Laos is 80% jungle. Although we thought we knew what jungle looked like, we had no idea how bright, how diverse, how complex and how fragile it was. After seeing the beautiful primary jungle that should have covered most of South East Asia had not massive areas of it been cleared for farming, in Laos we felt particularly challenged to examine the way we live back in London. Travelling changes you, and gifts you with a new lens to see the world through. These are the three main areas we’ve been challenged to rethink once we return back home.
How we help to conserve the environment
When I was a fundraiser for the British Red Cross, I was surprised by the many people who would adamantly tell me that people didn’t deserve charity and so they only gave to animal and environment charities. Without realising, I started to see a divide between the two: you either cared about one or the other. Travelling has challenged me to care a lot more about the world we live in. Our planet and we humans are so wholly and delicately entwined and dependent on each other; you can’t only care about one. We are wrecking the Earth we’ve been made to look after. Global warming is devastating the world’s poorest communities, the negative effects of deforestation are vast and numerous, and cash crop farming is destroying the habitats of some of the most beautiful animals on the planet and depriving us of plants that hold unknown potential – medicine, energy, fibres, who knows. It’s been very easy for me to live in a concrete jungle and forget that a little bit of this vibrant, wild planet is disappearing every day. Not any more.
Where our stuff comes from
I’ve seen the queues of women lining up for the bus to take them home from the factories late at night in Vietnam. I’ve been told stories of conditions so hot and cramped and airless and exhausting that there are mass faintings on a regular basis. We know of women in Cambodia who reluctantly turned to the sex industry because they make more money there than working in garment production and it’s the only other choice they have. The people who make our clothes, our technology, our things are people just like you and me and the way they are treated is not good enough. They’re not some distant notion, some ‘other’ kind of person who is able to cope with crippling conditions and is simply grateful for the opportunity. We are causing this mass oppression, robbing others of their rights, but it’s far enough away for us to not feel guilty when we do nothing about it. I don’t need H&M’s flashy body confidence ads, I need them to spend a little more of their astronomical profits changing the lives of people who actually need empowering. I don’t want to see major brands producing small and weirdly targeted ethical collections, I want them to just be a better business all round. I’m not sure how to take action on this, mainly because I’m petite, and struggle to find clothes that fit me even on the high street. However, I’m going to make sure I don’t ease back into a comfortable, materialistic bubble and conveniently forget about that queue of exhausted, disillusioned women.
Where our food comes from
Whilst wandering around a local working market in northern Laos (not a tourist in sight) we stumbled into the meat section. As it was before 7 in the morning it was pretty hard hitting to be surrounded by so much blood and organs, and I found myself asking Ryan to not take so many photos of a severed cow’s head because it seemed undignified to make a spectacle of it. But then I realised: the cheap meat I eat all the time in the UK is produced without any dignity and without any respect for the animals. That Laotian cow had been tirelessly cared for: we had seen how the farmers gently led them out to pasture every morning and back to shelter and safety in the evenings. They walked miles so the cows could eat well and be healthy. I can’t say the same for the food I eat. In the past I’ve tried part-time vegetarianism, then cut dairy, then 90% vegan in an attempt to eat more responsibly. I don’t agree with the harmful effects of mass producing meat, dairy and eggs, both to the environment and to us as we consume products pumped with hormones, antibiotics, etc. After each of these experiments, however, I’ve gone back to a carnivorous diet – apart from the dairy because I became lactose intolerant. It boils down to the fact that despite what the squad say, I believe we were made to eat animal products and that the healthiest way to live includes them in our diet. However, we also have a responsibility to look after the resources given to us. Travelling has opened my eyes to the positives of responsible, organic farming, the harm caused by irresponsible, greed-driven farming, and the fact that we in the West are over-eating and incredibly wasteful. We’re going to take more notice of what’s in what we eat, where it comes from, and how it was cared for when we return to the UK.