Two hundred and forty-one

Vegan clothing

I have a confession to make: I’m wearing wool socks.  And I almost wore my leather and wool winter boots, except I thought I’d get kicked out of the vegan store when I went shopping there today.  It’s just so cold today, and my wool socks are my warmest.  You can ask anyone who knows me – I am ALWAYS cold.  It can be the middle of summer and I’ll be cold.  Yesterday night my hands were so cold they started to lose circulation and my finger tips went white.  I’ve had this my whole life, no matter what diet I have, whether I do exercise, what vitamins I take.  I just have to accept I will always be cold.  And once I get cold, it’s really hard to warm up.

I’ve tried every kind of material and the only thing that really keeps me warm is wool.  I know it is completely against vegan rules that I wear the fur of an animal.  I know that I’m cheating.  But when I’m cold everything else in my body gets sore, especially my muscle from tensing up in order to try to keep the heat in, and I’m easily susceptible to sickness.  So I’m going to wear my wool socks.

Where wool comes from…

I have another confession: I don’t really know anything about the wool industry.  My adamant wool-sock wearing comes from ignorance.  I picture sheep living happily, grazing in the fields, then being sheared in the springtime by hand by a farmer and his wife.  With the constant desire for more wool, though, I realize this idealized image in my head is probably wrong.  Here is an excerpt from an interview with Elisa Camahort, blogger for Hip & Zen, on treehugger.com, explaining why vegans feel so strongly about not wearing any wool:

 Lambs born for wool production are castrated, have their ears punched through and their tails cut off, all without anaesthesia.

One might think that wool production is benign…like getting a haircut, and perhaps it was that way before sheep were bred for constant wool production, rather than seasonal production linked to their natural molting schedule. Now, sheep are sheared before they naturally would shed their winter coats, then the wool grows back during the summer months. Many sheep die of exposure (heat and cold) every year.

Worst of all is a technique called mulesing. Merino sheep produce the most wool because they are bred to have the most folds of skin. Unfortunately all those folds of skin become breeding grounds for fly infestations around their tail area. The factory farm solution for this problem is to carve off folds of skin, yes, their skin…hoping to create a smooth, scarred surface where the flies can’t lay eggs. And no, they don’t use anaesthesia for that either.

There is more detailed information about the wool industry on PETA.org.

What kind of clothing can you wear as a vegan?

Some alternatives to wool, suggested by PETA: “cotton, cotton flannel, polyester fleece, synthetic shearling, and other cruelty-free fibers”.  They also suggest the relatively new wool substitute, Tencel, or “Polartec Wind Pro, which is made primarily from recycled plastic soda bottles, is a high-density fleece with four times the wind resistance of wool, and it also wicks away moisture.”  There are also natural fabrics like organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and soy.

I will try to find Tencel or Polartec Wind Pro socks (if they make socks) and try them out, but I’m not guaranteeing anything…  Maybe there are ways to make sure the wool socks I buy aren’t from factory farm sheep and those farms who use mulesing?

Two hundred and forty

Vegan travel

Last month, when I drove across Canada, I opted to change around my months and not be vegan on the road.  It seemed too hard – trying to find things I can eat that have enough nutrients and protein in little towns across the country.  I think it would be even harder when traveling abroad.  When you’re visiting a new city or country, don’t you want to try their local dish?  Unfortunately, many local dishes are not vegan (depending on what part of the world you are in).  I met a girl the other day who traveled Europe and ate no animal products.  I was shocked.  What about pizza in Italy?  Paella in Spain?  Sunday roast in England?  It was hard, she told me, but not as difficult as you might think.

Typing in “vegan travel” on Google turns up pages and pages of people who have traveled the world on an animal-free diet.  Advice on where to eat, what countries are best to go to, exercises to help you keep healthy, travel tips, what to do on an airplane (and what airplanes have vegan meal options), even vegan cruise ships.  There are lists of restaurants and accommodations that cater to vegans arranged by country.  There are veg travel companies that will do all the work for you.

Below are a few websites that looked particularly useful.  Maybe I could be a vegan and still travel? Although I’m not sure I want to miss out on pizza in Italy…

HappyCow.net – This is the website the girl I met used while traveling around Europe.  They have airline tips, worldwide vegan resorts and bed & breakfasts, health advice, and lists of popular travel guide books and travel companies.  Particularly useful is their famous searchable guide to vegetarian friendly restaurants around the world.

VeganBackpacker.com – Lots of tips on how to survive as a vegan while traveling, including: find local vegans, carry a food stash, make a list of places to eat, and know the lingo (there is a book called the Vegan Passport that has vegan important phrases in 93% of the world’s languages).  Also specific country travel guides.

GreenEarthTravel.com – Vegetarian/vegan/eco travel agency.

VeganWorldTrekker.com – A personal website by Maria Giurcan, the author of How to Travel the World As a Vegan.  Full of great information gained from personal experience.

VegDining.com – Another listing site of vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants around the world.  Not quite as easy to use as the Happy Cow listings.

Two hundred and thirty-nine

Freeganism

Many friends think being vegan is extreme.  It hasn’t actually been that hard (except being tempted by working in a pub serving chicken wings or watching my friends eat pizza and cake, while I’m eating quinoa).  There are a few extremes to veganism, though, that I think would push me over the edge a bit.  Raw foodism I will talk about later in the week, as I’m hoping to go to a talk at the University of Toronto on the raw food diet.  Today, though, I will discuss freeganism.

According to Freegan.ca, freeganism is:

a way of life based around the belief that almost all work and monetary exchanges within a capitalist economy contribute to myriad forms of exploitation such as worker abuse, animal exploitation, hunger, ecological destruction, mass incarceration, war, inequitable distribution of resources, commodification of women – almost all issues addressed by social, ecological, and animal rights advocacy groups.

Basically, freegans aim for a total boycott of our capitalist economy, choosing instead to try to avoid using money; forage for food; recycle, compost and repair broken goods instead of throw them away, or share, give away, or trade goods in free markets and online (places like the free section on craigslist and freecycle.org); hitchhike, trainhop, walk, skate or bike as transportation; look for rent-free housing – become squatters who occupy and rehabilitate abandoned buildings; grow community gardens, or forage for food in city parks or in the wild; reduce their need to by employed, instead “caring for our families, volunteering in our communities, and joining activist groups to fight the practices of the corporations who would otherwise be bossing us around at work.” (Freegan.info)

Freeganism is a combination of “free” and “vegan”, although not all freegans are vegan (those who aren’t are sometimes called “meagans” because they eat meat).  They believe the vegan lifestyle is not without exploitation (worker exploitation, use of pesticides, wasteful packaging, non-renewable resources used) and therefore choose to go to the extreme of total boycott.

The most notorious strategy of freegans to acquire food and goods is “dumpster diving”.  Sometimes alone and sometimes in groups, freegans will search through the garbages of retailers, supermarkets, restaurants, office buildings, homes, etc. to find edible food (most places will throw out food that is close to its sell-by date or has damaged packaging), or reusable, in good condition (a symptom of our throwaway culture where we replace older goods with new ones, even when the old ones work fine) or recyclable products.

As part of the anti-consumerist choices they make, freegans will sometimes set up sawdust toilets, collecting and composting human faeces to be used as manure, or “humanure”.  The plywood toilet collects excrement, which is moved to an outdoor composting bin.  In approximately one year, if composted correctly, the humanure can be used in agriculture.  For more information on how to make one and watch some videos, go to HumanureHandbook.com.

For more info on freeganism, see Wikipedia, freegan.info or freegan.ca.

Two hundred and thirty-eight

Where our meat comes from, on film

“I don’t need to see that” or “I don’t want to know” – the usual responses when I start to tell people about the animal rights/factory farming videos I have watched during this month.  A proper discussion of veganism would not be complete without mention of these images – many vegans have chosen their lifestyle after watching one or more of these horrific films.

And yes, they are hard to watch.  Baby piglets castrated with no pain killers, screaming. Cows with sores all over their faces being slaughtered and used for meat.  Chicks having their beaks burnt off and stuffed in tiny cages to live their lives without ever being able to spread their wings.  Chickens being pumped so full of growth hormones to fatten them quickly, their legs won’t hold their own weight and they can’t walk.  Dolphins lured into bays and killed by the thousands.  Factory farming atrocities.  Scientific experimentation where monkeys have their heads slammed repeatedly into metal plates then experimented on to simulate head injuries in humans.  Foxes skinned alive for fur, their eyes still blinking long after their skin has been removed.

Yes, it is horrible.  But everyone should see where their meat is coming from.  I’m not preaching that everyone should be vegan.  I’m still not sure what choices I will be making once this month is up.  I am saying, however, that everyone should think about and know where the food they are putting in their bodies, or the clothes they are wearing, come from, and make their own personal choice accordingly.

There are quite a few videos available online you can watch.  The full-length film that goes into the most detail (and is probably the most graphic) is Earthlings, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix.  Earthlings can be found on Google videos or on their website at Earthlings.com.  Change.org has a list of ten recommended animal rights videos that are worth a look at, including more on scientific research using animal experimentation. The documentary film Food, Inc. is supposed to be fantastic and a little less graphic.  I haven’t seen it yet and it’s not available online, but you can watch the trailer on their website here Meat.org has a few videos as well – Glass Walls, narrated by Paul McCartney and the following video, Meet Your Meat (warning – very graphic):

Two hundred and thirty-seven

What I don’t know won’t hurt me?

I’ve been out for dinner a couple of times this month at non-vegan/vegetarian restaurants.  No matter how many questions you ask and how much you try to make sure that what you are eating has absolutely no meat products, it will inevitably have been fried in the same oil as chicken, or sauteed in butter, or given an egg wash.  No matter what you order, very few people who are not vegan can understand what it is to be vegan – to make that choice whether by ethics or health to eat no meat and care whether there is chicken stock in the soup or portions of cheese left on the salad.

I remember working at the pub or at The Keg or Canyon Creek and laughing at people who came in there who are vegetarian or vegan.  “What are they doing in a place like this?”  Yet, I find myself in places “like that” all the time now (meeting people, their choice, convenience, etc) and have to ask the same embarrassing questions about whether I can have that without butter, egg, milk, cheese, meat, gelatin and stock.

I get to the point where I say “what I don’t know won’t hurt me”.  I can only ask so many questions.  I have to trust the server that they will convey the message to the chefs and the chefs will adjust to my dietary restrictions.  And if they don’t, well how will I know.  Unless I only eat at vegan restos and watch people cook who have me over for dinner, I can’t guarantee that what I’m eating is animal-free.

I’m not sure whether this is a truly vegan attitude, but I do my best.  And the more vegans I talk to, the more I feel that seems to be the consensus.  We don’t live in an animal-free world and animal products are everywhere.  We can only do so much without driving ourselves crazy or shutting ourself off from the world.  And what fun would that be?