‘Ahimsa’ is an ancient term derived from Indian religions meaning the avoidance of violence. ‘Ahimsa’ promotes kindness and non-violence to all living things and is often used as a label on animal food and clothing products produced without causing harm.
I suppose the attraction towards ahimsa products is the ‘guilt-free’ concept. You can have your cake and eat it too.... In theory.
I first heard about ahimsa in the form of ahimsa milk. The milk is sold at a premium that pays for a ‘pension’ for the dairy cows and their offspring – allowing the cows (and bulls) to live out their natural life spans in a sanctuary as they reach old age. The ahimsa concept is spreading; ‘cow nation’ milk and ‘hen nation’ eggs are now available in Selfridges and to order online. They use sexed semen to keep the number of male calves down in their herd of 74 cows. Sadly I couldn’t find anything on their website about how they manage the male offspring from laying hens, which are usually suffocated, gassed or ‘minced’ on conventional farms.
I’ve also heard a bit about ‘slaughter-free clothing’ such as that from Izzy Lane which uses wool from a flock of around 250 Wensleydale sheep. Most of the sheep were destined for the meat markets but they now reside on a sheep sanctuary near Richmond in the Yorkshire Dales, paying their way with the wool they produce.
I knew that silk production is ethically questionable, but I never took the time to read up about it. It turns out that in traditional silk production silk moth larvae are boiled alive, roasted or centrifuged. Female moths are dissected alive to check them for diseases after they have laid their eggs. I don’t know much about silk production, but I can imagine that one larvae does not produce that much silk. I dread to think how many must be brutally killed on these farms.
Unlike the conventional method where the pupae are killed before reeling yarn from the cocoons, in the process of producing Ahimsa Peace Silk (available from Offset Warehouse) the adult moths are allowed to emerge alive from the cocoons and then the silk yarn is spun from the left over cocoons.
Of course, Ahimsa products are not that simple. Some argue that Ahimsa silk does still cause a lot of suffering. I’ve often wondered how sustainable products such as Ahimsa milk are and of course we also have to consider the carbon footprint of animal products that we do not need to survive. I believe Ahimsa seems like an excellent step in the right direction, and a nice way of keeping small amounts of animal products available as the occasional luxury that they would have been thousands of years ago.
Ahimsa is a beautiful concept. There are so many things we take from nature, and so many shades of grey that surround those ethics. If and when we do take from animals and our environment, Ahimsa should be our code of conduct.