MOGO Tip: Learn Something New Today…And Every Day

Several years ago I was talking to a neighbor about the conditions that factory farmed animals endure, and I mentioned that one of the evil practices the industry uses for battery hens (those kept in cages to lay eggs) was forced molting. She asked me what exactly forced molting was. Uhhh. I didn’t know. I’d read that it was a bad thing done to battery hens, and that’s all I needed to know; it must therefore be a bad practice. But, if I was going to talk intelligently and knowledgeably about animal protection issues, I needed to learn more about them. A great opportunity for learning something new.

Many years before that, I’d been a staunch believer that homosexuality was a sin – ‘cause that’s what I’d been taught. I had no reason to question it, because everyone else around me believed it. I could safely assume it was true. And then, in college, I befriended my new fellow dance majors, many of whom were gay. And I realized that all my “facts” and beliefs were just assumptions that I’d established out of the culture, habits and traditions under which I was raised. A great opportunity for learning something new.

My new shampoo has an unpronounceable chemical in it. I see a label that says “certified humane.” I find the perfect outfit at a certain store, but I’m not sure where or how the outfit was made or what the business practices of the store are. All great opportunities to learn something new.

If we truly want to make choices that reflect values such as compassion and justice, and that do the most good and the least harm for all, it’s important that we educate ourselves about the impact of our choices, question our assumptions, and learn ways to create positive change.

~ Marsha


MOGO Tip: Become Your Own Garbage Hauler for a Few Days

garbagebagsJust how much waste do we generate? The average American generates 760 kgs of garbage per person per year (4.6 pounds per person per day).

And this New York Times article from May 2008 reveals that “Americans generate roughly 30 million tons of food waste each year, which is about 12 percent of the total waste stream.”

A lot of what we throw away is stuff we don’t really use (or need), or stuff that could be diverted elsewhere, whether reused, recycled, redirected (or refrained from using in the first place).

Challenge yourself for a day or a week: keep all your waste — everything that you would throw away, and store it somewhere, so that you can get a real sense of what your garbage footprint is. If you can’t keep it, then write down everything you toss and keep a list. Then look through your treasure of trash and notice what could be recycled, what could be reused, what could be redirected, and what you could have done without in the first place. Think about how you could have gotten what you needed without generating garbage. If you have kids, get them in on this little adventure; turn it into something fun.

Although I’m encouraging you to keep your waste for just a few days, one guy decided to keep all his garbage and recycling for a YEAR, to see how much would accumulate, and how well he could do at reducing his waste impact. Dave kept a blog of his efforts, cataloging all the waste he generated and how he dealt with it.

Dave now has a website, Sustainable Dave, with resources, tips and insights for reducing waste and living sustainably. Check it out for some tips to help you reduce your waste-print.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of fnavarro.

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

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

Mini-MOGO Habit: Practice Third-Side Thinking in Your Choices

choicesroadsignWe live in what appears – on the surface – to be a dichotomous society: black or white, masculine or feminine, paper or plastic, organic or conventional, animals or people, jobs or environment, us or them, and so on in an infinite number of either/ors and exclusions of something or other. But in reality, we often have a much broader set of choices. There is almost always a third choice. Or a fourth. Or fifth.

I was skimming a magazine today that offered list of ways to save money and energy when upgrading your electronics. Some of the choices included stereo vs. mp3 player; cable vs. satellite; plasma vs. LCD TV. The point of the article was to show which items use less energy and emit fewer amounts of CO2. But, I immediately thought. Why are they telling me those are my only choices? I don’t own a stereo OR an mp3 player. I use a little portable boom-box that I’ve had for years (or my 6 year old laptop). I don’t use cable or satellite; in fact, I don’t even have a television, so the plasma vs. LCD is a pointless comparison for me.

Why do we stop at the easy either/or answers? Why don’t we dig deeper, further for the more meaningful solution?

We can start simply, like: instead of paper or plastic, I can bring my own bag. Or, do without one completely. But, I can also dig deeper: Do I really need to go to the store to buy this thing in the first place? What can I do instead? Borrow, build, share, improvise, do without?

No Impact Man Colin Beavan has mentioned on his blog that he always takes his own cup to the coffee shop, rather than using one of their disposable ones — and people thank him for it.  I would go even deeper and  suggest going without the store-bought coffee at all (I think my husband and I are about the only two people here in Portland who don’t drink the stuff), or at least ensure that it’s organic, shade-grown, fair-trade, sustainable stuff.

I recently read another article in a magazine about when and how to replace leather shoes with vegan ones. What was one of the first suggestions? Payless. Yes, they have vegan shoes that are pretty economical. But, many of those shoes are also made with petroleum products and other chemicals and quite probably were produced in sweatshops in another country and shipped thousands of miles. An excellent opportunity for some third side thinking.

As you go throughout your day, pay attention to the choices that you’re offered – and the ones you offer yourself – and then take some time to think about and look for third, fourth and fifth choices.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly they start appearing.

~ Marsha

Enough of This Either/Or Nonsense: Let’s Have Some Win/Win Thinking!

blackwhite1Why, oh why, do we continue to insist on handling difficult issues and challenges in black and white, either/or terms? Why do we approach problems as jobs vs. environment? People vs. animals? Species vs. individuals? Rich vs. poor? You vs. me? Us vs. them?

I’ve seen a lot of either/or thinking lately. The recent issue of E Magazine has a commentary raising the issue of the “greenie wars,” pitting environmentalists against animal protection advocates. (Though there is a blurb at the very end suggesting both/and solutions may be possible….sometimes..maybe.)

The U.S. Supreme Court recently voted against whales and for the Navy, refusing to consider restrictions that would have “required the Navy to reduce or halt underwater sonar pulses when marine mammals might be nearby.” Another either/or approach.

And, a big brouhaha has come from the passage of Prop 2 AND Prop 8 in California. Prop 2 will now require the phase-out of gestation crates (for pregnant sows), veal crates (for male calves) and battery cages (for egg-laying hens), meaning animals raised in factory farms in California will endure just a little bit less suffering. The passage of Prop 8, however, has overturned the California law which allowed gay and lesbian couples to marry. Some gay and lesbian activists, and their supporters, have been incredibly outraged that voters chose “animal rights” over “human rights.” Bloggers and news outlets have been running headlines like “Chickens 1, Gays 0” and “Californians Like Chickens More Than Gay People.” Of course, it’s incredibly upsetting that Prop 8 passed, and while issues of human and animal oppression are deeply connected, the fact that rights for gay and lesbian folks were thwarted this time doesn’t mean that protections for animals should be also.

Author and President of the Institute for Humane Education (and my boss), Zoe Weil, recently wrote a post about this either/or perspective.She says:

“But it is wrong and disingenuous to compare these two propositions. If homosexuals were forced into cages for the duration of their lives, mutilated and abused under horrendous conditions, all to please the tastebuds of consumers and line the pockets of agribusinesses, and then a proposition to give them a bit more space before they were slaughtered failed to pass, well then we could rightly say that Californians care more about chickens than gay humans. But comparing Prop 2 and Prop 8 is like comparing proverbial apples and oranges.”

“…we should not compare the torture of other sentient beings to a rejection of gay marriage. Such a comparison fuels either/or thinking, lack of compassion for other sentient species, and narrow thinking. We need just the opposite to create a more thoughtful, just world.”

Author Mark Hawthorne shares similar sentiments in his essay for the American Chronicle. Hawthorne notes:

“Abusing animals is always wrong, just as discriminating against humans is always wrong. Why should one oppressed group express their anger by targeting another oppressed group? (I don´t believe there are any beings on this planet more oppressed than farmed animals, who are bred, raised, confined, mutilated and slaughtered at a rate of 55 billion per year worldwide.)”

He continues:

“Moreover, the very fact that people are picking on Prop 2 rather than one of the many other measures on the California ballot underscores the low regard many people have for the animals they eat. After all, no one is complaining that voters care more about veterans than gays because Prop 12, the Veterans Bond Act, passed, or that people care more about children than gays because Prop 3, the Children´s Hospital Bond Act, passed….While gay people have a voice, animals inside factory farms do not: they rely on compassionate individuals to speak out for them. I can only hope that the same people who are disparaging the passage of Prop 2 will see that demeaning animals does not further gay rights … that human liberation and animal liberation are inextricably linked.”

It’s important that we use our creativity, critical thinking skills and ability to connect, cooperate and compromise to find solutions that work for everyone. It usually takes a bit longer, but it helps bring us closer to that compassionate, sustainable, peaceful world that we’re seeking.

~ Marsha

The Rest of the Story: Resources for Reexamining Columbus

Today, October 13, is Columbus Day in the U.S., and this year, as in generations before, elementary schools all across the country will teach another group of children that, “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and discovered America. I certainly remember many years of Columbus Days reciting the poem and coloring worksheets with ships and explorers and happy Indians.

It is a fact that Columbus sailed to North America in 1492 and encountered native peoples, but there’s a whole lot that seems to get left out about what happened after that. Like mass murder and the transatlantic slave trade.

While many adults no longer think much about Columbus Day as anything other than another federal holiday, and while children are taught about explorers who “discovered” lands and people around the world, for a growing number of people, Columbus Day has become known as “Genocide Day” or “Indigenous People’s Day,” a time to acknowledge the role that Columbus played in the enslavement, destruction and genocide of cultures flourishing in “America” for thousands of years. In an essay calling for the abolition of Columbus Day as a recognized holiday, one young woman equated it with celebrating “Hitler Day.”

Just as with all issues, there is no simple answer or easy either/or dichotomy. But what is evident is that most people are taught a single view of events from the perspective of Columbus as intrepid explorer, tradesman and “discover of the New World,” without exploring what life was like for natives before the three ships landed, or what happened in the aftermath.

While resources for alternative and more complex viewpoints are fairly scarce, there are several excellent ones available. Whether you’re an educator, parent, or concerned citizen, these resources can help you share a broader perspective with others.

Children and Young Adults:

Probably the most useful resource to date is Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, a book created by Rethinking Schools that offers ”resources for teaching about the impact of the arrival of Columbus in the Americas” and includes ideas for kindergarten through college. Even if you’re not a teacher, there are useful stories, poems, resources, and activities in this book that can help you explore these issues with your kids (or share them with others).

There are very few books for young people available that explore the story of the fateful encounter from a native perspective. The American Indians in Children’s Literature blog recommends A Coyote Columbus Story by Thomas King, which explores what happens to humans when Trickster Coyote meets Columbus.

Although it has several flaws, according to the AICL blog, Encounter by Jane Yolen, also offers an alternative perspective of native peoples and Columbus.

For older kids, Morning Girl by Michael Dorris tells the story of a Taino culture, just before they meet Columbus. This might be a good one to read together with your child and then discuss.

In her book Black Ants & Buddhists: Thinking Critically and Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades, Mary Cowhey offers a description of how she has explored with her second graders the issue of Columbus’s encounters with native peoples. You can read excerpts from her book on Google’s book search application. Parents can learn helpful tips from Cowhey about how to explore these issues with your kids.

For older teens, the famous poem “Columbus Day” by Jimmy Durham provides a springboard for discussion.


Two books that can help adults expand their perspectives include Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen (2008 ed.) and A People’s History of the United States: From 1492 to Present by Howard Zinn (2005 ed.).

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of dbking.