The title of my story is a bit strange, but then I guess we’re all on a journey. I hope it will make sense by the end of this mind dump.
My name is Darren (that was easy). I was born in Yorkshire 2 days after England won the World Cup, however my family moved to High Wycombe when I was 2 years old. I grew up as a teenager in the late 70’s and early 80’s on a council estate where our secondary school was referred to as “Colditz” or “The Prison on the Hill”. I worked as a paperboy from the age of 12 and left school with an art O level and a couple of basic GCSE’s.
When I left school I started a job as a trainee Butcher on the YTS (youth training scheme) at a local-ish independent butchers called W. A Stephens and Son. So you can see from where this is going that meat has played a massive part in my life. I joined Asda in 1983 as a butcher and stayed within this part of the business for a number of years. Meat especially Beef was a huge part of my diet.
I spent a total of 36 years at Asda, working my way up in the company, becoming a senior manager within the business for the last 16 years of my career.
When I was 49, I came off my mountain bike and fractured my T3, T4 and T5 (I was fairly lucky not to break my neck). During my recovery, I started running (slowly and tentatively), but also thinking of an exit plan from Asda. I had a lot of time to reflect on my life, especially when out slowly running in nature, which I never had time to do prior to the accident. It was then that my life changed from a corporate existence to trying to do something better and more meaningful.
I had already become aware of the impact that ASDA and other retailers were having on the environment with the amount of unnecessary plastic packaging, wasted food, inefficient energy systems and lack of recycling opportunities (thinking the Bag for Life was the answer to all their problems). I struggled morally with it and was getting frustrated with the inaction. We had to throw away all of the old greetings cards for each season if they weren’t sold, into a compactor. There was nothing wrong with them. Shocking!! (Christmas, Easter, Mothers Day etc). My hands were tied and I knew something had to change. On the note of Christmas Cards It’s estimated that 1 billion Christmas cards are tossed into the bin each year, and during Christmas alone, 300,000 tons of card packaging is said to be thrown away. Not to mention, generic greeting cards are typically made with chemically processed and dyed paper.
I have 4 children. They are 32, 31, 29 and 8 (my older 3 are from my previous marriage). My 2 daughters became vegan and vegetarian approx 10 years ago and were always saying to me to try and eat less meat and dairy. They would make me cold pressed juices, get me to drink turmeric shots and plant based milks such as Almond milk. I even tried drinks called Kefir and Charcoal water. Despite this, I continued to eat meat and have dairy in my diet, however it did start to raise questions in my mind.
3 years ago on Christmas Day (appropriate timing), my then 5 year old made a comment that my wife Jane and I were not prepared for. We had the traditional Fore rib of Beef, a leg of Pork and a small Turkey crown on the festive table. Then all of a sudden “I don’t want to eat animals anymore Daddy”. Wow! That was a huge moment for us as a family. We allowed him not to eat the meat on his plate and me and Jane discussed it later that evening.
Our commitment to Alfie, would be that we wouldn’t eat meat in front of him from Jan 1st 2020 (our family New Year resolution) and so our journey started. Jane was great at quickly adapting recipes that were meat free and started using pulses, making dal, discovering meat free alternatives like Linda McCartney, Quorn products etc. I really struggled initially and would have a sneaky bacon butty or a McDonalds Sweet Chilli Chicken wrap on occasions. I did however, start to feel better for not eating meat every day, I felt less sluggish and felt I had more energy. I also was sleeping better as I was cutting out all the crap in the evening.
At work I was still getting demoralised with the amount of waste that we were generating (both food and plastic packaging) and the lack of introduction of new plant based products that more and more customers were asking for. I decided to take early retirement from ASDA and I set the date for 1st August 2020.
There are certain people that have an impact on you throughout your life.
On 6th August 2020 (just after retiring) I followed Dan Lawson’s Lejog attempt and wrote an ode about it. I met Dan and Charlotte just after and since then, they have inspired me to make a real difference. I am an active re-user/recycler and I make conscious decisions about the purchases I now make. Like Dan and Charlotte, there have been many people I have met that inspire me to continue this journey.
I am a regional collector for Rerun clothing and Running Ambassdor for WOLO (we only live once) Foundation.
I have now been ‘retired’ for 18 months.
In that time I have made more plant based diet choices which involves me cooking 3 times per week, I have started writing Ode’s (becoming more creative) and I’m running further and faster than I’ve ever run before. We do family Plogs and are active in our local community with our local Environmental Alliance and Trees For Seaford group. This led me to write the COP26 Ode and subsequent video that a few of our Green Runners kindly contributed too.
I have learnt so much in a very short time.
This Christmas will be our 2nd without meat at the dinner table. My little boy hasn’t eaten meat since Christmas Day 2019. It was he, that was the catalyst for the changes we have made. Our five year old little boy.
I am still on this journey to becoming a green runner. I now consider myself to be a non meat eater (how many ex butchers have said that?) but I am still an ‘occasional’ pescatarian. I have cut down using dairy and cows milk and predominantly use plant based milks. My New Year resolution for 2022 is to go full vegetarian.
To make any change in your life, you first need to STOP and reflect on what it is that you’re not happy with. You then need to get READY to try the new things, to be inspired and learn more about it. Once you are ready you can GO ahead and makes those changes that will make a difference, always remembering that there will be bumps along the way.
This is my journey. My journey to become a little bit greener.
What will your New Year’s resolution be?