Why Vegans Don’t Use Silk

From blouses to sarongs, suits to ties, and lingerie to pajamas, silk is still widely used by the textile industry, finding its way into sheets and pillowcases as well as handkerchiefs and headscarves. What some people may not be aware of, however, are the less-obvious places silk shows up, including parachutes, bicycle tire casing, cigar bands, replacement heart valves, and sutures for surgery.

We tend to associate silk with the silkworm due to the fact that, in its production, silkworms are killed by the hundreds of millions every year. However, silk is a fiber naturally produced by a number of different insects, including spiders, whose silk reserves have also been exploited in medical and military experiments.

Although synthetic silks made from lyocell (a type of cellulose fiber) can be difficult to distinguish from the real thing, sadly, the archaic practice of using silk from insects remains as common as ever.

Just prior to their metamorphosis into moths, Bombyx mori pupae spin silk fibers to weave their cocoons. In nature, the moth chews his or her way out of the cocoon once the transformation is complete. But in the fabric industry, silk is mass produced through the breeding and domestication of silkworms on what are essentially moth factory farms. When the caterpillars enter the pupa stage of their development, their cocoons are plunged into boiling water. This kills the silkworms and begins to unravel the longer fibers.

Approximately 15 silkworms are killed to produce a single gram of silk. Although it is very occasionally harvested after the moth has broken free, the strands are considerably shorter and the finished product is not commercially viable on a large scale.

There are other methods of producing silk that do not result in the death of the insect; however, there are still ethical issues to be considered. “Ahimsa silk,” for example, is made from the cocoon of the Bombyx mori moth after the moth has chewed through and discarded it. The silkworms used in this method of production are still domesticated and, just like other domesticated farmed animals, are bred for the purposes of production at the cost of their own health and well-being. The adult moths cannot fly because their bodies are too large and the adult males cannot eat due to underdeveloped mouth parts. The same would be true of moths in large commercial operations, but they are killed before reaching adulthood.

Abstaining from silk, like honey, may draw pause from new vegans. Do insects feel pain? Is it important for humans to consider the interests of insects against our own? Do insects have interests? It’s true that the depth of our understanding is limited about these issues, but that does not mean that we should ignore the moral concerns such questions present. Surveying the opinions of “experts” will yield mixed results, but any objective observer can see that insects react to stimuli, pursue pleasure, and flee from threat.

We should not remove insects from moral consideration just because our knowledge about these tiny beings is incomplete. Being vegan is about embracing a worldview that is starkly different from the dominant premise that other beings exist simply to fulfill human desires. The reality is that we do not need to exploit insects, and there is no justification for using them as a resource for our own ends.

 

with Christine Wells

 

Gentle World is a vegan intentional community and non-profit organization, whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making such a transition. For more information about vegan food and other aspects of a vegan lifestyle, visit the Gentle World website and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

 

written with Christine Wells, www.GentleWorld.org

108 comments

Janet Gibbon
Janet G.3 years ago

Human exploitation of the wonders of this planet (animal, vegetable and mineral) is mankinds biggest downfall.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thanks.

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra3 years ago

Thank you Angel, for Sharing this!

Julie Cordner
Julie Cordner3 years ago

And the use of insects goes even further afield. I saw just today on TV someone promoting the increased use of insects as food. The FACT being discussed was that current food production is unsustainable (something Vegans are only too aware of). A high-profile Chinese cook here in Australia is already using meal-worms, crickets and cockroaches at her restaurant... But I am finding it difficult to imagine the hundreds of millions of tiny creatures that would be needed to keep an increasing world population fed...!?!

Shanti S.
S S.3 years ago

Thank you.

Michelle Gershon
Michelle Gershon3 years ago

This is a thoughtful and well researched article. I completely agree. I own something that is made of silk that I bought before I knew where silk came from (I've had it for over 10 years), but I cannot stand to wear the thing (and I certainly would never purposely buy new silk items) because of the torture that went into making it. My favourite point in the article is the ending "We should not remove insects from moral consideration just because our knowledge about these tiny beings is incomplete. Being vegan is about embracing a worldview that is starkly different from the dominant premise that other beings exist simply to fulfill human desires. The reality is that we do not need to exploit insects, and there is no justification for using them as a resource for our own ends." Just wonderful. Thank you for existing and for writing this article.

Lydia Stone
Lydia Stone3 years ago

I'll use this information if anyone asks me why I don't wear silk. Most people don't understand why vegans don't use silk, honey or wool. I try to explain but usually get blank stares. No matter. It's what right for me.

Roger M.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you.

r l
Ruth L.3 years ago

I learned a lot from this ~ thank you for sharing :-)

John S.
Past Member 3 years ago

Glad I am not a vegan, it simplifies the moral problems encountered in everyday life.