Humane Education Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about relevant humane issues, ways that people all over the world are manifesting humane education & humane living, and items that provide excellent material for discussing humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture.

Trauma of slavery lives on through generations - Royal Gazette (9/29/08)
”The US professor spoke on the history of slavery and its associated psychology, which she said had produced a ‘notion of inferiority’ over the centuries. She said white Americans involved in slavery dehumanised blacks in order to justify their behaviour, but this psychology has continued through the decades, even up to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.” (Thanks,

“The king of green architecture” - Discover (9/28/08)
An interview with Cradle to Cradle author William McDonough, who “aims to create buildings that produce oxygen, sequester carbon, and produce more power than they use.”

Inconvenient youth spreading inconvenient (9/28/08)
”Their goal is to ‘inspire and motivate young people to rally their peers and hometown communities to fight climate change,’ according to high school senior and Inconvenient Youth founder, Mary Doerr. And they do so by training teens to give a youth-centric version of the presentation popularized by Mr. Gore in An Inconvenient Truth.”

“Green games” designed to inspire, empower students - Epoch Times (9/28/08)
“It was designed for two purposes: one is to encourage school classes to get involved in projects in their own communities; second is to make available to students all across British Columbia ideas that others may have tried.”

Book explores through photos world’s essential issuesFlorida Times-Union (9/26/08)
What Matters is an unflinching look at serious issues around the world that affect us directly or indirectly. And if they don't now, they eventually will. What Matters breaks the world's problems into four groups: Man vs. Earth, Man vs. Man, The Distribution of Wealth and Man vs. Disease. The photo-essays are paired with commentaries by experts, scholars and activists.”

Town votes for moratorium on water mining - Common Dreams (9/24/08) (press release)
“The people of Shapleigh, Maine voted overwhelmingly Saturday to halt NestlĂ©'s water mining activities. The vote represents a community victory against the multinational company's plans to develop new water sources for its Poland Springs bottling brand in Maine.”

MIT study shows merit-based pay can still be biased - Washington Post (9/24/08)
“Women and minorities received less pay than white men even when their performance scores were equal…”

Kidnapped children feared to become child soldiers, sex slaves
Guardian (UK) (9/23/08)
”Ugandan rebels have abducted scores of children from schools in the Democratic Republic of Congo triggering fears they will be forced to fight or become sex slaves, according to the United Nations.”

Rocket fuel in water okay, says EPAABC News (9/23/08)
”The ingredient, perchlorate, has been found in at least 395 sites in 35 states at levels high enough to interfere with thyroid function and pose developmental health risks, particularly for babies and fetuses, according to some scientists.”

Sexist views help men earn moreBBC (9/22/08)
"It could be that more traditionally-minded men are interested in power, both in terms of access to resources - money in this case - and also in terms of a woman who is submissive….Another theory suggests that employers are more likely to promote men who are the sole earner in preference to those who do not - they recognise that they need more support for their families, because they are the breadwinner."
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No Child Left Unkind: Building Humane Education Competencies

Teachers are expected to educate their students so that they are competent in certain subjects, and No Child Left Behind and state laws require that students pass tests demonstrating their knowledge and competencies. While it’s important to know that we are succeeding in our goals as teachers, and that our students are actually learning and developing the skills we endeavor to impart, the danger with constantly measuring our students is that we may begin to teach simply to enable them to pass multiple choice tests and neglect what’s harder to measure, but ultimately more important to learn: to think creatively and critically, to connect relevant issues of our time to our personal responsibilities, actions and choices, and to make healthy, positive choices for ourselves and others.

If we believe that the primary goal of education ought to be the ability to participate effectively and enthusiastically in the unfolding of a peaceful, sustainable and humane world, then there are certainly competencies we will want our students to have:
  • the ability to think critically and creatively about the challenges we face, as well as the messages that bombard us from all sources, so that we gain freedom
  • the awareness and understanding of our individual responsibility to do more good and less harm, so that we gain commitment
  • the tools to make positive choices and be problem-solvers, so that we gain empowerment
There is no standardized test to measure these competencies, and such a test would potentially undermine the very creativity, process-orientation, and flexibility that education should seek to cultivate. Yet we must ensure we’re succeeding in our goals as educators. How can we do this?

We can observe our success in the projects our students take on and the outcomes of their efforts, witnessing their commitments in action. We can “test” their skill at recognizing fact from opinion and thinking critically with entertaining activities that allow them to analyze and deconstruct all sorts of messages, from advertising to media to government to textbooks. We can engage them in group projects and witness their sense of empowerment grow as they succeed in solving or contributing to the solutions to local and global problems. If we’re attentive and creative, we can know that our efforts to raise a generation of creative citizens and “solutionaries” are working.

~ Zoe

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National Day of Action Calls for Green Jobs Now

Are you ready for a United States in which people have jobs that help maintain a strong, healthy economy and a healthy, sustainable environment? Saturday, September 27 is the first National Day of Action for Green Jobs Now.

Co-produced by Green for All, 1Sky and the We Campaign, the campaign has registered more than 600 events in all 50 states.

As Van Jones, founder and president of Green for All, says:
“Right now, there are millions of people ready to work and countless jobs to be done that will strengthen our economy at home. There are thousands of buildings that need to be weatherized, solar panels to be installed, and wind turbines to be erected. There are communities that need local and sustainable food and people ready to farm the crops. There are public transit systems and smart electricity grids in need of engineers and electricians. Americans are ready to build the new economy. It's time to invest in saving the planet and the people.”
Events include everything from block parties to teach-ins to discussions. The campaign also hopes that thousands around the country will gather together to upload a photo or video of themselves holding an “I’m Ready!” sign, and will sign the online petition.

The website includes information about planned events, as well as an overview of the Green Jobs Now plan, examples of what innovative organizations and communities are doing to develop green jobs, and resources that offer useful information about green jobs.

Find out more.
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Dancing Cockatoos, Drawing Elephants, Raven Altars and Crow Vending Machines

We're always under-estimating other animals. I've been reading Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs, and his description of raven altars is almost eerie, until I ask myself why I’m surprised, or awed, or amazed that other species do what we do -- sometimes with training (which concerns me), and sometimes on their own (but in human environs), and sometimes in the wild (where intrepid observers go to observe and report).

Here are three videos to view, each of which is a reminder anew that we humans would do well to be more humble about our own specialness and more inclusive in our compassion.


~ Zoe

Image courtesy of jonathanBy.
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Humans Closer to Maxing Out “Ecological Debt”

According to the Footprint Network , yesterday was “Earth Overshoot Day.” Each day between now and the end of the year is a day in which the world is using more resources than the earth has the capacity to create in 2008. This year humans are projected to use 140% of the resources the earth can generate.
“Globally, we now require the equivalent of 1.4 planets to support our lifestyles. But of course, we only have one Earth. The result is that our supply of natural resources -- like trees and fish -- continues to shrink, while our waste, primarily carbon dioxide, accumulates.” ~ Footprint Network
Of course, not everyone is using those resources to the same degree, or at the same rate (even though many are trying). Global Footprint’s National Footprints Accounts data from 2006 shows how many Earths we’d need if everyone lived like a resident of these countries:

  • United States - 5.4 Earths
  • Canada - 4.2 Earths
  • United Kingdom - 3.1 Earths
  • Germany - 2.5 Earths
  • Italy - 2.2 Earths
  • South Africa - 1.4 Earths
  • Argentina - 1.2 Earths
  • Costa Rica - 1.1 Earths
  • India - 0.4 Earths
And, the “biocapacity” being measured doesn’t take into account the needs of the animals and plants all over the world. How much room do they actually need to be sustainable, healthy and happy? Almost no one considers that in their footprint calculators.

Fortunately, we don’t have to sit back and feel defeated at such news. We can decide to pay attention to the impact of our daily actions and take steps to make choices that do the most good and least harm for all people, animals and the planet. We can determine what’s most important in our lives and what’s only distraction, noise and perceived obligation or ephemeral desire and choose to nurture the former and release the latter. We can learn to look beyond what our culture has raised us to think is relevant to our lives and needs to what really brings us fulfillment and joy (which usually isn’t stuff). We can embrace the fact that we have enormous power to make a positive (or negative) difference around the world and choose to use that power to help create a peaceful, compassionate, sustainable world that doesn’t live beyond its capacity.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Footprint Network.

Thanks, Treehugger, for the heads up.
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Siemens Offers “We Can Change the World” Challenge to Middle School Students

The Siemens Foundation invites middle schoolers around the U.S. to connect with their inner superhero and establish a team of 2-3 students to work with a teacher to “create sustainable, reproducible environmental improvements in their local communities” for its We Can Change the World Challenge.

The projects should be focused on using scientific practices to identify an environmental problem in their community that needs a positive solution.

Members of the winning team get:
  • a $5,000 Savings Bond
  • an appearance on Planet Green
  • a chance to present their winning project before a panel of environmental experts
  • a Discovery Adventure Trip
  • a flip camera
  • and a Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge green prize pack

The deadline to enter is March 15, 2009.

Find out more.
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Grants Available for Youth Who “Do Something” Positive for the World

Know youth who want to make positive change and need a little extra cash to help them get there? Point them toward Do Something’s grant opportunities.

Grant ops include:

Animal Action Grants for youth working to raise awareness about animal welfare or to help stop animal cruelty. There are 10 $500 grants available. The deadline is October 15, 2008.

Students into Eco-Action can apply for one of the 10 $500 Green Grants available. The deadline is September 30, 2008.

Youth who have already created a “sustainable community action project, program or organization” and need a bit more funding to help grow the program can apply for a $500 Plum Youth Grant. There is no deadline, and grants are given out every week.

Do Something also gives out annual awards to “seriously amazing young people” who are making a significant positive difference. These winners receive $10,000, with one grand prize of $100,000.

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Humane Education Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about relevant humane issues, ways that people all over the world are manifesting humane education & humane living, and items that provide excellent material for discussing humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture.

Chicago’s “greenest person” identifiedChicago Tribune (9/23/08)
”Dunn, who grew up on a Kansas farm, whittled down his carbon footprint the old-fashioned way: by riding a beat-up old bike, air-drying his clothes, eating the vegetables he grows in his backyard and heating his home with a wood-burning furnace.”
(Thanks, Treehugger.)

Social justice course halted by school board due to content about homosexualityVancouver Sun (9/21/08)
”The elective course, which deals with issues ranging from homophobia to animal rights, has caused controversy amongst religious groups that worry it's too malleable to the individual beliefs of teachers.”

Book for kids full of ideas for changing the world - Telegraph (UK) (9/20/08)
”A group of children have produced a book of tips on how to improve the world, which include teaching grandparents to text, making someone smile and taking dad for a walk….The book’s foreword says: ‘Our job is to bring people together and demonstrate how, using simple, everyday actions, we can create a global movement of doing and changing; doing small actions and changing big problems.’”

Most chemists not trained in environmental, health impacts of what they do - Los Angeles Times (9/19/08)
“Chemists and chemical engineers have been taught everything they need to know about how to synthesize a substance or trigger a reaction. Then they go out in the world and use an old chemical or invent a new one. Yet most don't know the effects on people or the environment -- whether a chemical can collect in mothers' breast milk, damage a baby's brain, kill off immune cells, reprogram genes or cause male frogs to grow female organs.”

Worldwide call for arms trade treaty - Common Dreams (9/18/08)
"Driven by concerns over the continued loss of civilian lives in armed conflicts, a coalition of rights groups and aid organizations is calling for a worldwide crackdown on the illegal trade in guns….The proposal to create such a treaty was first adopted by the General Assembly in 2006 after more than 150 countries voted in its favor, 24 abstained, and one -- the United States -- opposed.”

BPA linked to health risks - Los Angeles Times (9/17/08)
”The first large-scale human study of a chemical used to make plastic baby bottles, aluminum can linings and myriad other common products found double the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver problems in people with the highest concentrations in their urine, British researchers reported Tuesday.”

In violent times, more students attracted to peace studies - Times of India (9/17/08)
“Global terrorism and conflict between various groups have led students towards Gandhian philosophy. Even we have been surprised by the overwhelming response to courses after 2004. Interest shown by international organisations has also been phenomenal.”

Canned hunting growing trend - Independent Online (South Africa) (9/17/08)
”The fact that more than 700 lions were killed in South Africa by foreign hunters last year is a sign the canned hunting industry is growing fast…’Far from being controlled, the canned hunting industry... is growing exponentially.’”

“C.A.R.E.” club works to help the planet - Herald Online (9/17/08)
”’After students hear about environmental issues,’ Showalter said, ‘they're coming up to me to say what can we do to stop this. That'll just give you chills.’"

Nobel Laureates at PeaceJam inspire youth to better the world - MTV News (9/16/08)
”’When you see these Nobel Laureates and the struggle they have been through, you’re like, ‘Wow, we have not gone through half of that, and they are still here encouraging us because they think that we’re the best thing in the world,’ said Taylor Reed, who traveled with her classmates all the way from Minnesota to attend the conference. ‘With them behind us, supporting us, that’s a big motivation to change our world.’”
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Eating on $1 a Day

One of our M.Ed. graduates at the Institute for Humane Education, Christopher Greenslate, and his partner, Kerri, have embarked on a new project. For a month, they are eating on less than $1 per day each. You can read about their journey on their blog.

As I read their first week of blog entries, I found myself thinking about how important it is to break out of the unexamined routine of our lives. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Yet, how many of us actually examine our lives and challenge our assumptions, our ideas, our beliefs, and our behaviors?

When Christopher and Kerri end their experiment they will have learned so much: about poverty, desire, and themselves, and about the billion people in the world who go to bed hungry every night. They will have become cleverer and more resilient, more introspective, more aware. They will have cultivated their ability to persevere, their courage, and their creativity. They will have paid more attention to what surrounds them – not only to the availability of free food at fast food restaurants and in dumpsters, but also to plants and trees from which they can forage. They will have learned about the systems of food distribution and production.

And they will have deepened their capacity to make MOGO (Most Good) choices. What often makes living according to the MOGO principle difficult is that our desires, fears, and habits compete so vigorously with our commitment to lead an examined, intentional, positive, generous life. Most of us resist change; we become attached to our habits and mistake our desires for needs.

I love what Christopher and Kerri are doing for so many reasons, but what is most compelling to me is that by embarking on this challenging project, they open themselves ever more deeply to the possibilities for positive change because they have cultivated their ability to understand, to act, and to choose.

~ Zoe
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10 Technologies for MOGO (Most Good) Living

In its latest issue, Discover Magazine describes 10 relatively simple technologies to help change the world. I love these, not only because they are practical, doable, and creative, but also because they demonstrate that there are so many ideas being generated all the time to solve our challenges.

At the same time as we are hearing “Drill, Drill, Drill” and “More Nuclear Power Plants,” inventors, engineers, scientists, and changemakers are developing simple, sustainable, and practical new technologies that we can put into practice now. As climate change looms as an unprecedented threat in human history, and as an economic crisis threatens to overtake the globe, we need solutions that solve both.

The MOGO (Most Good) principle must be applied to everything – all people, all species, and the environment, and solutions need to take all into consideration. That’s why Discover Magazine’s list is inspiring, and why we must be wary of solutions that invest hundreds of billions of dollars into more drilling and decades-long projects for nuclear power instead of sustainable, green technologies for a better future for all.

~ Zoe
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Help Create a Sea Change: Join in the Coastal Clean Up

If you're looking for a way to help make the world a better place for people, animals and the planet this weekend, consider joining Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup. According to the OC, it's the largest volunteer event of its kind. Last year 378,000 volunteers from 76 countries and 45 U.S. states cleaned up about 6 million pounds of trash from oceans and waterways. In order to help collect data about the kinds of trash found, volunteers also record "every piece of trash collected."

While the list of corporate sponsors for the event is less than cheering, the event is a great example of international cooperation and people gathering to make a positive difference.

A step beyond this would be to determine how to educate others about the importance of not trashing our oceans and waterways, so that there wouldn't be any debris to pick up in the first place.

A few months ago we blogged about the OC, their report about ocean trash, as well as some of their tips for taking action.

~ Marsha
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Share the Social Justice "20 Questions" Quiz

You may have already seen this, but I thought it was worth mentioning. Bill Quigley of Truthout created a Social Justice Quiz of 20 questions to help more people become aware of how "liberty, opportunity, income and wealth are actually distributed in our country and in our world."

He says, "We in the US who say we believe in social justice must challenge ourselves to look at the world through the eyes of those who have much less than us."

Quigley's quiz looks at issues such as:

  • How many people die from acts of terrorism worldwide each year versus how many people die EACH DAY due to hunger or hunger-related causes.
  • How much CEOs make versus and average worker's pay, and how minimum wage affects the ability to find housing.
  • How many people are homeless in the U.S., and how many of those are children and veterans.
  • Rates of gun ownership, meat consumption, military spending, car ownership, and citizen incarceration.
Check out the complete quiz and share it with students, friends and others.

It would also be interesting to reframe Quigley's questions into questions that spark a search for positive solutions, rather than another piece of information about the world that we find depressing. We can also think about how our own actions affect these issues, and what we can do in our own lives to make a positive difference for people who are struggling.

~ Marsha
You have read this article consumerism / critical thinking / economic justice / equality / human rights / quizzes / Social Justice / wealth with the title September 2008. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

Humane Education Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about relevant humane issues, ways that people all over the world are manifesting humane education & humane living, and items that provide excellent material for discussing humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture.

Global slavery on the rise, but so are efforts to stop it - Christian Science Monitor (9/15/08)
”The greatest challenge, many involved say, is not just freeing and restoring slaves to normal life, but rather deconstructing the systems that promote slavery and continually seek new victims.”

Presidential candidates playing “fast and loose” with “facts” in political ads and speeches - Ethics Newsline (9/15/08)
”The level of recent falsehoods and distortion in the presidential campaign have trained a spotlight on whether lying even matters anymore — with many analysts concluding that in a competition between truth and flashy but false sound bites, the latter almost always win.”

Noisy oceans harming marine mammals - BBC News (9/15/08)
"Humanity is literally drowning out marine mammals….While nobody knows the precise consequences for specific animals, unless the international community takes preventive measures we are likely to discover only too late the terrible damage we're causing."

Environmental groups, local leaders work for cleaner environment in Israeli towns - Haaretz (9/15/08)
”Environmental awareness in Arab towns could well become more important over the next few years, thanks to the successful development of environmental education in the schools. This month the education and environmental protection ministries announced that this is the year of ‘green education.’”

Two New Zealand groups develop agreement to help protect children, animals - Scoop (9/15/08)
”An agreement, which will be signed this week between the SPCA and Child, Youth and Family, is thought to be a world-first joint reporting protocol between a national child protection agency and a national animal welfare society, acknowledging the link between animal and child abuse.”

Parents teaching media literacy, limiting media, important to child’s health - New York Times (9/14/08)
”New guidelines are taking shape: Keep the television and computer out of the child’s bedroom, don’t be afraid to set limits, pay attention to what appears on screen and how different ages respond to it, and encourage children to think critically about what they see.”

Honor killings defended as “tradition” - (9/12/08)
”In Pakistan’s rural areas, male tribal councils decide the fate of women who bring dishonor to their family. In 2004, President Pervez Musharraf outlawed the practice, known as ‘honor killings’ – violations of the law carry the death penalty. But the law is impossible to enforce because this centuries old custom for dealing with women is protected by powerful feudal landlords and tribal elders.”

Some U.S. foods to get country of origin labelingScientific American (9/12/08)
”The measure – backed by farmers eager to compete with foreign producers and food safety advocates – requires meat, poultry and produce to contain labels listing their country of origin.”

Environmentalists, policy makers focusing on adapting to climate change to help poorer nations -- Economist (9/11/08)
”Two things have changed attitudes. One is evidence that global warming is happening faster than expected….Second, evidence is growing that climate change hits two specific groups of people disproportionately and unfairly. They are the poorest of the poor and those living in island states: 1 billion people in 100 countries.”

Study shows need for more youth exercise - BBC (9/8/08)
"In order to really encourage children to be more active, we believe it is crucial that the environment around them allows for daily exercise. The government needs to ensure our streets are attractive and safe for cyclists and pedestrians, encouraging more children to cycle and walk to school safely. Neighbourhoods, parks and green spaces need to be well designed and maintained to encourage children to play safely outside." (Thanks Global Sociology Blog.)
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Meat and Global Warming: Mainstream Media Reports the Important News...Eventually

In last week's Time Magazine, there's a great article on the connection between meat consumption and global warming. When articles such as these come out, I’m always so happy that the mainstream press is reporting on such critically important information. I’m grateful that such news –- unpalatable though it may be to many –- is getting the press it so desperately needs.

But then I wonder why it takes so long. When so many people (such as scientists and changemakers) have been working for so many years to reveal important information like that in this story to the public, and when the mainstream media takes such a long time (in this case over a decade) to catch up, I read such articles with a sigh. “Finally,” I think, and get back to work.

We need our mainstream media to report information –- no matter how unwelcome -– when it comes out, not when they think the public is ready to hear it and they won’t get castigated for it. And we must do our part to urge them to do so and acknowledge the importance of these reports.

~ Zoe
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Humane Education in Action: Connecting With Youth

As a college student, IHE M.Ed. graduate James Wildman had a blast working with youth and inspiring them to make empowered choices. Since graduating from IHE, James has turned to helping young people make a positive connection with animals and to increase their compassion and awareness. He works as a humane educator for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF). We recently did an interview with him about his work.

IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?

JW: As an undergraduate student I worked with youth at the local YMCA. My life was divided between studying (which I never really did much of) and working (though it was more like playing). Instead of preparing for exams, I was busy devising activities, programs, and clubs for youth that were intended to empower them. However, my desire to empower youth took on a new form as I began to examine my own lifestyle and beliefs. As I learned more about the treatment of animals in our culture, I realized that the compassion inherent in youth (and us all) was being sequestered by societal traditions based on economic interests and not on the principles of humanity. If this were to change, it had to begin with the youth of our culture. When I was introduced to IHE, the process of this change became apparent.

IHE: How did you get involved with the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF)?

JW: In the fall of 2007 I applied for the Humane Educator position at the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. Having recently graduated from the IHE program I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to incorporate my learning into my new position. So, with a car full of shorts and short-sleeved shirts, I left the comforts of the Northeast and headed down South.

IHE: Describe the work you do for ARFF as a humane educator.

JW: As the humane educator I go into classrooms, camps, and community institutions to discuss our perceptions of animals and how that dictates our treatment of them. ARFF currently offers presentations on wildlife conservation, veganism, and companion animals. Each presentation strives to promote active learning by incorporating physical and mental activities that stimulate individual expression and thought.

IHE: How are people responding to what you're doing?

JW: I work in a variety of settings with a diverse group of ages and demographics. What seems to be the common denominator among them all is the understanding that animals share the same feelings and needs as us. What people choose to do with this understanding is where people differ. My job is getting them to recognize and appreciate the connections between us all, human and non-human alike.

IHE: What's a typical week like for you?

JW: I typically attend three schools a week which entails three to five presentations per school. On those days that I am not in a classroom, I will table (vegan outreach) at colleges and community events.

IHE: How is ARFF's humane education program funded?

JW: ARFF is the largest non-profit animal protection organization in the state of Florida and is funded by membership contributions.

IHE: What are some of your biggest challenges?

JW: My biggest challenge is getting into the schools. With standardized testing taking over a great chunk of the school year, I have been searching for different venues that have included home-schooling groups, colleges, and community events.

IHE: Share a success story. What has helped encourage you?

JW: Many times when I go into a classroom, students will ask if I am there to get them to go vegan. To this I respond, "I'm not a car salesman; I'm not trying to sell you veganism and I don't work on commission. Rather, I am here to provide a different perspective, to give a voice for the voiceless (to quote Rage Against the Machine), and let you make your own decisions." I am most successful when I am not talking, when I allow the activity to speak for itself and let the students evaluate it critically. I am continually motivated by discovering new ways to engage youth critically, and I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to attend many classes on multiple occasions, gaining feedback and perspective from the students.

IHE: What are your thoughts about the power of humane education to positively transform the world?

JW: Humane education is getting people to realize the interconnections that exist among us all and our dependence upon keeping it a harmonious relationship. What could be more powerful and transformative than realizing the positive effect one person can have on this balance?

IHE: Any future dreams, plans or projects?

JW: First and foremost, I am continually working to improve upon my presentations; with each presentation I gain a new perspective on what engages and captivates an audience. For next summer I would like to start a camp for middle and high school-aged youth that looks at ways we can live more harmoniously with our sense of compassion and humanity. And lastly, I am only a few weeks away from eliminating completely my New England farmer's tan.
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Lipstick on a Pig

At the risk of adding yet another comment on the endless, ridiculous commentary on Barack Obama's remark about John McCain’s economic policies (that his policies, no matter how he tried to recast them, amounted to putting lipstick on a pig; the policies were still a pig), I feel compelled to say this:

In a Washington Post editorial we read: “Mr. Obama's supposedly offending remark was not only not offensive -- it also was not directed at Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.” Indeed, Obama’s comment was not offensive to Governor Palin, but it was – hear me out – offensive to pigs, even though pigs are not capable of taking offense to human language.

The expression “putting lipstick on a pig,” like so many expressions (“She’s a cow,” “What a dog,” “He’s chicken,” “She’s a weasel,” among countless other pig expressions), subtly perpetuates our perception and treatment of animals. These expressions subconsciously influence how we view other species: as lazy, stupid, worthless, cowardly, untrustworthy, fat, ugly, etc. They lead us to believe that these animals are not worthy of consideration, protection, or kindness. They are ours to use and exploit because they are, after all, just animals.

This is not a criticism of Obama – we all use these expressions; they are embedded in our language and culture. But it’s worth asking, in all the hoopla that has surrounded Obama’s remark, whether, although it was utterly innocuous in relation to Sarah Palin, it was really harmless after all. Given that hundreds of millions of pigs are tortured, and I use that word intentionally, in our modern agricultural systems, perhaps we might want to find new ways of saying what we mean without perpetuating the oppression of other sentient species.

~ Zoe
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Burning for the Truth: Thinking Critically About News Media

In our last post, we mentioned the new report by the Environmental Working Group about finding chemicals from fire retardants in the blood of toddlers.

A couple days ago, one of the EWG bloggers demonstrated important media literacy and critical thinking skills in his analysis of a press release from a group billed as Citizens for Fire Safety.

For example, the blogger, Bill Walker, did a little digging and discovered that Citizens for Fire Safety is actually a front group for "the flame retardants lobby." Walker also asks questions about the few details provided about the "California mother" highlighted in the press release, Elizabeth Perrott. Walker asks:

"But who is Elizabeth Perrott?

California Mother . . .

OK. Where in California? Sacramento? How old is she? How many kids does she have?

Member of the medical community . . .

A doctor? A nurse? EMT? Pharmacist? Dental hygienist?

Spoke out against the Environmental Working Group's new study . . .

Just how (other than the press release) did she speak out? Did she call up Citizens for Fire Safety out of the blue? Send them an email? Know someone who works there? Write a letter to the editor?"
Walker's snark -- and the fact that he's defending his own organization's report -- aside, he's demonstrating the kind of critical thinking, questioning and analysis that all of us should be doing with the media to which we're exposed each day.

Especially in our time-pressed, multi-tasking, go-go-go society, it's easy to skim a few headlines or catch a blurb or two on the radio and assume that we have a complete and accurate grasp on the issue, and what the "right" answer or action is. Or, worse, we browse the blogs or talk to people who think just like us, which helps us reinforce our own beliefs without taking the time to question them.

Whether you're a teacher, parent, or concerned citizen, you can make use of resources such as our Be a C.R.I.T.I.C. activity, books like Toxic Sludge is Good for You, and websites such as PR Watch to help you think more critically and creatively about news media, as well as what you hear about (and from) political candidates, corporations, nonprofit organizations and others who have a stake in what you believe and the choices that you make.

~ Marsha
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Report Roundup - Fire Retardants in Toddlers, Health Inequalities, Food and Water Waste

A summary of recent reports about humane issues, from fire retardants to health inequalities, to food and water waste.

Fire Retardants in Toddlers and Their Mothers

Most mothers do everything they can to protect their children from harm, but what if the thing that's hurting your kids was created to help keep them safe? Fire retardants were originally developed as a safety measure; however, the Environmental Working Group recently reported on tests they conducted to determine what, if any, levels of fire retardant chemicals were found in the blood of young children and their mothers.

The EWG tested 20 children and their mothers and discovered that the kids averaged 3.2 times more fire retardants in their systems than in their mothers’. The EWG reports:
“…in 19 of 20 U.S. families, concentrations of the chemicals known as PBDEs were significantly higher in 1.5- to 4-year-old children than their mothers. In total 11 different flame retardants were found in these children, and 86 percent of the time the chemicals were present at higher levels in the children than their mothers.

“The tests also found a form of PBDEs known as Deca, a heavily used flame retardant that has largely escaped restrictions because few labs can reliably test for it.”
PBDEs are one type of fire retardant chemical that is found in common household items. “Home tests show that common culprits are televisions, stereo or entertainment systems, power strips, and routers. Lesser concentrations are found in speakers, alarm clocks, phones, and device chargers.”

Read a brief summary.

Closing the Gap in a Generation: Health Equity Through Action on the Social Determinants of Health

“A girl born today can expect to live for more than 80 years if she is born in some countries – but less than 45 years if she is born in others.” ~ WHO report

“Reducing health inequalities is an ethical imperative. Social injustice is killing people on a grand scale.” ~ WHO report

A recent report by the World Health Organization’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health discovered that, not only are there significant health differences between different countries, but within areas of the same country, as well.

As the report discovered, “In countries at all levels of income, health and illness follow a social gradient: the lower the socioeconomic position, the worse the health.”

The report indicates that there are several drivers of health inequalities, including:
  • Economic growth that is unequally distributed.
  • Debt repayment obligations of poor countries far outweigh international aid.
  • Gender biases and the positions of women in society
  • Inequal power in political, economic, social and cultural dimensions

The recommendations of the commission include:
  1. Improve daily living conditions.
  2. Tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources.
  3. Measure and understand the problem and assess the impact of action.
Read a brief summary.

Saving Water: From Field to Fork: Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain

“Agriculture is the largest human use of water.” ~ SIWI brief

Lots of people eat too much food; even more people don't have access to enough food. Research indicates that enough food is being grown to feed everyone, but it's not getting where it's most desperately needed. And now we learn that more than half the food produced -- and the water used to produce it -- gets wasted.

As part of World Water Week, the Stockholm International Water Institute, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Water Management Institute recently released a brief about the tremendous amount of water that is wasted in food production and waste.

According to the report, “As much as half of the water used to grow food globally may be lost or wasted.” The key goal of the report is to educate and inspire policymakers, food producers, the public and others about the need to create more effective means of saving water and reducing waste. The report also calls on governments, consumers, businesses and other stakeholders to reduce by 50% the amount of food that is wasted, and to do so by 2025.

Read a brief summary.
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Humane Education Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about relevant humane issues, ways that people all over the world are manifesting humane education & humane living, and items that provide excellent material for discussing humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture.

Student activism roundup” - Mother Jones (9/08)
”This spring, we posted a survey at to find out what our readers think about the state of student activism. How do today's campus movers and shakers stack up to their peace-marching, draft-card-burning, hunger-striking forebears?”

Cop has made ending slavery his “hobby” (9/8/08)
”Other victims of human trafficking are illegal immigrants locked into bondage by smugglers or employers. The victims' masters may pay them too little and charge them too much for rent and transportation, leaving them little hope of working themselves free.”

10 technological tools to help the worldDiscover Magazine (9/8/08)
”Instead of calling on complex solutions (reliant on engines and imported resources) for low-tech problems (such as cooking and lighting), some researchers are now developing what they call "confluent" technologies—ones that are effective, affordable, and sustainable for use in the developing world.”

Study reveals pollution contributes to obesityIndependent (UK) (9/7/08)
”A groundbreaking Spanish study indicates that exposure to a range of common chemicals before birth sets up a baby to grow up stout, thus helping to drive the worldwide obesity epidemic.”(Thanks, AlterNet.)

Middle class Africans developing taste for consumerism - SF (9/7/08)
"’What matters is your lifestyle,’ said Ruharo, whose current reading includes The Greatness Guide, a motivational book. ‘The car you drive - it should be a Japanese import. Where you hang. You have to live in an apartment - I live down here in Bakoto Flats. The BlackBerry is important. It's purely a status symbol because no one here is that busy yet.’"

UN calls for reduction in meat consumption to help curb global warmingGuardian (UK) (9/7/08)
”The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation has estimated that meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. These are generated during the production of animal feeds, for example, while ruminants, particularly cows, emit methane, which is 23 times more effective as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide.”

MI school districts may use bus ads to raise revenue - Flint Journal (9/6/08)
Critics say kids riding the bus are a captive audience who have no control over what they see on their daily commute to and from school. Supporters, though, argue school districts can hand-pick the advertisers and the revenue gained can help offset budget cuts that would effect the classroom. (Thanks, Parents for Ethical Marketing.)

Why is violence against women and girls virtually ignored in the media? - Alternet (editorial) (9/6/08)
Last month, the U.S. media were full of stories about the resignation of Pervez Musharraf as president of Pakistan. But another event that same week in Pakistan -- that tribesmen buried five young women alive for wanting to choose their own husbands -- got almost no coverage.

New online game may help predict the future - Discover Magazine (9/5/08)
”In Superstruct, the players will be presenting their ideas on how to cope with the crisis of 2019, and McGonigal hopes they'll come up with solutions and outcomes that she never imagined. ‘That's why the tagline for the game is 'Invent the Future,’ she says. ‘Because the future doesn't just happen, somebody makes it.’"

Ecuadorians may grant “inalienable rights” to natureChristian Science Monitor (9/3/08)
”Ecuador’s proposed constitution includes an article that grants nature the right to “exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution” and will grant legal standing to any person to defend those rights in court.”

Wisconsin college becomes first “fair trade university”
UW Oshkosh Today (9/3/08)
”To become a Fair Trade University, UW Oshkosh’s four governing bodies endorsed a resolution outlining its commitment to: selling Fair Trade Certified coffee, tea and chocolate in dining establishments, at catered functions and in department offices whenever feasible and within the confines of its food service contract; offering Fair Trade Certified food products and handicrafts at University stores whenever possible; and identifying and acknowledging Fair Trade Certified products and encouraging their purchase by students, faculty and staff.”

New Swiss animal protection laws enacted - (9/2/08)
”The new legislation spells out in exhaustive detail how all domestic animals are to be treated, whether they be pets, farm animals or destined for scientific experiments.”

Students team up for better world - AZ (9/2/08)
”New Global Citizens works with high-school students across the Valley to form Global Action Clubs to support grassroots organizations worldwide. Last school year, about 10 teams of five to 10 students drawn from across the Valley participated in various projects themed around the UN Millennium Development Goals, including extreme poverty, universal primary education, child mortality, maternal health and environmental sustainability.”

Student working toward summit of green events - Arizona Republic (9/2/08)
”It started as a student project, with Samila and others inviting companies to exhibit in tents on an ASU playing field. He freely acknowledges that he had no clue what he was doing. He just thought the event would look good on his resume.”

How do animals perceive death?New York Times (9/1/08)
”Nobody knows what emotions swept through Gana’s head and heart as she persisted in cradling and nuzzling the remains of her son. But primatologists do know this: Among nearly all species of apes and monkeys in the wild, a mother will react to the death of her infant as Gana did — by clutching the little decedent to her breast and treating it as though it were still alive.”

Teen works to stop animal cruelty - State Journal-Register (9/1/08)
“’I feel that animals are the most overlooked of society. They are not able to stand up for themselves; they require people to do that for them,’ said Ryne Poelker, a PORTA High School senior.”
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Teach What You Know

Those of us working to change the world for the better are accustomed to viewing websites, reading blogs and articles from our favorite media and watching films and YouTube videos that fuel our motivation and effort toward action. We learn something new about a problem in the world, and we want to teach others about it.

We hire teachers who specialize in specific subjects to teach our secondary school students. We don’t expect language arts teachers to teach physics, and we don’t expect math teachers to teach social studies.

With a subject as broad as humane education, which covers human rights, environmental preservation, and animal protection, as well as issues of culture such as media, economic globalization, social psychology, and so much more, the task of the humane educator is considerable. How can we possible be expert enough in these many interrelated subjects to teach about them accurately? We certainly cannot gain such expertise just from visits to our preferred blogs or by relying on a few specific media sources.

This is why our M.Ed. and certificate programs in humane education are two years long. We must commit to learning thoroughly, reading widely, viewing broadly, and thinking deeply for a lifetime in order to be a true humane educator.

With that said, humane educators ask questions rather than provide answers. They invite and inspire their students to be lifelong learners and to delve into the critical subjects of our time with passion and commitment so that together we may come up with solutions that work for all.

~ Zoe
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10 Tips for Helping Create a Humane School Experience

Backpacks, bells and bus schedules are taking center stage as millions of kids, parents and teachers jump into a new school year. If you’re a parent, it’s a great time to integrate humane choices into your child’s school experience and to inspire others. If you’re a teacher, the fresh start of a new year provides an excellent opportunity to implement new habits, lessons and explorations into your classroom and school.

Here are 10 tips for helping create a more humane school experience:

  1. Invest in eco-friendly, healthy, humane products. There are numerous online stores for purchasing recycled or eco-friendly paper, pens and pencils, backpacks, crayons, etc. If you don’t know where to start looking for such items, there are a slew of blogs and news outlets that have recently covered green products and supplies. Try a web search for “eco-friendly school supplies” or “green back to school,” being sure to also think about the impact of those school supply choices on people and animals. (Many “big box” stores are also starting to carry more eco-friendly supplies.) Back-to-school clothes don't have to mean supporting sweatshops; thrift stores, clothing swaps and sweatshop-free products all offer alternative choices. You can also think beyond the classroom to the entire school and talk to teachers, administrators, the custodians and cafeteria workers about choosing humane and sustainable products. From paper towels to cleaners to napkins to staplers, there are plenty of opportunities to make positive choices.

  2. Develop relationships. No one wants to feel like they’re being told what to do or to feel defensive or judged. Get to know your child’s teachers/parents and other members of the school/family so that you can learn to know them as people, develop compassionate communication skills with them and to serve as a role model for healthy, humane practices. Find others concerned about the same issues and start working together and helping support each other.

  3. Introduce eco-friendly and humane practices into the classroom. If you’re the teacher, you have the power to adopt such practices yourself. If you’re a parent, talk with your child’s teacher and develop a positive relationship so that you can feel confident in offering positive suggestions. The opportunities are limitless, from starting recycling programs to sharing supplies to reducing waste to minimizing paper use to promoting healthier and more sustainable snacks to reducing various “prints” (carbon footprints, foodprints, waterprints, etc.).

  4. Integrate humane education activities into the curriculum. We have several ideas to get you started and to help spark your own creativity. You can also use/recommend books like The Power and Promise of Humane Education by Zoe Weil and Black Ants and Buddhists by Mary Cowhey (for elementary kids). If you’re a parent, recommend humane education activities to the teacher and offer to lead a lesson on a humane topic that supports the curriculum and is interesting to the kids.

  5. Suggest relevant resources. There are a plethora of books, websites, magazines and other resources available that focus on humane education and social change issues. Find ones that are pertinent to what your teacher/other teachers are doing and recommend them. If you leave any “agenda” behind, teachers and parents often appreciate learning about new and useful resources.

  6. Look for special opportunities to introduce humane concepts and issues; observances are one opportunity. Columbus Day coming up? Share resources about the experiences of indigenous people related to the “discovery of America.” (Rethinking Schools has a great book with teaching ideas, stories, poems and other resources called Rethinking Columbus.) Halloween? Host a costume swap and offer fair trade chocolate treats (along with a discussion of the connection between child slavery and chocolate). Bake sale? Bring tasty organic, local, fair trade, vegan treats. Class party? Provide/suggest sustainable supplies, activities and resources. Is the school planning a donkey basketball game or to hatch chicks? Bring awareness about these issues and suggest alternatives. There are plenty of opportunities for facilitating humane connections.

  7. Help implement healthy, sustainable, compassionate lunches in school. Schools all over the country are working on revamping school food programs. Check out resources such as waste-free lunches, healthy school lunch programs, organic gardening programs, farm to school programs and others for guidance and inspiration. If you’re sending your child to school with lunch, be sure to send healthy food and waste-free containers and diningware.

  8. Offer your expertise. If you’re a teacher, work with other teachers, parents and administrators to bring awareness to humane issues and suggest ways to implement positive actions. If you’re a parent, offer to volunteer in your child’s classroom, to give presentations (or arrange presentations) about social justice topics, or manifest your expertise in some other way.

  9. Suggest humane fundraising ideas. Instead of magazines, wrapping paper, junk food, or slave chocolate, choose creative projects that provide a good service or product while also benefiting people, animals and the planet.

  10. Help develop school-wide projects that benefit the community. How about organizing walk to school days? Cultivating school gardens and natural areas? Community tree planting? Initiating service learning based around humane issues? Conducting energy or water use audits? We frequently read in the news about the terrific projects schools are implementing to help create a better world.

Whether you're a parent, teacher, or concerned citizen, there are nearly unlimited ways to help your community's schools make choices that do the most good and least harm for all people, animals and the planet. Start with small steps, and soon you'll be working up to powerful changes.

~ Marsha

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Racism of the Blind

I’ve often wondered what racism looks like if you’re blind. In societies in which the color of our skin is still a powerful force in the way we are perceived and treated -- our privileges and opportunities as well as our obstacles and challenges -- what would happen if we could not perceive color? Would we still find ways to create “us and thems”? Would some other factor emerge that we would use to separate ourselves? Sadly, I think the answer is yes, as we can witness in cultures in which skin, hair, and eye color are consistently the same, while religion, ethnicity or class takes the place of color in our hierarchy of acceptance or rejection, inclusion or trepidation.

We find a dozen ways to create thems, carrying our agendas, our fear, and our sense of rightness and righteousness into the wider world. Just as "Joanne" is “other” to the group of residency students, those outside our circles -- however we come to define them -- become other, the enemy. This summer at our residency training, one of our students shared this quote: “An enemy is someone whose story has not yet been heard."

Can we listen, like those who are blind, instead of perceiving what we set out to see with our eyes? The final line of my favorite e.e. cummings poem is this: “Now the ears of my ears awake; now the eyes of my eyes are open.” The eyes of our eyes perceive a greater truth than the narrow vision we’re taught to accept as real or important, and the ears of our ears allow us to hear our perceived enemy, so that she may become our friend.

~ Zoe
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Social Entrepreneur Contest Looks for Youth with Innovative Projects

Youth are making a positive difference in their communities all over the world, and the Staples Youth Social Entrepreneur Competition wants to acknowledge and reward that fact.

Young people, ages 12-24, are invited to enter their contest for a chance to win $1,000 to help fund their innovative projects. The projects need to be innovative, have significant social impact, and be sustainable. The deadline to enter is October 15, 2008.

Find out more.
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Elephants Cry and Pigs Sing: The Issue of Animal Emotions

Recently the Greater Good Blog reported on a new study published in the Biology Letters journal that discovered that dogs may feel empathy (as evidenced by yawning when humans yawn). Another recent study discovered that magpies have at least some level of self-recognition and self-awareness.

On some level, most people acknowledge that animals can experience some basic types of emotions, because they’ve seen it: the guardian who has seen the joy his dog feels at loping along the beach; the nature lover who has observed a pair of Western Grebes running in unison along the surface of a lake; the farm kid who has noticed the bond between a cow mother and her child; the slaughterhouse worker who has witnessed the terror flooding down the line of pigs waiting to be killed. However, not only do we continue to struggle with our own emotions-related baggage within our own species, such as suppressing emotion in men, or abjuring “weak” emotions, but we continue to resist recognizing and accepting emotions in non-human animals, because it narrows the gap of imagined superiority to which we cling so tenaciously.

Since we tend to be attracted to those who are “like us,” helping others become aware of the emotional lives of animals can facilitate connection, acceptance, tolerance, and better understanding – which, hopefully, will lead to extending the circle of compassion a little wider.

Here are four titles that can help you in exploring animal emotions:

Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling
by Jonathan Balcombe
Provides “both scientific study and anecdote, that the animal kingdom is rich in pleasure.”

The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow and Empathy – And Why They Matter
by Mark Bekoff
Learn about the rich emotional lives of animals, and what we can learn from them.

The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals
by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Weaving history, literature, science & anecdotes, the author examines the emotions & needs of farmed animals.

When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals
by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
(Teachers, we have suggested ideas for using this book)
Beautiful, powerful, and compelling stories about animals’ emotional lives

Connecting with animal emotions can be a powerful tool in broadening people’s levels of compassion. However, we have to remember that recognizing and accepting that animals have emotions doesn’t necessarily guarantee more humane/compassionate treatment. Just look at how we treat each other. People also readily accept certain emotions in our pets, yet we abandon and abuse them at an alarming rate and easily neglect to transfer those same feelings of love and nurturing to the creatures on our dinner plates.

Additionally, there is a danger of relying too much on the existence of observable emotions as justification for extending or withholding compassionate treatment. What does that mean for species in which emotions aren’t readily apparent? Does that mean that we treat mammals and a few other species with compassion, but other beings like slugs and snakes and sturgeons don’t make the cut?

We can help make a difference for animals (and other people) by helping people broaden their emotional connections with animals and recognize the similarities we share. As environmental educator Steve Van Matre says, “People will fight for what they love much faster and much harder than for what they merely know.” We must remember, though, that the ultimate goal shouldn’t be to convince everyone that animals share enough similarities that we should let them join our exclusive club, but to help inspire reverence and respect for other beings, and to recognize the reality that all of us—humans and non-human animals—just want to live out our lives as best we can, free of suffering and cruelty and injustice.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Kimberlee Kessler Design.
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Humane Education Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about relevant humane issues, ways that people all over the world are manifesting humane education & humane living, and items that provide excellent material for discussing humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture.

Is using poor as models of luxury goods fun or unforgivable?Telegraph (UK) (9/1/08)
"’The poor are always used as props, not as real people, which is why they haven't even been named in the magazine,’ said columnist Parsa Venkateshwar Rao. ‘Would they use homeless or hard up people in London for this kind of shoot?’"

“Garden grows into perennial learning project” - News at Princeton (8/29/08)
”Schwab and Hill intend for it to be a community learning space, where campus and local residents can become educated about sustainable food systems and their implications for human health and the environment.”

Food fight – rich countries taking food from the poorAlternet (opinion piece) (8/28/08)
”This is one instance of the food colonialism which is again coming to govern the relations between rich counties and poor. As global food supplies tighten, rich consumers are pushed into competition with the hungry.”

Canadian mag tries paper from wheat, not (8/28/08)
”That's a powerful concept—completely re-inventing the North American pulp & paper industry to run on agricultural waste instead of cutting down forests.”

World Bank reveals world poverty worse than previously estimated
- BBC (8/27/08)
”[The World Bank] has revised its previous estimate and now says that 1.4 billion people live in poverty, based on a new poverty line of $1.25 per day. This is substantially more than its earlier estimate of 985 million people living in poverty in 2004.”

Will landfills become the new source for “oil” and other resources? - (8/26/08)
”As many oil analysts predict oil prices will stay above $100 a barrel, waste experts in the U.S., Europe and across Asia have been conducting pilot projects to recoup old plastic and other waste materials.”

Kids take parents’ lead in eating fruits & veggies
- Red Orbit (8/26/08)
”A new study conducted by researchers at Saint Louis University underscores the important role parents play in modeling healthy eating habits to their preschool aged children. The researchers worked with more than 1,300 families, and found that young children increased their consumption of fruit and vegetables once their parents did so.”

“Trayless” college cafeterias another step toward sustainable campusesTime (8/25/08)
“Exactly how much greener can a tray-banned campus get? According to a July report released by Aramark Higher Education Food Services, a dining company serving about 500 schools nationwide, students waste 25% to 30% less food when they aren't carrying a tray, and dining halls save a third- to a half-gallon of wash water per tray, on average.”
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Widening Our Criteria for MOGO Food Choices

Food is in the news, and many people are considering what's MOGO (Most Good) when they make their food choices. But making MOGO food choices can be complicated. Taking into consideration what’s best for people, animals, the environment, and oneself in a system that is extremely complex isn’t easy.

Periodically, a food movement will emerge that seems to answer the question, “What’s the MOGO diet?” For about two decades the vegan movement has grown substantially because it has made connections between the protection of individual health, world hunger, ecological protection, and animal rights. The organic food movement has also grown considerably, too, buttressing the vegan movement with another lens through which to make MOGO food choices.

Recently, the locavore movement has emerged, and its proponents argue that eating locally, including eating animal-based foods and choosing local over organic when local organic is unavailable, is MOGO, because local foods require less energy to transport and help communities create food security in unreliable energy times.

But then there are studies that show that eating foods considered local (within 150 miles) that are transported by small farmers in small trucks is actually less energy-efficient than eating foods grown further away but trucked in a single large vehicle, and still other studies show that local meat still contributes more global warming gasses than non-local non-animal foods. Such studies don’t diminish the positive effects of truly local food (within 20 miles for example), and the food security that can happen through sustainable, local agriculture, but they point out that local shouldn’t be the only lens for MOGO food.

I believe that when we grab onto a food concept, like vegan or local or organic and make all our choices through this single lens, we limit our capacity to make truly MOGO food choices. It’s much easier to choose foods through a single lens, and I understand the desire to do so to simplify such complicated choices, but instead, we can consider several lenses when choosing food.

My criteria for MOGO food, which I describe at greater length in my upcoming book, Most Good, Least Harm, are these:

As often as possible, choose foods that are:
  • Locally and organically produced.
  • Plant-based.
  • In season.
  • Produced through fair trade practices.
  • Whole and unprocessed.
  • Not overly-packaged, and if packaged, only in recycled and recyclable materials.
  • Low in saturated fats and cholesterol.
  • Produced without refined sugars and without hydrogenated vegetable oils.
  • Produced without abuse towards and exploitation of animals.
  • Not genetically engineered.

Bon appetit,

~ Zoe
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