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The Road to Vegan Living

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The Road to Vegan Living by Lisa Towell

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I took my first steps toward a vegan diet 15 years ago when I stopped eating cows and pigs. Soon after that, I stopped eating birds and fish, and my increasing concern for animal suffering led me to stop buying products from companies that test on animals.

Four years ago, I stopped eating dairy products and eggs and started to call myself a vegan. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to make choices that don’t support industries that use and abuse animals. I carry a list of animal-derived ingredients to the grocery store, and I no longer buy products made from wool or leather.

I’ve faced some dilemmas during my vegan journey. What’s the right thing to do about those “whoops” bits of chicken or pig on the plate when the restaurant gets your order wrong? Right after I went vegetarian, I would just pick around the meat, but now I’m more likely to have a polite discussion with the server about adding vegan options to the menu. What about eating an egg laid by a rescued hen living in your own yard? I think it can be viewed as consistent with the spirit of a vegan diet, since it causes no harm to the hen and she wasn’t rescued for the purpose of producing eggs.

Another dilemma is what to do with my “pre-gan” leather shoes, which were purchased before I went vegan. I haven’t yet located nonleather hiking boots and rock-climbing shoes that fit me, so I’m still using the old ones while I search for vegan replacements. I’m not causing any additional animals to suffer by keeping these shoes until they wear out, but I don’t like giving an implicit endorsement to the animal-skin industry whenever people see me wearing them. (A vegan friend of mine handles this by telling people that her old leather shoes are really faux leather.) In a similar dilemma, my husband and I recently debated whether we would buy a well-maintained and affordable used car that happened to have a leather steering-wheel cover.

All vegans have to draw a line somewhere about what constitutes an acceptable (or at least unavoidable) use of animals. Tires, for example, are produced using byproducts from rendered animal carcasses. Medications are tested on animals before they are approved for human use. Even tap water in some areas has been filtered through animal bone char at a municipal treatment plant. No one can realistically be a perfect vegan—but that doesn’t have to stop us from making the best choices that we can.

Exploitation of animals is ubiquitous in the U.S., and it can be challenging for vegans to find cruelty-free alternatives to every product that they use in their daily lives. (“Was that veggie burger cooked on the same grill as the meat patties?” “Were any of the ingredients in this shampoo tested on animals?”) Whenever I must make a choice, I ask myself this question: What helps animals the most? When I’m dining with meat-eaters, I can choose to obsess about the possibility that there are tiny amounts of animal ingredients in my food, leaving the impression that vegan diets—and vegans—are a pain in the neck.  Or I can show my friends how easy it is to make cruelty-free choices, which surely helps animals more than worrying about a problem ingredient that may not even be in there.

I know self-described “vegetarians” who eat birds, “vegans” who eat fish, and “animal lovers” who rescue dogs and cats but who eat cows and pigs. Sometimes I’m frustrated by this, but mostly I see it as a good thing. Some of these people will progress to making more cruelty-free choices, and some won’t—but all of them are choosing to reduce at least some animal suffering. I’m happy to see people anywhere along the road to vegan living.

What do you think?

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23 Comments

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    Lisa Towell says...

    November 24th, 2010, 9:30 pm

    This is a great essay about how vegans can be more effective advocates for animals:
    http://www.veganoutreach.org/howvegan.html

    Crystal L. Beder says...

    November 26th, 2010, 2:35 am

    I really appreciate this article about focusing on the true spirit or essence of veganism. I often reluctantly order and dine on veggie and grain dishes at restaurants, worrying the whole time about whether i should’ve asked another half-dozen questions about ingredients and use of chicken stock and dairy derivatives. It gets to the point where It seems I am constantly worried about whether I am maintaining my integrity about ‘being a vegan’. It seems that I am demonstrating the reputed ‘awful/tedious/agonizing/starving/miserableness’ that so many people believe is the nature of veganism. My mom always supports me in pursuing veganism and is proud of my choice. She really helps me deal wih this issue of ‘where to draw the line’. Like you said, it can get really ridiculous when you try to go hard-core vegan since this is not a perfect world and almost every aspect of our life involves some sort of animal’s sacrifice or contribution.my Mom helps to ground me in this journey and remjnds me that it’s the fact we are making the most impact that we can. We can’t do it all, but we CAN do one thing at a time, then another and another. I fret over things like ‘were these fries made in the same oil as meat, etc?’ when the main idea is ‘did I make cruelty free choices for me?’ rather than a sort of guilt by association approach to my food. It’s more important that I had that all-important talk with my server or their manager about cruelty-free options that I can choose from in order tk be able to avoid taking my business across the street to someone else. This article has definitely helped me to get my focus back kn track in this same way. Thank you so much for sharing–it helps me to avoid getting overwhelmed and slipping back into vegetarianism.

    Kim says...

    November 30th, 2010, 4:49 pm

    This article is very reassuring. I often feel weird when my friends call me a vegan because there are areas where I’m not perfect. Like the author, I own many leather shoes and wool work pants that are “pregan”. However, I can’t afford to replace my entire wardrobe right away and I know that most people are in the same situation.

    I try to remind myself that those “pregan” items enable me to save for vegan items. I hold onto my wool dress slacks that no longer fit so well, and wait for vegan items to appear in the stores (check out Banana Republic’s sloan pants in microfiber). My failure to find good vegan boots without really high heels is disappointing, but I have found a few pairs of comfortable and attractive vegan dress shoes.

    It’s not like I could afford all of these replacements at once, so I’m grateful for what’s available and affordable. The important thing to remember is to just do the best we can and make cruelty free choices whenever possible. And to revel in the many varieties of vegan cheez =)

    Cathy says...

    December 3rd, 2010, 1:11 am

    I really liked this article. I live in a country with few vegan alternatives. I simply cannot find any good vegan shoes. Crocs are not appropriate for every situation and I can’t wear sneakers in the rain. I have considered ordering online but the shipping costs more than the shoes. What am I to do?

    Paul Phillips says...

    December 3rd, 2010, 12:20 pm

    Cathy,

    You may be surprised at the number of choices in compassionate footware for women that–while not promoted in store as skin-free–actually are. Sometimes those leather dress shoes are really pleather, so be sure to check the label if you see a shoe you like. Similarly, you may want to look at online retailers who normally advertise free or discounted shipping. Even internationally, their shipping is often deeply discounted.

    Good Luck!

    Guilly says...

    December 3rd, 2010, 6:23 pm

    Thank you for your article. I often feel guilty because I feel I am not being “vegan” all at once. It is reassuring that we are heading in the right direction if we can give up everything at once. I have a lot of the ‘pregan’ clothes and shoes. I have given a lot away and hope to replace things when I need them with cruelty free choices. I think it is a process as with any life-changing choice we make.

    Sheree says...

    December 3rd, 2010, 6:40 pm

    This is just what my daughter and I were talking about today. Do the best you can. I have been vegan for a little over 4 years, my daughter almost a year, and my grandson since he was born. Today we took my grandson to see Santa and afterwords we promised him a smoothie. We went to the smoothie bar and ordered one without dairy. He said they are all dairy free. We explained that the website said they have some sort of dairy. Again he said for years they promote there smoothies as dairy free. We both looked at each other and said, “Lets go with what he is saying”. This article is just so perfect. Making choices that are good for the animals and our health is doing the very best we can.

    Tammy Karaba says...

    December 3rd, 2010, 6:50 pm

    What a great article! It sounds a lot like my own journey towards becoming a vegan. Thank you Lisa for this wonderful article. May it bring in more people to the vegan lifestyle!! :)

    Jaya Bhumitra says...

    December 3rd, 2010, 7:45 pm

    I just bought 4 really good looking pairs of shoes (black boots with a flat sole, pointy toed patent “leather” pumps with a kitten heel, “suede” pumps with a rounded toe, and ballet flats) from Payless.com for $102 (it was a buy one free get one half off special). I generally try not to buy products made in China, and I think these may have been, but the money I saved allows me to donate more to the animal advocacy organizations I care about.

    Joanna V says...

    December 3rd, 2010, 7:48 pm

    Great blog. I sometimes feel like I should just give up on the idea of being vegan if I can’t be 100%. This reminds me that every choice I DO make that is vegan contributes to lessening animal suffering and not to be so hard on myself for the times I can’t.

    sally miller says...

    December 3rd, 2010, 7:51 pm

    Yes It is hard to find things on line that are affordable with the shipping but there is Overstock . com and they have shipping of $2.50 for a lot of items . so thanks for all this information I find it valuable ,

    Gail says...

    December 3rd, 2010, 9:59 pm

    To Lisa:
    Thanks so much for the great post! Hearing others remind us that we do what we can and nobody can do it all perfectly is a big relief to all of us perfectionists! Re: hiking boots, I have some by Columbia that I got a several years ago that are tough yet very lightweight, but also insulated so they’re warm, and they are animal-free (rubber soles and synthetic uppers). I love them! I don’t know what fits you, but I have “difficult” feet – size 5, actually a size 4-1/2 in length, with a C width in the front and AA width in the heel – and these boots fit me great! I’m not a hiker so I don’t know how they’d hold up, but I’ve worn them outdoors a lot for years and so far they show no wear.
    To Cathy – Zappos.com and Shopbop.com both have FREE shipping AND free returns! They both carry shoes made from all sorts of materials. Probably there are other sites that do this, too. Check them out!

    Gail says...

    December 3rd, 2010, 10:01 pm

    To Cathy – Zappos.com and Shopbop.com both have FREE shipping AND free returns! They both carry shoes made from all sorts of materials. Probably there are other sites that do this, too. Check them out! Good luck.

    Sharon Paz says...

    December 3rd, 2010, 10:10 pm

    Thank You Lisa for this article. I have been a vegetarian since childhood because I never wanted to eat an animal that I associated with my nursery rhymes, that is how my journey began. I would cry if my mother would insist I ate that a lamb chop or pork chop. I refused to eat Mary’s little lamb or one of the Three little pigs. I too try to purchase items that are cruelty free and without animal testing or items made of faux leather or faux fur. I am proud to be an animal rights activist both domestic and wild and that love of all animals is carried to my table.

    Michael says...

    December 4th, 2010, 1:35 am

    Thank you Lisa so very much. I have been a vegetarian for some time now and am slowly becoming vegan. And I repeat the word ‘slowly’. I pretty much never buy milk, eggs, butter, cheese or other dairy in my usual grocery trip but I will still eat these things sometimes when I am out. I am beyond broke and am forced to wear my ‘pregan’ items and feel bad about it. I find myself not wanting to tell people that I am an animal rights activist for fear they will question me on my leather shoes. I remember once asking a fellow I worked with if he had signed the anti-whaling petition on the wall. He snarled back at me asking me if I was wearing leather shoes!!! I was stunned! I think people who don’t care about animals like to throw some things in our faces to make themselves feel less guilty. And their favourite is to tell us that we are not perfect and that no matter how hard we try we will still be contributing to animal suffering somehow, as if to say ‘why bother?’. But when somebody makes a choice to donate to a charity – any charity – let’s say cancer research – and this person decides to donate $100 – everyone would say how great that was. Does anyone ask that person why they didn’t donate $200? Does anyone make him or her feel bad about that? That is essentially what we are doing to ourselves. Let us all remember that we are trying and doing the best that we can. We all love animals and we have good intentions. And remember we all have each other even though sometimes this feels like a lonely road. Thank you so much Lisa for this fabulous article.

    lasya says...

    December 4th, 2010, 1:40 am

    this article is really great :) i have given up milk (from past 2 months) but am still using curds becos soy curds are yet to find their way to the stores close home…… try as i might i am not able 2 find vegan alternative 2 curds & was feeling very very guilty……thanks 2 u lisa i now feel better……..but this doesnt mean i will stop searching for alternatives or try to give it up completely…….thank u……

    @sharon Paz hats offf……

    dianne says...

    December 4th, 2010, 4:51 am

    I have this dilemma sometimes about the many leather items I own from the past. But I feel like the animal has already suffered, so I despair more about them suffering in vain, and just don’t buy any more products that tortured animals. I think that is the most respectful to the animals. I don’t think using animal products is inherantly wrong, but the way we use them now is just downright evil. But my cat is obligate carnivore, and if I had a dog, it is too. I got him before I was vegetarian, let alone vegan. I feel bad for the dead tortued GMO-fed animals that make up his food. My dog chased off my ducks that I intended to have happy lives free to roam on my organic farm until they were killed quickly and mercifully for my pets. (The dog soon ran away, and I can’t say I was sad that I couldn’t find her because she also tormented cats.) I’ll try again with the ducks, though…they’re really cool. If I felt I could make my cat into a vegan in a healthy way, I might try…any ideas? What are good vegan shoes made of?

    Micky says...

    December 4th, 2010, 11:34 am

    Thank you Lisa and to all who have commented. It’s good to know that others have the same thoughts and questions that I do about the shoes, clothing and restaurants. I was able to purchase Garmont hiking boots (Kiowa) on Amazon as recently as 2 weeks ago for about $50.(free shipping!) It’s the second pair I’ve bought, and I love the way they fit. There is also a waterproof version of them, that are more expensive, but I don’t know if they are available at Amazon right now.
    In a class I’m taking with Dr Will Tuttle right now, he suggested that we think of people not as unthinking or uncaring, but as ‘pre-vegan’, and I find that thinking this way helps MY attitude, and maybe theirs as well.

    Tina James says...

    December 4th, 2010, 12:51 pm

    Thank you! I completely agree with what you said about no one being a perfect vegan…
    after all, we aren’t trying to get to any level of perfection or abstinence… it’s about whatever helps the animals…
    This will surely help the cynics understand the purpose behind veganism…

    Elizabeth Richards says...

    December 4th, 2010, 2:42 pm

    I have been vegan for probably longer than most people. Though I would love to, I have never met anyone vegan as long as myself, and would especially like to know a long term female vegan. I was vegetarian and stopped all dairy in 1988, so it’s been almost 23 years for me. Yes, I’m vegan for every reason – health, humaneness, environmental reasons, etc but it is very liberating when you allow other people to be who they are, let them eat what they will, and when you can surrender when necessary to eating something that is not “pure” and not stress about it. I have learned through vegetarianism, veganism, being formerly on a raw food diet for 4 years, etc that it’s not really about the food – it’s about our stress levels, emotional and mental states, and in my opinion, our spirits. For those of us who choose veganism, the idea is to make us lighter and more humane so that we will be happier and more balanced. If we’re constantly stressing about food, ingredients, leather, what others are eating/wearing/doing, we are not happy – we’re just judgmental, critical and unhappy! I used to not wear leather and I nearly ruined my feet. I have gone back to good leather shoes. Do I want to wear leather? Of course not, but there are not many choices. I took this stress out of my life by surrendering to it – for now. Many non-leather shoes are made with vinyl, a very polluting substance in its own right. The answer is we have to make the best choices we can based on our beliefs – we are much more helpful to the world and much more influential with others by the way we live our lives – how much joy, balance, love and service we are living. I’m telling you recently on a tour in Denmark, they fed the musicians at a very specific hour; I missed the vegan burritos by 3 minutes and what was left was these eggy veggie patties. Years before I would have shunned them and gone without food. It was VERY LIBERATING to eat those patties!! No, I wouldn’t have eaten meat, fish or poultry, but the eggs were not going to kill me. I stayed calm, filled my tummy, and moved on. I felt very Zen about it, and it kept me on center. Until the world catches up to providing more vegan choices, we do the best we can.

    Dawn says...

    December 4th, 2010, 4:02 pm

    Thank you for this article, I love animals and care very much about how we treat them but am realizing more and more that I am part of the problem. I have considered going vegetarian/vegan but am over whelmed what that means. This gives a more realistic attitude about how to approach it. I have been a diehard meat eater all my life but I think it is time for a change. I can’t keep supporting animal causes and saying I care without taking the next step. I know I can’t go “cold turkey” but with small steps I’m at least headed in the right dirrection.

    Kim says...

    December 6th, 2010, 3:12 pm

    The best vegan footwear I’ve found are brands such as those offered at Moo Shoes (mooshoes.com). Admittedly, these shoes are about $100 a pop, which is pricey. Since I live in NYC and walk everywhere, I cannot buy cheap shoes because my feet turn into bloodied, blistered stumps. This leaves me saving up for 6 months to buy 1 pair, but I have found them to be worth it in both comfort and longevity. (I’ve found that Novacas dress shoes actually hurt a bit at first, but stay with them. One day, they are magically broken in and feel like slippers!)

    Planetshoes.com also has a vegan shop, allbeit somewhat limited.

    dawn says...

    December 19th, 2010, 11:45 pm

    this is really funny because i’m always wondering if my veggie burger was made on the same grill as the meat. sometimes i ask, sometimes i let it slide. & i’m kicking myself right now because i gave away my doc martins, which were like brand new & now with the snow and everything these rocket dogs are just not cutting it, but i couldn’t stand to have ppl see me wearing leather. this article really hit home for me. thanks!

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