Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Clearing up the confusion- veganism & tagging

Neva of Neva Jewelry and Art wrote a wonderful piece about veganism and tagging items appropriately that I wanted to share with everyone. We originally submitted it to Etsy so that it could be published in The Storque, but unfortunately another person had already written a short piece on tagging, so administration felt that the topic was already covered. Neva's piece goes into depth with it much more, so I'm hoping that this helps to clear up some misunderstandings and confusion when it comes to what is and isn't vegan. As always, if anyone has any questions about veganism or if you're wondering if something is vegan, please feel free to contact us. You can send me a convo through my shop or post a comment here. Also, please check out our vegan information links on the right sidebar of this page. Lots of good resources are listed!

As a vegan and an artist, crafter, do-it-yourselfer, and all around nerd, I love ETSY. I like buying unique items. I like finding handmade, no-exploitive-labor-involved products like soaps on ETSY. I would have to buy soap anyway, and it's great to have the chance to buy a unique handmade soap on ETSY.

However, I have a great frustration. I've searched ETSY for vegan products and have found products that aren't vegan labeled as vegan. This is annoying to everyone involved. As a buyer I have to read through pages of erroneous search results to find what I'm looking for, sometimes having to open each listing and check the ingredients. I think I've just found the exact soap I've been looking for, but wait there's goat's milk in it. For sellers it's difficult because they think their products are vegan, they just don't have a clear understanding of what that means.

The term vegan, when applied to soap, baked goods, or any product means there are no animal ingredients or components, and that animals were not used in the creation of the item.

I'm an ethical vegan and I've been vegan for other thirteen years, and I was vegetarian for five years before that. To me, veganism helps to make the world a better place. I eat foods and use products which don't contain any animal derived ingredients. My main motivation is a desire to not directly hurt animals, to limit the harm I do in the world. With all the attention on global warming, we've learned that animal agriculture causes forests to be cleared, generates carbon emissions, and pollutes land and water. Using items made from plants instead of animals takes fewer resources, because to raise animals we must feed them plants, grains and legumes over their lifetimes. I also view animals as having their own lives, interests, and purposes. I don't feel animals were put on the planet for me to use. Rather than viewing other species as inferior, I see them as different, distinct, but no less valuable. For these reasons I choose to be vegan.

Other vegans might have other inspirations, some do it for the animals, like me, others do it for health, many do it for the environment. Most vegans value all of these reasons. But the term "vegan: to tag a product means only one thing: that the product is completely free of animal products and was not made in a way that used or exploited animals at all. This is short hand that people can trust. Some people searching for vegan products might not be vegan necessarily, but might want a vegan product due to allergies to milk or eggs for example. Some people who aren't vegan might search for vegan items as gifts for vegan friends. The label needs to be accurate and consistent or else customers won't find what they're looking for.

Sellers might be confused and think that vegan means organic, or that it's ok to use "humane" animal products and still call them vegan. This is not the case. If you knitted a sweater using only the fur you combed painlessly from your own dog, you're to be admired for your thrift and resourcefulness, but the sweater can't be labeled vegan. Local honey is no more vegan than any other honey. Likewise even animal products that are obtained by finding them long after the animal is gone, are not vegan. Vegans don't use bone for example, so even if the bone used in your jewelry was found lying in the woods, possibly years old, it's not vegan. Some people think that vintage items made from animals can be considered vegan because they are so old and the animals may have died more than 50 years ago, but these items still cannot be called vegan.

I'm not using the term judgmentally here, merely factually. It's a label that denotes no animal products of any kind, and as a label it will help your customers find what they're looking for, but only if it's used correctly.

Sometimes people who aren't vegan don't give much thought to where the materials they use come from and so are surprised to find that something isn't vegan. I'm going to give you a cheat sheet below to help you see what can't be called vegan. But a good rule to think about is if your material came from an animal at all, it isn't vegan.

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