I was planning to share a recipe today, but instead I feel compelled to share something that I’ve been wrestling with these last few days. During the appointment with my allergist last week, I was mentioning that I get reactions (itchy eyes, stuffy nose) whenever I sit on our couch. In the past, I always attributed this to dust or tried to link it to food allergies from whatever I was eating, but I now know it’s from the dogs. So among a handful of changes we’re making around our apartment, one of them is getting a new couch, and preferably one I can easily vacuum and wipe down because there is just no way Honey and Barley are not going to be on the furniture. They are completely spoiled and we love having them cuddled next to us.
I did some research on faux leather, thinking that would be a good option for us, but I had a really tough time finding anything that seemed like it would last and nothing that fit our design preferences. We browsed around a couple of stores over the weekend and suddenly I found myself looking at leather swatches and getting quotes. The sales person was really knowledgeable about what might be a good fit for the inevitable puggle wrestling and sprints around the living room, and overall long-term wear, and then he proceeded to tell us about how this particular leather is superior because it comes from vegetarian-fed cows, which makes their skin softer. He also told us it was leather we could feel good about because it’s “sustainable” – the manufacturer uses all of the animal and what can’t be used gets sold to China (“for tax breaks,” he added). He proudly told us, in summary, that the leather they use is “humane.”
Part of me silently screamed “bullshit!” and another part of me tried to push down that uncomfortable feeling you get when you know something is wrong and selfish. I’ve been vegan for two years and vegetarian for several years before that. I read the animal rights books and watch the documentaries and I know how these innocent, sentient animals are treated and slaughtered, grass-fed or not. I know there is unquestionably no such thing as a “humane” way to kill a cow for her skin. There are degrees of atrocity, yes, but there is not a single animal who does not feel terror and pain before he or she gets forcibly slaughtered. That is the reality.
I felt uncomfortable about looking at leather furniture and knew it was a betrayal from my own moral compass. It wasn’t until I sat down at my laptop to catch up on blog posts and read one from Kristy at Keepin’ It Kind that I felt the full weight of it all. Kristy posted about Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Animals and the thing that triggered me was a photo of a rescued cow that was the same color as a swatch of leather I had been holding in my hand the previous day, seriously contemplating whether it would match our design vision. I felt sick to my stomach, but forced myself to read Kristy’s full post and really look at the animals. If you click over to it (and I highly recommend you do), there’s an image of a big, brown cow, happily lying in the dirt, soaking in the sunshine, with her front legs tucked under her body. I showed the photo to Aaron when he came home from work and said “I can’t do this. I can’t do leather.” And he responded knowingly and said, looking at her front legs tucked under her body, “She’s lying down like a puggle.”
For me, that realization and that connection is what keeps me vegan. Even being as educated and compassionate as I am, it is still so easy to disconnect from what it really means to purchase something made from leather, or to eat just a small amount of egg or dairy. Everything is designed to keep us from making those connections between what once was a living, feeling, breathing, loving animal and what we now hold in our hands, neatly packaged, aesthetically pleasing, and temptingly convenient. It takes work and dedication to be a vegan, and it’s difficult to stay in that uncomfortable place of knowing. I stumble from time to time and it bothers me that I do, but ultimately, I’m learning from these experiences.
Every decision that we make out of compassion, no matter how seemingly small, matters.
P.S. My new solution to our couch problem? Stick with fabric upholstery and buy a steam cleaner. I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me before.