy a celebrity status, albeit at more “Z-list” than “A-list”, appearing on various reality television programmes.

Former team-mate of Beckham, Wayne Rooney also made headlines when it was alleged that he had sexual relations with a £1200-a-night prostitute Jennifer Thompson, an allegation which Rooney has never denied and almost cost him his marriage to his then pregnant wife Coleen. Even in this case of “bought services” Thompson sold her story to tabloids in order to make money out of her customer, most probably in an attempt to boost her career.

A news report by the BBC in 2007 suggested that around 85,000 women in the UK were the victims of rape in the UK in 2006 – around 230 cases a day! If even only half of that reported number were genuine that equates to over 40,000 women suffering a violent and horrific crime which can destroy mental health if the proper help is not provided.

It is yet to be decided whether Ms. Diallo’s case against Strauss-Kahn will be dropped but huge implications rest on either side of the argument; if she is indeed telling the truth and the case is dropped justice will be denied for a woman who has suffered a terrible ordeal and a dangerous man will walk free. On the other hand, if she is lying then this woman has destroyed the reputation and career of an important figure in global finance, something that is much needed in the current climate. If the judge rules that the case be dropped, we can but only hope that judicial systems will not let cases such as this and Miss. Haigh’s affect their opinion of other women who may be making authentic claims in the future. Let us also hope that women who are willing to use assault allegations as a weapon or sexual relations for self-gain will soon learn that implications of their actions are highly dangerous; god forbid that in the future those who have been found to lie about a sexual assault actually become a real victim of such an attack and find themselves untrustworthy in court due to their track record.

A Mexican Wave of Brave, Young Women

Mexico may be the image of white beaches, expensive resorts and the holiday adventures of Carrie Bradshaw and co to most women, but to those native to North West Mexico, their country is an ongoing battle which has seen brave, young women step forward to take on the most dangerous jobs imaginable. Warning: the following women will give you strength and fill you with pride.

The war between the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartels has plagued the state for years and claimed the lives of over 30,000 people since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006 and declared war on the drug smugglers and subsequent death squads which have taken control of North-West Mexico. In June 2010 Manuel Lara Rodriguez, Mayor of Guadalupe Distrito Bravos, was murdered outside his home in Juarez; violence capital of Mexico, ravaged by drugs cartels. Articles at the time told of how police were having to start their working days an hour early to make time to collect the numerous dead bodies from the streets each morning in towns of the state of Chihuahua and struggled to appoint and maintain an honest police force.

Praxedis Guerro was one such town which had struggled to find anyone willing to take up the job of Chief of Police, after the former chief had been brutally decapitated, until a criminology student at the age of just 20 stepped forward in October 2010 to be protectorate of her home town. Marisol Valles Garcia made international news headlines as “the bravest woman in Mexico” and rightly so; in the same week that she was sworn into her new position other headlines from neighbouring towns told of a woman’s head being found in a bag on the streets of Ciudad Juarez, three bodies hung from a bridge in Tijuana, and the murder of eight people in Praxedis Guerro itself just days before.

Garcia had not intended to fight the cartels, however. Her new police strategy was designed to pull ordinary citizens away from the involvement of the drugs wars and leave the colossal task of the drugs trade to the federal forces. Instead Marisol wanted to focus on rebuilding the townships, emphasize crime prevention and build social development programmes.

Since 2008 five women took up chief of police positions in North West Mexico, a beacon light of hope that women would not let their country fall. Amongst these five was Hermila Garcia who became Chief of Police in Meoqui in October 2010 and refused to have bodyguards as a symbol of her stand. Garcia, 38 had taken on the high profile role in an area where men were scarce due to the amount that had been murdered or fled through fear. She lasted less than two months as chief before being shot on her way to work in December last year, but her sacrifice did not dampen the courage of other young women.

Not long after the death of Hermila Garcia came another story of a heroic, young woman in the village of Guadalupe which sits near the U.S border and a channel for drug smuggling into neighbouring Texas. Irma Erika Gandara, 28, became the last police officer in Gudalupe after her seven colleagues resigned leaving Gandara as the sole law-maker in the town. Gandara was abducted from her home by masked gunmen in December 2010, believed to be dead.

 

Less than 5 months into her position as Chief of Police in Praxedis Guerro Marisol Valles, Garcia fled to the USA with her husband, son, parents and sisters after the dramatic increase in death threats and intimidation she was receiving. She has since sought refuge in the USA and is awaiting a decision to remain there. Although her departure may seem like the final nail in the coffin for the courageous women of Mexico, hundreds of women across the country continue the fight as normal officers and the message those who have been killed or forced to flee have left behind is far more significant now than ever. Marisol, Hermila, Irma and the countless other female officers murdered or missing in Chihuahua are a sign that the drug cartels have fear too; they fear these women who stand against them without weapons, without protection but with a voice and with a determination to bring about change and to protect their people-and this is why they were targeted, to silence the beginning of what will hopefully be change.

As recently as April this year, more stories appear about the deaths of female officers in the Juarez region. Thirty-three year old Paola de la Rosa Garcia was shot multiple times in the hallway of her home and the new Chief of Police in Praxedis Guerro and her family were attacked in their home, in June, leaving all three victims in a critical state. The cartels should not underestimate the number of women willing to stand up for their country.

The fight continues…..