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Vegan Myths: A vegan lifestyle is cruelty-free (part 2)

A vegan lifestyle is not cruelty-free.  It does avoid the exploitation and use of animals as far as possible, and in that area it does not fail.  Many vegans take their compassion further afield than nonhumans and include the environment and other humans.  This means acknowledging some of the ways that humans and the environment are exploited and destroyed for many things that we use.  In part one of myth #5 I talked about cocoa, palm oil and diamonds.  In part two, I'll be talking about two more things that are not cruelty-free but are vegan.  These are coffee and plastic.

Coffee

 
Coffee is huge.  People everywhere drink it, saying that they can't live without it, "death before decaf", etc.  I remember when I first got a taste a few years ago.  I couldn't stop.  I even tried making my own cold-pressed coffee.  I always stuck to fairtrade brands however.  Once I even tried some coffee grown here in Australia.  Now I have a bad reaction to caffeine, but I don't regret the coffee tattoo on my thigh one bit.  Coffee and I, we had some good times.  Just because it's a bean and thus, vegan, does not mean that it is cruelty-free.Why did I think it was so important to buy fairtrade or local?Fairtrade coffee exists because farmers in so-called 'developing countries' were (and still are) being exploited; they were not getting a fair price for their product, as well as being at the mercy of a volatile market.  Coffee is produced all over the world in over 50 countries, including Mexico, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, Ethiopa, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.  Oxfam claims that it got so bad at one point that farmers were only getting 3c of the $3 that people paid for a cup of coffee.  Fairtrade certification and practices were designed to act as a safety net, by ensuring that coffee producers get a minimum price that covers their production costs; when the market improves, this minimum also improvesFor some people coffee is their only source of income, so they need people to buy it for them to survive.
 
PictureCoffee cup by Doug Wheller
 
Coffee production is also linked to deforestation, increased use of fertilisers and a negative impact on native wildlife.  This is due to an increase in demand, which has lead to a change in how coffee is produced.  It used to be grown under larger trees, allowing for natural habitats for birds and other animals.  If coffee is certified organic, that means that the production methods have a low-impact or no-impact on the environment; the soil is kept healthy, chemicals (if used) break down with no harmful effects, and more (find out about different organic certifications here).  Rainforest Alliance certified coffeeis produced in a way that preserves ecosystems, with RA providing them with knowledge and support.

Buying Australian-grown coffees, such as Red Door Coffee, Ewingsdale Coffee, Blue House Coffee, Mountain Top Estate, Australian Estate Coffee and more, means that there's a lower likelihood of exploitative practices as these happen a lot less in Australia.  There's also less shipping involved, a factor to consider for the sake of the environment.  Red Door Coffee, Australian Estate Coffee and Ewingsdale Coffee all state on their websites that they don't use chemical fertilisers and are pesticide or spray free.

It is up to you if you want to support fairtrade and help people get out of poverty through employment, or if you are concerned for the environment and want to shop locally (which still helps people!).  A lot of the fairtrade coffees are usually also certified organic, something else to be considered when weighing up your choices.

Plastic

 
Plastic is so commonly used you probably don't even realise how much of it is in your life.  Plastic shopping bags are an obvious one, but also packaging, tupperware, drinking bottles, water bottles, toothbrushes, bottletops, buckets, toys, pegs, jewellery, and lots more.  It's easy to come by, cheap, and easy to toss aside when it's no longer useful. In 2007, 3.9 million plastic bags were used in Australia, with most going to landfill and only a small amount being recycled (Aust. Govt. Department of the Environment). This is just the figure for plastic bags, not all the other forms of plastic I just mentioned. In all, 1,433,046 tonnes of plastics were used by Australians in 2010-11 (PACIA).Plastic is very harmful to the environment.  It can stick around for decades (it can take 1,000 years to completely degrade - Sustainable Plastics), becoming smaller and smaller, polluting our waterways, taking up landfill space and killing animals who mistake it for food or get trapped in it.  In 2002 in Australia, it is estimated that between 50 and 80 million plastic bags were thrown away as litter on the ground and in waterways (Aust. Govt. Department of the Environment).  "It is estimated that marine rubbish, mostly plastic, is killing more than a million seabirds and 100,000 mammals every year." - Clean Up Australia.
 
PicturePlastic bottles and garbage on the bank of a river by Horia Varlan
 
Recycling plastic is an option. In 2009, 94% of Australians recycled or reused plastic bottles; the figure was 90% for plastic bags (ABS).  Only 20.1% of all plastics consumed in Australia were recycled (PACIA). While recycling does help reduce the need for the production of new plastics and thus saves energy (Clean Up Australia) (up to 88% in fact - Toxfree), the recycling process does still use energy and water. Recycling does help reduce the room taken up in landfill and the overall energy consumption of producing plastic items. So if you're using plastic, please make sure to recycle as much of it as possible.The production of plastic is not without flaws either. Plastic is (generally) made out of non-renewable resources (oil) and a lot of fossil fuels are used in their production (Clean Up Australia). There are some alternatives to plastic that are becoming more common, but not fast enough. We need to act now and be as plastic-free as possible and push for companies to switch to renewable and biodegradable sources. Some of these include, but are not limited to: hemp, corn and soy.

Conclusion

I won't be looking into any more things that are vegan but not cruelty-free.  There are many things out there that fall into this category.  I've just looked at these five to get people thinking outside of veganism and into other aspects of their lives. 

I've started talking about some alternative 'eco' products (biodegradable, renewable, sustainable, etc) in my Blog, so keep an eye out for those if you're interested.  So far I've only talked about toothbrushes, but I promise that more is coming soon. I will be looking at things like cotton shopping bags, eco kitty litter, handmade sponges, bamboo sunglasses, different body jewellery materials and lots, lots more.

This article originally appeared on Keira's website.

Keira_Edwards-HuolohanKeira Edwards-Huolohan is a recent Sociology graduate.  In 2013, Keira completed their Honours thesis, titled "Consumption ethics and poverty: What do vegans do to maintain a commitment to veganism when financially challenged?". They've been vegan since January 2010.

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