Sunday, April 14, 2024

PHALON’S FILES: Vegan Leather Is a Thing, Apparently

Wanting to look a little more sophisticated, I thought it was time to stop dragging around tattered pads and scraps of paper and upgrade to a grown-up notebook and one of those notebook cover things.

I wasn’t sure what they were actually called, so I asked the guy in the store, “What are those notebook cover things called?”

“Notebook covers.” 

Cool. A rare time when a product was called something that accurately describes its use, like say, “toothbrush” or “doghouse.” Not “bathroom tissue” (toilet paper) or “free-standing illumination” (a lamp).

There are a lot of classics in the consumer world, such as “pre-owned” instead of “used,” “downsized” rather than “fired.”

So, I found a new one this week when I looked at the features of my new notebook cover thing. It had space for two pads of paper, a sleeve for other papers and a clip for a pen. Perfect.

Below these were the more passive notables, such as country of origin and the material used to make it. China. No surprise there. And vegan leather.

Vegan leather? What the hell is vegan leather?!

That’s a new one on me. Somebody deserves a Clio Award for that one. That’s better than the rich Corinthian leather found in the Chrysler Cordoba, as endorsed by Ricardo Montalban. (You might know him as Khan.)

This retooling of the language took a cunning imagination. To find a new term for a product that already has earned at least a dozen marketing euphemisms over the years: Pleather. Naugahyde, ripped from the hyde of the nauga. Genuine imitation leather.

Is this like trying to convince me that “cheesefood,” a popular substance in “cheesy” snacks, is actually cheese? Or the casino industry telling us we are innocently “gaming,” not “gambling?” (Nobody ever said, “I have a gaming problem.”)

“Frozen dairy dessert.” A way of saying ice cream that’s not quite ice cream. Whatever happened to ice cream cones and ice cream sundaes? Now they are simply cones, and sundaes. Well, that’s a little vague. (See: “frozen dairy dessert.)

In case you’re not up to date on culinary terms, “vegan” simply means a lifestyle that eliminates all products that involve animals. It’s a couple of steps beyond being a vegetarian. Vegan products have a real use, mostly in foods. Vegan burgers made with soy or tofu, for instance, are a real thing and aren’t meant to mislead anybody.

Vegans don’t consume food that involves meat, milk or any other product derived from animals. Some vegans go beyond food and include clothing and other products involving animals.

Like notebook covers!

And I soon realized my ignorance of notebook covers was matched by my nescience of vegan leather. It’s a serious thing, not just a clever new euphemism. An industry is growing around the development of clothing materials based on plants and sustainable raw products and eliminating petroleum from the process. So, farewell pleather.

While the Federal Trade Commission has not yet, as far as I could determine, issued definitions and standards for what can be labeled vegan leather, as they have for, say, ice cream and cheese, serious people are using plant-based fibers, including pineapple leaves, cork, mushrooms, coconut husks, seaweed and apple peels.

Cactus is a very promising product and even has a Madison Avenue brand called Desserto leather. Yes, I know, they spell it not like “desert,” the place where cactus grows, rather as “dessert,” like the frozen dairy substance.

But spelling aside, I’m happy to learn I made a responsible choice for my notebook cover thing.

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.