Thursday, January 13, 2011


My husband and I have both been vegan for years, but we're also environmentalists. The "but" is significant. We have found things that are friendly to animals are not always so friendly to the earth. This has posed an ethical dilemma.

For example, a pair of synthetic boots does not contribute to animal suffering. It eliminates the need for the abusive factory farming techniques that hurt the cows, workers at processing plants, and local water sources which are polluted by the concentrated animal waste. At first glance, this seems like an ideal solution for animals and the earth. However, when I think of how the boots were made and how they'll be disposed of when they are beyond repair, I have to reconsider. Synthetic leather is basically plastic, a petroleum product. It doesn't take a genius to know that plastic is bad for the earth. It never biodegrades and can create other chemical problems during the manufacturing process.

So which do we choose? The leather that kills a cow but biodegrades? The synthetic that stops the suffering but never breaks down?

This dilemma also extends to other products: down vs synthetic sleeping bags, wool or polypropylene base layers, even local unprocessed honey vs vegan sweeteners that come from across the country and are processed.

The compromise I have come up with so far for the leather dilemma is to purchase secondhand leather boots at thrift stores. I don't know if that is fully vegan or not. My rationale is that I'm not contributing to the demand for new leather, I'm recycling, and the boots will eventually break down. However, I am contributing to the secondary market for leather, making it perhaps more valuable new since it has a resale value. I'm also contributing to demand if someone sees my boots, thinks I'm totally stylish, and heads to Nordstrom to buy them new. Hey, it could happen!

I've also purchased SmartWool products, which are made from the wool of more ethically farmed sheep. This stuff works better and lasts longer than synthetic alternatives, but still gnaws at my conscience.

I don't think there is a solution that will solve both problems. There will there always be shades of gray. Trying our best seems to be all we can do.

Please comment respectfully and intelligently.

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