Mark Your Calendar: Jeffrey Masson at Powell’s April 3

faceonyourplateWell-known for diving into the depths of animal emotions in books such as Dogs Never Lie About Love, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals, and The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals, author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson has a new book out this month that focuses on who ends up on our plates and the consequences of eating them.  Heralded by one reviewer as “Intelligent, absorbing and very easy to digest, this is an essential book for any person who thinks and/or eats,” The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food (W.W. Norton, 2009) examines the health, environmental and spiritual impacts of industrial agriculture and of eating animals.

Masson will be appearing at Powell’s (1005 W. Burnside) here in Portland, Oregon  on Friday, April 3, at 7:30 pm. Here’s his current book tour schedule.


Ordinary Hero: 3 Cups of Tea, a Man Transformed, Thousands of Children Educated

In 1993 a failed mountain ascent by a climber led to an encounter with a tiny village in Pakistan and the children who had no school there, which led to transformation and a new life’s purpose. Greg Mortensen vowed to the children he met in that village that he would build them a school. Since then, Mortensen has helped establish nearly 80 schools for children in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and he has focused on educating girls, believing that “You can drop bombs, hand out condoms, build roads, or put in electricity, but until the girls are educated a society won’t change.”

Mortensen co-authored a book about his experiences, called Three Cups of Tea. The award-winning best-seller has inspired and motivated others, and it has been so popular that Mortensen has created a version for young adults, as well as a children’s book called Listen to the Wind.

Mortensen has also created a non-profit, the Central Asia Institute, to help with the education of children (especially girls) in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Pennies for Peace, an educational and fundraising campaign for kids to learn more about helping other kids.

~ Marsha

How Are You Spending the Days of Your One Precious Life?

calendar31“Time only seems to matter when it’s running out.” ~ Peter Strup

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” ~ Steve Jobs

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” ~ Gandalf (Lord of the Rings)

“At some point in your life, you’ll only have thirty-seven days to live. Maybe that day is today.” ~ Patti Digh, author of Life is a Verb

I’ve been reading a book called Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally. The book came about because, 37 days after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, the author’s step-father died. That experience led her to think long and hard about how she would spend her time if she only had 37 days to live; she discovered that what was most important to her was “living each individual, glorious day with more intention.”

Part of what I really like about this book  is that it makes me think hard about how I’m spending the days of my life. Am I making choices that truly reflect my deepest values? Am I really positively contributing to the world? Am I living joyfully and fully?

None of us knows how many days we have, which is all the more reason to make sure that our time is spent in ways that are truly meaningful to us and nurturing to the world.

Ask yourself: if you were at the end of your life, would you be satisfied with what you’ve contributed? With how you’ve lived? What would you want to be able to say about how you’ve helped create a just, compassionate, sustainable world? If you don’t like your answers, there’s still time to transform your life so that it more deeply reflects your values.

~ Marsha

Selling American Girlhood: The American Girl Phenomenon

rethinkingschoolsmarketingYour daughter/niece/friend’s child wants a doll, and although you have fond memories of the exploits of Ken and Barbie from your own childhood, you realize that Barbie really isn’t the best role model. And, of course, those brazen, anorexic Bratz things are out of the question. So, you turn to something like the American Girl dolls. Those seem pretty girl-power focused. Plus, they have dolls of different ethnicities. And, there’s a magazine and a series of historical books about each girl, so they inspire reading and learning about history.  So, it seems like a pretty safe, pro-girl choice, event if AG does promote a lot of products, right? Not so fast.

The latest issue of Rethinking Schools magazine has a terrific analysis of the American Girl doll/book/movie/products/girl culture phenomenon. “Marketing American Girlhood“, by Elizabeth Marshall, searches underneath the initial layer of “girl power” and diversity that American Girl purports to promote and examines the actual messages and intentions. Here are three short excerpts from the article to tempt you to read the article:

“However, any potential ‘girl-power’ lessons are short-circuited in these books through the use of historical fiction to deliver traditional lessons about what girls can and should do. While the stories take place in key historical moments, such as the Civil War, and World War II, the girls rarely participate in historical events in any substantial way.”

“The American Girl historical girl collection also purports to be multicultural and includes African American (Addy), Latina (Josefina), and Native American (Kaya) characters. However, this inclusion is superficial and represents the ways in which ‘difference,’ like ‘girl power,’ has become a commodity that American Girl markets to its consumers.”

“Some might argue that American Girl is not as bad as other materials on the market, or as offensive as Barbie or Bratz dolls. This argument misses the key features of what makes this phenomenon so insidious: how corporations play on the feminist and /or educative aspirations of parents, teachers, girls, and young women and turn these toward consumption. American Girl is less about strong girls, diversity or history than about marketing girlhood, about hooking girls, their parents and grandparents into buying the American Girl products and experience.”

As a former youth librarian, when the AG books first came out, I was happy to see something to counteract the lure of licensed-character books and other stuff. Sure, they weren’t meaningful literature, but they had a positive spin and attracted a large number of readers. But then came the stuff: the magazine, the doll accessories that cost more than some real accessories, more dolls, more stuff. Under the guise of girl-power, AG is grooming another generation to become happy consumers,  who don’t question the impact of all that stuff or the messages behind them. Check out the article and share it with parents and friends.

~ Marsha

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

Peter Singer on Animal Rights, Poverty, Food Choices

petersingerI’m a little slow in pointing it out, but in case you haven’t already heard, there was an interesting commentary in Newsweek by Peter Singer recently. “The Rights of Animals” looks at the current and potentially future states of the rights and treatment of animals (mainly through the lens of Western countries). Here’s a nice tidbit:

“The notion that we should recognize the rights of animals living among us rests on a firm ethical foundation. A sentient being is sentient regardless of which species it happens to belong to. Pain is pain, whether it is the pain of a cat, a dog, a pig or a child.

“Consider how widely humans differ in their mental abilities. A typical adult can reason, make moral choices and do many things (like voting) that animals obviously cannot do. But not all human beings are capable of reason, not all are morally responsible and not all are capable of voting. And yet we go out of our way to claim that all humans have rights. What, then, justifies our withholding at least some rights from nonhuman animals? Defenders of the status quo have found that a difficult question to answer.”

Singer also has a new book coming out in March. The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty argues that our current methods for dealing with poverty are (obviously) failing terribly, and he outlines a plan for what citizens can do to help truly make a positive difference.

By the way, if you haven’t yet read Animal Liberation or The Ethics of What We Eat, I highly recommend both. Animal Liberation was one of the major springboards for the modern animal rights movement. It outlines Singer’s arguments and views regarding animal rights and provides a detailed overview of what’s involved in animal experimentation and in the factory farming and slaughter of animals. Singer provides this information in a factual, unemotional manner that makes what’s happened to the animals all the more horrifying. The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter (The original edition was called The Way We Eat), which he wrote with activist Jim Mason, outlines the impacts of our food choices on people, animals and the planet.

(Irrelevant tidbit: Although I don’t agree with some of what Singer says, enough of his views resonate with me that we named our cat after him :))

For a bit more about Peter Singer, check out:

His website

His Wikipedia bio

~ Marsha

Mini-MOGO Habit: To Book or Not to Book

stacksbooksI absolutely adore reading. I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and I love stories of all sorts (which is why I also love movies). My babysitter taught me to read (and potty trained me at the same time) by plopping me down on the toddler pot with a bunch of books. (Sorry if that’s TMI.) Books have a fond place in my heart,  but I almost never buy them anymore, because I’m not fond of the environmental impact. It takes a lot of resources (and kills a lot of trees) to produce and transport books; they take up space in your house, and then there’s the issue of what to do with them when you’re ready to let go of them. So what are some MOGO options when it comes to books?

As a former librarian, of course I’m going to recommend that you check out your local library as your primary source for tasty reading material. If your particular library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, there are often library-sharing options available. (I live in an area in which libraries around the county have formed a cooperative to share their resources.) You can also get most any title you want through Interlibrary Loan (your library borrows the item from another library, and then you borrow it from your library). If you haven’t been to a library in awhile, you might be surprised at all the materials and resources you have to choose from (some libraries even make it possible to download books to listen to on your computer or mp3 player). Of course, there are options like borrowing from a friend, too.

If you absolutely must own the title in question, then consider some different options. If it has to be brand spanking new (because it’s a gift or such), then try to buy it from an independent book store, rather than one of the big chains. If it doesn’t have to be in pristine condition, thrift stores and used book stores can often provide the book you want. You get a lower price, and you’re helping give the book another life. Online book sharing and swapping sites like Book Mooch and Book Crossing mean that you can give away books and get books from others. Plus, it’s fun to share.

When you’re ready to pass your book on, there are plenty of choices, from sharing it with friends or family, to swapping it, to donating it to your local library’s used bookstore or to a thrift store. There are also social entrepreneurship businesses like Better World Books, which collect used books and sell them in order to fund literacy programs, and plenty of non-profit programs that seek to collect books and share them with people who need them.

If your book isn’t in reusable condition, then you can contact your local recyclers to see if it can be recycled. If it can’t, then consider searching online for art project ideas (ones that are actually useful, not ones that will just add to your collection of stuff).

You can also contact organizations like the Green Press Initiative and Eco-Libris to find out how to encourage book publishers to make sustainable choices. And, you can encourage online book sellers to provide more e-books.

Of course, there is something positive in buying the books of authors you want to support and having books at home that you know you’ll refer to repeatedly; just make your book choices conscious ones.

~ Marsha