Jul 082013
 

Since consumption is one of the major places we express our values and try to make a difference in the world, conversations about ethics and sustainability are increasingly happening in the form of questions like “do you wear fur?”

As it turns out, I own quite a lot of fur. Most of it was dead before I was born, passed down from grandmother or mom.  I believe in taking care of fine materials and fine craftsmanship, so I just enjoy and care for it.

Would I buy new fur?

I balk, but I’m not sure of the foundations.

Is it different from meat?

I eat meat because in my understanding it is impossible to have an ecologically or economically sustainable farm without animals. “If it doesn’t walk off the farm, you’re selling your soil.” Can’t have animals around for fertilizer without eating them.

(Most farms aren’t organized this way now. Instead of sustainable farms, we have unsustainable livestock facilities and unsustainable monocrops dependent on petrochemical fertilizers, but if we reorganized everything properly the animals would provide the fertilizer for the vegetables and grains.)

Fur is basically leather. In Argentina, the leather industry is a by-product of the meat industry. That seems reasonably sound. But does the meat of fur get eaten? I don’t know.

Fur to me seems like sushi. The decadent peak of a wasteful industry.

Ethical purists want in or out. From a sustainability point of view, it’s often a matter of quantity. The marsh can purify some quantity of polluted water. Beyond a certain point of toxicity, however, the marsh will be destroyed.

Nothing wrong with eating fish. But lots wrong with fish farms and drift-nets.  There’s a quantitative point of scale or intensity which becomes unacceptable.

Well maybe something wrong with eating fish. I’m endlessly annoyed with people who don’t eat “red meat” but are fine with eating fish. People seem to presume that fish are less sentient. Certainly we know that quite a lot of beloved higher order sentients get killed in the drift net right next to the tuna.

At least there are standards for “humane slaughter” of livestock animals. At least there’s some ethics about husbandry. None of this for fish. At the best, “stock management”, nothing about sentience.

I think we used to all believe that products wouldn’t be sold if they were unsafe or toxic. They wouldn’t be made with slave labor. They wouldn’t be produced in a manner that undermined our future on this planet.

I don’t categorically eat or not eat, wear or not wear. I hesitate to buy anything about which I don’t know the conditions of production. I now know that if I don’t know, there’s probably something I don’t want to be involved in.