Kate is Animal Aid’s Slaughter Consultant and former Head of Campaigns.
It is natural for those who become vegan out of concern for animals to go on to consider other animal issues, too. And the most natural progression from looking at the ingredients we put into our bodies is to look at the ingredients we put onto our bodies, and often that begins with toiletries and cosmetics.
Remember all that time you spent as a new vegan reading labels in the supermarket? Well, attempting to do the same with row upon row of shampoo bottles is a sure-fire way to bring on a migraine. For a start, some of that tiny writing is in Latin (why say ‘water’ when you can say ‘aqua’?) and that’s before we get onto the ten-syllable chemical names that offer no clue as to where all their molecules came from or what they are doing in there. It’s a minefield. Thankfully, there are plenty of companies who label which toiletries are suitable for vegans nice and clearly on their products. Superdrug is one you will find on most high streets but also look out for Faith in Nature, Jason and Noughty (all vegan) and Lush (which labels their vegan
products clearly). As for testing, cosmetics in the UK are not tested on animals by law, but the companies who choose to sell those same products into China must have them tested on animals. You may wish to boycott those companies, and stick to the good guys including those named above who neither test on animals nor emulsify their body parts into creams and lotions. As for make-up, Urban Decay has a vegan range and all of Kat von D’s range is vegan. For less pricey make-up, Animal Aid’s online shop is a great place to start.
Next, our attention may turn – if it hasn’t already – to clothes. Obviously, we know fur is bad, and that leather really is just fur with the hairs scraped off, and many new vegans will have a dilemma about what to do with their leather boots, jackets and lederhosen (come on, we all have a pair!). Some people will use them until they wear out but won’t buy leather again; others will feel uncomfortable in the skin of an animal who really should be wearing it themselves, and they’ll give them away to friends or charities. Whichever path is right for you is right.
What we may not think about so closely is wool. After all, our fleecy friends probably need a haircut in the summer months, and appreciate the cool breeze on their skin. Well, the meat and wool industry are inextricably linked and so all the suffering we know about with one is inherent in the other. Sheep are subject to mutilations. They are often left without due care to cope in extreme weather conditions, impregnated through surgical means (yes, really – sheep breeding is commonly conducted by introducing semen surgically via the ewe’s abdomen), and suffer a host of health problems including foot rot, scald, scrapie and mastitis. At the end of all that – and having their lambs taken from them – they may be transported long distances to slaughter. As for the shearing itself, that is a brutal and bloody business, too.
Some coats, duvets and pillows contain feathers, and if you think the companies that make them wander the lakesides looking for naturally-shed feathers to stuff into their jackets, you’re about to get a shock. If those feathers were not plucked from their slaughtered owners, then there is a good chance they were pulled out of them while they were still alive – a painful, stressful, terrible process. Thankfully, synthetic jackets, duvets and pillows are readily available, non-allergenic and a whole lot less scratchy, too.
And what about pets? How can it be OK to buy animals on a whim, then abandon them, dump them or sell them to anyone who’ll have them in the same way we buy and discard smartphones or shoes? My nearest animal sanctuary tells me they have a list of people who no longer want the rabbits they bought, and that there are currently 200 animals on the waiting list, all in desperate need of the chance of a happy life. Most of them won’t get it. Instead, these sensitive, social, inquisitive animals will live and die alone in a hutch at the bottom of a garden. Sanctuaries are full of beautiful, wonderful animals who need beautiful wonderful people to love them and care for them. Perhaps you can help?
Out in the wider world, we shouldn’t forget that circuses still tour the country with animals. Some even still display wild animals whose lives have been shown to be unnatural and tedious, and punctuated by often-vicious training. These companies will stop using animals when people stop paying to see them, and the same goes for zoos and aquaria. These are not natural habitats, nor are they really educational. Wild animals, you may think as we do, belong in the wild, and not in a cage or a pen while people laugh and point at them.
Our world once revolved around animal use and exploitation, with animals traded, bartered, butchered and abused as part and parcel of everyday life. Things have improved, thanks to the technological advances that have made some of those (ab)uses obsolete, and yet animals are still seen as commodities. People still rear birds just so they can shoot them out of the sky for fun or make a lot of money by charging others to shoot them. People still set traps and poison when unwanted wild guests come into their homes or gardens even when there are humane deterrence methods available. And people still visit dog tracks and horse racecourses, even though animals are raced to death on them every week of the year.
By becoming vegan – or at least starting out on your vegan journey – you will have learnt so much already about how animals are used for food, and you may start to feel the heavy emotional weight of the cruelty in the world. Please remember that none of us is perfect. We can’t know all the ingredients and production methods of the cavity wall insulation in our homes or every micro component of our smartwatch, for example. But we can do our best. If we use our wallets and our voices wisely – buying ethically and speaking up wherever we can – then the world will change for the better.