Please excuse the lack of actual food references in this article. I am posting it as an awareness raising tool about consumer choices in general, to recognize the purchasing power we have in the US (for Christmas gifts or for dinner) and the role our consumption has on world poverty and an alternative to this discouraging reality (Fair Trade). So, Dispatch from the Bridge of Hope Fair Trade Program in Peru:
Yesterday at a fabulous intercultural-expatriate Thanksgiving meal (another blog soon to come), I had the duty of explaining to Peruvian friends
what is Black Friday. I described it as a disgusting manifestation of my
country´s consumer insanity. A sometimes homicidal frenzy to buy, buy, buy. An
oblivion of credit cards and savings spent, of angry drivers and enraged
shoppers, of mistreatment, impatience, entitlement, and just plain rudeness.
Why do people act like that, my Peruvian friends asked.
A naked greed exposed on the blackest of days.
Is this what we give thanks for, the day before, or how we
prepare for a sacred arrival?
Yesterday I gave thanks to be in Peru where I wouldn´t have
to deal with this awful custom. I hate it, I really, really hate it. The fact
that people stand in line all night, trample each other to enter box stores, or
fight over prices and product supply.
The customer is always right, right? So we´ve been taught in
our culture. Consumerism is what is valued.
But what about human values? Enjoying Thanksgiving with the
family instead of dashing out to spend the night awaiting the Golden Gates to
open? Or analyzing the effect of box stores on local economies (destroys small
businesses) and the environment (imagine the trees that existed before the
massive parking lot). And most importantly, recognizing the now-so-alientaed
human effort that went into bringing each Christmas bargain under your tree,
including the cashier who got up at 3am, missing her kid´s day off from school,
getting paid just about minimum wage to
make sure YOU get the best deal (and the CEO is off on a yacht in the
There were people who constructed that toy, or molded that
dish, knit that sweater, or made those earrings (photo: Ernesto of Fair Trade jewelry group Munay Rumi). Were they paid fairly? Probaby machines played a
part in the production. Were the overseers kept safe in the operation? A
company shipped that in from SouthEast Asia or Latin America. How many hands
did it pass through to get to you, and who made the most money in the exchange?
There are choices we can make as consumers that favor human
values over blind bargains. That is, when you like at the price, think about
the cost. Who is receiving less because you are paying less? I guarantee the
squeeze is hardest at the production level.
One alternative is buying Fair Trade. Besides the fact that
it is easy to buy over the internet, to avoid the unpleasant people out in the
malls today (and for the next month, and just malls in general which give me a
sense of nausea), your purchase means that you are investing in an artisan´s
life. It means you recognize, support, and encourage fair prices, producer´s
rights, safe working environments, gender equality, democratic leadership,
solidarity, justice, communication, transparency, business training,
micro-entrepreneurs, and alternative development strategies. Yup, all that in a
scarf. (Like from the fair trade Group Warmipa Maqui.)
Another alternative is boycotting. Take yourself out of the
equation, and choose to celebrate Christmas in more meaningful ways. Maybe
homemade presents, maybe activities instead of "stuff", volunteer,
investing time (instead of the money you apparently don´t have because the
economic crisis is so bad that donations to humanitarian organizations have
dropped significantly), or make a donation to a cause you care about in
someone´s name, as an honorary gift.
Why is Black Friday called Black Friday? asked our Peruvian
One USAer said, because companies get of the hole in one day, and their books go from "red" to "black." I had never thought of that answer before.
My answer was: because it is a dark, dark day.
Alexandra Buck is facilitator of the Bridge of Hope Fair Trade program, an effort of the Joining Hands Peru Network, one of 10 country networks that make up the international arm of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. She tries to stay balanced even when she´s walking on ruins, and she´s making this Christmas a Fair Trade Christmas. She hopes you don´t stand in line too long today.