Dressing vegan

In my previous posts, I focused mostly on household and personal-care products that are earth and animal friendly. One of the challenges of vegan living is finding clothing, shoes, and handbags that are animal friendly and of good quality.  Any type of animal skin is clearly off limits.  I don’t wear silk, since most silk products are produced by killing silkworms. I avoid wool whenever possible.  Although wool-bearing animals are not killed for their wool, the practice of mulesing bothers me enormously. You can buy wool that is not the product of mulesing, of course, but I prefer to not consume or wear products that are the result of the commercialization of animals.

I don’t go to places where animals are held captive or made to perform tricks.  I must admit to a moral dilemma when it comes to zoos.  It is often argued that zoos help maintain endangered species that might otherwise die if left in the wild, and that zoos may help raise people’s awareness of the plight of some of these animals.  Fair enough, but I struggle with the thought of preserving a species at the expense of the dignity of animals.  Should we condemn animals to live their lives in captivity for the sake of preserving the species? My instinct is to allow animals to live as long as they can in a dignified state in their natural environment; if they are to die off, at least they do so on their own terms.  On the other hand, do we not have an obligation to help preserve these species?  All I know is that I cannot stand the look in the eyes of animals in cages, no matter how large those cages might be.  As for circuses, marine parks, and the like, I cannot abide the thought of beautiful, sentient, and dignified creatures performing inane and degrading tricks for the amusement of humans.

I try to buy clothing made from sustainable products whenever possible; unfortunately, I must often resort to online shopping for these items, since there are not many local retailers that carry them.  Online shopping is always a last resort because of the large carbon footprint it causes. Many sustainable clothing options are a little too casual for most of my daily needs, as they often consist of yoga-type apparel, which I refuse to wear outside the house unless I’m going to the gym. Green Cricket, based in Etobicoke, Ontario, sells casual apparel made of bamboo and organic cotton. Hornet Mountain, based in Hornet Mountain, BC, sells clothing made from soy and organic cotton.  Rawganique, based in Denman Island BC, has a lovely collection of hemp-based clothing and linens. Bamboo Clothes does not indicate its geographic location, but appears to be Canadian. Viva Vegan, which is likely based in Quebec, given the French-language copyright notice, sells eco-friendly clothing from the U.S.-based Herbivore Clothing. Karmavore, based in New Westminster, BC, sells clothing that is too casual for my taste (mostly message shirts), but it is a good overall vegan store.  There are US options for online shopping, of course, but my focus is always on Canadian products.

Buying vegan shoes can be an adventure.  I avoid buying shoes online, since fit can be challenging.  Some local retailers do sell non-leather shoes, but the quality is often cheap, so I do need to a lot of window shopping; it’s a good thing I love retail therapy.  For online options, Karmavore offers a limited selection of vegan shoes. Nice Shoes, based in Vancouver, BC, has a very good selection of shoes for all occasions. The famous Canadian John Fluevog has a limited selection of vegan shoes; fortunately, this selection is growing, albeit too slowly for my taste, but it’s still a positive sign.

I have a love (OK, a passion) of handbags.  It’s easier to find non-leather options from local retailers, many of which carry the Canadian Espe and Lug brands. My favourite line of vegan bags is made by the Montreal-based Matt & Nat, whose bags are stylish and beautiful.

Vegan Cookbooks

Vagueness has just published its list of the 10 best vegan cookbooks of 2012. Oh boy, just what I needed.  My cookbook collection is already large enough as it is.  The irony is that I don’t often use cookbooks; they serve more as general inspirations from which I develop my own recipes, but I sure love collecting them. Here are some of the books I own:

Sarah Kramer:  How it all vegan; The garden of vegan; La dolce vegan; and Vegan a go-go

Isa Chandler Moskovitz: Veganomicon; Vegan with a vengeance; Vegan cupcakes take over the world.

The books above are irreverant, tongue-in-cheek, and full of inventive and delicious recipres. Kramer is Canadian, which is always a bonus.



Vegan Living: General Living Spaces

This will be my last entry in this series and will contain miscellaneous information that may not be specific to any particular room.

For laundry, I use the Waterloo Ontario-based Pure Soapnuts, which use saponins to clean clothes and that create no foam or residue. For the dryer, I use the reusable Static Eliminator Cloths, owned by a company in Guelph, Ontario.  Two sheets last about 3 years.  In addition, I use two rubber dryer balls, such as those made by Nellie’s.

To clean my floors, be they wood or tile, I use a steam mop.  I will occasionally use a wood floor cleaner such as the almond-scented product from Method. For daily floor cleaning, an old-fashioned broom works nicely, as well as a fibre-pad sweeper to pick up cat hair. I occasionally use a Method wood product to help remove any smudges, and so forth, from furniture. Vinegar and water works beautifully for windows.

I am a big fan of the Canadian Mabu cloth for general cleaning: I use it for dusting, cleaning windows and mirrors, and wiping down the shower stall to keep mould and mildew at bay. I use a sponge to pick up lint from the sofa and bed, since my cat is allowed to sleep wherever he lives; it is equally his home, after all. I must admit that I do use a lint roller with the sticky strips for my clothing; I keep hoping that a more effective and sustainable product will come on the market, but I simply cannot stand lint-covered clothing.

As you can expect, I use CFL bulbs; the mercury in these bulbs is problematic, of course, but they are so energy efficient and long lasting, that they are still a good alternative to conventional bulbs.  I use a solar-powered flashlight for emergencies, and a crank radio.

I make one exception when it comes to animal products; ironically, it’s for my cat.  I have tried vegan products for my cat, but he’s not fond of them.  Cats are carnivores, so I need to balance my cat’s well being with my ethics.  I buy him whole grain, holistic and sustainably-produced dry food from the British Columbia’s Go! Natural. I buy him lactose-free milk, since many adult cats are lactose intolerant, and low-sodium, tuna. When I adopted Alun, I was told that he preferred to drink milk over water, and the tuna helps him with the dry skin to which he is susceptible; the cat EFA oils he will NOT take. I’m not happy about this, but unless I get a vegetarian animal companion, I choose to live with this conundrum.

Four years ago I decided to give up my car.  I had been taking the bus to work for a number of years and simply could not reconcile keeping a car for weekend use, given my choice of lifestyle.  A monthly bus pass serves me well, although Halifax is in the midst of a transit strike right now, which is limiting my mobility.  I rent a car (economy class, of course, to cut down on gas consumption) for holidays and for occasional trips to buy larger items, but I don’t miss not having a car.

I carry my lunch in a stainless steel container, or BPA-free a title=”Preserve products” href=”http://www.preserveproducts.com/products/tableware.html” target=”_blank”>Preserve products (recycled plastic) to heat my soup, and use stainless-steel utensils; I tried bamboo, but I hate that dry, raspy feeling against my tongue and mouth. I tried glass containers for lunch, but I dropped them one too many times. I use a pitcher filter jug in my office and, of course, cloth napkins. I have a small French press and take freshly-ground beans to make my coffee, which I drink in an enamel cup or a stainless-steel travel mug.  I do occasionally buy coffee at work, but fortunately, the coffee shop uses the same sustainable coffee that I buy, and I always use my travel mug.

I think that’s about it.

Vegan Living: The Bathroom

The Bathroom is a place that can contain a veritable cesspool of toxins.  Here are the products I use to minimize this toxic waste.

As with the kitchen, I use vinegar, water, baking soda, and borax to clean surfaces.  I use Nature Clean‘s all-purpose cleaner to wash my tiled floors with a fibre mop. I sometimes add a few drops of Tea Tree essential oil for the added disinfectant properties. A few drops of tea tree oil in a glass of water works well as a natural mouthwash and to clean your toothbrush.

For teeth, I use the Ekotec toothbrush with a replaceable head, made by Fuchs.  I know there is some concern about flouride, but I’m not comfortable with not using a flouride toothpaste, since I’d like to keep my teeth as strong as possible.  My compromise is to use both flouride and non-flouride based toothpastes; for the former, I use Jason‘s Healthy Mouth Plus toothpaste, while for the latter,  I use products from the Hawkesbury Ontario based Green Beaver, and the Pointe-Claire Quebec based Druide.

I avoid liquid soaps, since they contain more chemicals than I like and use excess packaging.  I buy locally-made soaps from Osha Mae Soap and Earth Elementals, both based in Halifax. I use shampoos, conditioners, and styling products from Green Beaver and Druide.

I have extremely sensitive and reactive skin, so I don’t always have a choice when it comes to what I can use: Natural does NOT mean irritant free in some cases.  I use the Rose facial cleanser from Osha Mae, and serums and creams from the Toronto-based Isomers; Isomers is the exception to my chemical-free choice, but it’s the only line that I’ve used that does not irritate my face.  I cannot use exfoliating products, so instead I use a hemp wash cloth.  I remove eye makeup with a Green Beaver cream remover.  For makeup I use mineral-based products from the Canadian LoriannZ; the only exception is the Kiss My Face mascara, since it works very well for me and I have yet to find a toxin-free mascara that works on my lashes, which are rather thick and need strong hold. I use resuable cosmetic cloths from Hankettes to remove eye makeup. Green Beaver, Druide, and Osha Mae make very good natural deodorants.

For body creams, I use the whipped shea butter cream from Earth Elementals and lotions from Green Beaver.  Green Beaver makes a very good toxin-free sunscreen, which is important for me, since I hate being in the sun.  For body powder, I use the Kaolin powder from Osha Mae.  I use cotton handkerchiefs from Hankettes and never buy any tissues.  Bathroom tissue is made from 100%. recycled paper. If you are interested in sustainable personal products for women, the Canadian Lunapads should be on your list.

Like many people, I keep the litter box in the bathroom.  I use Swheat Litter, which is made from wheat and can be flushed in the toilet, as it is totally biodegradable; it’s expensive, but worth it, and my cat loves it.

For towels I use bamboo, hemp, or soy-based products.  Organic cotton is fine, of course, but it does require a huge amount of water, so I use better alternatives whenever possible.

Vegan Living: The Kitchen

The kitchen is the lifeblood of most homes, especially if you like cooking as much as I do.  Here is what I use on a daily basis in my kitchen.

I’m a fanatic about coffee; I don’t drink large amounts of coffee, but it must be of excellent quality.  I buy whole beans from Just Us! and Java Blend, based in Wolfville and Halifax respectively. The coffee is locally-roasted, fair trade, eco-certified, and organic.  I’m not much of a tea drinker, but when I do buy tea, it’s from The World Tea House, a locally-owned company in Halifax committed to organic and ethically-sourced teas.

I buy local and organic produce from the wonderful Halifax Seaport Market. I also have local and organic produce delivered to my home by Home Grown Organic Foods, based in Halifax.  I buy as many bulk products as possible to cut down on wasteful packaging; the best places are The Bulk Barn and the Halifax food co-operative The Grainery.

I use organic cotton dish towels, cloths, and napkins from Hankettes, a locally-owned business in British Columbia. I do not use paper towels or napkins.  For cleaning products, I use a mixture of vinegar and water for all surfaces; I use straight vinegar or hydrogen peroxide on surfaces if I want to disinfect them. Baking soda or borax are excellent for scouring deeper stains.  For dish soap, I use Nature Clean, based in Toronto, and Attitude, based in Montreal. There is a local company in Dartmouth that produces some decent products, but they don’t use any form of certification, so I’d rather avoid them.

I make my own bread, using the fabulous Zojirushi breadmaker, and my own soymilk (or nut miks) with Soyabella.  I refuse to buy bottled water and use a counter top water filtration system by Aquasana.  I don’t make a point of walking around with water bottles, as I don’t seem to have joined the trend of needing to take a sip of water every five minutes, but if I do need to do so for choir rehearsal, for example, I use the stainless steel Kleen Kanteen. I use a French press for coffee, so I don’t need any coffee filters.  I use biodegradable kitchen bags from the Canadian BioBag company, and re-usable produce bags from the Montreal-based Credo Bags, and the Vancouver-based Carebags.  I use cotton canvas bags for grocery shopping, and always carry small reusable bags in my handbag from Envirosax.

Next post: The bathroom

Vegan Living

I am often asked what it’s like to live a vegan lifestyle; most questions pertain to food, but a few concern products such as makeup and cleaning products.  I answered a query recently on my Facebook page, which got me thinking about documenting more comprehensively how veganism impacts my life.  I should preface this by saying that this exercise serves more as a way for me to examine what I’m doing well and what I could do better.  My intent is certainly not to preach or to suggest that the way I choose to live is any better than that of others; it’s more a reflection of my journey and growth as a vegan and my efforts to live a life that minimizes damage to the earth and our animal companions.

My  choices of food, clothing, makeup, cleaning products, and so forth, are driven primarily by my love of animals.  I’ve been drawn to animals for as long as I remember; my earliest playmates were the family cat and dog.  I was fortunate to be raised in a family where loving animals runs very deep.  My long-suffering parents had to contend with the number of strays that I would bring home.  We had cats, dogs, budgies, and rabbits as regular housemates; the budgies and rabbits had to roam freely, of course, as I could never stand the thought of keeping an animal in a cage.  We never had any pure-breed cats or dogs; to this day, all my animal friends have been adopted and of mixed parentage.  The only exception is my current feline friend, whom I rescued seven years ago, and is a pure-breed Maine Coon. As you can tell, I’m trying to avoid the use of the word “pet.”  I know that many people roll their eyes at the use of “animal companion,” but I associate the term “pet” with ownership, which is a concept with which I am not comfortable.

My development as a vegan started in my early twenties when I moved out on my own.  I had been uncomfortable for a while with eating meat, as I always thought of the animal behind what sat on my plate.  Once I had my own home and kitchen, I felt freer to explore ways in which to move towards a plant-based diet.  I started eliminating meat gradually from my diet, reducing my consumption by one day a week, then eliminating it entirely.  At first I still ate fish and seafood, but I soon eliminated them too.  Eliminating dairy, honey, and eggs took a few more years, but as I read more and more about the conditions of the factory farming of cows and chickens, I simply couldn’t eat these products anymore.  Since I’m severely lactose-intolerant, my body was delighted when I switched over completely to a plant-based diet.

In the meantime, I incorporated products that were produced without the suffering of animals.  In my research, I was appalled by the various tests that have been conducted on animals for the sake of vanity and sparkling kitchen counters.  My concern also with reducing waste and using non-toxic products grew over the years.  My goal is to minimize my impact on animals and the earth; I’m certainly not perfect, and I know there is much more I can do, but I believe strongly that even small efforts are important.  I’ll be discussing the products I use in a variety of venues.  I choose products that satisfy as many of the following criteria as possible:

a) Cruelty free.  This is the sine qua non for all my choices.  The products must not be tested on animals.  I’ve learned that you need to investigate this claim carefully, since it’s not regulated.  Whenever possible, I use products that are listed in Leaping Bunny.  I look also at the websites of the products to learn about their corporate policies and commitment to not testing on animals.

b) Vegan. No animal-derived products, including honey and beeswax.  Again, Leaping Bunny and corporate websites come in very handy.

c) Non-toxic. Products should contain the least amount of toxic products. It may not always be possible to choose products that are completely free of toxins, but I do choose the least harmful.

d) Biodegradable. Self explanatory.

e) Organic.  This term can be misused by some companies, so I look for logos from credible organizations that certify organic items.

f) Locally-made. Made, in order of geographical proximity: City, Province, Canada.  I buy non-local only if no viable alternatives exist.

g) Sustainable. Whenever possible, I choose products that are made from ethically-sourced materials, that can be reused and recycled, and that minimize waste.

Next post: The Kitchen


Werewolves in films

As I watch the 1974 The Beast Must Die on an icy February morning, I find myself pondering about how often werewolves have been the subject of films.  Zombies are very de rigeur right now, but werewolves seem to be the poor relation.  I have found a number of websites that are devoted entirely to the topic of werewolves in film.  A useful site organizes film by decade, which is my preferred approach.  To my delight, the first appearance of werewolves in film is a Canadian silent film made in 1913 titled, perhaps obviously, The Werewolf.  This film is apparently lost, much to my dismay. Lycanthropy has been a very popular and long-standing theme in film, manifesting itself even in modern films, such as the Harry Potter series.

Here are my favourite werewolf films, in order:

This 1981 film is often considered to be the best in this genre (I agree).  The transformation from man to werewolf still packs a punch.  Wonderfully acted and written.






Lon Chaney’s 1941 film is one of the most famous in this genre. Chaney made a series of other werewolf films, but this one is certainly his best.






This 2001 French film is atmospheric and more than a little disturbing.  I think this is the first time I encountered the wonderful Vincent Cassel, who is incomparably menacing.






Albert Finney elevates this 1981 film from an occasionally mundane plot.







This 2002 film is a good combination of action, suspense, and horror. Violent of course, even for a werewolf film, but entertaining.