Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

does second-hand figure into your ethics equation? March 4, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — mmcquirter @ 1:33 pm

Did you hear about Gilbert Arenas hosting PETA’s fur give-away at the Rachael’s Women’s Center in DC this past Tuesday?  Arenas handed out second-hand furs to women at a center that supports former and current homeless women.

These kinds of events, as well as my thrift/free store & Nordstrom’s trips to find shoes, always make me revisit my ethical equation of used consumption over new consumption divided by non-animal equals wearing used organic hemp shoes in the winter!

What does your ethical equation look like? Would you choose to wear a second-hand fur over a new non-animal coat?  What about new Franco Sarto faux boots (!) over second-hand leather shoes at a free store?

Does the self-knowledge of choosing to wear free leather shoes bcuz free is better for the  environment trump the potentiality of perpetuating the idea that animals are intended primarily for human needs?



31 Responses to “does second-hand figure into your ethics equation?”

  1. Wendy Says:

    I’ve never been homeless (thankfully!) but I would like to think that, regardless, I would stick by my ethics.

    As I’m not (again, thankfully) in that position at this time, there is no way I’d ever wear animal skins, even second-hand. I get kind of sick just thinking about what those animals went through, and knowing that I don’t even know all the pain they endured — no.

    And, like you mentioned, Marya, there’s the whole idea of perpetuating the myth that animal exploitation is okay. I don’t believe or accept that.

    And, um — what the hell is peta doing? Trying to gain public support? They’d do a lot better if they actually worked for animal rights rather than publicity.

  2. It’s always struck me as ironic that the most complicated aspects of veganism has nothing to do with food itself. When it comes to what to ingest, the guidelines are clear. Other areas are more ambiguous.

    It’s clear, obviously, that wool/fur/leather are not vegan products and thus ideally are avoided entirely. But the question of what’s better, gas-guzzling new plastic boots or twenty year-old leather ones, ultimately comes down to which aspect of the vegan belief system is personally more compelling.

    For some it will be the boycott of animal exploitation in any form, including the simple perpetuation of the idea that boots made of animal skin are a viable option. (Notably, both real and fake leather are complicit in this.)

    But for others it will be the real and immediate environmental consequences of the act of consumption that are of ultimate concern, in which case the purchase of the leather boots is a far more justifiable act than the new vegan ones.

    Neither concern should be dismissed, and consciousness in the act of purchase is one of the most important aspects of moral consumption.

    In the end, I can’t tolerate leather or fur on an emotional level, and don’t buy fake versions, either. I have, on occasion, bought second-hand wool.

  3. adam Says:

    I think another factor to consider in this is the intention of PETA in “donating” furs to the homeless. They are doing so to associate fur with people perceived as abject in our society. Rather than a charitable act, it might better be seen as misogynistic, classist, and sometimes transphobic (as Ida @ The Vegan Ideal has pointed out). Whether it perpetuates animal exploitation and/or ecological degradation are only two factors.

    • Anon2 Says:

      Adam, I’m not following your point at all. How is this act misogynistic? If they did *not* donate to a womens shelter ( only mens ) I can see how one could say they hate women…but they are donating to a womens shelter…so they are misogynistic if they DO or DO NOT donate? and how does this act have anything to do with transphobia? Can you please elaborate?

      On a bigger note…is transphobic a word used solely in academia?…because there are words on this blog that I have to look up to learn the meaning.

      • Grace Says:

        Here’s where the transphobia is in how PETA tries to depict fur wearers: (if you google PETA and “fur is a drag” you’ll find more pictures but I don’t want to give their offensive sites any more hits if I can avoid it)

        With that and the things Newkirk said (“Fur has lost all its cachet. It’s yesterday. I see prostitutes in Atlantic City wearing fur.”) that are quoted in the blog post at The Vegan Ideal that adam shared , PETA associate fur with marginalized women to try to convince richer women that fur is “trashy” and out of style, which I think is transphobic, misogynist (since it’s about encouraging women to identify against other women, and because I think being anti-sex worker and anti-trans is misogynist), and classist, and it seems like giving these coats away is another attempt of theirs to associate fur with marginalized women (even if their intent is also partially to actually help people, I’ve seen PETA do way too many offensive things to believe that they had purely noble intentions).

      • Anon2 Says:

        Grace, now I understand the transphobia pt. I had not seen the ‘drag’ campaign before. Agreed that this is very offensive.

        A little off topic–I do not understand the misogynist point you are making. You said “because I think being anti-sex worker and anti-trans is misogynist”. Well if a group was pro-sex worker then some people would say “They are putting down women because they are allowing ( accepting) an industry which degrades/objectifies women…thus continuing classism and the continual mistreatment of women” So in this case other people could make the case that by allowing (that this is acceptable occupation ) the continual mistreatment of women as opposed to society/govt/politicians coming up with real alternatives is a form of keeping women degraded…thus misogynistic. Thoughts…is the word misogynism being misused in association with this point?

      • Stentor Says:

        I’m an academic, but I learned the term “transphobic” from blogs, not academia. It’s a word that’s not in common usage, and thus you had to look it up, because our society at large doesn’t take transphobia seriously as a problem and therefore doesn’t teach people a word for it.

      • Grace Says:

        Anon2–I think there’s a huge difference between being anti-sex worker, which is what I said and think is more clearly misogynist/sexist (especially when people like Newkirk put down sex workers, especially as shallowly as she did, but don’t say anything about their clients), and anti-sex work itself (which is a much bigger topic of feminist debate)

  4. art Says:

    this is a really good question and one i’m constantly faced with. veganism is to an extent an elitist lifestyle, in so much that it’s usually only people of privilege who can afford to live a vegan lifestyle. when veganism conflicts with my very strong ideologies of anti-consumerism and racial justice, where’s a good resolution?

    curious about how others have dealt with this.

    p.s. and i think what PETA is doing is a great thing; if anyone should be wearing fur, it’s the people who can’t afford a better alternative.

    • Anon2 Says:

      Art, so in order to afford non-organic fruits and has to be privileged? Considering the cost of non-organic veggies such potatoes to the cost of meat…I would think almost anyone can afford to be vegan ( or at least vegetarian ). Also non-leather jackets/shoes are typically cheaper than the animal counterparts.

    • Wendy Says:

      Oh no, I am so tired of hearing how veganism is elitist. It is the least elitist way of eating, far superior to “local” and “happy meat,” and all that other crap.

      Certainly there are aspects of vegan eating that can be expensive, but by and large the non-processed foods are a lot cheaper than eating chunks of animal flesh. Take into account all the health problems associated with meat and dairy, especially in fast food which has been designed precisely to be addictive and the expense of the omnivorous diet far outweighs that of the vegan diet.

      Vegans need to stop asserting that we eat an upscale, elitist diet. It’s just not true, and I think it creates divisions where none need be. I remember hearing this stupid assertion in an anarchist magazine several years ago. I’m really tired of the radical community that can’t understand this. (Before I finally found a job that enables me to pay my bills and have a little left over, I lived under the established poverty guidelines and I managed to eat and live vegan.)

      • Wendy, I feel like the way vegan MAINSTREAM lifestyle is advertised, it comes across as white class privileged lifestyle, and I am wondering if that is why so many people keep on saying that veganism = elitism. It’s very general and stereotyping, but the mere fact that it keeps on coming up has me wondering why this notion is being reproduced over and over again. Thanks for your contribution.

        I am reading Rhetorics of Consumption: Identity, Confrontation, and Corporatization in the American Vegetarian Movement by Patricia Marie Malesh. It is her 2005 dissertation. She asks this interesting question and explores it in her manuscript. Let me know via email if anyone wants this pdf of her dissertation.

        What happens when a self-proclaimed identity, such as a vegetarian identity, is claimed in front of those who do not share this identity but who have preconceptions about it? (Malesh 2005, 16)

        It’s the “preconception about it” that I thought was useful in responding to Wendy.

      • JOsh Says:

        I had a few points I wanted to make.
        As to the main question: new organic vegan clothing or 2nd hand?
        I am much more about the utilitarian value of clothing and I try to support the capitalist system as little as I can so I’d go with 2nd hand as much as possible. I wouldn’t buy faux pas leather shoes because you’re still sort of supporting the idea that leather products are attractive. Also, there are farms that raise other animals in humane ways (natural diet and pasture-raised, etc) and these animals are going to be used for meat products and if that is the case, you might as well utilize as much of the body parts for what you can – think of the natives of the land before europeans came. I think theres a fact that says cows can be found in hundreds of products including tennis rackets…

        2nd point: on elitist vegans
        I don’t think the vegan lifestyle itself is elitist, but there are individuals out there who are vegan and act elitist about their choice. I’ve met maybe a dozen vegans or so since first becoming interested in veg’nism around 11th/12th grade, I’m 24 now, and I’ve seen most of these vegan folks give scrunched nosed looks when other non-vegans were talking about their vegetarianism or non-veganism…

        One female college student in particular always comes to my mind, one time a group of us (veg’ns) decided to have dinner party and my one friend had made the one food offering that wasn’t completely vegan and this vegan woman in a sort of disgusted voice said, “I can’t eat that”. She easily could had said something in a better way, shown her appreciation while still stating that she wouldn’t be able to try the dish.

        It’s as if nothing is ever good enough, and these folks that I know are always trying to find a way to be better, “oh you still use regular sugar? well I gave that up two months ago and only use sugar in the raw!”
        Some food purchases are, obviously, influenced by cost and some people just can’t afford these things…

        Someone said that buying local and/or “happy meat” is elitist, I don’t entirely agree. It really comes down to the individual and why they choose to do what they do.
        I am only using my personal experience and I do extend this perspective onto all other vegans, just so you all know 🙂

        I was vegetarian for a year or so two years ago, and off and on for a little before and after that. It does break my heart to hear and see how other animals suffer in these industrial farms and all, but I still purchase and eat meat. The truth is that some animals eat other animals, it’s a natural part of life. (I don’t like the idea of people forcing their pets to eat vegan diets when their bodies weren’t designed for it)
        I think that it’s all just about moderation. I don’t over indulge in any foods that I buy… when I buy meat products I always try my hardest to buy locally sourced/naturally raised and fed/etc meats. I live in Lancaster County, PA and so this isn’t too hard to do as there is a growing environmental movement (buy fresh, buy local, things like that).

        I like this blog, I just found it the other day and hope to look around some more.

  5. Erica Says:

    I have not fully decided how I feel about Peta’s doing this. I think they are publicity junkies of course. I think they’d do anything for a look. I think they make vegan women look bad, since when I try to vocalize my animal rights perspective, I am sometimes thought of and labeled as a peta person, which in the end trivializes everything I am saying, and subjects me to feeling degraded( by mostly men) who can’t take Peta seriously, and therefore can not take me seriously when I attempt to speak up for animals.

    I think if Peta is doing anything, there is the possibility of shady motivations behind it. On the one hand, in encourages people to give. On the other hand, it is labeling the homeless with something taboo. I also can’t understand the single campaign issue that acts as though fur is the greatest evil and completely ignores leather, which is of course, the same exact thing! I don’t buy the lie that fur is somehow more cruel.

    In the past I have not had any second thoughts about donating fur to homeless animals as bedding, but there is still something totally creepy about that.

    As far as new synthetic vs. old leather. This is still an issue that haunts me to this day esp b/c synthetics tend to be cheap and fall apart in addition to being crappy for the environment. I can get leather shoes thrift for $4 if I wanted to. I feel guilty either way. The thought of leather (i personally own none) is very haunting. I usually go for alternative materials…thrift if possible, but I rarely find anything suitable. If only there were a magical answer to this dilemma!

  6. JV Says:

    i feel that to throw them away is entirely wasteful. and waste, at the expense of someone who is poor and cannot afford warmth, is also immoral. i am vegan. but i temper my veganism with realism and practicality. how could anyone think that letting someone go cold is better than clothing them with fur? in my opinion that is just awful. and just another reason why so many people hate vegans and assume we are all elitist, holier-than-thou freaks who value animal life over human life.

    • Wendy Says:

      “so many people hate vegans and assume we are all elitist, holier-than-thou freaks who value animal life over human life.”

      I feel two ways about this. On the one hand it’s important as a vegan and animal rights activist (not always the same thing) to be open and understanding. On the other hand, my point in being an animal rights activist is to focus on the plight of non-human animals. If I were a child advocate, no one would say: “OMG, you mean you hate adults?! Why don’t you speak out for women’s rights as well? Men’s rights?” I do see a connection among oppressions, but when I choose to work on helping a chained dog over helping out at a homeless shelter that’s not because I don’t think homeless people don’t need help, it’s that time is limited and that non-human animals is where I feel I can best make a difference.

      I get it that humans are offended by this, but working extra-hard to make sure that humans aren’t offended: no thanks. I don’t strive to be offensive to the majority of people I meet (many of whom have no trouble being offensive toward me as a vegan or lesbian), and I can’t help how they respond. True enough that people are the cause of animals’ problems, and therefore people are the ones who need to be reached to change. Which is probably one of the reasons why I’m not always as mean as I could be to people. My point is NOT to alienate people; that is not what I want. That doesn’t benefit animals or anyone else, really.

      I agree it’s a problem that vegans ought to take seriously, but at the end of the day nobody can make anyone else do, be, act or feel something. We can inspire, encourage, be a catylst (geez, my spelling brain isn’t working today – that looks like it’s spelled wrong) in both a positive and negative direction, but if the meat-eating populace thinks I’m elitist because I’m vegan and because I’m uncomfortable with anyone wearing animal skins there’s not much I can do about it.

  7. JV Says:

    and seriously—when was the last time PETA did anything that was anything more than a publicity stunt? i dare say they’d buy those coats new just to give them out and get some more time in the limelight.

  8. Anna Says:

    Consumption is bad for the environment, which hurts all animals. I thin buying second hand is more important than buying new vegan shoes. All these issues are linked.

  9. supernovadiva Says:

    i thought about this for a while. on a personal level i’ve dealt with this, as i’m sure we all have on some level. recently a friend offered me a very nice leather sectional. i would like a newer couch, but i passed it on to a family members who don’t share the same principles i have. the same goes for the coats of my prior life. i handed them to those who consume animal products. but there wasn’t an air of ‘well i’m doing you a favor by giving you this’ as i’m kinda feeling in this PETA stunt. there is a level of elitism. as an animal rights organization i don’t think they should be handing out animal products. they could have easily donated these collected coats to salvation army or an organization like that. there’s something a little unsettling how they chose their ‘benefactors’. why only fur coats? there’s people who don’t do fur because of allergies. were they ‘helped’?

    • Wendy Says:

      “but there wasn’t an air of ‘well i’m doing you a favor by giving you this’ as i’m kinda feeling in this PETA stunt. there is a level of elitism. as an animal rights organization i don’t think they should be handing out animal products. they could have easily donated these collected coats to salvation army or an organization like that. there’s something a little unsettling how they chose their ‘benefactors’. why only fur coats”

      Oh thank you for articulating that so nicely!! That’s how I feel too.

  10. Sholly Says:

    In my opinion, we need to support vegan clothing companies (which are, a lot of the times, growing). A lot of these companies, from my understanding, are also organic, fair-trade/non-sweat, and sometimes (at least somewhat) recycled/sustainable. However, I think thrifting is a good practice to put to use with this (for one thing, who can always afford all those crazy-awesome-but-expensive coats and clothes?). I couldn’t see myself wearing fur or leather, because I don’t like perpetrating the idea, and it also feels very strange (and wrong) to me. Wool is a point where I sway a bit, mostly because it’s generally impossible for people to tell whether it is wool or something else — and also it freaks me out less because it isn’t still attached to their skin.

  11. prof susurro Says:

    I didn’t get a chance to go through all the comments here so if someone has already said this forgive the repeat:

    I am deeply concerned by the way choice or the word “choose” is mobilized in this post particularly since it juxtaposes designer vegan labels with free items under the assumption we all can afford both. The benefit was for homeless women who likely do not have the resources to choose their clothes based on ethics but rather on survival. Hypothermia and frostbite are major concerns for the homeless community and they kill and/or permanently disable a considerable percentage of homeless people every year. Wearing vegan ethical shoes for the few hours you have to be outside is not the same choice as wearing second hand leather ones for 16-24 hours you will have to be outside if you are homeless.

    I think one of the hardest things about veganism, and/or other liberal politics, is the assumption of middle class identity (even among those people who do not see themselves as middle class but when the books are balanced have more than most) and how it can erase critical differences in our agency and/or choices. Where the homeless women are making their choices on the basis of survival, PETA has other available choices. They could easily ask vegan designers to make or donate winter warm coats and shoes for their shelter giveaway in exchange for free advertising related to the event (not only do they get event advertising this way but can bring up their involvement from then on to secure both economic and social capital). In the same way that PETA has a choice about whether or not to kill all the animals they rescue or fundraise to support positions for people to find places for those animals to go, they have a choice about what types of products they giveaway to support the survival of people whose choices are far more difficult.

    When we think about choice, or agency, we have to remember that choices are not made in a vacuum in which power and access are constant. PETA has much broader choices than homeless women do and those choices contribute to the availability of ethical options for homeless women.

    So perhaps the better question here is: if you were to donate to a homeless shelter, would you donate the animal products you are clearing out after having gone vegan b/c of a commitment to challenging consumption and waste or would you donate vegan items so as to make available ethical choices to people in need?

    • supernovadiva Says:

      great answer. that’s the deal. when i worked in this area there were a lot of non veg decisions i’ve made because it wasn’t about my politics. i did my best to create choice so all needs were met on what was available. there were a few recent vegetarians in the group due to the fact that one big area (not being homeless) had been taken care of. i made sure there was food to take care of their needs too. being veg sometimes is a luxury.

    • Wendy Says:

      While I was just answering the question asked in the original post, it’s true that I don’t know what it’s like to be homeless (thank god), and I appreciate your insight a lot.

      And yet sometimes it’s still hard for me — as I sit here looking at pictures of rescued animals on my calendar I wonder sometimes why human animals still are the major factor for people advocating for non-human animals. Or where those who advocate for both draw their lines? Obviously those of us who call ourselves animal rights activists focus mainly on helping non-humans. Because this has been my focus, and in all honesty I see this continuing, I wonder how others have managed to split the balancel how *do* you balance things between those with absolutely no voice and those with a whisper? Those who, at least on paper, have legal rights and those who do not?

      But thanks for the insight; it’s very appreciated and a really good reminder for me.

      • johanna Says:

        “Obviously those of us who call ourselves animal rights activists focus mainly on helping non-humans”

        Really? I think there are a lot of people, including at least some of the bloggers here, who wouldn’t see it as an either/or thing. So if I call myself an animal rights activist I can’t call myself a human rights activist or a feminist or an anti-racist or… ?

  12. Doris Says:

    This issue is similar to the difference between freeganism and veganism. While I’m sure the freegan has less of an impact on animals and the environment, the freegan might be doing some un-vegan things, like wearing used leather shoes. It bothers me when someone (no one here, that I’ve noticed) argues that, because you’re not supporting the leather industry, used leather shoes are vegan.

    It’s a slightly different issue because taking shoes from a free store is not the same as taking shoes out of the trash. At the free store, you might be taking leather shoes away from someone who would otherwise go out and buy new leather shoes, while the freegan is using something that would’ve gone to a landfill.

  13. […] conversation about PETA’s latest move so jarring. At the heart of MMcquirter’s post, does second-hand figure into your ethics equation?, was a question about freeganism vs. veganism and which of these better serves animal rights. […]

  14. […] Examining Classism in Vegan Rhetoric March 14, 2010 Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 6:03 am Tags: classism intersectionality Prof Susurro at Like a Whisper recently deconstructs some class privilege in the VOC discussion on the about second-hand items. […]

  15. […] products aren’t appropriate for me, but here, you can use them,” which would make me more like PETA than I care to be. And this doesn’t even get into wool, something I’ve grown to love now that I’m […]

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