Veganism versus Minimalism

cashmere sweaters

You may recall my post about switching to veganism earlier this year. After being a long-time vegetarian, watching Michael Pollan’s film Food, Inc. was all it took to convince me to forsake consumption of all animal products from that day forward.

I also readily gave away my collection of leather coats, shoes, boots, belts and handbags to a wonderful charity called Dress for Success.

But there were two items I was unsure what to do with: cashmere sweaters and silk clothing.

Wool sweaters were not the issue. When I discovered that the process of shearing the sheep can be quite inhumane, it was an easy decision to give my wool sweaters away.

Cashmere is a slightly different story.  The cashmere undercoat is typically hand-combed from the underbellies of the cashmere goats in the spring.  As the weather warms, more cashmere is combed from the goats during the natural shedding process. The process is traditionally very labor-intensive, but also relatively humane. And yet,

The majority of cashmere is produced in China, India, Pakistan, and Central Asia, where animal welfare standards are inconsistent. There are also growing problems with overgrazing due to cashmere production, contributing to desertification in Asia and  reducing the quality of life of both the goats and the local human population. The environmental costs of transport must also be taken into consideration when purchasing foreign cashmere.  (via hubpages).

In other words, it is not a simple matter.

So, here’s my dilemma. With the approaching cold months of winter, what should I do with my cashmere sweaters? Knowing what I now know, is it ethical for me to continue wearing the sweaters? Does it make sense to spend money on non-wool sweaters (e.g., cotton or synthetic microfleece) when I have a closet full of perfectly good sweaters?

What is the environmental toll of growing cotton or manufacturing microfibers? And what about the expense of shelling out for new items to replace perfectly good garments? But, by wearing the cashmere sweaters, am I inadvertently contributing to the suffering of animals?

This is where the veganism versus minimalism and sustainability issues intersect. My sweaters were a significant financial investment made over several years, even decades, of time. Others were gifts, with sentimental value. Further, cashmere only gets softer over time, and there is no reason a well-cared for sweater should not last twenty years, or more. Is it sustainable to give them away when they have so many more years of use? And how many sweaters does one person need?

The same concerns apply to my silk sweaters and scarves. I bought these things long before I knew that the larvae of silk worms were boiled in their cocoons to obtain the silk threads. And I don’t intend to purchase silk in the future. But again, the question remains: What should I do with the silk items I already own? Silk long underwear is the best, most lightweight winter undergarment I have ever found. Is it morally wrong to continue wearing silk, or is it better to buy synthetic replacements.

And, lest this come across as a whiny, oh-poor-her, she-has-too-many-cashmere-sweaters rant, please recognize that I am not alone with my questions. As more and more people around the world come to grips with the intersection of minimalism and sustainability and veganism, this is one of the many questions that need to be addressed. It is a matter of trying to live with integrity and congruity.

So, I am asking you for your advice. What do you think? Please leave me a comment below. Thank you!

image: © 2010. Christianna Pierce.

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11 Responses to Veganism versus Minimalism

  1. I say keep the items you own.  You weren’t aware of these issue when they were purchased, so unless you feel horrible guilt every time you put on a sentimental cashmere sweater or silk scarf there is no reason to give up a loved item.  Also, buying a whole new wardrobe would be counter to the spirit frugality and simplicity.  Then there is the issue of the petroleum used in synthetics.  
    Love what you own and own what you love.  And own how you feel about this You don’t owe anyone an explanation as long as you do what you feel is right.
    Hope this helps.

  2. Hi Christianna. I appreciate you posing this question, as it is one I’ve asked myself. (Though I don’t have a trove of cashmere sweaters.) I think Marie raises some excellent points; first, that you need to consider how you feel when you wear the garment: if you can say a prayer of thanks and honor the sacrifice of the Being or Beings that sacrificed for it’s creation: silkworms; goats, human labororers; I DEFINITELY think you should keep the garments. You’ll then be wearing them in a way that is spiritually aware — whereas the next owner might operate from a completely different paradigm and be ignorant of the sacrifice entirely.  And, as Marie points out, keeping the sweaters also is good environmental stewardship.  If, on the other hand, you wear the garments and can think of nothing but guilt and sufffering, you should let them go.  But I hope you’ll be able to go the prayer of thanks and honor route; if you wear them knowing their emotional, spiritual and environmental cost, I personally believe you’ll be lifting all of us a little higher.  Thanks again for being so conscientious.

  3. Hi,
    This is a question that  many people ponder when they change to a vegan lifestyle. It is exactly that: a lifestyle. If you view it from the perspective that we humans do not have the right to take and use the hair, skin, body parts of another being (and no being willingly makes this “sacrifice”) then you may come to realize that it is not morally acceptable to continue to use or wear these products. The most difficult thing for me to give up was my down pillows. But my comfort was insignificant once I fully realized that I was complicit in the theft of another being’s body covering — a being that was killed in order to make that comfortable pillow for me.
    Another thing to consider is the example you will be setting for other potential vegans. Those of us who have awoken to the cruelty inherent in our use of other beings must do our best to set a good example for others.

  4. In the interest of integrity and congruity, I would donate the cashmere and silk items you currently own. I understand the duality of pre-owning and then making the switch but think of it as the next step in your evolution. Setting a limit of perhaps 1 new (either synthetic or natural fiber) for every 2 donated will help with the minimalist goal. 
    Thanks for the post, I look forward to reading more from you as this is my first time here. Love it!

  5. Avatar philosophotarian
    philosophotarian says:

    My comment is late, but I think you should keep the things you already own. You can’t give the cashmere or silk back; you can’t undo what was done. You can refuse to buy more in the future; as you acquire new sweaters and undergarments, you can begin the process of re-homing the things you have to those who will wear them reverently. 
    Regarding the silk, in particular, I think keeping it is best. It is unlikely you will find someone who wants your old undergarments; they are wonderful for winter warmth and comfort; synthetics are not as friendly to the human body; with proper care, they will last a long time. Again, you can’t give the silk back. What you can do is wear your things mindfully and take reverent care of them.

  6. I agree with Deborah, Marie, and philosophotarian; that you should keep the items that you love.  If you give them away, they will not be cherished or loved as you do.  The person receiving them will not know of the sacrifice that has been given for the article to be made, so you are not going to be educating anyone, just the opposite, you will be giving something that they may wish to continue wearing and then start to buy similar items.  Also, giving everything away then buying new is not very ecologically or sustainably sound.  

  7. I agree with Deborah, Marie, and philosophotarian; that you should keep the items that you love.  If you give them away, they will not be cherished or loved as you do.  The person receiving them will not know of the sacrifice that has been given for the article to be made, so you are not going to be educating anyone, just the opposite, you will be giving something that they may wish to continue wearing and then start to buy similar items.  Also, giving everything away then buying new is not very ecologically or sustainably sound.  

  8. I find the concept being discussed “interesting”.  Certainly if you are for minimalism, then the choice is clear.  Keep what you own, and hope that it lasts for a life time.  The extra work for donating and purchasing new cloths would fly in the face of minimalism. 

    Of course, if everyone was towards the goal of minimalism, we should not even have this conversation, for most modern technology would not have been created.  In turn, lack of technology would mean less ability to support human life (e.g. food production and transport, medical, heat/air, etc.).  In essence, the extreme vegan and minimalist wrestles with the elephant in the room:  “Whom is more important human or animal”?  Is it valid that one animal should die to support a human?  What about 100 animals to die for one human?

    One cannot equate the two and remain in the realm of logic.  The only conclusion one can make is humans are created above animals, and that in fact, animals are here for the purpose of human use (think about the history and use of horses).  Is there animal abuse?  Yes, and there is human abuse as well.  We can eliminate neither.  However, just because there are evil people who abuse animals, humans, trees, etc.  doesn’t mean the premise that plant and animal life is for human benefit is wrong.

    The next idea I cannot understand, is how is it that even vegan-ism is OK?  What about those plants who have been sacrificed!  Why is it OK to kill plants?  Again, minimalism taken to the extreme, leads us to nonsense.

    I have no problem with someone being vegan, etc.  I myself often forgo meat as I don’t always find it necessary.  But, to make a psuedo-religion out of it, IMO, is not a statement of a high standard of ethics, but a method to recompense for an inward sense of guilt.

    Anyway, didn’t mean to insult anyone, its just the way I feel. 

  9.  I agree with Zack63 regarding the minimalistic joy-beauty in keeping what you own. Moreover, the ethics of being fiscally responsible (not wasting resources unnecessarily) would be a good counterbalance to any animal-welfare ethics concerns. You might say prayers or gratitude and love for the Soul of the animals whose beings contributed to those ethically questionable articles of clothing, when you put on or wear those items. All in all, our journeys as humans is about our own frequency. Am I reflecting light.

  10. agree. keep what you have. consciously decide not to purchase more in the future. giving away something to buy another thing isn’t entirely minimal or earth friendly. use and maintain what you already own.

  11. Dear Christianna, no my love you are not alone, have same dilemma as you! Just watched video by Paul McCartney on slaughter .
    Farms and cried for two days vowed never as long as I live to eat meat again, have given away two leather jackets, silk scarves, I am with you have cashmere sweaters as gifts one from my late father, but cashmere does not last forever so I will wear them but never ever buy leather, wool or cashmere or any animal product as long as I live but i do understand your dilemma and I love animals so much and for the. Last two days have been in a state of depression at the cruelty inflicted upon animals by humans, this alone has made me never want to buy any animal products ever again, the only advise I can offer is to follow your heart as an animal lover and not buy animal products any more, sadly we can’t ever stop animal cruelty but as consumers we can not be a part animal cruelty, if enough people get together to campaign things can be changed, eg the European law of no cosmetic testing that has now been introduced

    Good luck, let me know how you get on!