The wool suit, the leather shoes, and the animal-free White Castle jacket

14 Dec

If you’ve been reading this blog for years, you know that I used to have good titles for my posts. What happened?!

Anyway, I’ve been struggling with a vegan issue and I’m curious what other people think.

When I went vegan 15 months ago it was all about the food. Then two weeks after that it was all about the animals. But about a month in I started thinking about the clothes. You see, some of my clothes were made of animals!

And my wallet was, too. And it was old. And falling apart. I needed a new one. So this was a no-brainer. I went to Amazon and looked up “vegan wallets” and ordered one from an Amazon seller called Alternative Outfitters.

And I liked it. It looked good. The functionality was good. And I almost immediately realized that it also made me feel good. Hey, look at me, I didn’t only give up food, I got a vegan wallet, too!

Well, it wasn’t long before I went back on Amazon and bought a vegan belt. It’s made of something called pleather. Because as I soon learned, veganism is full of portmanteaus. In fact, I bet before Mr. Watson settled on the term “vegan” he first proposed a portmanteau combining vegetables and diners, but for some reason decided that “veginers” was the wrong way to go.

So now I had a wallet AND a belt. Which meant the next obvious thing was staring me in the face (if I looked down) — shoes!

I usually wear sneakers. And some of them, I was pretty sure, had some leather. Especially the leather ones. And as for my shoes, well, all of them were leather. But although it was pretty clear to me that I wasn’t going to buy any more leather shoes or sneakers, the question became: was it okay to keep wearing what I already owned?

I struggled with this for a while. I mean, isn’t it wasteful to throw them away? I could give them to charity, but if it was wrong for me to continue to wear them then wasn’t it wrong for someone else to continue to wear them? Or was it okay for someone else to wear them since that person was probably eating meat, too?

And as I pondered these questions, I kept wearing my shoes as need be. But whenever I did, I felt bad. Like I was tacitly supporting the notion that it was okay to use animals like this. So I decided I needed to stop. The sneaker part was easy. You can find no-animal sneakers at lots of places. Heck, some of the ones I already owned weren’t even made of animals. But shoes were different.

So I decided to make a pilgrimage to Alternative Outfitters. You see, when I ordered that wallet on Amazon, it came really fast. Why? Because it turned out that Alternative Outfitters was only an hour or so away from me, in Pasadena.

Alternative Outfitters, I imagine, does most of their business over the Internet, and the store isn’t what I was expecting. I almost drove past it. It’s kind of at the corner of an office park, with only a small retail space, though they’ve got a lot crammed in there. Ninety percent of which was for women. But they have a pretty good selection of shoes. And unlike ersatz meat products, ersatz leather shoes are actually cheaper than the thing you’re ersatzing them for.

But I didn’t write this post to tell you about my trip to buy shoes. I wrote it because of the conversation I had with the friendly vegan who was working there that day. As I blabbed on and on about buying my first pair of vegan shoes (I’m insufferable) we got into an interesting discussion about whether or not it’s okay to keep wearing the animal clothing you already own since those animals are already dead and the items are already made.

She took the position that if you’re giving up animal-based foods because you think it’s wrong to use animals that way, why would you want to keep wearing their skin on your body? She said she remembered the day she made the decision to stop wearing a leather coat that she had.

And that got me thinking. Certainly, nobody would wear a pair of shoes made from human skin, no matter that the person was already dead. They would find the idea disgusting, repulsive, it would make their, yup, skin crawl. But why didn’t leather shoes make me feel that way? I guess because we’re so accustomed to it, same as eating meat. And because evolution has done something to make the idea of using humans this way feel repugnant to us.

So since our use of animal products is so everyday, we need to LEARN to find it repulsive. We need to EDUCATE OURSELVES on the matter to the point that we find it repulsive. Which brings me to my wool suit. I wear a suit even less often than I wear shoes. Do I want to go buy a new suit made of, let’s say, cotton? Nope. And so I wore my wool suit to my niece’s wedding last month.

But then I started wondering: is wool worse than leather? I think it depends on how poorly the sheep are treated. I keep reading that egg-laying hens and dairy cows have worse lives than the chickens and cattle raised for meat. And if I’ve given up eggs and dairy because of the way those animals are treated, then is wool any different because it’s worn not eaten? And while I wouldn’t buy any new wool suits or sweaters, should I stop wearing that damn wool suit of mine pronto?

And then there’s this:

My White Castle jacket. 100 percent polyester. But do I need to give this up, too? I’ve still been wearing it. It keeps me warm. But I could buy one that doesn’t have a message pretty easily. Is it wrong for me to keep offering up what seems to be (or is) tacit approval? To keep wearing something that might (or does) increase people’s appetite for meat?  Or what if I just stop wearing it in public? Is that enough? Or is it even wrong to wear it when I’m home alone and cold?

5 Responses to “The wool suit, the leather shoes, and the animal-free White Castle jacket”

  1. Judith Vegan Barnes December 15, 2011 at 4:54 am #

    Just sew a “meat is murder” patch over the White Castle logo.

  2. veganactivist December 15, 2011 at 6:19 am #

    Like Judith says – sew on a vegan patch over the logo (though “meat is murder” isn’t my personal favourite!)

    As to clothing and footwear, finding vegan alternatives is wonderful, but I think we should all recognize that there are vegans who have shorter or longer ‘transition’ periods – especially if they don’t have the money to just up and replace their entire wardrobe, shoes that have worked well for five years, or clothing that is only used very occasionally like your wool suit. No one should be made to feel that they’re ‘not vegan enough’ if they aren’t able to afford to give up every animal-derived bit of clothing right away. (However, if they kept BUYING leather shoes, it would certainly be something to question!)

    Just found your blog through Twitter. Will come back again! Nice to ‘meet’ you!

    • insufferablevegan December 22, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

      I think you’re right — the transition periods are very personal. It felt like such a monumental undertaking at the time to simply change my eating, the clothing part didn’t even dawn on me for a while. Nice to ‘meet’ you, too 🙂

  3. Midge December 15, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    I have been a vegan for as long as you have and this is my second winter being a vegan. I totally understand what you’re going through because I’m going through it myself. I didn’t seem to have as much trouble giving up my old sweaters that contained wool or silk, but I did struggle a little bit with shoes. Vegan shoes can be very expensive and can be a challenge for a new vegan. I have settled for shoes sold at regular stores that are described as made with man-made materials, but in the back of my mind I do wonder if they are completely man-made. I still have some old shoes sitting in my shoe rack that I wear very rarely now.

    Thank you, veganactivist for acknowledging that everyone has different transition periods. I do believe in the idea of doing the most good and the least harm. I know this is going to be hard for some to realize, but there really is no guarantee that we will never accidentally use a product that contains a material that came from an animal – the car that we drive, the furniture at our workplace, prescription drugs. But does that give us a license to continue buying leather and wool and bacon? Of course not. But if we do our best to promote non-violence by eating accordingly, shopping wisely and being compassionate, then I think that’s what truly matters :).

    By the way, this was the first blog entry of yours that I’ve read. Nice writing!

    • insufferablevegan December 22, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

      Thanks, Midge! Sorry for the delayed response. I didn’t realize when I started this blog how much time it takes. Makes me appreciate even more how amazing Quarrygirl’s blog was and that she was able to keep it going as long as she did. It’s interesting that you have been vegan about the same length of time as I have. I think I am only now moving past the “Hey look at me and this amazing thing I’ve done” part. Maybe I should write about that…

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