New EWG Healthy Home Tips for Parents a Great Tool; But It Could (and Should) Be Even Greater

latinofamilyoutsideThe Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an organization that has been at the forefront of helping protect public health and the environment. Part of their focus is to help parents protect their kids from environmental toxins, contaminants and other nasties, and to provide information and resources so that parents can make healthier choices for their little ones. Their pages for parents include tips, resources, research reports, calculators and other useful tools, and EWG also works to promote legislation (such as the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act) and to encourage citizen activism (such as insisting that the EPA reduce Americans’ exposure to rocket fuel in their water). I find them to be a valuable resource, and I often refer people to their cosmetics safety database.

Recently they’ve come out with a 1-sheet “Healthy Home Tips for Parents,” (PDF) a downloadable guide to “the most important steps you can take at home to promote your family’s environmental health.”

The list includes suggestions such as:

  • Choose better body care products.
  • Go organic & eat fresh foods.
  • Pick plastics carefully.
  • Use greener cleaners & avoid pesticides.

And you can sign up for their e-newsletter to receive more detailed tips about each item on the list.

I’m glad that EWG is promoting the positive steps for parents that they are, and they have some great suggestions, but I’m saddened and disappointed that they’re not going further. I know that change can be scary and inconvenient and confusing for some people, but when we’re talking about our children’s health and the health of our planet, I would think that EWG would offer larger measures, too. For example, in their tips, they suggest that parents “choose milk and meat without added growth hormones.” How about suggesting to parents that they not feed animals and their products to kids at all? Awareness about the environmental and health impacts of eating animals only continues to grow and evidence of the benefits of choosing a plant-based diet rather than eating animal foods only continues to strengthen.

One of their tips is to “Eat good fats.” Instead of recommending plant-based sources for omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts, flax seeds or flax seed oil, or certain types of seaweeds, (although they do mention that you can get omega-3s from “nuts, oils and produce”), they recommend choosing “low-mercury fish.” Low-mercury still has mercury in it.

They recommend using a HEPA-filter vacuum, but don’t suggest preventative strategies such as getting rid of carpets, which can be full of toxins and hold in all kinds of pollutants and allergens. They suggest that parents choose “snug-fitting cotton pajamas” for their kids, but don’t mention the enormous environmental impact of cotton production (such as the pesticide and water use). How about suggesting an alternative for parents such as shopping at thrift stores, so that they can find used pajamas for less cost and less environmental impact?

I realize that they’ll be providing more in-depth suggestions regarding each tip in their e-newsletters, but since many parents may only look at the single sheet tips, it’s important to include such essential information there.

EWG does some very valuable and credible work, and I’m glad they’re providing such important information to parents. I just wish that they – and many of the other non-profit groups working to make the world a better place – wouldn’t stop shy of suggesting broader and deeper actions that parents and citizens can take. Let’s offer parents and citizens a range of suggestions that shows them the ideal choices, as well as some easier stepping stones, so that they can make the best and most informed choices based on their current circumstances and willingness to enact change.

~ Marsha


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

Lucky Puppies, Monkeys, Mice and Others: Two Examples of Pro-Vivisection Propaganda Targeting Children

My boss, Zoe Weil, recently wrote two blog posts about examples of pro-vivisection propaganda targeted to kids. One example is new, the other old; both are abhorrent. The new example is her post about the The Lucky Puppy Coloring Workbook, which features two kids who learn about the wonders and importance of animal research when they take their sick dog (Lucky) to the vet. The vet explains how well the animals who are experimented on are treated. It’s a party for everyone involved! And, of course, at the end of the tale, one kid wants to be a vet, and the other a research scientist. (You can see another post about the Lucky Puppy from the Animal Rights Blog.)

Zoe’s other post focuses on an older piece of propaganda called “Let’s Visit a Research Lab.” This piece is an illustrated poster that shows what it’s like inside a “real” animal research facility. Zoe notes:

So what do little children learn from this free educational poster provided to their schools with our tax dollars? They learn:

  • That laboratories name their animal friends who enjoy their happy lab life, when in fact animals are numbered, called “subjects,” and are killed at the end of the experiments.
  • That “testing” is game playing, rather than being force fed drugs, cosmetics, household products and other chemicals.
  • That monkeys are spaciously housed together and provided with lots of toys and enrichment, when most are in small, isolated indoor cages, with little or nothing to play with.
  • That the only reason to “treat” an animal is because she or he has been hurt by other animals, rather than burned, shocked, cut open, or drugged by those who conduct research on them.

Obviously, I’m not a supporter of animal experimentation. But, unfortunately, the issue isn’t simple or clear-cut. What is clear, however, is that it’s important to be aware of propaganda like this and to make sure that such deceit and misinformation are kept out of the classroom (unless they’re being used for critical thinking activities to analyze propaganda). It’s also a great reminder that it’s essential that information promoting and supporting a humane world be completely truthful, accurate, credible, and designed to spark people to think for themselves…not to be brainwashed.

~ Marsha

What Message Are You Modeling?

Hello, Everyone, and Happy New Year!

Recently my boss told me about the video below, which was created by Child Friendly Australia. The video does a terrific job of reflecting back to us just how powerfully we model messages to our kids.

(Note: If the above doesn’t play, go here to see the video.)

The same is true for everyone. As Gandhi said, “My life is my message,” and we send all manner of messages in the every day choices and actions we take. Are we kind and patient with the check out clerk, even though he’s taking forever to ring up our purchases? How do we react to the woman who cuts in front of us in line? How do we behave when our friend falsely accuses us? What message are we sending when we choose to stop at a fast food restaurant? How do we respond to the person, planet or animal in need? What do our choices say about our message, our values?

This year, one of my intentions is to work to make my life more closely reflect a message of compassion, peace, kindness, justice and other MOGO qualities.

What messages are you modeling?

~ Marsha

Tell the FCC to Just Say No to Embedded Advertising in Children’s TV Programming

childwatchingtvProduct placement has, unfortunately, become commonplace in movies and television. It’s one thing to use such tactics to lure adults into lusting after certain products, but children — especially young children — don’t yet have the capacity to separate ads from content. If you’re concerned about “embedded advertising” in children’s television, you have until Monday, November 17 to share your comments with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). You can do that by going to the FCC’s comment file submission page and filling out the required portions of the cover sheet (the Proceeding is 08-90), and then scrolling down to the “Send a Brief Comment to the FCC”, sharing your comments and clicking the “Send Brief Comment…” button.

To find out a bit more:

Lisa Ray at Parents for Ethical Marketing gives a brief overview of the issue (and her commentary).

Amy Jussel at Shaping Youth gives a nice background and analysis of product placements, especially those focused on kids.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Aaron Escobar.

Get a Real Taste of Real. Life.

Replica of village in Uganda for displaced personsWhile some people spend their mornings wondering if they should have a second latte or gossiping about the latest episode of their fave TV shows or grumbling about the stain on the seat in their SUV, others are thinking about whether or not they’ll get to eat today or wondering if today’s the day they get raped while searching for water and firewood.

What’s it like to live under such conditions? Medical Teams International in Tigard has created a “multi-sensory” exhibit which allows those of us who live the relative good life to get a taste of what real life is like for others around the world. MTI has created the Real. Life. Exhibit, which features 14 rooms, each a realistic depiction of a different location. The exhibit includes sights, sounds and even smells and is meant to educate others about “international humanitarian issues, global health concerns and socio-economic topics.” The different locations include a 25-foot tsunami wave poised to crash down; a filthy, smelly garbage dump in Mexico where families live and work; a camp for Ugandans displaced by rebels; a village where HIV and AIDS have claimed lives; a refugee camp; a burn unit in a children’s hospital; a medical triage clinic; and a placement center for abandoned children.

According to Bas Banderzalm, president of Medical Teams International, “We hope people will be touched by what they see and hear, but most of all, we hope they will be moved to act. Those who tour this exhibit will have an opportunity to learn how they can make a difference.”

Local media has featured a couple of stories on the exhibit, such as here and here.

The exhibit has specific and limited hours of operation, and groups over 10 need to make an appointment. You can view the exhibit at MTI’s headquarters, which is at 14150 SW Milton Court, Tigard, OR. (See map & directions.) The exhibit is open at least through June 14 (I’m not sure when the last day to visit is.) Note: According to MTI, the exhibit is appropriate only for mature middle schoolers and older.

The exhibit’s website also offers lesson plans and activity ideas for teachers and group leaders.

If you’ve not had a chance to travel the world and experience what life is like for way too many people, be sure to check out this exhibit.

~ Marsha