J500 Media and the Environment

A (Non-)Leather Shoe to the Path by marybethw

I have a confession to make: I have worn sandals in the snow (and even at times, gasp, with socks) — but, it was Boston, and they were my Birks…and what do leather sandals have to do with food or, for that matter, veganism? A lot, actually. Okay, let’s do word association for a moment. What comes to mind when I say vegan? Is it just issues of dairy, meat, honey, and other animal-derived food ingredients? What if I said that it also includes clothing? And, what if I said that one aspect of clothing, leather, is tied directly to the meat industry? I couldn’t stop wearing my sandals, though, so it meant finding an alternative…and, in the process, finding out more about turning animals into shoes, sweaters, and other items.

Quite early after setting my foot on a vegan path, I found many vendors of humane options — including Birks without leather or suede! But where did the leather in my “other” Birks come from? Well, that milk you’re drinking and the burger you’re eating? It may possibly have come from those “spent” cows; it may also have come from young calves or downer cattle. As meat industry commodities, these creatures face the same inhumane, environmentally damaging conditions as I learned about in my reading that focused on animals as food. But, while eating animals has an impact environmentally, so, too, does wearing them, what with all the chemicals that are part of leather processing. These angles made it very easy to change the admittedly small number of leather goods I used to more humane options. But….I found that not all synthetic leathers are created equal.

A common leather substitute is made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), which create dioxins and are toxic to both the environment and humans. Therefore, just like with food, you have to read the labels. But, never fear! There are many different options that are healthy and sustainable; I’ve switched to a hemp purse and belt.

And, yes, I have worn my microfibre Birks in the snow and my feet (the animals and the environment) are quite happy!

(Just a warning that this includes some great info, especially on the human/environmental cost of leather, but it does include some graphic images.)

~ Mary Beth

Image from: change.org Animal Rights


2 Comments so far
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I like that there are alternatives to leather – my favorite jacket is made from completely recycled plastic. I think it would be interesting to talk more about conditions specific to the fur and leather industry. People know that animals die for fur and leather but they generally don’t think beyond that.

Comment by meganr21

I know that when I first made the switch, before I really started learning more, I didn’t realized leather was so closely tied to the meat industry — I think I thought that, like fur animals, cows were raised for that sole purpose (although I think that for other “exotic” animal leathers, they may be).

Comment by marybethw

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