Four hundred and fifty

The problem with trying to make ethical, sustainable choices…

Last year I examined a lot of different topics that changed me to the core and I hope will influence the choices I make for the rest of my life – for instance the information I learned when I lived at the poverty line and during good deed month, some of the videos I watched during vegan month, and what I learned about food during many of the months.  I’ve tried to make as sustainable and ethical choices as I can since learning this information, but it’s hard to draw a line between what is sustainable and what isn’t.  I’m reading Vanessa Farquharson’s book Sleeping Naked is Green (how an eco-cynic unplugged her fridge, sold her car, and found love in 366 days) and she mentions the problem with spices:

Things like basil, thyme, and coriander can all be grown locally, but garlic and ginger usually come from China, cinnamon from Sri Lanka, cumin from the Middle East, vanilla and curry powder from India, and so on, which means the more flavourful your meal, the bigger carbon cost it may have.

So unless you are a raw vegan who adds only locally grown herbs to your food, you are leaving a carbon footprint.  I never even thought about the environmental impact of spices.  The more I find out, the more it becomes overwhelming.  It feels like no matter what you do, you are screwed.

I recently went on a rant about TOMs shoes (for every pair you buy, they donate a pair to an underprivileged child in a developing nation somewhere) and how they might be doing more harm than good by giving shoes instead of helping bring jobs to poorer countries by manufacturing the shoes there (they are made in China).  I was upset that I tried to make the ethical choice and instead my purchase could be supporting something that hurts not helps.  Sometimes it’s so overwhelming I feel like giving up and just buying whatever I want to without the thought of where it comes from or how it’s affecting the environment and other people.

A friend of mine and former roommate who is more educated in ethical and sustainable products than anyone else I know (she owned a company that sold these kinds of products, as well as has a degree in nutrition, and has influenced me to use natural products and eat organic over the years) had an interesting opinion about it.  She told me that yes, TOMs doesn’t do everything perfect, but at least they’re doing something.  They are better than buying a pair from a company that makes their shoes in sweat shops and doesn’t try.  And her husband is from Africa and he often brings shoes to give to the kids because even if they were made there, there’s a lot of corruption and often the kids don’t actually get anything.  “You can only do what you can do.  Try to make the most informed decisions you can and continue to try to choose sustainable, ethical products.  None of them will be perfect.”

It made me think about how making simple choices can help.  If we all made simple choices, like used vinegar and water for cleaning instead of chemicals (which cleans just as good and is cheaper) or chose to buy shoes that were trying to help people instead of hurting them, the world would be a better, cleaner, nicer place to live – and might actually be around longer for generations to come.

So, here are my TOMs.  And I’m going to continue to do what I can do and make the best choices I can with the information I can find out.  Maybe my great grandchildren will thank me for that.

19 thoughts on “Four hundred and fifty

  1. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Rev Martin Luther King, Jr

    Lindsay, that quote has become a driving inspiration in my life over the last 4 years or so. You know I wrote my book about injustices, so this posting of yours today hits home heavily for me. I touch on this very issue as I address poverty, and specifically the lack of shoes in the world. Did you know that if the world were a community of just 100 people, 40 of them would not have shoes? This is research directly from my book: “The 300 million children of the world who cannot afford even the simplest pair of shoes are more vulnerable to infection, disease, and cuts – conditions that they most likely already cannot afford to face. In Ethiopia alone, it is estimated that eleven million people are considered to be at risk for Podoconiosis (a disease caused by walking or working barefoot in silica-heavy volcanic soil). It causes extreme swelling, repeated ulcers, and deformity – especially in the legs. This causes a large public health problem in at least ten countries in tropical Africa, Central America and northern India, with upwards of one million people already affected. The solution? Shoes. You wouldn’t think that something as simple as a pair of shoes could affect the future of a nation, but in reality it does. How? Well, children with shoes are healthier and are more likely to be better students. And since access to education is critical for long-term success in life, it stands to reason that healthy, educated children have a better chance at improving the future of not only their community as they grow up, but their country as well!”

    I agree with your friend. At least you are doing SOMETHING!!! Whether it’s buying a pair of shoes from Tom’s (my sons love and live by them, lol), or doing something with a group like Soles4Souls who does “barefoot day” events where you donate new or lightly worn shoes, you are doing something to make a difference!! Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t! I actually have been having an on-going argument recently with a college student I know about the whole “Kony 2012” campaign being done by Invisible Children (another issue in my book – Child Soldiers). He says that it’s pointless to have an “awareness campaign”. I say that you can’t begin to CARE until you are first AWARE of the issue, right? If only 1% of the 115 million people who watched that video on YouTube do something – that is 1 million people who wouldn’t have cared in the first place!

    Keep lifting your voice – it’s being heard… even if at times it’s only in your shoe closet. 🙂

      • And you didn’t hijack at all. I’m so glad for the input. Especially from someone who has done all the research you have!

    • Thanks Barry. Sometimes you just inspire me and say all the things I’m trying to so perfectly, with far more facts to back it up and added information. I can’t wait to read your book. Thank you for opening my eyes to these other causes too. I wasn’t aware of all the details involved with shoelessness and it’s with information like that that we can try to keep helping and fighting and doing something. It can get overwhelming for me at times, but I agree that even if 1% does something that’s still making a difference. I am resolved to keep trying to make the best decisions I can and lifting my voice as loud as I can. Even when I can’t see the direct impact right away. And I’ll be wearing my TOMS while doing it! 🙂

  2. LOVE this post as my course in Social Cultural Anthropology at U of T changed my life forever: my professor, Leslie Germyn, also suggested buying used clothing, like Value Village and the like as many of our clothing ends up dumped into Africa after a 400% markup which in turn knocks out their local industries and causes poverty and warfare. Yes, much of our clothing is resold, but a huge chunk is also dumped into Africa as well (see documentary “T-Shirt Travels”). And to buy an item that is well-made instead of cheaply made would also reduce the amount of waste from consumption of poorly made goods. It gets so complicated with these things, but yes, eating organically is great (true organic, not that big brand names that are more interested in making a profit).

    You’re doing amazing, really. And oh yeah, Craft of Hope is amazing too, to give back to the communities we take from. 😀
    Love your posts!


  3. It’s an interesting debate about Toms.They are indeed made in China, and when I was there, many of the ones I saw were excellent fakes. Toms has excellent marketing. Yes the idea of giving a pair of shoes to needy kids is a good idea, but what about food, water and medication instead?

    • It is an interesting debate and I agree with you, but what I’ve learned is that shoes are also needed desperately. You should read the comment by Barry – he shares some of the reasons shoes are in need for children especially (without shoes kids are “more vulnerable to infection, disease, and cuts”…). But I do think food, water and medication is important too – and bringing jobs as well. I think what I was trying to say is that if you’re going to make a choice, try to make the better one, and TOMS is a better choice than another shoe company doing nothing.

      • I think the key is to find a few causes that you can tie yourself to and do what you can to support people and organizations already at work in them. The water issue is huge as well, and you guessed it – it’s in my book, lol (I actually address 7 issues). Benjamin Franklin said, “When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water.” It’s true. What would WE do if only had access to what the majority of the world has? Here is a staggering statistic… 50% of the people in hospital beds in the world right now are there because of water-born diseases. It’s not so much a matter of the water not being there as it is they don’t have access – no wells. Or, if there are wells, there is no infrastructure in place to carry that water to where it’s needed. Today, nearly one billion people – about one in eight – lack access to clean water. And more than twice that many, 2.5 billion people, don’t have access to a toilet. Your bathtub probably holds about 40 gallons of water. Compare that to the 8 gallons someone in a slum MAY get to use in a day or the 2.6 gallons for those who have no access to running water. According to the US Geological Survey, the average American uses from 80-100 gallons of water in a day. With just turning your faucet on it pours out 1.5 gallons per minute. That is a LOT of water!

        What is important is for us to NOT point at an issue we don’t connecte with and say, “Oh, they are doing enough or I don’t like what they are doing.” (Again, at least they ARE doing something!) What we need to do is be thankful that there are people who’ve given their time, finances, comfort, and even lives to those causes – and then focus in on the ones that matter to us. The Marines may make fun of the guys in the Air Force, but I bet they’re really thankful for their air-support when the time comes. Point is we all have different functions, and no one function is better than another.

  4. I’ll be honest, the more I try to be aware of ethical and eco-friendly choices out there, the more overwhelmed I get. I’ll never forget the day someone told me that while soda bottles are recyclable, their tops aren’t. Out of habit, I’d always just screwed the cap on before disposing of a bottle in the recycling bin, and then someone said told me something along the lines of the machines only recycle things without the caps, and it made me angry to think of all the stuff I’d tried so hard to recycle over the years that might not have been repurposed at all because I left a stupid cap on. You’re right, trying to do something is better than nothing, but I’ll be honest – some things, to me, are more frustrating than they’re worth in my endeavor to do the right thing. There are too many rules for me to keep up with, so I’m going to try my best and I’m still gonna use cinnamon 😉

    • I totally agree it can get very overwhelming and it’s easier to stop, but once you know the rules it gets a bit easier. We can’t all do everything (and I love cinnamon, so it would be extremely hard for me to give that up), but I guess what I was saying is we should all at least make some steps and think about our choices. I especially hate when there isn’t a recycling bin around and I either have to choose to throw something like a plastic juice bottle in the garbage or carry it around with me all day until I find one. I admit I have occasionally thrown it out. But I also try to be informed of decisions I make while purchasing things and try to follow as many rules as I know. And try not to get too frustrated with it all. I figure it’s better to try than not try at all – even while using cinnamon 🙂

  5. This is a wonderful piece. I hope that more people become intelligent consumers and be more thoughtful about the things that they purchase or services that they use. I have been trying to be conscious about carbon footprint and how my food, clothing etc are manufactured. Sometimes, when I talk to my friends about my choices, I feel like they think I am being pretentious. While I really couldn’t blame them for thinking that way,(God only knows how much energy I’m wasting typing my response to your post) it’s just sad that they think this is just another trend that can go out of style in about a couple of years. And I know it’s hard to switch lifestyle to support a certain cause, but you’re right, at least do something! It’s the little things that usually count, and if each one would just pay attention and do their little share, then the world will probably be a better place to live in.

    Thanks for sharing this. And we wear the same color TOMS. 🙂 I love how comfy they are. Sorry, I just had to put that in there.

    • Thanks Janis! I totally agree. It’s not pretentious to want to help make choices that will hurt the environment less or help people in need. And TOMS are pretty comfy! (especially the red ones, in my opinion 😉 )

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  7. I had never heard of TOMS until I read your post, despite trying to make ethical choices as much as possible with my shopping. I’m interested in the issue of spices, and other products that we can’t grow locally (like coffee). If we entirely withdraw from buying such products, would this adversely affect the communities that produce them? I have decided that the answer is to support community projects that grow such things – so the money goes directly to the producers not to big multinationals. Like you say, if we all thought about our shopping choices and made some changes, the world would be a better place! I try to focus on the positives and not get overwhelmed by it all… Joanna Macey has lots to say about our attitudes in this respect.

    • I like the idea of supporting community projects. Where do you find out what projects are good to support and buy from? Is there particular producers you buy from?

      • As far as coffee is concerned I often buy from Ethical Addictions ( who buy direct from small growers, but they are a UK company. I think the answer is to ask around and find out what other people do but also to use the internet to research your options. I love internet shopping because there are so many choices and I’m not reliant on places that I have physical access to. For example, I love maple syrup… so I support small producers in Vermont and buy direct myself. My preference is to go direct where possible because any intermediary is going to take a cut and thus reduce the money going to the person who makes or grows the product. The more people there are in the chain the less money gets to the origin of that chain. I think that I will be looking in more detail at suppliers of spices… I feel a blog post coming on…!

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