Sunday, May 12, 2013

Conspicuous consumption

My hero Peter Singer just wrote a nice little piece about conspicuous consumption called Why Pay More.

I often blog about conspicuous consumption, but rarely name it. To me, it is perhaps the most disgusting and most damaging way of being selfish. In a nut shell, conspicuous consumption is "keeping up with the Jones's" - spending resources on unnecessary or luxury items as a way of signaling status. Examples of conspicuous consumption include purchases of designer clothing/accessories/furniture, oversized living spaces/cars, pedigree companion animals, weddings, lavish vacations, and any purchase you'd want to brag about or that would impress your peer group. Think about purchases or experiences you post on Facebook. Think about your boards on Pinterest. Can you see conspicuous consumption at work in your own life?

The reason that I believe conspicuous consumption is worse than private indulgence is conspicuous consumption places social pressure on others to spend as you spend. Not only do you use your own resources selfishly, but you encourage others to do the same. Even worse, there's a "one-upping" that's expected - you spent 5 days in London, but I spent 5 days in London AND 3 days in Rome. And all that unnecessary spending could have saved lives.

Extremely large, public gifts to charity are also considered conspicuous consumption, as they raise the status of those making the gift. This is the one form of conspicuous consumption I support and applaud, for exactly the reason I stated above: it encourages others to do the same. The charitable gifts made by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet have made way for other billionaires to follow suit.

Conspicuous consumption is deeply embedded in American culture, self-identity, and group-identity. It is extremely important to recognize the way in which conspicuous consumption directs our spending habits, and thus "ties up" money that we should be free to give away.

To change our culture, to value compassion over selfishness and altruistic actions over "stuff", we must celebrate and elevate those who defy conspicuous consumption, like Uruguay's 'poor' president Jose Mujica. And we should feel disgusted and outraged by public displays of luxury and indulgence, not envious.

-Selfish Blogger

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I lived below the line without harming animals

Global Poverty Project, the organization that runs the Live Below the Line challenge, gives lots of advice and support to help people figure out how to live on $1.50 a day in the US, £1 a day in the UK, and $2 in Australia. They connect you with other folks taking the challenge, suggest shopping lists and recipes, and share tips on fundraising.

One piece of advice that I certainly didn't use was their recommendation to eat eggs for a cheap source of protein during the Live Below the Line challenge. While eggs might be a cheap source of food for you and me, the cost to the chickens who lay them is more than anyone should be willing to pay.

After dairy, eggs are the most confusing item on the "do not eat" list of my vegan lifestyle. I think the confusion comes from most people picturing happy, fat, egg laying hens running around green fields with their brood in the sunshine, laying eggs in a soft nest of grass and hay, which friendly farmers gently collect and then sell. The reality couldn't be farther from the truth.

Chickens forced to lay eggs for human consumption live in dark, cramped cages. Most never see the sun or feel grass beneath their feet. They stand or lay on wire cages 24 hours a day, hurting their feet. They don't have perches to roost in, no nests to snuggle into at night. They don't even have the space to stretch out their wings. Their cages are cramped so close together that the chickens are covered in feces and urine. The smell is overwhelming. A portion of the chickens' beaks are cut or seared off, without pain killers, so the chickens won't peck their neighbors. It is animal cruelty. It is torture.

And if you think you're doing chickens a favor by paying extra for cage free or free range eggs: think again. In cage free egg production, chickens are not condemned to a life in wire cages, but are instead crammed into huge barns where they are forced to stand in their own waste, causing terrible sores on their feet. The ammonia fumes burn their delicate bird respiratory system, and cause painful lesions on their lungs. Some will die from respiratory failure caused by the inhumane conditions they are forced to live in. The overcrowding of the chickens is so extreme, many cannot navigate their way to food and water. They starve, and their dead bodies are left among their living sisters.

When you buy eggs, that's what you are paying for. You are paying someone to continue the torture of these smart, social, sentient birds.

It is easy for me to empathize with chickens: I grew up with them. My family cared for chickens in our big back yard - years before we adopted a dog, before my little sister was born. They were my first friends.

Happy chickens run around in the sunshine eating weeds and bugs. They pile into the dirt with their sister and take "dust baths" to keep away mites. They chase each other. They talk to each other constantly (they have a LOT to say). They wait to get pets on their backs from their human friends. They follow their human and dog friends around the yard. They help each other. One of the chickens we care for now was born with a deformed beak. She can't close her mouth as a result, and it is difficult for her to eat and drink. She spills water down her front, and food cakes on her feather. We were sure this hook-billed chicken (her name is Hooky) wouldn't live very long. But Hooky's sister watched out for her. They let her dive into the food pile first so she can get her fill. They gently peck the caked-on food off of her feathers to keep her front clean. Today, Hooky has outlived half her clan. She is eight years old - quite an old lady for a hen! To think of Hooky living in an egg production facility breaks my heart.

It is one thing to live below the global poverty line. It's something else to live below the line of common decency - that's a line I refuse to live below. And that's why I didn't buy eggs this week. That's why I never eat eggs.

-Selfish Blogger

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


I'm feeling very grateful right now.

The carrot I snacked on just before lunch was so pleasant and crisp. As I chewed, I became mindful of just how much I was enjoying it. I'm eating my lentils for lunch right now, and they really aren't that bad. I have something to eat. That is a gift.

Three more donations came in through my page - two from friends and family who have already given. I'm feeling supported and loved. And I'm feeling hopeful that there are many people in the world who care about fairness; who care about ending injustice; and who are willing to do something to make the world "more right." $385 to go to reach my goal of raising $1,000 for CARE.

I'm feeling relieved that I'm almost done with the challenge. It is exhausting to count every bite of food; to restrain yourself from eating more now, because you know you need to save something for tomorrow. And it is demoralizing to eat the same thing day in and day out. I have felt a lot of bitterness during the past few days, but having support from my friends and family has really carried me through. This challenge takes an emotional toll. Poverty takes an emotional toll.

Here's my food break down for the day so far:

Breakfast (a poor girl's version of tofu scramble) totaled $0.48
4 oz tofu = $.025
1/8 onion = $.06
1/16 cabbage = $0.6
1 Tbs oil = $0.10
salt to taste = $0.01

Snack (1 carrot) totaled $0.10

Lunch (1 cup lentils) totaled $0.27

$0.85 gone. $0.65 for the late afternoon and dinner.

I can't wait for my first meal tomorrow...

I hope you'll give if you haven't already:

-Selfish Blogger

Day five below the line

It's the final count down! I took survey of what I've got left.

8 oz tofu = $0.49
2 cups cooked lentils = $0.54
1/4 onion = $0.13
1/8 head of cabbage = $0.12
1 carrot = $0.10

For a grand total of $1.38. That leaves some space change for a bit of oil and salt. The problem is that, with the exception of the carrot perhaps, I don't want to eat any of it. I'm trying to think of ways to make my final day of food palatable, but without access of herbs and spices and some additional ingredients, there's very little I can do to hide the fact that I'm eating the same food that I've eaten for the last four days. Time to buck up and power through. That's what people in extreme poverty have to do every day.

Here we go!

I've got $475 left to raise to help people who live on less every single day of the year (ugh, I can't even imagine!). Will you chip in $50?

-Selfish Blogger

Monday, April 29, 2013

End of day four

Today was fairly uneventful. My lentil soup carried me through the day. I ate some every couple of hours, and by the end of the work day I had finished the whole thing. I left work to finish cleaning out my old place. Spent about two hours there, then drove home. It was time to eat dinner, but I started to feel sick of lentils the same way I started to feel sick of peas. I pulled some lentils out of the fridge (portion three of five). I tried to think of an ingenious way to make them into something else. Nothing I could dream up would fit into the rest of my budget for the day. I ate them cold, leaving 1/4 cup behind.

My total at the end of the day was $1.20.

I hope you'll contribute if you haven't already!

-Selfish Blogger

Day four below the line

Soup for the day
Skipping breakfast again. I cooked up a big batch of soup to carry me through the full day at work.

1 cup peas (the last of 'em) = $0.38
1 cup lentils = $0.27
1/8 head of cabbage = $0.12
1/4 onion = $0.12
2 Tbs oil = $0.10

$0.99 total. It's my final day as Executive Director of the arts nonprofit I've been running for eight years. I need to be on my game to train the new person.

I only have two days left in the challenge, but I'm only half way to my fundraising goal! Will you help?

-Selfish Blogger

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bonus lentils!

Tonight's dinner. All my meals are starting to look the same...
I've cooked up my lentils for dinner tonight and other meals tomorrow  (please don't make me eat more peas!). I paid $1.33 for 2 cups of dried lentils. I expected them to cook up to 4 cups. But lucky me: they cooked up into 5 cups! Instead of paying $0.33 per serving, I paid $0.27 per serving. That extra $0.06 will go far.

I don't have a kitchen scale, so I've been tracking my costs and volume of what I eat by portioning, and sometimes storing each portion in a separate container. For dried goods (lentils and peas in my case) I cooked the entire batch, then measured them out into cup-sized portions into individual containers. I cut my tofu into eight equal segments of approximately 2 oz. each. I quartered my cabbage and my onion. Oil, salt and sugar live in big containers, and I measure out the amount I need for a particular purpose.

Portioned lentils for the next two days
It looks like more work than it is. I'm surprised at how easy this part of the challenge has been.

For dinner, I'm frying up my lentils with salt, oil, crumbled tofu, and onion. I really want to fat from the oil. The cost is as follows:

1 cup cooked lentils = $0.27
2 oz tofu = $0.12
1/4 onion (less 3 Tbs from my snack) = $0.10
2 Tbs oil = $0.10
Salt to taste = $0.01

Dinner tonight will cost $0.60, which means I'll have $0.30 left over!!! Watch out $0.33 cookie - I will eat most of you.

The one thing that would make me happier than a cookie is reaching my $1,000 fundraising goal to help people living in extreme poverty. Donate here:

-Selfish Blogger