Chapter 19 – Fancy
Free and Cruelty Free
In becoming, being or staying veggie, you have taken
one of the most important steps of your life. You’ve
improved your health, made a giant contribution to improving
people’s lives around the world and done a huge
amount to help the earth’s environment. You’ve
also made sure that the animal production line of misery
and death is no longer carried out in your name. You
are doing much more than most people to safeguard the
Of course, you’re always going to meet those people
who don’t want to do anything. Once they know you’re
veggie, some bright wazzock is bound to tell you that,
just by giving up meat and fish, you won’t make
any difference. Wrong! Just remember how many animals
you will have saved in your lifetime by not eating meat:
over 850 of them as well as half a ton of fish!
Having taken this important step, what sometimes happens
is that people want to know more about the not-so-obvious
and sometimes hidden cruelty to animals that plays a
part in everyday life. This chapter outlines some additional
issues that may concern you as a vegetarian or vegan,
although you may feel quite fairly that you are doing
One obvious example of something that concerns a lot
of veggies is the issue of leather. Leather is a by-product
of meat. Producers don’t kill cattle for their
skins alone, although it is another bit of the animal
that makes slaughtering them profitable for those who
do it. Leather, as you probably know, has become pretty
fashionable and is used for loads of things like shoes,
briefcases and bags, as well as covering furniture.
A lot of the leather people buy is soft leather – the
softer the better for handbags and jackets. This leather
doesn’t come from the skin of cows but from calves.
And the softest leather of all comes from the unborn
calf of a pregnant cow killed at the slaughterhouse.
This leather is often used for gloves as well as clothes.
Happily, there are zillions of leather look-alike products
these days. You can get bags and clothes from loads of
shops and even by mail order from specialist outlets
(see pp. 184-5). There is also a wide range of non-leather
jackets available and as a lot
Of them come from Italy – one of the international
centres of fashion – they’re really pretty
up to date! They’re also a lot cheaper than leather!
These days, non-leather shoes are easy to find too.
(It’s a bit more difficult for boys although they
are around.) You tend to get the best choice in cheaper
shoe shops, funnily enough. The styles are the same as
leather shoes it’s just that they’re less
expensive. In the summer, hessian, canvas and rope shoes
with synthetic soles tend to be everywhere. Again they’re
cheap and come in the latest styles.
If you’re living in the UK, then Marks & Spencer
(yes, really!) are stacked with pong-proof, non-leather
boots and shoes and some are pretty cool. There are also
specialist places whose whole purpose is to sell stylish
veggie shoes by mail order (see p. 184). Most of these
shops started up when the chunky Doc Marten look came
in, and the stuff they sell is completely trendy. These
shoes often aren’t any cheaper than the leather
styles, but you can even get identical DMs in brilliant
colours like purple or yellow.
Wool is a bit like leather in that it often provides
a bit of extra cash for sheep farmers. The reason some
people don’t use wool is because the shock of being
shorn may kill some sheep while others sometimes die
of cold if the shearing’s done too early in the
year while it’s still winter. (What many people
don’t realise is that as much as 50 per cent of
the wool used in brightly coloured coats, jumpers, scarves
and gloves may be cut from the bodies of slaughtered
sheep.) Happily, cotton has made a big hit over recent
years and just about every jumper selection shops, catalogues
and mail-order stores includes a big range of cotton ‘woollies’.
Another alternative is acrylic and both this and cotton
tend to be cheaper than wool, as well as a lot easier
to look after and wash!
If you’re decided not to use any animal products
then fur’s obviously a no-no too. Unless your folks
have just won the lottery, you’re unlikely to go
clubbing in a mink or any other kind of fur – pardon
the pun! Unfortunately, loads of shops still sell clothes
with little bits of fur trim on the collars of jackets
and coats. Fur can only come from one of two places:
animals that have been trapped in the wild or those that
have been farmed for their skin. Either way, the animals
suffer and there are plenty of alternatives, including
some really good fakes. Let’s face it: Being veggie
and dressing in fur just don’t go together!
Silk is seen as a trouble zone by some vegetarians and
vegans. Silk is the substance that silk worms spin into
a cocoon to protect themselves when they’re in
the process of turning from caterpillars into moths.
Problem is, they never make it. While still in their
cocoon, the caterpillars are dunked into boiling water
which kills them and allows the silk to be unwound into
long threads. It’s then woven into fabric to make
the clothes you find in high-street stores everywhere.
Another slightly different issue that comes up for some
vegetarians or vegans is dissection. If you’re
at school, then you may be asked to dissect an animal
or part of it as part of your studies. However, in the
UK, dissection is not required by the exam boards for
GCSE Biology or for a teacher’s assessment. So
it doesn’t have to be part of the lesson – it
all depends on whether teachers (and students) want to
include it or not. For this reason, schools in Britain
cannot make their students take part in dissection and
they can’t take marks away from students who don’t
For some veggie students, dissection is a no-go. As
they see it, dissection teaches people to treat animals
as disposable objects. Animals – usually rats,
although in the USA, cats and piglets are also used – are
bred, caged and killed just so they can be cut up in
high school science classes. The question is whether
animals should be seen as teaching aids – or whether
as living, feeling creatures, their lives have a value
in their own right.
Dissection is designed to show students how the structure
of an animal’s body is linked to its function.
For instance, the position of the lungs has a bearing
on how they work. Increasingly, however, exam boards
have acknowledged that dissection is not essential to
an understanding of this relationship. There are also
a growing number of effective alternatives including
computer simulations, videos and filmstrips, models,
wall charts, prepared slides and, of course, diagrams
in books – all of which give an equally good picture
of how things work.
As we know, animals are also used to test how painful
or dangerous different products like oven cleaners, bathroom
cleaners, disinfectants, weed-killers and so on are when
brought into contact with people’s skin (including
our nose, mouth and eyes). And, despite the growth of
cruelty-free cosmetic companies, some big manufacturers
still drip their make-up products into animals’ eyes
or smear them over their raw flesh, causing enormous
pain and suffering.
Simply not buying cosmetics or domestic products that
have been tested on animals sends a clear message to
the manufacturers that you don’t support what they
are doing. As more people buy only ‘cruelty-free’ products,
companies are turning away from animal testing in order
to maintain sales.
The question is: How do you know which products are
safe to buy? Well, you can be sure that none of the manufacturers
who use animals is brave enough to tell you this by stamping ‘Tested
on animals’ on their products. Instead, look out
for the opposite. Read the labels and find out which
companies have made a clear policy decision to give up
animal testing. Then buy only from them. Most manufacturers
who don’t test on animals say so! To be a hundred
per cent sure, you can also refer to the British Union
for the Abolition of Vivisection’s Approved Products
Guide (see p. 181).
The more you change your life to cut out cruelty to
animals, the more you may feel as though you’re
the only person in the world who cares. The truth is
that a lot of people now care about the same things you
do and are living accordingly – just see the number
of different organisations listed at the end of this
On the other hand, you may feel that the number of issues
to think about is a little overwhelming and that as a
veggies, you’re doing enough already. Giving up
things like leather or wool may just seem too much at
the moment. That’s absolutely fine and it’s
important to remember that by being veggie, you’re
already doing much, much more than most.