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Vegan Uncensored: Practical Vegan or Ideological Vegan?

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Just because there aren’t already enough labels in the veg world, I was interested to read an article recently about the difference between a ‘practical’ vegan and an ‘ideological’ vegan. It’s an issue that I have seen many people struggle with – and it’s something that I struggled with myself upon making the transition from vegetarian to vegan. Looking at my closet full of leather shoes, wool sweaters and leather belts, my eco-friendly brain started buzzing at the thought of getting rid of this “stuff” so that I could buy more “stuff” to take its place. Then my pocket book started vibrating as I assessed the cost of replacing these items with animal-friendly ones. That’s ridiculous, I thought – and I guess I started down the path of a practical vegan. I no longer purchased anything that was made with animal products, or tested on animals, but I continued to wear my leather shoes and other animal clothing items.

But then I bought a t-shirt one day that had a vegan slogan on it. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but the first time I wore it I noticed people staring at me. When I wore that shirt, waiters and waitresses considerately pointed out vegan items on their menus, strangers complimented me on my gorgeous non-leather handbag. And I made sure that when I wore that shirt I didn’t wear my leather shoes with it. I started to think about the fact that, no matter what my reasoning, no matter how eco-conscious and responsible I thought I was being, that I was unconsciously making a statement to others by still wearing these items – or not making a statement is perhaps more accurate. While I was abstaining from purchasing any more animal-related products, no one who I hadn’t talked to directly knew that. What they knew was that I was wearing leather. Period.

So, pocket book ringing, I put on my vegan t-shirt and packed up a box with all my animal-related items and took it to a charity shop. Boy, my arms felt lighter once I’d dropped that thing off. And, it turned out, I didn’t have to replace EVERYTHING in my closet. Sometimes it’s better to live with less, when everything you wear is a statement about who you truly are.

Vegan Uncensored is a weekly space on this blog where people can bring interesting topics of discussion to do with veganism to the fore. Read it, respond to it, pass it on to your friends – vegan and non-vegan – through Facebook, Twitter, or by sending them a link to this blog. Do you have a vegan issue you’d like to see in this space? Email editor@veganmainstream.com.

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  • Meg

    Thanks for writing this! This is a really great post. I think people on both sides of the issue are often very critical of those on the other side.

    I certainly don’t hold it against anyone if they keep their old non-vegan things. The cost and time involved in replacing things can be prohibitive for some people. And getting rid of literally every animal product may be very hard once you learn about hidden ingredients. The most important thing is to stop contributing to more intentional and unnecessary animal exploitation.

    Originally, I told myself that I would keep things until they wore out. But then the more I thought about it the more I felt uncomfortable wearing around and otherwise using dead animals :( I felt uncomfortable when someone complimented me on non-vegan stuff I wore, too.

    I started replacing things here and there and giving away many things that I knew I wouldn’t even need to replace. I haven’t gotten rid of every last animal product, but it’s close enough for now, I’d say and includes all the major things. It really wasn’t as bad as I feared — not at all, in fact. I was pleased to find out that many of the items I had that I thought were leather weren’t and vegan companies online made shopping sooo much easier.

    I’ve been really happy with the vegan products I’ve bought. They get lots of compliments, too, and now they’re great ways to start up a conversation about veganism. I can now proudly show people what great vegan products there are while supporting businesses that share my values.

  • http://twitter.com/herzkriegerin Frauke Girus-Nowoczy

    Thanks, this is a great article. I think every vegan has to walk this path at some point. But it doesn’t stop there. I am currently searching for vegan winter boots and decided for real ethical vegan boots that make my pocket book ring instead of cheap synthetic boots with glue from animals and workers who are paid and treated badly. And I keep detecting non vegan stuff nearly everywhere. Sugar – apart from not being very healthy – is bleached using animal charcoal. Fruit juices and wines are cleared with egg white or fish bladders. My beloved pineapples are becoming an ecological disaster if I don’t buy them organic. The more consciously you look the more things you will find. Today I am not sure that a true vegan lifestyle with ecological balance and fair trade is really possible. But I keep on trying…

  • Etherspin

    great topic / article, I agree except for the idea of naming people differently, I dont see how splintering veganism is useful, for the most part I think vegans of either persuasion can understand the reasons for the other side of the coin

  • Grrl_chef

    I’ve read this dilemma from other vegan’s recently and the comments pointed out give good argument to both sides…the one being the writer of tis piece, where she decided to box up the goods and get rid of them, the flip-side were from the vegans who felt it was in total disrespect to get rid of clothing, shoes, etc., that an animal had already died for, of course they weren’t purchasing anything new that isn’t non-animal made, just wearing out the already owned items….I guess it’s what you feel in your heart that you can live with. The only thing I’d say to the writer is when she says, “While I was abstaining from purchasing any more animal-related products, no one who I hadn’t talked to directly knew that. What they knew was that I was wearing leather. Period” To hell with what people think, strangers at least. Do whats right to you, you will spend your whole life explaining yourself and for no good cause, people make up their minds how they will think of you regardless.

  • VeggieGirl

    however, once you donate to goodwill, someone else will wear it and make that leather-ok statement… if you really want to get rid of it, throw it out. or create a sculpture to honor the lives of animals, with those items. a memorial. maybe find places to put it up, like the 9-11 site.

    practicality-wise, i’d say wear it down if you need it, but don’t ever again buy leather – especially something newly manufactured. also, don’t forget that if something was created from an animal that lived and died a natural life, that might be okay. it’s the new murder that we don’t want to participate in.

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