Purchasing Power: Part 1 - your local impact
How have you done with my coffee challenge blog? Did you find yourself reading the packaging of your coffee, or hopefully going into stores and purposefully buying Fair Trade products? Today I am digging further into that can of worms which holds our food choices’ global impact, and hope to make it clear that we each have the capacity to invoke change in our own lives and in our world.
We are trained to spend our money and make smart decisions on purchases at a young age. Historically, humans were subject to brainwashing tactics to sway their purchasing decisions, and perhaps today is no different with marketing ploys that target so accurately. It is true that early in life we all feel the anticipation of a spending opportunity. I recall this from my childhood, being old enough to walk around the mall by myself with the intent to spend my hard-earned egg-picking and weed-pulling allowance. When those pennies added up to a few bills, I knew there was some treat or treasure that I needed. Now I see it in my own children when cash or a gift card ends up in their possession; the urge to spend it immediately overtakes them. Learning to curb that immediacy and to instead, plot and plan a purposeful purchase comes with time and experience yet it is something we need to work on no matter our age.
I really enjoy grocery shopping. When I have the time, I like to look at new products, compare prices, and do research right there in the aisles. Yet on an average shopping day I need to get in and out of that store as efficiently as possible and with little distraction. I’ll select whatever apples are the cheapest, buy the protein that is on feature, choose the carrots in the largest bag available, and pick the greens that will be most suited for the salad I have planned. Moving beyond that general sense of overbearing time restraints is hard to shake, even while in the grocery store. That feeling of needing to get to the cashier as quickly as possible has existed long before those competitive grocery shopping reality shows existed! This isn’t the ideal way to do our shopping, although I think it realistically reflects how most of us fill our carts.
What we buy shapes the inventory of the stores we frequent. I’ve seen how selection has been affected over the last 20 years as I have shopped for specialty foods due to my gluten sensitivity. When the demand grew beyond those with dietary restrictions to become a fad diet for various health and weight loss reasons, stores quickly increased product availability and selection. Not only that, but products saw benefits in quality when the need for items to taste and feel more like “normal” drove product refinement thanks to the competitive market. Today many grocery stores carry up to a full aisle of gluten-free and natural foods compared to the complete lack of such items just a few years ago. Demand impacts a whole industry and with education and awareness your demands tend to change.
If we are considering what purposeful purchasing looks like, we need to recognize some self-imposed blinders that we perhaps don’t even realize we have on as we shop. For example, I think it is easy to point out that we truly want the most perfect looking tomatoes in the display, and why should it matter where they are from when they are just so shiny? Bearing in mind the health and treatment of the folks who picked those gorgeous tomatoes so that I can buy them isn’t really a comfortable thought to ponder when I am just trying to enjoy a few minutes of peace while shopping for the needs and wants of my family. Yet now that I am uncovering things that really bother me, I think that if I was willing to spend $4 on tomatoes from a farm somewhere in Mexico that is under investigation for human rights violations, I can more confidently spend $6 on tomatoes grown in a family owned and operated Canadian greenhouse. Not only am I annoyed my stores offer me options that make me “unknowingly” support something so outrageous, this may even make me consider that this week, we don’t need tomatoes and I’d rather wait until some are available grown closer to home. Supply and demand seem to call for the best value to the consumer and when we aren’t paying the extra $2 for tomatoes, someone else is paying in another way. We each spend up to hundreds of dollars a week on groceries. That is a tally worth being more purposeful with, so I hope that you join me in digging deeper into what our spending is actually doing beyond our own bubble.
Application: Aww changes are hard. Digging into the tough stuff is difficult. Yet move on towards some goals and see how to make some small changes towards better. As we buy our groceries with a bit more purpose, we will begin to take off those blinders that have helped us focus just on our own needs and wants.
What: This can mean different things for different people. Lets try to buy more local and even organics (hurray for spring and garden markets), look for Fair Trade symbols on our coffee and tea purchases both in store and in the coffee shop. Don’t go for disposable - bring your own mug or thermos - this will open your eyes to the disposable world view we have grown to accept and want.
Fair trade products include chocolate and spices as well as fruit items alongside cotton and clothing, jewellery and other goods that tend to come from the global south.
Why: Loving our neighbors is a call to us to look beyond ourselves and see that what we have been supporting until now has actually been supporting things like child-workers, poor working conditions, poor work ethics of businesses, ecological impacts and
How: Buy in-season, and research shops near you or online that can help you with these new goals. Research! Check out the great videos on www.fairtrade.ca and follow them and their hashtags to learn more. In Winnipeg, Ten Thousand Villages stores are a great resource to begin with. Take your time, go slowly, and soak in the info, and prepare to be shocked and ready to react! Reach out to a friend and try to do this together with some real goals that can impact your shopping cart and the people where those products came from.