Let me start by stating that I am an unlikely vegan and not a particularly good vegan. So any ethical vegans; feel free to criticise me and I will not defend myself.  It is true. I am a bad vegan.

As a teenager my loves were chemistry and biology, in that order. But as I approached university, I realised I lacked the maths skills for a career in chemistry. Also a work placement as an analyst put me into the way of professional chemists, who advised me to take any career path other than the one they had chosen.  So I spent three years at Queen Mary, University of London following a degree course in Zoology and Comparative Physiology and a further few years at what is now Royal Holloway, University of London studying for my doctorate in a small, old fashioned Department of Zoology.  During that time, I was elected a Scientific Fellow of the Zoological Society of London, an honour I retain, and I held a Home Office licence which enabled me to conduct small animal surgery under anaesthesia.  Not very vegan.  I also loved meat and all things meaty.

After 13 years in the pharmaceutical industry and five years back in academia in New York I bought a small farm, where I spent five years as an ethical farmer, rearing sheep, pigs, cows, goats and chickens, all with names. From time to time I took one into the barn, killed it, butchered it and ate it.  The children asked not “what is for dinner tonight”, but “who is for dinner tonight”.  All any of us can hope for is a good life and a good death. My animals enjoyed both.

But now I no longer rear animals and I cannot say how they live and die. So I have stopped eating them. I have to report that not eating animals was one of my better decisions and i cannot help but recommend it to all my friends and everyone else as well.

However I am a bad vegan. I put milk in my tea and put butter on my bread. There: I admitted it. Oh and I sometimes even wear leather shoes.  I don’t think I could manage without a splash of Alderney milk in my tea.  Nothing else tastes the same. And on Alderney, the local farmer makes the most wonderful butter from the cream he skims off his skimmed milk.  It is rich and golden and hard as nails. The cows look happy and eat grass in the summer and silage in the winter. The calves are not slaughtered for veal, but have a good life as bullocks until the time comes for them to make the very short journey to the Alderney slaughterhouse.  I feel no need to eat them myself, but it does not seem too bad a life.

A few minutes spent online will catalogue some of the horrors of factory farming. The unimaginable cruelties suffered by some pigs and chickens in particular. The barbaric ritual methods of slaughter practised by some whose lives are still ruled by stone age superstitions. The environmental problems caused by slurry and factory fish farms. I do not need to repeat them here – the information is there for all to see.

My message today is simple. If you eat meat 7 days a week, try to cook without exploiting any animal products on at least one of those days. You will find that a meal can be just as satisfying, just as full of flavour – certainly more interesting than meat and two veg. Again, just go online and search for vegan recipes – or vegetarian if you want a halfway house. If you go out for a meal – try a vegan restaurant if you can find one. My favourite treat when I pass through Edinburgh is a meal at Hendersons.   If you end up somewhere else that caters primarily for carnivores, take a close look at the vegetarian/vegan options. Push your boundaries. Be brave. You never know, you just might like it!


Childhood Diabetes


As government cuts make running extracurricular activities more challenging for our local schools, Highland Titles are delighted to once again donate a cycle to Ballachulish Primary School as the main raffle prize for their Christmas Fundraising again this year.  Hopefully the lucky winner will be able to use it to cycle along our tracks at Keil Hill.

Years ago, it was rare to hear about a child with type 2 diabetes. Doctors used to think children only got type 1. It was even called juvenile diabetes for a long time. But not any more. Exercise – or lack of it – is probably the main reason for the rise in this pernicious disease. Getting out on the hill and cycling are two excellent ways for youngsters to avoid Diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes runs through my family. My mother, both her parents and my sister have suffered from Type 2 diabetes. However, I have so far escaped, probably due to a lifetime of waking in the hills and a vegan diet. But I could certainly lose a few pounds and now lead a depressingly sedentary lifestyle, running Highland Titles. How I envy our volunteers who get rained on every day and are the figures of fitness, on their feet all day leading tours and planting trees. Perhaps we should swap jobs now and then!

I spent many years in medical research dealing with the systems that, when they do not work correctly, lead to diabetes. Your digestive system breaks down carbohydrates like pasta and potatoes into a type of sugar called glucose. Your pancreas creates insulin, a hormone that moves glucose from your blood into your cells, where it’s stored until it is used as fuel.

In type 2 childhood diabetes, the insulin receptors on cells in your child’s body fails to respond to the insulin, and glucose builds up in the bloodstream. This is called insulin resistance. Eventually, the sugar levels in the blood get too high for it to handle. That hyperglycaemia can lead to other conditions in the future, like heart disease, blindness, and kidney failure. Progress to these complications is particularly rapid in children.

Type 2 diabetes is most likely to affect girls rather than boys who are overweight. In the UK and USA nearly 1 every 3 children is overweight. Once a child gets too heavy, they are at a much greater risk to develop diabetes.  Children become obese because of a lack of physical activity and eating to much of the wrong sorts of food.  The school run is certainly one factor. In my day, we all walked to and from school every day. Children now expect to be driven everywhere. The development of safe cycle routes and footpaths is a large part in reversing this trend.


So, what are the symptoms?

At first, there may be no symptoms. Over time, you may notice:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Hungry or thirsty a lot, even after eating
  • Dry mouth
  • Peeing a lot
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Heavy breathing
  • Slow healing of sores or cuts
  • Itchy skin
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet

Take your child to the doctor if you notice any of these symptoms.  Better still, encourage them to maintain a healthy weight by eating the right food and exercising enough. Failure to do do should not be an option.