8 thoughts on “Is it right to wear animal fur?

  1. OK, I have to ask: is wearing animal fur worse than using synthetics, which take up an order of magnitude (at least) more energy to make and dispose of?

    One of the great things about leather, fur and hide, aside from the material properties that made people want to use them in the first place, is that they biodegrade. I realize that industrial leather has all kinds of chemicals in it, but it does disintegrate eventually, unlike just about any kind of plastic. Most artificial fabrics will be around for centuries, long after they aren’t usable anymore.

    Now, this doesn’t mean I’m for cracking open baby seal skulls and wiping out whole species for pelts. But we farm many animals for all kinds of reasons, and not all farming is by definition bad. Especially if you use other parts of the animal. Cows/bulls are a good example, as we use a lot of the available material for both food and clothing. Very little is wasted in the process (until you get to Americans who throw out unconscionable amounts).

    But I ask this: is it really more sustainable to use artificial fabrics that are made from petroleum, ultimately? And while I care about cruelty to animals, I have never, as an ethical matter, felt too bad about the ones we do use. (Part of the reason is that PETA put me off caring about animals generally. If you want to make someone a committed carnivore, have them engage in a conversation with a member). But the sustainability question s a serious one.

  2. Actually, Jesse, I’ve done a LOT of archaeology in historic contexts and I can tell you that I’m not at all sure that processed leather (going back well into the 19th century) degrades more quickly than plastic, and it is much much more toxic in both production and disposal.

    That is only part of your argument, and I think your argument generally has merit, but leather historically is not particularly benign in its production. A 19th century shoe factory is a toxic cleanup nightmare.

    I have no idea what the current situation is, but I think that most of the leather we use in the US is not locally produced. This means that whatever “clean” modern methods are available are probably not being used to produce it.

    I sound like I’m arguing against using animal products and I’m not. I’m just going off on leather for some reason this morning. Maybe my belt is too tight or something.

  3. Greg– I wasn’t thinking that it is perfect, but as you say you’ve done a lot of archeology — I mean, you would not expect to find a piece of leather from a thousand years ago unless it was preserved in some way, right? It would be stiff and crumble, no?

    I mean, I have handled leather that is a lot younger than that (again, maybe from before certain processes were invented?) and it crumbles to dust if you rub on it. I don’t know enough about the degradation process, but it is interesting to consider.

    Much modern industrial leather is a toxic nightmare, speaking as a person from “the shoe capital of America” (Lynn, Massachusetts, which was populated by shoe factories). But plastics are a whole other matter and need a ton of petroleum to make, you know? And you are right, I am not sure how much leather is locally produced — it may be they ship the hides out and it is processed there. (Sometimes that is actually cheaper to do, which just shows how messed up the petroleum economy is).

  4. Some of the archaeology I was referring to was done in Lynn! Also, Gardner, the “Shoe Capital of the World” (and Lowell and other places).

    You are absolutely right, leather older than the 19th century would not last long in the ground and there is virtually none of it from archaeological sites… where it is found are very dry caves and waterlogged situations with high acidity and no oxygen.

    In the old days plenty of the leather used in the US was produced in the US, but I think that shifted to India at some point and more recently to China. But I’m not certain.

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