I bought my first pair of leather shoes in two years, today. I certainly feel a little guilty, like I have betrayed myself as an animal rights activist, or more so, that I have betrayed the animals.
Once, I was a vegan. Actually it would be two years this month that I was a vegan, except for that fateful flight to India back in August that changed everything. It was air India, most Indians eat veg or pure veg. Pure veg means no animal, eggs, or cheese with rennet: nearly vegan. I actually became a vegan after learning about animal rennet (the product found in cheese that makes it coagulate) from a dear friend/colleague of mine in Thailand, Rajinee.
I wasn’t worried about the food in India, in fact, I was looking forward to it. I felt that it would be pretty effortless to remain my vegan self. I was wrong. We were served up red colored tofu kabobs. Yum. I began eating them and decided that it was the BEST tofu I had had ever had. I convinced Ali to have some and we ate it simultaneously looking at each other. I am not sure at what moment I realized or allowed myself to realize, that it was in fact, not tofu but cheese. Oops.
It spiraled from there. India is the Chai capital of the world, and it’s the best Chai you have ever had. And it is made with milk, not soy milk. And I love Chai. There was no way I was going to avoid it because I was a vegan. I saw the cows in the streets. I knew where the milk came from. Granted, it was unfortunate that they were in the streets and not grazing in a field somewhere. But let me tell you, the cow is SACRED in India. So, I drank Chai. And slowly, I also ate cheese (I felt ok about it in India because I knew it wouldn’t have animal rennet in it if I went to a pure veg place.) and I ate eggs. I was no longer a vegan.
I like being a vegan. I like being conscious of where my food comes from and how the earth and its animals have been treated in the process of it getting from the source to my mouth. Now those of you who have never been to Asia, aren’t accustomed to seeing animals skinned, gutted and on display in the streets. Certainly you have an idea of where the meat comes from in those cases and certainly as the human conditions are lacking in some areas, the animal conditions/treatments are even worse.
If you know me, then you know why I was a vegan. It made sense to me. I want my actions on the environment to be positive. I want animals to be treated humanely. If I don’t eat meat, then why should I eat cheese with animal rennet in it, especially when it can be bought sans animal rennet? If I don’t eat meat, then why should I wear it? This brings us back to the intro if this post.
My first pair of leather shoes in two years. I will not make excuses. But I will say that I have learned a lot about the world and how it works and how this affects me and my choices. People all over the world rely on animals for survival. These people do not always have land and barns to take care of the animals that provide them with the nutrients that give them the energy to live. So they have them in their back yards or on the street corner or in a cage at the end of the street. I have seen puppies and pigs suckling their already dead mothers in bamboo cages on the backs of motorci’s in Vietnam. I have seen the insides of animals sprawled out onto slabs of wood for the morning market shoppers. Meat is in the streets. This is how people survive. They have trouble enough supporting themselves in a home let alone providing their animals with a posh pad. Everywhere I have traveled and lived outside of North America, people have looked at me with their eyes bulging out of their sockets when I tell them I am a vegetarian. Veganism is truly a concept they do not understand. Most people have to live life according to how it allows them to live it and survive at the same time. They don’t have choices between supermarkets, where their meat comes from, what’s organic and what isn’t.
If I was in a different environment with a job then it would be much easier to be a vegan. I could make my own food. And it would be fabulous. But this is not the case. I have given in to the reality of my situation. I am a poor environmentally conscious, animal loving, vegetarian woman. I spent my three years in Thailand fighting for the freedom of gibbons and other primates, and to end the slaughter of ancient sea turtles. But here, in Palestine, what I see needs fighting for, are the people. There are women and children and men suffering from the occupation. They need my energy to fight for their rights. To tell the world what is happening to them. I can still be an animal rights activist, but I can also be a human rights activist.
You are still wondering about the shoes. My feet ache from walking all the time. My last pair of non-leather shoes were eaten by my friend Danya’s dog. I needed a new pair of shoes. I went to what appeared to me to be every shoe selling place in Nazareth. It is rare to find a pair of non-leather shoes that will actually last you six months day in and day out. I have one pair of shoes. One pair of flip flops and one pair of hiking boots (these are leather, they were purchased pre-vegan era, and were tre’ expensive: GORTEX, I hope they will really last forever). That’s it. I don’t live anywhere permanent at the moment and cannot have shoes for every outfit, nor do I want or need in such excess (Thailand was so easy, just flip flops and they were all easily vegan!). So, in order to buy a new pair of shoes, I have purchased a pair of black Hush Puppies (oh gosh, puppies are animals too!) leather clogs. And they are so comfortable. They will see me through the beginning of Spring in Europe and even through the summer.
And when I have a job and I live somewhere I can either order or buy vegan shoes again, I will certainly do so. Because I don’t eat cow, so really, I still believe, I shouldn’t wear it either.
As I could go on about this topic, I will have to end the essay here and revisit it another time. Do check the newly added links for places to purchase vegan shoes, if you’d ever be interested.