Wednesday, November 26, 2008

soy milk and Manolos: reflecting on one year of veganism

Today marks the day that, one year ago, I began my vegan transformation. I have to say, I am still excited and happy as ever to be leading an animal-free dietary lifestyle. I have reduced my carbon footprint, improved my digestion, and experience overall feelings of heightened wellness and energy.

Although today is a day of celebration, it is also a day of reflection for me--and honesty. While eating vegan has been a simple and extremely enjoyable transition, I cannot say the same about dressing vegan. I know that this difficulty stems from my own class privilege and materialism, and so I have been shy to explore the challenge on my blog, or to anyone but a circle of close friends. However, I have decided it is time to come out of the closet. The shoe closet, that is.

When I first developed a vegan dietary lifestyle, I did not jump on the vegan wardrobe bus, but instead told myself that lasting change is incremental, and I needed to transition according to my own comfort level to achieve lasting change. While I certainly decreased the leather shoes and bags I bought, I still made those guilt-ridden purchases, albeit more sporadically. And I felt terrible. But then I got to wear my new purchases, and I felt fantastic.

Here's the thing. It's very easy for me to look at a hamburger and think "dead tortured cow." But when it comes to--let's be honest--Marc Jacobs and Manolo Blahnik, the connection is a little fuzzy. I certainly learned this from my ex-boyfriend, but when it comes to love--or what/whom we think we love--we only see what we want to see. And I have to admit it. I love shoes.

So what's the problem? Non-leather shoes certainly exist, but they do not encompass my classist perception as to what qualifies as an amazing shoe, or a well designed shoe, or an artistic shoe, or a well-made shoe...let's get real: 99% of vegan heels are fugly as hell. I know Natalie Portman has paved the way a bit, but her line just about touts the price, and sadly not the aesthetics, of other high-fashion lines.

Despite the agony I feel, a few months ago I decided I was ready to make the shoe/bag commitment (although I also decided that I am not a vegan when it comes to waste, and so I will keep my prior leather collection). However, I decided not to blog about it until I passed the real test: a Barney's shoe sale. While I haven't hit the big B in a while, I did make it out of a Marc Jacobs shoe sale alive...although many cows did not. And so here I am, being honest about my whole superficial dilemma.

It really does pain me that over-priced wardrobe items are interfering with my own ethical convictions. On the plus side, I have kept my promise to myself for the past few months, despite many tempting offers (insert well-dressed mother here). I also need to realize that I have been superficial my entire life, and only socially conscious for a couple years now. In all honesty, it is extremely difficult to un-do what has been programmed inside of me since birth. Why, my very first pair of high heels purchased in the 6th grade were a fabulous Yves Saint Lauren strappy black sandal that still sit in my closet today for memory's sake. Mama didn't raise no fool--when it came to shoes, my feet had only the very best.

So here I am today. Torn. Will my commitment only last so long as my old Chanels are still in wearable condition? Luckily, leather lasts longer than a human lifetime because it's treated with chemicals that later run off into the soil and poison our groundwater...so I should be good for a while. I also cannot ignore the voice of my mother in my background (Louis Vuitton makes canvas heels).

But this only raises greater philosophical questions: why do I need many pairs of extremely over-priced shoes to satisfactorily complete my ensembles? Because, come on now, one is never enough. I have black pointed-toe heels, black round-toe heels, black wedge heals, black strappy sandal heels, black sling-back heels...the list goes on. And this is only one color.

So here I am. Vegan and aspiring life-style activist...but today I am coming out of the closet. I am still materialistic when it comes to my wardrobe. For all of my reusable shopping bags and aluminum water bottles and compulsive unplugging of unused appliances and vintage this and that, my closet is abusive to the environment.

And since I am being brutally honest, let me just clean out my entire closet. Last week, I bought a fantastic faux-fur jacket from Marc Jacobs--a vegan wet dream, really--but I couldn't escape being haunted by the label. Made in China.

I am just going to sidestep the whole international low-wage labor debate (worker exploitation/humanitarian crisis versus providing jobs to the jobless/growing economies in the 3rd world) and go straight to a fact that is undeniable: it makes no sense environmentally to ship my fantastic faux fur jacket across the world. It might not be a tortured dead animal who required a taxing amount of energy to birth, transport, raise and slaughter--but its an artificial piece of crap that literally just shat carbon emissions across the ocean. And I love it so much.

I do not really have a conclusion for this piece. Suffice it to say that I am acutely aware of my own materialism and class privilege, and the subsequent intersections with over-consumption and waste. Also, suffice it to say that I am deeply engaged in introspective work to challenge and question why it is I do the things I do, and why the things that make me happy really make me happy.

And to be honest, I am also wondering why I carry the burden of the earth on my shoulders, and think that I must be eco-perfect in every single way possible. After all, I do flirt with nihilism and question reality quite often.

This is not something that can be resolved or magically disappear over night. It's one of those life work things. But I thought I would be honest and open up a discussion.

5 comments:

Vegan and Vintage said...

Hi, I just came accross your blog through google alerts, I get an email sent to me every day outlining every blog post out there that contains both the words 'vegan' and 'vintage'(mostly just to check if anyone is saying anything nasty about me)

I love your honesty, I have struggled with buying leather shoes in the past. Although I would never buy a new pair, I have decided that vintage is not right for me either.

I really connected with a comment that was left on my blog and I thought you might be interested;

"As a vegan, everything you eat and wear is paid attention to by others, oftentimes extra-critically so. And for many folks who don't know any other vegans, you are a representative of veganism to them. So when you wear leather or fur, they can easily discount you (and veganism in general) as wishy-washy and inconsistent--"She SAYS she's vegan, but she wears leather. Those vegans are all hypocrites who can't even adhere to their own belief-systems. And she's proof that veganism IS too hard to be a viable lifestyle--I mean, she can't even find vegan clothes to wear!" That kind of thing. And let's say hypothetically you could explain to them your position on wearing old leather, and they thought it made sense. What about all the people with whom you aren't able to engage in a dialogue who just assume you're wearing leather because there's nothing wrong with wearing leather? You become an inadvertent supporter of the leather industry."

Anyway, I guess it's a personal choice, and veganism is all ablut doing the best we can, right?

One more thing, Check out www.nimli.com for beautiful vegan shoes and also www.olsenhaus.com - so good!

Hope all this made some kind of sense.

Laura said...

Oh, to be green and fashionable.

I was just gifted with the most beautiful red parka I have ever seen (...you’ve never called a parka beautiful?). My mantra has been ‘local’, and so I really appreciated the fact it was made in Canada…however, real fur? Sometimes I feel like you just can't win.

My grandmum had two fur coats (a bit excessive, for sure) which she wore for 30 years and then passed on to women in the family. Now, who on earth has ever heard of a synthetic material lasting that long… or anyone wanting to wear something synthetic year after year. She could have bought a life times’ worth of cruelty-free jackets and filled up her own personal landfill. So maybe I’m saying that the leather manolos, leather handbags and fur laced jackets are quality pieces, that hold great personal value, and are even pieces of art. -Not to take lightly the implications of using real fur... I may be a meat eater (although a guilt-ridden one) but i'm hardly in the camp of people who want to drape themselves in dead animals, so please don't get me wrong.

Authentic change is a process. Thanks for sharing where you are. trade your manolos for slouchy black suede boots, and we're in the same boat.

Lately, I have felt that in trying to be my best version of ‘green’ I had let too much of my energy go towards making my wardrobe PC. The truth is, that I would rather save my energy for more meaningful areas of my life- and so i’m hoping that by turning my attention towards how I spend my time, the types of people I put myself around, and the information I’m taking in- my materialist vices will just fall away…or be shamed out of me. We’ll see. (i feel i just shared a creepy amount of personal info).

Michelle said...

That was a very HONEST post! (and I thought it was great, besides!)

You do what you can do, you know? A change in any way is still a change.

I'm SO glad vegan shoes have come along nicely. I just a pair @ http://www.neuaurashoes.com that I just love.

More to come, I'm sure, much to the chagrin of my WALLET...lol

Michelle said...

me again....another vegan site I wanted to toss out there is http://www.vegetarianshoesandbags.com/

Not only do they have great looking shoes, they also have hand bags, and boots!

AND one more reason to check them out is that they are running a free Shoes for a Year sweepstakes, good now through December 5.

The lucky winner gets a free pair of shoes every month for all of 2009. Entries are made each time a purchase is made, however no purchase is necessary. Anyone can go to the site to enter ONCE at http://www.vegetarianshoesandbags.com/vegansweepstakes/freeshoesforayear.aspx . They won't accept duplicate entries at this address, however.

conner said...

way to take the first and most important step, v.

while you may not end all the injustices throughout the world or disconnect yourself from any of them, you can hold yourself accountable, and that's the best anyone can do, and continue to work from there.