Saturday, April 9, 2011

Rethinking Silk

In breaks between cleaning up things that come out of cats, I've been thinking about what kind of vegetarian I want to be. I call myself an environmental vegetarian, but in reality I'm an accidental vegetarian. I never intended to go veggie permanently, it just kind of happened. In fact, I never thought I could be vegetarian, I live in a small town in West Virginia, procuring vegetarian options seemed impossible. For health and environmental reasons, I needed to cut back on the amount of meat I was consuming, especially of the processed variety. I tried, and it didn't work. So, I decided to do kind of a meat detox, to go a period without it, then add healthier (for me and the planet) alternatives back in, slowly. I've yet to start adding things back in almost two years later. In fact, I seem to be taking more away.

In my first week sans meat, I accidentally ate bacon bits on a salad without thinking about it. I doubt they were real bacon, but the point is that I wasn't paying attention. Or, that I was, but there was too much information, too much change, for me to get it right. By get it right, I mean by my own standards. I don't think being vegetarian makes me accountable to other vegetarians, or other people at all, really. But, I am accountable to myself, which means my habits must evolve with my morality, which must evolve with my increased knowledge and fortitude. The basic formula seems to be, the more I know, the less I eat or buy.

I've been thinking of this lately, not because I was cleaning up after cats, but because I'm on an elimination diet to rule out gluten and chocolate allergies. This abrupt dietary change has taken me back to my first days as a vegetarian. I'm struggling to get enough to eat, and am positive I'm not getting the proper nutrients. All of my energy is going toward not eating the wrong things, and finding enough food in the remaining corner of the pantry to keep me moving. I know I will adjust eventually, but it is a learning process, a process made simpler by the fact that it is far easier to identify what I don't want to eat. (It took me awhile to figure out what I'd eaten that could have caused severe cramps on day two of the diet, it was a cracker, that came with a salad.)

There is no "contains stuff that some vegetarians may find inedible" label on food. The full burden of determining not only ingredients, but ingredient origins and processing are completely up to the consumer. This means that becoming a vegetarian is a long process, and not simply a matter of rejecting meat. For me, it meant that peripheral animal products (stuff that didn't go in my mouth) were an afterthought. I didn't consider all of the things I own that come from animals, I'm still discovering foods that are animal related, I don't have the energy to research everything I buy.

I refuse to follow any guidelines laid out by others, I want to make my own judgments. While I've been able to justify wearing some leather, and don't feel inclined to give up wool (even if I am allergic), I'd been putting the issue of silk to the side. I'm poor, it's not in my price range anyway. Except, I've unwittingly purchased silk a couple of times in the past year or so. The discovery that the item was silk first triggered my "You mean I can't throw it in the washer?" response, followed by a quick flash of guilt. I don't like to feel guilty, and the slightest twinge causes me to evaluate the situation. Mostly, I was feeling guilty about not bothering to learn more about the issue, and for not paying attention to labels.

I've been reading about silk production, and am still not sure where I stand. I have no problem with silk harvested from wild sources, and don't think I have a problem with silk from captive moths that have left the cocoon of their own volition, but I'm squeamish when it comes to boiling creatures to get at their home. I don't like the idea of a species bred to be so helpless and so far from its natural state. But, the alternative is to allow the species to die out. Making an animal dependent on humans, then revoking assistance doesn't seem very ethical either. While I don't think that my giving up silk would cause a collapse in the industry, my decision must be shaped by a goal on a larger scale. It would be asinine to give up silk, but to be okay with the silk industry, I don't rally against things I feel marginally about. My decision must be based on the end result I would like to see, I need to choose my morality.

While I need to do further research, my gut reaction is to give up mulberry or bombyx silk, in favor of wild silks. Maybe I will change my mind, but I will not give up silk simply because I'm a vegetarian. If I decide to give it up, it will be because I want to, because it aligns with the decisions I have made about how to live, and that is why I am rethinking silk.


  1. Yikes, I didn't know silk is commonly harvested in such a cruel way :\ I've been feeling a little guilty lately for eating meat whose origins I'm not sure of. Honestly, I don't have a problem with eating meat IF the animals were kept responsibly and in humane conditions, as well as put down humanely. The horrible processing plants, though, sicken me. I'm trying to be more responsible in the choices I make about what I eat and what companies I support, but I'm struggling for practical reasons- mainly the fact that organic, local and free-range products are more expensive. Your quandry is so justified and I hope you're able to come to a decision you're at peace with :) (Geez this is long- sorry!)

  2. If you are interested in farming practices, there is an episode of This American Life (the TV version) that takes a look at pig farming. It isn't really biased (I didn't think, at least) and provides a look into the industry without all of the posturing that usually accompanies such things.

    I grew up around small, family farms, and never really thought about the differences in large scale farms until I was older. I completely understand the cost issues, and wish that instead of shaming people for being fat or for not feeding their children healthy foods, that the US Fed. Gov. would fix the subsidy disparities that allow overly processed meat to be so much cheaper than fresh foods. *leaps off of soap box*

    Don't apologize for long comments, I love reading them (and am rather good at writing them, too).