About Me

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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Vegan(ish) Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was my first major holiday since I started eating a vegan diet.

Of course.

Thanksgiving is basically a holiday that revolves around a dead bird; dairy-laden mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, creamed onions, buttery stuffing, and creamy pies; and a fictitious tale of goodwill between colonists and natives. A great backdrop, to be sure, against which to highlight dietary changes.

I knew going into this that I was THE vegan. Nobody else. Not even a vegetarian in the crowd. Everybody else would eat whatever they normally ate -- which is to say, the stereotypical all-American thanksgiving feast, complete with debate over whether or not to cook a turducken next year.

The best I could do was bring a few dishes of my own (to share, of course) and pray that I didn't get a lot of flack from the relatives. I didn't want the holiday to turn into a "weird Elaine" conversation, nor did I want to turn it into a lesson for everybody else. I just wanted to eat and celebrate abundance. Lessons can happen at other times.

I was a little on edge, anticipating a whole lot of drama. After all, what's a holiday without a little family drama, I ask you?

Well...I actually have nothing -- NOTHING -- to complain about. I am floored to be writing this, as I could easily regale you with tales of holidays past when arguments about things far less important than diet or animal welfare or the environment went from lively to heated within minutes (topics like kids' bedtimes or ages at when kids SHOULD KNOW TO TIE SHOES, for instance).

Nobody gave me a bad time. Nobody tried to trick me into eating something that wasn't vegan. Several people tried my dishes and proclaimed them tasty (leek-mushroom pie, a tofurkey roast and a sweet potato dish). I happily ate my dishes, salad and a roll. Though I ate less than everybody else, I TOTALLY had enough, and was spared the 'oh-my-god-I-ate-too-much-and-I'm-going-to-die' feeling.

I titled this post "vegan(ish)" because I did succumb to a teeny slice of pumpkin pie, which I'm pretty darn sure had some dairy in it somewhere.

Next year, I'll bring a vegan pie, too. :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mortality and Health, Plastic Surgery and Rationing

Health news characterized my week. First, from some recent government study, *maybe* women 40-49 don't need mammograms AND maybe those self-exams that we fret about don't do much good anyway. Second, a family friend is dying of cancer. Third, an uncle of a friend of mine is a plastic surgeon in Carlsbad, CA and reports that a surprising number of wealthy people in Southern California give boob jobs to their girls upon high school graduation. In the weirdest of ways, these three "health" items go together.

Regarding the first bit of news: I'm going to say I already knew this. Previous studies (I wanna say from Sweden?) found out YEARS ago that mammograms yield, in a cost-benefit analysis, too few benefits for women in this age range and do yield a whole lot of extra testing (for "questionable" findings) that result in worry but thankfully, usually not disease.

Of course, for the women who HAVE had breast cancer detected through a mammogram and who were 40-49 when this occurred, there is no arguing that it wasn't beneficial for them. But for the vast majority of women my age, it's probably a test we don't need, at least not every year. And, sadly, it's still true that with the worst breast cancers (like inflammatory breast disease, which killed my aunt) neither mammograms nor ultrasounds generally detect the disease (because it doesn't present as lumps).

So...on that depressing note, I'm gonna say we women should keep checking our breasts and head to the doctor and demand tests IF we find something suspicious. Our health is ultimately our responsibility and we have to be our own best advocates regardless of the statistical findings and insurance-related test rationing going on. You think you need a mammogram? Don't hesitate to ask for one.

Health-related news bulletin #2 this week was very personal: a family friend, in his early 70s, has just been told he has cancer and has 6-12 months to live. Wow. Nothing like that kind of news to make you think of your own mortality. How much time do we all have? Is today our last day? Are we going to defy odds and live to 100? Or will it be 90? Or 80 or 70? Or 60 or 50? Have I done with my life what I wanted? Am I consistently appreciative of all that I have? What could I do better RIGHT NOW? If I only had 6-12 months to live, what would I do with that time?

I've spent quite a bit of time this past week thinking about those questions. We should live each day like it's our last, but plan our lives as if we have lots of time left. We need to hold those two opposing possibilities in our heads at all times; no reason to act old when we don't feel it; no reason not to plan even if those plans might not materialize.

Health item #3: Those boob jobs for girls graduating high school. SICK. "Honey, we're so proud of you! And to show our pride, we're gonna get you some REALLY NICE boobs! We're not going to encourage you to go work with the less fortunate -- or spend time with women undergoing treatment for breast cancer -- we're going to focus on YOU and on YOUR body and make it BETTER! We're going to spend our considerable income on something that shouldn't matter, but somehow does: you "need" to have "perfect" boobs (and perfect teeth, skin, hair, eyes, nose, tummy, etc.) in order to be part of OUR world." Talk about self-centered shallow bullshit. (I am not against boob jobs for reconstruction following mastectomy, or for reduction, nor I am against them if, congenitally, there really is a need to "fix" one or both; I am pretty much against them for the shallow purpose of looking "right".)

My friend told me that her uncle says that nearly everyone in Hollywood has something done; that it really isn't possible to be successful and not tweak the tits, or the butt, or the face or the underarm flab or the tummy. What galls me is that while celebs and other rich folk do these things to "look good," the message that reaches the rest of us is that it's all lifestyle (diet and exercise, lots of green tea, yoga, etc.). Yeah, right.

So, while people die from diseases that can't be cured or mull over whether they can afford to have a mammogram that will likely be rationed further by insurance companies, you can contemplate rich girls who, at the tender age of 18, are urged by their parents to have major surgery to get great boobs before they go to college. Or, you could contemplate which celebs have had the most work done.

Wish we could ration that.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Goat Pimp, Part Two

I did not tell you everything about the conversation I had with my goat pimp friend.

She does, by the way, have a very nice name and a wonderful personality and really deserves a better virtual identity. However, since I assured her that I never reveal my friends' names in blogs, she will simply be referred to with the memorable moniker, "goat pimp friend".

The second half of this story is, at least for me and I suspect for most of my vegan (internet) friends, less tolerable than just the facts that she raises some goats, milks them, makes goat cheese and eats some meat.

She breeds them. Obviously, this was clear in the last blog. Farmers breed their animals; so do horse and dog and cat breeders. For many people, this is just a "duh" issue -- something not to think too hard about, something that just "is".

Of course, if you are paying attention to how I'm setting up this blog (or, if you just know me even a *little* bit), you know I'm about to say that it IS an issue.

At the crux of the matter is this: do we humans have the right to force animals to breed? (In the last blog, you learned that my friend assisted her goat by lifting up the goat's tail -- I didn't mention that she also had to hold the goat against her body -- because the female goat wasn't terribly interested in doing the nasty with the horny billy goat, whose owners were paying my friend for the service of breeding their goat with hers.)

When I heard this story, I said, "Hmmm...not sure I'm on board with that." My friend nodded; she expected me to say as much. The person standing next to us (a friend of hers) said, "Oh, God! They're animals, not people!" She was, of course, expressing an opinion held by many -- that we somehow CAN do to animals what we would not fathom doing to people. In this case, that we can force sex on a female goat even though if that goat were a female human, we'd call that rape.

I hope it's clear that I'm not against consensual breeding. I might also add: another story my friend told me was about having to spend half a day driving one of her female goats to a friend's house who has male goats, because her girl was in desperate need for a "conjugal visit". As far as I know, the male goat did not mind in the least servicing the female one. In this instance, I think my friend was facilitating something that her goat needed, as opposed to what she or some other farmer needed.

What I'm questioning here is whether it's ethical for people who raise animals to force their animals to breed. Vegans, not surprisingly, pretty unanimously answer "NO!". If you haven't read up on this, there are many in-depth reports out there, most of them so detailed that you'll want to stop reading and go back to your naive and ignorant ways. If you're interested, check out blogs at girliegirlarmy.come on this issue, or blogs at the Huffington Post by Ari Solomon. I'm not going to reiterate here what you can read there.

So, I'm ending this blog with a simple question: what do you think about forced breeding and why do you think it?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Goat Pimp

My friend is a goat pimp.

Well, not exactly, but I wanted your attention.

My friend raises goats. I think she has six. She likes goat milk and makes goat cheese. She is kind of a modern-day farmer on a small (VERY SMALL) farm. She's not doing this to support her family, but it's a pretty important hobby to her. She loves her goats. Fortunately, her small goat-related income (more on that in a minute) is supplemented by her husband's "real" job (something technical that I haven't bothered to learn about...one of my many faults is my general inability to pay attention when the topic of conversation turns to electronics or wiring or computers).

She knows I've been pretty committed of late to veganism, and even though she is a (selective) meat eater and (obviously) a consumer of dairy, she is very sympathetic to vegans and others who criticize factory farming as well as the consumption of meat and dairy. As she succinctly put it, "The current system of factory farming isn't sustainable. We HAVE to change it. Maybe we're not all going to become vegetarians, but even if you do eat meat, that shouldn't mean that you think a farmer can just treat a cow however the hell he wants!"

She has been providing me (rather than me providing her) with various articles on veganism, factory farming and the environment. Most of them I'd already read, but she's one of my few non-internet friends who has actually even CARED that I'm into this. It's been a great comfort.

Perhaps more importantly, her interest in my current obsession has given me new insight into the often overdrawn dichotomy between meat-eaters and non-meat eaters. Here she is, somebody who DOES eat meat and dairy and is, at the same time, very, very in tune with animals. I never did think that it was impossible to be both, but a trend I've noticed among many vegans is their insistence that somehow meat-eaters are by definition heartless, selfish and uncaring.

She is absolutely none of those things.

A more honest description of the difference between meat-eaters and vegetarians is that the former group rarely sees animals as having the same rights as people. (I'm not even sure I can go that far, though I'm quite sure I go farther that most of my meat-eating friends in thinking of animals as having rights similar, though not identical to, people.)

In fact, I think this is THE difference between meat-eaters and people who have chosen a vegetarian or vegan diet due to concerns about animal welfare. (Those who choose either diet primarily for health benefits may not, for instance, be particularly concerned with animal welfare, or at least that may not be the driving force behind their choice.)

My friend told me tonight of a funny story about getting goat semen (yes, goat semen) in her eye when a male goat was brought to mate with one of her female goats. See, she had to "encourage" the female to be "interested" and this involved her holding the female goat's tail up, but somehow while she did this the male goat, while trying to mount the female, uh, sprayed too early and it flew into my friend's eye.

Yeah, that's gross. It's also funny. Premature ejaculation exists among goats (at least in certain artificial circumstances) -- who knew?! And, as my friend said, she was then in the uncomfortable situation of asking the couple who brought the male goat to pay for the service of having (almost) mated with her female goat.

So, she is kind of a goat pimp. But she takes really good care of her goats. And she helps other goat farmers in the area with their goats. And she reads widely on issues related to diet, food, the environment and farming. And she listens to other points of view.

She's not vegan. I doubt she ever will be. But if every meat-eater was as selective about where their meat comes from, the system of factory farming would pretty much fall apart because there would not be a demand for it. She only buys local, grass-fed meat and does not eat meat every day. While these choices are arguably not as ethical as a vegetarian diet, they sure are better than the typical meat-eater's choices.

If only all meat-eaters were like her!

We learn most from people who are NOT like us. I'm not a farmer. I'm no longer a meat-eater and I eat very, very, very little dairy. But I sure am glad I have a friend who is a goat pimp. She knows stuff I don't know. And I might know some stuff she doesn't know.

And sharing it with each other is good for both of us.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Whatcha sayin'?

My life has been oddly calm lately, except for the usual kid-related stuff ("NO! I am NOT sitting next to her!" "NO! I am NOT ready for school yet!" "I JUST got on the computer! You can't make me get off yet!"). About the only notable thing right now is our decision to have our youngest evaluated for possible speech therapy.

His speech is a little odd. His sentence construction is unusual, almost as if English were his second language (currently, it's his ONLY language). For instance, he leaves out certain words, as if they are superfluous ("I not want to do that" instead of "I DO not want to do that"). He sometimes puts adjectives after nouns, the way you do in Spanish ("Remember our house white?"). I'd love to think that he does this because I read to him every night in Spanish, but I REALLY doubt it, since he doesn't actually TALK in Spanish. Hmmm...

When he's excited and trying to talk fast, he is especially prone to these kinds of mistakes and his teacher claims that it's affecting his social life (are little kids really that picky? I guess so.). He consistently misuses pronouns (she for he, his for her, etc.). That, I suspect, isn't that unusual. Some of his pronunciation is difficult to understand as well. He often uses "f" for the "th" sound, which I also think is pretty darn normal for his age. He will tell you he's "hayving," when he means to say he's "behaving." He apparently hears the word as two words -- be hayv -- which, if you think of it, makes some sense, since we often use the word "be" before other words, such as "be good". He insists that we live in "gene," because he hears "Eugene" as "YOU Gene," and I think he (logically) figures that the "you" part is somehow part of the sentence "You live in You Gene". Still, these kinds of mistakes, collectively, mean that his speech is odd and he sounds like a younger-than-he-is child (almost five).

He also uses the word "'cause" instead of "because" ("I want you to play with me 'cause I not have a friend to play with!"). In addition, he has some charming ways of saying things that we've never bothered to correct because they ARE so cute: "Icky Donald's" for instance is "McDonald's". Who would want to correct that?! Perhaps we should, however, if such mistakes are affecting him socially.

I say all this because I just finished completing the at-home assessment, where he performed almost perfectly (although abysmally on the fine motor portion and letter and number recognition -- gotta work on that!). I can pretty much guarantee that if he does this well when being assessed, the evaluator will think, 'Why the hell do these parents and teachers think he has a speech problem?' Apparently, he is CAPABLE of near-perfect speech, but chooses not to use it consistently. The little bugger.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The boy, the doll and the Sunday School Teacher

Question: What do you get when you cross a four-year-old boy, an anatomically correct (boy) doll, and an (older, female) Sunday School teacher?

Answer: a future comic, a dedicated following, and a hassled old lady.

My husband went to pick up our youngest at Sunday School today. When he walked in, our son was surrounded by the other children, who were laughing uproariously at something our son was saying. The teacher, however, was saying, "I don't think that's a good idea."

My husband: "Hi! What's going on?"

Teacher, whispering, but upset: "Your son is pretending that the doll has a poopy diaper!"

Husband: "Oh."

Teacher: "I mean...the doll is ...anatomically correct."

Husband: "Isn't that great?!"

(Meanwhile, husband overhears son say: "And then he had a BIG poop!" Kids laugh hysterically.)

Teacher: "I mean, he needs to cover the doll up...the doll shouldn't be left like that, without clothes on."

(Husband overhears son say, "See! That's his penis!" Kids roll on the floor with laughter.)

Husband: "Don't worry. I'll take care of it. I'll make sure we leave the doll with its clothes on."

(Husband overhears son making sounds of farting and peeing, much to the consternation of the teacher and the delight of the students. Son then runs up to teacher, doll in hand and basically shoves doll toward teacher, making a peeing sound.)

Teacher: "I mean, he really shouldn't be doing this."

Husband: "Well....if the doll is in the classroom and available for play, at this age, this is kinda par for the course."

Teacher: "Oh."

I never heard the rest of the story except that my husband and son put the doll's diaper back on before they went home.

Our reaction? An anatomically correct doll is the PERFECT prop for a future comic. And if you can't handle little kids talking about penises, farts, poop and pee, you need to teach older kids -- MUCH older kids.

Poor lady, however -- she appeared so shocked that we think she needed a drink RIGHT after church. Hope the brandy was handy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Wool, Our Eyes, and "Truth"

Full disclosure up front: I am not as pure as the driven snow.

Nor did I ever claim to be.

I got myself into a heap o' trouble the day before yesterday by responding to a friend's facebook status line about WorldWide Vegan Day (it was Nov 1). She had used a Simon R quote about vegans' pledge not to eat or use animals, including wool. (There was more to the quote than that, but that's what's relevant here.)

I responded that "I still think the no-wool thing is misguided, but I am otherwise with you." SO naive of me to think that was a non-confrontational response.

A flurry of responses ensued about podcasts exposing the cruelties in the wool industry, about websites and books claiming the same, etc. The not-so-thinly-veiled message was that a) I can't claim to be vegan if I use or wear wool (technically, that's true, I hadn't fully realized that), b) I need to read more, and c) I'm selfish.

HOLY. CRAP. I responded, off and on, to the responses, making the following points.

ONE, from what I've read sheep NEED to be sheared; not doing so is actually harmful (more on that in a minute).

TWO, it is possible to do this without harming them.

THREE, there is a difference between the INDUSTRY -- which I have no doubt has some major problems, as ALL big businesses do, particularly those that use animals -- and the PRACTICE of sheep shearing and the practice of raising them to use their wool. I could have added, though I didn't:

FOUR, wool is a sustainable resource (at least in theory). It WILL disintegrate in a landfill, whereas many manmade fibers will not. I would rather wear something biodegradable than something that will be here forever.

I also made the point (and later tried to amend it) that I'm probably not the only vegan (diet-wise) who also uses some wool, but I may be one of the few who will admit to it. I was fileted on the internet; in my humble opinion, far more than I deserved to have been.

This post could take one of two directions: complaining in detail about what was said to me and what I said back or detailing what I think I know about both "sides" of the wool debate. I'm choosing the latter. The first, while it would be somewhat satisfying personally, wouldn't accomplish much.

While this debate was raging (and the originator of the debate participating and putting out another status line claiming she *loved* the debate and that her "vegan girls" were great "warriors" who showed a lot of "love"), I asked my own Facebook friends (meaning people who actually KNOW me and/or who I know were raised on sheep farms) to tell me what they know about sheep, shearing, and wool. I truly wanted to hear the "other side" and I, truthfully, wasn't feeling a lot of love from those supposedly loving vegans.

Not surprisingly, my friends' (all non-vegans) responded in ways very distinct from the other post I was currently involved in. Their responses ranged from "I would rather argue about child abuse than this," to "I oppose the personification of animals and the ethics of considering animals and people as similar for treatment," to "to each their own, but I won't criticize you and expect you not to criticize me." No doubt the vegans would have a field day with those responses, particularly the last two, but I'm not going there.

The friends who put the most thought into this issue said the following (they are quoted here verbatim):

"I'm sure there are mistreated animals in that area as well, but I think of wool as a renewable resource....We don't wear much wool, however, because of the scratch-factor..."

"It's an interesting dilemma. Products which the animal has to die to produce (i.e., meat, leather, etc.) are obvious. Products which it is possible to harvest from the animal without killing or even harming them (e.g., eggs, dairy, honey, wool) are a whole other category....I would say that if you know for sure that the sheep are raised in a cruelty-free environment that you are within your ethical guidelines to use their wool....Of course some people will say that any form of animal husbandry is a form of slavery and thus cannot be ethical no matter how kindly the animals are treated."

"I really don't know much about animal cruelty and the rules that govern this area of modern-day living. But one question that pops into my mind is that in the future, will we start questioning why we harvest our crops? Perhaps it's painful for the plants to be cut. Anyhow, according to Islamic teachings, the animals have been created to serve the purpose of human life but at the same time, animals should not be mistreated. This is my two-cents worth."

"OF COURSE IT'S ETHICAL. The sheep need their hair cut or they will not be able to move around. You ever see one of those babies without a hair cut? We're not killing them for clothing like we do with leather....I guess the dilemma comes if you are a vegan. If you don't eat food that comes from aminals, should you wear it? I'd like to hear what they have to say."

The two most in-depth responses were from two friends who have had, relative to me and to my other friends, direct and extensive experience with sheep and shearing.

Friend #1:

"Having grown up raising sheep, I have a bias(ed) perspective. I find no problems, ethical, spiritual, logical, etc., sheering sheep for wool production or animal husbandry. I have shorn sheep and have, like many sheep shearers, even accidentally cut an animal while sheering. Cuts during sheering can occur when the skin is not drawn tightly against the body - several wool breeds have large skin folds, (skin folds were initially a natural defense to predation that has been exploited through selective breeding yielding greater surface area for wool) or cuts to the animal can occur if the sheep is not properly restrained and moves unexpectedly during sheering. Having sheered my fair share of sheep, if I cut the animal, I care for the wound that I inflicted.

Also, many domestic sheep breeds will develop "wool tags" if not regularly shorn. A wool tag is an area where feces has adhered to the wool. If a sheep has diarrhea, which can naturally occur if animals graze around fruit, they just love apples, or are sick, their feces will gather on the wool growing around the haunches or rump and if left unattended will form firm balls of poo that pull the skin. More serious are bot and blow flies that can lay eggs in wool soiled with manure. If untreated a disease called flystrike can occur. Flies will lay their eggs into warm manure and fly larvae, maggots, burrow their way into the skin. Untreated animals will die from flystrike. I have never met a sheep farmer that does not want the sheerer to remove wool tags.

Many farmers will "crotch" their ewes, that is sheer the wool from their haunches, before lambing season to ensure that flystrike does not occur after giving birth. I did this as a kid, and found that most ewes had an easier time licking themselves clean after giving birth. Occasionally, wool will grow around the utter. We always removed these small bits of wool so lambs had an easier time suckling, though I never knew of a lamb that couldn't find the teet.

Other wool diseases result from insects. Sheep keds and lice do tremendous damage to skin. I have read about sheep that have gone unshorn develop the most horrible skin lesions and scabbing as a result of mites and lice repeatedly biting the animals. Wool parasites can cause awful damage.

Lastly, wool is like hair in that it always keeps growing. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not a vegetarian. I eat lamb and wear wool."

And from friend #2:

"I hesitated to comment...but then I thought of this: We humans get our hair cut. Are we being cruel to ourselves? And, secondly, I lived on a farm for five years and we had sheep. OK, it wasn't a commercial sheep farm but we had sheep and we sheared them. They did not cry out in pain and, in fact, they used to jump around and stuff after being sheared -- like they felt light and free. I also saw what happens when you DON'T shear them. It involves maggots and it's not pretty -- it can also be deadly to the sheep. Cruelty comes in many forms. I'm just sayin'"

What these last two friends said above is virtually identical to what vegans say, too, about reasons to shear sheep (most see that it NEEDS to be done). However, vegans feel that you shouldn't use the wool because the sheep didn't "grow it for us." (See farmsanctuary.com "Shearing Rescued Sheep".) Some naively claim that sheep, left to their own devices, will naturally shed what they don't need (See vegsoc.org/info/sheep and veganpeace.com/animal_cruelty/wool).

I've read conflicting sources -- some saying this is true FOR SOME BREEDS and others saying that it is NOT true. For instance, you can consult the UMass Amherst Outreach on the web; their first line in their piece on sheep shearing is "Nearly all sheep require shearing." Similarly, a blog called farmjournal.blogspot.com -- about a family who took in sheep out of the goodness of their hearts and not for meat -- says that they shear sheep because "Sheep have been domesticated and are not able to be turned loose and not have basic care. Feet, shearing and FEED are critically important. Shearing is NOT cruel; it is a short, painless process that protects the sheep from parasites and the heat of the summer." They, of course, say more than that, but their opinion (and mine as well) is that sheep LIKE ALL DOMESTICATED ANIMALS require HUMAN care, and in the case of sheep, this involves shearing them. Since we shear them, it's not illogical to use their wool.

The (usually vegan) position that we can't use the wool because "the sheep didn't grow it for us" is a bit nutty, though I think other practices in sheep raising (crowding, mulesing, tail cropping) are at the very least debatable, and probably HIGHLY unethical and cruel.

Of course, the problem is, at least from the vegan perspective: most sheep are not raised purely for their wool, and mulesing (removing wool-growing skin parts near the butt so that flystrike is less likely to occur) and tail cropping are commonplace. IF you are against these practices, and particularly if you are against sheep being raised for meat, then you will be, by definition, against sheep being raised for wool (eventually, sheep who aren't wool-producers end up as meat...).

I did a lot of reading on this after my run-ins with the vegans. Here's a brief summary of what I found: ALL vegan websites and animal-rights websites claim that the wool industry is cruel and that people shouldn't wear or use wool (this means rugs, yarns, etc.). This is what you would expect them to say, given their worldviews. Similarly, every other website I found (except for the blog mentioned above)-- by googling "sheep shearing," "wool," or "raising sheep" -- were websites with industry connections. Those websites, not surprisingly, emphasize the nature of wool (water-resistant and warm, for instance), and have mind-bogging amounts of information on laws and data on sheep farming. What they hope to convince you is that farmers go to tremendous lengths to take care of their sheep, to shear them without harming them, and to deliver a quality product. Of course, one of their products is also meat (often shipped to countries with higher lamb consumption than ours).

I also found several websites (this time, on both "sides" of the issue) explaining that the US relies heavily on imports of Australian wool to satisfy our demand. Australian wools are mixed with US wools, for instance, in most yarns. (I tried to find a wool yarn that was 100% American, and though I found 100% American-made, I found no yarn that could tell me that ALL of its YARN comes from the US -- I am waiting, however, on a few companies to answer my emails.)

The point of bringing this up is that a few years back, PETA investigators found that Australian farmers were dragging sheep and cows off trucks by their ears and legs and leaving them to die in "...barren feedlots. They were bound and thrown into trunks of cars, and they were slaughtered in prolonged and cruel ways that are illegal in the United States, Europe, and Australia" (PETA, "Inside the Wool Industry"). While I cannot, personally, vouch for the veracity of this claim, it is obvious to me that if you believe that (I see no reason not to) boycotting Australian merino wool would be a logical action.

Problem? The US only produces about a quarter of the wool it uses and imports a LOT of wool from Australia. So, boycotting Australian wool would basically mean boycotting ALL wool. If you think, as I do, that it is POSSIBLE to raise sheep ethically, then you SHOULD boycott a product where there is ugly evidence that some producers care so little about their animals.

Though I think that factory farming of ALL KINDS is, ultimately, unsustainable (one of the reasons I am attracted to a vegan diet in the first place), I still maintain that it may be possible AND IMPERATIVE to raise domesticated animals in small-scale farms for such things as wool, milk and eggs. (I no longer consume dairy for health reasons, though it is logically possible to raise a cow and milk her without hurting her; in fact, if you read my blog on cows and goats, you know that certain breeds will suffer horribly if we DO NOT milk them.)

I TOTALLY agree with my friend that "animal husbandry" that involves the death of an animal is arguably unethical, but that "use" of animals where it is possible not only to allow them to live, but to live WELL, is arguably, ethical.

This last reason is why I will continue, even with a vegan DIET, to wear and use some wool. Conveniently, I now live in a warmer climate than I used to; it is hardly a huge sacrifice for me to use LESS wool, which I think would be a good starting place for anybody who cares about animal welfare. At the same time, I'll continue to learn more about raising sheep and about pressures that consumers can exert on the wool industry to clean up its act.

Finally, I have learned, hopefully once and for all, that it's safer to decide what YOU believe and give it your own label than to adopt one that somebody else promotes. So, I'm not a vegan. I wear some wool. I occasionally knit with it (three pairs of mittens last year). Sometimes I use honey. I still care about animals, the environment, and health. I still eat a vegan DIET. But I am not a vegan.

And I don't think the sheep care.