Cultivating a Compassion Footprint

Paw and handprints in sand

“When people tell me that they love animals and then harm or kill them I tell them I’m glad they don’t love me.” ~ Mark Bekoff

“Carbon footprint” has become standard jargon in talking about global warming and other environmental issues, and some people are even beginning to think about their “foodprint.” But what about our “compassion footprint”? How far are we willing to examine and extend our concern for others, especially other beings not of our own species?

Author and scientist Marc Bekoff recently wrote a great essay about our relationship with animals and our need to cultivate a compassion footprint and “compassion credits.” He says,

Every individual can make positive changes for all living beings by weaving compassion, empathy, respect, dignity, peace, and love into their lives. It’s simple to make more compassionate choices about what we eat and wear and how we educate students, conduct research, and entertain ourselves.

One of the most frustrating elements for people who care about all social justice issues is that caring for animals — as individuals with their own interests and needs, as well as being part of a species — is often completely missing from the conversation. Green guides, books, magazines and websites tout tips and tools, simple and great, but they also condone and support the exploitation and oppression of animals in reaching those green goals. There are organizations that promote social justice and sustainability for all — one magazine I adore has the tagline “supporting you in building a just and sustainable world,” an organization I support includes the tagline “…to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society” — but the justice and sustainability they’re talking about don’t extend to nonhumans.

Bekoff’s call for increasing our compassion footprint is an important and necessary one. Consider sharing this essay with friends and family, or using it to spark discussion.

~ Marsha


Passionate About Compassion? Join a New Study Group!

One of our Portland MOGO members, Michael, is eager to explore compassion with others, so he is creating a mini-compassion studies group here in Portland, Oregon. See details below, and contact Michael if you’re interested in participating:

“…in order to understand the place of Compassion in our lives, we must look in a radically different direction…that through Compassion our humanity grows into its fullness.” ~ quoted from the book Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life

If you long to look in that direction, to understand Compassion as deeply as is possible, I invite you to join with us in exploring the meaning and celebrating the truth of Compassion in our lives. We will study texts about Compassion, relate our experiences with Compassion and help each other to imagine, and thereby manifest, a world filled with Compassion.

Our reading list will include:

  • Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life
  • Compassionate Action
  • Radical Compassion. Finding Christ in the Heart of the Poor
  • Compassion: Listening to the Cries of the World
  • Ordinary Grace: An Examination of the Roots of Compassion, Altruism, and Empathy and the Ordinary Individuals Who Help Others in Extraordinary Ways
  • Paradigm Conspiracy: Why Our Social Systems Violate Human Potential — And How We Can Change Them

and many others.

Our approach is both religious and secular, drawing from all religions and philosophies to understand as much as possible about Compassion from any and all sources and to learn from each other the deepest meanings of Compassion. I have set up “registering” for this Compassion Studies group through PledgeBank. I am looking for at least three other people to join me and pledge to attend 4 meetings together. Please register for this free study group by October 20, 2008. Thanks, Michael

(You can click on the PledgeBank link to sign up for the group and/or to contact Michael.)

MOGO Movie: King Corn

Corn on the cob. Cornbread. Veggie corn dogs. All pretty tasty, right? What about high-fructose corn syrup? Maltodextrin? Sorbitol? Um. Not so tasty-sounding. As one of the “most productive, most subsidized grains” in the U.S., corn’s presence is everywhere. So is its impact. In order to learn more about where their food comes from, two friends decided to conduct an experiment: to farm an acre of corn and follow it into the food system. And then they made a film about their experiences.

My husband John and I, and a couple of friends, watched King Corn a few nights ago. John is a man of few words; here is his review of the film: “Good. Informative. Well done. Scary.”

I think all of us agreed. As an activist, I knew about the enormous amounts of corn grown to become animal feed in the U.S. (80% of about 10 billion bushels), and I knew about the large percentage of corn that is genetically modified (more than 45%). But, I had no idea that corn farmers make their money, not from selling their corn, but from the subsidies and special payments they receive from the government (which is part of the reason they grow mountains of it). And I didn’t know how physically harmful corn is to the animals eating it. And, I think all our jaws dropped when we saw just how many products on the grocery store shelves (and in fast food restaurants) contain highly-processed corn. (When the filmmakers had their hair chemically analyzed, the results determined that they were primarily “made of” corn, i.e., that much of the carbon in their bodies came from numerous corn products they ingested.)

It could be easy to become angry with the farmers who grow insane amounts of corn to get subsidies, or who feed “killer” corn to animals, or with the government for subsidizing such crops, or with the people who create highly processed, unhealthy products, or with the grocery stories and fast food restaurants for selling them. But, the ultimate power (and responsibility) lies with us and what we choose to buy (or not). And whether or not we choose to speak out. It’s challenging for people to choose differently when they don’t know that they have other choices, and when “everyone else is doing it.” Corn became such a ubiquitous presence in our lives from many choices, small and large, made daily over a period of time.

King Corn can serve as a great tool for discussing and exploring a variety of topics with family, friends, coworkers and others. As the filmmakers mention, growing and processing corn affects “soil, water, energy, history, genetic modification, and of course, food.” There are additional issues, such as hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, worker health and animal suffering that can also be explored.

Check it out and see what you think. After watching King Corn, one of our friends said that he would never eat corn-fed beef again. That’s a positive step, even if only a small one.

~ Marsha

Supporters of Farmed Animal Cruelty Use Deceptive Tactics

Male calf in a confined veal crateA couple days ago I posted about George Carlin’s routines focusing on euphemisms and soft language. In one he says, “I don’t like words that hide the truth.” I’m guessing he’d be laughing (or cursing) in his grave at the goodie that the opponents of California’s Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act have developed.

The Prevent of Farm Animal Cruelty Act is a California ballot measure set for the November 2008 election. If passed, it would mean a phase out of not only gestation crates (for pregnant female pigs) and veal crates (for baby male calves). But, it would also mean the end of battery cages (which are the cages that egg-laying hens, known as “battery hens,” are crammed into.), the first such measure for any state in the U.S.

According to a recent post by Humane Society of the U.S. CEO Wayne Pacelle, industrialized factory farmers and others who oppose the measure, and thus support continued extreme animal cruelty and suffering, are calling themselves “Californians for Safe Food.” Pacelle says,

Of course they can’t call themselves Industrialized Factory Farms Seeking Profits at the Expense of Animals Committee. Or the Committee for Treating Animals Like Objects. We wouldn’t expect that sort of suicidal honesty. But Californians for Safe Food? These people have no shame. Are there no limits to their duplicity?

Pacelle goes on to list some of the major contributors to the CFSF campaign, including companies that have had to pay fines to settle animal cruelty charges or for false advertising, and industries that flourish off of factory farming methods.

If you look on the website of Californians for Safe Food, you’ll see a “fact sheet” with information such as that a “special interest group has undertaken a nationwide effort to ban current safe and humane farming practices, particularly regarding housing requirements for egg-laying hens.” (emphasis mine) (I love the “housing requirements part. Nice touch. Housing. As if most of the egg-laying hens in the U.S. don’t spend their horrific existence in a space about the size of a standard piece of typing paper.)

They also state that the measure would “jeopardize food safety and public health, effectively eliminate local, California-grown eggs, lead to consumer reliance on eggs shipped from other states and Mexico, and drive up grocery and restaurant prices.” Then it just gets sillier and more deceptive.

Unfortunately, people tend to freak out when they hear “safety” and “higher prices” and “someone’s trying to take something away from you without your consent” without doing any investigating or critical thinking. It’s sad that industries are so bent on maintaining the status quo, even when it’s contrary to what most citizens want. As Ruth Harrison said:

“If one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people.”

The Humane Society of the U.S. has started a $20/20 campaign to help raise funds to counteract the enormous amount already acquired by those who support animal cruelty ($20 to help save 20 million lives). If you feel called to help financially with the campaign, you can make a donation on HSUS’s site. I know I’ll be making one.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Farm Sanctuary.

(Thanks to for the heads up about this news.)

MOGOing Around Portland: New “Eco-healthy” Store Opens

EcoSafe Home logoPeople want to keep themselves and their children safe, but with all the gazillion chemicals in products and our environment –- and many of those untested for toxicity — it can be a challenge. Oregon’s Center for Environmental Health is hoping to help people concerned about non-toxic and eco-friendly products, by opening its EcoSafe Home store. You can buy products on their website (the list is miniscule but growing), or from their storefront, which is at 4819 NE Fremont and is open limited hours (call 503.223.1510 for details).

Check it out for yourself and let us know if you think it’s worth a return visit.

Know of other MOGO-friendly businesses and organizations in the Pacific Northwest (especially in the Portland Metro area)? Let us know and we’ll investigate.

~ Marsha

(Thanks to EcoMetro Portland for the heads up about EcoSafe Home.)

Fill Your Vegan Sweet Tooth at My Sweet Vegan Booksigning

Hannah KaminskyDo you spend your days and nights dreaming about luscious cupcakes, delightful cookies and other decadent desserts? Do you spend hours browsing food blogs just to drool over the photos? If you’re a dessert devotee, check out Hannah Kaminsky’s book signing at Herbivore (1211 SE Stark ) in Portland, Oregon, on Sunday, June 29 at noon. Hannah, 19, will be talking about her first cookbook, My Sweet Vegan, which features 77 delicious and delightful dessert recipes, each with its own tasty accompanying photo (taken by Hannah).

You can also get your fill of Hannah’s recipes and insights at her Bittersweet Blog.

The experts weigh in:My Sweet Vegan

My Sweet Vegan is a triumphant inspiration! Anyone with a sweet tooth will instantly fall in love with Hannah’s scrumptious desserts. This is a must-have book for dessert lovers everywhere. ~ Julie Hasson, Vegan Chef and Cookbook Author

Filled with scrumptious photographs and unique and imaginative recipes, My Sweet Vegan is perfect for anyone with a passion for baking (and eating!) desserts. This book is guaranteed to satisfy even the most discerning of sweet tooth, vegan or not! ~ Jennifer McCann, author of Vegan Lunch Box

Taking vegan sweets from ordinary to extraordinary, Hannah Kaminsky surely is One Sweet Vegan! Hannah shows her boundless creativity, dishing up exciting flavor combinations in baked goods and desserts that will delight vegans and non-vegans alike. Get your sweet tooth ready, it’s in for a treat! ~ Dreena Burton, best-selling author of Vive Le Vegan!, The Everyday Vegan, and Eat, Drink and Be Vegan

~ Marsha

MOGO in the Media


Green educators growing in PortlandEdible Portland – 6/08
“The program addresses the emerging field of sustainability education and focuses on teaching in the community through projects like the Learning Gardens Laboratory, a student-faculty run garden in southeast Portland that works with elementary schools to teach youth everything from the biology of worms to helping the hungry.”

New DEQ boss has big plansOregonian – 6/24/08
“He says he wants to add nearly 100 workers to the 750-employee agency despite the down economy; help companies cut greenhouse gas emissions; streamline pollution enforcement; cut pesticides from farms and forests; give the public more Internet access to polluter information; boost DEQ’s public profile; and hold businesses seeking to move to Oregon to high green standards.”

So long, timber payments, hello even harder timesOregonian – 6/24/08
“With the federal government’s timber payments to forest-rich states ending this year, the $238 million hit will ripple through every Oregon school district and most county governments.”

A peak by any other – 6/24/08
“A small peak near Ashland known as Squaw Peak is the latest site in Oregon to drop a name considered derogatory to American Indians. The United States Board of Geographic Names recently approved changing the name to Taowhywee Point earlier this month.”

New mad cow case in CanadaOregonian – 6/23/08
“The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Monday that the latest case of mad cow disease is not an indication of a widespread epidemic. The inspection agency also says no part of the animal entered the human food system.”

City’s new plant’s a gasDaily Journal of Commerce – 6/23/08
“The facility will burn methane gas produced from the city’s solid waste to generate more than 12 million kilowatt hours of electricity, or about enough energy to power 1,000 Northwest homes, each year. The energy produced will provide about half of the treatment plant’s daily power demand, cutting its annual energy bills by about 40 percent.”

Oregon farmer’s markets flourishingStatesman Journal – 6/23/08
“More than 1,000 growers participate each year in selling direct at Oregon farmers markets. About 90,000 customers visit Oregon farmers’ markets each week throughout the season.”

Measure easing developmentOregonian – 6/20/08
“Measure 49’s clamp upon rural development in Oregon is becoming hard and clear. Instead of having potentially more than 100,000 new houses built in the countryside, Oregonians will see 13,000, according to state projections.”

Wyden proposes new forest planPortland Business Journal – 6/19/08
“For the sake of our environment, economy and our way of life, we must come together to pursue a concerted, new focus on sustainable forestry management that will create thousands of new jobs and restore the health of our forests.”

For an annotated list of recent national/international stories, check out today’s post from Humane Connection.

~ Marsha