On being a conscious consumer

Our local food co-op will stop carrying all Eden Organic products after a recent member vote where less than 5% of members voted and the petition won by just 13 votes.

I find myself very frustrated. I understand the reasoning behind the petition (the perception that Eden’s policy on the Affordable Care Act is seen as unfair to women, though the reality is more nuanced) but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to buy the products because they are superior and it’s hard to find suitable alternatives.

I consider myself a very conscious and careful consumer, but it can be difficult to decide what to buy, to the point it can be paralyzing sometimes!  Personally, when it comes to vegan food I am inclined to prioritize taste and healthfulness of the product over seemingly unrelated political implications. But it’s still a tough decision.

When choosing to buy a canned product, do I pick the one where the food is organic and the cans are BPA free but the company is seen to be unfair when insuring their workforce or the one that doesn’t stack up as well nutritionally and environmentally, isn’t as palatable, but does provide birth control for their workers?

In looking for a nut milk, should I choose the one that tastes good, is organic, has minimal ingredients, supports GMO labeling and is carrageenan free but won’t provide infertility drugs? Or the one that is full of crap, but happy to provide their workers with a full range of insurance options?

I’ve faced a similar dilemma in other purchasing decisions recently too.

When picking a kettle, do I but the one that doesn’t have plastic and isn’t coated in chemicals and is made in China by a reputable company but with unknown working conditions, or the one that’s coated in carcinogens but made in the USA?

What about the food made by a brand that gets top marks on its allergen friendliness, tastes good, has a wide range of products that my kid likes, but was just bought out by a company that is anti GMO labeling? OK to continue purchasing, or no?

It’s hard to be a conscious consumer!!

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to make choices, but given that’s not the world we live in, how do you prioritize?  When there are none that tick all the boxes, which do you choose and why? Which ethical consideration gets compromised first?

PS – If we get to decide what is carried in the store based on ethical and political considerations, why not take a vote on the entire meat section? After all, animal products are known to be anti-female and employers provide less than stellar conditions for their workers. Who’s with me?

Live animal transport

As common as animal transport is here, it never ceases to incense. On our last trip north to visit family, in an hour’s time we saw four trucks crammed full of turkeys and eleven trucks of pigs, plus who knows how many hog confinements, feed lots, etc. Given how often we witness it here, I don’t know why it never occurred to me before that animals might be experiencing something similar, or even worse, in other first world countries!

I didn’t know until recently that animals are often shipped overseas for consumption but before slaughter, just as they are trucked across the U.S. In addition, sometimes they are flown to other countries.

I found out about the shipping industry while watching a speech by Australia’s Philip Wollen about live animal export that was prefaced by a video showing a HUGE ship full of live animals being sent to other countries for slaughter.  It was the size of an ocean liner, like a cargo ship, many stories high, filled with cage after cage.

Conditions for animals on such ships are abysmal. They are cramped and scary. Just like people, some cows get sea sick. And if something happens to them, they are just as likely to get thrown overboard mid-ocean as to get medical attention. According to one source, it’s estimated that millions have died at sea.

When the animals get to their final destinations for slaughter, it doesn’t matter where they came from. There are no protections for how they’re handled. They’re often sent to countries where animal cruelty is not event a consideration and face barbaric and inhumane treatment.

Flights are no more pleasurable for the animals, and casualties occur during air transport too. In fact earlier this week it came to light that 174 out of 2000 sheep died during a flight from Australia to Singapore due to heat exhaustion. They had been destined for use as sacrificial animals in Korban Rites, an Islamic religious tradition that takes places yearly.

Australia seems to be taken the lead on this one, with the group Animals Australia spearheading the effort. Their Ban Live Export campaign seeks to bring light to the issue, conduct investigations, and eventually stop live animal export from Australia to Middle Eastern and Asian countries.

It’s important to note though that Australia hasn’t cornered the market on this form of cruelty. These practices occur all over the world, including in the United States. As egregious as it is, we hear little about live animal export here. It is not forefront on the issues list for any US-based animal welfare group that I know of, and our government has gone out of their way to make it easier for live exports to keep up with growing global demand.

How NOT to support animal experimentation with the ALS ice bucket challenge

“Trying to cure human diseases by relying on outdated and ineffective animal experiments isn’t only cruel—it’s a grave disservice to people who desperately need cures.” – Pamela Anderson via Facebook post, 8/20/14

I understand the purpose behind the popular ALS ice bucket challenge, and can see it’s great value towards raising awareness for the cause and in generating donations, but totally agree with Pam on this point, as does the ALS researcher that wrote a piece for HuffPost Science titled, In Defense of Pamela Anderson.

The FDA’s own statistics show that 92 out of 100 drugs that succeed in animal trials fail when used on humans. Apparently that’s particularly true for ALS drugs. In the last several decades, after alllllll their animal testing (they used to use primates but have since stopped and now primarily use rodents, zebrafish and fruit flies), only a handful of drugs even showed promise in clinical trials with humans.In the end, none truly ended up working for people.

The ALS Association has responded to people concerned about animal rights to say that, “The Association is committed to honoring donor intent. If a donor is not comfortable with a specific type of research, he or she can stipulate that their dollars not be invested in that particular area.”

Whether or not you are doing the challenge, if you are donating to the ALS Association please consider specifying that it not be used on animal experimentation. Or, consider giving to an alternative organization such as Compassionate Care for ALS.

Note that I am not being dispassionate or saying not to support ALS awareness or research, just asking people to support ethical research that’s actually *more* effective and directly helps humans. See further info in this blog post by PCRM.

The “humane” raising of cattle

As part of a lifestyle change we’ve made, we’ve recently moved to a more rural location, surrounding by cattle. While we’re still within a town, we now have cows off our doorstep and in our back yard!Cows

As a result, we’re getting an up close look at the “humane” raising of these animals intended for food. For the most part the animals do get to graze in pasture and live much more naturally than they would in a CAFO. But it’s not all sunshine and roses.

Observations thus far:

  • While many cattle are in typical farm pastures (think large, rolling hillsides), others are in smaller enclosures that just happen to have some grass and weeds. When it runs out the workers bring in supplemental hay.
  • The cows are herded around from place to place frequently (here they use four wheelers) and are goaded – even hit – if they do not comply with the worker’s desires. They are frequently moved from pasture to pasture, sometimes by truck.
  • Mothers and babies are separated and bellow for each other for DAYS. This is not an exaggeration.
  • Some animals in particular do not like being alone and call out for the others that they can hear in nearby pastures. If another animal is put in with them, they stop. Bulls are almost always isolated from the rest of the herd.
  • Cows are marked/branded and have ear tags put in without pain relief. They yell out while it’s happening and for quite some time thereafter.
  • Cows are sometimes left in pastures without access to shade or shelter, even when it’s 100+ degrees.
  • When something upsets the herd, they all get anxious. This typically includes a lot of loud mooing and pacing. It continues long after the initial upset has occurred., It’s easy to tell when they’re distressed, a very unsettling sound.

These cows are raised using the more “natural” methods embraced and approved by animal welfare organizations. They are considered “grass-fed”.  The treatment is Certified Humane. But it should never be considered compassionate.

While I will admit this is an improvement over veal crates and feed lot life, it’s still not enough.The animals are still treated like property, torn from their families, and have absolutely no say over their fates. There’s a reason they refer to animals as live stock.

It is beyond me how organizations that say they are dedicated to animals can promote this nonsense.  Humane meat is a myth. The best way to help farm animals is not to treat them better before killing them, but to stop eating them!

Best decisions – Baby-led Weaning

It’s been ages since my son was a baby, but there’s one thing we did with him that I’m really glad we did but have never written up. It’s still not entirely common but is gaining more traction all the time.  It’s the idea of baby led weaning!

You’ll also see it called child-led feeding, baby-led feeding, baby-led weaning, BLW, etc. but it basically amounts to letting baby self feed solids instead of doing it for them, and keeping the solids in solid form rather than mashing or turning it into purees.  Skip the mushy cereals and go straight to things like bananas, avocado and steamed sweet potatoes.

It just made so much sense to me the more I learned about it. Just how the child has controlled their intake when breastfeeding, they control their intake of solids. They can’t accidentally ingest anything their body isn’t really ready for (e.g. can’t handle things like beans until they’ve got the pincer grip and precision to pick things up, can’t take bites until they have teeth, etc.). Plus, you want the baby to learn to manipulate the food in their mouth and chew, not just suck it down.

Baby gets to experience new textures, shapes, etc. along with just the colors and tastes. They get to feel like a part of the family, eating things that look like what everyone else is eating, which may make a difference in how much/well they eat. They may not consume a lot, but that’s not important in the beginning anyway. It’s really all about trusting the baby’s instincts!

The Baby Led Weaning Wikipedia page is great for explaining the basic concepts, but one of my best sources throughout was Kenniscentrum Borstvoeding (don’t worry, it’s in English). They have a chart on the site that explains what to introduce and when, put together by a nutritionist. The person that is known in the Western world for introducing the technique is Gill Rapley. She has books, a DVD, and more on her site that are also good.

My best tip, that I still remember after all these years, is to use a crinkle cutter when cutting things like vegetables (we got ours through Pampered Chef) as the edge it produces makes it easier for baby to hang onto things once they get all slobbery. :-)

All in all, BLW was a great experience for us and I believe it made a big difference in our son’s good appetite, variety of foods eaten, and early mastery of a regular cup and utensils.

Houseless and Happy

We are “homeless” right now, actually between houses. We’re downsizing – or rightsizing as I prefer to think of it – and are fortunate to have sold quickly,  but before we could get into our new place.

While most all our stuff is in storage and we only have a small portion of our belongings with us, it still seems like we have way too much. Now, once we get our new place and stuff back, we’re hoping to cull even more than we did for the move!!

Somehow we’re managing to cook just fine most of the time with one pot and one pan. Our son has access to only a small portion of his toys, and yet he’s only missed a couple of items.  I find myself scrutinizing each piece of clothing I have in my bag, a fraction of what is usually in my closet, wondering why I have so many shirts. I doubt we’ll maintain such a minimalist lifestyle going forward, but we’ll definitely be paring things down.

This interim time without a house has it’s reinforced what we already knew to be true, the idea that home is wherever we are. We don’t need it all to be happy, not even that favorite toy or our trusty home network. And maybe in some small way it’s helped prepare us for what we hope is a future filled with travel!

Hair.

I never realized how concerned I was about the appearance of my hair until it started falling out. I’ve since spent a lot of time thinking about it.

When I was young my hair was a gorgeous auburn red. I often got comments from strangers about how beautiful it was. One of my friends nicknamed me “pretty hair” after a little girl remarked that the friend’s mane was not as nice as mine.

Then I got older, and unbeknown to me it started to turn more towards brown. I never really realized it was happening, until I got a comment about my brown hair from a coworker. I compared to earlier pics and determined that it was indeed getting darker. I was a bit dismayed, but not concerned enough to color it. It still looked nice. My dad helped me feel better about it by telling me it was just starting to look more like my mom’s color.

Our son was born with amazing red hair, even brighter red than mine had been. We get a lot of comments about it, including many asking where he gets it. It’s frustrating people can’t tell it’s in part because mine used to be red, not far off that shade, but I can see why it might be hard to tell.

About six months ago, my hair started falling out. It seemed I was getting more on my comb, but it wasn’t that noticeable. Then the shedding increased to where every time I comb it, I get a handful. Since my hair is really thick, it still hasn’t been that noticeable. Now it’s finally getting to the point where I can see that it’s thinning. When I noticed this, it really upset me. I got my hair cut shortly thereafter, and even though the person did an amazing job, I just wanted to cry.

It took a while for me to get over it, but now I’ve made peace with it (at least somewhat). There are people that lose their hair all the time, some temporarily, others permanently but usually in worse circumstances than I am facing. Out of all the things in the world to worry about! It’s just hair.

Cats, dogs, & allergies. Oh my!

As I was growing up there were a lot of pets around, cats in particular. While I wasn’t allowed to have a pet at our house (other than a few brief forays into fish ownership) I had near daily interaction with cats and kittens at my grandparent’s house. I also kept ducks for a while and sometimes helped with the chickens.

When I got a bit older, I started volunteering for the local animal rescue group. I managed their website and Petfinder listings, took pictures, and occasionally transported animals. I was even the group’s Vice President for a short while. My husband and I permanently adopted four cats and moved them with us from house to house. We even made our home purchasing decisions in part on having a suitable space for the cats to play and enjoy the sun while we were away at work.

Our son came along and the cats became slightly less important in our lives but were still a part of the family. We saw them through some major illnesses and eventually one of the four died, succumbing to a lifetime of respiratory problems.

And then our son developed pet-induced asthma.

It was miserable to contemplate giving up our companions of 10+ years, but even more miserable what the pet exposure was doing to him. We had to visit the ER and give him medicine for the first time. He fought the inhaler with all of his strength, pretty traumatic on everyone. Our luck was no better with the nebulizer. We quickly made the the tough decision to seek new homes for our cats. Finding the right places was hard, giving them up was harder still. Around the same time we also found out that our son gets massive hives when dogs lick him, making dogs something we were then trying to avoid too.

Over time I noticed my opinions about cats and dogs starting to change. I still felt passionate about animal rights issues and helping animals find forever homes, but began to see most companion animals as a nuisance. I got irritated when there were dogs in public places (even places where they should be allowed) because it meant we had to safeguard my son from getting licked. The fact that family members had cats (included that same grandparent’s house from my childhood) was a major hassle and at times made visiting them near impossible. He could no longer stay over night at his grandma’s house. We now needed to check in advance if friends had pets. Etc. Etc.

I’ve now realized the pendulum may have swung a bit too far in the anti-pet direction. This really hit home earlier this week when my son told me he is somewhat afraid of dogs. He said he thinks they don’t like him. :( Is it any wonder given we’ve spent so much effort trying to avoid them? We clearly need to find a better way, some balance. His allergies are not extremely severe and do not need to be treated as such. We can probably take more liberal precautions and still avoid bad reactions.

I’d love for my son to grow up with an appreciation and love for animals like I have, in part because I believe it to be a foundational piece for veganism. Understanding that animals are sentient beings that feel pain, love and other human emotions makes it easier to extend them compassion. People that have empathy for animals are less likely to eat/wear/hunt/use them. Will this love still manifest if he has no animal interactions? Perhaps. But I’d like to hedge the bets.

Not back to school

If our son were a school-going kid, today would be his first day of Kindergarten. Instead, it’s our first official “Not Back to School” day.

Overall, today looks like any other to him, and this is just how it should be. He’s following his interests, learning as he goes along, just like he’s done since he was born.

It’s a little different for me since I’m still de-schooling myself. I’m fighting the urge to do something to mark the event, like having him pose for an official first day picture.

We’ve talked a bit about the fact that other kids have to go to school now and so far he’s not expressed any interest in going too. Maybe he remembers his disastrous few weeks of preschool (before we looked into homeschooling) or perhaps it’s that we’ve got such a good thing going on at home that it hasn’t even crossed his mind.

Screen time

It seems that one area where many natural-minded parents break ranks is on the topic of “screen time”. Some consider it a badge of honor that they don’t have a TV or limit their child’s computer time. They quote articles about how damaging it can be and how it ruins a child’s concentration. Some even send their kids to preschools such as Waldorf that forbid it!

We’ve taken a different approach. In our house, visual media is a just another activity choice. We have a TV, but without cable. It really only gets PBS channels plus one or two others. Some days our son watches many programs in a row, other days not so much. He rarely chooses the TV because he can’t watch what he wants, when he wants it, and will usually opt for a DVD or something from the computer so that he can fast forward/rewind, pause, repeat or skip parts as he chooses.

The majority of the time he’s doing one or more other things while he views a show, but sometimes he’s watching intently. Sometimes he even abandons the program or forgets it’s on. Often the choice is to play games, type or draw on the computer instead, still forms of screen time though. In getting his shows from the Internet he has so much to choose from!

Full episodes of nearly any show or movie, from many different countries, can be found on YouTube (though sometimes you have to be cautious about what you get). Almost every kids show has a web site with games, educational or otherwise, filled with fun activities.

I watch with him and pick up on what he’s most interest in to try and bring more about those topics into our lives. I can’t even count the number of things he’s learned about via watching or playing that I wouldn’t have thought to introduce or that wouldn’t have interested him in the same way.

He likely wouldn’t have been building oar fish out of Legos or telling Grandpa about the Midnight Zone this early in life without the Octonauts! And he wouldn’t have been using gestures he learned from Curious George to help him get his point across as he was learning to talk. We’ve had numerous interesting conversations featuring things that have come up on Spongebob. Plus he’s learned a lot of complex language concepts from the Alphablocks (it’s fun to hear him explain how “silent e” transforms vowel sounds). And you should see him laugh hysterically at the antics that Garfield gets up to with John and Odie! :-)

Whether to allow TV and other forms of “screen time” into your child’s life is a highly personal decision and depends in large part on your parenting world view. For some additional reading on the topic of TV and Videos that I found interesting, including commentary on whether to forbit or limit access, check out some of the articles and shared experiences on Sandra Dodd’s TV page.