Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why Bother With Cruelty Free Labels?

Do you know any vegans? Just in case you get your vegetarians and vegans mixed up – here’s the difference, vegans don’t just avoid meat, they also avoid all dairy products and generally don’t use any kind of product made from animals (things like leather, wool, etc.). I don’t think I could ever be a vegan, but they impress me greatly. Being a vegan is not something you do because it’s cool. This seems certain because being a vegan is incredibly difficult.

Last weekend I went out to dinner with a friend who is a vegan. I don’t think I truly appreciated her commitment and the challenge of her lifestyle choice until I looked over a menu from her perspective. I was hankering for a big plate of nachos and the place where we were eating (the Pressroom in Lancaster – highly recommend it!) makes delicious fresh food so I knew the nachos would be laden with veggies and salsa, but they would also be laden with cheese and sour cream– not on the vegan list. The only options were fries, bread and a salad (as long as you hold the creamy dressing, cheese, eggs, etc.). And no butter for that bread either. (She asked for olive oil instead and they were happy to bring it.) Butter's a tough one to avoid. Most restaurants slather butter freely on everything, even their steamed veggies.

It’s not impossible to go out to eat with a vegan, it’s just that at 99% of the restaurants, the menu is pretty limited. Salads get old, even for us salad aficionados. Eating strictly vegan is quite a discipline. I, for one, realize I don’t possess the will power or commitment level to attempt it. But I do admire it.

I’m sure there are lots of reasons for deciding upon a vegan life, but my friend’s powerful commitment to animals drives her dedication. She does not want to feed her body with anything that was created through the torture or misuse of animals. It’s a deep respect for the life of the animal. I am honored that she will eat the eggs from my chickens, knowing that they live a happy, free life and no one tortures them (unless you count the affection heaped upon them by my 7-year-old). I challenged myself to make her some chocolate chip cookies once. It was not easy. I used coconut oil in place of the butter and eggs from my chickens. The only chocolate chips I could find that were vegan friendly were grain-sweetened dark carob chips and I’m not completely sure they were absolutely dairy free. The cookies turned out alright but would have tasted better with a cold glass of milk.

So I have great respect for my friend’s vegan lifestyle. As we were talking on the way to dinner last weekend, though, she brought up another issue dear to her – the cruelty free label. Being a vegan based on your belief in the sacredness of the lives of all creatures also means you don’t use any products that were tested on animals. I admit to being pretty nonchalant about the cruelty free label. It’s not that I don’t love animals (I better love them since I clean up after plenty of them!), it just hasn’t been on my radar. Maybe it’s the bad press that PETA always gets. They do seem like nut cases. But my friend is definitely NOT a nut case and she is a member of PETA, so I heard her out.

She asked me why I would ever want to use any product for my house or myself that contained ingredients so toxic they weren’t safe to test on humans. Slam. Now there’s an argument I can’t argue with.

She’s right. All of us “organic nut cases” could take a page from the “PETA nut cases” book here. If we want to avoid toxic, dangerous chemicals and products, we truly should only buy products that are certified “cruelty free”. Even if we don’t mind animals being abused and mistreated in the name of science, we should feel alarmed that it is necessary in the first place. Nothing that requires the sacrifice of an animal’s life to secure our safety is something we should be messing with in the first place.

You won’t find me breaking in to animal testing laboratories or splashing paint on fur-coated rich people, but at least on this issue, I must side with the PETA people. From now on I will seek out products certified “cruelty free” and err on the side of the animals and my health.

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