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Winter Woes

31 Oct

As the weather grows colder here in the Northeast, I’ve been inventorying my collection of coats, hats, gloves and shoes.  As an “almost vegan” I’m distressed by the number of items I own that have been made from animal products, and sheepishly (no pun intended) admit that it’s only been recently that I gave much thought at all to what my coat is filled with or what my shoes are made of.  As I grow more committed to living a compassionate, ethical, humane and plant-based lifestyle, it makes sense to apply these principles to what I wear as much as to what I eat.

The use of material made from animals in the production of apparel and shoes is widespread and includes fur, skin, feathers and other body parts manufactured from cows, pigs, sheep, goats, alligators, ostriches, kangaroos, ducks, geese, rabbits, goats, silkworms, snakes and other species.  Even dogs and cats are commonly used to make leather and fur products exported from China.  Since leather products are not labeled by what animal they are made from so it is impossible to know what animal donated the leather your apparel is comprised of. According to PETA, animals used in the production of leather and fur are often alive and conscious when they are skinned, or are subjected to other horrific killing methods — including electrocution, bludgeoning, and hanging — while animals trapped in the wild can suffer from exposure, dehydration and blood loss.

Dogs being shipped to a fur farm in China

Dogs being shipped to a fur farm in China

Even the production of wool is fraught with vexing and ethically dubious practices.  Many people (I counted myself among them) assume that sheep need and want to be sheared and that they are neither killed nor hurt in the shearing process. However, non-domesticated sheep only grow as much as they need to keep them warm and shed excess hair on their own.  Furthermore, the wool industry facilitates a reality for sheep tantamount to that of cows used in dairy farming — it is not uncommon for sheep to have chunks of flesh removed in the shearing process.  Once discarded, sheep used by the wool industry are exported to Europe on crowded ships and ones that survive the voyage are taken to slaughter, often in countries with few slaughter regulations.

Down –or the feathers removed from geese and ducks and used as filler in many outerwear products — is often removed from birds when they are slaughtered.  However, many ducks and geese are plucked when they are alive and physically restrained, causing pain, distress and severe damage to their skin.

Plucked Geese

Plucked Geese

If this information has thoroughly depressed you, take heart in the fact that  you don’t need to continue supporting industries that commodify and objectify animals. There are many synthetic alternatives to animal-produced materials including nylon, polyester, tencel, rayon, cotton, linen and canvas.  Though I have struggled to find a “dressy” winter coat that does not contain wool or down, I’ve had less difficulty finding vegan shoes, as there is an ever-increasing number of manufacturers, such as Arcopedico and Sanuk, who make stylish, durable and animal-cruelty-free footwear.

Then there is the question of what to do with the myriad of leather, suede, wool and down-filled items I already own.  It seems unnecessary to stop using them altogether, since they no longer have the potential to harm additional animals, but if I think of myself as a “walking advertisement” for the adoption of a plant-based lifestyle, I am not living up to a very good example by trotting around town in them.  As I don’t have the budget to wholesale replace them, I think I will simply phase them out over time, replacing them with animal-cruelty-free products as they wear out.  What’s your plan?

For more info on animal free clothing see PETA’s Shopping Guide to Compassionate Clothing

Some difficult but important facts about the fur industry: Occupy for Animals


“No evil for the non-doer.”

4 Aug

Tammy and Jim Shrier

“When Jim noticed that some pigs weren’t completely stunned before slaughter — some still fully conscious as they were hung upside down and bled out — he told his supervisor.” 

This statement is from a petition started by Tammy and Jim Shrier, slaughterhouse inspectors for the USDA.  Whether their claim — that Jim was punished for reporting inhumane conditions at a Tyson Foods slaughter house — is true or not, this petition shines light on the most important fact about how food is produced in the United States and elsewhere: it is barbaric.  As Paul McCartney once famously said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” 

You can read online, or watch on Youtube to learn more about the subject of animal rights, and if you have doubts about making a commitment to a plant-based diet, I would urge you to do so.   In a culture where we are conditioned to think of meat as a commodity and a meal rather than the involuntary sacrifice of a sentient being, it is easy  – even forgiveable — to be complacent.  But if you wish to lead a life in which you limit the amount of suffering you cause — in other words, if you are a basically good human being — it is essential to face the difficult facts and consequences of the choices we make.

In the words of the Buddha, “If there is no wound on one’s hand, one can handle poison. Poison has no effect where there is no wound. There is no evil for the non-doer.”

Related Link:
The Animal Kill Counter

The Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

8 Jul

The Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary is located a short drive from me in Willow, NY. I attended their July Jamboree yesterday and met some pretty fetching fellows, like this guy:


Lambs having lunch. Well, except this very patient one.

The sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates animals that are used for food, and allows them to live out their lives in a cradle of compassion and respect. This bull was rescued from a local veal operation when he was six months old, and about the size of a dog. Today he weighs 1800 pounds. I’m not sure but I think he was flirting with me.



The farm is also home to about a dozen goats. These animals are torn from their mothers as infants so that we can consume goat’s milk and about one million goats a year are killed for their meat in the United States alone.


Resting goat.

One of the pivotal moments for me on my journey towards an animal product-free existence was footage from the movie Vegucated captured in a meat processing plant. It showed such extreme mistreatment of pigs on their way to slaughter that I spontaneously wept at the sight. It was therefore a true gift to observe the absolute serenity of these two gentle souls. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m not sure there’s anything cuter than a pig napping in a mud pool.


Mud bath snooze

I just love the fact that each of the animals at WFAS gets a name — reminding visitors that they are individuals, sentient and worthy of lives of dignity. There are many ways to give back to WFAS for the wonderful work they do. All gift will be matched through the end of this month.

Kirschner's Korner

Let's make the world a more humane place