Holiday Hiatus

The next couple of weeks are going to be especially crazy and stressful for me, so I’ve decided to do the MOGO thing for myself (which includes striving for balance) and take a holiday hiatus from blogging.  Please check back starting January 2, 2009 for new posts.

In the meantime, please feel free to check out Humane Connection, the blog for the Institute for Humane Education (my employer). In addition to my occasional posts, IHE’s President, Zoe Weil, is doing a series of posts connected to the 7 Keys to MOGO and the holidays, in anticipation of the release of her new book: Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and a Meaningful Life.

For you Portlanders, Zoe is coming to Portland February 4 for an appearance at Powell’s. She’s also leading a MOGO Workshop on February 7.

Have a peaceful, compassionate and joyous holiday!

~ Marsha


Don’t Sweat(shop) the Small Stuff

While our children are all nestled in their beds with visions of sugarplums dancing about, and they’re looking forward to acquiring a whole slew of new stuff that they’ll be talking about incessantly with their friends for weeks after winter break is over, it’s an excellent time to encourage them to think critically about all that new stuff — much of which quite possibly came from sweatshops.

Several websites address issues of sweatshops, child labor and fair trade. Here are a few that might be useful for helping your family explore these issues.

Co-op America’s Ending Sweatshops Program provides information about sweatshops, tips for avoiding sweatshop products, and a sweat-free products guide.

Global Exchange Sweatfree Communities offers information about sweatshop issues, resources and ideas. Their site also has a Sweatfree Toolkit for launching a sweatfree campaign in your community.

The focus of the National Labor Committee is “putting a human face on the global economy.” At their website you’ll find personal accounts, photos, news and information about worker conditions around the world.

The Smithsonian Institution currently has an online exhibit about the history of sweatshops in the U.S. Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A History of American Sweatshops, 1820 – present, provides a variety of information and perspectives.

If you’re interested in learning more about sweatshop issues and want to become active in promoting sweatshop-free products and communities, Sweatfree Communities has campaign materials and other information to help citizens create sweatfree communities, as well as a variety of educational resources. They also offer a “Shop with a Conscience Guide.”

Sweatfree also has announced its 2008 Sweatshop Hall of Shame, focusing on corporations that have “consistently flouted labor laws and basic worker protections.” This year’s “honorees” are American Eagle, Carrefour, Cintas, Dickies, Disney, Guess, Hanes, New Era, Speedo, Tommy Hilfiger, Toys “R” Us, and Wal-Mart.

And, for those interested in taking up legislative action against sweatshops, the NLC has been tracking anti-sweatshop legislation in the U.S. Congress. If the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act passes, it would “prohibit the import, export or sale of sweatshop goods in the U.S.” The bill was first introduced at the beginning of 2007. So far, about 26 senators and 175 representatives have signed as co-sponsors to the legislation. Students and others are invited to write their representatives to ask them to sign on as a co-sponsor (or to thank them for being one), as well as to encourage other organizations to endorse this legislation.

And, while you’re talking to your own kids about sweatshop products, be sure to take at look at your own goodies, too, and strive to make choices that can ensure that everyone — regardless of where they live — can have a happy holiday (and a happy, healthy life).

~ Marsha

Originally published in the December 2008 Humane Edge E-News.

Image courtesy of cambodia4kidsorg.

Bill Moyers Interview with Michael Pollan on Food Policy

moyerspollanA couple weeks ago, Bill Moyers sat down for an interview with food policy journalist Michael Pollan, who is the author of books such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma (which I’m reading now) and In Defense of Food.

In the debate about who will be the next Secretary of Agriculture, some have advocated Pollan for the position. He has become outspoken about food issues and the need for a major transformation of America’s food system, and in October he published “Farmer in Chief,”  an open letter to the next president about food issues, in the New York Times.

In the interview, Pollan discusses the connection between industrial food production and the health crisis (rising rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, etc.), energy independence, global warming, and national security. His suggestions for how the Obama Administration should take action regarding food policy include:

  • Reducing and eliminating some food subsidies (especially for crops like corn and soy)
  • Transferring oversight of the School Lunch Program from the USDA to the Education or Health and Human Services Departments
  • Decentralizing our food supply
  • Encouraging locally grown food (he advocates a White House Chef and a Farmer who can provide locally-grown, organic food to the White House
  • Applying strategies such as farmers’ markets in urban areas
  • Building an alternative food economy.

Pollan also offers suggestions for actions citizens can take to make a positive difference in the food arena, including:

  • Thinking “of the dollars you spend on a food in a different way” – vote with your fork for food systems and strategies that are sustainable and restorative
  • Voting with your vote and voice for food systems and strategies that are restorative
  • Cooking from scratch more often
  • Starting your own garden

It’s an interesting interview. Be sure to check it out.

Mini-MOGO Habit: Change the Way You Think About Holiday Gifts for a Happier, More Humane Experience

News headlines read “Merry Wal-mart, America” and “It’s Beginning to Look at Lot Like a Wal-mart Christmas.” A New York Times article outlines Wal-mart’s glee at expected increases in sales this holiday, while many other retailers plan for a financially dismal season. Wal-mart’s CEO says, “In my mind, there is no doubt that this is Wal-Mart time.” People are hurting for cash this season, and many are turning to the big box chains for lower prices on stuff. But what’s not coming out in the news is that giving your money to corporations such as Wal-mart means supporting low wages, undercutting local merchants, increasing urban sprawl, buying goods made with sweatshop and child labor, and so on.

And then every year we read stories giving us tips for reducing our holiday stress and surviving holiday shopping. And stories about people attacking (or occasionally killing) each other for the privilege of snagging the last must-have toy of the year (whose popularity quickly fades and is replaced by another toy). And stories about buying the perfect green gifts (that usually cost a lot more green than you could ever afford).

What’s with all the stress and violence and need to give and receive a big pile of stuff each holiday? The winter holidays used to be a time of spirituality, family and reflection, and they’ve become an homage to the gods of consumerism, stress and distraction.

This year when thinking about giving gifts to loved ones, consider these healthier, more humane alternatives:

Don’t give a material gift at all. I know; it seems almost sacrilege to say it. But, while gift giving for the holidays has been a long-standing tradition, it’s not a mandatory part of celebrating. As No Impact Man Colin Beavan mentions in his recent Yes! Magazine article, a recent study on the experiences of 117 people at Christmastime discovered that “people who emphasized time spent with families and meaningful religious or spiritual activities had merrier Christmases….In fact, subjects who gave or received presents that represented a substantial percentage of their income…actually experienced less Christmas joy.” Beavan and his family chose not to exchange gifts as part of their “no impact” experiment and found the experience surprising and enlightening. I know that giving gifts in my family became such a bastion of stress and resentment that we all finally decided to stop exchanging gifts — and we’re much happier for it.
Consider focusing on other important aspects of the season, such as visiting friends or spending quality time with family. Nurturing relationships is an important gift in itself. Alternatively, in the season of goodwill toward others, instead of spending your time shopping, spend it helping those who need it; volunteer for local groups in your community. Make it a family (or friends) affair and share the gifts of your time and talents with others.

If giving a gift is a must, consider:

  • Make a donation in their name to a worthy cause, especially one that supports their interests. My husband’s sister donates to their local humane society in our name each year, which makes us both happy, helps others and doesn’t add to our stack of stuff. You can even band together with friends and give the gift of water to those who need it. How can most material gifts compete with that?  Be sure to skip supporting the cause by buying the adorable commemorative ornament or calendar or mug, though; such items mean less money going to the actual cause and may support the very practices you’re trying to avoid.
  • Think creatively. This year’s Yes! Magazine staff’s list of suggested gifts includes some really creative ideas, such as fixing a treasured item that’s broken, or taking a class together. Think unique, experiential, personal, and meaningful. Do they love farmers’ markets? How about a split share in a CSA? Do they have a sweet tooth? How about baking them a different decadent delight each month? Have they been meaning to organize all those digital photos from that unforgettable trip? Make them a special annotated scrapbook on Flickr or another shared photo site.
  • Make sure the gift is something that they truly need, want, and will use. Granted, my husband and I live more simply than many people, but it always seemed such a sad waste that almost every gift we received for several years — though well-meant — was nothing we could use or wanted and usually ended up going straight to the thrift store.Food can be a good gift choice, if you know people’s preferences. For many years we made pumpkin or banana bread-in-a-jar gifts for friends and co-workers. The gift was yummy and included a reusable jar and the recipe. My husband’s mother always sends us organic fruit from a company here in Oregon. One year we made all our family vegan recipe books of well-tested tasty dishes that they were likely to enjoy…and so they wouldn’t worry about what to feed us when we visited.
  • Make sure the gift fits the MOGO product criteria, i.e., the gift is:
  • Humane to other people – that is, produced according to fair labor practices that do not exploit, oppress, and cause suffering to others.
  • Humane to animals – that is, its production does not cause animals to suffer and/or die.
  • Sustainable and/or restorative – that is, its production and disposal can be sustained through available resources, without causing destruction to ecosystems, and may actually contribute to ecological repair.
  • Personally life enhancing – that is, it brings something positive to their lives and does not become one more burdensome thing to take care of.
  • Make the gift yourself. But again, give them something that they really need or want. DIY is becoming the rage, with the ailing economy and increased awareness of consumerism, but just because you can make something cool MacGyver-style out toilet paper tubes and used staples doesn’t mean it should be a gift. One of my co-workers used to knit cute holiday ornaments for everyone in the building each year, which was really kind and thoughtful. But, being someone who lives a simple life, such items weren’t something I could use.
  • Rethink used. Used items carry such a stigma for some people. “What?! You don’t care about me enough to get me something new?!” But often, reusing items can make the perfect gift. Your friend has always raved about that doodad you no longer want? Wrap it up and surprise him with it. Know the perfect book to give your mom? You can probably find it in excellent condition at a used book store. One year a group of us had a “white elephant” exchange with a twist. Instead of bringing yucky junk we didn’t want anymore, we each found something truly useful from our homes that we were ready to pass on to someone else. Talk about fighting over good stuff!
  • Make sure the present and its gift wrap are recyclable, reusable and/or biodegradable.

Need additional ideas? Buy Nothing Christmas and New American Dream offer more gift suggestions.

~ Marsha

Originally published in the December 2008 Humane Edge E-News.

MOGOing Around Portland: Get a Yummy Vegan Meal and Help the Animals

If you live in the Portland, Oregon, area, and you’re looking for a way to fill your tummy with tasty goodness AND help animals, check out Apron Activists.  Started by vegan food guru Isa Chandra Moskowitz (author of Veganomicon, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and other delectable cookbooks) and Herbivore Clothing Company co-founder Michelle Schweggmann, Apron Activists host occasional dinners to raise funds for organizations that help animals. The next dinner is Friday, December 12 at Sweetpea Bakery (1205 SE Stark). Doors open at 7:30 pm and dinner begins at 8 pm. The menu is a Jamaican theme:

Plantain Rice Paper Rolls
Rice noodles, sweet plantains and toasted pumpkin seeds in a fresh rice paper roll with chili dipping sauce

Jamaican Curry With Roti Bread
Sweet potatoes, kidney beans and baby limas in a rich Jamaican spiced coconut curry served with flat bread for dipping

Jerk Tofu And Yucca
Marinated and grilled jerk tofu a green beans served over mashed yucca and topped with a fresh mango salsa

Pumpkin Rum Bread Pudding
A lush and spicy pumpkin bread pudding spiked with rum, served warm with vanilla ice cream

Ginger Tea will be served. Please bring your own beer and wine.

Tickets are on a sliding scale, from $40 – $100 each.  According to the info, “Diners who pay 60 dollars or more will also be receiving a really neat bag of holiday goodies that will include fresh baked cookies. 100% of the proceeds go to the Family Dogs shelter.”

The lucky animal organization this time is Family Dogs New Life Shelter, a no-kill dog shelter.

Find out more.

Image courtesy of Apron Activists.

Are You Helping the World Burn or Putting Out the Fire? Derek Jensen Goes Graphic (Novel)

asworldburnsIn his two-volume book, Endgame, Derrick Jensen boldly states that nothing less than the dismantling of civilization will bring the change we need to live harmoniously and sustainably. He notes that change is going to come violently; the amount of violence depends upon how soon and how willing people are to take major action. A similar theme finds its way into Jensen’s new-ish (2007) graphic novel, As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial.

Written by Jensen and illustrated by Stephanie McMillan, As the World Burns uses satire, quite a bit of violence and a slew of human, animal and alien characters to point out that humans are never going to be able to “save the planet” by making a few small changes in their individual habits. Real change must also come from government and industry, both of which currently have little or no incentive to do much of anything differently. While the government, corporations and aliens are hell-bent on consuming the planet and increasing profits, animals and environmentalists are working to stop the destruction. The ultimate last-ditch strategy of the whole of nature and the humans who are willing to fight for it is to band together and try to stop the aliens, who have been given the go-ahead to completely trash the planet.

The book is a strange mix of humor and anger and clearly advocates using whatever means are necessary to stop the destruction (just as those doing the destroying are using whatever means they have to increase profits). It’s certainly not an uplifting, inspiring read, but it certainly made me think more deeply about the choices I make and how I spend my time.

While I completely agree that it’s going to take major individual and systemic transformation to create a humane, sustainable world, I can’t see us successfully getting there through violent means.

Give it a read and see what you think.

~ Marsha

The Power of One: Dogs Unchained!

Sometimes we forget how much power we as individuals have, so I wanted to share the recent success of a friend of mine with you. Connie D. works for an animal protection non-profit in the area and has been a major animal champion. When hurricane Katrina hit, she spent weeks rescuing dogs and helping them find homes. Recently, Connie took positive action for animals again. Here’s the first part of a letter she wrote:

The dogs chained to their wooden boxes.

“[There are two dogs that] live in my neighbor- hood. I drive by them every day on my way to work and on my way home. These 2 dogs are living a miserable life on the end of a chain. They are chained 90% of the time. They are tied up far away from their guardian’s house…and they cannot even reach each other when chained. They are chained up by a covered wire that is only about 5′ long. Their dog houses are made of plywood and have no bedding in them. I have no choice but to drive by these 2 dogs because they are on the route to town from my house. It literally breaks my heart every single day. I have sent letters and brochures on the cruelties of chaining dogs to the guardian with no response. I have offered to take the dogs for a walk on the weekends but again, no response. I have offered to find the dogs a new home but the guardian has refused.”

Connie persisted and was able to get the guardian to agree to allow a chain link fence to be erected on his property. Connie got people to donate money for the cost of the fence, and she, her husband, and the guardian built the fence together. Now she says,

The dogs enjoying their new roomy yard.

“…when I drive by them every morning and evening and see them together in their enclosure, it does my heart good. AND, the guardian tells me that they’re even sleeping together now! Isn’t that sweet!!!??? This whole process just makes me realize that we can never give up helping the animals. No matter how large the task may seem, we just need to keep trying. Anything is possible!”

It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we’re motivated! Congratulations, Connie!

There are other dogs out there who would love to be unchained. To find out more, check out Unchain Your Dog and Dogs Deserve Better.

Look around at your life and consider where you can enact the power of one!

~ Marsha