I am vegan to boycott industries that put profits before living beings. I do not limit the exploitation of living beings to nonhuman animals who are being tortured and murdered, but include workers in the most dangerous job in the United States. Many meatpacking workers are undocumented, most are poorly paid, physically hurt, emotionally desensitized, and not unionized. While I do not want to impose my ideals on others, buying gifts has forced me to question whether I am boycotting cruel industries with my body or wallet.
A few weeks ago a colleague organized a Secret Santa. The participants filled out a slip of paper sharing their hobbies, favorite food, favorite candy, and favorite color. The rules stated each Secret Santa would give the person a small gift each day for the entire week until the big reveal on Friday with a $20 gift. The questions were pretty vague and made it challenging to find something for a coworker one did not know well. The slips were stuffed in a stocking and the Secret Santas picked one. I excitedly opened the slip I picked which read, favorite color: pink, favorite food: Italian and Greek, favorite candy: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, hobbies: baking. Fudge! I have absolutely NO idea what this $20 gift is going to look like. I immediately hit the store in search of small gifts and after many minutes of randomly circling the store went to the candy aisle. The only concrete thing I knew about this person was that they liked peanut butter cups. The pressure of making the person happy made me panic and I bought $1 worth of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. As the week went on regret kicked in. Breaking a boycott felt bad.
Later that week, I went to Union Square to look for two gifts, one for my Secret Santa giftee and another for a second colleague. For the former I bought a glass-baking tray with a lid, an oven mitt, and adorable earmuffs—practical. The latter is going to Paris on Christmas Day; when I studied abroad in Paris, some college mates fell victims to petty theft losing passports and hundreds of dollars. As a crossbody bag lover I figured a small crossbody bag would be a great gift and went to a shoe store that carries a wide selection of purses. I overheard a young man tell his friend, “It smells like dead animals in here.” That’s exactly how a shoe store smells yet, there I was looking for the perfect gift.
After spending a week solidifying how to implement a cruelty boycott in my life, I went into the store looking for non-leather purses. There were a few leather purses that were perfectly designed for my colleague, however, I managed to control my impulses and centered myself on compassion. Eventually, the perfect vegan crossbody bag made its way to the register, was wrapped, gifted, and absolutely loved by my colleague.
Boycotting factory farming does not mean forgoing ingestion or ownership of cruelty derived products, but a complete economic boycott — as in I am not going to pay you to exploit living beings regardless of whether the person I am spending money on/for is vegan or not.