A few months ago I was having an email conversation with an old friend about wool. My friend is vegan, and had many valid concerns about environmental impacts and treatment of animals. I was arguing for the utility and spiritual benefits of natural fibers versus synthetics, as promoted by Waldorf early childhood methods.
He asked: is there anything natural that is not good? Well, certainly getting eaten by a shark or burnt by lava would not be good.
OK that was a little facile, but it points to the subjectivity of good. I think we are so distanced from the source of our material goods (no pun intended) that we tend to think natural fibers are automatically OK. But what about commercial sheep farms: are the sheep being treated in a way that is congruent with my values? And what about commercial cotton, a crop typically grown with the highest concentrations of toxic chemicals?
Perhaps the answer there is to buy organic. But then, are organic standards really useful anymore? Sure, if I buy an organic product from a huge corporation, it’s an improvement over buying something that loads the world with more chemicals. But if we’re talking about really caring for each participant in the process of creating our stuff (animals, plants, farm workers, mill workers, sewing machine operators, I could go on…) then how can we possibly know if what we are supporting through our dollars is really OK? As my friend put it, is ethical treatment really scalable and sustainable? I buy raw dairy products from a local farm because I know the farmer and I can go there and see how the animals are treated and how the milk is processed. But, the milk is $7.50 a gallon! So, not sustainable for most of the population.
I buy wool and cotton clothing for my children and myself because I think our bodies have a better relationship with natural fibers. Their wool underwear keeps the kids toasty but not crazy sweaty warm, because of the intrinsic properties of wool. That said, I am sure glad I have their PVC rain suits and their polyfill snow suits. Those materials aren’t next to their skins for long periods, and they are just practical in this climate.
I have a little daydream where we live in a cooperative community that includes a farm. We share childcare, the kids work on the farm, we produce our own food, we take care of our elders, etc. That sounds scalable and sustainable to me. Now, how can I achieve that without a major cash infusion?