Sunday, September 16, 2012

Leather or Not

I recently fell in love with these boots.

Frye Vera Slouch

{Image via  I hope they won’t mind.}

(Here’s an even better photo of them from Already Pretty.)

They are made of leather.  And they cost $358.  But hey, at least shipping is free from Zappos!

What I love about these boots: the rich brown color, the low heel, the cute-but-rugged buckle details, the height.  What I don’t love about these boots: they are made of leather.  The price tag inhibits me too, but I think it’s the combination of leather plus price tag that really inhibits me.

It’s funny to me that after all I’ve written about vegetarianism on this blog, I have yet to tell you my own story about becoming vegetarian.  I should fix that.  But the short story is that I am a vegetarian for environmental reasons.  I think the factory-farming of animals is incredibly wasteful of resources, and I don’t want to be a part of it.  Giving up meat was a gradual process for me, at first motivated by health reasons, but the environmental concerns weighed heavily on my mind.  That concern was the final push for me—I gave up eating chicken, and that was the end of my meat-eating.  (And who needs chicken when you’ve got land scallops*?!)

I’ve never worried too much about my consumption of animal products off the plate.  Why?  I suppose out of laziness and a sense of exasperation: I’ve already given up eating cows, chickens, pigs, tuna fish—anything with a backbone, really—and isn’t that enough?  I mean, seriously!  I’m not out to make myself a martyr or anything.  In addition, I try really hard to get maximum wear out of my wearables.  I wear out shoes, jeans, and shirts.  I have a belt I bought in high school, and it’s starting to fall apart, but I don’t care: it’s my favorite black belt.  I had a pair of boots whose life expectancy I extended by taking them to the cobbler to be repaired.  I take really good care of my clothing—that’s how I get my money’s worth out of it.  So when it came to leather, my reasoning was that if my leather consumption was pretty minimal and I wore my leather stuff to shreds, then that seems like good stewardship.  I’ll give myself an “A” for green living.

But then I listened to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s podcast episode entitled “Leather: Not an Innocent Byproduct.”  What a title!  Ka-pow!  Talk about myth-busting from the get-go.  The episode is very compelling, and I urge you to listen to it (it’s free!).  The takehome message that stopped me in my tracks is that the meat industry requires the leather industry in order to stay profitable.  Animal agriculture and industrial slaughter is so resource-intensive (and thus expensive) that if the skins and hair of these animals could not be sold at a profit, the meat industry would not be financially sustainable.  (Not that it is now, since the government subsidizes many aspects of it, but that’s another story.)

In other words, if and when I choose to buy leather goods, I am giving profits to the very industry that fills me with anger and righteous indignation: conventional animal agriculture.  To say that this makes me unhappy is a severe understatement.

And yet…those boots!  So beautiful!  And why do vegetarians have to say no not only to meat but also cute boots?  I admit, I have moments when I feel resentful of my own ethics.  Here in Texas, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples called Meatless Monday “a slap in the face” because “last I checked, USDA had a very specific duty to promote and champion American agriculture.  Imagine Ford or Chevy discouraging the purchase of their pickup trucks.  Anyone else see the absurdity? How about the betrayal?”

Pardon the profanity, but oh my fucking god.  You have got to be kidding me!  But my heart was lifted by the comment from Darryl A. Baker, who wrote, “Nope.  I am a meat eater and I have been doing meatless monday for almost 2 years now.  Nothing whatsoever wrong with foregoing meat just one day a week.  Get a clue and get over it, dude.  You are wrong on this.”

Bless you, Darryl A. Baker.  Bless you.

My point is that the meat-eating culture is so deeply entrenched here that the agriculture commissioner thinks it makes perfect sense to protest Meatless Mondays, as though someone is trying to make it mandatory for all Americans.  Last I checked, nobody is being arrested for eating meat on Mondays.  So while Todd Staples is up in arms about one day without meat, I am deeply torn about buying a pair of leather boots which will probably last me through years of wear.  Years of wear—that seems like a good return on investment.

But I still don’t feel right about it.  Oh, leather, I hate you for being so beautiful—a lovely thing that is the product of too much cruelty to contemplate.

Stay tuned for Part Two…did I buy the boots?  Did I stage a protest outside of Todd Staples’s house?  Did I send letters to the USDA asking them to support Veggie Tuesday or Fruity Friday?   

* Land scallops, aka tofu.


Raquelita said...

Okay, I love the look of Frye's, but they do not suit the shape of my foot at all. Most of their boots I can't even get my foot into (it's rigid with a high arch) and their shoes just feel absurdly wrong on my feet. It's too bad because they are cute.

I hope you come to peace with whatever decision you make.

Rosiecat said...

R, thank you so much for your thoughts on Frye's boots! I've never tried them on, and the issues you mention would probably be hard on my feet too. Gorgeous but unwearable boots don't belong in my closet.

Interestingly, I was basically anti-boot for a long time because I hated the snow boots I had to wear as a kid, and I have such big calves that a lot of sleek boots are too tight. Rediscovering boots as a grown-up has been a pleasure!

Chrissy (The New Me) said...

This is such a good debate. One thing that Nathan points out to me (I am vegetarian for moral reasons, he is for environmental) is that sometimes the materials used to make vegan boots/pleather is more harmful to the environment then a simple animal product like leather. I don't know how accurate this idea is, but it's worth thinking about. One of the reason I started eating eggs again was because I thought it over and came to the conclusion that eggs from a local farm (or better yet, my own backyard) are better for the environment than a package of tofu shipped from who knows where.

Basically, I feel like the leather issue - like everything else - is not a black and white issue. You're obviously a smart, compassionate, and thoughtful person, and I know whatever choice you make will be the right one.

(And I agree that the boots are cute, but that the price tag seems too high for what they are, leather or not!)

Rosiecat said...

Yes, I totally agree with all your points, Chrissy! I thought the same thing about leather vs. pleather, etc., and I think it's an empirical question. In her podcast, Colleen talks about how it takes a ton of nasty chemicals to make leather from animal skins, and she claims it takes more chemicals and energy to make leather than to make man-made textiles. Ultimately, it may come down to specifics: this pair of boots versus that pair of boots. But it's undeniable that leather goods do support the meat industry, which sucks. For me, I think that whenever possible, I'll try to avoid leather. I suspect it will be an imperfect system, but I'd like to try.

Eggs are a good counterexample here because they *can* be a cruelty-free animal product, and they really are amazing when it comes to nutrition and cooking. I love tofu and eggs, but I tend to think that eggs are superior nutritionally because they are less processed.

(I know! $358! Shocking!)