Wednesday, August 03, 2005

What's a girl to do?

I love animals. I mean, really really love them. To illustrate, I can't visit anymore because the bastards make me cry every time.

But, it's easy to distance this love -- which is immediate, visceral, and directed to the animals in my everyday life -- from the things I eat, buy, and wear. Animal products are neatly packaged and given euphemistic names like "leather" (instead of cow-skin) and veal (instead of -- what was the South Park name? -- "tortured baby cows").

So I go about my life, drinking milk, eating eggs, even wearing leather and make-up that was tested on animals, and god knows what else. My animal-love and fashion-love revolve in separate mental orbits, and when I'm shopping, the adorable leather bag is on my mind, not the baby moo-cow crying for its mommy who just boarded the bus with a one-way ticket.

But then comes the self-punishment.

Here is the weekly cycle:

1. Visit PETA
2. Get reminded that I am responsible for all the horrible stuff I see.
3. Feel horribly guilty; cry for about ten minutes.
4. Friend calls, forget about PETA
5. Go shopping, buy something at Bloomingdales.
6. Visit PETA, remember that Bloomingdales sells lots of fur.
7. Repeat list ad infinitum (substituting different products).

So what's a girl accustomed to a certain lifestyle (and not a fan of hemp, pleather, soy-products, or botanical make-up) to do?

Some will surely suggest:
"How about you just stop being such a superficial bitch?"

Ok, ok, point taken.

But will me becoming a minimalist really address the problem? I don't think people will stop wanting to be beautiful, fashionable, and have fun gadgets for quite awhile...But is there something special about these products that makes it necessary for animals to suffer when they're being made?
So why isn't there a place for people like me to shop, eat, or hang out?
Well....for some unknown reason, animal-friendly became associated with "earthy minimalist." Vendors seem to assume that people who love animals want to be healthy, all-natural, and unconcerned with superficial things like style.

My solution: Let's dispel the myth that animal-lovers want to give up the things of this world. Give us an easy way to shop, eat, and live without giving up our style or feeling like hypocrites.

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Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...


You posted a comment somewhere on Hungry Hyaena, but I can't figure out which post it references, so I decided to post here rather than spend hours searching. I hope you don't mind.

Firstly, I'm happy you occasionally read my blog. I like to know that it does have it's readers and, happily, I tend to learn of a few more each week.

You asked me how a sensitive person, particularly one who seems to care about animals so very much, can continue to hunt. The answer is complicated. On the one hand, it is my care for ALL animals - not just the cute, cuddly variety, but the armadillos, cobras, and mosquitos, too - that dictates my choices. When one species is threatened by an abundance of another, especially if the abundant species is introduced or "alien," options are limited. Such imbalances in any ecosystem are almost always due to human trade and other activity and humans, of course, are the single most abundant/over-populated species on our planet. (Hence my interest in population control via government incentives for contraception and planned parenthood programs.) While I am interested in correcting the original sins - in this case, the terrible combination of human over-population and the First World's demand for consumer goods and a too-high standard of living - such a paradigm shift will be slow in coming, requiring an all-out restructuring of our individual priorities - your love of fashion, for example, even if "animal-friendly," would have to be tempered along with most everybody's love of meat, the stock market and the culture of celebrity. It certainly won't materialize in our lifetimes. As a result, we face a choice. For example, should we let the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginiaus), one of North America's most prolific and adaptable species, displace birds, rodents and reptiles due to overgrazing of low foliage, which in turn alters the forest undergrowth, or attempt to limit the population of white-tailed deer, via controlled hunting, to protect a small number of other species? I will always opt for the latter course, as I am proponent of biodiversity, eager to protect as many species as possible, rather than allowing one to flourish while driving others to extinction. An abundance of one or two species is not indicative of a healthy ecosystem.

Now you're probably thinking, "All well and good, Christopher, that you are a conservationist determined to protect biodiversity, but you still haven't addressed my root question."

As you write:
"It sounds like you have unusual compassion for other living creatures -- with all that thought and emotion, how can you look an animal in the eye and decide you have the right to take its life away? How do you know the animal you kill isn't a mother/father whose young will die without it? It just seems presumptuous and wrong to interfere with another's life, to stop it dead in its tracks. Why do you do it? Do you find it fun? Can you not live without their meat? It just baffles me that someone as sensitive as you could commit these acts."

The only part of your question I can answer quickly is the mother/father issue. There are very few species that "parent" their offspring for more than a few months; more importantly, any hunter worth his or her salt should be very familiar with the biology and habits of the animals they hunt. (Sadly, far too many are not.) By looking at a female of a species I am hunting, I know by the time of year, her size and her actions whether or not she is pregnant or if she is nursing any young. To take a shot if I suspected either case, pregnant or parent, would be inexcusable in my mind. In the case of deer, a species I hunt (but don't always shoot) once a year, I would see the fawn alongside the mother or, alternatively, hanging back at the edge of a clearing waiting for the mother to give sign that "all is clear." I have seen this many times, but it is a late spring/early summer sight, and no is allowed to hunt deer during that time of least, not legally.

I do not find hunting fun per se. Sure, I enjoy being outdoors very much, but I apreciate long hikes or back-breaking environmental projects every bit as much as I do hunting, perhaps more so. Furthermore, hunting typically makes me very sad, though, as I've written in some HH posts, I do feel the connection to the animal kingdom most powerfully when dealing with an animal I have just murdered. This could be considered deviant, I suppose, but I do not view it as such. I am greatly touched by the opening scene of the movie "Last of the Mohicans," in large part because it shows what respectful hunting is and, more vitally, what it can breed in the intellectual practitioner. It comes as no shock to me that all the leading proponents for global fish and wildlife conservation are, or were, fisherman and hunters.

As far as meat-eating is concerned, I already live without it most of the time. In the last year-and-a-half, the only meat I have had came from two halibut (a flounder-like species I caught in Alaska) and one deer, killed by my father a year ago, in Virginia. I'm a strict vegetarian (almost vegan) otherwise.

As for deciding the fate of another animal...I'm not sure how to respond. I find people who are willing to consume animals and animal products without involving themselves in the process, or at least acknowledging it as you do, more troubling than the conscientious hunter. Unfortunately, there are very few of us and I it is likely that I will hunt less and less in the future. This is in part due to my preference for a meat-lite or meatless diet, but also I do not feel I necessarily need to kill again. I have hunted for twenty years (I was seven when I first started accompanying my father into the field) and, though I would be less connected to animal welfare had I not killed, I already know what it is and my desire to repeat the act grows less strong with each year. I am concerned by the declining number of hunters overall. I realize most of them are "yahoos" or "slob hunters," those folks who kill for pleasure or trophies, but I worry about the population of certain species exploding in their absence.

The animal rights movement is a curious thing. I do not view myself as a typical animal rights activist. Distressingly, I've come to realize that I know far more about most animals' behavior and biology than any of the animal rights activists I have had long conversations with. In fact, when discussing biodiversity, I'm frequently shocked to learn that many animal rights activists are only familiar with cats, dogs, and agricultural animals, species which do little but degrade the rest of the ecosystem, attached to human settlement as they so often are. I respect the ethical/moral mission of the PETA activist, but am frequently shocked by their total ignorance of or disinterest in the pragmatics of biology and's a little like desiring a stable economy, but remaining unwilling to read books about economic theory. It boils down to lazyness or a lack of cuiosity, both of which, I can not forgive.

I hope you will continue reading HH, Sara, but more importantly I hope have in some way answered your question. Please get back to me if you feel like doing so.


3:00 PM  
Blogger Carmit said...

I really like this blog.You have explained your dilemma in a way that is clear cut, honest and easy to identify with, so much that people like myself (ok with eating meat and wearing leather)can relate to the issue you present. It is not judgmental and gentle and comes across as more of an invitation to become more interested in what is going on with animals and their treatment rather than a rant that seeks to draw in angry "activists." This approach is great! I can see myself becoming more interested and sensitive towards animals and their treatment through your website.With the concept, you seem to want to exude and tap into objectivity and fairness more than simply just emotion. I am an up and coming designer, a lover of people and animals,an avid fashionista and shopper, but also just a girl with a sensitive heart. Your website will speak to me.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...


1) In your profile, you mention the "eastern shore." That's not the same Eastern Shore I hail from is it? The Eatern Shore of Virginia.

2) I reread your post here and I quite like it. I would point out, though, that the linking of animal welfare with minimalism has a lot to with economics. Even if the world made all animal-friendly consumables, they aren't really animal-friendly unless the consumption patterns are reduced, as well. Even soy products and the like, of which I am a big fan, require land, labor and capital and, ultimately, lead to further deforestation and overseas agricultural development. Sure, animal-friendly products prevent a few animals from being tested on and prevent many millions of cows from being slaughtered, but they only aid domesticated creatures. The bulk of the world's species are left in the same sinking boat until we lower our standards of living.

At the end of the day, though, it's most important to do your part, what you feel comfortable with. A lot of my friends find it odd that I'm such a "granola "tree-hugger," because I don't look the part. That's because I'm not as extreme as I perhaps should be. Much of my clothing is made of cotton, which is the world's most destructive crop, hands down, and I am flying to Japan in couple of weeks. That one flight will use enough energy to require two average-sized wind turbines to spin for a year or so, and burn fossil fuels that currently have us creating another colonialist fiasco in the Middle East.

A believer in Gaia theory - my own particular brand of it, I suppose - I believe everything is intimately tied to everything else. When I sit in my chair typing this, I am the chair and the chair is the floor and so on, in an expanding ethical embrace. When I shoot the deer, I am the rifle, I am the bullet, I am the deer and, thus, I am shooting myself. Perhaps this is why I weep.

Feeling as I do, I choose to limit my consumption as much as I feel I can without adversely affecting my well-being or angering friends and family. I am lucky in that I've never cared much about fashion or cars (though I've been told I'm stylish by some, I think these comments always came from drunk people), so I don't mind buying only used or "imperfect" clothing (or the occasional jeans on "Super Sale"), but I adore travel, good movies, books, frequent showers and gadgets like the iPod or PDAs. It would be hypocritical of me to overlook my own transgressions while criticizing others'.

At times, however, I am guilty of just that...just another one of your benevolent hypocrites, I suppose. I hope I haven't shocked you with my long, rambling comments here, but this is just how I write...hell, it's how I talk. At any rate, good luck with the blog. I'll check in from time to time.

Take care.

4:55 PM  
Blogger REkz said...

Off-topic commenters are hella annoying.

I agree with the subject of this post. I didn't wear leather for years, and have no interest in wearing other animal products.

I do eat meat, but not nec daily. I think it's good for me, mentally, but I would prefer to pay for healthy livestock treatment rather than the extreme torture of factory farms.

I like how you said you want to be moral but IMHO doing the peta circle routine actually can cause emotional damage.

I think the options are:

- vote with your $$$
- oppose abusive organizations and speak out to your circles of influence
- volunteer in the next election for your team

But the hard part is that evil is fashionable. DEATH has always been sexy since the beginning, just like chicks always wanting 'the bad guy', and USA + Europe have taken death attraction to whole new levels with anorexic models, heroin chic, and of course the leather obsession (incl leather underwear).

What's really interesting is that life is ALWAYS sexier than death, if you look under the surface.



11:58 PM  

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