Have you heard of Cleve West?
If you haven't, don't feel bad about it. He certainly wouldn't want you to. Frankly, it's not really surprising if you live on this side of the Atlantic.
However, if you live in, or come from the UK, then there’s a pretty good chance, if you are at all interested in gardening, that his name will at least ring some bell in your memory.
For those of you who are still in the ‘never heard of him’ category, let me enlighten you.
Cleve is simply and undisputedly one of the best contemporary garden designers in the UK. To date, his superb designs have won a staggering six gold medals at the prestigious Chelsea flower show; and even more remarkably, he won the coveted Best in Show title two consecutive years running. That’s an awesome achievement for anybody!
The result of all of this is that it gives Cleve a certain amount of celebrity. OK, so it doesn’t make him the equivalent of a Hollywood A-lister. He probably doesn’t have groupies that hang on his every word, awaiting his latest utterances on Twitter. And one would hope that he doesn’t have stalkers lying in wait for him outside of his house. But this little bit of renown, coupled with a solid and well deserved reputation for what he does so spectacularly well, does give Cleve something of a platform. People in the gardening world and those with a keen interest in horticultural matters will be interested in what he has to say.
Of course, the same can be said for anybody who achieves a modicum of celebrity. Even for the briefest moment, they have an opportunity to influence the world at large, or at least those who are expressing interest in them as an individual or what they have achieved, or what they do.
So what do the majority do with their 15 minutes, or even 50 years of fame?
Their precious opportunity to use a vaunted position to make a difference in the world slips meaninglessly by. Their platform is wasted or ignored by them, perhaps because they're too concerned that anything that they say or do might upset their venerated status; or maybe it's just because they have nothing worthwhile to say and their acclaim is underpinned by a vacuous outlook upon life that is so self-focused that it does not allow for an interest in doing good.
This is very much not the case with Cleve West.
He is somebody who has not only seized upon the opportunity that being ‘known’ has provided him with, but he has sought to use his ‘spotlight’, however fleeting it may be, to try and make a difference.
What has he done?
He has written a book entitled ‘The Garden of Vegan’.
It's not, as the title might be thought to imply, a gardening manual; nor is it a book about garden design, as the general public might expect from him. It's basically a deeply personal odyssey, giving Cleve’s perspective on the world as he sees it now, describing how he (having already been a 30-year vegetarian) came upon the realization that veganism, or going vegan, was perhaps one of the most important steps he had ever taken in his life. It allows us to share in how personal and heartfelt the choice has been for him; and how trying to live his life guided by the ‘no harm’ philosophy has made cataclysmic changes to the way in which he perceives every aspect of his being and his work. It is a bewitching combination of the story of a personal journey, blunt facts about the cruelty of carnism, and practical assistance regarding how each one of us can make the world a better place. It's richly illustrated with photos and fabulous (if sometimes tragic) drawings by his partner, Christine. It's a raw, honest, emotional expression of exasperation and torment about the way we treat the gentle souls around us, interleaved with hope, guidance and a general beseeching of the reader to have a care for the way in which we live our lives. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
For the caring vegan, the stories and experiences Cleve shares may be all too familiar. Indeed, you may find yourself nodding in agreement and identifying with so much of what is there that you will feel that you could have written a similar book yourself.
Maybe you didn't because you don't consider yourself to be a writer. (Neither is Cleve.) Or maybe you didn't because you wondered if anybody would actually listen to what you had to say. And of course, the truth is, why would anybody listen to somebody who has no platform?
But therein lies my point.
What's most wonderful for me about 'The Garden of Vegan' is that Cleve is prepared to stand up and be counted. He has seen the error in the common human approach to life. He recognizes the egregious wrong that we do to the beings around us. And he sincerely wants to do something about it. Where others might be afraid of rocking the boat, upsetting the status quo, or heaven forbid, damaging their image with the public, Cleve has dived in headfirst and fearlessly told it like he sees it. It is a clarion call from somebody who has an audience and is brave enough to voice an unconventional and unpopular opinion to their audience, irrespective of the consequences.
In my book, that makes Cleve a hero.
“Good for him” I can almost hear you saying. “He has a platform, but I don't”.
You may not be famous. You may not have done anything that the public at large would consider to be noteworthy or outstanding. The chances are you are not in the public eye at all.
But you DO still have a platform.
We all do. We all connect with someone. We all have an audience, even if it's only our immediate family members, friends or work colleagues.
Sadly, we don't all seize the opportunity that presents us, probably on a daily basis, to attempt to be influential and try and make a difference. And the truth is that any opportunity to express a vegan perspective and try to bring enlightenment to the world around us that is missed, is an unforgivable act of omission if you really, truly care about the suffering that goes on all around us.
Becoming vegan, making that lifestyle choice, is great.
But it's not enough.
It is beholden on all of us who want to bring about the change we notionally espouse, that we should take the 'no harm' message to everyone, without hesitation and without prompting. Moreover, we must do so without fear of disapprobation or consequence.
‘The Garden of Vegan’ is beautiful book on so many levels. Even if you don't know who on earth Cleve West is, it doesn't matter. It's a book written by an ordinary person, just like you and me, who just happens to recognise that he's got a platform and wants to use it to do some good with it. We should all be inspired by Cleve’s example and, as he has done so magnificently, draw our own lines in the sand. As individuals, as vegans, we all have our own platforms, whoever on earth we may be. And we should all use them.
To find out more about Cleve, visit his website at https://www.clevewest.com
'The Garden of Vegan' is available in Canada on Amazon at
If they've run out, you can get it shipped from the UK