Thursday, April 4, 2013

Being Vegan Isn't Just About the Food

If you've been enjoying a vegan diet for a while, you're probably pretty well in tune with what foods are vegan, and which ones aren't. Most of the time it's fairly obvious, and we learn to spot the sneaky non-veg ingredients in things like mock cheeses and meats, packaged foods, and even wine and beer as we go along. Like I always say, it's all baby steps, and we're all on the Learn As You Go Plan, not only as vegans, but as Life Scholars.

When it comes to truly living a vegan lifestyle, there are other, non-food, issues to consider. Being vegan, as in doing it for the welfare of all concerned, and often most specifically for the animals, means to look beyond our food, to the things we use and consume in other ways on a regular basis. Leather is often the first to come up and the first to be eliminated. Clearly not vegan, leather is a byproduct of the meat and dairy industries, and buying it, even though it's "already dead," supports those industries. Same with shearling, exotic skins, and of course, fur. We vote loud and clear with our dollars, and when we buy something, the message we send is, make more of this.

When you start to look around, an amazing number of non-vegan things in everyday use start to show up. Down and feathers come not only from factory farmed birds, but also from live birds. Imagine what that must feel like. Wool, angora, pashmina, and all other animal fibers are not technically vegan, and many of us stop buying them because the same cruel practices are used on factory farmed fiber animals as on food animals. I'm not going into it here, because it's not my purpose to bully you into changing. The goal is to shine a little light on something you might not have thought of yet. You can Google the specifics, and I urge you to do so.

Commonly overlooked, potentially non-vegan, non-food "products" include skin and hair care products, and cosmetics, many of which contain animal ingredients, or are tested on animals. Nail polish is on the list too, as well as most polish removers, which almost always contain gelatin. And don't forget the makeup brushes, which are generally made from very soft animal fur. Yes, fur, which we already know we won't wear as a coat, right?

Finally, take a close look the next time you consider a new piece of jewelry. Leather is trendy, and easy to spot. But what about pearls and shells, and those big resin bracelets with brightly colored beetles encased in them? You might think of them as "lesser creatures" than cows and pigs and chickens, but still, they are living beings, and to many vegans, products coming from them are no longer something we want to "vote for."

It can be sort of overwhelming, I know. But I'm not suggesting that you rampage through your house, throwing out shoes, furniture, purses, jewelry, and all your favorite makeup. In fact I think that's a very bad idea, as it's even more disrespectful to the animals involved than to use, honor, and value what you have. My suggestion, and my personal practice, is to replace these things slowly, as they wear out, are used up, or I find someone to pass them along to. I'm still in the process to disbursing beloved leather boots and handbags to people I know will love them. The leather couch in my living room is third-hand already, but I still feel terribly guilty about having it, and will find it a new home as soon as I can afford to get something else. Baby steps, indeed, and a daily reminder that even though I've made some great progress in just three years of being vegan, I'm not perfect, and probably never will be. It's okay. I'm doing more than most people will ever even consider doing, and I'm learning all the time.

There are plenty of places to buy animal/cruelty-free products, with more coming to the market all the time. While some companies are dedicated to only making vegan products, others offer maybe a few mixed in with other non-veg items. I like to support both types of companies, both large and small. The all vegan businesses deserve to be rewarded for what they do. The partial-veg companies need to be encouraged to do more. when I buy from them, I often write a note thanking them for the beautiful vegan shoes, clothes, face cream, or whatever. The people making the stuff we buy need to know what we want. Tell them!

Here are a few places to get you started on your search for the coolest vegan products available. Happy (Cruelty Free) Shopping!

The Vegan Cuts Shop is filled with all sorts of good things, including food, skin care, fashion, handbags, and art.

PETA offers an extensive listing of shops, products, and services for your cruelty-free pleasure.

Vegan Essentials has it all, from footwear to food. Definitely worth a visit.

MooShoes will make your heart (and feet) sing with happiness.

Now do some Googling of your own, and see what you can turn up. There's so much to discover! Please share your favorite links, brands, and products here in the comments. Thanks!


Teri said...

I struggle with whether I want to be strictly Vegan. I follow blogs of fiber artists that raise their own animals and shear them for the wool. They are not factory farmed. I would think a yarn made of petroleum products uses more natural resources and harms the world more than these animals. I agree that staying away from "feed lot" animals is necessary.

Kim Miles said...

Good point Teri. I'm sure there are lots of well cared for animals on private "yarn farms." As a knitter, I'd like to know where they are. It would be fun to tour the country... in an RV!... visiting such places and meeting the sheep, goats, alpacas, etc. Certainly worth blogging about!

Jean said...

I really like this very thoughtful entry! xoxox jean