Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On Trying to be a Responsible Consumer

If you give Eleanor a piece of chocolate, she's likely to ask you, "Is it fair trade?"  I didn't set out to indoctrinate her in social justice.  In fact, when I decided to stop buying non-fairly traded chocolate about two years ago, I didn't think of how it would affect Eleanor.  Today at breakfast as we were eating our chocolate chip pancakes (someone had given us a bag of chocolate chips), Eleanor asked me if they were fair trade.  She looked at the bag for the symbol and couldn't find it.  This began a long conversation on what fair trade is and why we don't buy chocolate that isn't.  Have you ever tried to explain slavery to a child?  How about child slavery?  She asked why the children didn't just go home.

Over a third of the cocoa that makes the world's chocolate comes from Ivory Coast, Africa. It's highly likely that the beans that made your favourite chocolate bar come from there.  Thousands of children - from within the Cote D'Ivoire and neighbouring countries – who pick and harvest these beans have been trafficked. They have had their freedom taken away from them and are forced to work long hours on the cocoa plantations without receiving any money for their work.
-from Stop the Traffik

There are several great chocolates that are traded fairly.  I've found where I can get good, fairly traded chocolate and when I happen in one of those stores, I stock up.  I can make brownies and chocolate milk with cocoa from Ten Thousand Villages.  I like Sundrops better than m&m's (especially the dark chocolate ones).  Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Macadamia is AMAZING.  The Fuller coffee shop has various chocolate candies that are good (they even had some Easter chocolates).  The one thing that I haven't been able to find was good semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Tonight in Whole Foods, I found them.  I was giddy.  I just wanted to share my elation with you.

Yes, the fairly traded chocolate is more expensive.  I paid five dollars for a package of chocolate chips.  The way I see it, if I can afford to buy chocolate, then I can afford to make sure that my indulgence doesn't come at the cost of a child's freedom.

 In related news, I have been looking for something similar to the ubiquitous Gerber Puffs for Charlotte.  Besides being full of sugar and preservatives, the puffs are made by Gerber which is now owned by Nestle.  In the past, Nestle engaged in some extremely disturbing practices that resulted in millions of infant deaths (according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization).  In short, they marketed their infant formula to mothers in developing countries who didn't have access to clean water or enough money to pay for enough formula to adequately feed their baby.  Babies died from waterborne illness or malnutrition when the formula was watered down to make the expensive formula last longer.
In the 1950's, Nestle actually had women dress as nurses to promote formula to women in developing countries.  Pressure from a boycott stopped this practice. (Picture from Baby Milk Action)

After learning this I didn't want to support Nestle, so I did a little research and found an alternative to the Puffs: Arrowhead Mills Puffed Rice.  I went to Whole Foods tonight to get it and in this case, the price difference worked in my favor: $1.69 for six ounces (compared to $2.69 for 1.48 ounces of Gerber Puffs).  These puffs have one ingredient: organic brown rice.  I also got the puffed wheat and the puffed kumut.  Tomorrow Charlotte will try them.  I'll let you know how it goes. 

I realize that my not buying chocolate or Nestle products is not going to change huge corporations, but it makes me feel better to not give them any of my money.  I hope that I can soon do more to help the oppressed, but for now I'll just eat my Sundrops.

Also, if you live in the Pasadena area and would like to learn more about fair trade and help raise money to end human trafficking, you might consider the upcoming Spring Chocolate Fondue Party, hosted by Oasis USA.


The Fanks said...

I'm obviously going to have to add this to my list of things to think about. But here are my comments:

1) Thank you for doing what YOU can do. You are responsible for how your money is spent. I've spent several weeks mulling over poverty (specifically in Africa) and I've come to the same conclusion. There is so little I can do to change living conditions, death from unclean drinking water, HIV/AIDs. But what I can do, I'm going to do with my whole heart and believe in the end, this is where my judgment will fall.

2) You encourage others to do the same by sharing part of your story. We are beginning a story here, but you'll have to call to find out what it is until we feel we can blog it. :)

B & B said...

I am going to group fair trade and locavore eating together here: we (the general public we) have become so very successful at separating ourselves from the origins of the products we use for food, cleaning, the clothes we wear that, without conscientious souls like yourself and Micheal Pollan (of the Omnivore's Dilemma) we could go on happily never knowing the negative impact our purchases make over time.
What a fine thing to teach your children to think about the hands that gathered the cocoa beans, what changes they went through, and how far they might have traveled to get to your plate.
Thanks, Mel.
And THANK GOODNESS for the whole foods 365 brand. :)