In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.
‘Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best.’ – Tim Duncan
Living plant-based is first and foremost about the food you put in your body. Really tasty, vegan, whole food at that. However, the more I learn about living plant-based, the more I find out about products and services that are just unethical for us to use. I’ve always been partly aware of this. Back when I was a normal vegetarian, I stopped buying anything made from products that an animal would have to die for. I didn’t see the point in not eating animals if I was only going to wear their skin. However, the past couple of years have opened my mind and taught me so much about the horrific treatment of animals in lots of industries.
Most of us Brits assume, as I always did, that leather comes from cows. This is generally true of quality leather that is produced in the UK, however other leather that is sold here can come from horses, sheep, lambs, goats, pigs and even cats and dogs. So, when you buy that bargain pair of shoes, you can’t be sure of which creature they started off in life as. To me personally, a living being is a living being. We all have souls, and it is just as terrible to wear a cow’s skin as it is to wear the skin of any animal, humans included. But I bet people would be shocked to hear that they may be wearing cat or dog on their feet. I can just imagine the uproar, especially after the comedy of the horse meat scandal last year. And if you don’t care about the animals, consider this. Tanneries use dangerous substances like mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives and cyanide-based oils and dyes to stop decomposition. These dangerous substances are suspected of causing leukaemia, with instances of the disease being up to five times greater than normal in residential areas near tanneries.
So, what about wool? That’s ethical right? I mean, it’s helping the sheep by shearing them. Unfortunately, no. I’ve never actually worn wool because I’ve been allergic to it since birth, but if I wasn’t I would still restrain from using it and I now avoid buying gifts that are made from wool also. The sheep that we see in the fields today are not ‘natural’ sheep. Just like us humans bred cows to produce more milk and beef, and chickens to lay more eggs, sheep were selectively bred to produce more wool. So, they go from having too much wool that causes them to suffer in hot weather to being susceptible to the cold and wet after they are sheared. Can you imagine someone giving you an extra thick, woolly coat to keep you warm and then snatching it back from you all of a sudden and leaving you exposed to the elements? Sheep are also not specifically bred to just produce wool. After just 4-6 months they are killed to be sold for meat. The wool is sometimes pulled from their dead bodies in the slaughterhouse. It’s very rare that a sheep will die of old age. Lanolin is a by-product of the wool/meat industry. It is a natural grease that is removed before the wool is processed, and is used as a base in cosmetics, lotions and ointments. If you’re not sure whether the products you use contain lanolin or other animal ingredients, switch to vegan alternatives. It’s a lot easier than googling the list of very scientific ingredients you find on the side of tubs and bottles, believe me.
Palm oil is a common ingredient in foods such as ice cream, cookies, crackers, chocolate, cereals, breakfast bars, cake mixes, doughnuts, crisps, frozen meals and baby formula. Nearly 90% of it comes from Indonesia and Malaysia, where rainforests are stripped bare. The habitats of the Sumatran orang-utan, Sumatran Tiger and Sumatran Rhinoceros are in grave danger. A lot of the work is also carried out by child labourers.
I could go on and on about products that use animal ingredients, or threaten the lives of both humans and other species. I’ll be honest, I’m far from perfect. I try to use plant-based products wherever possible. I use Ecover washing up liquid and laundry detergent at home (added bonus – I no longer have allergic reactions when I put on clean clothes or do the washing up), I buy cleaning products from The Co-operative (no animal products used) and I have started to replace all my make-up and cosmetics with vegan alternatives. But, I still choose to buy the odd product that isn’t necessarily vegan and I have a couple of items made from leather and felt that were given to me as gifts.
I had no idea that making the decision to go plant-based a few years ago, or even choosing to become vegetarian over 20 years ago, would have such a profound effect on my life. I’m glad that I did make those changes in my life, though, and I am constantly learning about how I can become a better citizen of this Earth.