Part 5 of 5
This is the final post in my five part series on becoming vegetarian. Now that you are informed about where your food comes from and all the great reasons to choose plant foods over animal foods, it’s time to take things a step further. Time to start thinking about the animals we wear, sit on, and use as accessories. Yes, I’m talking about leather, wool, fur, and other animal parts used in human creature comforts.
Wool can also be called mohair, pashmina or cashmere. It is found in many products from sweaters to carpets. Approximately 6 million sheep are used for meat and wool production in the United States and 2.5 million goats are used for meat, milk and mohair production1. When you think about wool, it seems like it would be pretty harmless, right? I mean sheep and goats grow fleece/hair and it needs to be trimmed. It’s not that simple. The goats and sheep don’t willingly give up their fur. And like most animals used for human consumption, they are “altered” for the convenience of those profiting from their bodies. Within weeks of birth, lambs’ ears are punched with holes, their tails are chopped off, and the males loose their man parts without anesthesia. Then when they no longer produce enough wool to meet their farmer’s demand, they are killed for meat and/or their skin. Furthermore, it is not true that the animals must be shaved. If sheep were not altered by humans, they would grow just enough wool to protect themselves from the weather.
In Australia, the country that creates more than 50% of the world’s merino wool, lambs endure a horrible process called mulesing. Mulesing means that huge hunks of skin are removed from the animal’s behind to prevent the infestation of flies in their folds of skin. This is done without anesthesia or painkillers. Can you imagine what it would feel like to have a huge chunk of skin cut out of your behind – much less with or without anesthesia? Seriously, that’s more than ouch! After the sheep endure this horrible “procedure” several are shipped overseas to countries in the Middle East and North Africa to unregulated slaughterhouses where they are killed in ways much harsher than we can imagine. This journey takes weeks or months. The sheep are given little food or water. They become stuck in their feces, at times unable to move. Some are trampled to death. And they endure all that just to be killed in a foreign country in cruel ways. Even Pink – the singer – just called for a boycott of Australian lamb mutilations for wool.
What can you do about it? Don’t buy wool. Don’t eat lamb. Also avoid other animal-derived materials like angora which comes from rabbits, cashmere which comes from goats, and wool from alpacas and lamas. There are many alternatives to wool … some of my favorite sweaters and home furnishings are made of cotton, tencel, bamboo, and polyester (it’s much better now than it was in the 70s). For more on wool, visit www.savethesheep.com.
Now it’s no mystery that leather is indeed the skin of another animal. How it became such a desired product is beyond me. But the reality is that most of us have been conditioned to think that leather couches, leather shoes, leather handbags etc. are superior to non-leather goods. Why? It’s kind of strange when you think about it. Leather is cheap to buy … it’s the “desirability” that you’re paying for. It’s time to bust open that misconception. As PETA says, “whose skin are you in?” I prefer to hang out in my skin not another animal’s skin thank you very much. Just as I enjoy the skin on my body – protecting my organs and whatnot – I’m sure that animal appreciated its skin on his or her body. Next time you go to the store and think about buying that pair of of-so-lovely leather shoes, just think that another animal died for them … they suffered an uncomfortable life of confinement, they bled all over their skin before it was cleaned up and made into your pretty shoes. That’s enough really. We don’t need to buy those shoes! Really, I mean it.
The multibillion-dollar meat industry profits from more than just animals’ flesh. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, animals’ skins represent “the most economically important byproduct” of the meatpacking industry2. And that’s not even the beginning of it. Most leather used for clothing, furniture, etc. comes from India and China. Yes, India … a very vegetarian country. While cows have little protection here in the U.S. in these countries, cows have even less protection. Slaughter processes are unregulated. Just watch the documentary Earthlings. They actually show companies buying families beloved cows, convincing the people that their cows will be taken to a sanctuary, and actually trekking them across state lines (miles and miles and miles) to have their throats hacked open with a hand saw. You’ll never be able to look at those leather shoes quite the same again.
It’s important to note that cows are not the only animals used for leather. Pigs, goats, zebras, bison, water buffaloes, boars, deer, kangaroos, elephants, eels, sharks, dolphins, seals, walruses, frogs, crocodiles, alligators, lizards, and snakes are also used in clothing and household goods. And believe it or not, even dog and cat skins are used in goods from China and Europe. When’s the last time you bought a product that wasn’t made in China? Those new leather shoes might very well be made of dog or cat skin.
Leather is disgusting, horrific and unnecessary. When you start to see what cool non-leather products are out there, you won’t feel like you need leather anyway. My favorites are Matt and Nat for purses, www.mattandnat.com, and Olsen Haus for shoes, www.olsenhaus.com. For more on leather, visit www.cowsarecool.com.
Now I’m hoping that most of you have never owned fur. But maybe you have. I remember when I was a little girl my grandma thought it was really special to have me try on little fur coats. I didn’t know any better. At that time, she probably didn’t either. Fur was grand. It was exotic. It was expensive. It literally like wearing wealth on your sleeve. Thankfully we are becoming more knowledgeable each and every day. Like every other animal product, fur does not come easily. Millions of fur-bearing animals including foxes, raccoons, minks, coyotes, bobcats, lynxes, opossums, nutria, beavers, muskrats, otters and others are killed each year on fur farms by anal and vaginal electrocution and in the wild by drowning, trapping, or beating3.
Most fur animals are not used for their meat. So the only reason people “value” them is for their fur. Foxes are often raised on ranches where four are kept in cages only 2.5 feet square. That’s much worse than a college dorm room. More like a chicken’s battery cage. Other fur animals are trapped out in the wild. The problem with this is that the hunters don’t check their traps every day so the animals are stuck with one of their legs horribly injured. They are unable to escape so they often time chew their own legs off. Can you imagine? Being so desperate for escape that you would chew your own leg off? Unfortunately non-fur-animals get caught in these traps too. Bambi, Fido and Heathcliff may find their fate suffering as a result of this cruel industry.
When it comes time for these animals to die … it’s not done nicely. They have no protection under the Humane Slaughter Act so they are often strangled, beat, or stomped to death. Others are electrocuted through their vagina or anus. The electric rod fries the animals insides. I mean seriously, who thought of that? Well the whole point it to make sure their fur stays in tact. Problem is … sometimes the stomping or electrocuting is not effective and the animal is skinned alive. Another scene from Earthings that haunts me is the image of a fur fox moving its head around painfully after all of its skin had been removed. Haunting. Don’t wear fur!! For more on fur, visit www.furisdead.com.
Obviously, you can not buy wool, leather or fur. We honestly don’t need them to live a complete, whole, fulfilling life. In fact eliminating these products from your closet and household will only help you live more compassionately. You’ll get to see how GREAT it feels when your friends ogle over your new vegan bag and you can proudly say that no animals were harmed for your fashion choices. It will make them think about their fashion choices. If you’re wondering whether or not to purge your closet of wool, leather and fur, learn how I decided to eliminate these products from my closet piece by piece in my post, Shearing My Winter Coat. For me it was a process.
Living compassionately often begins with the food on your plate but becomes so much more. Once you awaken to the suffering other animals endure for human convenience, it is difficult to look at the food and products we once adored but now know are a result of so much suffering. The good news is that tomorrow is another day. You can choose differently the next time you buy a pair of shoes, a couch, a rug, or shoes. That’s what is so wonderful about this journey. We don’t need to feel guilty about what we did not know but we can feel empowered with what we do now know.
This concludes my five part series about becoming vegetarian. If you missed the previous posts, check out Part 1: Why Go Vegetarian, Part 2: How to Become Vegetarian, Part 3: Vegetarian Nutrition, and Part 4: Speaking Vegetarian.
1. USDA National Agricultural Library, Animals and Livestock: Sheep and Goats, http://riley.nal.usda.gov/nal_display/index.php?info_center=8&tax_level=2&tax_subject=10&topic_id=1735&placement_default=0
2. PETA, Cows Are Cool, http://www.cowsarecool.com
3. PETA, Fur is Dead, http://www.furisdead.com