Baby steps to a better world

Living a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle has its challenges. As Portia de Rossi (who, along with her wife, Ellen DeGeneres, is vegan) told VegNews, “I think it’s more difficult to be vegan than gay.” She noted that eating vegetarian meals among meat eaters is “kind of suggesting that what someone else is doing is bad or wrong, and it hits them on a more personal level … they’re thinking that you’re trying to preach to them or you’re trying to convert them in some way.”

This can certainly be true; even as many of us eat our veggie meals without any preaching at all, the choice not to eat animals is then present in the minds of those who still do. The issue has come up at the vast majority of meals I eat with non-veg folks, with the comments ranging from curious to interested to judgmental. And it’s always hard to know what to say, especially when the hope is to enlighten, not to aggravate.

So, if asked, I often I talk about how it took me many baby steps to become completely vegan — from clinging to the notion that I couldn’t live without cheese (especially brie) to being unaware that I used cosmetics produced by a company that tests on animals. It’s the everyday choices we make, and often the smallest ones, that make a difference. And most of the time, it’s a gradual process.

What many people don’t realize is that if every American ate just one vegetarian meal a week, it would be similar to taking five million cars off the road, not to mention saving countless animals from the unspeakable cruelty of factory farms. This is pretty doable for most folks.

But what people also may not realize is that it’s not all about food — there are so many (easy) ways to be conscious of cruelty and to make simple choices that make a huge difference. As Piper Hoffman points out in this article on Our Hen House, food is the largest source of animal cruelty (“over ten billion land animals are killed for food every year in the United States alone”), yet other industries do horrific damage as well (nearly “one billion animals are killed in U.S. laboratories, and around 50 million are killed for fur worldwide.” There are ample opportunities to prevent cruelty by making changes not only in what you eat, but what you wear and what you use every day. Piper offers six steps you can take toward living a cruelty-free life. And I thought Rory Freedman’s new book, Beg, did a great job of pointing out all the ways in which we can save animals from harm.

Everyday items, from toothpaste to lotions to shampoo, are things we don’t often think about — but we should. From the moment I read about rabbits who break their own spines trying to escape the torture inflicted upon them for beauty products (usually sprayed directly into their eyes), I make sure anything I buy has not been tested on animals. It’s a simple thing, easy to do, and doesn’t cost me anything more but a few extra moments of time.

Many people think that to buy cruelty-free, they need to shop at  Whole Foods or overpriced health-food stores — not true at all. Clearly, if you do go to places like this, you don’t have to shop around quite as much — most of these products are cruelty free because that is part of the store’s mission. Also, you’re more likely to find products that are completely vegan. If however, you’re in a Safeway or a Target, you can still make choices that count. How do you know which products are protecting animals or harming them? I keep this page bookmarked on my cell phone so that I can look it up if I have to. It takes only a few minutes — but why not buy Nivea (no animal testing) over Neutrogena (which does test on animals)?

And, for those of you who don’t like to buy your mascara at Whole Foods (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it takes no more than a few extra minutes to do a little research before heading for the cosmetics counter. For reasons that are clear, the companies that do conduct animal testing (from Johnson & Johnson to Procter & Gamble to Estee Lauder) don’t advertise it, so you do have to check. And checking is always worthwhile; for example, I learned that while Clarins isn’t on this list of companies that do not test on animals, its website states that it was the first French company to ban animal testing. Whatever your favorite product may, be check to see if what their values are — and if they don’t align with yours, make a switch.

You can begin with Piper’s six tips — or follow your own path. It’s not about changing overnight or making drastic sacrifices but about making the world a better place, one step at a time.