Humane Issues Round-Up: Food Edition

There are 3 recent food-related stories in the news we wanted to make sure you know about:


1. There's good news for people who care about healthy, sustainable, just food.

Recently the W.K. Kellogg Foundation commissioned a poll to gather information about American's attitudes about food (primarily produce). Highlights of those surveyed included:
  • 93% said it is “very important” or “somewhat important” that all Americans have equal access to fresh produce;
  • Nearly 90 % said they would pay $1.50 more each month for produce to guarantee fair wages for the farmworkers who pick produce;
  • 86% said it is "very important" or "somewhat important" for the fresh produce they buy to be grown in an environmentally-friendly way;
  • 75% said they support a nationwide program that would double the value of SNAP benefits used at farmers markets;
  • 83% said that they "strongly" or "partly agree" that “Washington, D.C., should shift its support more toward smaller, local fruit and vegetable farmers and away from large farm businesses.” This last one is especially important with Congress discussing the most recent Farm Bill.
I was curious about the 800 people surveyed. According to the data, more than 70% were white and nearly half live in the suburbs. I was heartened to see that seventy percent identified as middle or working class, but slightly less heartened that those surveyed were asked to name which economic class they consider themselves part of, rather than sharing salary information, which gives a more accurate view.


2. Another set of new studies says that we tend to associate animal flesh and animal products with "masculinity." Researchers explored "whether there is a metaphoric link between meat and maleness in Western cultures" through six studies, looking at issues such as gendered associations and food, and implicit associations about meat.

Read the study.

Studies like this are important for helping explore cultural pressure and biases and how they influence our choices.


3. According to the Associated Press, the animal protection organization, Mercy for Animals, has released yet another example caught on video of horrific cruelty to farmed animals. This time the footage is from a livestock auction house in Ontario, California. Prosecutors have actually filed animal cruelty charges against the owner and seven employees, which is very rare.

If you wish to watch the video to find out more, you can see it here. (It's very graphic.)

~ Marsha

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Strut Your Superhero Stuff With the Power of Choice

It's almost the summer movie season and already the capes, masks, cool tools, and bursting muscles are on the scene. The Avengers blasted through the box office earlier this month. The Amazing Spider-man comes out in early July, and the Dark Knight Rises just a couple weeks later. There's something about superheroes and their powers that draws us close.


We love heroes, whether they're donning skintight gear or just ordinary folks (or celebrities).

Wouldn’t it be cool if we actually had superpowers? I bet most of us have played that game about what kind of superpower you’d choose if you could. I'll let you in on a little secret. I have a special power: the power of choice. I make choices every day that affect lives. I make choices every day that help determine the kind of world we live in. We all have that power surrounding our choices. We all can make choices that nurture and support love and joy and peace and compassion and sustainability and justice. We all can make choices that condone and support suffering and destruction and hatred and fear and violence and cruelty. That’s a lot of power.

And the cool thing is that our choices can make a positive difference for the whole world. All those analogies you’ve heard—the butterfly effect, the domino effect, the it’s-like-the-ripples-in-the-pond effect—they’re all true. We’re connected to everything, and though we often forget it—or like to pretend differently--we’re part of everything. Our actions—our choices—have a big impact on the world around us. As activist and author Frances Moore Lappe says, “Every choice we make can be a celebration of the world we want.” So, if I choose to eat a fast food hamburger, then I’m saying “Yes!” to animal suffering and exploitation, rainforest destruction, low wages and poor benefits and dangerous conditions for workers. If I shop at a big box store, I’m saying “Yes!” to sweatshops and child slavery, urban sprawl and habitat destruction, worker discrimination and the forcing out of local businesses. If I choose to buy lots of stuff, then I’m saying “Yes!” to poverty and competition for resources, to more for me and less for everyone else, to exploitation and oppression.

It’s often not easy to see the impact—to see the connections. It would be great if we could all wear some sort of superhero x-ray vision goggles, so that when we looked at two t-shirts, for example, we could see that one is connected to pesticides and soil degradation and habitat destruction and pollution from long-distance transport and to children and young women working in sweatshops with poor ventilation, miniscule bathroom breaks, no labor representation, and armed guards, for very little pay, and the other is connected to organic growing methods, soil and habitat conservation, workers paid a fair wage at factories running on renewable energy, and the local small business that sells them.

When most of us talk about the kind of world we want, we talk about the same things: happy, healthy families; a meaningful life & work; a home; connection to something larger than ourselves; a healthy, sustainable planet; to know that we’ve made a positive difference.

The way we live our lives can never be as black and white as the good vs. evil struggle between movie superhero and villain. There are always challenges, circumstances, compromises. But, if we really believe, as Peter Sauer says, that “A just, peaceful, safe and healthy environment is everybody’s…right and the right of every future generation,” then we must expand our vision to encompass the needs and interests of the global community; we must extend our circle of concern to all living things; we must learn to give equal consideration to each of us: mouse and mountain, child and cheetah, woman and wetlands. We must support choices and systems that are just, humane, and restorative. We must work together so that everyone knows love, justice, peace, compassion, joy and beauty, and can enjoy the blessing of a healthy, sustainable, vibrant world.

Just as the Bat signal called Batman to use his powers to save the day, the world is calling us to use our superpowers. Let’s use the power of our choices. Let’s use the gift of our connection with everyone and everything. Let’s use them to help make the world a celebration of life, and a community that cares for all.

~ Marsha

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Coincidences and Beliefs (Part 2)

I’ve written about coincidences before and about how important it is not to assign illegitimate meaning to chance events. But sometimes it’s hard not to believe in supernatural forces in the face of truly amazing coincidences.

One such coincidence happened recently to my husband, Edwin. A wasp got into our house. It was a big wasp. It buzzed around the ceiling and then disappeared. Edwin doesn’t like bees and wasps, probably because his father was allergic, and he himself has huge reactions to them when he’s stung. The next morning we were planning to take the dogs on a long hike a couple of hours from home. We’d be gone for 12 hours, leaving our cat at home alone. With the wasp.

I hadn’t given the wasp any thought at all, but Edwin had. In fact he’d gone to sleep worrying about leaving the cat in the house with the wasp, and had awakened in the middle of the night, fretting about the cat if he didn’t find the wasp. In the morning, he couldn’t find the wasp. As he went to put on his boots, he found himself wondering if the wasp was in his right boot. He put it on, and then put on the left boot, and then stood up and felt something under his right arch. He took off the boot, and there was the wasp, dead. Even my scientist husband couldn’t shake the strangeness of that coincidence. Why on earth had the wasp wound up in his boot? But even more perplexing, why had he wondered if it was there? He hadn’t wondered if it was in his slippers when he put those on as he got out of bed.

And so we crafted a story. Our cat, not wanting him to worry, caught the wasp in the night and deposited it in his shoe to reassure him. A selfless act from an otherwise self-centered creature. Edwin liked the story.

I’m in the midst of reading an excellent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel prize winner in economics. The book describes the differences between our two modes of thinking – fast: intuitive, emotional, making causal connections that may not be valid; slow: deliberate and logical. As a scientist, Edwin is very deliberative and careful not to indulge in rash and emotional thinking. He’s not very susceptible to superstition and doesn’t normally jump to invalid conclusions, but the wasp threw him off. And so we’re enjoying the image of our cat, risking himself to catch a wasp and deposit it just where it needed to be to reassure Edwin. It’s a good story, even if it’s not true.


Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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Humane Issues in the News

Each week we round-up the news you need to know about humane issues, from human rights and environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture, to activism, education, and changemaking.


Zoos struggle with moral dilemma about which species to save (via NY Times) (5/27/12)

Study shows walkability raises property values (commentary) (via NY Times) (5/25/12)

Study: great apes' personalities really are like human's (via BBC) (5/23/12)

"Doing more time in school: a cruel non-solution to our educational problems" (commentary) (5/23/12)

"Harry Potter" series latest to spark demand for, then abandonment of "cute" animals (via Huffington Post) (5/22/12)

Survey shows Americans eating more produce, increasing support for humane, sustainable food (via Washington Post) (5/22/12)

School's new program teaches "balanced" exploration of climate science (via The Daily Climate) (5/22/12)

"Making schools work" (commentary) (via NY Times) (5/20/12)


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Be the Change: An Interview with IHE Director of Education, Mary Pat Champeau

If some people are a ray of sunshine, Mary Pat Champeau is the entire sun. As Director of Education at the Institute for Humane Education (IHE), and a member of the faculty for IHE's graduate programs, Mary Pat spends her days -- and nights -- nurturing and supporting students through their IHE journeys with wit, wisdom, and wild tales.

Mary Pat has an M.A. in English from New York University; she has been a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, West Africa, and has supervised teacher training programs in Southeast Asian refugee camps in Indonesia and Thailand. Before moving to Maine in 1994, she taught at NYU, worked for a number of organizations serving refugee populations and coordinated English language and American culture programs for the World Trade Institute in New York City. Mary Pat has worked with IHE since 2002. She currently lives in Maine with her husband George, son Liam, daughters Claire and Jing Hui, and animals too numerous to name. We asked Mary Pat a few questions so that you can get to know her better, and be dazzled and delighted by her, as all of us at IHE are.

IHE: What role does education play in creating a better world?

MPC: I think education, in one form or another, is at the root of all positive change. It doesn't have to be formal education — classroom education — but through some venue, a new understanding of an old assumption is brought into the world, usually by a forward thinking person or group of people, and popular consciousness begins to shift. Attitudes, behaviors, and accepted norms all follow this shift. Time goes by. The new idea becomes an old idea, and we wait for the next forward thinking person to come along and help us evolve our thinking. Or we don't wait for someone else to come along: maybe that someone is us. I think it's a squandered opportunity in education that we teach history, basically, as the history of conflict. Of course, conflict (such as war) is one way in which people, cultures, language, and lands are altered — but it's only a thread in the weave.  Imagine if we learned about history through a different lens; the history of ideas, or the history of invention. We might all see ourselves in a historical context as changemakers then; taking our place in a long line of innovators that stretches back to the beginning of recorded time. Maybe this view would encourage us as humans to dominate a little less, and think a little more.


IHE: What personal and professional experiences have led you to focus on educating others as a method of changemaking?

MPC:
I love school. I love learning, I love teaching, I love reading and writing. After college, I joined the Peace Corps and was posted for two years in a small village in Niger, West Africa. My time there gave me a great appetite for teaching in situations where I had to live in a state of learning; places where the language and culture were new to me, or, better yet: teaching something I knew nothing about. I once taught a short course in American Sign Language in a Southeast Asian refugee camp. Nobody (including me) knew how to sign and there were a number of U.S.-bound refugees in the camp who were deaf and needed to learn American Sign. I got a copy of the book, The Joy of Signing, and started teaching, trying to stay one step ahead of my students. Needless to say, the students were accustomed to signing (in their own languages) and caught on immediately. They were often surprised that I couldn't follow their conversations even though they were using the signs I taught them! We had a lot of laughs about this: I was both the designated teacher and the slowest learner in the class. (Anyone who has children or classroom students is probably familiar with this role). Anyway, it was a good experience for me. It took the pressure off thinking I needed to be an expert in order to teach something of worth — not true. If we offer what we know with a sincere heart and a desire to help, it’s enough. The students will do the rest, easily surpassing our own capacity and imagination.


IHE: What do you see happening in the world that gives you hope for a more just, compassionate, sustainable future?

MPC:
Every time I open a newspaper or magazine or read publications online, I read about humane education. I see articles on climate change, GMO’s, the expansion of organic markets, shareholder activism, corporate responsibility, environmentalism, globalization, sweatshop labor issues, human rights legislation tied to trade agreements, gender and sexual-orientation equity, sustainable practice in the agricultural and corporate sectors, burgeoning awareness of how animals are treated in our society, the dangers of rampant consumerism. Two decades ago, very few of these issues were being written about in mainstream media, and now they are a routine part of our national (and global) conversation. It’s a very exciting time.


IHE: What are the biggest challenges in creating a humane and peaceful world?

MPC:
Our own trepidation.


IHE: What advice do you have for aspiring humane educators? 

MPC:
Find a way to use and nourish your own gifts and interests in your teaching so you don’t suffer the fate of so many crucial, creative educators: Burnout.


IHE: What is one book, film, or story that has changed your life?

MPC:
The Italian film, Life is Beautiful. In the film, a father convinces his little son that their life in a German concentration camp during World War Two is actually an elaborate game of strategy and intrigue. The father is so spontaneous, imaginative and funny that there are moments in the film when, despite the horror of the scene, we in the audience were laughing out loud, sometimes through tears. The father doesn’t make it out of the camp, but the little boy does, with his innocence intact. Although (as far as I know) the film isn’t based on a true story, the triumph of love over fear has never (in my opinion) been so beautifully expressed as in this film. I saw it a long time ago, but still feel amazed by it.


IHE: What tools do you use to stay grounded and balanced?

MPC:
I like to read students’ assignments. These always give me great hope and inspiration.


IHE: What feeds you in your non-work life?

MPC:
My husband and lifelong partner, my children, extended family, friends, good conversation, literature.

~ Marsha

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Occam's Razor and Animal Cognition and Emotion

I’m sometimes startled by the lengths to which some scientists will go in insisting that nonhuman animals cannot feel, think, plan ahead, mourn, etc. In a recent Wired Science essay, “Stone-throwing Chimp Thinks Ahead,” author Michael Balter cites psychologist Sara Shettleworth’s article denying that the chimp in question actually planned ahead when he gathered stones to throw at visitors. The actual language Balter uses is whether “some humanlike animal behaviors might have simpler explanations.”

Occam’s Razor, the principle of accepting the simpler theory or hypothesis over a more complex or convoluted one, is normally accepted as a worthwhile guiding approach to adopting explanations; yet when it comes to animals, scientists often go out of their way to refute the simplest explanation, which is that many other animals are able to think, feel, plan ahead, mourn, and so on.

Anthropomorphism can be dangerous and misleading, and readers of our blog know how much I appreciate the scientific method for determining what is true and what is not; yet it’s ironic that Occam’s Razor is so quickly abandoned when it comes to anything related to animal cognition and feeling.

Isn’t is simpler to assume that other mammals evolved to learn from experience, plan ahead (what else are squirrels doing when they store nuts for winter), and to feel? Descartes’ belief that a dog’s yelp was akin to a robotic program rather than an expression of feeling is preposterous to anyone who’s ever spent any time with a canine, yet such outdated opinions about animal emotions are still normative among many scientists. It seems both silly and unscientific to believe that humans are unique in our capacity to feel and think, as if we didn’t evolve, along with other mammals, to have these capacities for a purpose. Such assumptions seem more the purview of those who deny the reality of evolution than those who embrace science.

But things are changing. Jane Goodall, who was once excoriated for naming the chimpanzees she studied in Gombe, is now a widely respected ethologist. Other ethologists, like Marc Bekoff who wrote the wonderful book, The Emotional Lives of Animals, are published regularly in respected journals. And stories about chimps thinking ahead make sense to most of us, even as the citations of those who deny this ability seem odd, old-fashioned, and unscientific.

For a humane world,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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10 Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking

Image courtesy of v8media via Creative Commons.
There's a video that we show at our Student Residency every year. It's on VHS and the 80's fashions are smirk-worthy (it was released in 1988), but we show it because it's such a compelling example of the power and importance of integrating critical thinking into schooling.

The film profiles high school classroom teacher Roger Halstead, who for many years taught an entire course focused on thinking deeply and critically about war, peace, and conflict resolution. Students in the film comment that what they learned in the class will stay with them forever.

At IHE we believe that critical thinking is an essential skill for bringing about a just, compassionate, healthy world for all; it's one of our core elements of humane education: fostering the 3C's of curiosity, creativity & critical thinking.

With the proliferation of standardized testing and focus on narrow academic standards, critical thinking has become an exception, rather than a daily part of schooling. But critical thinking can -- and should -- be integrated into every classroom. Edutopia recent posted an essay called "Ten Takeaway Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking." The tips include:

  1. Ask lots of questions.
  2. Start with a prompt and then help them unpack it.
    (Although we'd recommend avoiding either/or prompts, like those given in the essay, which often preclude third-side thinking.)
  3. Provide tools for entering the conversation.
  4. Model your expectations.
  5. Encourage constructive controversy.
  6. Choose content students will invest in.
  7. Set up Socratic discussions.
  8. Assess their reasoning through different methods.
  9. Let students evaluate each other.
  10. Step back as a teacher & let students do the teaching.
Read the complete essay.

As humane educators, parents, and citizens, we have a responsibility to help our youth gain important skills like thinking critically and creatively, so that they have the tools to help solve pressing global and local issues.

~ Marsha

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: Animal Protection as a Social Justice Issue

Comprehensive humane education is based on human rights, animal protection, and environmental stewardship as equally important and interconnected issues of social justice. But social justice has long been considered by many to be the territory of human concerns.

The Vegan Society recently created this short video to promote animal protection (specifically veganism in this case) as an important connection to our history of social justice movements, from the emancipation of slaves, to women's suffrage, to civil rights. Watch the video:




This little video serves as a great teaching tool. It introduces the concept of animal protection as an important and connected social justice issue and invites viewers to become history-makers. It can also spark discussion about whether equating the animal protection movement with other human-centered justice movements is effective, as some people interpret such comparisons (e.g., comparing conditions for factory farmed animals with those of slaves or Holocaust victims) as degrading to humans.

You could pair this video with images and text from Marjorie Spiegel's The Dreaded Comparison for a more in-depth discussion of the commonalities of suffering, oppression, and exploitation.

~ Marsha

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The Ryan Gosling Effect: Use Heroic Celebrities to Help Inspire Heroic Kids

This post is by guest blogger, Matt Langdon. Matt is the founder of The Hero Construction Company, which helps teach kids about the heroes within them and how to help their heroic selves thrive.





Image courtesy of Campus Progress
via Creative Commons.
There is a question I am frequently confronted with soon after explaining that I teach kids to be heroes. Actually, it’s less of a question and more of a statement.

“Kids can’t tell the difference between heroes and celebrities.”

People worry that their kids are labeling Bieber, Kardashian, and Cyrus as heroes. What sort of adults are they going to turn into if celebrities are their heroes? It’s a problem.

Except it isn’t.

Kids don’t consider those people their heroes. Every classroom I go into feels the same way. When I ask who their heroes are, kids never tell me that type of celebrity. It’s never happened, and I’ve asked that question to thousands of kids. There’s the disconnect.

I could give my theories on why the disconnect exists, but I’m here to talk about how to teach heroes versus celebrities. It might seem that I’ve just declared that there’s nothing to be taught. It does seem that way, but the truth is that there’s a great opportunity to teach the heart of heroism by using celebrities.

The first step of any such lesson is to prove to yourself that the kids really do know the difference. An easy way to do that is a simple word activity. Tell the kids you’re going to read a list of words. After each word you’ll say the word “hero.” If they think the word applies to heroes, they should raise their hand. Then say “celebrity.” If they think the word applies to celebrities, they should raise their hand. The kids should know that they can put their hand up for both if they like. You’ll soon see they understand the difference. Try this list: famous, brave, caring, good-looking, honest, rich, selfish, and kind.

You will notice that some students put their hands up for both. Ask them why. They’ll explain that some celebrities are kind, some heroes are rich, etc. This is a great segue into the meaty part of the lesson. You can share with the kids that they have just pointed out that there’s more to being a hero than being famous. Or being good at sports, singing, or acting. Those things aren’t barriers to being heroic, but they are not enough by themselves. There has to be something else.

Celebrities are great for showing examples of that something else. In the last couple of months, we’ve seen stories of heroism (or at least good citizenship) featuring Dustin Hoffman, Mila Kunis, Taylor Swift, and every teacher’s favourite celebrity, Ryan Gosling. In those stories you could share the value of giving and watching out for others. Give your students bonus points if they know who Dustin Hoffman is. You can set up Google Alert to get these stories sent to your inbox or you could follow the activity on my Pinterest board.

Movie stars have an advantage in performing heroic acts. They’ve practiced. Most actors have spent time imagining themselves in perilous situations in which they come to the rescue. They’ve probably spent hours performing those acts as well. So when it comes time for someone like Ryan Gosling to step into traffic to pull a woman out of the way of a speeding taxi, it seems natural.

This idea of practice and imagining is key to ongoing studies of heroism. Simply put, the more you’ve imagined yourself doing the right thing, the more likely you are to do it when it matters. The more you’ve practiced small acts of compassion, the more likely you are to step out from the crowd when an act of heroism is required.

With the movie stars as your example, it should be easy to encourage your students to start practicing every day. Ask them for suggestions on how they could practice. They’ll know of some everyday opportunities. Also, give them scenarios in which they can imagine their reactions. What would you do if…? The best scenarios come from real life. Use headlines or examples you’ve seen in the classroom. You could also take advantage of The Hero Deck, a card game featuring all sorts of heroes. Each card allows your kids to imagine themselves as heroes and ask themselves what they would have done.

While telling people you’re teaching the difference between heroes and celebrities is the sexy option, why not choose to teach about heroism using celebrities? Try it out - I’d love to hear how it goes.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by guest posters are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Humane Education or its staff.

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The Politics of Food: Freedom to Choose ≠ Freedom to Impose Costs on Others

Image courtesy stevendepolo via Creative Commons.
For my blog post today, I’m sharing a recent post I wrote for One Green Planet, a website dedicated to ethical choices. Here’s an excerpt from "The Politics of Food: Freedom to Choose ≠ Freedom to Impose Costs on Others":
"Although nothing Glenn Beck says surprises me anymore, it seemed rather unconservative to lambast Michelle Obama’s efforts to combat childhood obesity. Beck is quoted as saying, 'Get your damned hands off my fries, lady. If I want to be a fat-fat-fattie and shovel french fries all day long, that is my choice.'

On the face of it, the statement sounds reasonable, if not overly bombastic. After all, this is supposed to be a free country. But those who express such sentiments are often the same people who oppose mandated health insurance. Ironically, if an uninsured obese child or adult faces years of health care costs they can’t afford, or winds up in an emergency room, the rest of us foot the bill through our increased insurance and health care costs. And when meat and dairy products, processed foods, and Big Ag are subsidized through our tax dollars, while organic, small farms are not, all of us wind up paying the costs of unhealthy diets, even if we personally choose to eat healthy, plant-based, organic foods."

Read the complete essay.

For a humane world,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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6 Tips to Mobilize Teenagers to Do Something

It's a hard fact. We're leaving our youth the legacy of a rather dismal future. And whether that future becomes catastrophic and full of cynical and disempowered people, or whether it transforms into a just, humane, healthy world, depends largely on how well we help provide the tools, knowledge and skills for our youth to become solutionaries. On whether we actively engage them as leaders and problem solvers in ways that speak to them.

The nonprofit organization, DoSomething.org, works to engage young people in helping others. In a recent post at GOOD, DoSomething staffer Aria Finger shared six tips for inspiring and empowering teens to do good. Her list includes:

1. Believe teens can actually have an impact.
2. Harness their passion, good or bad.
3. Use peer pressure.
4. Text is better than email.
5. Listen.
6. Be ready to respond - personally.

Read the complete post.

~ Marsha

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Humane Issues in the News

Each week we round-up the news you need to know about humane issues, from human rights and environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture, to activism, education, and changemaking.


"US firms put social values before big profits" (via BBC) (5/20/12)

"WTO rules US dolphin-safe tuna label 'unfair' to Mexico" (via Earth Island Journal) (5/17/12)

Study shows wildlife have declined by more than 1/3 over past 40 years (via The Guardian) (5/15/12)

"Oregon bans Native American mascots in schools" (via USA Today) (5/15/12)

Bill to end fossil fuel subsidies introduced in U.S. Congress (via Sustainable Industries) (5/15/12)

"The ocean of life -- and the sorrow beneath the seas" (essay) (via Daily Beast) (5/14/12)

Study shows Americans willing to pay more for clean energy (via Nature) (5/13/12)

"After years in captivity, dolphins released" (via CNN) (5/12/12)


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Why We Need Humane Education: "Animal Tracker" Report Shows Declining Concern for Animals

Each year the Humane Resource Council (HRC) releases its "Animal Tracker" survey of U.S. adults, which serves to capture attitudes and behaviors toward animals.

This most recent survey shows that "there is generally a high level of support for the animal protection movement and concern for animals" in certain situations. But, that support -- and attention toward animal protection issues and legislation -- is declining.

Americans still have strong support for animal welfare. And, of several social causes (including environmental, homeless, immigration reform), favorable opinions about animal protection rank at the top.


Despite this good news, because of lack of knowledge and awareness, and because of increasing economic and political struggles, attention and support for animal protection are decreasing.


Here are a couple of highlights from HRC:
  • There is a high level of support for the animal protection movement. The animal protection and workers’ rights movements were rated favorably by more respondents than any other social movements listed in the survey, each receiving a “favorable” opinion by 68% of respondents. Further, only 7% of respondents rated their opinion of the animal protection movement as “unfavorable.”
  • There is a lack of discussion and knowledge of animal protection issues among U.S. adults, indicating a need to educate the general population about animal protection issues. Fewer than half (45%) of U.S. adults discussed animal protection on at least a monthly basis.
  •  The amount of importance placed on the protection and welfare of animals in various situations has declined in 2012 compared to 2009. Even so, the welfare of animals is still important to a majority of U.S. adults. At least 75% of respondents rated the welfare and protection of animals as “very” or “somewhat” important in all situations addressed in this survey. This even includes situations in which animals are used for economic benefit, such as animals used for food and horses and dogs used for racing. 
(To read the full report, you'll need to apply for free registration, but it's well worth it. The Humane Research Council is the founder of  HumaneSpot, a database which provides access to relevant and credible research, surveys, and other data, as well as information for becoming more effective advocates.)

Comprehensive humane education is the only education-based social change movement that recognizes that animals should be included in the effort to create a more peaceful and just world. Humane education helps reveal our inconsistent relationship with animals, reminds us of the powerful connection we have with nonhuman animals, and inspires us to expand our circle of compassion to include all beings.

We need humane education to be an integral part of every system and every social cause, so that concern for animals -- and consideration for their needs and interests as individuals, not just as species -- only grows larger and deeper.

~ Marsha

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13 Resources for Teaching About White Privilege

Image courtesy of EliasSchewel via Creative Commons.
"...the single greatest advantage of white privilege is that a white person may be completely unaware of its existence." ~ Michael Spangenberger, educator

Many of us can go into a store and browse without worry that we'll be monitored or accosted. We see people who look like us in the media. We don't have to worry that we'll be judged or harassed because of our skin color. That's white privilege.

Despite the era of an African-American U.S. president, white privilege is still pervasive -- because it's embedded into our systems and institutions, and it's largely invisible to those of us who benefit from it. White privilege is an essential topic to explore with students, and while there are numerous resources available, we've selected 13 to highlight.

  1. "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." by Peggy McIntosh (1998)
    This is the classic article that Peggy McIntosh, associate director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, created to help her identify “some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life.” McIntosh defines privilege as “an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day.”

    McIntosh's questions have often been turned into a "privilege walk," and they can serve as a guideline for creating customized questions for your own classroom.
  2. Tim Wise
    Tim Wise is an antiracist author, educator and speaker whose books, videos, and essays offer insightful and compelling material for exploration of white privilege.
  3. Paul Kivel
    Paul's website offers a variety of resources, including exercises to explore racial justice, privilege, class, and other issues of privilege and justice. Kivel's book, Uprooting Racism (3rd edition) is also an important resource. It offers a framework for understanding institutional racism and offers practical tools, ideas, and resources for white people to work as allies for racial justice.
  4. Privilege, Power & Difference by Allan Johnson (2005)
    Required reading for IHE's students, Johnson's book examines systems of privilege and reveals the underlying nature and consequences of privilege and our connection to it.
  5. Shades of Youth (2008)
    This documentary features youth speaking out about racism, privilege, and how to take positive action.
  6. "Connecting with Oppression and Privilege: A Pedagogy for Social Justice." by Dena R. Samuels
    This article offers suggested teaching activities for helping students explore oppression and privilege and their relationships to both. The activities are for college students, but could be modified a bit for high schoolers.
  7. "Diversity and Anti-Oppression Activities." From Training for Change
    This section of their website offers activities for addressing diversity, marginalization, power, and empowerment.
  8. "Examining Power, Privilege, and Oppression." From GLSEN Jump-Start Guide
    GLSEN's guide offers several useful activities related to oppression, power, identity, and prejudices.
  9. "Bringing Students into the Matrix: A Framework for Teaching Race and Overcoming Student Resistance." by Abby L. Ferber (2011)
    This article offers a context and framework for exploring issues of race and privilege with students and includes a very helpful outline of elements to include, such as seeing classifications of difference as socially constructed, and seeing oppression and privilege as harmful to everyone.
  10. "Complicating White Privilege: Poverty, Class, and the Nature of the Knapsack." (2011) by Paul Gorski
    An assistant professor of Integrative Studies, Gorski explores the complexities of white privilege, and the importance of considering issues of economic injustice and other interconnected forms of oppression in this essay. Great for sparking discussion.

    These resources are useful for educators to extend their own learning:
  11. Understanding and Dismantling White Privilege
    The new journal of the White Privilege Conference focuses on the intersections of privilege and highlighting positive action.
  12. Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible (2008)
    This documentary features stories from white men and women on "overcoming issues of conscious racism and entitlement." It's especially useful for educators to explore their own privilege experiences.
  13. "White Power and Privilege: Barriers to Culturally Responsive Teaching." by B.J. Glimps and N.F. Ford (2010)
    In this article, the authors share their efforts to sensitize teachers to the presence of white power and its accompanying privileges, all with the aim of building transformative teachers.
~ Marsha

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Awakening Eyes

Image copyright Edwin Barkdoll.
Years ago, when I first heard spring peepers and ventured out at night to see them, it took forever to find them. If I was lucky, I’d spot one after much searching. True, in those years they weren’t as plentiful at our pond as they are now. The family that dug the pond behind our house 20 years ago did so primarily to stock it with fish so that they could go fishing; but the second summer we lived here we had a heat wave that killed all nine fish over the course of a week. I remember feeling so sad as day after day the fish I’d loved to swim with in the small pond floated dead to the surface.

But in the absence of fish, the amphibian population has grown dramatically. Half a dozen species have found a home here, and this year we had spotted salamanders lay eggs for the first time. It’s deafening now in the spring, and on warm nights, we head out with flashlights to catch a glimpse of the small spring peepers with their big sounds.

Last night I had just 10 minutes between returning from my Aikido class and a scheduled conference call. I headed out, and in those ten minutes saw 20 peepers. Now I also see the night crawlers, earthworms who venture out of seemingly invisible holes, moving like a writhing earth as I walk by. They too were invisible to me years ago, and now they’re everywhere. My eyes are ready to see all this now, attuned as I’ve become to the night life in our backyard. I love that. I love that once we learn to see, we can always see. It’s a metaphor for me for awakening in general. May we each awaken to the mysterious, awesome life around us.

Enjoy this video of a spring peeper peeping in our backyard.




For a humane world,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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What Helps Students Stay Engaged? Ask Them!

In all the ongoing discussion about what's best for schools and the students who spend a huge part of their early lives there, few people both to ask the actual students what they think.

On the question of "What engages students?" teacher and blogger Heather Wolpert-Gawron polled her own 220 students for their opinions. Their answers are important for teachers, humane educators and educational reformers to pay attention to.

The list includes:
  1. Working with their peers.
  2. Working with technology.
  3. Connecting the real world to the work they do.
  4. (Teachers) loving what you do.
  5. Getting them out of their seats.
  6. Bringing in visuals.
  7. Giving students a say.
  8. Understanding students (and the fact that they're all different).
  9. Including lots of variety.
  10. (Teachers) showing that they're human, too.

Read the complete essay.

Humane education encompasses most of these elements, so it's yet more evidence that students are hungry for learning that's engaging, empowering, and relevant to their lives.

~ Marsha

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One Small Step for a Better World: Get to the Point (Person)

Many of us have done it. We're frustrated at the immovable line at the store, and we complain to the check-out clerk. We want a company to change its practices, so we fire off a letter to the CEO. We take action because we want change. But many times we're communicating with a person who holds little or no power to create the change we want. We need to get to the person with the power.

As Josephine Bellaccomo, author of the book, Move the Message, says: "The best investment of your time and energy...is to target the people holding the greatest power to take a specific action creating the greatest change as quickly as possible."

We can significantly increase our chances of success by finding out who has the authority to make the change we want. At the store, it's not the check-out clerk; perhaps it's the general manager who controls the number of clerks on the floor. If we want to discuss changes in the curriculum at our child's school, we need to talk to the person who controls the curriculum. Is it the teacher? The principal? The school board? The CEO of a company seems like the person in charge, but depending on the issue, it might be, say, the director of marketing; more likely, it's the shareholders we need to influence, if it's a publicly-owned company.

And sometimes, reaching out to the power of the public is our best strategy. When those in power refuse to take action, public pressure can sway them. (One reason sites like Change.org are gaining in popularity and effectiveness.)

A little strategy and a little research can mean the difference between success and business as usual.

~ Marsha

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What a Humane World Looks Like: Engaging Others with Compassion and Acceptance

One of the most challenging aspects of being a humane educator or activist is engaging with people about challenging issues in ways that inspire and invite, rather than in ways that make them feel judged and defensive. When we learn about the suffering and destruction in the world, it's so easy to feel rage and despair; but to be effective means engaging others with compassion and acceptance.

The issue of engaging with others was a hot topic of discussion for our graduate students recently, and one of our students, Cassandra Scheffman, posted a terrific response that we wanted to share:

In my experience, I have learned that I am most successful reaching people when I try to refrain from being judgmental and critical and instead reach out with all the compassion and empathy I can muster. When we act accusatory and self-righteous we only cause others to put up their defenses and potentially regard the ideals we are trying to promote in an increasingly negative light. This is certainly much easier said than done, especially when we are dealing with particularly heart-wrenching and devastating issues, which are all too common in humane education work. 

I think that when we direct anger and blame toward others who may not agree with us and are thereby directly or indirectly sustaining the problem, this is not only our impulsive way of trying to correct the problem for its own sake but a reflection of personal resentment for the suffering we endure as a result of these emotionally charged issues. Negativity breeds negativity, and by reacting to each other in this way we only intensify and exacerbate our differences. Odds are this will not lead to solutions.

I try as hard as I can to remind myself that we all have different backgrounds and life experiences that have led us to act in certain ways. Often times, asking questions instead of voicing opinions can be effective in helping lead others to new attitudes and ways of thinking. If we tell others what is "right" (that they are wrong) and what they should feel and do, they will surely resist us. But if we can creatively engage them by taking a sincere interest in their viewpoints, asking questions that help us understand why they have come to the conclusions they have or do what they do, and then challenge them through questions that push them to really think about and reconsider these views, their actions and opinions may evolve based on their own evaluations. (All too often, people just haven't taken the time to carefully consider just why it is they feel one way or another or do one thing or another.)

 A conversation that is mutually respectful has much greater potential. We can try to set the path for such a conversation simply by offering respect and kindness at the onset. As humane educators, this may also create an opportunity to offer relevant facts and information that, under less threatening circumstances, have a much greater chance to be actually received. You may also find that people are more inclined to ask you questions and seek additional information if they feel comfortable that they are not being judged.

I realize that this sounds idealistic and that there will be certain times in which we just can't reach people or we are met with hostility regardless of how we present ourselves. For me, I try to use these strategies as guidelines and overall have had good results. Additionally, one of the best results is that I feel a great sense of liberation. Letting go (as much as possible) of tendencies to criticize and judge have helped me fill that space with more and more compassion, kindness, and empathy. The more I have of these positive things, the more I have to spread around (and the less negativity I spread) - that's how I look at it, and it has helped me feel much more fulfilled and effective as a person and humane educator.

I will wrap up with an example. Recently, our local news channel aired a story about a dog attack on a local woman. This particular station has always jumped on any issues related to pit bulls, and even though they don't admit it and it's quite subtle, they sway toward an anti-pit bull stance. In response to this particular story and other dog attacks in Tucson over the last few years, they were presenting the question regarding whether Tucson should consider Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) as some other U.S. cities have. They interviewed an attorney who represents dog attack victims, who was a big supporter of BSL, and they neglected to interview anyone who could represent the "other side." Then they opened this question up to debate on their Facebook page for all to comment, and you can only imagine how out of control that got.

 I followed all of the Facebook postings and felt tempted to throw in my two cents, but I realized it would do no good; I would not really be heard, and I would really only succeed in fueling an aggressive, anger-charged debate that had lost all rationality early on. These were all people who were sticking to their guns and clung ever closer to their particular side with each opposing opinion. I wanted to do something; silence would not help, either.

 I decided to write a letter to the reporter and chose my words very carefully. I knew they were receiving a great deal of mail, so I wanted to be sure mine was worth paying attention to. I started out by offering support and approval that they have considered pit bull and dog attack issues important topics to cover and thanked them for bringing the issues to the attention of the public. I deliberately tried to hide my own bias regarding the issue (the fact that I am a pit bull guardian, lover, defender) and instead focused on the importance of working to solve all the related problems -- community safety/dog attacks, backyard breeding/selling of dogs, neglect and mistreatment of dogs, etc. -- from a holistic perspective that values the well-being of people and dogs. 

After citing some studies that indicate BSL doesn't work, I looked at some approaches we can employ that address all of these concerns -- not just the concerns of one side or the other.  I also suggested resources, such as the Center for Disease Control and HSUS's community dog bite prevention strategies and consulting, that may offer valuable tools for addressing the problem (instead of presenting my own opinions as a credible source).

I received a well thought out, helpful, appreciative letter, and the reporter acknowledged how nice it was to get some feedback that was proactive, respectful, and solution-oriented, along with a request to hear from me again - the goal I was hoping for. I think that trying to build bridges this way can go a long way, and at the very least, it's always worth a shot. 

One last thing I will mention: It's equally important to be compassionate and kind to yourself. I have also struggled with being judgmental toward myself, thinking I am not doing enough or not setting the perfect example. Likewise, this won't get us anywhere either. We must treat ourselves with patience, kindness, and respect, and we will be all the better and stronger for it as we keep working to implement positive change.



Cassandra Scheffman currently works as an environmental educator and is a student in IHE's M.Ed. program. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her fiancé and their rescued dogs, cats, and parrot.





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Star Trek, William Shatner, And a Humane World for All

Image courtesy of JD Hancock via Creative Commons.
For my blog post today, I’m sharing a recent post I wrote for Care2.com, an online community for people passionate about creating a better world. Here’s an excerpt from "Star Trek, William Shatner, and a Humane World for All":

"In my TEDx talk, I ponder the Star Trek phenomenon. There’s no easy explanation for the enduring power of a TV show from the 60s that got cancelled after three years; for the millions of fans; for the continued success of Star Trek in its many permutations; for any of it. But for me, the power of Star Trek lies in its profound hopefulness and its vision of an essentially peaceful and healthy human society in which we’ve become explorers without being conquerors, in which we treat other species with respect and care and where our curiosity is endlessly fulfilled with adventure and discovery and an aversion to harm. Star Trek makes me optimistic about our future. If we can envision such a world, surely we can create it."

Read the complete essay.


For a humane world,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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Humane Issues in the News

Each week we round-up the news you need to know about humane issues, from human rights and environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture, to activism, education, and changemaking.


Does the "buy-one-give-one" model really help? (via Mother Jones) (5/14/12)

"More empty recommendations on junk food marketing to children" (commentary) (via Treehugger) (5/14/12)

Segregation soars in NYC schools (via NY Times) (5/11/12)

Navy says their tests hurting more marine life than previously thought (via CBS) (5/10/12)

Young people sue U.S. government to force action on global warming (via Mother Jones) (5/10/12)

Study shows huge increase in plastic in Great Pacific Garbage Patch (via Common Dreams) (5/9/12)

Survivors of North Carolina's eugenics program (via Mother Jones) (5/9/12)

Study shows we only want to save "cute" species (via Treehugger) (5/8/12)

"The dark side of positive stereotypes" (via Psychology Today) (5/8/12)

Studies, programs address gender bias in classrooms (via Education Week) (5/7/12)

Study says kids who watch more TV likely to eat more junk food (via MyHealthNewsDaily) (5/7/12)

"The politics of where we put our trash" (interview) (via The Sun) (5/12)

"US should return stolen land to Indian tribes, says United Nations" (via The Guardian) (5/4/12) 


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Youth Changemakers: Students Educate Others About Slavery, Bullying

Images courtesy of Slavery Still Exists.
At the Institute for Humane Education, we believe the purpose of education should be to graduate a generation of solutionaries who are equipped with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to become effective, engaged changemakers for a better world for all. So we're always excited to see examples of students engaged in real life learning. Here are two recent examples we discovered.


High school Language Arts teacher, Shelley Wright, uses project-based learning in her classroom in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. After reading a fiction book about child slavery, her students were inspired to teach others about the issue of modern-day trafficking. As part of their work, they created images and videos -- as well as a social media campaign -- to inform and inspire others. You can see some of the images and photos here.

Students at Tualatin High School in Oregon were so shocked and motivated by a recent documentary about bullying in schools, that they launched an anti-bullying poster contest. The contest was part of an effort to reduce bullying in their own school community. You can see some of the posters here.

These two examples not only demonstrate the importance of integrating real-life learning into schooling, but highlight how powerful art and media can be as tools for positive change.

~ Marsha

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Enter the Rachel Carson Sense of Water Contest

The U.S. EPA, Generations United, the Dance Exchange, Rachel Carson Council, Inc., and the National Center for Creative Aging are all sponsoring the 2012 Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Contest. (This year has been designated as the "Sense of Water" contest.)

Entries should be from a team of at least two people, with a young person and an older person as part of the team. Team members are invited to "share your love for water through a creative project that captures water around us. Capture what you hear, see, feel and taste as you explore and study water. Contestants will work across generations to share through one of these distinct mediums their own interactions with and reflections about the sense of water."

The categories are photo, essay, poetry, and dance.

See last year's winners.

The deadline for entries is June 1, 2012.

Find out more.

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Robert Bullard: The Politics of Where We Put Our Trash

"Everybody produces waste regardless of class or race, but not everybody has to live near where the waste is dumped."
~ Robert Ballard


Most of us have heard of NIMBY (not in my backyard) movements: campaigns to stop something or other from being built or established in our neighborhoods and communities. None of us wants a polluting factory or refinery or waste facility near us; but if it's not near us, where does it go? Most of us don't think about that; we just say a word or two of gratitude that our neighborhood is relatively pollution-free and go on about our lives, rarely, if ever, considering that our high-consumption lifestyle means that someone somewhere else has to pay a high price for our choices.

A recent issue of The Sun interviews Robert Bullard, one of the pioneers of the environmental justice movement, talking about the injustices inherent in where we choose to locate polluting factories and toxic waste dumps. Here's an excerpt:

Cowell: What types of environmental hazards do you see most often in low-income and African American communities?

Bullard: It’s mostly waste. Everybody produces waste regardless of class or race, but not everybody has to live near where the waste is dumped. We did a study of commercial hazardous-waste facilities and found that more than half of the residents living within a two-mile radius of these facilities were people of color. When you look at two or more of these facilities in close proximity, that number jumps to 69 percent, and it’s likely that there aren’t just two or three but four or five in a single area. When smelters, refineries, and chemical plants are located near schools, the students attending those schools are predominantly low income and minority. And if you live in a community of color, you are two and a half times more likely to live near a polluting facility. That’s part of the reason why zip codes and neighborhoods are consistent, powerful predictors of people’s health.

Poor communities are sometimes exposed to chemicals that haven’t even had toxicological research conducted on them yet. Local governments are gambling with people’s lives. And when someone objects, the burden is on those who are fighting serious illnesses to prove that this toxin has destroyed their health. Sometimes they don’t even know which chemical is making them sick. The burden of proof should be reversed: the company producing the chemical should have to prove that it will not harm the public.

Bullard also talks about the importance of redefining the environmental movement to include both the natural world and the places we live. As he says, "We can’t leave people out of our concept of the environment. And once we start to talk about people, we have to talk about justice and equality."

Read the complete interview.

Bullard's interview is an important reminder to educators who are teaching about environmental issues to engage students in a broader discussion of the inequities involved in our current systems, and a call to activists to expand the boundaries of what "environmental protection" means.

For a couple ideas about exploring environmental racism with students, check out these two activities from our friends at Teaching Tolerance.

~ Marsha

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The Last Beet for Mother's Day

Image courtesy of sean dreilinger via Creative Commons.
I'm writing this post on Mother's Day, which is one of those days that’s complicated for me. On the one hand, I don’t like being manipulated by a Hallmark holiday – a day created to sell products. On the other hand, I do like having a day each year that I can consider special. It’s always been a great opportunity to do something fun with my husband and son. But my son no longer lives at home, and so now I find myself full of expectations around this fake holiday that set me up for silly hopes and even sillier disappointments.

I returned home last night after a 7-hour drive and several days away. When I awoke, the day was full of possibility. We could drive to a favorite spot we love to visit at this time of year when the fiddlehead ferns emerge, and hike a 10-mile loop with the dogs; but after such a long drive the day before, I wasn’t up for what would be a fairly long drive again. We could canoe, but the dogs wouldn’t like that as much. As I considered the possibilities I ventured outside, where I was confronted by the enormity of work that needed to be done in the garden and around the house. Already, the garden is full of weeds. The dandelions around it are in bloom, and much as I love them, are threatening to seed the entire garden. Our small pet grave area also needed weeding and tending. Plus the big projects that await us, like blazing a new trail through the woods.

So instead of venturing away, I got to work in the garden, and I wondered, as I periodically do, about whether it was worth all this work. So much work! Theoretically, I love that I grow so much of my family’s food, but practically, I sometimes think I should just go to the farmers’ markets or join a CSA instead. It’s hours and hours every week tending the garden. I remind myself that if I enjoy it; if it’s a good break from my primary work in Humane Education, then of course I should do it. But it’s often more a chore than a labor of love. As I weeded around the beet seedlings that I had planted a month ago, noticing that there were way more weeds than seedlings, and as the black flies started biting me, I thought, It’s time to go do something else – at least today, on Mother’s Day.

And then I went inside and stopped to check the big trash can of vermiculite in which I store our beets during the fall and winter; and lo and behold, there was a perfect beet at the very bottom, the last one from last year’s garden. I remembered the juice I made all last fall, mixing a beet and carrots and pears and apples – all from our garden and property. I recalled how delicious and beautiful that juice was. I looked forward to cutting up this big remaining beet for our salads at dinner, and I remembered why I grow food. Finding that beet was a lovely Mother’s Day treat – reminding me that tending my garden is worth it. So we’ll do some more work around the house today. And then, we’ll take those dogs on a walk in the woods and be a good mom to them, too.

For a humane world,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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Changemakers: Stephen Ritz & the Green Bronx Machine

"Kids should not have to leave their community to live, learn, and earn in a better one."

Stephen Ritz is a passionate, enthusiastic educator in the South Bronx (the oldest 6th grader you'll ever meet, he says), and he has revolutionized what and how his students learn and the vision they have for their futures.

In one of the poorest Congressional districts in the country, his Bronx classroom features the first indoor edible wall in New York City, generating enough produce to feed 450 students healthy meals. His students are also trained as "the youngest nationally certified workforce in America." His students have brought urban agriculture and sustainable design to cities around the world, and Stephen and his students have been repeatedly recognized for their work "transforming mindsets and landscapes." 

Watch the video:



This is a terrific example of what's possible in our schools, when passion, vision, and partnerships converge.

~ Marsha

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8 Tips for Reducing Food Waste

We've all been there. We had great intentions for carefully planning our meals this week, but too many days later bags of produce are rotting in the bin, the oranges have moldy spots, and the soymilk smells funky.

Despite our plans, we waste a lot of food, especially in the U.S. According to American Wasteland author and blogger, Jonathan Bloom, we waste more than 40% of the food we produce for consumption. That's just crazy, especially when we consider how many people go hungry.

Reducing our food waste saves us money and creates less hassle in the long run. Here are 8 tips that can help:

  1. Get organized. Planning both your menu & grocery list ahead of time means you know just what to toss in your grocery cart and won't leave extra food languishing in the fridge or pantry, slowing evolving into other life forms. An additional tip is to keep food organized and visible. Store older stuff in front so it gets used first, and make sure you can actually see what you have so you don't inadvertently buy that 14th can of spaghetti sauce. For those products that most frequently end up in your trash bin, write the date opened (or expiration date) on the containers in marker, or keep a small list in an easy-to-see place on your fridge.
  2. Practice proper food storage. Food lasts longer when we store it properly. There are plenty of resources that offer suggestions -- just search for "food storage tips" online. 
  3. Embrace the "less is more" philosophy. We already mentioned buying only what you need. It also helps to serve smaller amounts than your family may be used to; that way less is wasted, and the still-hungry can go back for seconds. Also consider buying a smaller fridge (or at least pretending that you did), so that you're limited in how much you can store at one time and thus less likely to build up a supply of food you don't use.
  4. Share. Sharing meals is delightful and community-building. If you made more than you can eat, box up some extra and share it with a neighbor. For non-perishables, donate to food banks. Don't let ingredients expire: bake up a storm and share the bounty with those who make your life easier (like your postal worker or daycare provider) -- or toss all that near-gone produce in a pot and make soup for your co-workers.
  5. Get creative. Cook up big batches and freeze part of it for using later. Invent new kinds of dishes with leftovers. Create a "fridge triage box" so you know what's about to expire.
  6. Compost. When you're left with failing food you can't use any other way, compost it (read up on what can & can't be composted first). Your garden will love those extra nutrients, and you'll save money on buying compost from the store.
  7. Shop at groceries with responsible practices. This is a bigger picture tip, but an important one. Groceries waste a lot of food. Appearance is important for sales, so as soon as something looks even a little peaked, it's whipped off the display shelf. Where does it go? Ask your grocery store about their practices. Some donate to food banks or other needy causes. Others compost. Ask polite questions and make suggestions.
  8. Educate yourself & take action. Food waste is a worldwide problem that has significant consequences for people, animals, and the earth. Much food waste happens at the production level, so while we can do our part in our homes, it's also important that we learn more about the broader issues and work to create a sustainable system in which waste isn't even an option.
Sources Consulted:


Resources for more information:

~ Marsha

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