I HAVE a friend who recently gave up all animal products, including consuming dairy and eggs and wearing leather, after watching the Cowspiracy film and reading about how these products support the entrenched cruelty of modern factory farming.
She had long before that been vegetarian, but had shied away from making the leap to being vegan because she had an enormous fondness of and nostalgia about a much-loved “cool” leather jacket and a favourite pair of well broken-in leather shoes. Given that my friend wasn’t going to ditch these possessions, surely, she reasoned, adopting a vegan diet would make her a huge hypocrite.
Well, possibly. But in reality, her logic meant one thing: she was still helping prop up an industry that crushes unwanted baby chicks to death (or sometimes gasses them instead), and that uses cows as baby-making machines; deprives them of exercise (and often daylight) and causes their udders to swell abnormally, often leading to painful lameness and mastitis. It also puts them through a mother’s greatest possible anguish – having their babies stolen from them when they just want to nurture them.
So my friend’s money had not only gone towards cow slaughter several years ago when she bought her leather goods, but she was also helping to support cruelty towards a new generation of animals.
Many sensible people might, for good reason, want to consider cutting down or cutting out meat or fish or dairy or eggs or leather or wool from their lifestyles but feel they cannot because they aren’t eliminating all animal products, and to reduce consumption of just one would make them a hypocrite because they still use another.
So they do nothing. Meanwhile, the cruelty industries thrive on the back of their custom.
The world is full of people carrying around elevated, consistent moral principles, but who are, like it or not, are delivering a message to factory farming – that its products are acceptable, that this is what consumers want.
The words “hypocrite” and “hypocritical” and the fear of being labelled as such have done immense, immeasurable damage to efforts to reduce animal suffering in the Western world.
A world where doing something isn’t always appreciated as better than doing nothing – although it should be. As I’ve written before, hypocrisy is considered the great evil of our time, but really, where are the victims?
As it happens, I’m vegan so consume no animal produce. However, to those of you who are not vegan but would like to cut down on animal consumption and yet dare not because of that leather shoes you can’t live without or because of that occasional cheese sandwich you can’t resist, remember this: if you’re trying to do the right thing and taking a step in the right direction, nobody in the animal-welfare world will say: “Your jacket is leather – you must keep eating meat”.
Nobody who understands will criticise you for reducing how much cruelty you subsidise; nobody in their right mind will label you a hypocrite.
The only conscience you have to answer to is your own. If the price of your private consistency is paid in pain and suffering by innocent, sentient beings, perhaps it’s time to then think about what your conscience really tells you.
And by the way, if you do like the leather look, animal-free lookalikes are available.
Photograph: Giuseppe Orru/Flickr