Friday, November 28, 2008

To Buy or Not to Buy?

A while back I was watching a show on TV (Deserving Design, this episode), and noticed that the room that was being decorated was similar to mine but oh, so much better (*cough*cough* the attention being paid to my apartment while I am at school is sadly lacking, I am afraid to say)! Sandy browns, sea blues and dark woods. AND A ZEBRA SKIN CUSHIONs. Or, at least, ones that kind of look like it. Fake, yes, but the stripes just look superb in that room.

I happened to mention it to the right person, my wonderful friend back home who is an interior designer. She then asked if I would like a REAL zebra skin cushion.

Hmm. A good question. I am, as you probably already know, trying my best to live in an ecologically sound and responsible way. What would the implications of a real skin on my couch be? Also, would it upset me to see it? A few years ago I thought I would become a member of Peta . I take this seriously... however, I also believe in balance. I believe we are stewards in this world, and should protect it but with the imbalances of how we live its not as simple as condemning everything that is not in tune, at first glance, of that principle. I do eat meat. But not a lot. That kind of thing. Balance.

I didn't join Peta because I read an article on their site, which misguidedly spoke about how elephants were being killed unnecessarily in South Africa. Perhaps it is a presumption of mine, but surely if this is their business they would know that elephants eat about 5% of their body weight a day, and the largest weigh up to 6 1/2 tons (these are facts I found online. They might not be too accurate but the point remains: an elephant will push over shrubs and trees while eating. And they eat a lot). If elephant herds grow too large, they can decimate their environment, and that impacts other animals in that environment. Sometimes culling is the only way forward (even though it is not the best. If there are no other homes to move elephant families to, what do you do?) I don't see Peta running reservations to take these animals in.

Okay, okay, venting done. Back to the cushion. My friend suggested I take a look at African Gameskin, a skin supplier who participates in government approved animal herd reduction programs, and a company that actively works to reduce unemployment by employing people in previously disadvantaged areas. This I can consider. I liked the zebra skin on a handbag, it had the same brown color I wanted but I'm not sure I can live with real zebra everyday.

As much as I understand the need to cull, I don't eat zebra meat. It doesn't make sense to me to have the skin of something I would not use other parts of, it seems a waste. Perhaps I am not making complete sense because, of course, even if I eat chicken I don't use the feathers from that bird, but do you see what I'm saying?

I looked at a cow skin cushion and love it. The right colors and the right approach.

I've placed my order. Turns out that the cowskin cushion I'll be getting is not that similar to the one on the website, but that is part of buying from an enterprise that is based on the needs of the ecosystem, and not the market (it's the brown one in the image below). Perhaps I am convincing myself that this is okay, but I think that in this way I can support fellow South Africans and also keep being a thoughtful steward of my environment.

Do you have any ideas on this? I'm open to hearing ideas.


Lj said...

I for one am very excited to be getting the cushion. Admittedly I am a little less eco-conscious than you are, I do feel that it is very important to use products that are sustainable and harvested in a responsible way. Plus I think this will look very good in our lounge.

Terry said...

This was a thought-provoking entry. Before I comment, I should note that I am a member of PETA and a vegan, so I tend to skew fairly heavily towards animal rights. So I'm a bit biased. However, there are many, many people who see animals as being placed here solely for the pleasure and consumption of humans, which I personally see as an "extremist" point of view. For that reason, among others, I think the politics espoused by groups like PETA are absolutely essential, if for nothing else than to maintain a kind of ethical balance in our collective society.

As for ecological balance, my personal belief is not so much that we are stewards, but rather a wayward species that has evolved itself into a brand new niche in the planetary ecosystem. Our goal should be reconciling our particular needs and survival with the needs and survival of the rest of the species that share our planet and resources. Presently, we are a species out of balance by any definition. We've invaded every corner of the planet--well beyond our original habitat--decimating ecosystems as we go, become dangerously over-populated, strained the sustainability of many of the earth's resources to their limits, and may have created a global environmental crisis that affects species world-wide. To put it shortly, we've pushed over more than our fair share of trees and shrubs. If the standards being applied to these herds were applied to humans, we'd be the first candidates for culling. No compassionate human being would suggest this, of course. We try to devise creative solutions that are mindful of human rights to manage our population's needs and distribute resources. Granted, we are not always successful and have many serious issues to address in handling poverty and overpopulation around the world, but this is our goal. So why can't we deliver a compassionate alternative to culling--surely the elephant population boom is a significantly smaller problem to tackle than human population? There are other alternatives; and it is debatable to how much a problem the elephant population actually is and certainly whether it needs to be addressed with such extreme measures. Beyond that, elephants are remarkably intelligent and emotionally sophisticated creatures with strong family bonds. The violent death of a member of the herd (particularly by methods historically employed by culling) is as traumatic to the herd and to the young as it is to humans. The psychological repercussions of culling are far-reaching and profund. Aside from the great apes (several species of which we are also destroying) elephants may be among our closest intellectual kindred on this planet.

I hope you'll reconsider your position on PETA. They do an enormous amount of good in the world for the animals so often neglected in our focus on humanity's betterment. Their campaigns are well researched and thought out. You may not agree 100% with their positions, but you may find that the larger good they do outweighs the points you may disagree with. As a vocal member of the organization, dissenting points of view may even help shape their policies. I'd also highly recommend "The World Without Us." It is an incredibly humbling book about humanity's integral place in the ecosystem, as well as how well the planet could and has stewarded itself without us. (Sorry for the long-winded comment).

kbd said...

Terry thank you for your thoughtful response. I agree with a lot of what you've said... I am aware of the elephant's family and social aspect, and of course it saddens and appalls me that we would have to take measures that we do. Do you see how an oversized population of elephant could be hurting other species? I wonder if you've lived in a place like South Africa before, where the balance between human and animal is really at the forefront, because there are so many people who struggling.

I think I may go back and re-assess my PETA viewpoint. I didn't think about being able to be the "dissenting voice"...