Why fur may be the most serious animal rights issue to consider

Ironically, this comes on the heels of a post I started a while ago and just published today citing an article which claims fur as anathema to the every day person.

I really really really hate to say this, but fur is very much acceptable in our society. I live in a pretty progressive city. But I know that when I go to the theater for a classical concert in the winter, I will see attendees in everything from fur lined gloves to full length fur coats. And no one will be waiting outside to throw red paint. A lot of these attendees are older, and some of them were probably in their young 20s when fur was everywhere as a status symbol. But middle aged women and younger wear accents of fur on their person.

I’ve accepted this, because, really, what can I do? (Actually, I strugle every time I see someone wearing fur. I want to go up to them and ask – do you know where that came from? But I know that it will come off accusatory and it won’t do the cause any good to make people defensive (again, in the above post!).) Anyways, last night, I saw my usual array of fur wearers (and leather, and cashmere, and silk), but I saw something out of the ordinary. The soloist soprano wore a fur wrap. She had a beautiful red dress on, and for each of her three entrances, she wore a different jacket or wrap over top. First, it was a sparkly silver jacket, the final one was a matching red jacket, and the middle one was a fur wrap.

I couldn’t look at her without feeling nauseous for the rest of the show. Is that an extreme reaction? Let me explain to you why I care so much about fur.

Factory farming is, without a doubt, the animal rights issue most affecting society, the environment, and of course, the animals. Animal research is probably next, followed by cosmetic and commercial animal testing and use of animal products. But all of these have a level of detachment from society – in their terms, presentation, and in the visibility of the way the animals are treated. Factory farming and animal testing happen behind closed doors. Leather is a product from an animal, but it doesn’t remind the viewer of a cow.

Fur has NO detachment. Whereas we call pig meat, “bacon,” we call fur, “fur,” mink, “mink,” fox, “fox.” There is no linguistic attempt to hide that you are purchasing a dead animal. In its presentation, again, there is no detachment. Sometimes you will see fur dyed a different color. Sometimes it will be used to accent various clothing items in such a way that you can’t tell its origin. But really, most fur is sold looking just like the hide of a dead animal. In its name and in its presentation, people can claim no ignorance for what they purchase. Thus, fur is the most unavoidable symbol of society’s disregard for non-human animal life.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning that many people are doing this in the name of fashion, because committing such sins for a meager cause gets people riled up But I understand doing things in the name of fashion, and I don’t really think it’s a meager cause. People are judged by what they wear, and if you want to be perceived a certain way, then you dress a certain way. If fur means decadence and elegance, then you wear fur so you can display those same traits. What I don’t understand is why society imbues wearing a dead animal with any connotation other than cruelty.

Until we accept such an obvious symbol of unjustified disposal of animal life as wrong, how can we expect people to pay any heed to the more hidden animal rights issues?

For my part, I’m going to write to the soprano soloist, explain that I was offended by the fur, and ask if she could please be aware of the power she has as a performer to set forth certain ideas about what is glamorous. I will enclose links to a few faux fur websites. Who knows whether she will pay any attention, but at least I’ll have done what I can.

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The vegan defensive

I should warn you that I don’t read actual news. My main sources are Jezebel, which is a feminist look at pop culture; Alternet, which is an incredibly leftist site; and a number animal rights and feminist blogs that I subscribe to. So maybe I should rephrase that – I read news from sources that are quite blatantly biased. So keep that in mind. Anyways,  I came across this article today:

The article is called “Why are we against wearing fur, but OK with eating meat?”

Excellent question. The reasons that this author listed off about our detachment with meat weren’t anything new to me, but they were certainly new to her. So, with the possibility that some of them may be new to you, I’ll recap.

Ways in which we emotionally distance ourselves from the animals which become meat:

– Slaughterhouses and factory farms are hidden away from the public.

– We refer to cow meat as “beef,” pig meat as “pork” or “bacon,” rather than by the name of the animal. She says that we can refer to birds and fish as what they are because they are so different from humans, and I would agree with regard to fish. However, birds are “poultry,” and when you get the meat, it’s given piece by piece – “wing,” “leg,” “breast.”

– This actually leads in to her next point: the presentation of meat is another way we distance our food from the original animal. They used the examples of mcnuggets and baby food, but I think the most distinct examples are chicken fingers, buffalo wings, and the piece by piece selling of birds. My mom made a whole chicken for Thanksgiving (for the meat eating side of my family), and when we picked it out at the store, I was shocked by how much it looked like a chicken. When I look at steak, it doesn’t remind me of a cow. When I look at a strip of bacon, it doesn’t resemble a pig. And when I look at a chicken leg (drumstick?), it just looks like food.

What I thought was most valuable about this article was their quote from Melanie Joy, author of “Why we eat pigs, wear cows, and love dogs.” Joy was put in the hospital for eating a tainted hamburger. She calls it the worst and best experience of her life, because that was what finally stopped her from eating meat. “Once I stopped eating meat then I wasn’t so defensive,” she says. “I was able to take in more information about what happens to animals who become our food, because I didn’t have anything to defend at that point.”

This struck a chord with me, and not in the way you would expect. I stopped eating meat when I was in 7th grade, and if anyone had argued the point with me before then, I don’t think I would have cared enough to be defensive. And I really don’t bring up veganism with people. I’m happy to have a discussion if they bring it up, and I heard some pretty extraordinary defenses, but if the person is interested enough to engage me, then they aren’t often closed off to what I have to say. But there is a different defensive that I’d like to explore – the vegan defensive.

This came up a little bit ago because of a blog post my boyfriend directed me to.

The title, “A Vegan No More,” immediately put me on the defensive. I expected a post about some girl who had tried being vegan just for kicks, didn’t know how to feed herself properly, got anemia or some other health problem because of it, and then used her experience as steadfast evidence that veganism is inherently unhealthy and unnatural.  What I found was a moving, eloquently written piece about a girl whose body simply couldn’t sustain a vegan lifestyle. She wasn’t vegan just for kicks; she became vegan for ethical reasons. And she wasn’t living an unhealthy lifestyle – she fed herself incredibly well and exercised. But she had severely debilitating health problems, and when she listened to her body, it told her that veganism was not what it needed. She went back to eating small amounts of meat, dairy, and eggs, and her health problems disappeared.

For every congratulations this post garnered, there were furious responses: strangers telling her that she wasn’t “doing” veganism correctly, death threats to her and her family and charges that she was a made up person created by factory farmers. Ludicrous stuff. Infuriating stuff, if it were posted by any other group. But being posted by vegans, it just made me totally confused. It makes sense to be defensive if your opinions can be disproven by fact. I can give you a lot of reasons that you should not eat meat. If you listened to every single one of them, if you saw a factory farm and a slaughterhouse, and if you lived in a location that could support a vegan lifestyle,  you would have no reason to stay omnivorous. You choose to eat meat because of a sentimental attachment to the taste or traditions, but you would have no factual basis for your choice.

Obviously, that is a lot of “ifs.” But my point is, meat eaters have a reason to be defensive. So do hunters. So do people who test commercial products on animals. If they were to listen to reason, they couldn’t do what they do. But why on earth are vegans so defensive? If what we are doing is supported by fact and utilitarian philosophy, if it is a ethical choice reached out of a desire to do good in the world – what do we have to be defensive about? If we are completely in the right, then why are we afraid of being proven wrong?

The conclusion I reach: we are not completely in the right. Veganism as an ideal is wonderful. It is a way toward a better, gentler world. It is living your beliefs, and what could be more admirable than that? But veganism as an actuality is messy. There are tons of processed vegan foods that line the shelves with equally unhealthy and environmentally unsound non vegan foods. There are lots of vegan dishes with white flour, sugar, oils, and other unhealthy ingredients. Fruits and vegetables are sprayed with pesticides that can pass into our body the same way arsenic or dioxin in chickens can. And there are similar concerns with the working conditions of immigrant laborers in cotton fields as there are with the working conditions of immigrant laborers in Tyson’s factories.

Veganism is not the destination. It’s an incredibly valuable stop on your ethical eating journey, but you can’t just stay there and be content. Especially if your goal is to eat healthy. I hate to admit it, but the more raw I eat, the better I feel. I don’t know if that’s true for you, but for me, just being vegan isn’t enough to have a healthy lifestyle. When I was in high school, I never ate enough calories. My first few years of college, I relied on gluten filled, starchy, and/or processed foods. I spent weeks eating Luna bars for breakfast. It was only when I started to eat whole plant foods that I noticed that incredible difference that people are supposed to notice when they switch to a veg*n diet. I felt lighter, full of energy, I slept better, I lost weight, and my body started to crave things that were good for me. It wasn’t a panacea, but it was better.

There are flaws with veganism as your only eating guideline. A person can eat vegan and still be unhealthy. It is possible that a person’s body can sustain a vegan lifestyle, but they live in a location or family situation where that is impossible. It is even possible that eating vegan may not fit your body. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be honest about the flaws in my cause than try to hide them from the public by being defensive.

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The Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest

If you haven’t heard of it, this is the contest to write the worst opening line of a novel. Named after Bulwer-Lytton, the originator of the “dark and stormy night” opener.

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

–Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

Some of my favorites:

Winner: Detective

She walked into my office wearing a body that would make a man write bad checks, but in this paperless age you would first have to obtain her ABA Routing Transit Number and Account Number and then disable your own Overdraft Protection in order to do so.

Steve Lynch

San Marcos, CA


The Zinfandel poured pinkly from the bottle, like a stream of urine seven hours after eating a bowl of borscht.

Alf Seegert
Salt Lake City, UT

go to http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/ for the rest!

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Why

Any new venture needs a reason for its existence. So why am I blogging, and what do I hope to achieve?

– I spend a lot of time at my computer. That’s not the right preposition, actually – with my computer would be more accurate. We go everywhere together. I spend a lot of time absorbing media passively. I want to develop an interactive relationship, and this is one way I can try to do that.

– When I was much younger, I used to write stories all the time. I was a precocious author. Probably not that talented, but with a style sophisticated beyond my years. And as a middle school and high school student, my papers were often kept as examples. And then I got to college and lost the ability to write well. I may expand on that in a separate post, I don’t know yet. But this is a way of reclaiming a part of myself that I lost some time in the last two years.

– As I said, I absorb a lot of media. And with that, a lot of news. News about animal rights, human rights, feminism; news about music and the arts; news about education. I want to share that news, share my views on that news, and to hear others’ views on that news. I’m a good listener, I promise.

– I have lots of thoughts. And I find that writing helps me understand more than just talking.

So, to summarize, the reason I created this blog is to develop a more interactive relationship with the technology and media that is such a part of my life, rediscover an aspect of myself that I lost in the transition to adulthood, share my thoughts and hear yours. That can be my mission statement, at the moment. I’m sure it will change, as I explore the possibilities of this site and of the activity of blogging.

(Can I just say, blogging is such an ugly word. I shudder a little bit every time I write it. I may have to come up with another term.)

So that is why I created this site. I want to give a brief description of myself, so that you know who I am, and what to expect.

My name is Hannah. I was born in the midwest, but I go to college in Portland, OR. I’m a junior in college. I’m a little iffy sharing specifics like exactly where I was born or what school I go to, but as we spend more time together, I’m sure you’ll learn those kinds of things.

I’m a music major, but I could as easily have been a classics major. I love Latin and Greek; I love music; I’m not capable of ranking one love above another, but last year, my school made me choose and so I chose. I sing and play piano, and someday, I may be a middle school choir teacher, or I may teach private lessons. If I’d been a classics major, I probably would have become an academic. A professor. Or I would have written kids’ songs about Latin. My other possible career path was educational psychology. But my school didn’t have an ed psych major, only a psych major, and I didn’t really want to do that. I’m obsessed with education, and learning in general.

So my possible majors start to give you an idea of who I am, what I like, and what I’ll write about: Music and the arts, especially in schools; education; language and words.

But I want to give a more complete picture, so that I can be honest from the start. I love music. It’s probably tacky to say I love all music, but I enjoy most music I hear. My especial favorites are big band/40s and 50s music, 90s pop and rap, musicals, opera and classical music (though that’s SUCH a broad category), and contemporary singer-songwriters. I love singing. I love piano. I love languages. I love words. I love learning. I love reading, though I don’t do enough of it. I love gardening – although I rarely know what I’m actually doing, proximity to nature, and to flowers especially, just fills me with joy. I love nature. I love flowers. I love dancing. I’m not a great dancer, since I spent about 19 years being out of touch with my body, but I love the feel of my body moving and I try not to be judgmental about my ability. It’s healthy to not be the best at everything. I love stories. My combination of loving stories and loving music is what has led me to love musicals and opera. Loving stories also has led me into an (almost definitely) unhealthy relationship with tv. Well, tv on the computer, since I can’t really watch tv tv at school. But really. I watch terrible tv shows. I love people. Everyone has a story, and I feel so privileged to hear those stories.

I’m tired of talking about myself now, so I’ll just add one more thing. I’m vegan. I’ve been vegan since my freshman year of high school, so that’s 5? years. I became vegan for ethical reasons. I’m obsessed with injustice, harm, suffering, regardless of the target. Injustice to women, to anyone outside the hetero ableist white norm, to children, to people of all countries, all socio-economic levels, and to all non-human animals, regardless of their perceived use as food, clothing, pet, or product tester. Compassion has no boundaries; it is not classist or hierarchical. Caring about non-human animals doesn’t have a negative effect on the human rights movement. If you disagree and choose to comment about that, I ask that you have actual facts to back you up, or else your comment may be deleted. There is enough hate in the world. A hierarchical vision of who it is most correct to be compassionate to is a kind of hate I don’t wish to nourish.

That’s all I have to say right now.

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