I am an American consumer. I have no little choice in the matter. There are extreme options for living off the grid, but I live in a big city (Seattle). Therefore, I must do as the Seattlites do. I try to make intelligent, conscientious consumer choices: buying second hand, buying local, buying independent. However, these choices are difficult at best. Many supposedly healthy, organic, responsible brands are owned and operated by large multi-national corporations who have more compassion for the bottom line than for environmental or human health.
This really frustrates me. Due to my choices (mostly, a car and electronics) I have at least 36 slaves working for me. I fully acknowledge the things I buy are tainted. It’s because I demand cheap goods that will satisfy me immediately. It’s because I don’t grow my own food or make my own clothing. It’s also because tainted goods are the only choices corporations and companies offer me. Or I could remove myself completely from the consumer loop and become a recluse.
The thought isn’t so bad, except I really like movies, cheeseburgers, beer, video games, refrigeration, modern medicine, owning a car, and the interwebs. Modern life in the United States can be awesome, amazing, and wonderful!
There has to be a better way. Few things in life are this black and white. Change has to come from both sides–manufacturer and consumer. I must demand my goods be slave free and ethically sound. I have to accept that these goods will eventually cost more. Corporations must wake up and realize human beings have an inherent dignity and the Earth can’t be raped until there is nothing left. If I can have fair trade coffee and conflict free diamonds, why can’t I have blood free electronics and transparent labeling?
Google and some other companies are on the right track. There are alternatives for those of us who can afford them. But I worry about are people who can’t afford (or access) these choices. Millions of people can ONLY shop at WalMart and eat at McDonalds. Economics dictate their food and goods. Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and the little hipster organic shop on the corner don’t exist in their neighborhoods and are too expensive for their budgets. In a country that prides itself on freedom and choice, millions of people have no alternative but depend on goods bound to human slavery and environmental atrocities.
So what is an American consumer to do? Start with consumer choices. Nothing will be 100% guilt free, but I have been buying better. Heather and I have scaled back how MUCH we buy in lieu of the QUALITY in what we buy. When we can, we frequent farmers markets. We walk to work. We don’t own a TV. We cook our own food. We buy clothes second hand. We make choices to go without, rather than participate in.
We also gear our investments in portfolios and organizations which work towards just environmental, economic, and employment practices. These investments may not have better returns, but the ethic is more important. Also, I speak up on corporate social media pages and participate in local and national government… I demand policies and laws that take the environment and human rights into account.
Gandhi’s words will forever be true: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Change is difficult and comes at a sacrifice; it means discomfort, delay of reward, or just saying no. But I believe it’s worth all this and more to achieve as much of a slave free and environmentally sustainable world as we can get. It is happiness and health for the long run.