• Category Archives simply sustainable
  • 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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  • Food and Climate Change Seminar

    Portlandia, Portland Building, PortlandOn Sunday, my good friend Kevin and I attended a terrific and very topical panel discussion in Portland. (The image on the left is the famous “Portlandia” statue on the Portland Building, the venue for the discussion.  You can watch her dramatic delivery in 1985 through the streets of Portland and get a size of her gigantic-ness in this video).

    The subject of the discussion was: Food and the Climate Challenge:  What You Can Do About It. The stellar group of panelists included Scott Givot, President, International Association of Culinary Professionals; Chris Schreiner, Executive Director, Oregon Tilth; Allison Hensey, Oregon Environmental Council; Kumar Venkat, President, CleanMetrics, and Anna Lappé, television host and author.

    The 90-minute session was both hopeful and challenging. Overall, the panelists emphasized two main points:

    1. Our personal food choices matter; and
    2. Our personal food choices are not in themselves enough to bring about the change necessary to solve the climate crisis. Rather, public policy is the largest factor and it is up to citizens to elect officials who are willing to address the intimate connection between food and climate change.

    One of the panelists, Anna Lappé, has just written a new book, Diet for a Hot Planet. As she states in her book,

    If we are serious about addressing climate change we have to talk about food.

    Diet for a Hot Planet via http://takeabite.cc

    She makes the case that our food system is likely responsible for one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet the connection between food/agriculture and climate change is mainly ignored in the popular press. For instance, Johns Hopkins University reports that of four thousand articles on climate change published in sixteen leading U.S. newspapers, only 1 percent had a “substantial focus” on food and agriculture.

    Lappé then discusses Seven Principles of a Climate-Friendly Diet:

    1. Reach for real food
    2. Put plants on your plate
    3. Don’t panic, go organic
    4. Lean toward local
    5. Finish your peas…the ice caps are melting
    6. Send packaging packing
    7. DIY food

    As part of her national book tour, Lappé’s sponsors Eat Well Guide and Meatless Monday have put together a terrific reference list of sustainable restaurants and stores in the cities she will be visiting.  You can see a map and get the list of Portland places here and the other cities on her tour here.

    Food and climate change is an important topic and I am glad to see it beginning to get the attention it deserves.

    Your turn:

    Have you considered the connection between climate change and food?  Have you changed your eating habits in response to recent changes in our climate? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this important topic.

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