Hey Everybody –
Thank you all for your recent input and responses (and Facebook friends, too!). Occasionally, questions or comments will pop up in a response section of a particular post and I’ll elect to respond to them here in the open forum, or even create a new post, based on some of the ideas raised. The following comments were from the response section of last post; Beware: Low-Carb Diet Insanity Continues… but also represent an ongoing dialogue that has always been a part of the vegan community. (Be sure to check out some of the other thoughtful responses at the original post.)
(A) Two of Australia’s most popular sports, Australian Rules Football and cricket, when played at the higher levels, involve the use of leather products (predominantly the football and cricket ball). Naturally, it is many a young player’s dream to represent their country/state/club in these sports. What would you suggest a person do, if wanting to adopt a vegan philosophy, but still wanting to participate in these sports, particularly if they have spent years as a junior player training to reach the highest level? Should a parent, if vegan, discourage their child to partake in such sports at levels where leather equipment is used? Is it simply a case of priorities; putting animal rights ahead of personal fulfillment?
(B) Should/Would a vegan refuse to ride in a vehicle with leather upholstery or sheepskin seat covers? Sit on a leather lounge suite at a friend’s house?
Here’s my take on the whole sporting goods/existing leather product thing for those interested in veganism:
Veganism is a lifestyle philosophy where you make every effort to avoid all forms of animal products and animal testing in your food, clothing, and consumer goods, and avoid any kind of social activity where animals are harmed or exploited. With regard to consumables like food, drink, clothing and consumer goods, this is a fairly cut-and-dried process. We ask a lot of questions, read a lot of labels, and either choose the vegan option or keep looking. But a few of the scenarios brought up here addressed either “pre-existing” or “unavoidable” non-vegan items.
It would be difficult to define anything as an absolute right or wrong here. Animal products pervade almost every aspect of our lives and, whether we like it or not, we will all participate in the “carnage” on some level, even when we do our best not to. We all drive over bugs, buy produce that has been farmed in such a way that many insects and small animals were likely killed, and watch movies (either in theaters or on the tube) that were created from miles of film (which, of course, contains gelatin, a slaughterhouse byproduct). So, short of living an isolated, self-sustaining, reclusive lifestyle off in the backwoods some place where you could control every possible aspect of your existence, it’s a tall order to be “certified 100% vegan” by the absolute, microscopic letter of the definition.
BUT – we can sure give it our best shot. And in doing so, we will develop a number of personal protocols and policies that represent our intention to do no harm and express compassion to all of our fellow animal beings. For what it’s worth, here’s my personal “policy” regarding some of the specific issues:
When confronted with any questionable vegan dilemma, I always ask, “Is there a reasonable alternative here?” If a kid wants to play a sport where leather products are intrinsically part of the action (as deemed by that particular league or organization), then there is isn’t much of an alternative; so go play. For your own at-home use, however, there are often many synthetic alternatives available, which I would explore (like with certain brands of soccer balls, for instance). And for your own personal gear – like a baseball glove – I would look into the prospect of either non-leather alternatives, or at least try to acquire a used one, so as not to perpetuate the production of more of these products.
Example: I used to have a big-ass leather weightlifting belt that I would use at the gym during heavy squat and deadlift workouts back in my pre-vegan days. A good belt is essential for keeping your guts intact when you’re moving the heavy iron! I’m guessing I probably still used it for a time after I went vegan, because there was no alternative. But then, one came out that was made from synthetic materials, and I replaced the old one with it.
Which brings us to point number two: what do you do with existing animal-based goods once you go vegan? I understand this dilemma, and I can see the ecological perspective of continuing to use the product until it’s time to replace it. For me, however – and again, this is just me – I have always elected to not continue to use these products. If it’s a leather jacket or leather shoes, I would not want to inadvertently propagate, promote or endorse the use of these products through “public display,” knowing where they came from. I would also not want to keep any kind of leather furniture or wool rugs around my living environment. It’s a vibe thing for me…. one that I’m acutely sensitive to. If nowhere else, I want my home environment to be the most non-violent space in the universe… I guess because it’s the one place I can control, and the one place where I spend the most time.
Now, going into someone else’s car or home is a different story, because your interaction with the car seat or furnishings isn’t perpetuating the use of them, per se. (It’s not like you are wearing them out in public or displaying them in your own home.)
As for what to do with these products… that’s a tough one. For furniture, I would probably give it away to someone who didn’t care what it was made out of (and perhaps, in the process, delay this person from going out and buying more leather, wool or silk items). For clothing, that’s really a tough one. Actually, I had both leather and fur (!) jackets once upon a time and, to be honest, I got so disgusted about owning them that, in one spontaneous episode, I literally threw them all in a dumpster. This was hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of clothing – wasted, to be sure. (I can hear many of you cringing!) But that was years ago, and I’m sure I would handle things differently now.
These days, I would suggest turning all animal-based clothes and shoes over to a homeless shelter, or possibly to a friend who had no preference. Or, if the clothing or furnishings held a lot of monetary value, you could either sell the items and replace them with vegan options, or if you felt funny about “profiting” from them, you could donate the money to a specific animal cause that’s important to you.
Ultimately, I feel like it’s difficult to fully represent the vegan cause – even passively – when you are wearing animal products. Tell someone you’re vegan, and if they really know what the word means, they will often look at your belt and shoes to see if you’re the “real deal” or not. And again, while I do understand the eco argument for wearing your old animal-based clothing until it falls apart, I personally feel a stronger pull toward being totally congruent with all aspects of my life in terms of how I represent the philosophy publicly. That’s my take on it.
The Occasional “Freegan” Situation
A final scenario to consider is this: various non-vegan consumer goods that fall into your path. Let’s say a visiting guest forgets their mainstream brand of shampoo in your shower, then later just tells you to keep it. This shampoo is not vegan, because it’s from a company who still tests on animals or has actual animal ingredients in it. What do you do? In this case, it could be considered “freegan.” Your use of the product would not be perpetuating the further sale of the item, or putting money into the hands of the manufacturer. And your private use of it would not be “promoting” it publicly. So… it’s freegan. Or, if you’re raising your dog veggie (which is totally doable, by the way), but your aunt brings over a big steak bone for him or her to chew on, that bone – should you elect to let your dog have it – would be freegan, as it would’ve otherwise wound up in the trash.
One area where the freegan concept does NOT apply, however, is with food items. For a myriad of reasons, you would not want to ingest animal products as a vegan, no matter how “freegan” the food might be. Many Buddhist monks – who have a practice of eating donated food, once per day – will say that it’s okay to eat animal products if they have been brought to you, even though they might otherwise choose not to eat animal products if given the option. I disagree, and I know there are other Buddhist monks who are with me on this. So just say no, people!
As you can see, there are many shades of grey here, as far as how certain situations might be handled. Here are a few closing thoughts:
1. Do your best, but don’t become so over-the-top stressed out about these grey area situations that your veganism becomes a detriment to your peace of mind! Just by thinking about these things, considering options, or even having the discussion with fellow vegans, I believe you are demonstrating real mindfulness, and that in itself is commendable.
2. At the same time, remember that it all truly matters… even the seemingly most insignificant, hairsplitting details of how you choose to follow the path. For example, you might find yourself in a situation where there are very limited options on what you can eat some place, and you see that a particular food item has a small amount of egg whites in it. You might be tempted to make an exception, sighting extenuating circumstances. And certainly, no vegan police will be revoking your membership to the “club” as a result. The choice will be yours, and the world won’t cease to spin, based on your decision. Still, we must remember the value of refusal, even in this case. It has been estimated that one single egg produced by a “layer hen” represents 30 hours of that chicken’s life, crammed in a cage with five or six others, under the most inhumane conditions imaginable.
By walking away, there IS an “effect” to that cause-action, even though it’s tough to immediately quantify. You ARE making a difference to the life of an animal somewhere down the line in the system. Don’t forget that.
3. We all must make our own decisions when it comes to many of these dilemmas, and others will no doubt make different ones. When you’re unclear, I say, tune into your gut. Spend a few moments to clear your mind, take a few deep breaths, and pay attention to what’s going on in your solar plexus as you contemplate a particular choice. That will likely be your most reliable barometer for what’s right for you.
All for now, friends –