#CrueltyFree: Over 3.6 million photos on Instagram.
#NoAnimalsHarmed: More than 130,000 photos with the hashtag on Instagram.
These phrases (or hashtags, depending on the medium and platform), are a shorthand for choices that represent a kinder option when it comes to reducing the suffering of nonhuman animals.
However, as with most terms, they lack nuance and context. At best they signal the intentionality of a certain thing, but at worst they underscore a type of ignorance or lack of knowledge regarding the process of an item or the full scope of a certain choice.
Now, are we not supposed to take these phrases literally? They appear to be a factual statement, at least for #NoAnimalsHarmed. One could argue that #CrueltyFree is a different type of factual statement that holds up to more examination. But what about "No Animals Harmed"? Surely that is a type of broad proclamation that is unlikely to be accurate.
The fact is that, in reality, no food item, makeup purchase, or new jacket is going to be free from animal suffering.
Even if we exclude the obvious human suffering associated with producing many products, there still remains the fact that animals, including many insects, likely suffered during the growing, processing, and transportation of the items we buy and happily proclaim to be cruelty free or devoid of animal harm.
Insects are animals, and while their actual capacity to suffer is not entirely defined, they are still living, sentient beings whom our actions affect.
This is not to say that we should throw our hands up and cause even more suffering, but rather it is a call for consciousness and awareness of the victims we can easily forget and marginalize.
If we remain honest with ourselves and do away with the idea of "the perfect vegan", then maybe we can more easily recognize that the road we are travelling along still has a destination that we have not yet reached.
Truthfully, we may never reach such destination, but the least we can do is keep it consciously in mind as we progress towards the endless horizon.