The Cow and How We Use Our Resources

This past summer, I was perusing the aisles of my local, or perhaps regional IKEA store when I happened upon a heaping pile of cow skins, more acceptably called hides. At first, I was amazed, just at the sheer idea that this huge hide used to be part of a living animal. I thought of the Corb chair and lounger, once made of cowhide and how in a sense it was a very modern decoration. But then I looked at the display for what it was: a giant heap of cowhides. This isn’t Nieman Marcus or Bloomingdale's Home; this is IKEA, an operation that sells huge amounts of furniture and home accessories on the mass market. If there are 100 cowhides in just this one IKEA, there must be hundreds of thousands around IKEAs worldwide, and it just hit me as kind of a shock -- wow, that’s a lot of cow. I know that we slaughter some 35 million cows a year for food, and that’s a really crazy number to digest (pun only slightly intended) but we are desensitized to this because we don’t see it and our meals hardly represent their once active past. The cowhide, on the other hand, is directly linked to our visual representation of this animal and therefore triggers a more sentimental reaction. Add to that the skin is to be used as a rug, which people walk on; it just doesn’t seem right.

The next question to ask is: where did these skins actually come from, because here lies the real issue. If the skins are from animals that are doomed to begin with, for food production, and the skin would otherwise be wasted, then is it a good thing to use our animal resources to the greatest possible extent? In addition, how does the social perception of animals change if we are selling cowhides at America’s new favorite furniture retailer? It’s interesting to look at how we use our resources, whether it be coal or cows, and the social perceptions that go along with that can have a lot of baring on what people believe is the right way to live.

Great little debate going on over at Apartment Therapy.

(Photo from Apartment Therapy. The original full-sized color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)
(Photo from Lindsay's Photography. The original full-sized color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)


Link said...

You say "it is interesting to see how we use our resources, whether it be coal or cows." Coal is a resource. Cows are living, sentient creatures. Big difference. And, speaking of resources, "Factory farming is an attitude that regards animals and the natural world merely as commodities to be exploited for profit. In animal agriculture, this attitude has led to institutionalized animal cruelty, massive environmental destruction and resource depletion, and animal and human health risks." (from www.farmsanctuary.org). You suggest that, if the skins come from cows that were slaughtered for food, then that may be okay as it is simply an efficient use of our resources. This is a direct reflection of the fact that, as you say, we are less sentimental about the food on our plates than we are about cow skins because it does not so closely resemble the cow. But it is cow, nonetheless, and if it bothers you to kill an animal for it's skin given the many alternatives to wearing skins for warmth, then perhaps you should also consider the many, many alternatives to eating meat, and the direct benefits choosing those alternatives can have on our environment.

petersigrist said...

These are important questions, and very well put. Seeing that cow photo is enough to make me never want another steak or hamburger.

If cows are being killed for food then it makes sense to also use the leather. But it feels uncomfortable to see it as decoration. I guess I should rethink my leather shoes as well.