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February 1-7, 2006

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Silicon Veggie - Elisa Camahort

Silicon Veggie

Why Veganism?

By Elisa Camahort

SOMEONE who writes for an eco-conscious blog asked me about veganism and what was wrong with dairy, eggs, wool, etc. I have chronicled here my lack of success going vegan inside my body. But I've been a vegan outside my body for a decade, eschewing wool, silk, leather, beeswax candles and the like.

I explain veganism as follows:

Veganism, as a philosophy, starts with the precept that humans don't have any right to "use" animals and that our use of animals, who have no choice in the matter, is exploitation. To the extent possible vegans should avoid that exploitation.

With that philosophy as a starting point, the extent of harm to the living creature is moot. Vegans don't participate in what they consider to be exploitation, just as some people don't want to buy clothing made with sweatshop labor. Vegans believe their lifestyle is healthier for people, the environment, and of course, animals.

For those who don't believe this wholesale, there are still reasons to avoid animal products, much of which involves the cruel practice of factory farming, where chickens, sheep and cows live in appalling conditions. One might think that wool production is benign—like getting a haircut—and perhaps it was, before sheep were bred for constant wool production, rather than seasonal production linked to molting. Now, sheep are sheared before they would shed their winter coats, then the wool grows back during the summer months. Many sheep die of exposure every year.

Worst of all is a technique called mulesing. Merino sheep produce the most wool because they have the most folds of skin. Unfortunately, all those folds become breeding grounds for fly infestations around their tail. The factory farm solution for this problem is to carve off folds of skin—yes, skin—hoping to create a smooth, scarred surface where flies can't lay eggs. They don't use anesthesia. There is nothing benign about factory farm conditions, and it's hard to make sure you're not getting such products.

That brings us to that qualifying phrase "to the extent possible." I do my best with diet, which isn't good enough, but it's better than doing nothing. However, being a vegan in my clothing and accessory choices is easy. So I turn the "Why vegan?" question around. When you know that buying vegan can eliminate your contribution to cruel practices and that you can get function and style with vegan alternatives, then the question becomes: "Why not vegan?"

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