Life is about choices, and there is no limit to what drives us to decide the way we do. There are endless reasons why anyone would choose to live a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, for example, anywhere from health, to religion, to moral and ethical standpoints, to even peer pressure or familial expectations. The same can be said for choosing to live a cruelty-free lifestyle, and regardless of anyone’s reasons, all are perfectly respectable. But what about those who choose otherwise, and their reasons? All of us have likely been acquainted with or encountered someone leading a vegan lifestyle who was ready and willing to lay on the vitriol and guilt-tripping to those with contrary beliefs. While many vegans, vegetarians, and those living entirely cruelty-free lifestyles respect and understand that not everyone is inclined to embrace their way of living, others are inclined to believe that their lifestyle choices give them a certain moral superiority over others. They see themselves as entitled to pass judgement and shame those who do not follow in their ways, which is not only in and of itself inherently wrong, but dismisses the legitimate reasons for which others may not be able to make the same choice.
This is something that I’ve wanted to talk about for quite a while, now. I follow a good deal of other cruelty-free blogs, all of which have been extremely helpful in making my own transition, but none so far have touched on the topic of how this lifestyle is for the privileged few who are able to accommodate it. Admittedly, I too, started out with the idea that there was little reason for others not to at least attempt to become more ethical buyers; there are so many cruelty-free options available for all areas of life, so what was everyone else’s excuse?
That was until I found myself staying up into the wee hours of the morning, searching desperately for a cruelty-free alternative to some beauty or household product. Researching, emailing companies for clarification on their testing policies, or posting on forums for suggestions. At times, the advice that I received, more often than not from people in the USA or the UK, were less than helpful. “That’s easy, just go to X store and get Y brand.” “Have you heard of this company? They’re good—oh, not sure if they ship to Canada.” “So what if you can’t find it in any stores in your area, haven’t you heard of ordering online?”
It was then that I came to realize the reality of my situation; that while I was, indeed, among some of the most privileged living in Canada, with access to a good deal of cruelty-free alternatives, there were still some obstacles that I faced, and some options that lay far beyond my reach. For one, more often than not, X store containing Y product just didn’t exist in my area, if it existed in Canada at all. When searching online, an abundance of the companies that came recommended didn’t even ship to Canada, and for those that did, the shipping and customs made obtaining that product almost impossible when it meant I would have to fork out more than what I spent on the product just to have it shipped and taxed at the border. I am privileged with the options that I do have; and yet, I am still limited.
So it got me to thinking: how would someone less privileged than even myself fare if they endeavored to live this sort of lifestyle? What if I was poorer than I am now, and could only afford to shop at discount stores, where 95% of the products are manufactured in mainland China, where animal testing is mandatory? Or what if I myself lived in mainland China; what options would I then have, if I couldn’t afford to shop internationally, yet there were no local options available to me? Would that make me inherently unethical, that I simply could not afford to fork out the big money to accommodate a cruelty-free lifestyle, or to move somewhere where cruelty-free options were more accessible to me?
Furthermore, there are different tiers to and interpretations of what it means to be cruelty-free. Hardcore, you’re going to want to adhere to the following criteria:
-The company doesn’t test finished products on animals.
-The company does not use ingredients in their finished products that have been tested on animals.
-The company does not conduct third-party testing.
-The products do not contain any animal ingredients.
-The company is not owned by a parent company that tests on animals.
-The company does not conduct animal testing where required by law/does not sell products in mainland China.
Personally, I make an attempt to adhere to as many of these standards as possible, but again, even in Canada, I find myself limited in certain areas. For example, there are some products for which I absolutely cannot find an alternative that does not entail being owned by a parent company that tests on animals. Furthermore, there are some products that I use that do happen to contain some animal ingredients, such as beeswax, because I am equally aware that just because something might contain such ingredients, it does not necessarily indicate that they were procured by cruel or unethical means. And, hell, I have yet to find a decent razor produced by a cruelty-free company (because I have come to learn that there are some areas that you just should NOT attempt to sugar-wax on your own…). There are likewise others within the cruelty-free community that live far more strict and far more lenient lives, and still maintain that their moral standpoint holds, so who am I (or anyone else) to judge otherwise? Who is to say that someone with fewer options than me, yet who is still making an effort to the best of their ability, is in any way less ethical or less credible as leading a cruelty-free lifestyle?
The bottom line is, that like so many other privileges, such as safe housing, clean drinking water, race and ethnicity, it is simply falacious to assume that if others cannot follow your “ethically-superior” path, they are less deserving of respect, and inherently less worthy human beings. If you choose this lifestyle for ethical reaosns, then the fact of the matter is, you can’t isolate those ethics to your own cause, at the expense of failing to understand why others don’t or can’t comply with the same lifestyle. It says a lot about a person, whether they tote their way of life to use it as a pedestal upon which to self-righteously judge others, or as a personal pursuit to live a life that better suits their own moral framework. You cannot make hasty assumptions about someone’s lifestyle or consumer tendencies, when it is perfectly legit that some people actually cannot afford—for one reason or another—to make the same decisions as you when you shop for products.
With any luck, animal testing will be fazed out almost world-wide in the future, making it easier on everyone to decide what companies they’ll endorse and what products are for them. But until then, it just needs to be understood that all of us with this frame of mind are only doing the best that they can. Ethical choices should never serve as a gateway for judgement or feeling better about oneself by belitting others for their decisions; because if that is what you’re doing, then you’re doing it wrong. Meanwhile, I will continue to do my research and find ways to accommodate my own cruelty-free lifestyle, for as long as I am able. And for whatever standards with which I find myself unable to comply, because my privilege just does not reach that far, then I understand that the least I can do is be a source of information for those with the privilege to do what I cannot.