A couple years ago, Treehuger published a blog post outlining nine items that look vegan but aren’t. The conclusion was that “If you thought that by quitting meat or at least going weekday vegetarian you were doing your part to avoid the horrors of factory farming, think again.” Here, I will offer some actual vegan alternatives to some of those items. But most importantly, I’ll gently remind you and all those people at Treehugger that we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater!
In fact, even if you just try a little and you’re purely a “dietary vegan,” avoiding all animal products in food, you’ll have a significant impact on animals, the environment, and your health. The leading cause of death for all animals in the US is agribusiness. In 2008, over 9 BILLION chickens, 116 million pigs, and 35 million cows were killed for food. Because Americans consume far more beef, chicken, pork, cheese, and eggs than leather, wool, silk, animal-tested cosmetics, or animal-tested pharmaceuticals, our food choices matter most.
If you want to go further and be a vegan in all areas of your life, that’s awesome! You’ll grow as an individual becoming a stronger, more compassionate, and more honest person. And so what if animal products are ubiquitous and we can’t be 100% vegan in modern society? Does that really mean we shouldn’t try? Of course not!
So now, let’s tackle those so-called impossibly non-vegan items:
- Plastic bags - Treehugger says that shopping bags often “contain ‘slip agents’, which reduce the friction in the material. What are those made of? Animal fat.” Well, there’s a very simple vegan solution! Bring your own cloth bags! Besides being vegan, reusable bags are better for the environment, way more stylish, and you can usually even get a discount when you use them (my grocery store gives me 5 cents for each bag I bring in). Now, why a blog called Treehugger wouldn’t suggest reusable bags, I have no idea.
- Shampoo & Conditioner – OK, this is weird. There are plenty of vegan brands of shampoo and conditioners! I should know, I used to be a hair stylist! Some options come from these brands: Giovanni Cosmetics, Jason Natural, LUSH Cosmetics, ABBA (my current favorite for me), Jonathan, Kiss My Face, California Baby (my current fave for my baby), and many many more! (Check the label and look for the word “vegan” because brands carry both vegan and nonvegan products.) You can easily search for vegan personal care items at vegan stores like Vegan Essentials >>
- Fabric Softener – Apartment Therapy offers five alternatives to store-bought (nonvegan) fabric softener. The options range from vinegar (that’s what we used when I was a kid, but we did it to save money not to save animals) to baking soda or borax. Vegan Essentials offers a reusable dryer sheet that is vegan. And Seventh Generation offers a liquid fabric softener that’s vegan for all intents and purposes (“Not tested on animals” & “No animal tallow derivatives”) and is gentle on the planet. Or, you could line-dry your clothes, which again is a treehugging sort of thing to do, so it’s odd the Treehugger website didn’t suggest it. Clothes that are dried by the sun rather than by electricity or gas generally don’t develop static-cling, but that wouldn’t give anti-vegan nay-sayers much to blog about, would it?
- White and Brown Sugar – Guess the Treehuggers didn’t read my latest article about sugar (or the previous article) because if they had, they’d realize most sugar is vegan! And if you really want to be certain your sugar is vegan, just look for any of these words on the label: vegan, raw, unrefined, or beet sugar. Or you could use sugar alternatives like agave nectar, stevia, maple syrup, molasses, or rice syrup. Or, you could just avoid sugar since pure sugar ain’t all that healthy!
- Toothpaste - I like the Jason Spearmint toothpaste available at Whole Foods. But you could use plain baking soda or other vegan toothpastes. Look at Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe for some ideas >>
- Glue in Wood Work and Musical Instruments – While plenty of vegans have found alternatives to leather guitar straps or even horse hairs on violin bows, the glue issue can still be a problem. As in other areas of life, like sports, synthetic alternatives will probably take the place of animal parts eventually in part because the synthetics are often better. You can get vegan baseball gloves here, vegan ballet shoes here, vegan soccer balls are everywhere, and vegan drums here. As the number of vegans worldwide grows, the more vegan options will be available. Until then, the mostly vegan option is again the one that’s better for the environment and the thing Treehugger should have suggested: buy used!
Even before synthetics improve to the point that they replace animal pieces because they function better, history suggests that social mores will force animal pieces to fall out of fashion. For example, my mom recently had her parlor grand piano refinished, including new keys because some had fallen off. She could either choose used ivory from old pianos or new synthetic fake ivory, but new ivory? Are you kidding! That’s not allowed!
And if anyone knows where I can get a truly 100% vegan violin, I’d like to know. My husband’s violin was ruined in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and he still hasn’t replaced it. I’m sure he’d adore a vegan, high quality violin.
- Biofuels - This is a new technology that is still developing. A variety of sources are used including both plant and animal sources. And as Planet Green states, “a third generation of biodiesels in development today that will allow algae to be used instead.” So it’s very likely that the future of biofuels will be vegan! And of course, electrical cars, and energy-saving devices are a good option.
- Fireworks - From an ethical and environmental standpoint, fireworks probably don’t fit into a conscientious lifestyle. But they’re so rare that I don’t see the big deal. Just watch the community ones instead of buying your own and it’s all good. Or don’t. It’s up to you.
- Car and bike tires – I think, and I’m not alone, that tires fall under the “as far as is possible and practical” exception clause of the accepted definition of vegan. (But don’t forget to recycle your tires! They can be made in cool stuff like non-leather purses and wallets!) And again, as in sports equipment and musical instruments, as the number of vegans worldwide grows the more vegan options will be available. So work on making more vegans rather than worrying about minor nonvegan products!
Let me say that last part again so it can really sink in:
As the number of vegan people increases the number of vegan options increases too. So work on making more vegans rather than worrying about a few, little nonvegan products!
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2010. It has been republished with a new beginning sentence in order to reach a new audience.