Trying to Live Green-On a Budget

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Where does my food come from? The ethical delima of consumerism. October 25, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Amanda @ 3:37 am

I was raised in a lower middle class neighborhood, and food just always sort of was there.  If we needed food, it was in the store.  As far as I was concerned that’s where it came from.  On some level I knew it was made somewhere, probably by someone doing something, but honestly deep down, on an unconscious level, I didn’t really believe it, the food, you see, came from the store.

Then I started living green.  Then I started reading about food and…  Well…

Did you know that there’s an ethical component to food?

I know, I know.

Whenever I hear about ethics it is from some stuffy guy with a PhD (Piled Higher and Deeper) who talks in terms that require a (Capital P) Philosophy to English dictionary to translate.  Even with said dictionary about three quarters of everything the man (it’s usually a man) said is fluff, and the rest doesn’t really mean anything.  Let’s just sit in a circle, hold hands, sing kumbaiya and hope everything works out for the best. This has lead to the following observation:  Philosophical Ethics lacks in action what it makes up for in words.

Can you tell that I went to an ethics and social movements talk yesterday?  Don’t get me started.

So let’s get back to something meaningful.   I’m going to ask a rhetorical question.  What do Ethics have to do with what I buy on a daily basis?

The answer is, quite a bit.

There are Ethical components to each of the following questions:   Where did this come from?  Who made it?  How was it raised?  Are there preservatives in it?  Did they use pesticides?  And the ultimate question, what kind of impact is my purchase going to have on the world at large?

That last one may seem like it’s a bit much, but we live in a Capitalist society.  Dollars are like votes.  I can’t affect anything anyone has already done while making purchases, but I can say whether or not I approve.  The way I do that is by buying it, or not buying it.  If I buy it I encourage the person I bought it from to get more to sell to me, and they pass that back down the line.  If I don’t buy something then it sits there, and the retailer tells their supplier not to sell it to them, and that then goes back up the line too.  Individually, like my vote, the money I’m spending doesn’t have much of an impact, but if no one buys something, the person making it is going to stop, because otherwise they’re going to go broke.

So let me set out what I have defined as my personal goals.

1)      I want to decrease my waste that goes to the dump by 90%, (don’t roll your eyes yet, it gets better)

2)      Consume largely Organic Produce (to decrease the petrochemicals used in the farming industry providing healthier food for us and supporting healthier more sustainable farming practices, and hey maybe my memory will improve)

3)      Buy local as much as possible (knowing where my food comes from, how the animals that are meat are treated (humanely as well as health-wise) and supporting my local economy.)

4)      When Items do not come from local sources, and if I can find out, I will buy the one where the workers who made it were treated fairly, received fair wages, and are made in a sustainable manner, over anything else.

Impossible you say?  Maybe.

Do I expect to be perfect?  No.

Still these are the things I would like to achieve with the crazy lifestyle that I am working on.  My goals are certainly not for everyone, and I have some very personal reasons for them, so don’t feel like it is necessary for everyone to have the same goals that I do.

I would love it if everything I bought was grown or made locally, in Spokane, or baring that, regionally, and if failing that at least from within America.  I would love it if everything I bought was environmentally friendly, producer friendly products made from magic fairy dust that didn’t cause pollution and was great for everyone.  This is America.  Money is finite.  And in my income range…  Yeah.

I might be able to meet all my goals if we lived in a shack, probably in the woods, and make a lot of things ourselves from what we found in nature.  Oh yes, and if I could control time and space so I could make everything myself, go to school, and work.  Yep, then we could afford it… Maybe.

I like my modern day conveniences.  What can I say?

So what is a girl to do?

Try!

So how do I make this magic happen?  Really it’s pretty easy.  All it comes down to is making better decisions when I buy things.  And the way to do that, I’m finding is to ask questions.

Where did this come from?

Knowing where a product is produced is important for a few reasons.  If we know how our food is grown and how the animals are treated, then you as the consumer have a power that most of us have given up, the power to vote with our money.

If we know our food was grown on a local, certified organic farm then we know that we are supporting our local economy AND ecology (keeping the soil clean, sustainable, and keeping our water clean just to name a few).

Transportation is a huge source of pollution (not as huge as the petrochemicals used in pesticides but that’s another story), and if you look past the monetary cost of an item to its carbon cost, then how far it had to go to get to me becomes a pretty important question.

A lot of the countries we buy from can make things more cheaply because they don’t have stringent environmental standards.  This becomes particularly important when it comes to food.  If they don’t have standards who knows what they sprayed on the food, or what they did to the animals you’re eating. Also, what did they have to do to that food to keep it “fresh” from the other side of the world to my shelf?

Lastly, some countries promote what is pretty much slave labor, or the countries use the money they get from export tariffs to promote wars and human atrocities.

Remember you’re voting with your Dollars here.  Do you want to pay people to poison the environment, and commit genocide, all while poisoning you with their shoddily made, potentially lead filled product?

Think about it.

Who made it?

I have found that when I buy from local farmers at the farmers market, or from places like Natural Start Bakery or Fresh Abundance, the people who work there (or the farmers who produce the food stuffs) can tell me the care and love that goes into my food, what steps they are taking towards sustainability and supporting our community.  They can tell me when the meat was slaughtered (usually within days of coming to market) and how it was packaged.  When I have a question or comment they are there to help me, answer my questions, hell a lot of them even offer to deliver to my door!  What great service!

I’m finding that, having a personal connection with the people who make my food is probably more important than the good relationship that I have with my investment manager or my banker.  I don’t eat what they’re selling me directly.

Without that “personal touch”, it’s a whole lot harder to find out about what it is exactly you are buying, and what’s in it.  In a lot of cases it’s impossible.  Still it’s worth asking.  If you can talk to a manager or especially the guy at the meat counter, they can tell you a lot.  Even if you just get a manufacturer or producer, there is always the Internet.

What is in it?

Are there petrochemicals or nasty preservatives in here that will cause cancer, renal failure, or other bad stuff?  Believe it or not, a lot of foods contain nasty toxins that can make us sick, decrease our life span, increase the chance for obesity, cancer, neurological problems etc.

I know I know, the FDA wouldn’t allow that right?

Wrong.

Don’t believe me?  Go read their website, then do a search for excerpts from the recent study by the Government Accountability Office about our food supply.  If you want a real hoot, go read some of the legislation before congress what is attempting to make them actually exercise some oversight instead of hiring as inspectors, (the former executives of that company).  Wow.

So, as with everything else in life, It is up to me, as the consumers to know what it is that I am taking into my body, or feeding to my family, and what effects it might have both in the short and long terms.  It’s a real  pain in the behind that I even need to worry about this, but until our government remembers that it exists by the Will of the People, instead of the Will of the Big Corporations Bottom Line, that’s how it’s going to be.

Want to change it?  Vote with your dollars.  Vote with your ballot every election until it gets fixed.

Who made it?

I ask this question on a global scale. Is the item Fair Trade (more on this later, but by and large if you buy something marked as Fair Trade™ then it means that the people who produced it were paid a fair living wage and have to meet certain sustainability requirements)? If it was made in a country like China can the company who made it prove that they inspect for quality? Or that their employees are treated fairly?  If companies like Mary Kay Inc. can, why can’t they?

What impact does this have on the big picture?

Yes the big picture.  I’ve already been hitting on this, and it’s not always easy to figure out what effect something is going to a global scale, but I’m learning to try.  Still it does make it easier to walk past things at the dollar store, and spend the extra dollar or two for a cleaner, nicer alternative if I keep asking this question.

I’m voting with my dollars.  My actions affect the world at large the same way a butterfly flapping its wings do.  So, is what I am buying produced/manufactured using fair labor practices, sustainable practices, and as environmentally friendly as possible?  If not, why not, and do I really need it?

What impact does it have on my bank account?

As great as all the other questions are, this is the big question.  Believe it or not most of these “ethical dilemmas” I am posing tend to cost more.

Surprise!

What I have found though is that even though we spend about $150 more a month on food, buying local food (organic as much as possible) has made a huge impact on our quality of life.  I have been losing weight, and feeling much more energetic than when I was eating the cheap government subsidized food of old.  So I’m paying more to live healthier.  I look at it like this.  I’m spending more on food to spend less at the Doctor’s office, and eat food that actually tastes like food.  In my opinion it’s worth it.

That works for food at least.

As I mentioned before Mary Kay is a very socially and environmentally aware company that brings fair jobs and great work environments to people in America, China, and Korea (as well as anywhere else they are that I haven’t listed). I am constantly impressed by the commitment they have to making the world a better place, as a whole.   So my cosmetics are covered.

I am, however, still struggling to find good clothing and accessories that are made with fair labor practices in mind.

I will be comparing different products that I find as I blog.  Keep an eye out!

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