Louise Wallis

Singer, DJ, Writer, Restaurateur

The Exhibitionist in Me

The lowdown on

ANIMUS

An international group show by vegan artists – exploring kinship and disconnection

Curated by Luminous Frenzy

Mother Nature by Amy Guidry

Curator’s Statement (intro)

Our animus towards animals is unprecedented. “Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history” ran a recent headline in The Guardian. “Tens of billions of sentient beings, each with complex sensations and emotions, live and die on a production line”. We tend not to dwell on this, and powerful forces keep it this way. The mantra that we are meant to eat animals so embedded in our culture and economy that we often fail to question it. The farm animal fairytale is one of “happy” lives and “humane” deaths. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The Show

15 artists and 19 images of animals

Exhibited for 7 weeks at Karamel, the multifaceted venue and social space that I run with Frank my partner. With visitors mainly coming for gigs, parties and events – or to eat – we needed to find a way to draw them into the art …

Startling, Sensitive & Surreal

“An eye theme emerged early on” I told Vegan Life magazine “when I realised I was choosing many pieces with the animal looking directly at the viewer. Eye contact is powerful and I hope this draws people in. The photos have been blown-up, so that many animals are life-sized, which gives them greater presence”.

One of Us by Philip McCulloch Downs

Private View

The Launch party on Friday 29th July 2016 was attended by over 70 people, greeted by our lovely volunteer Claudie Tailleur. With speeches from me (Curator), Matthew Maran (Photographer), Philip McCulloch-Downs (Artist), Maria Chiorando (Editor of Vegan Life magazine), and activists from Surge.

Private View

Press

ANIMUS was covered by two prominent art magazines: Apollo – The International Art Magazine and Ours, which published a full-blown feature with the headline:

“VEGANS STUN IN NEW LONDON EXHIBITION: ANIMUS”

A 3-page spread followed in the October issue of Vegan Life magazine, which featured images of exhibits, and an extensive interview with me and two artists.

The exhibition was also covered by VeggieVision (TV channel/website), Veganuary, blogger Fat Gay Vegan, and VegNews magazine (in the US), and reviewed by vegan media presenters Karin Ridgers and Victoria Eisermann.

Response

Some snippets from the Visitors Book:

“Thank you so much for holding this exhibition. I am studying Art at A level and my personal investigation is on Animal Rights so this exhibition was perfect for me! I adore animals so I am taking steps to become vegan” Asheigh & Chandler from Luton

“Wonderful and moving art exhibit. Thank you for showcasing it. Looking forward to more in future” Shayna

“The ANIMUS exhibition shows poignant imagery that gently nudges us to look into the eyes of our beloved fellow sentients. Thank you for existing, keep going, keep growing” Kerry Jayne & Adam

Art Imitating Art

My favourite feedback came from a young girl who drew one of the exhibits. Remarkably, it was my own piece, ‘Charlie’.  A portrait of dog I’d taken when working undercover at an animal research lab. In the photo, his eyes are deeply affecting, and yet in the girl’s drawing they seem more hopeful. A striking likeness too. Future vegan artist, perhaps?

Charlie by Louise Wallis

Artist Outcomes

All the artists were thrilled to take part –  and for some, it was a dream come true having work exhibited alongside the artists who’d inspired them.

Over 2000 people visited Karamel during the exhibition’s run: 24th July – 11th September 2016.

Three exhibits were sold, including this one by Illustrator Roger Olmos.

Wordless by Roger Olmos

In January 2017 at Vegan Life Live, I presented two exhibits by Photographer Joanne McArthur to our sponsors the Vegan Society and Vegan Life magazine – for permanent display in their offices (with Jo-anne’s blessing). By happy serendipity, a third exhibit (which I was attempting to returning to the artist) sold on the spot, at the same event.

The Team

ANIMUS was a 6-way collaboration – with funding from the Vegan Society, Vegan Life magazine, and crowdfunding, and practical support from Luminous Frenzy (that’s us, the Curators), The Sheppard Collection of Vegan Art, and Collage Arts (who provided an exhibition slot).

The Sheppard Collection kindly lent four artworks, which enabled us to stage a full-scale show despite a funding shortfall.

Footnotes

1) Two ANIMUS exhibits, ‘Standing Pig’ by Sue Coe and  ‘Charlie’ (my photo) get a second outing this month in Behind Closed Doors at The Strand Gallery.

2) ANIMUS artist Karen Fiorito (USA) recently gained international notoriety when her billboard of Donald Trump went viral.

Conclusion

ANIMUS demonstrated the potential of art in a vegan context – and hopefully ignited other creative sparks. We know at least one artist it helped to inspire – Aisha Eveleigh, who came to the Private View, and is curating the Behind Closed Doors exhibition in central London later this month.

Come to the Event Day on Sat 27th May if you can, when I’ll be giving a talk. Get your ticket HERE (just £5.00 up to 13th May, and £6.00 thereafter)

Big thanks to all involved in ANIMUS, and everyone who visited. Do leave me a comment if you did.

Luminous Frenzy  (me & Mr Frenzy)

ANIMUS exhibits

‘Wordless’ by Roger Olmos (Spain)

‘Carousel’ by Jana Schirmer (Germany)

‘Maggie’ by Jo-anne McArthur (Canada)

‘Charlie’ by Louise Wallis (UK)

‘Sainsbury’s Fox’ by Matthew Maran (UK)

‘The Azure Lynx and the Wave of Flowers’ by Philip McCulloch Downs (UK)

‘One of Us’ by Philip McCulloch Downs (UK)

‘Hear No Evil. See No Evil. Speak No Evil’ by Dana Ellyn (USA)

‘Mother Nature’ by Amy Guidry (USA)

‘Save Our Sharks’ by Francesca A. Page (UK)

‘Best of British’ by Philip McCulloch Downs (UK)

‘Pig in Slaughterhouse’ by Sue Coe (UK/USA)

‘Lost Whale Swims Up the Thames’ by Sue Coe (UK/USA)

‘Buddha Cat’ by Karen Fiorito (USA) – The Sheppard Collection

‘Farm Sanctuary’ by Jo-anne McArthur (Canada)

‘Day Old Chick’ by Roland Straller (Germany) – The Sheppard Collection

‘Dusky Dolphin’ by Jasper Wilkins (UK)

‘Not Like Sheep to the Slaughter’ by Michelle Waters (USA) – The Sheppard Collection

‘Extinct Animal Malabar Civet’ by Sarah Stupak (USA) – The Sheppard Collection

Buddha Cat by Karen Fiorito

Creating Carnage: Simon Amstell on his first feature film

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Simon Amstell has long been a provocative presence on our screens. “The British comic has a gift for taking a social norm and gently mocking it until it seems utterly ridiculous”, observed the New York Times back in 2012. His latest project, a feature length mockumentary, has turned this into an art form.

“Set in a utopian 2067Carnage looks back at a time when human beings ate other animals. For the young people of this time, the idea that their grandparents could have been complicit in a bloodbath of unnecessary suffering is wholly unimaginable” says the BBC.

“The film aims to break the taboo around Britain’s animal eating past, whilst showing compassion for a generation, now seeking therapy to cope with the horror of their unthinkable actions” and “gives a unique comedic peek into the future where animals live equally amongst humans”

Tuesday’s Premiere at the BFI was an upbeat affair, full of friends, family, collaborators, fans, and journalists. The woman next to me, from Chortle (the comedy website), laughed raucously from the start but gradually grew more subdued.

It was an unsettling watch, this curious mix of comic drama, archive footage, fake documentary clips, puppet shows, interviews and faux news reports. At times it was hard to know what was pretend, and what was real. Aside from the clips of animal abuse (deployed minimally). The commentary, courtesy of Amstell himself, is hilarious and hardcore. “Fisting cows” he cries. By the time it ended, I thought Carnage was the most subversive thing I’d seen since Brass Eye. Brass neck in Amstell’s case – for boldly taking Sci-Fi where no-one else dare.

In the Q&A after with film critic Mark Kermode, he reveals he went vegan after seeing Earthlings, but found that others wouldn’t watch the film as it was too upsetting. “So I thought it would be a good idea to make something funny and watchable, so that the message could be put across in a way that didn’t traumatise people”.

“The compassionate angle” he says, is the film’s “saving grace”. That’s true, I think: for although the joke is most definitely on us (carnists and vegans alike), it’s handled in a way that retains our collective dignity.

The master stroke was setting it in the future, allowing him full creative licence. A surreal scene is a clip from a (fictional) opera, featuring actress Samantha Spiro dressed as a cow and singing lines like “Why did you take my baby?” Writing this song “from the perspective of a cow” is the thing Simon’s most proud of: “When Sam sung it, we were doing a close up, and she actually made me cry”. Kermode concurs: “Actually, that song is starting to get under my skin and in a really bizarre way”.

Carnage is a fiendishly clever name – part reference to Carnism, the name psychologist Melanie Joy coined for the prevailing meat-eating ideology.

“This revolution is happening now, whether anyone likes it or not”, says Amstell. “I think that’s why I felt as long as it’s funny. You just have to be funny. Ultimately, it’s going to be really awkward if we keep eating other animals”.

Carnage isn’t the first funny film about veganism (see Truth or Dairy starring Benjamin Zephaniah), but it is on another level.  As I sat in the Bar afterwards nursing my third Coconut Daiquiri – I couldn’t help but chuckle, and shake my head, thinking: wow, did that really just happen?

Watch out World, Carnage hits BBC iplayer on 19th March

 

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For those who fail at veganism

solidarity

A Facebook friend has just announced she’s no longer vegan, and I’m sad about this. I’d admired a blog post she wrote last year, about her struggles as a vegan with an eating disorder, with her disapproving dietician, and with fellow “vegan feminists” who’d greeted her wobbles with guilt-tripping. Despite the setbacks, she was clear that being vegan “helped”; and since my own eating disorder (teenage bulimia) had also been tempered by veganism, I’d cheered her on.

I scrolled through the comments. Everyone was pleased for her: apart from one guy, who left a petulant “Good bye”. Although he added that he wished her well, but didn’t think stopping being vegan would “help anything”. This saw him challenged by a few people (vegans included), for being “dogmatic” and having “strict” and “rigid views”. For my friend, it was the final straw: “I wouldn’t identify as vegan now even if my diet remained vegan”, she replied.

Whoa, that was a strong statement. Why so down on the vegan identity? I wasn’t sure how to respond to this, or indeed, to the news itself. I didn’t think quitting would help either, but didn’t dare suggest this. And as a peripheral, online friend, I wasn’t sure it was my place. So I commented that I was “Sad to hear this”, and interested to read more about her change of heart in the blog post she promised.

But it bothered me that no other vegans had voiced reservations when my friend had been vegan for 9 years. Why not?

I teach exercise, and occasionally meet clients who appear to have anorexia, which carries a risk of heart attack and bone fracture. I’m obliged to raise concerns, even if it’s experienced as intrusive (and s/he leaves for a less ‘confrontational’ teacher). Because sometimes, to do the right thing, we need to do the hard thing. Boundaries help: they might be what that person needs in order to find a firmer footing, at that point, or further down the line.

If being vegan is a positive thing: why wouldn’t we want that for our friend? Couldn’t we ask how we might support her to stay vegan? I decided to send my friend a private message, just to put it out there. Maybe others did too? I hope so.

My friend’s reasons were mainly nutrition-based, and complicated by her condition. But the disproportionate focus on nutrition whenever vegan diets are mentioned worries me. We fixate on this. Forgetting that standard diets are supplemented too, with ‘fortified’ foods, that have nutrients added – in some cases, by law – to reduce the risk of serious deficiencies. There’s an unconscious bias that needs acknowledging before we can look at the issue objectively.

I also question the “recovery” narrative of many former vegans. For how do you “recover” from compassion? I think there’s something else at play.

The vegan identity isn’t the first to be disowned. Feminism was once a byword for militancy, prompting many women to publicly disassociate themselves from it. Feminists were “extremists”. (Hmm … where have we heard that before?) Happily, in recent years, feminism’s good name has largely been restored, thanks to the efforts of younger feminists like my friend. The stigmatising stereotypes exposed for the sexism they are.

We’ve learned to distinguish the message, from the messenger. By which I mean, to value the idea of equality for women, irrespective of our feelings about its most vocal proponents. The same will happen with ‘vegan’ too, one day.

For vegans are not unique in critiquing the behaviour of others – a defining feature of social change. The difference with veganism, of course, is its practical expression: the daily boycott of animal products. A practice some find easy, while others undoubtedly struggle.

I wonder if it isn’t quite common for vegans to struggle, or have the occasional blip? Sadly, it’s taboo to talk about this – for fear of letting the side down, I suppose, or being told off (e.g. by vegan feminists). I struggle myself at times. Not least with finding food I want to eat, when I want it – like a sandwich at the train station. It’s frustrating to be constantly thwarted in the simple pleasures others take for granted. But far worse, for me, are the social consequences of being vegan. Welcome to the role of party pooper!

Cake, the great staple of celebrations and social occasions, is a particular flashpoint. As cakes are rarely vegan in these situations, you find yourself excluded from an experience that’s essentially shared and participatory. Unless there’s two cakes: but that feels weird too, since lines are still drawn. It’s exposing. You can’t just be.

I don’t blame my friend for doing what she feels is best for her, or indeed anyone who can no longer cope with being vegan. It happens. The pressure to conform is enormous. Is it any wonder people crack? But I do think it’s important to acknowledge the toxic context that might move someone to relinquish and reprove a hitherto heartfelt practice.

“Spoiled identity” nails it for me. A term coined by the sociologist Erving Goffman, a specialist in stigma: the “process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity”. The stigmatised are the “socially abnormal”. According to Wikipedia: “Those who are stereotyped often start to act in ways that their stigmatisers expect of them. It not only changes their behavior, but it also shapes their emotions and beliefs”. This is “internalised stigma”.

We can be multi-stigmatised too: in my case, an ‘illegitimate’ child become a childless, vegan adult. Stigmas are myriad: attached to disability, sexual preference, eating disorders, political views, belief, bereavement, hair colour, and many more. They mount up, and take their toll. And in response, we create coping strategies. A common one is to conceal the spoiled identity, another is to reject it. Since the vegan identity isn’t easily hidden, it tends to be renounced, which also brings relief from its practical demands. I guess it’s vulnerable that way.

But it isn’t all bad news. The feminist identity has prevailed, giving us hope. And the more we become aware of internalised stigma, and its impact on us, the more we can challenge it. I find stigma fascinating: a strange map of the human psyche.

For anyone struggling with food and/or veganism, I recommend Always Too Much, And Never Enough, the recent memoir by Jasmin Singer. A bullied “fat kid”, who went on to lose weight as an adult, and noticed a dramatic difference in the way the world treated her. She wrote a blog about this that went viral, and eventually became the book. (Read an interview with Jasmin here).

alwaystoomuchcover

My friend’s decision gave me pause for some soul searching. It’s made me reflect on how we can best support others contemplating the same. And what we might say to them.

Curiously, this has culminated in a Peter Gabriel lyric popping into my head – from a song I haven’t heard in years (his duet with Kate Bush). I remember feeling conflicted when it was released, over it being sentimental. I realise now, it’s not: just a profound expression of solidarity.

Then I found a quote from Gabriel, about the song’s intention. “The basic idea” he says “is that handling failure is one of the hardest things we have to learn to do.”

So, at the risk of sounding sentimental, I’ll leave you with the great man’s words. Dedicated to anyone who is struggling – with veganism, or with life.

Don’t give up, ’cause you have friends
Don’t give up, you’re not the only one
Don’t give up, no reason to be ashamed
Don’t give up, you still have us
Don’t give up now, we’re proud of who you are
Don’t give up, you know it’s never been easy
Don’t give up, ’cause I believe there’s a place
There’s a place where we belong

Why Plant-based isn’t Vegan: a warning from history

The raising, slaughtering and eating of animals is normalised in our culture.

But not in vegan culture. The safe space we make for ourselves, as witnesses to trauma; where we find comfort, validation and inspiration. (Not separatism, but Sanctuary).

So how do we keep this safe, in light of the news that the founders of a flagship “vegan” restaurant chain have begun to farm beef?

It’s a predicament nailed by Judith Lewis Herman in her book ‘Trauma & Recovery’:

“those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides”.

The cows on one side / Their executioners on the other.

“It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator,” continues Herman. For “All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering”

As the chain’s restaurants will continue as vegan (a good thing), it is tempting to “do nothing”.

On the other hand, we could ask Cafe Gratitude not to describe a ‘plant-based’ brand as “vegan”.

Though often confused, these two terms are not interchangeable.

‘Plant-based’ – refers to a dietary regimen with an emphasis on plant foods, which is pursued for health, fitness, or weight related reasons; and can be vegan, vegetarian, or omnivorous. Its origins are unclear, as it seems to have emerged organically, from the wider culture.

Vegan’ – by contrast, is unequivocal, with a documented provenance. Coined in 1944, by a specific group of people, with a specific meaning and purpose (to name a new movement, and a diet with no animal content)

The onus is on us to clarify this. And to consider to what extent vegans may be adding to confusion when using ‘plant-based’ as a euphemism. There’s certainly place for ‘plant-based’ in our vocabulary, but we need to know why we are using it.

The word ‘vegan’ is vulnerable, because it confronts the violence concealed by a complicit culture. It requires bolstering because of the powerful stigma attached (which I’ve also written about here) – manifesting as hostility, and intense pressure to move the goalposts.

We’ve already seen the word ‘vegetarian’ succumb. This actually meant vegan when it was coined in the 1830s, and “only came to indicate a diet that included eggs and dairy products after the formation of The Vegetarian Society in 1847“. (Source: ‘Ripened by Human Determination‘ by Dr Sarah Calvert).

Surely we don’t want to go down that road again.

When our predecessors survived World War 2 and food rationing to bring it to us. And the Vegan Society‘s founder Donald Watson, warned of this “strong gravitation the wrong way unless existing standards are guarded”, in his first newsletter.

We need to be vigilant: to ‘keep vigil’ for animals. By acting, creating, protesting and persuading.

For, as Herman explains, “In the absence of strong political movements”, we are prone to “amnesia”.

“To hold traumatic reality in consciousness requires a social context that affirms and protects the victim, and joins victim and witness in a common alliance”

That “social context” she says, “is created by political movements that give voice to the disempowered”

Which, in a nutshell, folks, means: Get your ‘iron knickers’ on! That movement is you and me.

© Louise Wallis

 

(Peace, Love, Vegan image by artist Sarah Kiser)

Note: I revised this post as of 18.8.17, in the hope that it is clearer and better written

 

Day Dreaming: the story of World Vegan Day – by its founder

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World Vegan Day is 21 this year. As its creator, I feel like a proud parent.

Not only has it officially come of age,  it has finally come into its own. In 2015, the Day is now a widely celebrated and internationally recognised event and fixture of the media calendar.

So where did I get the idea for World Vegan Day? The truth is I can’t say exactly – only that it came to me in a flash: in one of those classic “Aha!” moments.

World Vegan Day logo

I was President of the Vegan Society at the time, voted into this role in 1991 on the back of my undercover investigation into two animal labs. It was an exciting time. The Society was building up to its 50th birthday, and we were thinking of ways to mark this momentous occasion.

I’d already come up with one idea: a film. And in 1992, in quite possibly the earliest example of crowdfunding, I set up a Vegan Video Fund. Then enlisted my partner Frank, my friends Franny & Boo Armstrong as filmmakers, and Benjamin Zephaniah as Presenter.  Over a year later we emerged, tired but triumphant with Truth or Dairy*, an upbeat, and humorous take on veganism.

BZ Horse Stance_2

My second idea was World Vegan Day. That was much easier: we simply had to announce it. But what date? We knew that the Society had been founded by Donald Watson and friends in November 1944, but not the exact date. The 1st November seemed a good choice – easy to remember – and as I explained in 2011: “I liked the idea of this date coinciding with Samhain / Halloween, and Day of the Dead – traditional times for feasting and celebration. Both apt and auspicious”.

Donald Watson & wife

Culturally, this is the time of year we remember ancestors and forbearers, and those early pioneers were never far from my mind. As I wrote, in an editorial for The Vegan in 1994 (next to the formal announcement of World Vegan Day):

“It is hard for us to imagine what it must have been like to literally ‘invent’ yourself as a vegan. In the forties, the idea of refusing to eat animal products was not only unheard of but considered stark raving madness! Everyone sincerely believed you would surely die. The story fascinates me. How was it possible that a few disparate individuals scattered across the country should simultaneously experience this new, revolutionary vision of a saner future? What on earth possessed them to severely restrict their food options at a time when rationing was at its most severe, and everyone else was worried about simply finding enough to eat? And how did they instinctively know what to do, when there had been no-one else before them?”

We owe everything to these daredevil dreamers, and on World Vegan Day we get to raise a toast in thanks.

It’s also a time for fun, feasting and awareness-raising. Whenever I google ‘World Vegan Day’ I’m blown away by the boundless creativity: from festivals, food tastings and film screenings, to professional football matchesnaked flash mobs, and poignant protests.

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WVD event by Animal Equality in Madrid

I still struggle to get my head around the fact that there was even a World Vegan Day debate in the UK Parliament. Led by vegan MP Kerry McCarthy (now shadow Environment Minister).

Sometimes, people contact me to tell me what they do on World Vegan Day. My favourite anecdote is from Jordan Wyatt of the Invercargill Vegan Society in New Zealand, the “southernmost animal rights organisation in the world”. WVD has special significance for Jordan, as he explains:

“On 2011 World Vegan Day, we planted a memorial tree. In 2012, I went big for the first time, posters up, getting in the media etc. My now partner drove down 200km to join in, from her nearby city. By 2013 we had fallen in love, and she had moved down to be with me. On 2014 World Vegan Day, we installed public art, posters, media … AND got married, on the 70th anniversary of veganism”

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Jordan and Jen’s Wedding – World Vegan Day 2014

Wow. A World Vegan Day wedding, for a couple who fell in love on World Vegan Day, in a ceremony next to a tree planted on World Vegan DayIt doesn’t get better than this.

In a way, Jordan and Jen’s story sums up what World Vegan Day is all about: bringing people together. It also demonstrates how powerful ideas can be.

A current hot topic in idea theory is ‘The Adjacent Possible’. In the simplest terms, this is the potential (and serendipity) created when you notice and connect the unlikely.

A leading exponent is Steve Johnson, bestselling author of Where Good Ideas Come From. He describes it thus:

“The Adjacent Possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself”.

I love this: “a shadow future” is how I think of World Vegan Day. The one day a year when we can make our dreams feel real. When we get a glimpse of what a vegan world might look like. When we can connect with others, and influence the course of their lives.

“Chance favours the connected mind” says Johnson. Creativity, he suggests, comes not from introspection and solitary pondering, but from being proactive – from mingling, sharing and exchanging. Innovation is essentially social, he argues, thriving in chaotic spaces like the Coffee Houses which famously gave rise to the Age of Enlightenment.

As proprietor of Kabaret, a Cafe Bar serving excellent coffee in the heart of North London’s artistic community, this pleases me immensely.

Running a vegan venue wasn’t something I foresaw. It came by chance via a serendipitous facebook connection.

Our tagline is ‘Creating Vegan Culture’. So new is this concept, that even we don’t know what it is! But hey, we’re doing it anyway.

We host many vegan events including Vegan Comedy Nights, London Vegan Drinks and Queer Vegan Disco. For this year’s World Vegan Day I’ve pulled out all the stops and organised an ExtraVeganza.

We’ll be kicking back, scoffing Sunday Roast, sipping Prosecco, watching a movie, and listening to two of my favourite people speak: Jasmijn De Boo, Vegan Society CEO & Huffington Post columnist; and real life wonder woman Fiona Oakes, the world record-breaking marathon runner. We’ll also be raising funds for Fiona’s animal sanctuary Tower Hill Stables, currently home to 400 animals.

Tickets are still available for this event on Sunday 1st November, so if you want to come – book here

Happy World Vegan Day, whatever you are doing.

This one is dedicated to all you dreamers out there, and especially Mat Swinn.

Remember folks …

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* Truth or Dairy our 20 min Vegan Society film has aged remarkably well. If you fancy watching click here

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