Not keen to turn vegetarian or vegan? Try this instead!

A bit of backstory…

It’s a huge step to turn vegetarian or vegan if you’ve historically eaten meat and fish, or been a consumer of any animal product for that matter. The sheer amount of lifestyle changes you need to make can be overwhelming and many people fail to maintain the change in the long term.

Whilst in the UAE I decided I was suddenly turning vegetarian. I let our catering staff know and changed all of my dietary requirements on the company books over the course of a few hours.

In the interests of transparency I’ll come clean: within two weeks I was back to devouring meat at an even higher rate than before. It also wasn’t exactly feasible at the time to try a ‘flexitarian’ diet during work hours; when an outdoor centre’s catering team – whose first language isn’t English – have to cater for up to 150 people per meal they can’t exactly be asked “cook enough vegetarian and meat options so I can decide which I want when I see them”. Other than a company-wide meat-reduction scheme (keep reading for details) I enjoyed a few weeks of falafel wraps before slumping back into the chicken sandwiches that made up most of our work lunches (veggie or meat, the food was great; huge shoutout to Kanchana and all of ‘Team Sri Lanka’ for their great cooking!).

It can’t be denied that, as well as all sorts of ethics and cruelty debates, the modern meat and fisheries industry is overwhelmingly harmful to the environment and anybody who cares for the environment should be looking to significantly reduce their consumption. And that is the key word if you can’t quite commit to the full shift… REDUCE.

I am not a full-time vegetarian or vegan. I now eat about 60-70% vegetarian and about 30% of those meals are vegan. I’m enjoying being flexitarian by lifestyle. Part of that change is that, other than the sustainably sourced and regulated salmon that I had to prepare for groups in a Bushcraft instructor role I’ve done for the last two summers, I don’t eat any fish or seafood at all and haven’t since I moved to the UAE for seven months in 2017. I’ll eat small-scale sustainably-caught fish (e.g. caught by independent fishermen) but whilst back in the UK – or wherever you’re reading from – it’s almost a given that the fish you buy in the store is trawler-caught, so is best avoided.

I’ve now set all of my dietary requirements at outdoor organisations I work for as ‘vegetarian’ so I know that the moment I go to work I’ll be catered vegetarian food. Due to the remote nature of some of my jobs in various cultures it’s not quite the right time to commit to being a vegan in worktime yet.

Expanding on that previous point – I also find that I face an ethical ‘rock and a hard place’ debate in being a strict vegetarian or vegan. In my line of work and general traveling lifestyle I may be offered an animal-based meal lovingly prepared by my hosts or even slaughtered specifically for me and my group. In that case I feel the risk of offending the host is more significant than the impact of the individual meal, so I’d eat it.

So you’ve told me reduction is the way forward.. how can I start?

Earlier I mentioned a company-wide scheme we followed in the UAE. That scheme was called Meat Free Mondays. Paul McCartney and family are its leading advocates and, quite simply, it’s a brilliant way to knock a seventh off your average weekly meat and fish consumption!

All you have to do is avoid meat or fish, or ideally any animal products, on a Monday. Why a Monday? It rolls off the tongue nicely after ‘Meat Free’.

As I mentioned, it’s a big shift to try and turn fully vegetarian or vegan, or perhaps you don’t even want to. But do you really need to consume meat every meal of every day? Your body certainly doesn’t require you to. I’m not even going to link any evidence for that – millions of people spend their entire lives vegetarian or vegan without wasting away to dust – so one day a week won’t affect you physically. But it will drastically reduce your carbon footprint and individual impact on the environment.

I can’t or don’t want to do Meat Free Mondays but I’m open to reduction, what else can I do?

If Meat Free Mondays seem like too big a change or commitment for now, or maybe don’t work with your schedule, try to reduce on a smaller scale. Try and eat one vegetarian meal a week (breakfast doesn’t count; most people already have meat-free breakfasts!).

Or next time you’re in a restaurant let your eyes wander over to the vegetarian options instead of mentally casting them to the Spanish Inquisition. A good restaurant will pour the same passion into their vegetarian cooking as the rest of their menu. Italian and Asian food are often particularly rife with great vegetarian meals.

There are so many great ways to reduce your meat consumption without making the full lifestyle change to vegetarianism or veganism. You’ve just got to think a bit more creatively or conscientiously than you might currently.

If you enjoyed this article or felt inspired to make some changes and would like to receive more environmental content, make sure to hit the FOLLOW icon in the sidebar or follow my Instagram to find out whenever I publish new content.

Rich

Exploring A Notorious Arms Dealer’s Abandoned Cargo Plane

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If you’ve seen the 2005 Nicholas Cage film Lord of War, you’ll be loosely familiar with the tale of Russian gun-runner Viktor Bout.  Whilst Hollywood chose to rename the movie’s protagonist and fictionalise various events it cannot be denied that Bout was the main influence for the story. Bout now sits in an American jail cell after a long hare-and-hounds chase around the world that culminated in his arrest by US and Thai Authorities in Bangkok in 2008. Weapons and ammunition were not Bout’s only cargo – he flew everything from flowers to electronics too – but it was his willingness to make dodgy gun deals that ultimately led to his demise.

Shortly after arriving in the United Arab Emirates to work for an Outdoor Education company in September 2017 I learnt that the UAE has its own little slice of Viktor Bout’s legacy. Bout based many of his (fully legal on paper) air freight operations out of the emirate of Sharjah, and is said to have lived for a brief period in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, the emirate I called home for seven months and may again sometime in the future.

During induction for my role as an Outdoor Instructor and Field Studies Tutor our head of Senior Field Studies, Hugh, told us he had something cool to show us as part of our geography familiarisation. Whilst driving along a desolate desert road in the emirate of Umm al-Quwain, passing a couple of water parks and not much else, the silhouette of a great aircraft appeared before us, behind it a vast runway and a couple of dusty old hangars.

The jet was a Russian Ilyushin IL-76 – the centrepiece of Soviet aircraft engineering – and the aircraft Viktor Bout was known to have operated when he was in business. There’s mixed reports on how the Ilyushin came to rest at the now-abandoned UAQ Airport; some say it was grounded by local forces as the American DEA started to close in on Bout and the British intelligence services requested the UAE to evict Bout (a request the UAE complied with, catalysing the collapse of Bout’s empire). Another opinion is that a private investor purchased the body to use as a ‘gate guard’ for the airport, a more likely theory considering its location at the front of the facility, standing proud over the road. All that can be confirmed on a search of its serial number is that it was once part of Bout’s fleet.

Hugh stopped the truck and we disembarked for a quick snoop around. This initial visit was fairly uneventful, learning a little bit about the socioeconomic impacts of an area expanding beyond its means and poking our heads into a few hangars, then we headed off to conduct another tiresome beach survey. But I knew I had to get back there and explore a little more.

A week after my lust to explore had been teased, I asked around the outdoor centre for a lift to the abandoned airfield. Not long later and I and three workmates were setting off for the 90 minute drive south.

It was approaching sunset as we pulled up in a gravel layby in front of the facility. The perimeter was marked by patches of broken chainlink fence and a lazily-established line of barbed wire. It was evident that this was a popular site for the edgier or more-curious passer-by because there were many footprints in the sand and no real barrier to prohibit entry. Sun-faded “NO PHOTOGRAPHY” signs were sporadically placed along the fence, many hanging limp after years of disregard. We crossed into the facility over a trodden-down section of barbed wire and made a beeline for the huge silhouette of the cargo jet about 300m to our left.

 

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The view from the gravel layby at the front of the facility. (Rich Holt)
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The IL-76 in the distance. (Rich Holt)

 

As we approached the IL-76 we were ecstatic to find its ladder had been left down from its port-side door, meaning entry would be a walk in the park. To our surprise other people were here checking it out too and we nodded a ‘hello’ to them as they made their way back to their car.

Once we reached the plane we took a few moments to enjoy its beauty. At some point in history a hotel had come along and painted their logo along its sides but the sun and sand had blasted the logo out of relevance long ago.

 

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The IL-76 from the front, note my colleague near the belly for scale. (Rich Holt)

 

After two or three minutes we set about penetrating the vast carcass. One by one we scrambled up the ladder and into the door sitting about 2.5m off the ground. It was surprisingly tricky to get in; we each had to ‘mantle’ on the plane floor and scratch at the sides of the door to shift our bodyweight inside or, once somebody was in there, help the next person up.

 

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A friend approaching the top of the ladder. (Rich Holt)

 

The main hold of the aircraft had been torn to shreds; every last bit of its interior stripped. I don’t think it was a move to hide anything nefarious – just the level of degradation to be expected with any accessible abandoned site after long enough.

 

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Inside the main hold. (Rich Holt)

 

Once inside, we decided to check out the front spotter’s area (possibly the navigator’s booth?) and the cockpit, both now coated in several layers of dust with very few of the controls remaining intact.

 

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The lower viewing port, possibly a navigator’s booth. Small metal staircase up to the cockpit in foreground. (Rich Holt)

 

 

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The remnants of the cockpit. (Rich Holt)

 

Once we reached the cockpit we were gifted with an opportunity too good to ignore! Located just behind the pilots’ seats were a series of footholds in the bulkhead/wall leading up to an open roof hatch. It was time to enjoy sunset in style. One by one we each clambered up the holds and heaved ourselves on top of the aircraft. This was a fairly simple task for myself at 6’4 (193cm), the main issue being angling my shoulders and backpack through the narrow hatch, but the big reaches of the 2m climb were a bit of an epic for my shorter pals (who found getting through the hatch itself much easier).

 

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Squeezing my way through the roof hatch. (Jaime Chong)

 

The view once we were on top of the plane was glorious. 360 degrees of endless desert expanse. To the west, or facing aft, the sun was setting over Umm al-Quwain’s mangrove marshes. Treading carefully so as not to slide over the aircraft’s rounded convex edges we made our way to the midpoint of the wings and sat to enjoy the scenery, occasionally standing to grab a few more shots.

 

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Selfie on top of the IL-76. (Rich Holt)

 

 

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Author watching sunset from the midpoint of the IL-76’s huge wings. (Jaime Chong)

 

Once the sun had set we made our way back down through the Ilyushin and decided to get going. A coffee at the nearby Al Hamra Mall was starting to sound rather appealing! Over all, this short hour-long adventure remains one of my best memories from my season in the UAE; it truly did feel like ‘getting off the grid’…

If you find yourself in the UAE this cool feature is located about an hour’s drive north of Dubai, right next to the turn-off for Barracuda Bottle Shop and a short hop from Dreamland water park. I’d advise extreme caution in visiting; it is still technically off-limits and things didn’t go so smoothly when I decided to return in February. I’ll write about that in the future but hint: I got held at gunpoint!

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