Thursday, May 09, 2013

The End of Sheep

I recently visited my sister in Denver, and we went to Fancy Tiger Crafts (and to Sweet Action, which is right across the street--yum!), where I bought some wool yarn and a discussion ensued.  Sarah is working on becoming a vegan.  A serious vegan, head to toe.  She is also one of the biggest fans of my knitting.  Not wanting to rock the boat, she hadn't expressed to me that she doesn't want to wear wool anymore until I flat out asked.  I will respect her wishes from here on out, but I have to admit that I'm struggling with some of them.  Sarah does not want to use wool because of two factors: animal treatment and animal death.

To the first point, we discussed how big industry wool is just as bad as factory farming for meat.  While I agree with her on this, I have not taken steps to eliminate that kind of wool from my use (I am a vegetarian, but I still wear leather shoes and use products with down filling). A vegan friend in Chicago and I once talked about a similar topic after she had purchased a down coat.  The truth for me is that I care more about how something was made (factory conditions, quality fabrics from plant and animal sources--not petroleum products) than how the animals are raised, when it comes to wool, leather, or down.When I buy wool yarn and yarn from other animal fibers, I like to buy local, from companies that are sourcing their wool from small operations and spun in family mills, or from companies that trace the origin of their yarns to the sheep that grew the wool, but I do not exclusively buy those yarns. I appreciate that more and more yarn companies and dyers are sourcing their wool in sustainable ways.

So I asked Sarah whether she would use yarn that was sheared, spun, dyed, and purchased locally, since those yarns are more likely to be gotten from sheep that were cared for and treated well.  The sticking point for Sarah, and this speaks to her second factor, is that she has no way to know how those animals die.  Are they killed for meat when they are no longer producing quality wool? Are they auctioned to inhumane businesses? If they live out their happy life, are they allowed to die naturally, euthanized, or slaughtered.

I have to admit that I never thought about the end of life of a sheep raised for wool. And it rankled me. I argued with my sister over things that we both believe in because I am bothered that I don't know the answer and I continue to purchase wool without knowing. All these "sustainable" yarn companies, and companies that put pictures of their sheep on the labels don't disclose how their animals die.  For one, it's too depressing to think about, and for two, it isn't important to most people.  For three, the way farm animals' lives are ended is fraught with political (and ethical) frustrations and problems.

I worry that Sarah is becoming extremist in her views, and I would like her to look a little closer at the human side of the story.  But I know that animals mean more to her than her own life, and I have to respect her choices, even when I think she hasn't seen all sides of the issue.  However, I need to learn more about both the treatment of sheep (and goats, and all the camelids) for my own interests. I argued with her quite vehemently about all of this, partly because my own beliefs were challenged and my ignorance exposed.  I'm glad Sarah is passionate and willing to debate with me, because I learned of holes in my own knowledge and can now explore this further.  I hope she wasn't too frustrated with me and gained some perspective, too.

We also discussed round ups and whether or not they are cruel (I tried using the vicuna as an example of an animal that is sheared in the wild), but we are not going to agree on that point.

To end, here's a picture of a work nearly finished, worked in linen and started before my recent debate.
Tytonidae Cowl, unfinished.


3 comments:

aimee said...

it's so good to hear someone talk so frankly about these things. not so much the issues, but acknowledging how hard it is to push up against our own ignorance. and then decide how much it is we can bear to learn!

thought of you back in ohio while in the paper studio with a hiram grad. miss you so much but was too wet to text!

Carrie K said...

Oh man, I never thought of the unethical or inhumane treatment of wool sheep. I think I just assumed they were sheared and then sent back out to play and live out their lives happily on a meadow.

Tamara Kubacki said...

I know! It's nice to think of meadows full of frolicking sheep instead of pens and muck. Just like it's nice to think of happy people stitching away on our clothes instead of dark, hot factories. Ugh. It's all just too much.