Going beyond dietary veganism

Over the years, many vegans and vegetarians develop an elaborate framework of excuses to justify limiting themselves to dietary veganism.  Leather and other animal-derived materials are ubiquitous. Avoiding animal products seems hard. So we don’t eat animal products, but we still wear them.

I should know. I’ve done it myself. I love luxury products, and if you want nice shoes, most are leather. Note to any vegans in Christian Louboutin’s inner circle: please help him go vegan!

Likewise, the best designers still use silk, which kills trillions of silkworms for trivial reasons. Especially when you consider that polyester materials are equally beautiful (and washable!). And Louis Vuitton, whose claim to fame is their monogram canvas, still feels compelled to line every surface in leather.

calf-834455_640Buying what catches your eye is easier than researching cruelty-free alternatives. And it is difficult (especially when you live in the far north like I do), to find warm coats that are don’t have down filling and fur trimmings. I literally spent weeks this fall trying to find a quality arctic jacket without coyote fur trim.

And it doesn’t help that commonly held misconceptions about leather alternatives can convince the most diehard vegetarians. Many believe leather and fur alternatives are worse for the environment than “natural” leather. And leather is seen as a “byproduct” of the meat industry.

We are taught as children to see wool as sheep “haircuts.” Mary had a little lamb. It’s fleece was white as snow – and it probably ended up on a pair of Ugg boots. Wool and shearling drive the lamb meat industry (sheep do not die of old age on these farms). As a result, most people don’t believe it contributes to animal suffering. And the industry is careful to downplay cruel practices like mulesing and tail docking.

The same arguments are used for fur. Marketers love to tout fur as ‘natural’. The fur industry encourages us to believe certain animals must be culled to prevent overpopulation. I ran into this argument the other day at Nordstrom. After I asked why they didn’t sell any luxury cold weather jackets without coyote fur trim, the sales representative at Nordstrom launched into a romantic tale about the sustainable fur “harvest.” This “sustainable fur” myth is so central to Canada Goose jackets they an entire section to it on their website.

These arguments are good marketing, not a true representation of these industries. The research is in, and processing leather and fur is more harmful to human and animal life than leather alternatives. Fur and leather are not “natural products.” It takes tons of chemicals and hours of processing to produce the leather and fur used in clothing.

But beyond these practical concerns lies an even deeper issue: are you comfortable wearing another animal’s skin, hair (wool), feathers, or fur? Is dietary veganism or “plant-based” your end goal?

Fortunately, alternatives to animal products improve every day. The variety of companies offering cruelty-free fashions is growing. And they’re often cheaper as well! Still, it takes some effort. You can’t grab just any item off the rack or shelf at your favourite department store and count on it being cruelty-free.

Hopefully it will be like that one day. But until that time, we can work towards a better future by taking a little extra time and seeking out items that aren’t the product of another being’s pain and suffering. Living your values is worth a few extra minutes. We can go beyond dietary veganism.

What do you think? Join the conversation!

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