Like 96.8% of North Americans, I am a meat-eating, foreign-made garment wearing, gas-powered car driving, capitalist, who is upset about high taxes and low work compensation. Or at least I was, anyways…
Ethics in eating
A few months ago I was watching television and came across a documentary on the life-cycle of the food we eat and its impact on our bodies and on our planet; I came to the realization that not only was cutting out meat a healthier life choice, it was a more ethical one as well.
Take a stroll down the food aisles at your local grocery store. Grab the occasional item off of the shelf and check out the ingredients. Chances are that somewhere on that ingredient list you will find an animal product (milk, butter, cheese, etc). So then what percentage of food in the grocery store is made from animal products? 60%? 70%? 80? This puts a TREMENDOUS strain on the production line, and increases demand for a resource which is both ecologically damaging, and ethically heart-breaking. The tipping point for me was choosing not to look away when this documentary covered how these animals are raised (atrocious), maintained (even worse), and slaughtered (there is no such thing as a humane slaughter).
Couple the mistreatment of the animals produced for consumption (including milk) and the nonsensical ecological damage it causes (where vastly greater amounts of food could have been grown instead), with popular media and health-culture’s almost comedic emphasis on consuming “enough” protein for a “healthy” diet, and I’m OUT. I can’t possibly support an industry built on lies, destruction, and cruelty, anymore.
Does this mean that I’m going to run around throwing blood on those wearing fur coats and goose down? No, it doesn’t. Though with education and knowledge, I now have more appreciation for those extremist environmental organizations that do. Does it mean that I’m going to snub my nose at friend or family hosted meals where meat is being served? Absolutely not. I’m not here to be a burden or an acolyte and I’m not here to guilt people for enjoying a good steak. What is does mean is that I am going to vote for ethical treatment of animals, sustainable food production, and better health, in the most effective manner possible. With my wallet.
The only way I bought clothing was when it was on sale. Not only did I like the fact that I could buy something that I liked for cheap, I liked that I ‘got a good deal’. I never stopped to consider why the piece of clothing could be sold so cheaply in the first place. I always assumed that the seller wasn’t making a profit and was just trying to cut their losses on last season’s stock. What I learned is that the retailer NEVER takes a loss, the manufacturer NEVER takes a loss, and the cost of the raw materials itself doesn’t ever go down. The cost of raw materials has been bottomed out for years. My sale price, is on the back of the workers being employed to manufacture the goods, and the conditions they work under and the compensation they work for are equally abysmal.
On my way to work the other day I walked by protestors who were lobbying the public for support in their “fight for 15” (a movement wherein workers demand a $15 per hour minimum wage). Minimum wage is one of the foundational pillars with which the employer-worker relationship is built upon; it usually reflects the cost of living in the area, and is often indexed to inflation. I engaged one of the gentlemen participating in the protest in a conversation about minimum wage. I asked him where he bought his shirt and he replied, “Walmart…3 pack…$9…it’s all I can afford these days.” I then asked him if he knew where Walmart’s clothing was manufactured. Like most of us (myself included not four month’s earlier) he did not know. I informed him it was made in Cambodia by workers who make less than $3 per day, and regularly work 14 or more hours. His response? “So what? That’s not my problem, and there’s nothing I can do for someone thousands of miles away.”
This got me thinking. I understand that a person’s duty is to themselves and their family first, but at what cost? If a worker making minimum wage in North America can’t relate to and empathize with a worker making SUBSTANTIALLY LESS in Cambodia, what chance do we have as a species of succeeding? If this worker can’t see that the worker in Cambodia’s case isn’t exactly like their own (only much more dire), then how can they reasonably expect corporate executive #1 to address their demands? The success of the elitist is forged on the backs of the common, and if we aren’t looking out for one another, globally, then we have no chance locally.
This is why I now only buy clothing that is a product of first world countries or those companies who have identified themselves as “Fair Trade.” All of the big clothing corporations who mass produce relatively cheap clothing: H&M, Walmart, Forever21, etc, will claim that they have strict guidelines for their manufacturers to follow regarding labour codes, wages rates, working conditions, etc. And yet, they choose to manufacture their clothing in places like Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc; not because the cost of the goods is cheaper, but because the labour policies and enforcement are nil. And to keep their hands clean, they do not get involved in the employee relations of their manufacturers.
The only way you can change this is to buy clothing based upon need, not want, and again, to vote with your wallet. Support locally manufactured clothing brands. Support Fair Trade initiatives. Support ethical treatment of workers. And realize that if you see an article of clothing for a price that is too good to be true, it is on the backs and the blood of workers just like you and I who want fair treatment, but don’t have the means to get it.
Being a resident of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) of North America (specifically, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), I am in a privileged and unique position to observe environmental occurrences. From our valleys, to our mountains, to our ocean, all at our doorstep, the beauty and sensitivity of an ecosystem is always front and centre. Because of the surrounding pristine environment, many environmentalist preservation-types are attracted to this area. Consequently, when issues like gas pipelines and oil tankers arise, there is no shortage of activists prepared to protest their presence. Which begs the question, is it hypocritical for a society founded upon the benefits of gas and oil to protest the presence of the very product which makes their lives more comfortable? In a word, yes. The acronym ‘NIMBY’ (Not In My BackYard) comes to mind. People want the benefits that oil and gas provide, they just don’t want their personal environment interrupted so that they can continue their dependence.
As mentioned, residents of the PNW are in a unique position. In Vancouver, 97% of our electrical needs are serviced by hydro-electric dams, a renewable resource. However, most areas of the world do not have this luxury, nor does hydro-electricity power our cars (at least not mine). Because hypocrisy is at the foundation of all of the changes I have been making, I was forced to review my own dependence on gas and oil. For me, it more or less came down to one object, the family car. I have the fortune of living only 2km from my work. I either walk or bike to work every day, regardless of weather conditions.
As a health-nut, I would be remiss not to point out the positive health implications of biking and walking to work, but more than that, it gives you the opportunity to reflect, interact with your community, and sometimes, when you are really stressed, it provides a catharsis that no gas powered vehicle can. As a society, even an environment-conscious one, like in the PNW, we still have a LONG way to go, but with more alternative options available than ever (electric cars, solar panels, electric powered trains, etc), there is no excuse not to seek out a better solution than Henry Ford's legacy.
In my years on this Earth, I have learnt that in almost all cases, business deals have a winner and they have a loser. This means that any great accumulated wealth is usually made due to the misfortune or the taking advantage of others. And if you’re ok with that, you’re not ok with me. I'm not pushing for equity over equality, not by any means. I believe that hard work, contribution, and personal risk and self-belief in self should be rewarded. But working hard and gaining customer reputation and compensation is one thing, deceiving, manipulation, cheating, and otherwise taking advantage of someone is another animal altogether.
Best highlighting this out-of-control capitalism are big corporations. They are the ones you always read about whose executives are cashing million dollar bonus cheques at the end of the year. They are often indifferent about the treatment of their lower level workers, and they really only care about the value of their dividends at the end of the fiscal annum.
This one may be the easiest fix of all: Shop local. Support the small businesses that our neighbours are running. By in large, the quality, service, and attention you will receive will more than make up for a slightly higher price tag. While I am guilty of hitting up Amazon from time to time, I make a big effort to shop at local grocery stores, support local brands, and eat at local restaurants (and for God's sake, don't be stingy on the tip!)
My personal overhaul is not perfect by any means. It is a work in progress and takes conscious decisions on a day to day basis. But perhaps the social change that I am trying to institute is more about a philosophical shift. Too many of our lives are scripted and subconscious. For me, the time to wake up is now. An avalanche starts with but a snowflake.