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.


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.

Thanksgiving: In Remembrance of Turkeys

turkeyOn this day of Thanksgiving, when most people in the U.S. are sitting down together to consume enormous quantities of food, many of them will be eating turkeys. So, here’s a little food for thought, in remembrance of those being eaten today:

A quote:

“Think occasionally upon the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

A passage from a naturalist who had spent time with turkeys and has this to say about them:

“As we leave the confines of my language and culture, these graceful creatures become in every way my superiors. More alert, sensitive, and aware, they are vastly more conscious than I. They are in many ways, in fact, simply more intelligent. Theirs is an intricate aptitude, a clear distillation of purpose and design and is beyond by ability to comprehend.” (from The Pig Who Sang to the Moon, p. 72)

A poem (it says Christmas, but the sentiment is the same):

Talking Turkeys

by Benjamin Zephaniah

“Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas
Cos’ turkeys just wanna hav fun
Turkeys are cool, turkeys are wicked
An every turkey has a Mum.
Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas,
Don’t eat it, keep it alive,
It could be yu mate, an not on your plate
Say, Yo! Turkey I’m on your side.
I got lots of friends who are turkeys
An all of dem fear christmas time,
Dey wanna enjoy it, dey say humans destroyed it
An humans are out of dere mind,
Yeah, I got lots of friends who are turkeys
Dey all hav a right to a life,
Not to be caged up an genetically made up
By any farmer an his wife.

Turkeys just wanna play reggae
Turkeys just wanna hip-hop
Can yu imagine a nice young turkey saying,
‘I cannot wait for de chop’,
Turkeys like getting presents, dey wanna watch christmas TV,
Turkeys hav brains an turkeys feel pain
In many ways like yu an me.

I once knew a turkey called…….. Turkey
He said ‘Benji explain to me please,
Who put de turkey in christmas
An what happens to christmas trees?’,
I said ‘I am not too sure turkey
But it’s nothing to do wid Christ Mass
Humans get greedy an waste more dan need be
An business men mek loadsa cash’.

Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas
Invite dem indoors fe sum greens
Let dem eat cake an let dem partake
In a plate of organic grown beans,
Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas
An spare dem de cut of de knife,
Join Turkeys United an dey’ll be delighted
An yu will mek new friends ‘FOR LIFE’.”

I am grateful for all the people who are choosing a compassionate Thanksgiving this year.
I rejoice for all the turkeys who are lucky enough to live out their lives naturally and joyfully.
I mourn for every turkey whose life has been stolen from them for this day: you are not forgotten.

~ Marsha

Tips for Terrific Thanksgiving Celebrations, Part 3: 7 Tips for the Vegan Hosting Meat Eaters

If you’re a vegan cook having omni guests over for Thanksgiving, it can be a bit worrisome to wonder if they’re going to pre-judge the food before they’ve even walked in the door. For omnivores traversing the path of a vegan-only meal for the first time, dining with vegans — especially for a big holiday like Thanksgiving –- can provoke feelings of trepidation. They may be asking: “What on earth are they going to feed us? How’s it going to taste? Will I starve?”  You as the vegan host want everyone to have a good time and enjoy the delicious food, so, here are a few tips for making sure that happens.

  1. Ask guests about food restrictions or dietary preferences. Just as you’d want them to be aware of your special needs, be sure to ask them about theirs.
  2. Make dishes you KNOW omnis will find delicious and enjoyable. You can’t please everyone’s palate, but a special day like Thanksgiving is not the time to experiment with something new.
  3. Consider providing a faux turkey entree AND other entrees. Tofurky and other faux meats are often either love ’em or hate ’em kinds of foods; don’t assume that your omni guests will find them as tantalizing as you do. However, if your omni friends have a major attachment to a turkey as the center point of the holiday, they may be pleasantly surprised to try one of the faux options.
  4. Be sure to include some traditional favorites. If your omni guests find some of the foods that they’re “used to” at your Thanksgiving feast (mashed potatoes, pies, cranberry something or other, etc.), it may help them to feel more relaxed about trying vegan dishes.
  5. Spend some time on the ambiance. You don’t have to create a centerpiece reproduction of the “First Thanksgiving” a la Martha Stewart, but some natural decorations that evoke thoughts of harvest, and a well-laid table can show them you’re serious about having a good time.
  6. Refrain from comments about people who are serving animals and/or their products for Thanksgiving (“Thank you, Creator, that we can all come together and not have to endure looking at some poor tortured creature.”) Make your omni guests feel just as welcomed and appreciated as your veg friends.
  7. Relax. If you’ve done your best to provide tasty food and a good time, the rest is up to them.

~ Marsha

Kids Books to Give Thanks For

In the U.S., November often brings tales of pilgrims, Indians, turkeys for dinner and the “First Thanksgiving” to children in schools and library storytimes. If you want to celebrate the season with kids, but prefer stories reflecting more compassionate food choices  and/or want a more accurate portrayal of the relationship between colonialists and natives, look to titles like these to share with your young ones, or their teachers:

In A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting, Mrs. Moose asks her husband to bring home a turkey for Thanksgiving, but what they turkey doesn’t understand is that they want him to join them FOR dinner, not BE the dinner.

‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey follows what happens when a group of school children visit a turkey farm and decide that the turkeys shouldn’t become anyone’s Thanksgiving dinner.

You can also look for books that are about harvest or that focus on particular fall foods, such as pumpkins.

There are a slew of “First Thanksgiving” children’s books available, but most of them are from a “colonialist” perspective. Judy Dow and Beverly Slapin have written an article deconstructing myths about “The First Thanksgiving.”

They also offer recommendations of books by Native authors to use during Thanksgiving time, including:

Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac, which tells the tale more accurately from Squanto’s viewpoint.

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine Grace O’Neill and Margaret M. Bruchac, which provides a view of the “first thanksgiving” from a Wampanoag perspective.

Dow and Slapin also recommend other books that focus on Native thanksgiving and harvest, such as:

Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition by Sally Hunter, which follows a young Winnebago boy through the year as he learns about his people’s relationship with corn.

The Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering
by Gordon Reqquinti, which follows an Ojibway wild rice harvest.

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message
by Jake Swamp, which offers up a message of thanksgiving to Mother Earth.

Ininatig’s Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking by Laura Waterman Wittstock, which follows a young boy who learns the traditions of tapping trees to make sugar.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of justjennifer.

(Reprinted from the Institute for Humane Education’s November 2008 Humane Edge E-News.)

Tips for Terrific Thanksgiving Celebrations, Part 2: 9 Tips for the Vegetarian Guest

Sometimes enjoying holiday meals with both omnivores and vegetarians in attendance can be as trying as a toddler birthday party when Pokey the Clown is a no-show and the dog threw up cake in your shoe. Fortunately many people have put time and thought into this very issue, and there are plenty of helpful tips available to ensure a smooth and satisfying celebration. Here’s part 2 of a multi-part series on successful tips for Thanksgivings when the veg and non-veg mix it up.

When you’re a vegan invited to Thanksgiving dinner at the home of someone you don’t know well (or maybe even someone you do know well), one of the main questions bouncing around in your brain are: “Will there be anything I can eat besides a limp piece of lettuce and some plain bread?” and “Is everyone going to be treating me like I have cooties?” If you’re proactive and considerate, you’ll have nothing to fear. Make use of these


  1. Tell your host as far in advance as possible about your dietary needs. Be specific.
  2. Have plenty of ideas to suggest to your host for both traditional dishes and not-so-traditional options, and make sure that your suggestions are reliably tasty to omnivores. The last thing you want is one bad experience of veg food that will color people’s opinions for a lifetime.
  3. Offer to help plan the menu and prepare some veggie dishes. They’ll welcome your tried and true fancy fare. (Make sure you don’t experiment with a new recipe that omnivores haven’t yet raved over.)
  4. Be sure you’re familiar with those substitutions that veganize any dish (examples: egg replacer, non-hydrogenated margarine, non-dairy ice creams, cheeses and milks, etc.). That way, when you’re host says “But we ALWAYS have Aunt Cici’s sweet potato pie!” you can whip out those quick and easy minor adjustments that will keep everyone happy and overfed.
  5. If cooking isn’t your thing, check out the deli at your local natural foods store. There are often tasty veg options (though the prices can be a little stomach-lurching). Or, pick up some fresh fruit and make a fruit salad, or drop by the bakery and pick up some fresh-baked bread and specialty vegan butters or jams.
  6. If you’re concerned there won’t be anything you can eat, eat something ahead of time. You can always nibble on the bread or sample the salad, or just focus on the good company. (It’s best to have a little something on your plate so that people aren’t distracted by the fact that you’re not eating/not eating much.) You can also bring a few snacks (fresh veggies, veggie turkey deli slices, etc.), that will blend in with the other foods and put those on your plate to munch on.
  7. Limit your expectations. Even though veg food is incredibly tasty, it can be scary cooking differently than you’re used to. And, as vegans know, many people are misinformed about what “veg” means. So, don’t expect a 9-course meal. Appreciate that your host is trying. (And remember, that if you’ve communicated clearly — well in advance, and you’re bringing multiple veg dishes, you should be able to look forward to a good time.)
  8. Unless asked, keep your reasons for being vegetarian to yourself. Keep any discussion about your “veg-ness” minimal and positive. A holiday occasion isn’t the time to lecture others or to call attention to the poor tortured, slaughtered creatures being served.
  9. Fair or not, all vegetarians may be judged by your behavior. As author Tiffany Reslor says, “Being a gracious guest reflects well on all vegetarians.” So, practice your best compassionate communication skills and don’t keep looking at the giant dead thing in the middle of the table and rolling your eyes or making disgusted sounds.

~ Marsha

Tips for Terrific Thanksgiving Celebrations, Part 1: 12 Tips for the Meat Eater Having Vegetarians (Over) for Dinner

cranberrysauceSometimes enjoying holiday meals with both omnivores and vegetarians in attendance can be as trying as a toddler birthday party when Pokey the Clown is a no-show and the dog threw up cake in your shoe. Fortunately many people have put time and thought into this very issue, and there are plenty of helpful tips available to ensure a smooth and satisfying celebration. Here’s part 1 of a multi-part series on successful tips for Thanksgivings when the veg and non-veg mix it up.


  1. Don’t assume. Ask your veg guests (VG) what kind of vegetarians they are (ovo-lacto, vegan, raw, etc.) so that there’s no confusion, and find out what they will and won’t eat. Vegetarianism means something different to everyone. (Note: The standard definition of vegetarian is someone who chooses not to eat animals of any kind; the standard definition of vegan is someone who chooses not to eat animals or their products – including things like honey, whey, gelatin, and such.)
  2. Vegetarians like flavor just as much as the next person. Don’t assume “vegetarian” means they don’t eat sugar or flour or important stuff like cake and pie. Good vegetarian fare is just as tasty and decadent as its carnivorous counterparts.
  3. When planning the meal, ask your VG for suggestions. They’ll usually have plenty of ideas. In fact, ask your VG to prepare and bring a veg dish or two. Or, if veg cooking/baking sounds too overwhelming, ask your VG to take on a larger helping role.
  4. Don’t assume a salad is a meal. Rabbits might be able to subsist on greens, but your VG will appreciate a more substantial offering. Provide an appropriate entrée, or at least several filling side dishes, such as breads, fresh fruits and veggies, vegan mashed potatoes, squash, cranberry sauce, etc. You’ll find plenty of veg cookbooks at the library, and veg-friendly recipes on the Internet.
  5. Do simple substitutions. Use veg broth instead of meat broth; soy or almond milk instead of dairy; organic non-GMO margarine instead of butter, and so on.
  6. If you don’t want to go totally veg with your meal, split portions of dishes so that part are vegan. Make some of that sweet potato dish without marshmallows; stuff only half the stuffing with meat; brush the rolls with olive oil instead of butter.
  7. Use separate utensils and cookware for the veg foods, and beware of cross-contamination. Your VG will appreciate it.
  8. If you don’t feel like cooking extra stuff, consider ordering a veg feast from a natural foods store, or picking up some tasty veg dishes at their deli. As long as the food is tasty and sufficient, everyone will be happy.
  9. Make place cards for each dish, labeling appropriately (Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw, Meat, etc.), and arrange the dishes with the cards so that there’s no confusion. As many people have food allergies of one sort or another, you may want to include a list of ingredients, or at least those—such as nuts, dairy, wheat, soy—that are mostly likely to be allergens.
  10. Start a new tradition. Thanksgiving doesn’t have to mean turkey & all the traditional trimmings (after all, they didn’t serve turkey at the First Thanksgiving!). Try something a little different. How about a buffet? How about a meal made up of a bunch of little appetizers? How about Indian/Ethiopian/Thai? How about pizza?
  11. Save your debates for another occasion. Getting together is about love and friendship and sharing and enjoying each others’ company—not whether you agree or disagree with someone’s philosophy or eating habits. Use this occasion to celebrate.
  12. Don’t worry about mistakes. Your veg guests will appreciate your genuine efforts (and if they don’t, then they should).


How to Accommodate Your Vegetarian and Vegan Guests at Thanksgiving.” Vegetarian Food

How to Have a Vegetarian Thanksgiving.” Mahalo.

~ Marsha