And onto my blog.
I had a mildly frustrating and mildly reassuring experience at my PA lys today. Overall it has left me feeling rather annoyed, but with this little nagging feeling that I have no right to be. The trip began because I needed size 8 dpns to make myself a hat and more of the pink evita for Mom’s Clapotis, and something bulky for a last minute gift. There was also the plan to do some scouting for patterns and yarns for my dad’s birthday present. He wants an argyle button-down sweater vest, very thin, very fine, most likely size 1 or 2 needles. The woman was being very helpful, very informative, very thorough, and seemed very knowledgeable. She also showed my mom a bunch of lamps, those fancy crafting ones whose name I’m blanking on right now, all the varieties of shapes and sizes and magnifying attachments. She was being so helpful and friendly and pleasant I thought I’d ask her for suggestions on non-wool sock yarns. My mistake. I should have known better. She asked me why no wool. I gave my typical, non-confrontational, “I try to avoid using animal products.” I usually try to avoid bringing up this topic at all costs. People do not want to hear it and I don’t want to get into the defending my beliefs debate.
Here I’d like to pause and state very clearly that I do not judge anyone based on what fibers they knit with, what food they eat, or what they’re wearing. Ok, I will mock what they’re wearing if it warrants it, but that’s fashion not ethics. My point is that my choices in these areas are my choices, I don’t require or even expect anyone else to make the same ones and I don’t actively work to persuade others to my views. I am not trying to persuade anyone with this post. I’m just venting. Ok, back to it then.
I wish I had just said I was allergic, but then I get angry that I feel I should have lied to keep myself comfortable. But I’m getting ahead of myself. What followed was a 5-10 minute lecture on why I should use wool. I am not exaggerating. My mom left to browse the store because it made her uncomfortable and I nodded and smiled politely for over 5 minutes, obviously unpersuaded and trying to give her as little feedback or reason to continue as possible. In her defense she remained polite the entire time, her reasons were thought out and substantiated, she did point out non-wool yarns to me, and she did discuss options like that silk where the worm doesn’t die and local farmers, in particular a yarn where she knew the farmer and had been to the farm. She also offered to look into any companies I’d like and mentioned a particular yarn company works to ensure 3rd world countries get fair wages for their labor while another had unethical practices.
Another aside – I know part of the reason I struggle with this is because I am struggling myself to define my own ethical boundaries. My basic M.O. is that my wallet is my vote. I don’t buy things I don’t support and I try to buy things I do support. Insomuch as this is possible. No one is perfect. So wool, I don’t support factory farming. Do I support small farms? Or do I think there’s no reason to ever exploit animals. I do support local businesses and small businesses. Should I then support small local farms? And on that principle should I then make an effort to buy wool from small local farms to support something I believe in? This recently came up with Manos del Uruguay. I would like to support women’s co-ops. But it’s wool. And there’s no indication that the wool is from local farms. It could well be bought cheap from factory farms. A dilemma. In this particular instance Manos del Uruguay offers a cotton yarn, so I’m off the hook. But it’s gotten me thinking. Also, the main reason behind my beliefs is environmentalism. The way we currently mass produce animal products is harmful to the environment. But somewhere along the way I picked up some of the warm fuzzies that make most people go veggie. And now when I hear about mulesing I remember all the pictures I’ve seen of the poor little sheepies tied up and I want to cry. *
Which leads me to her argument:
- She said that sheep have been bred by humans for hundred of years to grow more wool so that they now are uncomfortable if not shorn. Now that we’ve created them it’s our responsibility to take care of them.
I respect this because most arguments I’ve heard say the animals need to be shorn for their own good without acknowledging that it’s our fault that they’re uncomfortable. As though the sheep came into existence with the need for humans to shear it. I still don’t agree with keeping animals in factory conditions, both for environmental and for warm fuzzy reasons. I also don’t consider factory farming “taking care of them.” I’m less decided on smaller operations.
- She said it’s in the farmer’s best interest to keep the sheep healthy to produce the best wool.
I respectfully submit that it is in the farmer’s best interest to produce as cheaply as possible a product that will sell. There’s a reason that a particular bale of wool sold for $675,000, but that we can buy skeins of wool that have gone through a number of hands and processes for next to nothing.
“Suffice to say these sheep are spoilt – they live their lives in cosy sheds dubbed the ‘Wooldorf Astoria,’ they’re hand-fed and have music played to them.” (Article here)
- She said that mulesing has gotten a lot of bad press because of PETA. She explained the process accurately and called it inhumane, however, she said it causes less stress to the sheep than anesthetizing it and is effective against blowfly in an economical way, and sometimes it just comes down to economics. Scientists are working on a chemical treatment, but do we really want more chemicals?
We’ll take as a given that PETA are fanatics who have taken a particularly confrontational approach that seems to enrage as many as it sways. I respect her argument here because she knows what mulesing is and she called it inhumane. I still disagree because I like to try to put my ethics before my economics if possible, and this is a place it’s possible. I keep thinking, you would never do that to a human. But animals aren’t humans and I respect that many people don’t feel the way I do about how they should be treated. Personally, I don’t understand why the sheep just can’t just be kept in conditions less conducive to flystrike. But if she believes it comes down to an economical decision and that fits with her beliefs, I have no argument. And no, we don’t want more chemicals. I haven’t even mentioned my internal debate over the fact that cotton is responsible for an enormous amount of pesticides or what synthetics are made out of. Arg.
But over 5 minutes! On why I need to start using wool when I asked for non-wool sock yarns! Was that really necessary? I didn’t berate her for selling wool. I’m still buying yarn from her shop. Hell, I was even buying something with wool in it! (My mom was buying it and it wasn’t for me, my ethics don’t stop me from knitting wool items for friends if that’s what they want and they’re willing to pay for it. I’m not going to stop them or refuse to knit for them.) So I certainly wasn’t trying to insult her or put her out of business. She baited me by asking why I don’t use wool then jumped on her soapbox. But then I wonder, I believe in free speech, I believe in everyone’s right to their opinion. Other than general social niceties, why shouldn’t she share her viewpoint with me? She seems to just think I’m misguided. And if I weren’t so non-confrontational, perhaps I would have been able to respectfully say, I understand what you’re saying, I respect that you’ve really thought through this and I disagree with you on these points, I hope you can equally respect that. But I didn’t. I nodded. I smiled. When she finally stopped talking I thanked her for all the information and changed the subject. And then I came here to vent. I’m frustrated at her for lecturing me for a relatively really long time and I’m frustrated with myself for standing there and taking it.
Hopefully I haven’t offended any wool knitters. I get the impression that those of you who choose to make your presence known are a very supportive bunch of people and there are many veggies among you. So thanks in advance for your commiseration with my frustration.
And now I’ll distract you with pictures. First up, my Christmas present from my best friend. Then the last minute project, yes, after all that ranting, with wool in it. It’s Plymouth Yarn Encore Mega, 75% acrylic, 25% wool. Made in Turkey, and if the lys lady is to be trusted, they’re the ones that work to ensure fair wages. So at least there’s that. The slipper is knitting up quickly and seems quite comfy. Hopefully the friend will enjoy them along with this whole story. Lastly, fake sheep has made a great page with information on a huge variety of non-animal yarns for anyone who’s interested. She also writes eloquently on her reasons for being a vegan knitter.
* I am purposefully not describing the process of mulesing or general conditions of factory animals and not linking to any pictures. I said I don’t preach and the pictures are graphic. You can google mulesing if you want. Also, I’m a firm believer that information from each side is heavily biased, so I’m not sure where I could comfortably link to. Make sure you take anything you read with a grain of salt.