Optimistic Vegan

All About Wool
November 23, 2010, 10:29 am
Filed under: Animal Rights | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Recently wool has come up in conversation a few times and I think that it needs to be discussed.

On the surface, wool seems like it would be a humane product. Unlike obtaining leather from cows, it’s not necessary to kill sheep to take their wool. However, taking wool from sheep is an industry and because it’s an industry we can guess that the sheep’s well-being isn’t taken into account. As you can imagine, for mass production and efficiency, there are huge numbers of sheep on a farm and managing these numbers and keeping them all healthy is near impossible.

Like other furry animals, sheep build up their wool to keep warm during the winter and they shed it to keep cool in the summer. However, if they shed their fur it would be much more difficult to harvest it for our use, so they are sheared before they would normally shed. For the sheep this means that their bodies are left unguarded against the elements and many die from exposure.

80% of the world’s wool comes from Australia, which means that the majority of the wool products in the US originate here. So when I talk about the wool industry, I’m predominantly talking about Australian sheep, but it’s important to remember that is the industry that Americans support.

The most common type of sheep to raise for its wool is merino. Merino sheep (which have been cross bred to produce massive amounts of wool) are popular to raise for wool because they have wrinkled skin. More skin means more surface area, which means more wool. While this may sound ingenious, the folded skin traps water and starts to smell. The odor attracts flies, which lay eggs and the maggots then eat the sheep alive. This is called “fly strike” or “blow flies.” The industry’s solution for this is called “mulesing.” Mulesing is where the skin on the back half of the sheep is cut off, without the use of painkillers (not cost efficient!). When the skin grows back it will be tight and scarred, so the wool will grow on unwrinkled skin. This mostly prevents blowflies, but at what cost? There must be a better solution. Blowflies are prevented on the back half of the sheep, but can still affect them on their top half. Mulesing is usually done when the sheep are still babies, and their tails are also cut off, they’re branded, and the males are castrated. P1010522

Notice the long tail on this sheep! This sheep was at Farm Sanctuary.

Historically all sheep would shed their wool in the summer and build it up for the winter. However, sheep have now been bred to not shed their wool and unfortunately are now dependent on shearing. Although sheep must be sheared, in no way is it for their benefit or well-being. Shearers are paid by volume, not by the amount of sheep they shear, so they go extremely fast without much regard to the sheep. As you can imagine, the sheep are often cut by the shears which also often result in infection.

Once they are too sick to carry on, they are shipped to a slaughterhouse. The word shipped is actually quite literal because they are usually shipped from Australia to the middle east/Africa. (You may have heard of the Cormo Express. In 2003 it was refused by a port, and it was at sea for much longer than planned. The sheep were confined for much longer that what anyone would consider humane.) They are usually slaughtered after around 4-5 years (rather than the 15-20 years they would normally live).

I’m sure there are humane ways to “harvest” sheep wool, especially because most modern breeds need to be sheared. However, because most wool comes from huge production plants, do not believe that the sheep are treated humanely.


A happy sheep at Farm Sanctuary!


Note: Thank you to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, as much of this information came from her podcast entitled “The Shearing of Sheep”.


Raising Vegan Kids
November 11, 2010, 1:05 pm
Filed under: Lifestyle, Personal | Tags: , , , ,

I’ve occasionally been asked if I would feed my kids a vegan diet, and I believe I would. (If I have kids, but I’ll save that for another time!) The idea is that if I feed my kids a vegan diet that I am imposing my beliefs on them, that they aren’t making the decision themselves so they won’t continue into adulthood, or why I would tell them about terrible things like slaughterhouses. I’d like to address a few of these to clear up some confusion.

First of all, yes, I would be imposing my beliefs on my children. But isn’t that what all parents do? Isn’t that part of raising kids, to teach them to be good people? I believe most kids are taught that hurting others is wrong, isn’t that imposing your beliefs? I think there is definitely a line to be crossed and I would never force my children to follow what I believe in. The way that I became vegetarian and then vegan was by consciously making the decision after presented with the startling information. If I have kids, I would not feed them any animal products and explain why; that beef comes from cows and that it’s wrong to hurt other creatures. However, if they choose to eat meat or dairy outside of my house then that is their choice to make and they won’t be punished for it. Veganism is a way of life and they must choose to follow it if it will ever stay.

This leads me to the next point: that if I make them grow up as vegans then they will see what they are “missing” and become meat-eaters as soon as they’re out of my house. Well if that’s the way it goes, that’s the way it goes, but I would hope that I would have the ability to raise compassionate children that will return to a vegan lifestyle. Again, I would present my choice of living to them and if they choose to follow it when they can make their own choices, then that’s great!

And finally, people often show surprise when I tell them that I would let them have as much information as they want about how animals are treated. Just the fact that people show surprise that I would tell them shows that they think it’s wrong or too horrific for children to know. Why would we want to subject our children to the deaths of animals rather than admit to ourselves that it’s a cruel practice that should be stopped? I believe that ignorance is dangerous and that the only way that change can happen is if people are educated about the horrible practices of factory farming and slaughterhouses, so yes, my children would learn if they want to.

All in all, I think the most important thing to remember is that veganism is a choice that everyone has to make for themselves, and I would give my kids all the resources they would need to come to the conclusion that is best for them.

And this is Penny, my doggie! I didn’t have any other related pictures, so enjoy!

Every Bit Goes a Long Way

Something I’m sure many of you have seen is the picture of a cow and a list of all of things we use her for with the tagline “There is no such thing as a vegan.” You may have seen the blog post that I put on my facebook wall (I didn’t write it, but it’s another that responded to the illustration). When I first saw the illustration I was a little upset, but there has been a lot of interesting response to it that I think it was a cool thing for people to see.

Oftentimes those who aren’t vegan try to find “flaws” with those who choose a vegan lifestyle or they’ll try to “catch” them being non vegan. I think that if they can prove that the vegan isn’t actually vegan then it justifies their choice to use animal products. Because if it’s impossible to be a vegan, then why bother changing your lifestyle? Something that Colleen Patrick-Goudreau often says in response to things like this is, “Don’t do anything because you can’t do everything. Do something.” I love this. Just because it might be impossible to be a complete vegan doesn’t mean I should disregard what I think is right. I try the best that I can to live my life as true to myself and that’s all I can ask of anyone else.

Something vegans hear a lot is that it would be impossible to go vegetarian because it’s too hard to give up chicken, or it’s too hard to go vegan because it’s too hard to give up cheese. So why don’t you give up everything but chicken? Or make the steps toward a vegan lifestyle by giving up everything but cheese? I think that in society today there is such an emphasis on labels that people don’t want to explain that they are almost vegan, with the exception of cheese. Anything you give up helps, and somewhere down the line someone is appreciating it!

Vegan Fun
November 9, 2010, 12:45 pm
Filed under: Lifestyle, Personal | Tags: , , ,

I’ve been at college for about two and a half months now and I’m absolutely in love. I’ve adjusted faster than I ever felt possible, I’ve met amazing people and already I’m learning crazy new things. It’s an interesting new dynamic for me to be in a place where for the first couple weeks you are only seeing and meeting people you’ve never met. I will admit, the first couple weeks were not my favorite, as small talk has never been something I enjoy, but after those first initial meetings it’s a thrill to meet so many interesting people.

With meeting so many new people I’ve shared with them countless times the fact that I’m vegan. (What’s so cool about Whitman is that almost everyone knows what vegan means!) I’m met with similar responses that I’ve come across in the past, and for the most part they’ve all been pleasant conversations.

One thing that I was hoping would stay behind in high school is identifying me as “the vegan” in all topics. Like if there’s a disagreement about something entirely unrelated, it comes back to, “well, it’s probably just because you’re vegan.” Everyone who jokes with me about this are good friends and I know they mean no harm, but it’s just an odd thing to point out. It’s not like every time I disagree with them it’s probably because they’re left-handed or because they like penguins. (Okay, silly examples, but you get the point!)

To me, veganism seems like a weird thing to make fun of someone for (maybe I’m a little biased). I’m vegan because I don’t want to add to the suffering of other animals. <Let’s single Kaitie out and never let her forget how different she is!> I’m exaggerating, but it seems so silly to me how often it comes up in conversation in such a joking manner. It’s possible that by teasing me they can avoid actually thinking about what it means for me to be vegan. Because if it’s a joke, then why waste time pondering it.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not being passive-aggressive toward those who tease and I’m not even asking you to stop! I just find it interesting, and wanted to know if anyone had any thoughts about it!

AND NOW for a really cute picture of a baby pig that my dad found on the internet and sent to me.