Ben is the founder of the vegan food, forest school, nature and sustainability blog Ben The Forest Foodie. He’s graduated in Ecology and Wildlife Conservation and he’s been a passionate advocate of sustainability and the environment for the last 10 years. Ben lives a very eco-conscious lifestyle, he’s vegan and he’s a Forest School Deputy Manager. In November 2020 he started to share his journey on Instagram by using his photography, cooking and teaching skills to promote wellbeing for himself, his audience and his Forest School’s students. We asked him a few questions about his sustainable lifestyle and what he’s learned so far.
How did you get into veganism?
Becoming vegan was quite an unpleasant experience in all honesty! I was studying Ecology and Wildlife Conservation at University, and an internship was the last step to academic freedom. This was about monitoring the ecology of a nature reserve during the day, and taking care of the neighbouring farms cattle in the evenings.
After a few weeks of this, I unexpectedly made real connections with mother cows and their calves. I felt conflicted, as this farm proudly boasted its “British, Organic, Free Roam” ethos. I found it hard to believe the cows felt the same way. I saw mastitis, rough handling of which hitting and shouting were highly encouraged and the devastating miscarriage of an oversized calf; followed by the death of the mother, due to the wounds she sustained. I watched this mother cow cry for her baby, unable to walk, with her injuries covered in maggots for nearly one week. She was eventually “taken away” and something changed in me that day.
I decided that I would have never consumed meat again. Dairy soon followed as my research into the industry deepened, and I’ve never looked back. Long-story-short; the decision was easy.
What is your goal and who is your audience?
My goal is to eradicate pessimistic stereotypes about the vegan lifestyle. Just a flick through my Instagram feed provides evidence to suggest that veganism is not “restrictive”, “boring” or “expensive”.
I also want to encourage respect for nature through my Forest School teaching. I think that nurturing this genuine respect is very effective in making children and their parents more eco-conscious.
My audience is 70% vegan women, 20% vegan men and 10% nature enthusiasts. I have sadly noticed that veganism is sometimes perceived as a “feminine” lifestyle choice. I feel this is a result of the deeply indoctrinated societal association that eating meat is “masculine”. As a gay man myself, I live freely expressing both my masculinity and femininity. Therefore, I don’t care how I’m perceived.
Personally, I couldn’t think of anything more “heroic” than sparing the lives of innocent sentient beings and saving the environment at the same time!
What has been the biggest learning curve in your professional growth?
I spent years after university feeling like I had no say in my working life, and being rather complacent. I felt like I wasn’t really contributing anything positive into the world. This started affecting my personal wellbeing, quite noticeably to my friends and family.
It was only when I found out about forest school, that I suddenly felt a fire ignite inside me. I was helping youngsters nurture their emotional, mental and physical development, whilst raising their awareness of the environment! So, I think that finding and chasing my passions has really given me a sense of fulfilment.
Don’t just stick to something because you are good at it. Find something you care about, and chase it to the finish line.
What are the biggest misconceptions about what you do?
I feel that what being a Forest School Teacher actually entails, is still quite unknown outside of the education industry. Yes, we spend all day outside having campfires and playing games and getting creative and feeling a sense of freedom. But, I am in charge of safeguarding on average 15 children in hot and cold weather, managing fires, safely preparing and cooking food, changing nappies (not fun on wet muddy days), supervising the use of sharp tools, de-escalating anti-social behaviour, etc.
It beats being in a classroom, but it comes with an entirely different level of responsibilities.
What’s a day in your life like?
During the week I get up, shower, grab a Greggs vegan sausage roll and catch the bus to work.
On a typical forest school day, I prepare the children’s porridge or granola and then we start off the day around the fire circle to do some mindfulness. The other teachers and I will then start our activities and other tasks before sitting down for lunch together.
More activities will continue such as fire lighting, whittling sticks or making bird feeders and then tea time approaches. We pack up the site, provide feedback to parents at collection time, I file any necessary paperwork and head home.
In the evenings and on weekends I usually have time to create content for my followers. That could be a meal I’ve cooked for my boyfriend and I, a vegan café/restaurant I’ve visited, or a reel of a walk I’ve taken at a nature reserve. It’s very important to me in my downtime to go outside and just be in nature. I find it very relaxing, meditative and quiet. It is important for me to occasionally escape from the rush of the city.
If I’m feeling a bit lazy, I’ll watch some anime or play some sort of fantasy adventure video game. I’m a geek at heart!
Who inspires you?
My Dad has always worked for himself, and I love that about him. For nearly 40 years, he has woken up at 5 am Monday to Saturday, and after a tough workday he still thought about new ways to improve his home. Be it knock down a wall with a sledge hammer or dig up the garden!
I don’t know anyone who works more than him and he has given my siblings and I the fundamental lesson that hard work pays off eventually.
Who is someone you want us to know?
Plant Based Bloke makes the most delicious looking plant-based food. Like me, he wants to change the idea that eating meat is “manly”. He describes his Instagram as “plant-based recipes for meaty taste buds”. I feel he is breaching that gap between seeing veganism as a restrictive diet, and more a lifestyle choice with so many benefits to ourselves and the environment.
One sustainable product you can’t live without?
Taking care of my skin is really important to me, as I feel it’s a form of self-love. Whitfords London botanical skincare have a triple algae restoration oil, which brightens the complexion. I swear I’ve never had so many people compliment my skin before.
They are a family run, zero-waste, palm-free, vegan company that deserves all the recognition in the world for its environment-centered ethos.
One eco-friendly habit you wish everyone practiced?
Stop buying so many clothes! Circulating your wardrobe really is enough to get some decent outfits for the week. I can’t stand how often some of the people in my life purchase new clothes.
Save some money, or spend it on vegan food like me!
What does sustainability mean to you?
To be mindful of our daily choices. Do I need this or that? Should I get one or two? Should I throw this away or donate it? Shall I cut down my meat intake, and go for the vegan option today? These decisions make all the difference of meeting our current populations needs, without compromising the future of so many human and animal lives as well as the biodiversity of our plants and trees.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists and contributors are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Ben Richardson Featured Photo Credit: Ben Richardson