The number of hunters in the United States is somewhere around 5% of the population. This is way down from 60 years ago when the number was closer to 25%. While hunters make up a small part of the population, they do enjoy support from close to 80% of the U.S. population who approve of legal hunting when done for food. However, of the same group of people polled, only 25% support hunting animals for fur. What is it then that complicates the issue so much when the method of consumption shifts from eating meat to utilizing fur? Americans attitudes towards fur have been shifting for many years. We are now at the point where most of the population does not support the use of fur in clothing. However, of that same group of people, many are just fine with wearing or using leather. As Steve Rinella said on a recent ‘Meateater’ podcast, leather is just fur with the fur shaved off. In other words, they both come from the same part of the animal.
Don’t Overlook Charisma
We have talked before about attitudes toward hunting of charismatic megafauna such as bears and cougars. There is something about these large wild animals which connects with people in a way that makes them emotional. They represent something in us that is hard to articulate. Smaller animals can also be viewed as charismatic. The anthropomorphism of animals in our culture does not help either. Animals that are portrayed in film, television, books, and other media outlets as having human characteristics are often thought of differently by the public than other animals. You rarely hear people adamantly speaking out against the consumption and use of cows, for example.
Attitudes toward fur have also shifted over time. 50 years ago, wearing fur was seen as a sign of class and wealth. 200 years ago, wearing fur was seen as something everyone who lived on the frontier did. Today, wearing fur is viewed as an evil undertaking reserved for people who hate animals. Yet, people in extreme environments still utilize fur for its insulating properties. If you go to parts of Russia, Finland, or Alaska, you are more likely to encounter people wearing fur. It does have utility. Real fur never freezes, lasts indefinitely if cared for, and can create turbulent air around parka hoods which helps keep people warm. Instead, faux fur has filled the role in our fashion that real fur used to occupy. Fake fur is typically made from petroleum or plastic products. It doesn’t last very long compared to real fur and is a product that must be put in a landfill eventually.
The Whole Thing Is Complicated
We are people full of contradictions in the United States. We have no problem eating cows and chickens and turkeys, but recoil at the thought of eating a bear. Leather is used by a majority of people here, but real fur is viewed as an extreme faux pas. There are no simple answers as to why fur harvesting from animals is so vilified. The only thing we can do is to try and educate people about the benefits of using fur, the ethical ways it can be harvested, and ways the rest of the animal can be used.