Why Are We Against Wearing Fur, But OK with Eating Meat?

Why Are We Against Wearing Fur, But OK with Eating Meat?


I'm not always the fastest horse in the Derby, but even I couldn't miss the irony of pitying one species of animal while licking my chops like a cartoon wolf with the desire to eat another.

That's how my life was playing out the week before Thanksgiving. I was looking forward with great culinary lust to a great big turkey with bronze skin that would glisten like the Ban de Soliel girl and smell like the comfort and safety of childhood holidays. At the same time I was trying to piece together a story on how messed up it is that the fashion industry still uses fur. There seems to be a lot of fur this year, as noted on Web sites like Style.com and the Wall Street Journal blog and I only noticed it all because I'm a fan of Tim Gunn, the breakout star of Project Runway and one of the only adults on television.

Gunn is solidly anti-fur. He made this video for PETA (seen here on the unfortunately named Peta Files page) showing footage of animals being skinned, butchered, anally electrocuted and having their heads nailed to trees -- many while still alive and conscious. If you can watch it without feeling like your soul is going to barf, the FBI should have a look at you.

So is there really a lot of fur this year? Or was I only noticing it because I'd seen this heinous video?

"Sadly fur is always a big part of fashion. It's never gone away and every fall/winter season there's a lot of it," says Maryellen Gordon, fashion industry expert and a former editor at Glamor and WWD. "There was a small moment in the '90s when PETA made teeny inroads with a few designers who switched to fake fur. But that true designer customer still loves her fur and fake just won't cut it for that person."

So the video did affect my notice of the fur, and frankly, it baffled me. It seems so dated, like seeing a dial phone on someone's desk. Fur is a faded idea of glamor, like top hats and long cigarette holders, that may have been grand in the yellowed past, but now should just stay there, in the past.

Then there was Janet.

Janet Jackson, who has long been a style icon of mine, recently became the latest star in the "What Becomes a Legend Most?" campaign for Blackglama furs. It's an especially interesting paradox since Janet doesn't eat meat. (Michael was also a vegetarian.)

It would be easy for me to judge Jackson for wearing fur, but frankly it's easy to be self-righteous about things to which you have no access. Of course, I can indignantly say I'd never wear fur, but I have no access to fur. It's like boycotting a trip to the moon. Janet and I both have access to eating meat and she chooses not to, which means that Blackglama or not, she kind of wins this round.

But how do we come to have these paradoxes at all? Why is fur OK but not meat, or meat OK but not fur? Why do some people refuse to eat red meat, but will eat chicken, or refuse chicken but eat fish? Why is eating one animal disgusting while eating another is a holiday?  

While mulling these questions I happened onto the book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, by Melanie Joy. Joy calls our paradoxical view of animals as either pets, clothes or meat "carnism" -- a belief system that relies on its own invisibility -- keep us from noticing what we're eating and how it's made -- so we perpetuate its dominance in the marketplace without giving it much thought.

"If slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be a vegetarian," Joy quotes Paul McCartney as saying. The idea that we seldom see the process by which animals are turned into entrees is an example of invisibility. Language is another. We refer to cows as "beef," and pigs as "bacon," a small but significant way of distancing ourselves from them. Fish and fowl are less like us and so, Joy says, we're comfortable just saying what they are.

View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/149020/
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