In my email inbox a few days ago, I received a rather atrocious bit of spam that was promoting goose-down jackets. The email went on and on about the “high class” of down products and how special and wonderful they are, proclaiming that it’s the best insulator in the world. Well, considering that birds need it to stay warm in wintertime, isn’t it far more ethical to leave it on the birds than to harvest it for our own use?
Down-filled jackets seem to be cherished by those who proudly show them off because they’re prized commodities for the elite. Fashionistas and minor celebrities prance around in them because they’re the flavour of the month, and those who idolize such public figures often scramble to emulate them, not taking any time to consider where their clothing has been sourced from: whether the down is being used for jackets, sleeping bags, duvets or pillows, the feathers within them aren’t exactly shed in a natural way by birds who want to take a little off once and a while. These feathers are often plucked from living animals, not just the ones that have been slaughtered for food, which is an incredibly painful process that traumatizes the birds, and since they can re-grow their feathers within a few weeks, they’ll be subjected to it over and over again until they’re finally slaughtered. Companies that claim that they use “ethical” feather-harvesting methods generally source their feathers from the white ducks and geese that have been raised and killed for food—most often for the fois gras or other pate industry—which means they’ve been force-fed by tubes and kept in pens all their lives before being killed via electrocution and decapitation. Yeah, that just screams “ethical” to me.
Why do people continue to use down as insulation material? Probably because they believe the fashion industry when it goes on about how superior down is for warmth and comfort (even though it loses all insulating abilities when wet or compressed!), and what a status symbol it is to own and wear it. With all of the advances in man-made materials, synthetic fills are now far more effective as insulation, so there’s really no excuse whatsoever to continue using down for our benefit at all.
A couple of years ago, I had the honour of being befriended by a wild goose as I was reading near a pond one day. It circled around me for a little while, sizing me up and sidling closer and closer, finally nestling down beside me. On a whim, I stretched out my hand to see if it would let me touch it, and after stroking its head and neck for a little while, I curled my arm around it and we just sat quietly together, watching dragonflies flit over the water’s surface. This was a perfect moment in complete connection with a beautiful, sentient being, and not once did I think “hey, I know that you’re alive and enjoying your existence and all, but I really think that your chest and belly feathers would be better put to use in a pillow.” Geese are intelligent beings who mate for life, and as fellow beings on this planet, should be treated with kindness and respect. I like to hope that more people are waking up to the importance of cruelty-free living, and educating others about the more compassionate options available to us.
Leave the feathers on the birds where they belong: shop with a conscience, shop vegan.