‘As vets, we’ve all taken an oath to do the very best for the animals under our care and I think a part of that is to do with making the world a better place.’

Former vet surgeon Jen Gale’s life took an interesting turn after she decided to leave the profession in 2015.

The adventure began when the Wiltshire-based mum-of-two committed her family to a year of buying absolutely nothing new.

Now, she runs the Sustainable(ish) blog, podcast and online community. Jen has also published two books, The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide and The Sustainable(ish) Guide to Green Parenting, which came out in March of this year.

Jen will run the ‘Sustainability in the Home’ session (12:45 pm on November 6) at ECC Virtual Congress 2021, which runs from 3-6 November 2021.

In this Q&A, Jen discusses her early involvement with the profession, her passion for sustainability, the small ‘imperfect’ changes we can all make to help the environment, plus what delegates can expect from her session at this year’s ECC Virtual Congress.

 

Tell us about your veterinary background.

I’d always wanted to be a vet since I was about 15. I had grown up on the James Herriot stories and was a Saturday girl at my local veterinary practice. I took a year out to work in a veterinary hospital before going to college. I started at the RVC in 1997 but dropped out for a bit for mental health reasons before qualifying in 2004.

Jen Gale profile image
Jen has published two books, The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide and The Sustainable(ish) Guide to Green Parenting, which came out in March of this year.

And how did your career progress from there?

My first job was at a small animal and equine practice, and it was a tough introduction to the profession. I was quite often left in sole charge and wasn’t always brimming with confidence. I think I would have benefited from a more structured and supportive first job. I moved on to another small animal practice and didn’t really get the support I wanted there either. After a bit I went to work with a friend who was managing a nearby practice.

 

It must have been hard to step away from a profession you’d been involved with since your teens.

By the time I left in 2015, I’d had two children and had already dropped back to working pretty much just weekends. To be honest, I’d always found being a vet hard and don’t think it was the profession for me. I felt I’d either need to knuckle down to it and do some CPD or take a deep breath and do something else. It was a big decision, but I chose the latter.

I hadn’t appreciated how much of my identity was tied up with being a vet. When you meet people who ask what you do, they make a different series of judgments when you say you’re a vet to when you say you’re a stay-at-home mum.

"It’s very easy to feel we don’t have any power as individuals and that we can’t make a difference. But that’s not true, we do have a huge amount of power as consumers."

Jen Gale

How did your sustainable(ish) work begin?

Back in 2012 while I was still vetting, I’d made the decision for us, as a family, to buy nothing new for a year. I thought we were pretty green as we did our recycling, but I hadn’t really connected the dots to what we were buying. I thought it might be quite fun as well as an interesting challenge, but it turned out to be so much more. It totally changed our lives. The kids were just four and two, so they sort of came along for the ride and I always say my husband just wanted a quiet life! I rediscovered a love of writing and found this online community of people who were worried about sustainability.

 

How did it progress?

I did the blog about “My Make Do And Mend Year” which developed into “My Make Do And Mend Life”. I then hit on the Sustainable-ish idea which was all about the imperfections and compromises. I ended up with the book deal with The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide coming out in 2020 and The Sustainable(ish) Guide to Green Parenting following in March of this year. Now I spend quite a lot of my time doing speaking engagements; I have a membership called The Knackered Mums Eco Club and a podcast.

 

What’s the ethos behind Sustainable(ish)?

It’s really trying to make better decisions more of the time. It’s very easy to feel we don’t have any power as individuals and that we can’t make a difference. But that’s not true, we do have a huge amount of power as consumers. A lot of people think it’s about having to become vegan or stopping driving, but we can all make a big difference with lots of little changes. There’s a famous quote about waste and how we don’t need a handful of people doing things perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.

Jen Gale profile shot
Jen will run the 'Sustainability in the Home' session (12:45 pm on November 6) at ECC Virtual Congress, which runs from 3-6 November 2021.

What will you be talking about in the ‘Sustainability in the Home’ session?

I just want to share those messages about the power we have and the impact of imperfect actions. And I’d like delegates to go away with some tangible actions they can try. We’re all quite good at passive actions like reading and listening but I want people to then have things they can put into practice in the next week or so. I want them to feel motivated, inspired and empowered.

 

Is there a specific connection to the veterinary audience?

As vets we’ve all taken an oath to do the very best for the animals under our care and I think a part of that is to do with making the world a better place. I think we can see how the actions we take as a society are impacting animals globally as well as humans, obviously. As a caring profession, I think doing what we can to help is very in tune with our original aspirations.

 

And how might it actually help vets who are under pressure at work?

I think the profession is facing a great deal of stress and you might think then adding ‘saving the world’ to a tick box is a big ask. But while you might not always be able to effect the changes you want at work, maybe you can effect changes at home or elsewhere that you can see make a tangible result.

Register for ECC Virtual Congress 2021, or find out more here.