Living in Denver, with the Broncos going to the Super Bowl this year, I see lots of people dressed in the Broncos’ team colors, pages and pages of news coverage of the teams and their prospects, many parties being planned, and for a wealthy few, the anticipation of attending the game itself. At the risk of being asked what planet I come from, or being considered “un-American” because I am not going to watch the game (a fitness instructor in a class I attend actually said this), I’d like to explore some concerns behind the hoopla. When we look more closely at the Super Bowl, we see a waste of environmental resources, large amounts of consumers’ money spent on throwaway items, and a glorification of violence–all as part of an event priced so high that people of average income cannot even attend.
First of all, let’s look at the expense. According to ABC News, Super Bowl spending will top $15.5 billion for food, decor, and team apparel. In the buying of T-shirts, jackets, hats, scarves, gloves, pajamas, blankets, tote bags, glassware, banners, and countless other wearable and collectible items displaying the team colors, does anyone consider that it is wasteful of both the consumer’s money and the resources that go into making these items that will be worn or used only a very few times? I go back to the slogan: when you are considering buying something, instead of asking “Can I afford this?” ask “Can the planet afford this?” I even saw a tiny baby wearing a Broncos-themed outfit–her parents are already teaching her to consume frivolous, throwaway items that were probably shipped all the way from China.
The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA, by Norm Phelps. Lantern Books, 2007.
This well-researched history of the animal protection movement filled in for me many missing pieces in understanding both the evolution of animal rights philosophy and the development of organizations working to bring compassion for animals into mainstream Western societies. Along the way and down the centuries, we meet a host of committed activists, well-known and obscure.
Among the latter is Lewis Gompertz (1779-1865), an inventor living in London, who campaigned for slaves, women and the poor as well as for non-human animals. He was advocating a vegan diet as early as 1824 in his book Moral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and of Brutes. He published the world’s first animal protection periodical, The Animal’s Friend, or the Progress of Humanity. His organization was instrumental in getting a nationwide ban in England on baiting and animal fighting enacted in 1835. He walked the talk in his personal life as well; he refused to travel by horse or mule-drawn conveyance, which meant that everywhere he went in London, he walked. (This was before London’s subways were built.) Horses– numbering in the hundreds of thousands–who pulled carriages, wagons and streetcars, were often whipped and driven until they died, their needs for rest and sufficient food and water ignored in the name of profit. Beyond London, Gompertz went only to places within walking distance of a railway station. “It is entirely reasonable,” Phelps writes, “to call Lewis Gompertz the first modern animal rights activist.” (p. 103) Continue reading The Longest Struggle→
Three brief excerpts ( 2-5 minutes each) from an interview I did about my book The Practical Peacemaker are now posted on YouTube. The interview was part of the series “Authors at Douglas County Libraries.” The excerpts are on three topics I discuss in the book that make possible more peaceful living, both personally and in society. Click on photos below to start each of these excerpts.
The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, by Peter Singer. Yale University Press, 2015.
How fortunate we are to have a practical philosopher as articulate as Peter Singer! He doesn’t just talk idly about doing the most good for the most people, but shows us how, based on solid research on the effectiveness of charities and on the examples of actual people who are living their values. (To “meet” Singer and watch him give an 18-minute summary of the book, I highly recommend this TED talk.)
I especially like that he does not limit the good we can do to helping people, but includes animals as also worthy of our consideration. He points out that we can prevent a great deal of animal suffering for a very low (or no) cost, e.g. switching to a vegetarian diet.
I also like that he encourages simple living in order to have the maximum amount of our income for charitable giving. He’s not suggesting austerity, but we can ask ourselves, when contemplating an unnecessary purchase or trip, whether the value of more stuff or experiences is greater to us than what that same amount of money could do in preventing suffering, or saving lives in developing countries. Continue reading Doing the Most Good→
One of the ways we work toward peace is by getting to know and understand other peoples’ cultures. The more we can understand why people act the way they do, what they believe and value, the more we can empathize and develop compassion for them.
I recently saw the “Traveling the Silk Road” exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and read the 250-page companion book by the same title. Here was a massive cultural exchange program that went on for centuries! Fabulous luxury goods like spices and exotic foods, exquisite porcelain and glassware, intricately-woven fabrics, scented oils, paper and books, were not all that was traded: travelers exchanged languages, stories and belief systems, music and dance, manufacturing technologies, and state-of-the-art scientific discoveries, among many other aspects of their lives. Continue reading Cultural Exchange on the Silk Road→
No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, by Thich Nhat Hanh. Parallax Press, 2014.
This short, easy to read guide offers practical suggestions, from a Buddhist perspective, on how to deal with the everyday suffering that arises for everyone. Nhat Hanh makes clear that it is impossible to avoid suffering, as that is part of living, but we can choose to keep it from overwhelming us. The book’s “Practices for Happiness” section includes breathing exercises, being present with strong emotions, practicing loving kindness toward ourselves and others, deep relaxation, mindfulness trainings and walking meditation.
To give an example of just one of those–being present with strong emotions–Nhat Hanh reminds readers that “an emotion is only an emotion, and you are much more than one emotion . . . An emotion is something that comes and stays for a while, and eventually goes away. If during the time of the emotion, you have that insight, that insight will save you.”
People caught up in stressful situations can find real support and encouragement here.
The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals, by James McWilliams. Thomas Dunne Books, 2015.
Once again James McWilliams proves that he is one of the most articulate thinkers and writers we have on the subject of how we treat animals used for food. Regarding so-called “humanely-raised” meat, he shows readers that chickens, pigs, and cows have emotional lives, suffer and do not want their lives cut short to provide food humans don’t need. It is not ethically acceptable to claim to care about them, give them a more natural life for awhile, and then kill them. And in case you want details on typical slaughter procedures, that’s in here too.
“Humanely-raised” animals allowed to live outdoors can be even more disease-prone than those in factory farms, picking up infections from the soil and contact with feces. McWilliams cites numerous blog posts from small farmers giving their animals a marginally better life, but dealing not only with frequent diseases arising from an outdoor environment, but losses to extreme weather and, in the case of chickens, to predators–often a grisly death for the chickens. These “humane” farmers also mutilate their animals–for example, castrating male pigs without anesthesia–and farmers who do their own slaughtering can be shockingly inept, causing greater suffering than if the animals had been taken to a commercial slaughterhouse. Continue reading The Modern Savage→
5280 The Denver Magazine recently featured an article on “Everyday Environmentalists,” presenting over 40 ways to live greener. Pointing out that Coloradans are not as environmentally virtuous as we may think we are, the article featured excellent advice on such topics as home insulation, composting, gardening, biking–the usual and more. Some items were very detailed, such as the advice to buy a live Christmas tree instead of an artificial one, and then plant it outside. Readers who hike popular mountain trails were encouraged to go during the week so as to increase the likelihood that they will stay on the trail and minimize trail deterioration. Yes, yes, yes, I’m saying to myself as I read, but when do we get to the huge environmental impact of meat consumption?
Indelible: Denver’s Lasting Impressions of the Library. Denver Public Library. Tattered Cover Press, 2014.
The Denver Public Library, to celebrate its 125th anniversary this year, asked the community to submit short essays to be considered for inclusion in a commemorative book. The topic to write about was what you love about the library. I submitted an essay about the many ways my life has been enriched by DPL, from my finding there the book that first put me on the path of vegan activism, which led to my meeting and marrying my husband of 25 years, to my being hired as a DPL librarian where I worked until retirement, to saving me thousands of dollars over the years on books and movies. My essay was among those selected and is included in the book. I have good company between these covers: well-known authors and scholars, people looking for a better life and using library resources to achieve it, children and teens whose awareness of the world expands beyond what they’d previously thought possible. Many of the stories people share bring a lump to the throat, and remind readers of the vital importance and lasting influence of our public libraries.