Matt & Nat Orwell Bag in Black

Earlier in the year, as a newly-born vegetarian, there was a delayed reaction time before I realised I couldn't buy leather anymore. It'd be a bit hypocritical to wear dead animal skins but not eat them, surely?

Well, if truth be told, I still wear leather (gasp!). The catch is, that I already owned the few leather garments before changing my views on the meat (and hence leather, fur, and any other animal by-product that is secondary to the meat industry) - it'd seem rather wasteful to throw them away, and with the exception of my leather jacket, which I'm going to sell, my scuffed black boots and partially torn belt aren't going to be investments anyone else will want to make.

When it came down to buying myself a new handbag, however, vegan was definitely my preference. And here is how I ended up with the beautiful Orwell by Matt & Nat.

The company, based in Canada, stands for "Material & Natural", meaning their bags are 100% plant-based or made of recycled goods. They also share a lot of views close to my heart, as their motto, Live Beautifully, represents "appreciating the humanity, creativity and positivity found in all of us.

The bag itself is wonderful. Light, yet tough like leather, with five integrated pockets (two of which have zips) that allow me to store my notepad, Kindle, beauty products and tote bag on top of my regular handbag items. The inner lining is made from recycled plastic bottles and is easy to clean, plus I really adore the style of it, like a sophisticated satchel bag. All in all, the bag cost £100 with free shipping, and after three months of daily use, it looks and feels as good as new.

My views on Matt & Nat are somewhat mixed; they're seemingly a small enterprise with some gorgeous, classic products and a great ethical outlook. However, they still use factories in China to make their goods (which, overlooking the low pay rate and conditions for factory workers, means a lot of shipping is involved in the production process) and their customer service wasn't great, as there was a month-long delay in shipping.

  • Quality: High, although in relation to the price, is to be expected
  • Materials: PU, PVC, recycled nylon, cork, rubber and plastic bottles
  • Production: Factories in China 
  • Shipping: Global, with local outlet stores in Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, UK and US

Overall, I'd definitely suggest going to Matt & Nat if you're interested in high-end vegan maroquinerie, but a consultation of your personal ethical compass is recommended!
Vegetarianism banner with spinach leaves

Let me tell you a little secret... I've not always been a vegetarian.

It's something that I assume most veggies have in common - we're the "converted" (except for the few born into veggie or vegan families - hey, keep up the good work guys!).

Making the choice to become a vegetarian stemmed from a number of sources but ultimately concludes in one reason. Unlike most herbivorous homo-sapiens, my problem does not lie with the killing animals. For me, it's the livelihood they have to endure; their death is almost a sigh of relief.

Let me elaborate: coming from a country where corporal punishment is not practiced, every so often a criminal on trial, or newly put in prison, finds a way to commit suicide and people get disappointed. It's logical that we want people who have committed terrible acts to pay for their illegality by having their freedom taken away, isn't it? They don't deserve our rights and lifestyles, yet we don't want them to escape their condemned lives either.

Imprisonment is seen as a punishment. Life imprisonment is saved for the worst offenders.

Yet people are not born into prison. Nor are they allowed to be left in over-cramped, communal conditions with no sanitation facilities while imprisoned. Criminals are not left with festering wounds, or broken bones caused by overfeeding from unnatural sources or manhandling. And criminals are certainly not kept in the dark for the whole of their sentences.

These instances are labelled as torture. And sadly, the majority of the meat that we are served or sold has endured such conditions. I'm not even going to mention their deaths, humane or not. It's for this reason that I could no longer stomach a bloody steak, or a chicken leg, with the its crispy "melt-in-the-mouth" skin. The sheer scale of inhumanity is no longer compatible with how I want to live my life, and the idea of secondarily eating the feed that went into these animals, the unhappiness in their bodies and the rigidity of their deaths is, in my eyes, no way healthy.

Having reflected on these choices with friends and family, it's clear that the majority of people don't connect the dots like this - whether it be through ignorance or blind faith in the meat industry. For the minority that do recognise this reality, and still choose to eat meat, let it be clear that I have no qualms with you. In fact, I respect you for taking the time to process the cause and effect more than anything else.

For 20 years of my life, I was also unaware of the issues in our meat industry, but a number of books, articles and documentaries helped me form my solid decision. If you're looking for proof of what I've written or want to make up your own mind, I suggest starting off with one of the following documentaries, to give you an easily-accessible and quick insight:

Food, Inc.
A documentary about the reality of the American meat industry.

A documentary about three average American people trying veganism for one month.

Supersize Me
If you'd rather only learn about the reality behind the fast food industry, this one is for you.

On top of these, investing time in fitness and yoga has meant that meat just doesn't fit with my lifestyle - but my relatively new-found vegetarianism is a great excuse to find healthy places to eat and new food to cook! In a way, this is why I created Curiously Conscious - as a journal to store healthy, natural ideas and spread the word about happy, green living.

So, now it's over to you - if you watch one of the documentaries above, or have an opinion on vegetarianism, I'd love to talk with you! Let me know what your thoughts are on the food industry in the comments section or with me on Twitter and also, if you know any other good documentaries on the subject, especially ones linked with the British food industry!

This is my new favourite smoothie recipe! Suggested as a breakfast smoothie by Deliciously Ella, if I plan on making this in the mornings instead of my hearty Weetabix, I wake up all excited and glowy!

The recipe itself is really simple, and you can adapt it to what you have in the kitchen or want nutritionally. I personally recommend the following...

1 ripe banana
3 tablespoons of oats
2 handfuls of frozen berries
3 handfuls of spinach
1/2 a cup of vanilla soy milk

1. Add all of the ingredients into a blender, whizz up until smooth and then drink!

Having become vegetarian half a year ago, making sure the products that I put in my shopping basket are what they say they are has become super important! And while labelling in France isn't always clear (they are yet to implement a system that indicates whether a product is suitable for vegetarians - I know right?!), it's also left me stumped in the fresh fruit and vegetables aisle. What does organic, or natural, really mean? Are they the same thing? And if not, what are the differences?

I stumbled across the infographic below this evening while browsing Take Part, (a branch of the Participant Media tree, the bringers of Food Inc. and Pivot TV where they host hitRECord, to name drop a few awesome projects), that divvies up the differences between the two - and what both represent.

For example, organic prohibits the use of genetically modified products, but does not guarantee humane slaughter for animals in terms of food products, nor does it rule out animal testing for beauty products. And natural? Natural means absolutely nothing in terms of labelling legislation. Take a look for yourself here!

It's quite shocking that manufacturers are able to boast that their product is "all natural" and not need to prove it, even in a court of law. Then again, it wasn't too long ago that pharmaceutical companies were flogging their wares under the pretense that they cured pretty much anything. If this provides any kind of lesson, it's that we still need to stick to reading the list of ingredients rather than trusting packaging jargon.

If you're reading this from the U.S., you can make a difference by signing Take Part's petition to regulate the use of the word "natural" here.