This November marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Vegan Society and it is also world Vegan Month. Veganism is a concept I’ve become increasingly attuned to over the past few years: Odylique has over 30 vegan skin care and shampoo products, attracting a strong following of vegan customers whom we always bear in mind with new product development. And my daughter’s best friend is vegan, so my awareness and repertoire of vegan party food and birthday cakes has also gone up markedly…
The concept of veganism can be traced back over 2000 years to Ancient Greece and India. Fast forward a few hundred years to the 19th Century, and individuals of note such as Percy Shelley, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein started to spur on first a vegetarian, then a vegan diet. Nowadays in the UK at least, vegetarianism is commonplace and even vegan (dairy and egg free) food is pretty easy to find.
Studies have shown that following a vegetarian or vegan diet can have huge health benefits in reducing cholesterol and saturated fat. (Note that cutting out dairy and eggs can also often help eczema.) The reason for living animal cruelty-free lifestyle is an obvious one from an ethical point of view. But why do people make that extra step from eating no meat (vegetarian) to cutting out meat and dairy – for which the French have a word and in English we don’t: ‘végétalien’, and then going the whole hog (a poor choice of words) to being vegan (cutting out leather shoes, woolly jumpers etc.)?
The answer is a combination of environmental and humane reasons. Farm animals, especially cows, as lovely as they are, do produce a lot of gases from their rear ends that are very polluting to the environment. If every human in the world ate as much meat as is typical westerner does, it would be incredibly bad news for greenhouse gas creation, but that is the way that things are going as China, Brazil, India and so on become increasingly meat-hungry.
It’s a fairly natural progression from thinking about cruelty-free as not killing animals and not wearing their skin, to not exploiting them in any way - by milking, taking their eggs or so on. Certainly in non-organic farms, and even some free range ones, hens laying eggs do not have a pleasant existence.
In our own cosmetics and skin care, we have a very hard line on cruelty-free. As well as the 30 plus vegan skin care products that we have, all Odylique and Essential Care products are vegetarian. We would never want or need to use bi-products of dead animals (you’d be surprised at the number of conventional cosmetics that do – like animal glycerine in soap). This is also banned under Soil Association organic beauty standards. Our products and ingredients are tested on a panel of human volunteers with sensitive skin, never on animals. We don’t even use silk in our makeup products, nor do we use cochineal (from crushed beetles) – a common colour in lipstick. We do use beeswax in some products, but the organic beeswax we use in no way harms the bees and has actually been praised for boosting the local bee population.
If you feel motivated to try out more of a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, here are some tips:
- Get a weekly veggie box – I've found the variety of vegetables that you get is much wider than the selection I’d usually choose for myself from the supermarket. The more I use different veg, the more I've realised that you can actually do without meat a lot of if not all the time.
- Try a dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk now and then – supermarkets have a huge range of lactose-free products such as soya, almond or oat milk, which taste great!
- Avoid non-compassionate farming. Ensure the fair treatment of animals and birds by buying organic.
- Look deeply at the cosmetics you buy. Animal testing is now officially banned in the EU, but companies can still get around this because if they sell in China, they are still required by the Chinese government to get products tested on animals. Many brands also use dead insect products like carmine or cochineal and silk. For truly cruelty-free and vegan skin care, ask the right questions. The Compassionate Shopping Guide naturewatch.org is also pretty thorough.
For more information on veganism and vegan-friendly products, check out the Vegan Society.