My Love/Hate of Fur
Thirty Christmases ago, exactly, my about-to-be-second husband gave me a fur coat.
A beautiful dark ranch mink, with a detachable hood.
It made me feel like Julie Christie's Lara in Dr. Zhivago.
Before you start pelting me with tomatoes, understand that, in 1979, there was no PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals); nobody talked about "animal rights,'' although Canada had already come under international fire for the clubbing of baby seals; and, as a flip through an old Vogue will reveal, fur was in fashion, with women (even men) wearing chubby coats, the kind now associated with pimps and hookers.
For Montrealers, fur was de rigueur, a necessary bulwark against the killing cold.
What's more, in my hometown, the fur industry, which built Canada - for better or worse, depending whether you were a beaver, an aboriginal or the Hudson's Bay Company - and employed thousands. There was even "the fur district," with lofty old factory buildings filled with giant sewing machines. In the streets below, men would scurry with racks loaded with skins or finished coats.
That area is dead now and, like Creed's in Toronto, most of the companies are gone.
But still, according to the Fur Institute of Canada, the industry contributes $800 million to our GDP and employs 60,000 trappers (including 25,000 aboriginals), with another 5,000 in farming, manufacturing and sales.
That's about half what it used to be, if memory of reporting on the business back then serves.
Which is why, that Christmas, there was nothing unusual about such an extravagant gift.
I did choose carefully. Although fox was the style, I just could not bear the thought of wearing something that looked like my dog, or that had been caught in a leg-hold trap. And I had been scarred as a child by my mother's fox stole, with its beady glass eyes and claws.
I opted for mink because, as a farmed animal, my conceit was that its treatment could be no worse than other livestock, as those of us who have read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma or Jonathan Safran Foer's just-published Eating Animals know.
I still feel that way, although no way would I now accept a fur coat. (Just this week, Born Free USA came out with yet another indictment of fur farming practices, in both the U.S. and Canada.) I'm not even keen on down-fill since that, too, is also cruelly obtained.
The truth is, we are blind - we choose to be so - about how we're making bacon.
A few years ago, on a blistering hot Labour Day, I sat on the side of the Lake Shore at the Ex to catch the air show. But, instead, all I could do was watch the non-stop parade of 18-wheelers rolling by, packed with squealing, suffocating pigs on their way to slaughter.
Now, for all our talk of wanting to live green lives, and of upping the insulation while lowering the thermostat, we studiously ignore how the consumption of animals is destroying our planet.
As Scientific American reported in February, "(P)roducing half a pound of hamburger for someone's lunch, a patty of meat the size of two decks of cards releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles."
That doesn't count the idling at the drive-thru.
As for my coat, it looks exactly as it did the day I first twirled in it. It should. I've spent thousands to clean it, insure it and store it.
It's vintage now. Those poor minks long gone.
So please, if you see me in it, hold off on the spray paint.
I'm on your side.
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