Sunday, March 31, 2013

Taglit Birthright for Vegans

I’ll apologize in advance since this post is probably not applicable to most of my readers.  However, I figured this platform was best for discussing my experience as a vegan on my Birthright trip to Israel.  Overall, I’m glad I participated in this experience, but it was a rough ten days for a number of reasons.

Firstly, some basics if you have no idea what I’m talking about.  Birthright is a program funded mainly through private donations and some Israeli government money that takes Jews aged 18-26 to Israel for ten days, if they have never visited before or after the age of 12.  Obviously there are some expenses the participant must cover, but these are very small considering airfare, ground transportation, and accommodation are covered.  There is one Birthright program but many groups that take people on this program.  I went with a URJ Kesher Group (Union for Reform Judaism).
Before departure, I filled out paperwork stating very exactly what I could not eat as vegan expecting that simply stating that I was vegan would be confusing.  I was told that this information would be sent to all the appropriate places to make sure my food needs would be taken care of.  I even confirmed this over the phone during one of my interviews. 

However, two days out from departure I was talking to my American staff leader for the first time to clarify what I couldn’t eat and not do because of my vegan values, and he told me he had received no information on my dietary restrictions.  I told him what I had written down assuming/hoping/expecting him to transfer this information to the appropriate people since it had obviously failed the original time.  Note to you: assume your American staff actually has no power over anything.

I show up at LAX and, for some reason I can’t remember, it came to my attention that the program probably hadn’t reserved me meals I could eat on the 13.5 hour flight.  I immediately went up to both American staff members to figure out what was going on, but they did nothing besides make excuses.  I was told El Al doesn’t have vegan meals, and it was too late to order a special meal.  Well, yes, El Al does have vegan meals [link].  If they had sent me my flight information or even told me I had to reserve this meal myself I would have gladly done it before hand.  However, I was told this would all be done for me. 

Other people in my group with special meals received theirs with no personal interventions.  One girl in my group was nice enough to give me her vegetarian meal that she ordered even though she wasn’t vegetarian, but that was only one meal near the end of the flight.  The rest of the flight I ate trail mix, the horrible little airplane salad, and water.

In Israel, there are vegan options at every meal, but these options are always salad, hummus, and olives.  If I had been able to eat out more often I could have gotten better food, but the group picks where you eat, and they like hotel buffets.  On days out, it’s always easy to find a falafel stand or an Aroma, which clearly marks their vegan items and has an English menu.  I even managed to find vegan sorbet at a mall!  If you’re unsure where to go or what to eat, just ask someone.  Don’t feel bad about passing on challah or anything else.

            Apparently the highlight of this trip for a lot of participants (I don’t know why) is riding camels at the Bedouin tents.  I avoid circuses and other industries where animals are used for profit because they are usually rampant with animal abuse on top of already being inappropriate environments for the animal (seriously look at all the continual animal abuse fines for Barnum and Bailey Circus).  The two other vegans in my group decided to ride the camels, but by that night, confided that they were feeling guilty about it.

Just by looking at the camels, I could tell a few of them and one in particular weren’t in the best shape.  People in my group asked why I wasn’t riding and seemed generally supportive of my feelings.  Later that night we walked into the desert farther away from the camp but still no more than a 15 minute walk away.  In the dark of night, my group quite literally walked into a camel carcass.  I wouldn’t bet money on this merely being a coincidence.

We also had an optional excursion on a free Shabbat to walk around a kibbutz.  The kibbutz we toured actually turned out to be in the dairy industry.  So we saw the mother cows caged and wallowing in their own feces and the veal calves chained up a few feet away.  People will make nasty, uncouth jokes as they try to rationalize that what they’re seeing is what they’ll be eating later.  The kibbutz also had a greenhouse and other interesting features so it wasn’t a complete bust for me just not the best choice.

There are cats everywhere in Israel.  Seriously, everywhere.  Cats are the Israeli squirrels.  You will be tempted by the cute especially because they look slightly different than cats here.  However, everyone will treat you like you’re crazy if you feed or play with them.  Also be careful because they are feral cats without vaccinations.  As my group medic was playing with another cat, he told me if I got scratched the program wasn’t responsible.  I always washed my hands after handling the cats just in case.

Pro Tips
·         I brought Clif bars with me and it ended up being the smartest thing I could have done vegan or not.  The days are packed with physical activities and travel and you are (possibly purposely) not given enough time for a solid night of sleep.  Add this in with only eating salad most of the time and you can see why I was exhausted.  These made great snacks while we were out and about and for my flight out of Israel.

·         In Israel, people don’t discuss food as vegetarian, paleo, vegan, etc. but rather in kosher terms.  Ask if food is parve.  Parve food doesn’t have meat or dairy ingredients although it may contain eggs.  Understanding what is vegan anyways, it was easy to avoid eggs.  People speak English to varying degrees so you can ask.  However, if I wasn’t sure about an item from past experience I avoided it.

·         If you stay in Israel after, make sure to go to a market before sundown on Friday.  Everything will close for Shabbat, and I wanted to be sure I had vegan food.  Also happycow where you will be visiting.

·         Non-Vegan tip: Everyone (man/woman, Israeli/Palestinian, Adult/teenager, Muslim/Jewish/Christian) will want to talk to you or rather talk at you when they learn you’re foreign and especially if they think you’re American.  Just listen. Don’t try to have a conversation.  I don’t think they actually want an equal conversation.  They just want you to hear what they have to say.

I hope that was somewhat helpful to any vegans considering going on birthright!  I just wanted to voice my experience because it was more difficult than others I had read about.  I will also have another post on food from my travels through Israel and Europe coming up soon!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Is Too Faced Cruelty Free?

***EDIT***  Too Faced has recently lost its Leaping Bunny Approval and therefore no longer meets my requirements to be a cruelty free brand.

           A while ago the most adorable makeup collection from Too Faced was pinned on Pinterest by Grace (cosmeticcouturier on YouTube).  While, no, I will not be digging into my bank account to purchase these products (everything is now exclusively earmarked for grad school), I’m interested in eventually trying out their BB cream (Beauty Balm) which is vegan and looks as though it might be light enough for me.  I’ve heard that Too Faced is cruelty free, but I wanted to double check especially to make sure the company met my cruelty free standards.  So I sent off an email March 6, 2013.

To whom it may concern:
I have some further questions about Too Faced's animal testing policies.  I was very happy to see that the FAQ section listed vegan products and already has PETA certification, however, I prefer to use the Leaping Bunny guide which has more stringent requirements to be considered cruelty free.  Does Too Faced test ingredients or finished products on animals or have a third party do so on their behalf?  Does Too Faced have a parent company, and, if so, is their animal testing policies the same as Too Faced's?  Does Too Faced direct sell to China or any other area which requires or reserves the right to animal test products?
Thank you!

Response from Too Faced on March 7, 2013:
Thank you for contacting us. In answer to your questions, no, we do not test ingredients or finished products on animals, nor do any of our labs do so on our behalf. We do not sell to China for this exact reason of your concern and will not do so as long as it is required to test on animals. We, like you, feel very strongly about the well-being of all of our furry friends, and will continue to reflect our beliefs in all of our behaviors beginning with the creation of our formulas all the way to the end product and where it is sold.  P.S. We are in the process of the Leaping Bunny approval, so stay tuned and stay Too Faced!
            Also, the Too Faced website’s FAQ section had the above to say about their animal testing policies.  Here, they list their vegan friendly products as well. This is great since a lot of ingredients can be plant or animal based and many labels do not differentiate the two.

           First of all, I’m excited that Too Faced is attempting to get Leaping Bunny certification for their business!  While they did not answer whether Leaping Bunny was a subsidiary or not I already assumed from earlier research that it was not.  I’m glad they answered the rest of questions clearly.
I’m excited to purchase their BB cream in the future!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

EU Ban on Animal Testing

The European Union ban on animal tested products has survived all its opponents and is now going into effect!  This is definitely a wonderful milestone for animals and a great accomplishment for our cruelty free community.  The demands to end animal testing and selective shopping does affect the marketplace.  However, let me be realistic and say this does not mean we can forget about emailing companies and looking for leaping bunny logos. 

  • As this is an EU ban, you can only count on this affecting sales in the European Union for the moment.  Hopefully, international companies will stop animal testing in an effort to make only one kind of product that can be sold internationally.  This may not wind up being the case though. 
  • Products can be sold in the EU if a company does not test its products or ingredients but sells to a country that tests on its own, such as China.  
  • In the flurry of articles on this ban, there have been many articles which include notorious animal rights abusers as suddenly going cruelty free.  I am very wary of this and beg everyone to email these companies to double check before purchasing from them (check out my guide on email companies here).  
  • Obviously, those of use looking for vegan products still need to check ingredient lists since this ban only affects animal testing.

Remember: This is a new adventure, and we are all getting acclimated and learning what to look out for.  Below are some links to articles about the EU ban from some fellow cruelty free bloggers and sources that I respect.

Je t'aime [Link]
Logical Harmony [Link]
Leaping Bunny [Link]

Friday, March 1, 2013

Travel Light, Travel Vegan

On my recent travels, I encountered many people with monstrously huge bags.  I was traveling with a group for the first ten days of my trip, and most of these people would only be traveling a grand total of ten days.  However, they had brought humongous suitcases packed full plus a decent sized carry on.  I had a suitcase that met the dimensions to be a carry on… and a purse, a regular sized purse.  My suitcase ended up being searched by the TSA because an agent for the airline couldn’t believe I would be gone for almost two months with such a tiny bag.

Traveling this lightly is apparently a feat in and of itself but factoring in that I only use cruelty free toiletry items made it nominally more awesome.  I would often replace or pick up new beauty and hygiene products as I traveled in the past but no more.  What would happen if I ran out of cruelty free toothpaste in Israel or my deodorant in France (this one actually happened on previous travels… never buy French deodorant!)?  I would have no idea where to buy often obscure cruelty free toiletries if they are available at all.  As it is, I purchase most of my items through vitacost.

There are many, many resources for packing lightly and intelligently but hopefully someone will find my two cents helpful.
1.       Pack multitasking and solid products
This is a great space saving idea in general but is especially important if you are flying with a carry on.  Since the amount of liquids you can carry on is very limited, make sure you bring items that multitask to save space.  For example, I packed my small bottle of Argan Oil instead of bringing two separate containers of hair conditioner and hand crème. Also, if you have a solid version of a product, such as deodorant or shampoo, pack that instead.

2.       Pack lots of what you can’t live without
I can’t live without Qtips and chapstick.  Therefore I packed a fistful of Qtips and 4-5 chapsticks (I’m loving the Hurraw! brand if you haven’t check out their products yet!).  Chances are that I may not find a cruelty free/vegan brand while traveling, and these are products I know I would have to purchase to preserve my sanity if I lost or ran out of them during my travels.  Ladies, pack your cruelty free tampons/pads/cups etc. since these are definitely a must have.

3.       You need to pack fewer clothes than you think
A)  I wash my clothes as I travel to save space.  Are you visiting family on your travels?  Wash your clothes at their house.  Hotels and hostels have laundry facilities for varying prices.  Cities have Laundromats.  If you’re traveling with others, combine your loads and split the cost.  Most places offer detergent and dryer sheets, but they aren’t cruelty free. Shove some Seventh Generation laundry detergent packs and dryer sheets in your bag.  For reference, I was gone seven weeks and only did four loads.  I probably could have gotten away with three because I used undershirts.
B)  As I history person, I was watching a documentary on British hygiene in Elizabethan England.  Their elaborate outer clothes were never or rarely washed but the white, ruffled underclothes were changed daily.  These soaked up all the sweat and protected the outer clothes.  So, I packed a few tank tops and too thin long sleeved shirts to wear under my clothes.  These thin, small garments allowed me to re-wear clothing more often rather than packing extra bulkier shirts.

4.      Vegans, pack food!
Happycow where you will be traveling and usually you will find many options.  However, it is never bad to be prepared especially since I knew I was heading a few places with limited food options.  I bought a bunch of Clif Bars before I left and jammed them into the crevices and corners of my bag. 
When traveling with the group, there were vegan options but the options weren’t varied enough to keep my happy or provide all the nutrients I needed.  These were a great boost plus a good snack since the group would often have five to six hours between breakfast and lunch.  You may want to look into food options on planes since I didn’t and obviously had a rough time with it. 
Clif Bars served as my emergency snacks on planes, trains, and automobiles.  I was traveling internationally and had no problem bringing these.  I assume all packaged foods are fine and one girl in my group actually flew from L.A. to Tel Aviv with fresh fruit on her (although I would not advise this).

Do you have any other vegan and cruelty free travel tips?  Please share!

Cruelty Free and Vegan Favorites #3

My heart just exploded like the Grinch's!

Peppermint Tea
This year I became completely obsessed (well as obsessed as I generally become) with Starbuck’s soy chai latte.  However, this can be an expensive habit and attempts to concoct an at home version failed.  Incidentally I discovered another wonderful and simple hot beverage while traveling on the West Coast.  I was staying at a B&B which offered a large selection of tea 24/7.  One morning, I brewed up peppermint tea, added a sprinkle of sugar, and a splash of coconut milk…et voila!  I know!  I know! Simple, unoriginal, and I love it.

Hurraw! Lipbalms
            I believe I discovered these amazing lipbalms by reading a vegnews article on must have vegan products.  This truly is a must have product.  I purchased the intensely moisturizing Night Treatment Balm and Black Cherry Tinted Balm.  The Night Treatment Balm, on top of being the most moisturizing lip balm I’ve ever put on my lips, is organic, vegan, and has a heavenly scent of “blue chamomile vanilla.”  The cherry balm has a nice subtle tint.  I liked to use it while flying because it is moisturizing in the dry, gross airplane air and helps add a bit of color to my face.  Downside:  I wish they had SPF protection and then they would be perfect. [Link]

Elf’s Mineral Infused Mascara
            I have finally found my new favorite mascara.  I wore this everyday on my trip and I don’t think I’ll every switch to another formulation now.  It creates a very Downton Abbey eye by providing obvious definition and lengthening of lashes while keeping a natural look.  It was pretty easy to build up as well if necessary plus it is amazingly inexpensive. Downside:  I'm checking on whether this product is vegan now since a few of its ingredients can be both animal and plant derived.  [Link]

Pumpkin and Poppy’s Lady of Light Highlighter
            This was included in my first purchase from Kristy’s amazing makeup company.  I really love this highlighter since it is very natural, easy to use, and is vegan!  I was slightly nervous about the color because I am so pale but I find it to be very flattering.  I can’t imagine getting ready in the morning without this product now. [Link]