• Tag Archives veganism
  • 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.

  • Moby and Miyun Park Discuss “Gristle” at Powell’s Bookstore

    Moby at Lecturn
    Moby at Powell's, photo by L. Pierce

    This past Saturday afternoon, my husband and I joined about 200 other Portlanders at Powell’s City of Books to listen to Moby and Miyun Park talk about their new book, Gristle: From Factory Farms to Food Safety (Thinking Twice About the Meat We Eat).

    The book is a collection of essays from 15 contributors who discuss the harm caused by industrially produced meat to agricultural workers, communities, human health, the environment, and animals. Moby, a well-know musician and a vegan for more than 20 years, said the aim of the book is not to convert everybody to veganism. Rather, it is to create dialog concerning the hidden ramifications of industrialized farm animal production which will, hopefully, lead to changes creating a healthier, more humane world.

    Moby and Miyun Park, executive director of Global Animal Partnership, shared their personal stories leading them to veganism and animal advocacy. They were both refreshingly down-to-earth and non-dogmatic in their discussion of the issues. Moby made the point that being militant in his early days of veganism only served to turn people off and/or annoy them. His current moderate approach is much more welcoming and apt to keep the dialog open.

    Plus, he’s got a razor-sharp wit that made us burst out laughing on more than one occasion. In fact, at one point the ever-patient and good-humored Miyun had to pick up the microphone and say, while looking pointedly in our direction, “You know, those of you laughing out loud at Moby’s quips only serve to encourage him.”

    gristle bookcover
    Notice the concerned look in the cow's eye. This idea was Moby's contribution to the image, of which he was justifiably proud.
    image source: gristle-book.com

    I’ve only had time to read a portion of the book, but so far, it’s very good. The book contains essays by experts in 10 different fields (including health, environment, animals, climate change, children’s health, zoonotic diseases, and several others). The writers, while sharing a bit of their personal story, aim to be accurate and noninflammatory. They let the distressing facts speak for themselves.

    This is both a great reference book with useful graphs and statistics, and also a book that could be given as a gift to a friend or family member who is unaware of these important issues.

    Moreover, Moby made it clear that he and Miyun will not be earning money from the sale of this book. The net proceeds will all be donated to organizations advocating animal rights.

    To find out more about the book and read a great email conversation with Moby and Miyun, check out this interview at planet green. It includes a bonus video of Moby making pancakes with berries.