Saturday, August 25, 2007

Size Matters

Book Review: Little House on a Small Planet

A few years ago, my husband and I went house-hunting as prices spiraled upward. We sought an affordable, well-built 2,400 sq.ft. contemporary home. We settled for a 1,400 sq.ft. 1950s rambler. Furnishing and maintaining that led to an epiphany: 400 sq.ft. is all we need, and want.

2,400 to 1,400 to 400 – it took a lot of time, effort and money to learn this lesson. Now there’s a short-cut to small-home smarts: Shay Salomon’s book, “Little House on a Small Planet.”

“People really are moved by this movement,” says Salomon, who in an email admits to getting fan mail each week.

Between the book’s covers, you’ll find function-driven inspiration to build all the house that fits your lifestyle, with no excess space to clean, maintain or serve as a clutter magnet. Or a drag – current research shows that our immediate environment impacts not only our efficiency but also mood and outlook. Excess, long a symbol of success, has a downside. How often have you heard laments about stuffed closets and drawers, cluttered rooms, the frustration of having too much of everything except time to enjoy it?

Perhaps you learned early on the real estate rule of thumb: Buy as much as you can afford. And that has become too much in this age of easy credit.

Salomon offers a new real estate rule for the real world: Build a glove, not a warehouse. A dwelling that fits and fulfills you, not someone else’s idea of a dream home in our consumption-driven society.

How much space does it take to be happy?

The author, a self-described “natural builder,”broadens the definition of eco-friendly housing beyond using sustainable, nontoxic materials to size. She has extracted 14 principles of building small from interviews with a few hundred folks with downsized dwellings.

These escapees from overbuilt environments offer antidotes to house lust and alternatives to McMansionization. You can say no to renovated palaces built of plastic credit cards, though often, zoning laws and building codes pose roadblocks.

Profiles of several actual small houses include locations, building cost, size, monthly utilities, and favorite aspects of the house. Among topics and ideas addressed in the book:

* Size matters: House size affects energy consumption more than insulation does – meaning your costs rise with cubic feet.

* How to downsize tips: Examples: Write the numbers 1 to 100 and tag 100 things to give away.
Note the time spent in each room of your current house to plan just what you really need. Remember that money saved in downscaling house plans can be used for eco-efficient and aesthetically pleasing luxuries.

* Not living large: Keep in mind the maxim that “stuff” expands to fill available space. Such is the magic of materialism. Interesting statistic: The self-storage industry has increased 40-fold since 1960, making it larger than the music business and more profitable than the film industry.

Tips: Choose and design for a set amount of storage space and simply allow no more. Design for shared space for different activities – such as a big central table for dining, socializing, work and school projects in an area having the best light, view and proximity to things you need.

* Cool kitchen idea: A cold storage box recessed into a thick wall that harnesses free cool night air and cold stored in the wall’s thermal mass to keep food chilled. A simple screen on the exterior keeps the animals out.

* Create spaciousness with a design that blurs the line between indoor and outdoor space, with nature providing some of the decor.

* Sick building syndrome resulting from the largely 1970s-80s energy efficiency-motivated sealing up of buildings. The book explains where to place operable clerestory windows and skylights to harness the best ventilation, working in consort with the physics of hot air rising. Outdoor kitchens merit discussion for their energy efficiency potential. Then there’s an example of permaculture at work, complete with chickens free-ranging as a “chicken tractor” plowing sections of a Point Reyes, Ca. garden.

* Living with children in a small home: The author addresses controversial questions such as “Is TV a human right?” and the “delicate dance of need and greed.” Consider the effects of modern living arrangements in which family members hole up in their own personal Siberias, shielded from exchanging ideas with one another thanks to their separate computers, PDAs, TVs ... the iPodification of daily life.

* Fortifying resolve against consumerism: To shake free of the tentacles of marketing messages, some have joined “simplicity circles.” Most of us have been co-opted by industry to reinforce messages to consume what benefits big business. We become wallet-waving zombies chanting cheese is healthy, unprocessed foods are undesirable, and bigger is better.

* Intelligent retrofitting and remodeling comprises a second section. Topics meander to gentrification’s environmental degradation of to trailer salvages to the deconstruction cottage industry that dismantles houses to move, rebuild and supply recycled materials for new projects. The book makes detours into co-housing and work-at-home territory, flex multi-generational residences, “Co Abodes” shared by single moms and other ways to maximize efficiency of one’s personal built environment.

* Quick quip: The addition, said Andy Rooney, is America’s contribution to the history of architecture.

* Sophisti-crit: The book’s utopian photo trove of hippie-dippy accented abodes may kick close-quarters up to a claustrophobic level for some recovering space addicts. Then again, there’s upside in having everything at your fingertips. But the principles translate to environs with cosmopolitan appeal. One can swap the fabric curtain dividers with sleek pocket doors, for example.

* Cutting-edge designs based on ancient but enduring building proto-technology: Such as Earthships built into hillsides in the Southwest, with walls bolstered by dirt-packed tires. The author touches on the government red-tape roadblocks erected by bureaucrats – some possibly propped up by big-business interests – via zoning and building codes.

* Big picture insights: Census reports indicate that in 2000, 10.4 million units of housing in the U.S. were vacant, while 250,000 people slept in homeless shelters. That’s 45 vacant houses per shelter occupant. Overseas, as Chinese emulate Western consumer culture, the panda is scrambling for shrinking space as houses grow larger and more plentiful.

* Practical philosophy: Bound by abundance – having so much has led to a different kind of scarcity. One sage commenting in the book noted how if we were to eat directly the 16 pounds of grain that it takes to produce a pound of meat, we would have 8 times as much protein available to us. Then there’s the increasing water scarcity issue.

Small houses, to most Americans, sounds like a revolutionary notion. But considering the revered architects who now hold forth on the environmental as well as aesthetic and social benefits of hewing to “human scale” design, architecture and urban planning, it’s a idea that fits like a glove.


“Little House on a Small Planet” by Shay Salomon (The Lyons Press)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Profits, Politics and Cruelty to Animals

2007 Taking Action for Animals Conference
Washington, DC
July 28-30, 2007

* Why did the chicken cross the road?

To try to escape having her beak sliced off ... being crammed into battery cages the size of a sheet of paper for the rest of her life ... having her male hatchlings tossed in a wood chipper or giant vat to die cruel deaths. It’s no joke, but rather, fact in the commercial/factory farming world that dominates agriculture today.

Profits and politics have led to horrific levels of animal cruelty as well as chronic and acute disease in American citizens.

* One easy thing you can do: Vote with your dollars.

With each purchase, each meal, you can make a difference in animal suffering along with your family’s health. It may cost a few more dollars in the short run, but what better investment than in your family’s long-term health and in living a decent, humane life? Think of all the money we spend on things that are fashionable and novel and appealing -- and yet after the initial thrill, we derive greater satisfaction from choices that feel right and do good.

Be a conscious consumer. As Beatle/humanitarian Paul McCartney says, if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would become vegetarian. Why does the agricultural industry conceal this? Because change takes time and money, which would reduce profits.

* It’s that supply and demand thing.

So the only way commercial agricultural operations will change is if demand from consumers who buy animal-derived products changes. Either switch to a plant-based diet – or if not ready to give up animal-derived foods, buy products sourced only from producers who use humane methods to raised and treat their animals.

Buying from producers who follow humane standards costs a little more, but think how you’ll save in 3 ways: Less exposure to unhealthful components, improving the environment (for details, check the Green Diet book and websites listed in this article), and knowing you are not supporting the cruelty of factory farming.

Why care? Farm animals are feeling, thinking beings. Proven beyond doubt, with more evidence confirmed every year by science – despite the fact that most science is funded by corporate interests that benefit financially, most media outlets are advertiser-driven and government is dominated by business interests such as the food industry, a major economic engine. The animals consumed get no say.

* Education comes with responsibility.

Among those responsibilities, as conveyed at the Taking Action for Animals Conference, was to lead by example, to speak up for the voiceless, and to encourage constructive action among government decision-makers, corporate executives and others. Industry regards animals as a commodity, not out of evil intent, but due to preoccupation with increasing profits and shareholder value.

*** Conference Highlights:

Feature speakers included people working in the meat, poultry and dairy industries, a grocery chain executive, scientists, doctors and of course, animal advocates.

* Factory Farm Hell on Earth:

Agricultural practices considered “common” are excluded from most state anti-cruelty laws.

10 billion farm animals are raised a year, most in inhumane conditions.

Family-owned and independent farms are struggling to make it in a world dominated by large-scale producers who satisfy demand for cheap-as-possible foodstuffs.

Cows are kept in stock-like devices, fed an unnatural diet and hormones for speedy excessive growth.

Veal calves are chained by their necks in tiny cages for their short lives. As shown in videos, their mothers bellow when their babies are taken away. Workers broke the neck of one cow trying to block her baby from being taken. The mother cow was left all day in anguish.

Male chicks are discarded by “business-efficient means” at many commercial hatcheries – crammed and smothered in garbage bags and tossed alive into wood chippers and manure spreaders to be used with manure as a fertilizer component.

Modern broiler hens are grown to slaughter size in 6 weeks, equivalent to a human 2-year-old reaching 250 pounds.

Genetic manipulation is used to boost yields of egg-laying hens and dairy cows. For example, each cow can produce up to 100 pounds of milk a day, 10 times that she would produce naturally.

Foie gras is disgraceful – watch a video of a bird being force-fed an abominable amount to create this “delicacy” and you’ll see why it’s inexcusable cruelty.

Horse slaughter: One of its advocates was a congressman was shown to personally gain from his stand.

But thanks to consumers speaking up, some progress has been made. For example: Food service companies are increasingly saying “No” to eggs from producers that confine hens to battery cages.

* Science Supports Vegan Diet:

Among research findings summarized by Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine:

Asians adopting Western meat-sweet diet have experience a marked upswing in disease rates.

In a major weight-loss study, the group on a low-fat vegan diet that did not exercise had a 13-pound average weight loss, 2 inch drop in waist measurement and increase in natural insulin response (that’s a good thing folks; declining insulin response is a diabetes symptom). Another study: diabetics sticking to a vegan diet were able to reduce their meds.

Free pocket guide from

* Your Tax Dollars at Work – for Big Business:

The U.S. Government funded a project on “How to trigger the cheese craving” to help the dairy industry increase sales. Wendy’s was a prime beneficiary, using the findings to sell its Cheddar Lover’s Bacon Cheeseburger...and Subway agreed to put cheese on 2 subs unless the customer requested otherwise. In 1975, the average U.S. consumer consumed 15 pounds; in 1999, it was 30 pounds. Heart disease and other chronic problems rose during that same period.

* Humane Animal Agriculture:

Nicolette Hahn Miman, Frank Reese, Paul Willis and other ethical agribusiness owners discussed and showed slides of their independent livestock farms at which they engaged in humane practices and provided their animals with natural, comfortable conditions that allowed socialization with other animals. The criticism they endured from some conference attendees was nothing compared to challenges by the agricultural-industrial complex that would prefer to keep consumers in the dark and clamoring for the most cheaply produced food.

If you want organic, safely sourced animal products for your family, you are not going to get them if you buy factory farm products. Forget the feel-good advertising. It’s written by people whose goals were to keep clients and win awards. I know because I was one of them.

* Being a Joyful Vegan:

Once you discover the realities of factory farming, it’s easy to understand why people who oppose physical and mental cruelty go vegan. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau noted the irony that people in Western societies place a high value on individualism, but then fear and condemn nonconformist attitudes. The anger you sense in some vegans is anguish. It’s hard to change others, but you can find peace of mind by sticking to your principles.

And by sharing your vegan dishes, but “make sure it’s good, or it will put us back 3 decades.” Let your guests eat it, and then let them find out, “oh, that’s vegan.”

Attendees nodded knowingly at mention of the “protein question” – which has expanded to the “calcium question.” As in, “how do you [vegans] get your protein/calcium?” Note that in America, diseases stem from excess, not from deficiencies.

* Denial Loves Company:

You know those people who claim “I used to be a vegetarian”? They weren’t. That’s usually a person who tried to eat more salads and less red meat for awhile. Or just because it was a useful thing to say. Or write – such trendy false claims occasionally pop up in news media opinion pieces. Note that most media folks eat lots of fast food and don’t ply investigative skills into the food industry or much else unless there’s ample public demand ... case in point, toxic products from China).

* Green Your Diet:

Nationally respected researcher Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D. summarized incontrovertible evidence that, regardless of one’s food ethics, the less animal-derived foods consumed, the better for personal health, the environment, agricultural sustainability, and water conservation (a pressing issue not yet recognized here in the mid-Atlantic U.S.).

For more about the environmentally destructive effects of raising and processing animals for food, get the excellent book “Six Arguments for a Greener Diet” by Dr. Jacobson and the staff of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

You can also email me for my summary of the book.

* Time for a Global Warming Message:

Research by United Nations scientists indicated that animal agriculture is responsible for an estimated 18% of global warming emissions, and that adopting a plant-based diet saves more carbon pollution than driving a hybrid auto?

* Dogfighting:

Don’t be hoodwinked by the pro spinners who try to promulgate the notions that 1. violence to animals keeps people from committing violence to humans, and 2. that animal fighting is okay if one can conjure a cultural tie to it. Slavery had cultural roots too, but wrong is wrong. Dogfighting, for example, is a bloodlust sport, and watching animals tear skin (no, it’s not boxing) signals a pathology.

* Animal Testing:

Those with a vested/financial interest in animal experimentation will always argue that animal experiments are vital for new cures to be found. But this claim has been repeatedly though quietly debunked – and proven false. Consider the human deaths from pharmaceuticals that were tested on animals – and the greater successes of research involving non-animal subjects.

Cosmetics: Look for the Leaping Bunny logo that certifies no animal testing.

* The Cutting Veg:

Increasing numbers of people report having the desire to consume less or no animal-derived foods. If you’ve ever thought about it, how about the idea of starting with one meat-free meal a day?

There are free “Starter Vegetarian Kits” and “Starter Vegan Kits” available with no obligation from nonprofit groups. Find sources at the end of this article.

* Humane Education for the Real World:

Stand on milk crate in your bare feet for 15 minutes. How much longer would you like to stand there? How about a year or so? Have to use the bathroom? No problem; just go and most of “it” will fall through the crate holes ... well, until it starts piling up. Who lives like this? Hens. This is one show-and-feel-and-tell example that humane educator Zoe Weil has incorporated into her educational sessions. She has committed her life to the goal of teaching people how to live more
humanely, sustainability and peaceably.

She also teaches critical, independent thinking – a skill that is rarely taught but so essential in a world in which “education” is messaged to students and consumers by corporations and well-funded lobbyists.

In the past, she wanted to lead a “Meet your meat” tour of a slaughterhouse but was denied.

* Raising Conscious Consumers:

Weil posed the questions: “What if, by the time they had complete eighth grade, all children were aware of and concerned about the people who make their sneakers, T-shirts, and electronics in factories around the globe, and realized that their money and choices represented their vote for working conditions throughout the world? What if they understood the relationship between the food in their cafeteria, growing obesity rates and ill health, water pollution and soil erosion, and the suffering of farmed animals, so that with their teachers and school administrators they were able to influence the food service to offer healthy, organic, humanely produced meals?”

The goal: Make choices now and later based on full awareness of the connections between your own actions and the future of the world. Ask: What is the “True Price” of that cheeseburger? What is the whole production process that is hidden from view? And, is there a product I could choose instead that would have less negative impact?

*** Resources:

* Humane Farming:

Compassion in World Farming: A charity working internationally for the welfare of farm animals

Animal Welfare Institute

Humane Farming Association: High standards for humane care of farm animals, including the new Animal Welfare Approved husbandry standards mandating for all species environment, housing and diet that allows the animals to behave naturally

* Factory Farming:

Find sources for food in your neighborhood and where you travel that is healthful, humane, environmentally sustainable, and that supports family farmers

“The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter” by Peter Singer and Jim Mason

* Animal Protection

World Society for the Protection of Animals - marginalized animals from strays to wildlife

American Anti-Vivisection Society - nonprofit working to end experimentation on animals in labs and schools

Cruelty-Free Products Certification

Animal Protection Institute

Humane Society of the United States

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Note: Smaller organizations are less known due to limited funds and promotional resources, but do equally important work. Surf the web and look for 501(c)3 nonprofit status, and read GuideStar reports (available free online)

* Health and Diet:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Healthy diet, humane eating, effective alternatives to animal testing, innovative health and disease research. Membership include a subscription to the PCRM publication good medicine.

Vegetarian Society of DC

* Animal Fighting:

* Fur:

* Advocacy and Policy:

Online alerts about from factory farm abuses to animal fighting and other animal welfare issues:

Short course for planning effective campaigns:

*** Related News Bites:

* "Behind the Mustache: A Farm Sanctuary Investigation" is a 10-minute video documenting the abusive conditions found throughout a thorough investigation into the interworking of California's dairy industry. Among findings: An injured cow unable to rise and a motionless newborn calf were observed at the market, left to languish. Access the video at or on

* Oregon moved to ban gestation crates by 2013. These metal cages about two feet wide and seven feet long are used to confine pregnant sows. Grown pigs are unable to move, lie down comfortably, or turn around for months at a time.

* Louisiana outlawed cockfighting, banishing the cruel blood sport from its last remaining legal stronghold.

* New approved tests are expected to spare more than 250,000 animals in the EU (European Union), including the testing of chemicals that could be irritating to the skin or eye and allergen testing, which previously used rabbits and mice. The EU is far ahead of the U.S., where the Interagency coordinating committee for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM), a government-funded agency, has approved only 6 alternative methods compared to the EU agency’s 23.

* South Korea has passed new animal welfare laws that will offer increased protections to animals used for food, clothing, experimentation, and entertainment.

* Fun and enlightening book by a PETA activist: “Committed” by Dan Mathews

*** Thoughts for Thinking People:

Greek philosopher Pythagoras paid fishermen to throw their catch back in the sea. He wrote that “animals share with use the privilege of having a soul” ... that eating meat or participating in any other kind of animal abuse “harms your soul and your health.” This was 3,000 years before a flood of medical studies connected meat to heart disease, cancer, and obesity, he wrote, “Humans dig their graves with their teeth.” Another famous vegetarian: Da Vinci.

“Humans are the only species that can rationalize – or need to.” – Mark Twain

“Each snowflake in an avalanche pleads not guilty.” – Stanislaus Lee

“What is set by market forces will change only by market forces.” – Free market advocates.

We don’t need to wait another moment to change the world.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Trade Showing Off

The Trade Show About Trade Shows
July 31-Aug. 2
Washington, DC

How do you stage a successful event? Take some tips from the coach – The Tradeshow Coach Susan Friedmann:

* Push the Right Hot Buttons:

For those “Have the Best” folks, offer something exclusive – and never discount (which creates the perception “it’s not worth full price”). Those high achievers? Come up with an opportunity to earn awards.

Button-pushing with Power players? Indicate they are in control, show attention to detail, stroke their ego. The person who asks the questions is actually the one in control – by leading the conversation in the direction you want to go.

* Create a want:

Most people most of the time don’t really know what they want. How many people wanted an iPod before it was marketed?

* Listen to Effective listeners...who, notes Friedmann:

Limit their own talking.
Show their interest.
Avoid letting your mind wander.
Ask questions.
Don’t jump to conclusions.
Listen for the main idea.
Turn off their own worries.
Prepare in advance.
React to ideas, not to the person.
Notice nonverbal language.
Take notes.
Get feedback..
Defer judgment.
Listen for the other person’’s feelings and situation.
Pay most attention to content, not to appearance.
Avoid sidetracking remarks.
Do one thing at a time.
Maintain eye contact.
Avoid emotional reactions.
Give affirmative and affirming statements.
Invite additional comments.
Maintain patience and concentration.
Stay present.


* Green Exhibiting. Eco-Systems creates sustainable exhibits and boothware. PMSI has corn-based biodegradable badge holders.

* Wow Factors: Create an experience and memory with demos, skits, game shows, choreography, videos, audio, robots, singers. Tradeshow research indicates that live presentations are the 3rd most important reason why people remember an exhibit. Numbers one and two: Booth size and product interest.

* Video Massage Chairs!

Quote of note: Triad Creative Group CEO Theodore Lasser: “It is our obligation to be good shepherds of our resources and advise others how to do so as well...we need to steer our industry away from traditional materials and fabrication techniques whenever possible.” He unveiled a Certified Green certificate based on the US Green Building Council’s and LEED criteria.


Sponsorship: A Key Powerful Marketing, Effective Giveaways, The Power of Buzz, Out-Foxing the Competition

Competitive Edge tradeshow expertise led by Jefferson Davis

“Riches in Niches: How to Make it Big in a Small Market” by Susan Friedmann

“Experience Economy” by James Gilmore, who contends we’ve transitioned from a goods economy to an experiential economy. Commodities are wrapped in experiences to sell them today.

“Free Prize Inside” by Seth Godin

“The Anatomy of Buzz” by Emanuel Rosen, who notes the need today to create buzz that travels through “invisible networks” that link people.