Many vegetarians these days are extending their practice to products they use on their bodies, such as beauty aids and clothing, in much the same way as they do their food choices. This is especially true when it comes to fur coats and other fur products. To find out more, we contacted Lesley Fox, the Executive Director of the Fur-Bearer Defenders, based just north of the border in Vancouver, BC., to ask her a few questions about her organization.
Tell us something about Fur-Bearer Defenders:
The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals (affectionately known as Fur-Bearer Defenders) is one of the oldest animal protection groups in North America. We started in 1944 and have focused specially on working to end the cruel fashion fur trade.
How did you first get interested in this issue?
I am passionate about all kinds of animal issues. Environment issues and other social justice issues also concern me. I feel as though many of these issues are interconnected and sometimes that can feel overwhelming as an activist.
One of the biggest things that attracted me to working for Fur-Bearer Defenders is that I get to focus on one issue. It makes the stress a bit more manageable when I can concentrate on one topic and devote my resources to issue. In my opinion, it’s more effective too. I believe it’s more sustainable to fight for change one step at a time.
I think the fur issue is good starting point for many people. It doesn’t take a lot of convincing to ask a reasonable person to give up a bit of real fur trim on a coat. Once people are willing to recognize the suffering of fur-bearing animals and are willing to make a change as a consumer, it’s a step forward for them to naturally learn about more issues involving animals, including food issues.
Are you a vegetarian or vegan? What inspired you to make the change?
I went vegetarian in 1996 after I read an article called “Does your Food Have a Face?” I found it really easy to go vegetarian, because to be honest, I just ate more cheese. Cheese pizza, cheese lasagna and grilled cheese sandwiches. I was addicted to cheese and I remember wondering why the whole world didn’t go vegetarian – it was awesome!
In 1999 my cheese addiction came to an end after I read “Diet for a New America”, by John Robbins. Overnight, I went vegan because I learned that dairy caused just as much animal suffering as the meat industry. All dairy cows end up at the slaughterhouse, and male calves are sold to the veal industry. Being vegan just makes me feel better about myself. As much as possible, I want to avoid causing harm to animals.
What’s wrong with fur coats?
The fur industry is responsible for inflicting extreme terror, suffering and death on millions of animals each year for fashion. Real fur is a frivolous product that no one needs. There are a wealth of animal-free fabrics, many of them are now eco-friendly and designed for weather extremes. Companies like Vaute Couture and Fjallraven offer excellent fur-free options. We can all live without fur. The animals can’t.
What is it that you wish more people understood better?
I wish people understood that fake fur isn’t the answer to ending the fur trade. While certainly fake fur is always a better choice than real fur, fake fur can promote the idea that “fur is back”. The fur industry shaves, dyes and uses small bit of inexpensive real fur trim on garments that can confuse consumers. Labels can lie too. Many companies, most recently Kohl’s, have been caught advertising “fake fur” when it was real fur. I like to keep things simple and play it safe. Therefore fake or real – don’t buy fur.
Are you optimistic about the future?
There are times when I am really optimistic about the future. Lots of vegan restaurants are popping up, more celebrities are talking about animal rights, some great documentaries have been made – – you must see Ghosts in Our Machine and Blackfish!
These things are encouraging and social media is bringing more and more transparency by exposing cruel companies. While these things are positive, it’s hard sometimes because it feels so slow moving.
There is an urgency to getting animals the help and recognition they deserve, but we are fighting a world that profits from their abuse. It’s tough work! But yes, I do have faith that change is happening, and groups like Vegetarians of Washington give me much hope. Your events are hugely successful – and get noticed even up here in Canada! It’s going to take a strong collective voice, but together, on both sides of the border, we will save the animals!