Rewriting the Conversation

Missing the Mark
by D. R. Hildebrand

In the December 10th issue of The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer for the magazine, discusses an observation by the British economist Arthur Pigou that “private investments often impose costs on other people.”  As an example of this, Kolbert describes a drunk man stumbling out of a bar (a private investment) and an officer who then arrests him (the taxpayers’ burden).  She goes on to consider a much greater private investment, and a much greater public expense: pollution and a carbon tax.  “Such a tax would be imposed not just on gasoline,” Kolbert writes, “but on fossil fuels—from the coal used to generate electricity to the diesel used to run tractors—so it would affect the price of nearly everything, including food and manufactured goods.”

The New Yorker often publishes commentaries and articles that address global warming.  Oddly, it nearly as often publishes stories glorifying animal agriculture and the consumption of meat.  Just one week before Kolbert’s piece on Pigou and the rationale for carbon taxing, the magazine ran its annual Food Issue.  These are the topics it covered:

  • Wolvesmouth, a young, underground restaurateur in Los Angeles who serves anything from rabbit to roasted pig’s head
  • Eating out in Oaxaca, Mexico, with ramblings on pork, beef, grasshoppers, duck adobo, dried maguey worms, and double-boiled deer penis
  • Trout, with the author stating, “I had never before felt vegetarian scruples, yet they were aroused by the butchering of a creature with such clear eyes, so recently alive and blissful in its element.  I asked my prey for forgiveness.”
  • The story of a boy returning to the farm in Pakistan where he was raised, and, at the age of eight, received his first gun, which the author explains, “finally put me on the way to hunting game—deer in the nearby desert, duck on the ponds . . .”
  • Sausage-making
  • The perfect Manhattan
  • Parisian bread, including discussions on salted butter, soft-boiled eggs, and melted cheese
  • A bachelor’s repertoire of cheeseburgers, fries, and Lean Cuisine glazed-chicken dinners
  • An Israeli chef who lives in London and prepares a medley of grains and vegetables, and just as many dead animals
  • Bear-skinning in Wyoming

New Yorker Dec 3_10

Politically, The New Yorker is unabashedly liberal.  Culturally, however, it is esoteric and elitist and it takes pride in civilizing modern man’s return to savagery, even while going out of its way to inspect any other possible cause of environmental devastation.  This Al Gore-like enthusiasm for changing light bulbs and recycling newspapers, while categorically ignoring the disaster that led to one’s dinner, appears to be a growing trend—never mind the inconsistencies.

We need to rewrite the conversation.  We need to highlight not what matters to us individually, be it animal suffering or the like, but what will get the greatest number of people to listen.  Readers of The New Yorker already understand Pigou’s hypothesis and already comprehend Kolbert’s concern: they see the effects of global warming and the dollar signs connected to it.  This means something to them, so they listen.  Yet what do suffering animals mean to them?

Omnivorous friends of mine often create distinctions between things they consider “rational” and things they consider “emotional.”  It is rational, they say, to end human suffering; it is emotional, however, to attempt the same for animals.  It is rational to respond to starvation, war, disease, global warming, “the stuff that actually matters,” but it is emotional to even ponder the animals who live and die each day in equally tragic misery.  Just recognizing the fact that humans inflict so much pain on so many creatures for so little reason is an emotional strain few wish to endure, so they dismiss it as “irrational” and carry on.

Yet we can draw their attention back, and we can do so without compromising our objectives.  When we hear people talking, for example, about a lack of clean drinking water, vast starvation, the wars now waged over finite resources, we should mention that 50% of clean water and 80% of grains in the U.S. are given to animals destined to be slaughtered, and we should ask, casually, which might feed more people: the flesh of a single being or the total lifetime of water and food she consumes?  And when we hear conjecture over the origins of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a host of other preventable illnesses, we should recommend books like The China Study and films such as Forks Over Knives that articulate the benefits of a whole-foods, Water Pollutionplant-based diet, and we should ask, in earnest, which is the wiser: for our government to subsidize the industries that make us most sick—dairy, meat, and egg—or those that keep us well?  And when others talk about pollution and global warming, realities that are now impossible to deny, we must mention, with grace, the 35,000 miles of rivers contaminated by the urine and feces of countless animals who are fattened simply to be killed; the millions of acres of annual deforestation, solely to plant more crops for more animals for more death; the exploding quantities of methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide that the tens of billions of slaughter-bound animals emit into the atmosphere day after day, and we should ask, as innocently as possible, which might cause less destruction: consuming animals, or consuming plants?

None of this is to say we should abandon the element of animal suffering from our discussions, for it is real and it is abhorrent and there will always be someone who is moved by it.  We will, however, reach more people when we focus on the issues that matter most to them, like hunger, and disease, and natural disasters.  It we address them with Pigou’s ideas of public cost in mind we will, over time, see more responses like Kolbert’s, and come that much closer to achieving our goals.

Three Leaves, Rapanui and Vivobarefoot
Rapanui is “an Award-Winning Eco-fashion brand from on the Isle of Wight”. They make organic, ethical clothing in factories powered by wind and solar energy. Every piece is rated on its sustainability with a letter grade from A-G: A being organic, ethical and sustainable, and G being none of the aforementioned. Where the award winning comes in however, is through their traceability. For all of their clothing they have both a map and a description of the entire process, what they call “from seed to shop”, showing the journey their clothing takes through the entire supply chain to get to the store. Not only are their products animal friendly, but they also work towards animal welfare.

“At Rapanui we will never use fur and none of the products on our site were made after being tested on animals, nor were they derived from animal products.”

Fairtrade Cotton / FSC Rubber Shoes Wolfpack Sweat

Three Leaves, from Red Hook Brooklyn, is a new eCommerce store entering the foray of ethical menswear. That carry brands using eco-friendly materials, with strict certifications like GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), cruelty free shoes like Novacas, and socially responsible brands that would never use sweatshop labor, they strive to offer fashion staples for the uncompromising man. Although not entirely vegan (there is some wool and  leather, e.g. jacket zipper, jean tag) they will make note of it in the item’s description.


Vivobarefoot offers eco barefoot shoes suited for most any lifestyle, from trail running to casual. They are made from recycled, locally sourced materials in ethical factories using sustainable production techniques. Each shoe has an eco matrix, in the form of a numerical rating, to score their environmental impact throughout the lifecycle. If a shoe is vegan, it can be found under the shoe’s “features” labeled “Eco Credentials: 100% Vegan”.


The latest issue of UNDER THE INFLUENCE is almost entirely dedicated to sustainability in art and fashion. It has been said that the accelerating pace of fashion and it’s naturalization (and rationalization) under the guise of “seasons” is a recipe for disaster, and these themes are explored in several of the articles. From the feature on Socially Conscious Fashion Makers that sheds light on brads such as Edun, who now has the backing of LVMH, Veja, and Noir to the photo/interview feature on Marjorie Ellis Thompson’s art and science glacier archive, Project Pressure, to the startling reality revealed in No Go Kyoto; we are approaching a period where the Kyoto Protocol is expiring and there is nothing to take it’s place, which will bring on “a period where there is not international concord on arguably the greatest existential threat facing humanity.”

The email ping-pong between designers Konstantin Grcic and Ana Kraš leads us down an intriguing path, asking whether we really need new stuff, and what role industrial designers play in the context of our current cultural and environmental conditions.

The interviews with the pre-1970’s street art activist John Fekner and photographer Stuart Franklin explore the possibilities for the role of art as a mirror that shows our selves as part of nature and ourselves as the destroyers of nature.

One major theme that is left out (and that is systematically left out of, or marginalized as the hobby-concern of a few extremists, is the issue of non-human animals in the fashion industrial complex. Most certainly the elephant (or sheep and cow) in the room is that the production of leather and wool especially, have such staggering impacts on resource consumption and ecological devastation that it would seem obvious to address them critically – to seek out alternatives that are not the leading causes of GHGs and rainforest destruction and water pollution. Leather, however, is one of the sacred cows of the fashion industry. Along with fur, which did stain a few of the editorial pages in this issues, it is the premiere symbol of luxury. It is both insidious and obvious. I am always thrilled to see a fashion magazine take on crucial issues with such artistry, and shocked at the complete avoidance of addressing this opportunity that sits on one of the most powerful points of change-making leverage. In addition, the ethical implications of animals bred, trapped or hunted, siphoned into fashion objects, obscured and silenced in the fashion industrial complex, is a shameful evasion of our fatal attraction to our fellow earthlings.

Please check out UNDER THE INFLUENCE and celebrate them as one of the few intelligent, gorgeous, and compelling publications out there.

SOS: United By Blue’s Brian Linton Goes Vegan

United By Blue was started by Brian Linton out of a passion to help clean up and call attention to the dire condition of the oceans and rivers as a result of human activity, apathy and lack of knowledge. It wasn’t until more recently that Linton made an even deeper connection concerning his diet. He went vegan. “The fear of change was unjustified,” he explained during our conversation. “When I see steak or something that would have been a source of comfort, I don’t miss it. You only miss something if you want it. And I don’t want it.”



The Philadelphia-based entrepreneur is part of a growing population of young professionals who want to do so much more than punch in and out of meaningless office work. Inheriting a planet that has been scarred by generations who’ve seen it as nothing more than a stockpile of resources to be used up can be polarizing and motivating. Doing clean-ups and calling attention to issues like shark-finning, coral reefs, and organic cotton are at the core of UBB. And while the line itself still has some leather, the importance of heading towards completely vegan fashion is becoming paramount. Leather-tanning is one of the leading causes of water pollution, not to mention the staggering effects of livestock on GHG emissions, and resource consumption.

Jack Threads is offering United By Blue items at 41% off retail for a very limited time. Jack Threads is member’s only, so click here to get your invitation.

S.O.S Save Our Seas Short Sleeve T-Shirt Nautical Flags Short Sleeve T-Shirt  Buoys Short Sleeve T-ShirtBeach Cruiser Short Sleeve T-Shirt

“With the company that I run, it’s very environmentally focused,” Linton said. “We’re getting so much attention and I was looking at myself and my company more critically, trying to see if I was satisfied. We’re taking a significant amount of trash out of the oceans, but then I felt it was time to take on personal challenges to be more responsible. Also, my father recently recovered from cancer, and his diet had been my typical diet. So looking at causes of cancer, diet is one of them. The perfect storm was created.”

When I asked about any difficulties during his evolution to veganism, he paused thoughtfully and then went on, “The fear of change was unjustified… The people that I associate with in my generation in Philadelphia are much more inclined to accept it and support it. However, if I go to a typical restaurant there seems to be this reaction from people that, I don’t know – it’s an initial poking, patronizing, they think you’re missing out on meat so they wax poetic about what meats they love and how they want to go eat a burger. It’s hard to convince someone that I am not actually missing out on anything. I went out to eat with my grandparents, and I didn’t even want to bring it up. They really, really wanted me to get the steak because they were treating. I got the vegetable plate and they were just perplexed. My father-in-law went crazy when he found out, and he wanted to talk serious with my wife about my diet. He’s worried that our kids are going to be ill. There’s definitely this generational problem.”

The bright side is that, like may skeptics of veganism who actually give it a try, the positive results are often overwhelming. “I’ve always had a bad knee, and I was a habitual nail biter, but for some reason, those things have just stopped. I’m not sure if it’s associated with the vegan diet, but the changes in habit are probably related. I’ve also always had a bad back, and even that feels less painful than it used to. I’m enjoying clarity of thought and it’s improved my work.”

“I thought it was going to be difficult, but it’s been so enjoyable I just stopped lamenting. When you really start embracing it, you don’t miss anything, and you find things you’d have never tried. I went to brunch over the weekend to a farm fresh place – I usually would have gotten steak and eggs, but I got scrambled tofu and vegan chorizo tacos, and it’s really quite exciting. Philly has such a good vegan food scene.”

United By Blue continues to grow and do incredible work. The line is carried at over 200 stores including all of Nordstrom’s 43 stores, at, and at over 50 Japanese retailers. Collaborations with Method Soap, who recycle the collected plastics into soap bottles, and larger fashion brands like Sperry Topsider keep things relevant and moving towards a larger impact on affecting change.


INTERVIEW: Fabrice Penot of Le Labo

by Joshua Katcher

The sophisticated olfactory genius of Le Labo continues to impress most nostrils that come across it. In addition to their most recent writeup in the May issue of W, Le Labo has received international acclaim and garnered a cult following of obsessed aesthetes. From their stores in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Berlin, London, Amsterdam and every other major city you can think of, to Barney’s and Colette, to their exclusive line for Anthropologie – the world of Le Labo fragrances is full of intrigue and desire; it is an art, a science, an obsession. I am reminded of the plot from Tom Robbin’s Jitterbug Perfume where two of the main characters are questing for the mysterious secret ingredient to a 300-year-old fragrance that is believed to posses magical properties.  And there is something magical about this brand. People are mad about Le Labo – and they aren’t ashamed to drench themselves in the stuff, and fill their home with their candles, myself included. All of their perfumes are unisex; Rose 31 and Santal 33 are rituals to my day – and forgetting to spray some on often feels like I’ve left something crucial about myself at home. All of Le Labo’s perfumes are 100% vegan – as are the founders Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi (all “musk” and other ingredients are synthesized) – two men that are changing the fragrance industry through their commitment to esthetic olfactology, the environment, and animals.

(On a side note – I will be carrying the entire line of Le Labo on, and rumor has it that an exclusive fragrance for Brave GentleMan is in development. Shh..)

I had a chance to interview Fabrice recently, and this was our conversation:

Discerning Brute: What is it about fragrances, perfumes, odors, and smell that you love so much?
Fabrice Penot: I am not sure… I think I like to express myself through perfume creation because there is something pretty magical by creating an emotion in people through something unseen.

DB: What is your favorite bit of history about perfume, and how does that influence your work?
FP: There are  so many, but the one that pops into my mind since I guess we’ll talk about animal products is the story of maybe the most mythical ingredient in fine perfumery which is “ambergris”.  Ambergris comes from the sperm whale – it smells of a magical thing that you can’t really define, and you find yourself between disgust and attraction. There is a fecal part for sure, but there is also a soft, musky, very white part that is addictive.

In a nustshell, this ingredient can be found on sea shores, as it is the result of the sperm whale’s vomit (looks like a black stone, with the weight of a sponge). The magic happens while the floating “stone” travels on the ocean, being washed by the water, baked by the sun, and eventually ends on the sand near the coast, adding the marine and musky smell to the repulsive original smell of the rejection. Knowing that this has been used for decades in fine perfumery and that it was one of its most precious elements was always fascinating to me as a young perfume student. Even though you did not hurt the animal to produce this, (you actually don’t even see him or her), nowadays the natural ambergris as been replaced by a synthetic version for perfumery use and Eddie, my creative partner, and I are using a lot in almost each one of our creations. Dirty musky notes are part of the secret of every sensual dry-down at Le Labo.

DB: What is Le Labo, and why is it different from other brands?
FP: The dirty musky note! And many other things, too – but I guess the more important one is the intention behind everything we do: we want to make the life of our clients more beautiful through our craft, perfume creation (and do no harm while doing so). Of course, there is a cult around our creations for what they are and we are proud of it, but I think at one point, people don’t only buy what you do, they buy why you do it, and that would explain to me why our clients are so hooked with our creations.

DB: Tell me about your relationship with animals and how that plays into your business?
FP: I don’t know how to answer that. I guess my relationship with animals changed when I understood my belief in and hope for global peace between humans was kind of useless because there was something about this humanity that was rotten in the first place – that mankind was just a piece of the puzzle, and that of course, there will be no peace between humans as long as they will not respect any kind of life on this planet.

I understood you couldn’t believe in the power of non violence and close your eyes to the violence created by your own life style, eating habits, shopping habits or even creation habits on other living things. I think the quote from Tolstoi was kind of a “a-hah” moment for me at that point: “As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields “… And since then, I never looked at an animal the same way. I understood simply that I do not want to hurt anyone. I need peace and harmony for the world and I am hoping to start here, from my home, my family, my creations, my office, my business. So I became vegan a few seconds after I realized that. My girlfriend and I decided to jump together and all became very natural. Our children have been raised vegan. My friend and business partner Eddie is now vegan and deeply committed with me to change the habits of the perfume industry with the few animal ingredients still used, So I feel like the happiness and the beauty in my life comes from the coherence of everything around.

DB: Is there a code of ethics that is followed at Le Labo concerning people, animals, and the environment? What is it and how to you make sure it is followed?
FP: Well, not everyone in the company is vegan but i can tell you everyone cares. Not only because the owners both are, but also because when they live in the environment we built, they can feel the logic behind it. Everyone has a high level of compassion in our team, and there is no need to recall an ethic code or anything… we are a small company and you can tell when everyone is working with the same quality of intention. The only thing we do is we challenge our suppliers (or even new partners) to commit to cruelty-free ingredients and try to inspire perfumers by using synthetics over naturals for civette and castoreum.

DB: What is something people need to know about the modern fragrance industry?
FP: The good news is the industry is being more and more concerned about environment and cruelty issues.Mainly because of the pressure of consumers and I am glad that works. I am sure some big beauty corporations continue to test their cosmetic products (not perfumes necessarily, but creams for example) on animals secretly, but they know they are taking big risks with the public if this becomes known. I think in a near future this will not exist anymore – one big scandal would be enough to scare them all.  We need a Wikileak on this to solve it. Unfortunately, I have no access to these infos, but what I can tell you is that in the world of perfumery, there are very few animal products left to be used by the perfumers. To my knowledge there is only 2 left: castoreum (which is a by product of beaver) and civette (from a little wild cat that is trapped to extract that smell). There are synthetics available for these 2 products and we are an active force to raise awareness in perfume houses for the use of synthetics over naturals for these ingredients.

DB:  How do people respond to different smells, and how does that influence your recipes?
FP: A perfume is very personal. The sense of smell is very linked to your memories. You can love a fig smell because it relates to a happy memory in your childhood and in the same time I can hate it because my first girlfriend dumped me under a fig tree…you can’t create a perfume anticipating  people’s reaction to it, you just try to reach a certain kind of esthetic, beauty, surprise, elegance, soul with the shape of it. Then, if it is well done, it will connect with the person at a deep emotional level and be worth existing. Or not…

DB: Talk about your favorite aspect of the science and the chemistry involved in our attraction to certain smells.
FP: I am not so much on the science part i have to say. Eddie my partner is a scientist by training (and a poet by choice) so he is more the one who is the expert of that. I am more into the intuitive search of the creation of an emotion. There is actually no science behind that apart from quantum physics maybe, but it is a posteriori, not a priori, meaning after the experience.

DB: You also are very good with presentation – from packaging to the store interior design. How did yo develop this?
FP: It is just Eddie and I trying to marry our love for industrial design, perfumery and the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi, the art of impermanence.

DB: Which scents do you recommend for men?
FP: All our creations are genderless…but men might connect more with Rose 31, Bergamote 22, Vetiver 46 and our new Santal 33.

DB: What music are you listening to, and food are you obsessed with right now?
FP: Music ( as we speak): my morning jacket, food: Dr Cow’s cheese and your seitan bourguignon!!

DB: Why are you vegan?
FP: Because i think it is key for us to stop taking advantage of other living creatures in the world if we want to see humanity evolve in a more peaceful and sustainable way. I think it might be the most important choice I ever made in my life. Not that I made a lot of them, but still…