I am in the process of creating hands-on activities for children that teach principles related to peace, justice, health and sustainability. These will debut at Kansas City's first ever Midwest Soul Vegfest and be set up in the children's area.
Below you will find descriptions and pictures of the various activities I have created. I will be updating this blog post over the next few weeks as I finish making more of more of the activities. My plan is to document everything with enough detail so that parents, teachers and activists can copy what I have done.
Anthropologists who have studied various cultures have described a variety of ways that elements of culture are transmitted to individuals born into that culture. These include such things as the usage of language, participation in rituals, the telling of stories, the emotion conveyed in relationship to certain events, and all the day to day, moment by moment choices and behaviors that one can observe in those around them.
Then I pause as if trying to think what kind of milk she might want...smiling broadly I ask,
"YESSSS!" she says with even more emphasis then any of the no's.
And then we settle down to nurse.
Games such as this reinforce our family's view that drinking the milk of any other animal is yucky and an aberration of what is normal.
Once when my younger daughter had a cough for over a week, I took her to the doctor. My six year old went too. She heard me tell the doctor that we've never used antibiotics--or any other drugs -- and wouldn't unless we there was a very serious problem. The doctor agreed saying they are way overused. Then he examined my toddler and reported that her ears and tonsils looked perfect, and her lungs were clear. The only signs of illness he could see were that her temperature was elevated one degree, and she had one small swollen gland. I felt glad to know there was nothing serious wrong and that we could simply let her body heal itself. But then the doctor offered to give us a prescription for antibiotics and recommended a decongestant too. Of course I declined all these things. But it was a good example for my children to see that I do not turn over my decision making to any "authority figures" and that while we may seek out the opinions of others, we still must make our own responsible choices consistent with our own values and beliefs.
Today at lunch my six year old told me that she thinks the reason she does not know much about the world (we had been talking about the legal requirements for home schoolers and how they are slightly different in every state.) is because we don't eat meat, and so she misses out on a part of the world that everyone else knows about. "How do you feel about that?" I asked her -- not sure where she was going with this whole discussion. "Good." She told me..."I'm glad I don't eat meat." I waited to see what else she might offer up, but she seemed to have expressed all that she wanted. This gave me an opportunity to point out to her how not eating meat had nothing to do with not understanding the laws about homeschooling, and that no two people on earth have exactly the same knowledge of the world. I went on to explain how the world is such a vast place that no one can know everything. So based upon our own unique experiences each of us knows slightly different things. Then I pointed out some of the things that she knows all about, which most six year olds wouldn't know anything about. She seemed very comfortable with our discussion.
My point in all this is to raise awareness that hundreds of times a day each of us, as a parent is making choices. The stories we read, the words we use, the way that we offer comfort, the foods we make available, the outside influences we bring into our homes (toys and TV for example) every one of these choices is an element of enculturation. Individually and moment by moment, each choice by itself is probably inconsequential. But together they suggest a path, they create a paradigm. Together they communicate to our children what we value most, what we stand for, what we believe in our hearts.
(Note -- this article was originally published on my Compassionate Souls website shortly after my first book came out (about 2001). Neil Miller republished it with permission in his booklet on the Chickenpox vaccine, and 4 years ago I posted it to this blog. I am bringing it to the front of my blog now, because this issue is timely again.)
When I was a child, chickenpox was universally understood to be a generally benign disease in otherwise healthy children. Every spring, chickenpox would wash through the younger grades at my elementary school, and initiate a new group of kids. Most of us remember the disease for its horrendous itching and the occasional scar, but I don't remember any of us fearing it. I grew up accepting Chickenpox as a fact of life, and a normal passage of childhood -- like skinning your knees.
According to the Merck Manual, Chickenpox is a highly contagious infection caused by the
When I was in grade school in the 1960s-70s I never heard of anyone with a peanut allergy. I knew of exactly one case of someone with asthma. Her diagnosis stood out in my mind for two reasons: First because she didn't have to run laps in gym class, (which I envied at the time) and second because her disease, "Asthma" was so rare. I virtually never heard of any other cases for at least ten more years. (Full disclosure to give some perspective here -- as a child, I read our Family Medical Reference Book for fun.) Allergy, Asthma, Autism and ADHD, are referred to by many as the, "Four A's." There is much overlap in the populations afflicted with each of these.
In 1941 Allergist Warren Vaughan wrote what appears to be the very first book to explain to the public what an allergy was. It was titled, Strange Malady. That book also documents milk, egg, strawberry and wheat as the most significant allergies at that time. There was no mention of peanuts as a trigger for allergies...
In 1942 President FDR – husband to social justice hero Eleanor Roosevelt, signed an executive order that put thousands of law-abiding Japanese American citizens in prison camps. There was little outcry. In the 1970s, in collaboration with doctors, our government forced African American men to endure late stage syphilis. Few with knowledge of this objected. U.S. history begins with violently removing indigenous inhabitants from their ancestral lands. Shockingly, in the 1800s, some abolitionists opposed women voting. Today some who support civil rights for people of color oppose marriage equality for LGBTQ identifying individuals. The book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, describes a large American hospital in the 1950s injecting cancer cells into hundreds of patients without their knowledge or consent. Three Jewish doctors were the only ones to object. But their views were marginalized as being “overly sensitive because of the Holocaust." History is full of similar examples. Perhaps that is why Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
The Holocaust is one of the most egregious examples of human’s capacity to look away and disregard injustice. After hearing about it, many wanted to know, “How did so many seemingly average people allow it to happen? The classic experiment by Stanley Milgram sought to answer this. His data showed that under certain conditions, half of us will go along with things we know harm others. Milgram stated, "Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process." Some cultures (and by implication their cultural practices) appear to be less vulnerable to this. So it’s worth asking, what practices might make us less likely to ignore injustice threatening someone else?
I learned about Phenylketonuria in my prenatal class, when I was pregnant. PKU is a genetic disease in which the gene that codes for a certain protein (an enzyme) that enables one to break down the amino acid, phenylalanine is defective. As a result, this amino acid accumulates and becomes toxic to the brain. Left untreated it can quickly result in severe and permanent mental disability. Although the incidence of PKU is only one in ten thousand births, all fifty states have laws requiring newborns to be tested for this genetic disease. That is because the effects of untreated PKU are devastating but completely preventable with treatment. Detection is simple -- they prick the heal of the newborn, and get a small blood sample. If the blood has high levels of phenylalanine this is considered positive for PKU. The treatment then is a strict, low protein diet for the rest of one's life.
Unfortunately the timing of when this test is done most of the time, increases the risk of a false negative -- meaning there is the possibility of NOT identifying a baby with PKU. Babies born to vegan mothers may even be at INCREASED risk of being falsely told their baby does not have PKU, because the vegan diet...
My daughter Sarina Farb wrote this guest post while still a student at Grinnell College. She has since graduated with degrees in biochemistry and policy studies and plans to begin blogging at:
Recently, an Italian bill proposed jail time for parents irresponsibly imposing a vegan diet on their children. It has created a lot of buzz and discussion over whether vegan parents should be allowed to “force their values” on their children. A common theme in articles and commentary I have read is that regardless of a parent’s values, they shouldn’t “force” their radical choices on their children,
Call me a proud Mama.
Here is my younger daughter with her boyfriend. When we started on this path more than two decades ago, there were plenty of naysayers -- including our midwife, some doctors and lots of members of our extended family.
Vegan pregnancy, birth and raising a child vegan from the get go, we had few examples to follow, and lots of people tried to scare us from following our convictions, so I spent time at the medical library (before we had internet) to see what the science actually said -- which ended up reassuring us, and we stayed the course. Not only did our daughter survive our experiment -- but she even found a vegan boyfriend...in KANSAS! The times they are a changing.
So here is our younger daughter all grown up. Our older daughter has written about us, "Forcing" veganism upon her too...you can read her thoughts HERE.
Donald Trump is not the cause of our problems. Neither is Terrorism. Trump and Terrorism are symptoms of a culture in decline and a level of consciousness that is prevalent. Most of us struggle to support families and afford health care and these sometimes justify our participation in things at odds with our values. My working for pharmaceutical giant Merck is one example. Years before I finally quit, I knew I was a cog in a company actively undermining health and well-being and even our democracy! It was a trade-off I consciously made in order to have health insurance and the privileges of a living wage. Here’s another example many can relate to -- purchasing chocolate that incentivizes child slave labor (instead of spending a bit more for chocolate that is fair trade.)
Donald Trump’s power and wealth are so beyond comprehension, that if he never earned another dime he could still provide an incredibly privileged existence for his entire family, long into the foreseeable future. Why doesn’t he embrace policies that facilitate justice for the less privileged, compassion for others, and stop trying to punish/silence/scare his critics?
Even if only a tiny bit of what we hear of Trump’s conflicts-of-interest and intentional misrepresentation of facts is true, it’s an egregious record. He has been filmed bragging about his extramarital, aggressive, unwanted sexual advances. Yet most of his supporters appear to be people who consider themselves people of faith or with high moral standards. People unaware of or willing to overlook these things are keeping him in power. Why are they and a majority of our senators, continuing to make Trump our most visible “role model” the driver of our national conversations and the most powerful individual impacting our democracy?
In the final chapter of my book, Compassionate Souls – Raising the Next Generation to Change the World, The case is made that compassionate parenting built on a foundation of attachment, with firm, non-violent boundaries, that meets fundamental needs of our species, is key to creating a better world. That plus a just economic system (including food and healthcare) is key to preventing terrorism too: People who believe they have access to a decent life, plus a worldview that embodies the golden rule (and have good mental health -- which is facilitated by having fundamental needs in childhood optimally met) don’t engage in terrorism, bullying nor seek to enrich themselves to unfathomable levels by doing things that harm others.
It is possible to live in relative peace without real justice – just look at China. Will that be our future -- giving up important freedoms to end terrorism while becoming slaves to an economic engine that benefits only a few?
A widespread change in consciousness is the only way for there to be widespread peace AND justice, and how we raise children is critical to this. Too many of our cultural norms are contrary to the fundamental needs of our species -- like removing babies from mother at birth, forcing newborns to sleep alone or not allowing them to “nurse on request.” making babies or children cry it out alone, spanking them, discipline that is punitive, and/or fails to uphold healthy boundaries...all of these set humans up to feel, “not right” inside, and make us more vulnerable to materialism or to exploiting, bullying or harming others, in our pursuit of what we want. That plus an educational system that encourages competition and acquisition of stuff rather than valuing collective well-being, cooperation, and pursuit of knowledge, is causing extraordinary harm to everyone on the planet.
But each of us CAN be the change. We must open our eyes, be willing to change ourselves and then respectfully dialogue with those who hold different points of view. Here are Five things we can do right now, to be the change:
Even if initially you are unable to persuade anyone to join you in these things, each time one of us stands firmly in solidarity with justice, non-violence and compassion, it inspires others to consider their own choice of where to stand. Without enough people doing just this, power and money will always push the culture towards injustice and inequality. So please, BE THE CHANGE! It is our only hope.
No matter which candidate you supported, one thing is absolutely clear – this election has been the most intense and divisive of our lives. While the KKK celebrates its outcome with a rally, and reports of bullying and racial harassment are exploding nationwide, others are taking to the streets across the country in protest. Although most pundits were wrong in their forecasts of who would win, one book, The Fourth Turning, by Strauss and Howe got it eerily right, predicting decades ago that based upon historical cycles, America would be ripe about this time, to put into power those embodying nationalism, and advocating reductions in civil liberties. That book also suggests that HOW we manage this turbulent time, could determine whether we will still have a democracy, or even IF the US will even survive.
In 1942 President FDR – husband to social justice hero Eleanor Roosevelt, signed an executive order that caused thousands of law-abiding Japanese American Citizens to be forcefully removed from their homes and put in prison camps. There was little outcry. Up until the 1970s, our government, in collaboration with credentialed medical doctors deliberately forced African American men to endure late stage syphilis for the sole purpose of observing what would happen to them, and few people with knowledge of this objected. The history of America begins with our founders violently removing the indigenous inhabitants from their ancestral lands. Shockingly, some of the most ardent abolitionists of the 1800’s opposed giving women the right to vote, and today there are caring people who staunchly support civil rights for people of color but oppose marriage equality for LGBTQ identifying individuals. In the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, we learn that a large American hospital in the 1950’s injected cancer cells into hundreds of patients without their knowledge or consent just to see what would happen – and the only people to object were three Jewish doctors – whose views were marginalized as being, “overly sensitive,” due to the Holocaust having just happened. History is full of similar examples prompting Albert Einstein to say, “The world is a dangerous place not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
One of the most egregious examples of the human capacity to look away and disregard injustice against others is the Holocaust, which prompted people to ask.…”how did so many seemingly average people allow such a thing to happen?” The classic experiment by Stanley Milgram sought to answer this, and suggested that over half of us will go along with things that we know harm others if environmental conditions are right, and Milgram said,"Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process." However, some cultures (and by implication their cultural practices) appear to be less vulnerable to this phenomenon. So it’s worth asking ourselves…What can we do, to promote compassion and foster conditions that make individuals less likely to ignore injustice, and more able to put ourselves in the position of others so that we won’t, “look on and do nothing” when injustice is threatening someone else?
Having raised two children to adulthood as vegans while teaching them the ethical basis for this lifestyle, I have been happy to see how this practice has laid a foundation for each of them to think critically about what is going on in our world and how their personal actions may impact injustice happening to others. From speaking up to a bully who was threatening a peer, to expressing concern about planned classroom activities that would harm animals, I have been heartened over and over to see my children risk disapproval in social situations because they believed that by failing to speak out, they might miss an opportunity to prevent harm.
While increasingly the main vote we really have is how we spend our dollars, the real power of veganism is not due to its boycott of violently produced consumer goods. Rather it is the ripple effect that results each time one of us stands firmly in solidarity with justice, nonviolence and compassion. This inspires those around us to consider their own choice of where to stand. Every major human caused tragedy that has ever plagued the world, was enabled to occur for one main reason: Human beings have the capacity to ignore injustice happening to those we have been taught to, “otherize”. Throughout human history, no group has been more victimized and exploited by this phenomenon than the non-human beings that we eat, hunt, experiment on and use for our entertainment.
By embracing a vegan ethic, three times a day, we participate in an activity that not only seeks to prevent our complicity in violence and exploitation against the vulnerable, but actually changes brains in ways likely to create more peace and justice in the world. (According to the latest neuroscience research, our thoughts and actions alter brain structure in ways that make it more likely we will have more thoughts and engage in more actions along the same lines!)
While we may feel powerless to impact what our leaders are doing, the example of how we live each day – by modeling a conviction to practice non-violence in our diet, and in what we buy and wear, may be the single most powerful action any of us can take at this time in history. Furthermore, if those in power are successful in drilling more, and thwarting US actions to reduce worldwide carbon emissions, by becoming vegan, we can still significantly reduce our own carbon and water footprint enormously – and again, through the example we set and by educating others, this action could have a huge ripple effect and be powerful!
We don’t know what the next four years will bring, that’s why now, more than ever before, becoming vegan matters. Please join this peaceful revolution!
If you would like a printer friendly version (shortened to fit the front and back of a single page of paper) of this essay to share with others, it is downloadable HERE.
Just after my daughter turned twelve, one of our cats died and a tsunami was unleashed. She cried and cried. But unlike losses when she was younger, this time was different. It wasn't just the cat. It was everything. Everything was “UNBEARABLE!” Most of all the home we were temporarily living in. “It's unbearable to be here.” she sobbed.
I held her while she cried and explained her despair to me in all its intensity. Finally I was just starting to “get it.” I had imagined that her move through adolescence would be a smooth seemless transition, during which her childish preferences would gradually give way to new interests. We had steared clear of television, pop culture and most things mass-marketed. Her only shopping experiences had been at thrift shops and natural food stores. I assumed our past would dictate our future. But the enormnity of her emotions now, made me take notice. Like seeing the grand canyon for the first time. This hormonal flood was amazing.
Suddenly, she stopped crying and a puzzled look swept across her face. “It's all wet under my arms.” she said almost in shock.
“Has that ever happened to you before?” I asked.
“Never!” she said emphatically.
“Well that might explain in part what is happening here.“ I said in my calmest most reassuring tone, and then I went on to discuss how hormones can initiate these changes.
This wasn't my first clue. Earlier signs were there, and I enjoyed them as one takes pleasure in the initial warm winds of spring. Her body had been changing and I appreciated her openness about what this was like. Some months later she told me that she was having new feelings about wanting to hold hands with a certain boy. We shared a new intimacy and talked candidly about where these feelings might eventually lead. She listened with amazement and partial disbelief when I suggested that she might at some point desire contact beyond hand-holding. Life still felt relatively peaceful.
Then came New Years Eve. My husband and I had opted for a quiet celebration at home. As the evening wore on our daughter pestered us more and more to “go somewhere” or “do something.” She wanted excitement. Recently our family had moved from our wonderful country home to a temporary rental in the suburbs of another city. Her grandparent's health had also just taken a turn for the worse. My husband and I just wanted a quiet New Years Eve at home with just the four of us in our immediate family, and I noticed, for the first time ever, a level of “caginess“ I had never before seen in my daughter. She was not happy about our low-key New Year's celebration and made her dissatisfaction quite known. My husband and I found her behavior annoying. I attributed it mostly to New Year's Eve and failed to see it for what it really was -- a harbinger of what was to come.
By spring, puberty was in full swing and the, "unbearableness" was growing. I should have known the first warm winds of spring invariably set in motion turbulent thunderstorms. We were in totally uncharted territory. All I knew now was that we were in this together. “What can I do to help?” I asked her.
“I don't know. It's just unbearable to be here, This house is unbearable“
“Would you like to go somewhere?”
“Yes.” she was crying.
“I don't know. I just want to go somewhere. It's unbearable to be here.“ It was Saturday evening. Most everything was closed or closing, but the weather was awesome. I offered to take her out -- just the two of us to a huge lake or else to just walk around downtown. She had no preference. It was getting dark and downtown was closer so we went there. We walked and talked. She calmed down. After several hours, home didn't feel so unbearable and we returned. We had surfed our first wave and no one drowned. I felt a sense of relief. But the experience was a wake-up call. I decided to be a little more proactive.
With my daughter's help we planned a mother-daughter Puber Tea. We invited a half dozen of her friends and their mothers to join us the following weekend. We sent out a list of questions for all to ponder in advance. Once assembled in our living room, everyone had an oportunity to share their thoughts on a variety of questions beginning benignly with “What are some of your favorite books?“ Eventually we tackled more sensitive issues by asking “How have you changed in the last year?” and “Is there anything that you wish you could make your parents understand?“ The discussion was soothing, and connecting. Half-way through, we invited the girls to finish their discussion alone upstairs and sent with them all the snacks on hand hoping there would be enough to last them the hour or two we anticipated it would take. We mothers chatted on, expecting that the girls would get even more out of talking amongst themselves privately. We wanted them to see that they were not alone and to learn from each other's experiences.
Barely Twenty minutes went by when my daughter reappeared. “We're done.” she said cheerfully.
“Done?” I asked astonished. “Did you discuss all the questions?
“Oh yes” she said, “and now we have a question for the moms.” And with that she handed me a peice of paper and then sprinted away back upstairs to her friends. I turned towards the other moms amidst the sound of distant giggles coming from upstairs. I was feeling so proud of having organized this puber tea. It was obvious that something of great significance had come up during their discussions and now they had taken the ball and run with it. They had a question for us moms. We all sat eagerly while I carefully unfolded the note and slowly read it to the group. I didn't preread it, because I felt that we all deserved to hear it first -- at the same time. It was signed by all the girls and It said:
“We've all been talking about something that is very important to us and we wanted to know, would you take us right now for a group shopping trip?“
It's a bit funny that with the departure of my last child off to college, I found myself reading a parenting book for the first time in many years. But this is no ordinary parenting book. Initially, I picked it up only to give it a quick skim through. The cover boasts that the Danes are some of the happiest people on earth -- and alleges this is due to how they parent their children.
I have long believed that collectively, how a culture parents, does play a big role in how happy and healthy that generation will be on the whole -- when they become adults. In my first book, Compassionate Souls -- Raising the Next Generation to Change the World, I explained my view that the revolution of the 1960's, and the good things it brought, happened in part, because that generation had been raised with a more compassionate approach to parenting -- due to the popularity of Dr. Spock and his book on baby and child care. I further speculated that the generation coming of age right now -- or at least those who were raised more compassionately than had been the custom--- due to the growing awareness of attachment parenting, on the whole, will push our culture to evolve even more on issues of social justice. (Assuming we are able to prevent catastrophe due to our environmental problems -- combined with the fact, that many citizens have also been injured from NOT getting adequate parenting.) So I was curious to find out what these authors would say. I was also skeptical. The cover seemed kind of cliched to me, and the book is thin and at first glance appeared pretty simplistic -- using the acronym, "PARENT" to illustrate the six key points that make up the Danish Approach. Yet I found myself quickly drawn into the ideas and agreeing with what they were saying. The narrative uses short anecdotes to explain the ideas and then backs them up with brief explanations of published science that corroborates and further explains the core principles. This book effectively distills down a lot of very important ideas and concepts making them seem simple, and very doable. The chapter, "P is for play" -- succinctly reminded me of the big ideas from great books I read years ago -- like, Magical Child, The Plug in Drug, and Endangered Minds.
The chapter, "R is for "Reframing". explained how and why parents can show children how to reframe challenges, failures, or losses in a way that facilitates emotional well-being. This chapter gave me much to think about NOW, which I believe will have value for our family -- even as the mother of adult children.
But my favorite chapter in this book is, "E is for empathy," because it solidly illuminates where American culture has fallen far short of our potential to build happy healthy resilient citizens and clearly explains how an over-focus on competition and winning can undermine the connection and cooperation that is critical to our emotional well-being. That is where empathy comes in. Not only does the book make a compelling case for how natural it is for humans and other species to be empathetic, but also for how critical empathy has been for our survival -- and then they even go into detail about how the Danish go about teaching empathy to their children and encouraging it in their culture. Teachers will find much here to inspire them!
The chapter "N is for No Ultimatums" also did a nice job of explaining why spanking is harmful, and how to parent with respect and avoid power struggles. I have to say, I am smitten with this book, and while I will heartily recommend it to parents everywhere -- I believe the concepts have relevance to anyone who seeks optimal health and well-being -- you need not be raising children to find much here to inspire and inform. The more people who read this book, the better off we will all be!
I just had to comment upon KCUR's Up To Date Show that aired today (you can access the podcast HERE.)
The topic was children's headaches, and featured two MD's, who first shared facts about children's headaches, and then discussed how parents of children suffering from headaches might proceed. Although I was surprised to learn just how common headaches are in children, the reason I felt compelled to write about this particular show, was that after explaining how rarely headaches are indicative of anything truly serious, they did mention that environmental triggers including specific things in the diet, can be a cause of headaches in children. But then, the doctors went on to caution against parents trying too hard to actually figure out what their child's triggers might be, for example keeping a log of what their child may have been doing, exposed to, or eaten as a way of figuring out what their child's triggers might be. They pointed out that doing this ran the risk of making the child see him or herself, as sickly and that would not be good for the child. Since we have good treatments for headaches (drugs) and it can be hard to pinpoint the triggers, many times it's better to just treat the headache (i.e. give your child drugs) so as to not pathologize the child by trying to figure out if anything that they have control over might prevent the headaches.
Really? And being a regular user of pharmaceuticals would be less likely to cause a child to see themselves as sickly?
As I heard them saying this, I found myself thinking back to the days when I worked in the pharmaceutical industry. I remember how I was trained and how I was instructed to bring information (that supported sales of Merck's products) to doctors and to frame things in ways that connected making their job easier with revenue for my company. I couldn't help but imagine these docs having been at some medical conference, where a charismatic, pharmaceutical sales person made the case to these docs about how harmful it could be to a child, for their parent to spend time and give them attention as they work together to take note of when headaches happen, and then record data about what they ate and did just before that -- while the alternative --giving a child a powerful pharmaceutical, would spare them this possible psychological trauma and so obviously be the better choice.
All drugs carry the possibility of side effects. Aspirin can cause bleeding from the gut, and if taken when incubating specific illnesses, can be deadly. Tylenol can impair kidney function -- and long before there is clear kidney disease, reduced kidney function may mean a person has increased exposure to environmental toxins that healthy kidneys would remove. (Perhaps increasing risk long term from these other toxins) These are but two very simple examples. But the other big issue for me -- regarding using drugs in children, is that it lays a foundation for children to use drugs -- it starts with a pill for every ill, but also makes the possibility of using drugs recreationally when they get older more of a possibility. Of course if my child was in a lot of pain, I would do whatever I could to stop it...BUT I would first consider options that, "Do no harm."
Doctors who believe that giving a child a drug is better for them than helping them learn how to take charge of their own health and find and eliminate the cause of whatever is making them suffer have obviously drank the big-pharma Kool-aide.
Raising children to be wary of all drugs -- right from the start is one of the best things we can do to protect their health. Not just because even the most common and presumably "safe" drugs used correctly can still have adverse effects (with new dangers coming to light all the time) but also because this is one of the most important was for parents to lay a GENUINE foundation for drug resistance before they become teenagers.
In addition to everything else that I posted about Summerfest in my previous post, (right below this one -- if you are on my main blog page) there is yet something else that I LOVE about Summerfest. It's a great place to explore subjects the experts may not agree on. This year I was happy to further my understanding on the B-12 issue.
For those who may be new to the topic of B-12, a quick recap first. B-12 is a vitamin produced by bacteria. It is NOT made by animals or plants. In nature, animals obtain it by drinking microbial contaminated water, ingesting fecal contaminated matter, or eating plants with dirt and bacteria still attached. Many foods are fortified with B-12 too -- like almond milk, nutritional yeast, and some breakfast cereals. Once B-12 is in an animal's body, it can pass into their milk, or will be present in bodily tissues (this is how it ends up in meat). Some of our gut bacteria may make B-12 -- but this is believed to happen too far downstream from where we absorb it, to reliably benefit us. A B-12 deficiency is VERY BAD -- and can sometimes have no obvious symptoms until it damages the heart or brain (leading to heart attacks or dementia) it can also cause nerve damage, leading to numbness and tingling in parts of the body, blindness, or can even mimmic symptoms of MS. Some of these are not reversible -- so it's important to always get enough B-12. We only need a very tiny amount and some people can store it in their bodies for years, however stored B-12 may not be available to the babies of pregnant and nursing women-- so it is critical that they have a reliable and regular source! Also be forewarned -- many tests for B-12 levels have false negatives -- the Urinary MMA test is considered the most reliable.
Increasingly we are discovering many problems that can interfere with our ability to obtain B-12 from the foods (and swallowed vitamin pills) it may be in. For example digestive issues can hinder separating it from the protein it may come bound to. Low stomach acid, bowel diseases, lack of "intrinsic factor" and some autoimmune diseases can all render SWALLOWED B-12 unavailable, However sublingual B-12 (allowed to sit under the tongue) appears to bypass all of these problems and is thus the preferred way to get it, by being directly absorbed through the mucous membranes.
The two most common supplemental forms of B-12 are cyanocobalamin and methylcobalamin. Dr Michael Greger strongly recommends the cyano form. Many other scientists however think methyl is better, because it does not contain a molecule of cyanide (a poison -- albeit in a very tiny amounts) and because growing evidence suggests many people have undiagnosed mutations in the genes that enable us to methylate B-12 -- a necessary step if we are to use it in our bodies. So for people with MTHFR mutations methylcobalamin may be the only one that they can use.
In the past when I had discussed this with Dr Greger, he cited a study that looked at the ability of methylcobalamin to reverse documented deficiency. That study showed that 20% (1 in 5 participants) failed to improve on methylcobalamin. Pretty convincing that cyano is much better....until I found out that that study had only five people in it. But Dr Greger was steadfast in his view that we should always recommend cyanocobalamin because the only science we have (sparse as it is) shows it to be the better form.
In continuing to dialogue with Dr Greger this year, he informed me of an additional fact that I did find even more persuasive. Apparently the methyl form is very unstable. This means that when we take a sublingual methylcobalamin, there may not be enough active B-12 present in it to do us any good.
Following that conversation, I went to a lecture by Dr. Kerrie Saunders. In contrast to Dr. Greger, Dr Saunders actually works in a clinical setting -- with patients and she recommended the methyl form -- for the very reason that I had mentioned earlier -- a growing awareness of MTHFR gene mutations and that these might play a role in B-12 utilization as well.
After Dr Saunder's lecture, I had a chance to chat with Dr. Michael Klaper about all this and he told me that a person's view on which form of B-12 they think is better is likely to depend upon how much credence they give to the issue of MTHFR mutations.
So let me distill this down in a nutshell:
Methylcobalamin is a more usable form of B-12, and may be especially important for those with certain (probably common) genetic mutations, but it is unstable, so you may not be getting what you think when you take it. Cyanocobalamin, is very stable and there is more science showing its benefit to those who are deficient, but it does contain a molecule of cyanide and there is a theoretical basis for believing it might not work, or could even be harmful for some individuals.
I plan to give my family BOTH of these -- using each one a couple of times each week. The most important thing to remember here however is that given the rampant gut problems today, the highly sanitized and chlorinated environment we live in, and how serious can be the problems if one does become B-12 deficient, I think it is prudent for ALL VEGANS and ALL THOSE WITH GUT ISSUES and ALL THOSE OVER AGE 50 to include sublingual B-12 on a regular basis.
Here are select pages from Dr. Greger's nutrition facts that may be of interest:
How Much B-12 Do we Need?
The Rest of Dr Gregers B-12 info
Here is an excellent post on B-12 from Dr. Thomas Campbell as well
NEW -- I have a whole page on Mothering and Dairy HERE
(Also -- Read my post about Protein HERE)
There is overwhelming evidence that a whole-foods vegan diet has many benefits throughout the lifespan. One benefit in particular, is that eating lower on the food chain (ie just plants) reduces one's exposure to pesticide residues and toxic chemicals like mercury and DDT. This is particularly important when it comes to pregnancy and lactation, since some environmental contaminants can impair neurological development, alter immune responses and even increase the risk of cancers. I have been vegan since before conception of my two now grown-up life-long vegan daughters, both of whom are grateful that we raised them as vegans. A diet emphasizing beans, and greens with fruit, other vegetables and small amounts of raw nuts and seeds is the basis for optimum health. Pregnant and nursing mothers, eating a whole foods plant based diet, and taking sublingual B-12, vegan D3 (if they aren’t getting daily sun) and an algae based DHA/EPA supplement give their breastfed babies superior nutrition, while minimizing exposure to pesticides, and heavy metals. This will benefit brain function and reduce the likelihood that their children will ever develop many of our most common chronic diseases, like Diabetes, Asthma, Coronary Artery Disease, Kidney Disease and Breast and Prostate Cancer to name a few!
Although very little research has actually been published that compares levels of breast milk contaminants between long-term vegans and omnivores, in 1971 the New England Journal of Medicine published an account of a small study which did find the breast milk of vegans was lower than that of omnivores, and stated that in every single contaminant measured, the highest levels in the vegans was lower than the lowest level in the omnivores:
Pollutants in breast milk of vegetarians.
It would make sense for this to be the case, since basic biological principals show that there is bio accumulation of environmental toxins as one moves up the food chain, and humans eating an omnivorous diet essentially sit at the top of the food chain – with their breast-fed babies being at the very top. Together, the studies linked to below suggest that complete avoidance of meat, dairy, eggs and fish -- especially the longer this can be done would likely contribute to having breast milk that is lower in most major environmental contaminants, since the highest dietary sources of two of the more common and clearly harmful toxins, DDT and PCB’s are animal and fatty foods: http://www.watoxics.org/chemicals-of-concern/pcbs-and-ddt
However the following study clarifies the issue a bit more as it suggests that fat from plant sources is NOT associated with breast milk contamination – unlike fats from ANIMAL foods:
Relationship of dietary intake to DDE residues in breast milk of nursing mothers in Beirut.
A study that took place in Ireland looked at a specific class of toxic compounds, similar to dioxins, which appear to be ubiquitous in the environment. They tested 100 different types of foods and reported that dairy products, fish, meat and eggs were the largest sources of dietary exposure to these toxic compounds:
Polychlorinated naphthalenes (PCNs) in Irish foods: Occurrence and human dietary exposure
Breast milk from The Netherlands was far more contaminated than breastmilk from Hong Kong – In spite of Hong Kong being more industrialized. I would expect that this reflects differences in consumption meat and dairy between the two populations.
Comparison of dioxin and PCB concentrations in human breast milk samples from Hong Kong and the Netherlands.
This study, sought to show that pesticide residues in organic goat milk was within safe ranges, but the more important point I see here is that the levels were as high as they were, given that the animals were being fed only organic foods. This demonstrates the idea of bioaccumulation. When you eat animals you are eating their lifetime exposure environmental toxins, and some of those toxins are excreted into their milk.
Assessment of health risk from organochlorine xenobiotics in goat milk for consumers in Poland.
This study found positive associations between egg eating (in addition to meat and fish) and dioxin concentration in human breast milk.
Maternal risk factors associated with increased dioxin concentrations in breast milk in a hot spot of dioxin contamination in Vietnam
And these may be of interest too:
Assessing infant exposure to persistent organic pollutants via dietary intake in Australia.
Organochlorine pesticides residue in breast milk: a systematic review.
This study’s data suggests that concentrations of pesticides in a breastfed baby may be even higher than what is found in mother.
A novel model to characterize postnatal exposure to lipophilic environmental toxicants and application in the study of hexachlorobenzene and infant growth.
At first glance, this study appears to suggest that fish consumption is the only dietary factor linked with increased contaminants in breast milk. However, when you consider that this study had only 125 participants, and given the tendency for homogeneity of diets regionally in Japan, it is likely that there were few if any women in the study even eating a plant based diet for comparison -- certainly not enough to allow for statistical significance if differences were found. A classic example of the “sick population” bias rampant in many nutrition studies.
Maternal body burden of organochlorine pesticides and dioxins.
All the women in this study had multiply contaminated milk and all of them ate a similar omnivorous diet including meat, dairy and eggs.
Dioxins and furans in breast milk: a case study of mothers from southern Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Here's a really great article seeking to explore risks vs benefits of breastfeeding vs formula in light of the fact that humans sit at the top of the food chain (but not vegans!) Lots of good information about benefits of breast milk!
Contaminants in Human Milk: Weighing the Risks against the Benefits of Breastfeeding
Dr Kradijan’s “MILK LETTER” written to his patients is very good:
Finally, I'd like to leave you with this to think about. I still think of myself as a "nursing mother". The memory of the intense feelings of love and attachment that I felt as my babies nursed is still profound. I realized then, that much of what I thought of as, "LOVE" for my children was very hormone driven. Each time my milk flowed, I'd have an even more overwhelming desire to be with my babies. It would have been very upsetting if someone had tried to interfere in my ability to nurse and care for them -- and even worse if someone had actually taken them from me! I know that I share that feeling with lactating females all over the world -- including those of non-human mothers. When I see someone eating cheese or drinking cow's milk, I cannot help but feel sad for the cow mother who had her baby stolen from her so that humans could take the milk she made for her baby. That is one of the most compelling reasons why I remain vegan.
Vaxxed The Movie was recently previewed in Kansas City. There was a lot of negative press about this movie, and I heard that Robert De Niro appeared to cave to pressure to pull it from his film festival. In addition it was reported that at screenings around the country mothers who had not even seen this movie were protesting outside of movie theaters objecting to it even being shown. I was curious to know what specifically this documentary said that might elicit such responses...so I went to see for myself.
I was shocked.
I'll be honest -- when I heard that Andrew Wakefield, a highly accomplished gastroenterologist/scientific researcher had directed it, I was skeptical at how good a movie it would be. How good would a scientist/doctor be at film directing, when he had never done something like this before? But the documentary turned out to be an engaging, professionally done, easy to follow and fast paced presentation that focused mainly upon one thing: A CDC senior scientist had come forward alleging the CDC had deliberately destroyed data from a study suggesting that African American boys given the MMR vaccine at 18 months DID show a highly significant increase in autism diagnosis, compared to those who received this vaccine after 3 years of age. The documentary also featured a number of families with autistic children who shared their stories of watching their once perfect and healthy little toddlers regress into Autism after being given the MMR vaccine. It was gut wrenching to think about what these parents had gone through, but it got even worse when you learned that after speaking out to try to prevent what happened to them from happening to others, they have been attacked and even vilified.
I thought this movie did an extraordinary job of presenting evidence from multiple sources, including credible doctors and scientists to back up their assertion that the CDC failed in their duty to protect Americans. They also suggested that the American media's failure to investigate -- even after Congress was alerted, is evidence of the power and economic influence of big pharma.
After watching Vaxxed, and seeing that the movie was not even advocating that people not vaccinate -- (as one would have thought based upon those who opposed it being shown) I looked on-line to see what the movie's detractors were saying. What could they possibly find so terrible -- had I been misled in some way that I did not notice?
And that is what I found so shocking. The criticisms did not point out any factual misstatements in the movie (leaving me to believe that they couldn't find any) instead all they did was attack the character of those in the movie -- in fact, one site began its review by first reminding readers that Andrew Wakefield had been professionally discredited and his paper on the MMR vaccine retracted. For those who might have found such ad hominem attacks compelling, be sure to read this essay about Dr Wakefield, which will explain the parts of the story, the mainstream media has chosen to not share:
Who is Dr Andrew Wakefield?
Then I hope that you will watch Vaxxed the Movie, and make up your mind for yourself about what is really going on here. If you know anything about science, then you know that a study that fails to find a link, can never be proof that a link does not exist – (which is what the media keeps alleging about the MMR vaccine and autism) but rather, it may in fact, just mean that THAT study was not designed in a way that could find a link! (And I can tell you that when I worked in the pharmaceutical industry -- I was in meetings between the marketing department and scientific department, where the first actually told the second what sort of data they needed for marketing purposes and the latter then suggested a university that likely would do the study and set parameters exactly as we needed to create the desired data-- if we gave them a nice grant for a new autoclave!) Furthermore, if you have common sense and a healthy amount of skepticism, consider why so many entities don’t want you to even see this movie – when all it's doing is questioning what happened at the CDC, and sharing the perspective of a scientist who suggested that autism risk might be reduced if we replaced the MMR vaccine with THREE individual vaccines given at THREE different times. What an outrageous and dangerous idea...right?
A Dec 2015 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, titled, Planned Out of Hospital Birth and Birth Outcomes, has been cited as evidence that homebirths carry more risk. I have spoken with a number of MD's over the years who believe homebirth is so dangerous that it should be made illegal.
Both of my children were planned homebirths, although with my first birth, after two nights of labor and no baby (probably because of prior tailbone injury) I ended up transferring into the hospital. The pitocin administered to try to get things moving after the epidural I was given brought labor to a halt, caused my baby's heartbeat to fall. I was literally minutes away from an emergency C-section when my daughter surprised us all and her head popped out. I am convinced, that had I NOT planned to have her at home, where I labored for two nights before going to the hospital, I would have ended up with a C- section. Most medical settings would never have allowed me to labor that long -- which was apparently how long was needed in this case. A C-section would have been devastating for me, not just because recovering from major surgery would have been an unpleasant way to begin motherhood, but also because I believed that C-sections carried long term risks for babies. (And probably more of them than we now know about even now.) For example passing through the birth canal helps the baby establish a healthy microbiome -- critical for proper immune function -- probably reducing the development of allergies. The tight squeezing of the baby's body in a vaginal birth helps to remove amniotic fluid from their lungs and may be a factor in the lower rates of respiratory problems in babies born vaginally.
Because I have met hundreds of homebirth families over the past two decades, who were thrilled with their choice to give birth at home with a lay midwife, and I have also heard some pretty disturbing stories of horrendous planned hospital births, (including one friend who believes her baby's death from a perforated colon was BECAUSE of the hospital's aggressive interventions) I was curious to know more about this study that was being touted as proof that planned homebirth is much riskier, so I got a copy of this article and studied it.
Although I was happy with how medical staff treated me as a home-birther- transferring- into-the-hospital, my midwife told me that our having an MD with clout at the hospital (who had agreed ahead of time to provide our hospital back up) was critical to my positive experience. I know from talking with many other mothers and several midwives, that this is often not the case. Many home birth mothers who transfer into the hospital are treated disrespectfully by staff who believe attempting a home birth is irresponsible, and resent them wanting to have a say in what procedures are or are not used on them. At the very least, such treatment is likely to increase tension, it may even increase the risk of adverse outcomes. An adversarial relationship between patient and staff doesn't help anyone.
So keep all that in mind as I discuss this NEJM article.
The objective of this research was to correct for the bias of previous studies (which had often found homebirth outcomes to be as good or better than hospital.) This study pointed out that previous US research comparing home birth to hospital birth, had compared based upon where the birth actually took place, rather than where it was PLANNED to take place. In other words, if someone planned a birth at home, and then had to transfer to the hospital because things weren't going well -- in past studies that birth (and its possibly bad outcome) had been classified as a hospital birth, which these researchers felt was confounding the data. Recent changes in Oregon in how birth records are entered however, now made it possible to see where births were planned to happen. They looked at about 80,000 births in the state in 2012 and 2013 and compared outcomes based upon where the birth took place, and then reclassified them based upon where they were planned to take place, and once they did this, were able to show a slight increase in perinatal deaths.
However, even the study's authors said this, "Perinatal mortality was higher with planned out-of-hospital birth than with planned in-hospital birth, but the absolute risk of death was low in both settings." This hardly seems like a basis for broad condemnation of home birth especially when you consider the rest of what I have to say.
Before reclassification, homebirths and birth clinic births were shown as separate categories, but after reclassification these were only shown as a combined stat ("out-of-hospital births") And in fact before reclassification, homebirth had significantly less deaths than did birth centers -- so this suggests that after reclassification the birth center stats made "out of hospital" look worse. (see table from the study below.) Also the discussion in this paper explains that births that were planned for the hospital, but ended up happening at home were not included in this study. At first this would seem to make sense to exclude these -- because the assumption is that these labors just happened too fast to get to the hospital, and so don't really reflect the risks of someone planning to birth at home. But I know -- having been part of the homebirth community, that many families planning a homebirth, are unable to find a doctor willing to provide hospital back up. So they PRETEND to go along with the system, and lead their doctor to believe that they plan to give birth in the hospital, so that if they do need to transfer into the hospital, hospital staff, have no idea that they were planning on birthing at home, and think they are just a regular planned hospital birth. If their homebirth does go fine, they simply tell their doctor, "It all happened too fast to get there." We have no idea how many births might have fallen into this category -- but it seems very reasonable, that this exclusion alone could have significantly biased this study against homebirth. Here is a table from the study showing outcomes -- (keep in mind planned homebirthers who pretended that they were planning a hospital birth are not represented here at all.)
Notice also, the rate of C-sections AFTER reclassification -- was 25% of the planned hospital births, but only 5% of those planning a homebirth. That means that thousands of families planning to have a baby in the hospital ended up having unnecessary C-sections. We don't know how much this increased postpartum depression, or contributed to a new family getting off to a shaky start, or contributed to breast-feeding failures, with long term negative consequences for the health of mother or baby.
There is another possible bias in this study. The authors claim that they controlled for things like gestational diabetes and hypertension -- explaining that these things, separate from the planned place of birth, increase risk and they didn't want them confounding the results. I don't know how they "controlled" for these (were some of these mothers excluded?) -- but I do know that the odds of a previously healthy woman developing hypertension or diabetes during her pregnancy ARE LESS with those planning a home birth, because midwives emphasize and support healthy diet far more than obstetricians, and proper diet can usually prevent these problems. So if they excluded women who became diabetic or developed high blood pressure under the care of their OB -- and then had a bad outcome in part as a result of that condition -- those statistics SHOULD be considered in the equation seeking to understand the risks/benefits of planned home births.
I have always believed that a woman should give birth where ever she feels she is safest. There is unavoidable risk in life and in birth. No one can guarantee a healthy birth outcome. But having freedom means that we are free to chose which risks we would rather be exposed to. I know of great outcomes in hospitals and some tragic ones too. I also know several extraordinary lay-midwives, and have met hundreds of families who have had terrific birth experiences and healthy babies with lay midwives at home. I do not want to criminalize lay midwifery or homebirth. I also do not want to see it further regulated. In the states that have done so, I think there have been negative impacts for women and babies -- because in order to keep their license, midwives become required to practice according conventional medical models -- which is exactly what has caused the home birth movement to grow -- many of us think that model has harms that are not quantified and have risks that we don't want to be forced to accept. We should all be free to choose, and this study -- even taken at face value does not support the assertion that home birth entails significantly more risk over hospital birth.
My older daughter, Sarina, is in her final semester as an undergraduate in biochemistry and policy studies at Grinnell College. Below is a recent article that she wrote, that I am sharing here as a guest post. (My thanks to Ronaldo for the photo that he took of the two of us.)
Food Justice: The Real Victims
by Sarina Farb
Imagine this scenario: You suddenly find yourself transported to a time or place where public stonings are legal and a socially accepted form of capital punishment for things like adultery. I’m certain that most people who are concerned with social justice would agree, that regardless of cultural traditions, stoning someone to death for a non-violent offense is absolutely abhorrent. Now that you are in this place, imagine that a public stoning is happening in front of you, and hundreds of people are throwing stones at a woman accused of adultery. Regardless of your place in the crowd and whether or not you throw a stone, you realize it will likely not make any difference to the suffering and terror the woman is experiencing. You also recognize that you have no hope in that exact moment of getting THIS stoning called off.
What do you do?
Do you say, “My one stone won’t make a difference” and join the group mentality? Or do you sense that even though your choice won’t have any effect, it would still be wrong for you participate? I believe it is clear in this scenario that we have a moral obligation NOT to participate in the stoning, and that REGARDLESS of the direct physical impact of our choice, our non-participation makes a strong statement that we reject stoning people to death. Now lets change this scenario up a little bit to discuss a social injustice that our own society currently accepts as normal.
I lead a student group on my college campus called ‘Advancing Animal Compassion Together’, and we organize a variety of events and campaigns. The group’s fundamental goal is to raise awareness of, and END a largely invisible injustice in society: the exploitation, domination, and use of non-human animals for human desires. This includes the use of animals for food, fabric, transportation, and entertainment. Non-human animals are sentient beings with rich emotions, who much like us, desire to live their lives on their own terms, safe from harm and premature death. That said, I recognize that most people do not yet see using animal flesh and secretions as an injustice. For me and many other vegans, we feel like we are witnessing something akin to a legal and socially accepted stoning that no one else seems to see. When we speak up by tabling, and postering, we are simply trying to share with others what we see, and stop a culturally condoned injustice.
Over my four years at Grinnell College, people have raised a number of issues regarding my group’s efforts, and some feel that our discourse promotes food policing, harmful neoliberal rhetoric, and offensive analogies. So I want to be clear about why we do what we do. To really understand though, it is important to look at this issue from the victim’s perspective, in this case, the animals that we breed, raise, confine, and kill at our whim. And yes, meat dairy and eggs ALL inherently involve exploitation and harm regardless of how sustainable and “humanely” they were raised and killed. We (humans) make choices for the animals we own based on how we benefit most. We dictate when they breed, when they are weaned, when they are separated from family members, and when and how they will die. So my group’s issue is not with Factory Farms (CAFOs), but rather with the exploitation, objectification, and property status, of non-human animals. For as long as animals are chattel property, human economic and personal interests will always outweigh the animal’s interests.
Overwhelmingly the biggest use of animals in society is for meat dairy and eggs, so while my group’s goal is to end all animal exploitation, our focus often goes straight to the food system. Furthermore, both as individuals and as a society, we are most invested in animal exploitation for food, because so many of our daily practices and traditions are directly constructed around consuming animal flesh and secretions, and thus many people are very emotionally attached to this exploitation. This is why vegans often provide meat, dairy and egg, alternatives, and talk about diet so much. But I want to be clear: veganism is NOT a diet! It is an ethical principle that exploitation of non-human animals is wrong, that applies to all parts of our life including what we eat, wear, and participate in. Diet is just the main area where every individual has a chance EVERYDAY to make a statement about who they are and what they stand for.
I value a variety of different tactics and forms of activism in social justice work, including focusing on individual choices and action, as well as institutional divestment and systemic reform. I think social change results from a multitude of angles and both top down and bottom up approaches have their place. I find it problematic to assume that promoting personal lifestyle choices are part of a harmful neoliberal rhetoric, or that personal action has no impact on oppression in our society. Supply and demand is very real, especially for things like meat, dairy and eggs, because we literally vote with our fork three times a day. Furthermore, this “personal choice doesn’t matter” narrative only serves to absolve individuals of personal and moral responsibility to align their actions with their values. Such rhetoric can even be harmful by disempowering many individuals by suggesting their actions cannot make a difference. However, adopting a strict vegan ethic is NOT just a simple boycott or mode of ethical consumption. Rather, our promotion of veganism is about making a loud, clear, personal and political statement, as with the stoning scenario, that we reject the exploitation and use of animals for reasons of culture, convenience, and palate pleasure.
While much of the organizing and current social justice work on Grinnell campus is focused on building power networks and coalitions to find strategic institutional targets to address widespread systemic injustice, my group has chosen a different approach for addressing animal oppression. This is primarily because there are critically important differences between non-human animal oppression, and oppression of humans within our capitalist system. While most already regard all humans as individuals with explicit rights (which are not always respected), our society still collectively views and treat animals as property. Additionally, it is entirely possible to produce plant foods and other goods without intentional exploitation, yet it is IMPOSSIBLE to ever produce animal products without exploitation since the products are literally made from the bodies of oppressed individuals. Under this framework it becomes clear that while divestment strategies may be more impactful for addressing things like exploitation of undocumented human farm laborers, unless and until we create a paradigm shift where our society no longer considers animals to be property, such institutional approaches will fail to create real change for the billions of beings exploited and slaughtered for meat and dairy. Institutional and moderate reform such as divestment from CAFOs does nothing to challenge the property status of animals. So instead, we run educational and outreach campaigns such as tabling outside the dining hall and postering in bathrooms to challenge the notion that animals are objects to make food and fabric from. Each and every one of us holds immense power. Encouraging and supporting individuals in adopting a vegan ethic is fundamentally what is most important. We are confident that institutional change will follow, once public perception of animals changes. For now, we are simply here as messengers speaking up on behalf of the defenseless victims whose screams are ignored. We cannot FORCE anyone to stop supporting violence and exploitation, we are simply pointing out that consuming meat, dairy, and eggs, IS directly FORCING exploitation and violence on others. What you chose to do with this information is up to you.
So when we encourage you to go vegan or say that veganism is the social justice movement of today, that does NOT mean that we think racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of human discrimination are solved. It is only a recognition that we have at least come to a point with those movements where race, gender and other irrelevant criteria no longer provide a culturally condoned basis (in the U.S.) for individuals to be harmed in order to benefit those with power. However, in sharp contrast, the irrelevant criterion of species IS still providing the justification for non-human animals to be harmed to benefit the more powerful (humans). We need the vegan movement today to change the societal notion that it’s okay to own and exploit beings. The root of all oppression stems from “othering” groups of individuals based on these irrelevant criteria. A true intersectional approach must recognize that speciesism* as a form of sanctioned discrimination, is no different than racism or sexism. Every oppression is unique, but suffering is still suffering, and killing is killing. However, the parallels I am drawing here are between the system of oppressions and the attitudes of the oppressors.
So please, think of the animals, who are individuals that don’t want to die or be ripped from family members, before you eat bacon or ice cream. And if you ever have questions, comments, concerns, or would like support in going vegan, please reach out to me personally or our group. We are more than happy to provide resources, answer questions, and give you our full support.
*Speciesism is essentially the discrimination and exclusion of individuals from our moral community based solely on their species and whether or not they are human.
(I wrote this essay over twelve years ago when we lived in Olathe, Ks-- but the subject (unfortunately) is still relevant.)
We are homeschoolers now. In the past our children have also attended Waldorf and Montessori schools. At ages five and nine, most of their social encounters thus far have been in environments that we have carefully selected. Most of their playmates have, like them, been somewhat sheltered from the media saturated mainstream world. As a result, they have had little exposure to the bullying that unfortunately, I hear has become so prevalent in the public schools. Until now.
My older daughter loves gymnastics. Her interest in this sport has taken her from the recreational classes that we started her in, to becoming a member of a competitive team. As is true for many parents of gymnasts, her gym has become my home away from home. While waiting during her practices I've had many lengthy discussions with the other parents. Although not quite friends, we have developed rather intimate "acquaintanceships" sharing much about our lives while waiting for the practices to end. Although there are some huge differences in our over all parenting philosophies and our lifestyle choices, I have found common ground in our love for our children, our struggles to do what we believe is best for them, and our concern with their moral and ethical growth. Last year, during my daughter's first year of competition, I began to have some concerns about the emerging group dynamic that was unfolding amongst her team, which at that time was composed of 7 to 10 year olds. It was obvious that our lifestyle of no-TV, lack of interest in current fashion, coupled with a family diet that omits most of what everyone else eats, was leaving her a little "out" of the group. It didn't help that the class in many ways lacked diversity. Furthermore, my discussions with the other parents left me with the impression that the local public schools were doing nothing to promote respect for differences. So I watched closely, believing that she was now old enough and strong enough to start finding her way in less nourishing environments. I tried to reassure myself that this environment would not be too harmful since she was only in it two hours a day. Plus, in my daughter's mind she was there not to socialize, but to do what she loved -- gymnastics.
Then things got worse.
One night as class ended, as soon as she saw me, she burst into tears. Apparently, one of the girls said she was deliberately going to keep my daughter from having her turn on the bars, by letting everyone else cut in front of her in line. The other girls then followed this child's lead by doing the same thing. In another instance, a different girl jumped onto the bar as soon as my daughter started her turn and screamed, "It's my turn" and pushed my daughter's hands off. Although there were numerous coaches in the gym at this time, apparently none of them was aware this was going on, and without witnessing it themselves, it was hard to address. As a result of my bringing it to the coaches attention, they talked with the kids about "working together as a team". They issued subtle threats for misbehavior. None of it appeared to be very effective. My husband and I continued to debrief our daughter after every practice, validate her feelings and discuss strategies for coping. Our daughter developed a facial tic and showed increasing levels of anxiety after her practices. We asked if she wanted to quit gymnastics. She did not. Finally the season ended, and most of the girls (including my daughter) were promoted to the next level.
About this time, I was starting to contemplate my options for increased involvement in what was going on. In discussions with the other parents, I learned that some of them considered this sort of behavior normal, or at least unavoidable, and therefore not in need of intervention. Others expressed concern -- mostly in the form of desiring assurance that their child was not involved. (I never revealed the names of the children my daughter had mentioned to the other parents, but rather kept it vague and said that I was under the impression that poor behavior was affecting the entire group.) I tried to interest the other team parents in a field trip for all of us with our children to a local children's museum called the "Peace Pavilion" on the other side of the city. The Pavilion's trained staff would guide the team through activities addressing peace, diversity, and compassion. Unfortunately, the parents of the other girls were all too busy to do this. I was unable to find even one other family who wanted to go to the Pavilion. Meanwhile being in the new level had improved things some. The skills were more demanding, the practices more consuming, plus having some new older girls in the mix had changed the dynamic a bit. My daughter was also experimenting with different ways to respond to some of the aggressiveness. The really overt bullying had not happened in a while, but I could still see the anxiety in my daughter's face when I picked her up after the practices. I knew that the issue needed to be addressed further.
Then our family attended a week long Natural Learning Rhythms Family Camp sponsored by Encompass. We came back inspired, and felt ready to immerse ourselves in whatever relationship challenges presented. So my husband and I decided to invite the entire gymnastics team of ten girls to our farm home for a team-building camp out. After speaking with her coach, we made up a flyer about the overnight. We invited everyone to go swimming, enjoy cooperative games, cooking together and camping out. The coach passed our flyer out to the girls at the end of one of the practices. I tried to make this as easy on the parents as possible -- I provided all the food, and did not require their presence. All they had to do was drop their child off with a sleeping bag and clothes. This time four families joined us. Including our daughter, that made five team members -- exactly half the team. It was unfortunate that the one child, Catherine, who had been the most challenging for my daughter to deal with was unable to attend. But half the team was a great start, and we went to work planning our event. As the children arrived we started out with a free swim until all the participants were there. Then we played a series of games, some garnered from the Peace Pavilion staff, others from books on cooperative games, or suggested by friends with experience in this area. The first game, called "The Magic Carpet" had all of us stand on one piece of 3 x 4 foot fabric and without talking, figure out how to turn the fabric over without anyone ever touching the concrete below. Our next game had us standing in a circle and holding hands in a totally random and crisscrossed way. Again without talking we had to figure out how to untangle ourselves -- without ever letting go of hands. This involved all of us stepping over and under other joined hands. Our third game had each participant sitting with a pile of ten different blocks identical to the pile of every other participant. We arranged a cardboard barricade that prevented everyone from viewing other's blocks. Then in turn, each child created a design out of the blocks and using words only, tried to explain it to the others who attempted to duplicate it exactly. All were free to ask and answer unlimited questions. When everyone thought they had it, the barricade was removed so all could see the results. We wrapped up this first segment with a game that had them working as a group to try and float a large rock using only some sticks, a plastic bag and a few miscellaneous bits of string and wire. After each game we used questions such as "How did you do it? What was the process? What was it like? What was most helpful? How did you communicate?" to stimulate a group discussion. All the children thoroughly enjoyed these games.
After a watermelon break, we put them into pairs of two (my five year old joined us to make an even six children) and had them interview each other to discover 5 things about them that were the same and five things that were different. Then each pair shared their findings with the whole group. This led to a discussion about differences, during which we asked questions like, "Is it ok to be different? What are some of the ways others have tried to make you feel that it is not ok to be different? What was that like? What could you do if you see a child being excluded because of a difference?"
One girl said that it was easy to think she could speak up with all of us talking about it like this, but she wasn't sure that if she was back in the gym and this happened that she would be able to speak up. So I asked if anyone else felt this way too. Some did and some didn't. So we further discussed how they could support each other in such a situation.
Then I concluded our discussion of differences by telling the girls that I wanted them to take what they had learned in these games, into the kitchen where we would further explore how they handle differences, by cooking some "different" foods. We went into my kitchen and I introduced them to tofu. First we made black olive penguins stuffed with a tofu filling. Then we made a chocolate silk pie from tofu. Then I had them help me prepare our dinner -- tacos made from seitan, instead of meat, and served with Soymage vegan cheese. We made popcorn and topped it with nutritional yeast and olive oil. I was quite surprised to learn that none of the children had ever seen a hot air popcorn popper before! Not every child loved every dish, but they all willingly tasted everything, and each found some new things that they really did like.
After dinner we swam again. As the sun was going down, we sat in the fire circle and I told them a carefully selected African tale that illustrated the importance of not excluding from our community those whose behavior bothers us. At this point my husband (not a late night guy) called it a day and went to bed. But I stayed with the girls and discussed the story. In the conversation that followed, one of the girls suggested that since exactly half the team was here, that each of those present pick a partner from those who were absent and share with them all that we had done on our camp out. Four of the girls had no problem calling out the name of girl to pair up with. But the fifth girl said, "Well who's left" Someone called out..."Catherine." "Well I don't want her." the girl said. "Me neither" the rest of the girls chimed in. To my surprise (and my daughter's) we discovered that the hostility that Catherine had exhibited towards my daughter (and which she had thus far believed Catherine was only directing towards her.) Was in fact being experienced by all the other girls (at least all the ones who were present) I allowed them to vent for awhile before attempting to redirect the conversation with questions such as, "Why do you suppose she does that?" "How does it make you feel?" "What do you do when she says these things?" (Most of them had been simply trying to ignore Catherine's anger and burying their own hurt feelings.) "Is there a way to respond to Catherine that won't make her feel more left out, yet will bring out into the open that she is being unkind?" "How can you help each other respond to her kindly, yet firmly let her know that it is not ok to behave that way?"
After the discussion, we switched gears and got out some Mehndi and applied tattoos to each girl (I had secured prior permission from all their parents beforehand) This served as a final bonding experience for the night. I was also hoping that for the few weeks these tattoos remained on their skin, they might serve as a reminder of what they had discovered in our time together. Although it was late, we returned to the kitchen once more for some late night snacking on the dinner leftovers. After midnight, I was starting to feel very tired, yet I hated to bring our activities to a close. It seemed like a magic atmosphere of trust and openness had been created and I feared that it might not still be there in the morning. But finally I knew that we all must sleep. It took over another hour after we settled into our sleeping bags in the tent (along with repeated requests for the girls to please whisper instead of talking) before we all fell asleep. When the sun came up I was the only one awake and slipped into the house to prepare breakfast. At breakfast, there was a different mood from the night before. I wondered if they were just sleep deprived or perhaps had their guard back up in preparation for returning to their usual environments.
After breakfast the girls helped us clean up and we went for one last swim before their parents arrived. During the swim we experienced our first and only conflict. Interestingly it was a situation that had often happened during their gymnastics practices. My daughter came to me, choking back tears and described how they had all decided to go down the slide. As the girls climbed out of the pool and ran for the ladder, one called out, "I'm first" and another, "I'm second" and so forth. However instead of calling out for a position, my daughter had actually gotten to the ladder second and jumped into line...then the other girls proceeded to cut in front of her feeling that their calling out a position superceded the forming line. With my daughter's permission, I called all the girls over and shared what she had just told me. Then I asked if this had ever happened to any of them at other times. They all said that it had. When I asked how they felt about it, two of them said it was no big deal, but three including my daughter said that they felt hurt and that it didn't seem fair. So I pointed out that there was a problem -- since a number of them were feeling hurt. Then I asked all the girls to tell me what they thought was most fair in this type of situation, and they all agreed that the line should form based upon the order in which the children arrived in the line.
As the girls left with their parents, I thanked each for her part in making the camp out such a great experience for all of us. And it was great for all of us. My husband and I noticed an increased feeling of peace in ourselves and in our interactions with our children. In Natural Learning Rhythms they refer to this as "Dancing with your children" and suggest that in helping them resolve their relationship issues, we also heal ourselves of emotional hurts that we sustained at developmentally similar points in our own childhoods.
At gymnastics practice the following week my daughter reported some changes. The five girls who had been to our home she said acted like..."friends" at the practice instead of as she put it, "only like teammates" The other five girls she said acted like they always had, which my daughter now observed to be somewhat reserved and like they were trying to keep a distance from everyone else. At one point the girls were paired up in twos on the balance beams and instructed to take turns practicing their routine. My daughter was paired up with Catherine, who she said was in the "worst mood ever." Yet for the first time, my daughter was able to calmly stand her ground as Catherine growled at her. "Get off my beam!" by replying, "No Catherine, the coach put us both up here and we are to to take turns." Catherine became more incensed at my daughter's reply -- so much so that when it was her turn, she simply stood on the edge with her arms folded and a frown on her face. In response, my daughter said, "Well if you are not going to go, then I will take another turn." And she did. Most remarkable was the fact that as my daughter reported this to me, her face looked calm, with no anxious facial tics. It was clear that for her, there had been a huge shift. She also told me that one of the girls who had been at the camp out told her, "I had no idea that YOU felt like Catherine was mostly angry at you too. That was how I felt!"
I have no idea if or how much our overnight will shift the group dynamic long term. My experiences thus far in life with changing relationship patterns suggests that this is never a "hit and run" sort of process, but rather something that you must remain willing to address as the need arises. But I am hoping that we have planted a seed. I am expecting that down the road, we will offer them a team-building camp out again, and my hope is, that after word gets around about this one, that all the girls on the team will attend.