Compromising Principles

Louise recently did a post questioning how vegans know for sure that they’re not accidentally consuming animal products in some way. She points out that the H1N1 vaccine contains squalene, which is derived from shark livers. She later asks:

But can you really call yourself a vegan if you knowingly use or eat something that is made using animal products?

It’s an interesting question. 

I actually wonder how many people no longer label themselves vegan or vegetarian in order to avoid challenges like this.

I usually just say, “I don’t eat meat.” “So, you’re a vegetarian?” people then ask. “Well, more or less.” I say. “I occasionally eat fish.”  Then people get very excited, point at me and gleefully say, “You’re not a REAL vegetarian if you eat fish!” Like they’ve caught me committing a crime of some sort.

Or if we’re out at a restaurant, they make a big show of cutting into their bloody steak and waving a forkful of it in my face saying “Yum, yum…dead cow.” And I guess they expect me to hurl all over the table or something. But really, I don’t care what you eat. You’re a grown-up; you make your own food choices. And no, I’m not all that concerned if my veggie burger is cooked on the same grill as your sirloin burger

Some people are afraid to invite me for a meal because they think that if I don’t eat meat, I don’t eat anything. “But what do you eat?” they ask, befuddled, as if there were no food available on the planet that doesn’t involve meat.

I guess if you’re going to do anything against the mainstream, you’d better have a clearly defined and publicly-posted mission statement and stick to it like Krazy Glue or people are going to get really confused and even angry. “You’re a hypocrite!” they exclaim. “You’re not adhering to your principles!”

As far as I know there is no vegan/vegetarian manifesto to which anyone wanting to call themselves vegan or vegetarian must swear an oath of allegiance. There are no rules, except the rules of common decency:

  • If you’re invited somewhere for dinner don’t expect your hosts to cater to your dietary choices. Bring along a nice protein dish to share if you’re not sure of the menu. By the same token, if you’re hosting the dinner, it’s okay for you to not cook meat
  • If you’re dining with omnivores, don’t point out to them exactly how their delicious chicken was slaughtered. That’s just as rude as the guy mentioned above who’s waving the bloody steak in the veggie’s face.
  • And speaking of steaks, don’t go to a steak house and make a big scene if they don’t have a vegetarian option for you.  That’s just as ludicrous as an omnivore making a scene at a veggie restaurant for not being able to rustle him up a pork chop.

 I think that’s about it for rules per se.

 But still, if you avoid consuming animal products, but wear a woolly hat in the winter, you will be sneered at as some sort of vegan pretender. Wearing that woolly hat seems to negate all your professed concern for animal welfare. You are now no longer worthy of the vegan label and might as well dive into a vat of offal.

And yes, there are some vegans who will not wear a woolly hat or use Burt’s Bees Lip Balm because both of these things involve taking something from living creatures. And there are some who will scream at you for holding your pants up with a leather belt. But I think such strictly principled people are rare.

I think most of the people who are doing what they can to live a healthier lifestyle or one more earth friendly are pretty flexible. It can’t be emotionally or physically healthy to be too extreme about anything.

The fish thing, for instance. While I’m all in favour of eating as far down the food chain as possible and not killing anything just to fill my belly, I happen to think that the health benefits of fish outweigh my general objection to killing things.

And I would wear woolly things if they weren’t so itchy. And I like leather because it lasts forever. Because when you think about it maybe buying one leather sofa that lasts 40 years must be more economically and ecologically sound than buying 5 or 6 fabric sofas in that time, right?

And those uncompromising vegans may think that eating soy products are more cruelty-free than eating eggs, but if you’ve ever lived on a farm you’ll know there are probably a million critters living in a soy field – many of whom will get mangled in combines at harvest time.

And probably a lot of vegans will have the H1N1 vaccine despite the squalene and many vegetarians will eat cheese in a restaurant even though was probably made with rennet.

So, really, most non-PETA vegans/vegetarians don’t go around beating people over the head with their beliefs and probably don’t even make a point of calling themselves vegans or vegetarians. Because they know compromise is knowingly or unknowingly necessary all the time and you can’t get too mental about it. If you want people to think your lifestyle choices are sound, acting like a crazy person isn’t going to be very convincing.


Black Market Fat

I’m sure you’ve all been avidly following the story of Los Pishtacos – the Peruvian gang of some dozen people who have allegedly been killing indigenous Peruvians, draining the corpses of body fat and selling the fat on the black market.

Two of the gang members were arrested this week at a bus station carrying pop bottles full of liquid which police labs confirmed was human fat. Police have also recovered at least one of the rendered bodies.

The suspects claim they killed their victims, cut off their heads and limbs, took out their organs and then hung the bodies upside down and surrounded them with candles to melt the fat and letting it drip into a bucket below.

They say they got paid $60,000 for every gallon of human fat they sold (They got about one gallon of fat off every person) The say they sold the bottles of rendered human fat to cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies in Europe.

The gang leader, one Hilario Cudena, says he’s been making a nice living off this little enterprise for over 30 years. [Hello……. Hilario? Right away this name would make me suspect a big old prank — if it weren’t for the actual mutilated, fat-free body they found]

And there is a lot of scepticism around this case – mainly because no one can figure out why there would be an underground market for human body fat when there are literally tons of people eager to donate – for free.

Certain manufacturers of soap, lipstick, and eye makeup get fat from rendering plants and animal carcasses (swine, cattle, poultry) and combine it with discarded cooking grease.

Among some of the animal-derived ingredients in cosmetics are:

  • Arachidonic acid, a liquid unsaturated fatty acid taken from the liver, glands, and fat of animals, is used in skin creams to soothe inflammation. 
  • Hyaluronic acid, a natural moisturizing factor, is found in umbilical cords and the fluids around the joints.
  • Monoglycerides/glycerides, stearic acid, and oleic acid can all be obtained from animal fats
  • Placenta polypeptides protein contains waste matter eliminated by the fetus
  • Gelatin is an animal-derived protein produced by boiling skin, ligaments, and/or bones with water (There’s always room for Jello!)

Anyway, none of this stuff costs anywhere close to $60,000 a gallon. Also, rendering humans seems like an awful lot of work to me – all that killing and hacking and sawing. All those candles. How do they keep candles lit for hours outdoors anyway? If they have candles that good, maybe they should be selling them. Because I’d totally buy candles capable of burning outside and hot enough and long enough to melt my fat. Wouldn’t you?

And, if they’ve already gone to all the trouble of kidnapping and killing people and taking out their organs, why not sell the organs? They’re worth a hell of a lot more than $60,000.  In fact, by 2008 figures, a fully-harvested human can gross $250,000 on the Black Market. And no pricey candles to buy.  A good, sharp knife and a Playmate Elite lunch cooler is your entire overhead.

Cosmetic chemist and writer, Amanda Foxon-Hill was quoted as saying;

 If there is a modern day market for human fat, it’s not in mainstream cosmetics. But I would think that the only marketing angle you could put on this is that, you know, capturing something other than the chemistry of the oils, when people search for exotic oils from either the Amazon or the outer regions of the globe, they’re looking for something that they can market as a special angle and have special properties.

Kind of like in Fight Club, where Brad Pitt makes fancy soap with fat stolen from liposuction clinics.

Another theory is that European cosmetics manufacturers are buying the fat for research. They’ve been doing stem cell research for its value in cosmetics and stem cells are extracted from human fat. Usually this fat is legally obtained from hospital scraps, but there have been problems with these tissues being contaminated with infectious viruses, bacteria, HIV, fetal bovine serum (FBS), and various enzymes, which can cause allergic reactions, illness and death. And who wants any of  that from their lipstick, am I right?

Still, why would European cosmetics manufacturers pay huge amounts of money to some creepy gang of killers in Peru when I’m sure lots of local people would happily volunteer for free liposuction?

My personal theory is that it’s either a PR hoax by Tourism Peru to discourage overweight tourists from visiting their svelte little country or some sort of bold statment fromPETA to encourage people to buy cruelty-free cosmetics.