#43 Silk: ethics, sustainability and culture

As the Hindu proverb [from the holy Bhagwad Gita] says, “traditions need to change with time”. What was once seen as pious and pure does not need to be viewed in the same light, and traditions that were once upheld can indeed be dismantled and reimagined to fit the period of time we are living in now.

ep 43

Culture is a part of history that holds great importance to those who are part of the communities that have carried forward ancient traditions. The feeling of embracing your culture through practicing ancient customs is what keeps community members attached to their cultural heritage. However, as time calls for change in perspectives and actions, the fear of losing even the smallest part of your culture with our evolving world can feel daunting and confusing.

For Agrita, becoming a vegan meant that she had to give up dairy, honey and other animal products (except meat) that hold great cultural and religious significance but were also substances that she didn’t feel comfortable in consuming/using anymore because of the reality of their production. Similarly, silk, a material that is still revered in India, was a natural fibre that Agrita had to move away from because of the abuses of human rights and silk moth rights that occur to produce conventional, and even ahinsa/ahimsa (peace), silk.

Despite not using silk herself, Agrita knew that just like dairy and honey, silk would also need to be omitted from the list of potential natural materials she could use because the production of silk went against the morals that were given to her by her Indian culture and Hinduism. In this episode, Agrita explores the origins of silk from China and India, the unsustainable and unethical practices of producing the luxury material and how allowing cultures to evolve over time to meet the needs of contemporary society is not only important for community members but also for the rest of the living world.

Episode Structure:

  • Agrita’s personal journey of balancing culture and morality
  • Ancient history of silk
  • Environmental impact of silk
  • Child labour in the Indian silk industry
  • Rise of ahinsa/ahimsa (peace) silk with rising concern over abuses in silk industry
  • Criticisms of ahinsa silk only considering treatment of silkworms before leaving cocoons and not the after care
  • Question of whether we have a right to commodify silkworms for luxury materials
  • Scientific studies providing evidence that insect species feel pain and can distinguish pain from pleasure
  • Accepting that perspectives will change with time but that cultures can still be cherished by allowing them to evolve along with society

Episode Resources:

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