What choice(s) do I have?

Yes, it sometimes feels like this…

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.

It’s like that scene in the Shining… but on everything…

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.

Ideas anyone? Bueller… Bueller…?

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?

These are your only choices… forever…

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.

Power to the people!

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.

Trust this guy.

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.

98 thoughts on “What choice(s) do I have?

  1. Quality is expensive partially because it’s not likely to come from overworked slaves. I buy shoes and electronics new, but most of my clothes secondhand. It’s much cheeper, and I don’t like many of the styles I’m seeing in department stores this season. Save for the things you really want and buy ones that will last.


  2. I was smiling ear to ear throughout the article. I am guilty of more than half the things you mentioned. Like, you said truth of the matter is we have little choice and options. Big change can only be a result of big actions- of both, the consumers and manufacturers. I might just take this article to school and read it to anyone who will listen to me anymore 😛


  3. Hey Justin
    Don’t worry mate. What you are feeling is good stuff. You are nearly at the point of realization. After that it’s easy and you’ll know what to do.
    At the centre of all your concerns is money.
    We now can see the fantastic future that awaits us all. Just as soon as we stop using it.
    You’re obviously well ahead of most, but for more guidance, have a look at a Resource Based Economy at the Zeitgeist Movement or my new blog ” madpigman”.
    Good luck…..


  4. ikatpillowtalk

    Hey Justin, good post.
    I feel your frustration. However, i’ve come to the conclusion that everything is a choice and we always, always have the right and freedom to choose whatever we want, be it good or bad.

    In my opinion, it is our egos, our fear of the consequences should we not conform to what our society tells us to be and do. But I get it, what are we suppose to do? Live like cavemen? Let our pits grow out so to not encourage scented razor handles that come in pink, purple or sparkles with seven blades coated with aloe vera plus moisturizing bars? Ok, this may not apply to you men.. but you get the point.

    I like how David Suzuki refers to our economy as the modern day legend of the old “big scary man eating dragon” created by no other than us too-smart-for-our-own-good humans. How we talk about it like it’s a living thing with emotions; some days it’s up, some days it’s down – let’s monitor it carefully so that it doesn’t sneak up and bite us in the ass with its big scary teeth. Really, how silly can we be? We’re so scared of this thing….but we created it!! Ha!

    Anyway, there are many ways to feel better about this. Change your lifestyle, your job, your house, the city you live in. Yeah, you said it – sacrifices. But it’s doable. I know this, because i’ve done it. Kinda like stripping off a real big band-aid. Temporarily painful, excitingly liberating 🙂


      1. ikatpillowtalk

        I believe it’s only a poor choice when you are AWARE that the outcome might be poor. If you have the best intentions, and the outcome is poor, then that’s my definition of experience. And the more experience you have, the better you get at making good decisions 😉


  5. This is a very interesting article indeed. But a change can be brought about only when both the consumers and the producers are willing to compromise and sacrifice. Both sides need to be sensitive towards the environment and to those who don’t have all the choices available to them due to financial constraints.


  6. You’re right that it’s never black and white, there’s too much marketing hype to wade through and the average consumer will never have access to the entire chain of production so that we can make informed choices. Sometimes it seems futile but at the end of the day we do need to look back and know that we tried. Yes, some try much harder than others (and in doing so shame the rest of us) but we have to say that we tried!! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.


  7. Wonderful post! It’s true, we don’t always have a choice. Perhaps one way of dealing with it could be to offset the consequences of our purchasing habits (the ones we can’t do much about) by making a difference where we can, until we can have more choice. Just like you are doing on corporate social media pages and in local/national government.


  8. Good points well made. I personally try to keep some of the power that is taken from me on a consistent basis. I do so by spending my money and time on safe healthy products, and never taking everything at face value, but rather being my own advocate for finding truth. It takes lots of effort on my part, but it works for me. Cheers on getting freshly pressed!


  9. the hOOter

    Indeed.. These are the woes of citizens in developed countries. We are but living in a material world, often hankering over material needs compared to true human needs.. Times have evolved and so have our wants. Part and parcel expected from this shift in paradigm. That said, wise words from Gandhi. At the end of the day, the ‘choices’ are in our own hands 🙂


  10. Great post. There’s so much that each of us can do, including making a serious effort to buy less, consume less and waste less. We’re bombarded by messages that make us think we need things that we don’t, that consuming is central to our identity or a necessary part of our role as citizens to grow the economy (as is often implied). It’s great to see people recognizing the complexity of these issues and considering the big picture, but coming back to the fact that we have to change our habits. No one is going to do it for us.


  11. blogbyday

    I’m sorry to say that I live in a small town that revolves around Walmart because it is basically the only store we have. The choice to consume, or not to consume, is often my only choice. I too have found joy in finding things second hand, I have planted a garden, and joy of all joys–I hear that beer-making is a process that can easily be done at home. There may be hope for us yet! Cheers to you and yours on this endeavor 😉


  12. Are we sure those are Gandhi’s words? According to The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/opinion/falser-words-were-never-spoken.html?_r=0) the actual quote is “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” It is indeed incredibly difficult to live the way he states but I am truly glad that you are trying and I appreciate your testimonial and description of ways to try. Thanks.


  13. MikeW

    Justin and all, finding viable and cost-effective alternatives to mass packaged, processed foods is a worthwhile effort that will pay off in multiple layers. It is said that extra money and time spent on growing or buying healthy, organic foods and preparation at home rather than trusting the unseen kitchen practices of AnyPlace Restaurant, pays off in higher functionality later in life, less health care crises later on, and longer life in general.

    I’ve recently posted the following Reuters piece on projected obesity by 2030 at my LinkedIn page and will reference it on my blog m7adapt.wordpress.com. Relevant to your post, see these:

    Wal-Mart, Humana reward healthy food purchases
    Reuters, Wed Sep 19, 2012 12:00am EDT

    Fat and getting fatter: US obesity rates to soar by 2030
    … The “F as in Fat” report highlights the current glum picture of the US obesity epidemic, in which 35.7 percent of adults and 16.9 percent of children age 2 to …
    Tue Sep 18, 2012 3:52pm EDT


  14. cantabarrister

    I fully sympathise with your position. I’m in a similar quandary myself, though consumerism in the UK isn’t quite as bad as in the US, and I feel there is more of a focus here on recycling and energy conservation. Personally, I try to resist the urge to buy things I know I don’t really need; I try to make do with my old laptop for longer than I’d like, I avoid buying clothes and gadgets I know I don’t actually need, and I also try to avoid wasting food. It’s only when you start trying to swim against the consumerist tide that you realise the power of the advertisers!


  15. Great article. With more choice comes better standards and quality. We have a telecommunications boom here, with 5 large telecommunications operators constantly changing their rates and offering promotions to lure clients to their networks. The rates are not as low as yours but its a start in the right direction.


    1. Healthy competition is always good. I just can’t wait for companies to start competing for who is more socially progressive and eco-friendly. For me, I am willing to pay more for assurance that my services and goods are not (as) tainted by human slavery or enviro destruction. Take Creedo for example (www.creedomobile.com). They aren’t as cheap as some carriers, but in the end, I support their ideals more than my debit card. 🙂


  16. Pingback: Everyone says they would have fought against slavery 150 years ago. Now’s your chance. « London is for Living

  17. I like your post. It was easy to read and thought provoking. I get so overwhelmed in my day to day activities, that I rarely consider who my choices may be effecting. Blogs like yours make me think twice and that is really the point isn’t it?


  18. You can still shop conglomerates and be local. I like how many franchises utilize their community strengths. I grew up in a small town where I knew the guy who owned the McDonald’s and it helped that even though I knew I was getting a cookie-cutter type product, the service and personal attention was like a mom and pop’s joint.


  19. Vegan in Vegas

    Justin, you hit the nail on the head. I would rather pay twice as much for something knowing that it was Fair Trade or organic or non-sweatshop labor or whatever. And if I find a company is definately greenwashing… no more of my money for them. AND a nice nasty letter to their corporate HQ!


  20. Pingback: Zero(ish) to Hero(ish) | What's My Age Again?

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