Confessions of a Vegetarian Leatherworker

Posted by Craig Wesley on

Truth be told, I'm not a real vegetarian. I eat seafood regularly and maybe once a month indulge in Vietnamese Pho Noodle Soups and when traveling through Japan I go on a Ramen binge. If one was trying to define my diet, then I would say Pesca-vegetarian with occasional relapses, but as someone once yelled at me, "Don't put me in a box!" No, I wasn't putting them in a physical box like some serial killer.

I began this diet just about 10 years ago in 2007. I was starting my first semester at London Business School as a Masters in Finance candidate and had the pleasure of meeting some truly kind people in the program. One of them actually being my better half, Anne Wesley. Sometime during that first semester, I was talking to one of the brightest students in the program. In fact, I think she graduated just about top of the class and even went on to do a PhD. OK, maybe she wasn't brilliant, maybe just crazy because I can't imagine why anyone would want to do that, but I digress.

During a conversation, she mentioned that she had recently become a vegetarian and, if memory serves me, it was due to a major health scare from eating meat. But the one thing she said that made me try giving up beef, pork, etc was the question, "Would I eat my dog?" As one would guess, I love dogs and most pets.

During that winter break, Anne and I, along with her friends, took a holiday in Scotland, I decided to try giving up meat for one week and I found it to be pretty easy. Since then, I've been keeping it up, though my mom couldn't quite get use to the idea at the begging. When I came back from London, she tried to slip in pieces of pork into a dish and told me it wasn't meat.

What's a bit interesting is that before turning to this diet, I was following Atkins and not the smart way. I was eating almost exclusively animal protein, minimal fruit, and probably no vegetables. I had followed the Atkins diet for almost 2 years at that point. During that period, I was diagnosed as being Bipolar I With Mixed Episodes, which in the world of bipolar is pretty bad. Though, honestly, I disagree with the diagnosis.

Anyway, after switching to my pesca-vegetarian diet, I was able to stop all my mood stabilizing medications. I can honestly say that since I've changed my diet, I haven't had any manic or major depressive episodes and I'm going on 10 years now.

Anyway, having abstained from eating beef for the last 10 years, I now make my living with cow leather. Trust me, it's something I have a moral conflict with. Seriously, cows don't even eat meat or go out hunting other animals. Essentially, as humans, we're just taking advantage of a relatively gentle species. If I had my wish, then I would be making everything with fish skin leather, but the market isn't there yet.

So, I try and do little things to make my internal conflict a little better. As I mentioned, I do not eat beef in any instance. I do not make items out of calf, though I have used Kip, which is essentially a teenage cow. Anne Wesley and I only use Vegetable Tanned Leather, which is the more eco-conscious method of tanning leather. We only buy cow hides with the least amount of scars, branding, etc. The reason being is because the cleaner the leather the more likely the cow was treated better. For example, relatively speaking, cows in Brazil aren't treated as well as cows from Europe and so Brazilian hides tend to have way more scars. Finally, as I somewhat mentioned, my long-term goal is to help the fish skin leather market develop so that we can use less cow leather.

As I get older and starting to get closer to middle age, I realize that as long as I'm OK with what I'm doing that's all that is important. Someday, I might stop being OK with using cow leather and dedicate myself 100% to fish skin leather or designing other fashion, but for now I'm can live with my the bargains I've made.

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