Anti-Consumerist Gift Files: Donate!

In a perfect world, perhaps we'd all have already made our own homemade gifts for everyone, but most of us aren't that perfect. Many of us need to acquire some gifts, and the challenge is how to spend our money well, in things that are valuable, lasting and worth having. Over the course of the month, I have some suggestions for what sources you might go to for good gifts. I try, generally speaking, to put my own money where my mouth is, so all of these are places that my family has donated to, or will be donating to this year. There are a lot of good causes, and I'll have more than one post about this - but here are my first priorities.

Some of the best, of course, are the charitable gifts. Every year, my children's biggest gift is the chance to give - on the fifth night of Chanukah, everyone in our family gets a budget to give to The Heifer Fund. My children spend several weeks ahead of time debating whether to make smaller individual gifts or combine their resources to make one or two large ones. The youngest ones name the animal(s) that we donate (one year we gave a Llama unfortunately named "Sticky" - fortunately, the recipients would have had no way of knowing this.) We talk about where they are going and what their lives may be like. My kids look forward to this all year - indeed, Isaiah likes to save up money to make additional donations regularly.

Heifer is my first choice for a place to donate - livestock is simply out of reach of many agrarian people who could benefit from it, and Heifer's work is deeply important. I'm not sure what the kids will decide on this year (at last discussion they were leaning towards water buffalo) but we'll be making our biggest single donation of the year there.

The next place I'm going to be putting my money is ASPO-USA. I joined the board of ASPO because I think getting the message out that our way of life can't go on is essential - every person who learns about peak oil and begins to adapt their way of life is one more level of security for all of us - there are no perfect solutions here, but the best possible outcomes depend on more people getting the message. ASPO is committed to raising awareness in both bottom-up and top-down ways - trying to run a national media campaign at the same time that it addresses our future at a policy level. Both are needed - there's so much that can be done to protect ordinary people from the coming storm both by collective action and by simply not making the dumbest possible political choices. Maybe it won't all work - but I can't think of many things more important than trying, and I'm pouring a lot of my time and energy - and my dollars - into making sure it happens. Counteracting the techno-utopian message isn't easy - or cheap.

I'm also making a donation to Bicycles for Humanity, which brings bikes to people with no access to transportation - bikes are life changing no matter where you are.

I'm also making a donation to the Tufts University sponsored New Entry Sustainable Farming Program, which brings refugees and immigrant farmers and low income people in for training in sustainable agriculture and small scale farming and help finding land. They accept both monetary donations and in-kind donations of land, time, equipment and other support.

So instead of giving Grandma a scarf or Dad a necktie (ok, I doubt that my readers actually give neckties ;-)), how about giving a bike, agricultural training, a flock of ducks and a shot that your neighbor will have heard about peak oil? How cool is that?


More like this

Heifer Project International: I used to donate to them when I worked for the feds. It's a good cause. I'd forgotten about them.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 30 Nov 2010 #permalink

Thanks for this post. My wife and I are enjoying looking through the Heifer International catalog. However, you need to fix the link for ASPO-USA.

heifer international is one of my favorites as well. My other go-to charities are Operation Smile (providing cleft lip and palate repair by volunteer plastic surgeons around the world), the Nature Conservancy (you can direct your gift toward saving the areas you feel most strongly about) and Planned parenthood (though this last one perhaps doesn't make a great Christmas present, family planning services and reproductive health and choice are essential to the future of the planet too!)

We love the Heifer project and give to it every year. We also like the World Wide Fistula Fund, Partners in Health and the Green Belt Movement. So many great causes, never enough funds.

Heifer, yes. Save the Children, yes. Carter Foundation, yes. ACLU, yes. Those are the ones I do on an annual basis. My husband is getting a book from me for Christmas! He's wanted this book for 18 years, so don't anyone spill the beans ahead of time!

Heifer International (HI) is an organization that claims to work against world hunger by donating animals to families in developing countries. Its catalog deceptively portrays beautiful children holding cute animals in seemingly humane circumstances. The marketing brochure for HI does not show the animals being transported, their living and slaughter conditions, or the erosion, pollution and water use caused by the introduction of these animals and their offspring.

By definition, animals raised for food are exploited in a variety of ways. The animals shipped to developing countries are often subject to; water and food shortages, cruel procedures without painkillers, lack of veterinary care resulting in extended suffering as a result of illness or injury.

A large percentage of the families receiving animals from HI are struggling to provide for themselves and cannot ensure adequate living conditions, nutrition, and medical care for animals they have been given. HI provides some initial veterinary training to individuals and the initial vaccines. But, long term care for these animals and their offspring is up to the individuals.

To make matters worse, animal agriculture causes much more harm to the environment than plant-based agriculture. The fragile land in many of the regions HI is sending the animals cannot support animal agriculture. Although they say they encourage cut and carry feeding of the animals to avoid erosion, the reality is often quite different.

The consumption of animal products has been shown in reputable studies to contribute significantly to life-threatening diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and a variety of cancers. Regions that have adopted a diet with more animal products see an increase in these diseases. The remote communities supposedly served by HI have no way of dealing with the health consequences of joining the high-cholesterol world.

While it may seem humane and sustainable to provide just one or two dairy cows here or there, the long term consequences are an increased desire for animal products in local cultures leading to an increase in production. These communities may be able to absorb the additional water use of one or two cows, what happens when there are hundreds or thousands of dairy cows, each consuming 27 to 50 gallons of fresh water and producing tons of excrement? The heavy cost to animals, the environment and local economies is not figured into HI's business practices.

Actually for Christmas this year I am giving a few neck ties, my husband requested some replacements for old ones that are wearing out, and i found this beautiful web site that sells slightly used neck ties for a decent price.

This Christmas, with the help of ebay- I've gone about 90% preowned. Not bad.

But I do love heifer, and they are the one catalog that I seriously consider buying/gifting something from all season. I try to match the animal up with the gift recipient's personality.

By round belly (not verified) on 01 Dec 2010 #permalink

JC, you're goddamn insane.

On topic: I prefer Unicef and Doctors without Borders, they've both got pretty good ratings on Charity Navigator.

By Neil Gottel (not verified) on 01 Dec 2010 #permalink

We've been giving to HI in my in-laws name the past two years. My kids love picking what to give. The first year it was a flock of chickens and a bee hive (birds and the bees), and last year it was two shares of a llama and a duck (llama, llama, duck).They love it.

Neil--re JC: Hear Hear!

He just goes to prove that a LITTLE knowledge is a dangerous thing. Factory farming and small farming shouldn't even be using the same words, and conflating them as though they were the same, as though people who use them as part of a traditional small holding were stupid is just wrong. And ignorant. JC needs to do a lot more research about HI before he makes such statements.

Heifer International is a wonderful program. I donate in my grand daughter's name.

I have used Heifer in the past and have since found some others that I prefer since Heifer gets so much publicity. Some of these other charities don't do as well. My monthly donation (and this could easily be a Xmas one) is to the local food bank. I pay my bills online and just give what I can every time I pay my bills. One important aspect to look for in donations is how much of the donation actually goes towards the charity and how much to overhead. I think Heifer does well here and I know my local foodbank can turn a $1 donation into $9 worth of food. Darn good bang for my buck and there is such a need in my area. I just found an organization called Skateistan ( They provide skateboarding classes to youth in Kabul. How cool is that? If anyone needs a stress outlet its youth in Afghanistan! I also look for community building nonprofits in my community. Often times, you can even get your employer to match your donation during Christmas (and Sharon, I just LOVE Adam Sandler's Hanukkah song!)

Call me a little selfish - I like to see my money used closer to hand. This year, I've donated to (they help folks in the greater KC area) and (they're working to restore the American Chestnut to American forests).


By Eric Smith (not verified) on 03 Dec 2010 #permalink

Its not at all clear to me that JC is insane, but it is clear that some respondents here are hostile and defensive without just cause. There is good scientific evidence that as animal product consumption increases so do certain diseases, and that as other areas adopt a diet and culture more like ours, their incidence of those diseases also rises.

Since American diet and culture are being exported so "successfully", why is it insane to think that our resource-intensive factory farming methods won't also be adopted in many areas? Particularly with, say, the IMF demanding such approaches in the name of repaying "loans"?

Argue away based on fact, but JC's statements seem pretty well grounded to me. If anyone on this thread has actually been to see HI's programs on the ground, and knows for a fact from direct observation how the animals are cared for, and what impact that has on their environs, speak up and tell us what you know.

Here's an org that takes a different approach:, started by the folks from The Farm in Tennessee. Its hard to argue with Albert Bates' neighbors...

By Thrivalista (not verified) on 04 Dec 2010 #permalink

Why would we want to spread the myth of "peak oil"? Why would I insult a refugee or immigrant farmer with patronising him with ideas of "sustainable farming" from decadent western environmentalists, bored of the wealth and abundance brought by free trade (denigrated as "consumerism") when he could be taught modern farming methods which would do far more for him?

Why is a science blog perpetuating such myths as peak oil and unsustainability of modern farming methods?


There is irrefutable evidence that people who live in the west have longer lives with less debilitating disease. Inevitably some diseases are more prevalent, but that does not mean that overall health is worse.


"...animal agriculture causes much more harm to the environment than plant-based agriculture..."

Probably true, but where in the world is there purely animal agriculture?

Mixed agriculture is, by far, the most effective, efficient and environmentally-friendly way to feed the world. I'd like to see you grow corn on the Welsh mountains instead of tasty mutton and lamb, and I'd like to see you tell a Welsh rugby player his country was not a stunning environment, despite being moulded by sheep farming.


I know Heifer gives training and follows up to make sure recipients pass on offspring of their livestock to others in the community. Do you know if Save the Children does something similar?


Richard, because it is a SCIENCEblog - we don't actually have to speculate about whether we are facing peak oil. We know that we are - we've seen it happen in a majority of US nations which follow a roughly bell-shaped depletion curve. The question is not whether the world will experience peak oil, but when, and with what results - but there's actually no doubt about the material science of peak oil.

Given that the majority of non-white farmers in the US have lost their land under "modern" farming - both immigrant and native, in a system that discriminates heavily and disproportionally against them, why would they want to study modern farming? The statistically most likely result of that is that they won't have a farm.