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February 26, 2015, 12:00 AM

Shopping for Justice - The Food We Eat

Last month’s focus on Working for Justice, got me thinking about the global interconnections of our daily lives and the impact our simplest consumer choices have on other people’s lives all over the world.  I just started reading the book Where Am I Eating? by Kelsey Timmerman.  The author traveled and experienced work on Colombian coffee farms, West African cocoa fields, Costa Rican banana plantations, Nicaraguan lobster fisheries, and Chinese apple orchards to get a first-hand look at where these staples of the American diet come from these days. In America, we now import twice as much food as we did a decade ago.  Imports account for 86 percent of our seafood, 50 percent of our fresh fruit, and 18 percent of our fresh vegetables. His book explores the global food economy and all the issues around it.  Globalization, workers and human rights, modern-day slavery, the global food crisis, fair trade and immigration are all related to American eating habits.

 Our food can travel half-way around the world to get to us.  I looked at the label on a package of almond paste I bought at Stop & Shop for a special baking project last week.  It said “made in Denmark of the finest California almonds.”  Think of the distance those almonds traveled to end up in my pastry. I don’t want to think about the amount of fossil fuels it took to get that almond paste to my kitchen; but at least it seems safe to assume that the workers who grew, harvested, shipped, prepared, packaged, transported, and sold me the almond paste were adult workers, paid at least minimum wage.  That is not safe to assume, however, when we are dealing with the developing world. Child labor, unsafe working conditions, unfair compensation, outright slavery and animal cruelty are often involved in the food on our tables and the clothing in our closets. 

Next, I’ll read Timmerman’s other book, Where Am I Wearing? that explores the same issues related to the new outfits we will be wearing on Easter. The scope and complexity of the international ramifications of our every purchase can make us feel helpless, and paralyze us into inaction - particularly if we think about trying to work on the governmental level.  But we have power as consumers to change things on a more direct producer-consumer level.  We don’t have to wait for governments to pass laws to protect workers or outlaw pesticides.  One of the easiest and most efficient ways for us to work for justice in our daily lives is to buy fair trade goods when they are available and ask for them when they are not.  

Fair trade is an international social movement that helps producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions and promote sustainability. There are national and international nonprofit organizations, like Fair Trade USA, that are third-party certifiers of fair trade products. 

Fair trade certification helps people and the planet to work together so both are healthy and sustained. Fair Trade organizations provide farmers in developing nations the tools to thrive as international business people. Instead of creating dependency on aid, they use a market-based approach that gives farmers fair prices, workers safe conditions, and entire communities resources for fair, healthy and sustainable lives. They also work to raise the consciousness of American consumers to eliminate exploitation. I encourage you to go to their website - http://www.fairtradeusa.org/ - to get educated, excited, and empowered to be a fair trade consumer.

Most supermarkets already sell fair trade coffee and chocolate (look for the fair trade logo on the package), and I read on the Fair Trade USA website that Fair Trade Certified fruits and veggies are also available at retail locations across North America, including Whole Foods Market, Costco, Safeway, Sam’s Club, Earth Fare and more. 

I usually get my groceries at Stop&Shop, and I have never seen fair trade labels on the fruit and veggies there so I emailed a request to them- http://www.stopandshop.com/contact.  If enough of us let our vendors know that we are looking for fair-trade options, we can make it easier for everyone to work for justice globally by acting locally.

Rev. Cheryl P. Anderson, Pastor
First Congregational Church | www.firstchurchwashingtonct.org | 6 Kirby Road | Washington, CT 06793 | 860-868-0569

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