My Beef with Salads: Livestock, Leather and Green Lies

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It was on a recent Friday evening that I opened my closet…and everything looked so different.

Fall is in the air and it was high time for this mother of one to reunite with her trusted LBD, some pinot noir shaded lipstick and a lovely new pair of leather pumps desperately needing a test drive. With ten minutes to spare, I stuffed my bag with the usual late night suspects—you know, to the point it barely closes.

I arrived fashionably late to a fave foodie spot in our usual downtown enclave. As expected, my sweet but annoyingly punctual sister was already smiling at me, poised against the dark wood bar, drink in hand, waiting for “the late one”. She was dressed to the nines. In fact, the evening’s attire was almost as scripted as the reservation–leather pumps, leather clutches, leather and mixed metal bracelets — an all around leather orgy.

Next thing I knew, we were whisked away to our table. One by one we scooted over…wait for it— supple leather seats. Even the menus, faux or not, embraced the trend. My “hide-vision” was clearly switched on, but I have a weakness and thankfully, a sister who understands.

The feast started with a forest of leafy greens. Conversation and Malbec flowed— a means to compensate and clearly forget the anything but dietetic entrees coming our way.

And just like that—it happened. As I looked at the leather clad beauty before me my mind slowly exited the conversation…

It was time for me to break the news:

Did you know that this country’s salad addiction is killing the American leather industry?

 

Open mouth. Insert heel. Then came the expected, “Oh geez, here she goes.” To which I replied… “If looks could kill, my purse would have been riddled with bullets. And if that doesn’t ruin a good bag—your salad will.”

Let me explain.

I have nothing against hardcore vegans or those on the fence. As of late, my diet has in fact featured alternative proteins. I’ve danced with legumes and flirted with filet mignon— only to pass. The change was nice, that is, until I recently came upon an article in Bloomberg about the connection between livestock and leather.

I was forced to rethink not just eating habits, but observe the bigger picture at hand.

Leather tanning—one of the oldest activities on this earth, found in Assyrian texts, Homers’ Illiad, Roman and Egyptian artifacts– is under siege.

For millennia, the leather industry has been a byproduct of the meat industry. Throughout the 20th century, the US increasingly became beef obsessed.  Fast forward thirty years, the meat-eaters of this world have distinctly changed tastes. *Beef consumption is down 28%, supply of hides has taken a nosedive and droughts in the Midwest have hiked basic feed costs. Put all these ingredients into the pot, sprinkle in some global economic woes, add a dash of corporate greed and behold— a disaster for the average consumer, AND cross sector giants.

For 152 years, one American leather tanning company has gone from financial success to today’s net profits being sliced in half. Lisa Howlett of Kentucky’s, Auburn Leather, has been consumed by a never-ending battle with mother nature, vegans, environmentalists and aggressive Chinese competition. And the industry’s future is still uncertain.

In recent reports conducted by UNIDO ** (United Nations Industrial Development Organization), a significant amount of livestock production is already taking place in warm, humid and disease-prone environments, with competing land interests on all fronts. Demand in crops for bio-fuels and timber will continue to cause a ripple effect on areas concerning health, food safety, environment and poverty alleviation.  And in one disturbing prediction, the public health of urban communities will suffer severely, all thanks to the likelihood for large-scale industrial production within close proximity.

So what does this have to do with your favorite bag? The answer is—everything.

This goes far beyond any Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton or Chanel accessory. We’re talking about lifestyle choices with potentially lethal effects upon everything we see, touch, buy, consume—and love.

Do you really know what’s in a handbag?

 

It’s the dirty truth we choose to ignore. We all know industry practices are wreaking havoc on the environment.  But to those giddy over “vegan” leather—be prepared for an upset.

Since vegans have an absolute objection to killing animals for their skins, PVC-based synthetics, or “vegan leather” seems like the “decent” option, right? Wrong. To my sad surprise, the alternative does far worse to the environment and our beloved animals than what some fashion houses would like us to believe.

Dioxins, one of the most toxic chemicals out there, is a product of both the manufacturing and incineration of PVC-based synthetics. Ladies and gents, this stuff travels. Over time, the chemicals break down into particles, giving off phthalates. This softening agent ends up in our waters, creeps into the food chain—the very air we breathe. Our synthetic society is so over exposed that our bloodstream carries significant traces of toxic chemical baggage. The end result is not surprising: respiratory problems, breast cancer, hormonal disruptions and birth defects.

Pushing past all the negatives, there are some positives to this storyline.  The fashion industry’s initiative to go green is thankfully happening, however do not be fooled by impostors. This so-called vegan leather, aka PVC, is still out on the market.

Vegetable dyes are a real solution for tanning leather. Take for instance the Kering Group (formerly known as the Gucci Group), with brands like Alexander McQueen, Bottega Veneta and Gucci, which released a progress report on their 2016 sustainability targets.

Sounds great on paper, but with all this movement towards true “green” solutions, prices for leather goods, at least in the interim, will still increase— and eating salad ad nauseam doesn’t exactly help.

Luxury consumers for high end designers, with already exaggerated profit margins, won’t necessarily feel the impending pinch at the register. Let’s face it; to them, sky high prices associated with luxury labels are the norm.  Howlett’s clients, on the other hand, service the smaller brands. Take the average leather loving American and put a higher price under their nose and watch jaws drop—tears even.

So where’s the beef or at least how I see things?

  1. If grass-fed organic beef makes you smile, then I’m smiling right back at you! Just eat the steak. Add some vegetables for good measure. Pair it with a nice Malbec. Work out. Repeat as desired, but always in moderation.
  2. Keep informed on your favorite label’s green initiatives and hold them accountable. Let’s all do our homework. Talk vegetable dyes with your friends; it’s sexy.  Spread the word on social media. And remember, these labels want your business.
  3. And for the love of all our furry and not so furry animal friends, SAY NO to PVC merchandise. You’re actually doing more harm than good to them and our planet. And did I mention they are ridiculously overpriced?
  4. For those who feel leather is completely out of the question, be weary of alternative materials. Just because it’s fabric, doesn’t mean it’s safe. And lastly…
  5. Amino acids: Animal based protein and plant-based protein are not equal. The amino acid, rich zinc and heme iron found in red meat, eggs and dairy are much more easily absorbed by the body than those found in lentils or quinoa for example. Ladies, ask yourself this: do beans really make you feel better—more lively, when your “best friend” makes her monthly visit? I think not…

Which brings me back to dinner. Yup. All of the above was discussed over antipasto and vino rosso. Amazingly enough we didn’t lose our appetites and our relationship is still intact. There were a few glassy eyes though. Whether it was the wine or legitimate heartbreak, I’m not sure. But I can’t say I felt guilty in serving my sister a side of reality with dinner. After all, sharing is caring. And the next time we go out, it just might be a steak house.

So share my beef with friends (maybe over a hamburger) and cheers to all my fellow carnivores and vegans alike!

For more information regarding the material discussed above, see the following sources:

* Your Salad Lunches Are Killing American Leather: Bloomberg Business, May 27, 2015

**Future Trends in the World Leather and Leather Products Industry and Trade: United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) 2010

 

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