Why Vegan?

23 Jan

Cotton is the most common vegan fiber. Photo by scottchan.

You may have noticed that there is one common theme for all of my projects on this blog: The yarn is vegan. Veganism is a lifestyle in which you abstain to the best of your ability from eating or using any materials derived from or tested on animals. This includes meat, dairy products, most mainstream toiletries brands, leather, silk and wool.

I’ve lived a vegan lifestyle for four years, and was an ovo-lacto vegetarian for 6 years before that, which means I didn’t eat meat or fish, but I did eat eggs and dairy, and I used products made from and tested on animals. The switch came from my belief that human veganism is most in-line with my views on morality and biology. I believe humans are meant to be herbivores – though we can tolerate omnivorous diets – and I believe that I should respect the web of life that I am a part of by not causing any harm to other living creatures. This belief is also called “ahimsa” in Sanskrit, and literally means “to do no harm”. It is a term many people are familiar with because Mohandas Gandhi applied it to his non-violent revolution in India in the 1940s.

I have a tattoo on my forearm of "Ahimsa" in Sanskrit as a reminder to respect all life. Though many tattoo inks contain animal fat, this brand of tattoo ink is vegetable-based.

In the knitting world, I belong to a small, sometimes unwelcome community. Knitters who use animal fiber – wool, mohair, angora, silk, etc. – may believe that animals are intended for human use, and others still may work with those animals and have close relationships with them, seeing to their welfare and treating them fairly. I understand that some farms do treat their sheep, llamas or rabbits with respect and love. However, the idea of veganism promotes the respect of all animals, and not just the lucky few who live on nice small farms.

Say for instance that a small farm with less than 20 sheep produces high-quality yarn from their herd. This yarn will cost significantly more and be produced in tiny batches. Large companies that ship yarn to every craft store in America will need much more wool. They will likely use factory farms to get their wool. These factory farms are pretty much exactly what they sound like: Factories. The animals unlucky enough to be raised in these factories are not treated as individuals and often live short lives in filthy, cramped conditions. Because sheep are also killed for meat, much of this wool comes from sheared sheep on their way to slaughter, or even from their skin after slaughter. This mass production of wool means that skeins of yarn cost significantly less for the consumer, and many knitters will buy these brands because they are budget-friendly.

I don’t believe that these knitters are evil, careless people. But we live in a mass-production society, and often animals are caught in the cross-hairs of consumerism. If I purchased and used a wool yarn from a small farm where the sheep were loved and lived out long and happy lives, I would break solidarity with the unfortunate sheep serving their lives as cogs in a factory farm. If I knit a cute wool hat made with yarn from well-treated sheep, I may inspire another knitter to make that same hat out of factory-farmed wool.

Silkworm cocoons are boiled with the worms inside them to create silk (with the exception of “wild silk”, which uses found cocoons). Factory-farmed angora rabbits are tied spread-eagle and shaved, not carefully plucked by a hand-spinner. For every single animal raised with love, a thousand are treated with no regard for their life or comfort.

Some animals are harmed indirectly in the production of crops for plant fibers like cotton, bamboo, soy and corn silk. However, through vocal opposition of careless farming and harvesting practices, veganism continues to support a harmless alternative to animal fiber. Cotton may not be nearly as warm as wool, but at the end of the day I can wear my handknits and know that I did my best to live according to ahimsa.

I hope that non-vegan knitters read my blog. I want to share the joys and frustrations of knitting with all of you. But if anyone is turned away from my work because of my vegan lifestyle, I won’t apologize. I try my hardest to lead a good life, even when it places me out of the mainstream.

To learn more about veganism and mass wool production, visit the Vegan Society website.

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4 Responses to “Why Vegan?”

  1. luminousvegans 01/23/2012 at 8:56 PM #

    Well hello fellow vegan knitter! You ‘re the second I’ve stumbled onto having gone years only knowing vegan knitters who still used wool (?!). Excellent points on how anything mass produced is going to require factories. I look forward to reading your blog and seeing what kind of yummy vegan yarn you use!

  2. nicolaknits 01/23/2012 at 10:52 PM #

    Thanks for your well-written post. I’m a vegan knitter too, who came over here from your link on Ravelry (I’m nicolaknits). I was very interested to hear about tattoo ink because I may just want a tattoo one day and I’m glad to know that I should ask about the ink.

    • bpallares 01/23/2012 at 10:58 PM #

      @nicolaknits: I was lucky to hear about tattoo ink before I got my first one done (I also have a decorative “V” on my leg). The ink is Classic brand and says “vegan friendly” right on the bottle. The lifestyle is mainstream enough now that artists at most reputable tattoo parlors will be familiar with your concerns, and if they don’t carry Classic ink, they may be able to refer to someone who does. Thanks for reading!

  3. jill davis 01/24/2012 at 7:49 AM #

    I was just explaining to a group of women yesterday why my lovely hand knit socks were not made from wool! You go girl and know your Mama supports you!

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