Joanna Benecke talks to Jenny Tamblin, who owns a Vegan B&B and is also a Green Party Candidate, about going vegan later in life
There’s a perception that people become Vegan in their youth, that the older we get the more conservative we become – and the less open we are to adopting new lifestyles. Enter Jenny Tamblyn, a refreshing counterpoint to these theories. Having grown up a meat-lover in a family with strong ties to farming and the dairy industry – her childhood home in Southampton was owned by the dairy company her father worked for – Jenny’s love of animals finally won her over to a vegetarian diet at age 40. “I didn’t know any vegetarians at the time, but as I learned more about inhumane farming practices, I couldn’t bear to think of animals suffering just so I could eat them. I had a couple of failed attempts at giving up meat, then someone said I should make it as easy as possible, e.g. buy tinned pulses rather than dried, and that helped. Looking back, I don’t know how it took me to the age of 40 before I realised the horrors of farming. There’s no difference between eating a dog or a cow, it’s just social conditioning that we love one and abuse the other”.
Vegan at 62
Six years ago Jenny took the step to a fully Vegan lifestyle. “It had been a gradual journey, as I hadn’t had cow’s milk for ages, but I did love cheese and that was the hardest thing to give up. But I realised that dairy production is one of the most cruel practices in modern farming: the separation of cow and calf, the breeding of cows to produce more and more milk – giving them huge udders and hence hip problems – not to mention all the hormones that are pumped into them.” Jenny is totally convinced that going Vegan (which she always capitalises, “I always put a capital V as I liken it to being called English, French or Asian”) is the way forward for anyone concerned with animal welfare, personal health and protecting the environment. “My lifestyle change was not popular amongst my family and friends, and it does make it hard to join in certain events – which in turn means you can be perceived as unsociable, or even unfriendly – but it’s not possible to unlearn what you know. There is no going back for me. I abhor all exploitation of animals to satisfy human greed for food, clothes, medicines, cosmetics and household products.”
When Jenny retired from her job as an occupational therapist, an inheritance from her mother led her to buy a house in the picturesque Oxfordshire village of Lower Heyford. “I hadn’t planned on upsizing, but that’s what happened. Suddenly I had three spare rooms.” Keen to spread the word about all things green, Jenny decided to open a B&B, offering one of the few all-Vegan accommodation choices in the UK. “I know how few resources there are for Vegans and wanted to provide guests with a good range of wholesome Vegan choices for breakfasts.” Staying at Heyford Vegan B&B is like visiting the house of a very welcoming, eco-conscious friend. A friend who makes you the most delicious Vegan breakfasts every morning! Using mainly organic ingredients, Jenny handcrafts a range of delicacies, from fluffy pancakes, to porridge, to sweetcorn fritters, to potato cakes made from spuds grown in her garden. Ironically, her love of all things green doesn’t always extend to food. “I’m not a natural Vegan,” Jenny confesses. “I always loved meat and cheese, and really never liked many vegetables. I grow my own veg now, and am gradually learning to eat more of it, but I’m very keen on meat substitutes and Vegan cheeses. If I can become a Vegan, that’s definitely proof that anyone can!”
A very green house
Having installed solar thermal and photovoltaic panels to the roof of her home, Jenny can power the B&B in an eco-friendly way. “I switch off all appliances at night to save on electricity. I also reuse water where possible and encourage my guests to do so as well if they want. I had a secondary return system fitted to cut down on the need to run too much water before it becomes hot.” Everything used in the B&B is Vegan, from the toiletries to the cleaning products to the snacks and range of teas provided in the rooms. “It’s hard not to try and persuade people to go Vegan,” says Jenny. “There really is no good reason for causing animals and the environment so much suffering. But I try not to evangelise when I have non-Vegan guests, as that can put people off. Instead I leave a lot of leaflets in the welcome packs in the bedrooms and there are Vegan magazines lying around the house. I get great pleasure from the reaction of visiting Vegans and hope that a good breakfast, information on ‘Why Vegan’ and answering any questions will at least get the non-Vegans thinking about their diet and lifestyle. I can only hope!”
Another way in which Jenny is advocating for animals and the environment is by running as the Green Party candidate for a seat in her local council, representing The Astons and Heyfords. “I feel we have a duty towards future generations to leave a legacy of greater sustainability and safety, so I’m trying to do what I can by talking to people and giving them a Green choice. Being eco-conscious can go hand-in-hand with development; for instance, if we really went in for clean energy production, that would create many new jobs.”
Unfortunately, Jenny has recently been experiencing some health problems, including a broken leg. “Friends and family immediately worried that my lifestyle might be making me ill, but the doctors ran tests and said my Veganism isn’t a problem. In fact, long before I gave up dairy I had some bone density issues and started taking calcium supplements. Now, having not eaten dairy for more than six years, tests show that my bones are fine – which disproves the myth that you need dairy to maintain healthy bones! A well-maintained Vegan diet, along with a few supplements, provides me with everything I need.”
Jenny’s Tips for Going Vegan
- Think about what you’re eating. In order to wean myself off meat, I made myself imagine the life that poor animal had led: how it was transported to the abattoir, how it was killed, and the stress and fear it will have felt.
- Don’t rush your research. Overloading on the horrors of meat, fish, dairy and egg production, the cruelty in the fur and leather trade, not to mention foie gras, can be overwhelming and too depressing to absorb all at once. Take things one step at a time.
- Stick to your guns. Don’t concede to others who don’t understand your choices.
- Try not to evangelise. It’s more likely to put people off than convert them. Instead, cook them tasty Vegan meals and be on hand to answer questions.
Joanna Benecke is a vegan writer and author, writing on everything from film to fitness for a variety of outlets. @joannabenecke