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.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Skin Trade

A few weeks ago, I announced on both Twitter and Facebook that I had won a copy of the documentary, Skin Trade. A friend wrote back and said she hoped I'd blog about it after I watched it.

Well, here, Carol, is your blog. :)

First, the film is very well done. I'm a fan.

Second, it contains, basically, two messages: one, cruelty is an intrinsic, unavoidable part of the manufacture of fur (of both trapped animals and "farmed" ones), and two, consumers are the most powerful block against the fur trade. Change the demand side, change the supply side.

For those of you worried about watching a film on the fur trade, you should know that although some scenes are truly GRUESOME, those scenes do not take up the whole film. (You can hide behind your hands as I did during those scenes and still get a good deal out of the movie.)

Much of the film is hidden-camera footage of animals crowded, stressed and killed on fur farms; of women posing undercover as potential fur purchasers; and of interviews with celebrity activists, full-time politicians and activists, and fur-wearers on the streets of New York City.

While the film is not for kids, it is something that I think parents could (and perhaps should) watch with pre-teen and older children. Kids that age are old enough to learn about the aspects of our culture that, however "traditional," are worthy of change. "Tradition" or "heritage," as the film points out, are not sufficient excuses for torture or exploitation. They make the obvious comparison: slavery was once tradition, too.

I have to admit that, even before I watched the film, I was against fur. I've never owned a fur anything.

Well...I did have that rabbit's foot key chain when I was 10, and I'll admit I loved it, but I've never had fur *clothing* and to the best of my knowledge, neither has my sister, brother, mother or father. Fur wearing isn't something my family was into.

(Having stuffed trophies of my grandfather's hunted birds and deer in the dining room? Yes. My western hunting-and-farming-and-pioneer heritage is, though related to this movie, a topic for another blog.)

Anyway...it's true that the documentary didn't have to do much to convince me further that wearing fur is wrong.

However, *had* I been one of those people who thought that fur was a necessity ("it keeps me so warm," "it makes me feel so glamorous," "it's natural"), I'd like to think that watching this film would convince me otherwise.

The film cites research which shows that the R value of faux fur and real fur is the same -- both can keep you equally warm.

The film soundly criticizes the idea that anything should die just for our glamour. (Need I say more here?!)

And the film easily dismisses the current fur industry's attempts to say that it is a "green" industry.

The toxic chemicals required for processing skins and fur -- in order to prevent them from deteriorating -- are so numerous and plentiful that they pollute waterways and the earth. That fur coat, should you decide to toss it out the window and watch what happens, will likely still be there 10 years from now. Processed fur (and leather) is not so biodegradable as the fur retailers would like you to believe.

A key message of the film is that FUR AND LEATHER ARE NOT "GREEN".

The film shows footage of HUGE facilities where foxes and lynx cats and minks are farmed. The footage reminds me of the factory farm segments of the documentary, Food, Inc.

If you can look at the footage in either film and think that it's humane to raise animals like that (EVEN IF you eventually eat them), I do not understand how you think. AT. ALL.

There is footage of foxes, two in each of 187 cages, in a dark building. They are chewing on their cages (and sometimes each other). They have no water in their bowls and suffer from a variety of physical ailments (ear mites, sores, infected eyes or paws). Even before they are killed, they are, to quote Ingrid Newkirk, enduring "pain, fear, struggle and horror".

Or, to quote Jorja Fox, people involved in the fur trade are arguably "sadistic, sociopathic, soulless and disgusting".

Does that fur coat still appeal to you?

The film also highlights activist Peter Young, who went to jail for two years for breaking into mink farms and freeing over 8000 mink. Though I generally do not condone breaking into buildings or interfering with others' businesses, I would argue that his breaking the law was morally supportable.

The film delves briefly into international animal rights' issues. For instance, most faux fur comes from China, which is not long on legislation to protect animals. Studies have founds that about 96% of products marked "faux" actually have dog and cat fur in them.

If you think the Chinese got the dog and cat fur from what dogs and cats shed, you are delusional.

The producers managed to wrangle together a lengthy list of celebrities to appear in the film, all citing various reasons to shun fur. If you, like me, somewhat follow the "green" or "vegan" or "environmentally conscious" celebrity-activists, you won't be surprised to see who pops up in the film. Just to give you a teaser: PETA president Ingrid Newkirk and Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson do; so do politician Dennis Kucinich and actors Martin Sheen, Jorja Fox, William McNamara and Ed Begley (among others); author Rory Freedman (of "Skinny Bitch" fame) does too.

There is emphasis throughout the film on how "defrauded" consumers are by the fur industry. Secret filming of women shopping for fur coats and asking about cruelty shows that, time after time, the store personnel tell them that the animals are "put to sleep," "never electrocuted," and "treated humanely".

The footage in the film (also by hidden camera) shows animals screaming, being anally electrocuted, of having their heads bashed in, of experiencing tremendous suffering.

Humane methods, my ass.

Though the film easily solidified my view that fur-wearing is barbaric, I was left with a few questions.

First, how did the Native American process of handling furs and skins differ from contemporary methods? Presumably, they didn't have access to the chemicals that contemporary fur manufacturers use. Yet, a Native American man said in the film that his ancestors would pass skins and furs from generation to generation. What did they do to preserve those hides? Was it environmentally sustainable? If so, would the activists feel *better* about fur if fur manufacturers used those ancient methods?

Second, I suspect that people who are anti-fur would still be anti-fur EVEN IF the animals were trapped in the wild (rather than farmed and kept in cages) and even if they were euthanized (rather than anally electocuted or skinned alive or bashed against the ground). Many of the activists in the film are known vegans. I pretty much know their position without having seen the film. But, to be fair -- would the fur trade be more tolerable to most people (not just vegans) IF the animals were not farmed and were killed "more humanely"? Or, is it more honest to say that this film is not just against "inhumane killing" and "farming," but is against ALL fur use, even if done differently than currently? I suspect the latter, though somebody could come away from the film thinking that the activists are only against certain violent, unnatural and sadistic practices in the fur industry and not against FUR. PERIOD.

Third, there is much emphasis in the film on how great faux furs are. They look like the real thing; they're just as warm.

My sister once asked me why vegans and vegetarians want to eat fake meat if they don't want to eat real meat. It's a fair question, in a way -- if real meat grosses you out, why does tofurkey or soyrizo look so good to you?

I have the same question about fur -- if real fur looks "disgusting" or "dated" to you, why would you promote the fake stuff? Doesn't that *look* like cruelty too?

I admit that I don't understand the appeal of faux fur at all.

My cat watched the film with me, and has been sitting next to me purring while I type this.

Perhaps he's glad that I believe his fur coat looks best on him.

Skin Trade is directed by Shannon Keith (director of "Behind the Mask") and produced by Uncaged Films and ARME (Animal Rescue Media Education). The movie's website is skintradethemovie.com.


  1. The following is a conversation I had with a friend on FB about this post. She gave me permission to post it without using her name.

    "Elaine, well, as you might have suspected I'm not giving up my lambskin coat-- the lambs that were killed were also eaten-- I know I'm not going to persuade you to agree with me on that, but may I make one comment? Breaking into animal research or farming facilities & releasing the animals is *not* justifiable-- those domestic mink had never learned to hunt, and were undoubtedly dead of starvation within a few weeks of their release. Domestic animals cannot survive in the wild, and I'd argue that the PETA folks are (in addition to pissing a lot of people off, which is a tactical error if nothing else-- they're not making any friends that way) not doing those particular animals any favors. If they're willing to harm individual animals in order to make their point, they should 'fess up to it! I'm not changing my eating habits, but I do promise not to buy any fur from animals raised solely for that purpose, though, and I furthermore promise to do my best to make sure that any critters I eat had pleasant lives beforehand, and are killed in the humanest way possible. Now if I could just get the cats to agree to stop torturing the voles before giving them the coup-de-grace! ;-) (ps, I just sliced into a wheel of some pretty kick-ass gruyere, let me know the next time you feel like falling off the wagon & I'll bring you some!"

    My reply: "I appreciate your reply. May I post it (as an anonymous friend) on my blog? I'd like to see people react to it. You raise some good points. (I'm not sure if the mink were caught or domesticated -- he released them from several places over several years...) If you knew they were wild, would you be more supportive of his releasing them? Just a thought."

    Her reply: "Oh sure, you may put it on your blog. As to your question-- I'm not in favor of illegal actions, as a rule-- if I thought the mink were being mistreated, whether they were wild-caught or not, I'd definitely support repeated calls to the local animal welfare orgs. to try to get the situation changed, but I don't much like the idea of vandalism as a way to get my point across-- plus, as I pointed out earlier, that kind of activity doesn't win many converts to the cause! I kind of doubt there are many wild-caught mink being farmed for their fur, anyway. I'm against trapping the wild ones-- trapping is really inhumane, sometimes they chew their own legs off to escape, and water-dwelling critters like otters & beavers are drowned. Ick! There was a case in Eugene a couple of years ago where some folks out at the Country Fair decided that a herd of horses in the area was being kept in a bad situation-- which was somewhat, but not entirely, true (the horses did have plenty of food and access to shelter), so they let them all out loose. One of the horses was a stallion, and several of the mares were in heat. In the ensuing fracas, one pony was injured so badly she had to be put down. I don't mean to suggest that this was the same sort of guerrilla action as letting loose the mink, just that well-meaning people may not have all the facts, and their actions can sometimes (often!?) do much more harm than good."

  2. all trapping is wrong would you like to come back as a Mink you sad people

  3. Dear Anonymous -- I personally agree with you, though clearly not everyone who reads this will.

    The question I raise near the end of my blog about "humane killing" and my friend's comments about legality of actions and unintended consequences are reasonable debate points from virtually every point of view EXCEPT a vegan one.

    As you might have guessed from the title of my blog, I don't try to represent an "orthodox" vegan position. That said, I am very much against fur.

    If I wasn't I wouldn't have taken the time to write the post!

  4. To "Anonymous" - I suppose you also agree that it was okay to make lampshades out of the skin of Jews because they were imprisoned anyway. Your rationale is ridiculous. Just because you don't agree with some of the tactics animal rights activist use does not make it okay to consume the torture animals endure. I urge you to watch Skin Trade.

  5. Dear most recent anonymous --

    I'm not sure how to interpret your comment -- the original "anonymous" wasn't supporting what you seem to be saying he/she was. Neither was I. If your comment is directed at either of us, it betrays a misunderstanding of the post AND the comments that follow.

    If you read the entire blog, it's pretty darn clear I watched the film VERY closely. I cannot, of course, speak for the first "anonymous".

  6. For your correspondent: An April 2009 study in the UK tracked the survival rate of captive-bred mink when released. The study, done in partnership with Oxford University, looked at the survival of released mink over eight years and found that none died directly due to lack of survival skills. Captive-bred mink do retain wild instincts, and when released, reassimilate into their native habitat. Hope that helps.

  7. Suasoria -- Thank you! That is helpful and important information.


Politeness is always appreciated.