I’ve had lots of conversations with friends and customers recently and it’s interesting to hear how we are all wrestling with the same issues and trying to be mindful about our purchases.
For instance it turns out that two sisters who regularly come up to the shop have altered their chocolate eating habits in exactly the same way I have; we’ve both stopped buying the confectionary we’ve been eating all our lives because we are suspicious of American takeovers and have noticed the quality of much loved products dropping considerably. We are now buying single estate cacao and making delicious hot chocolate sweetened with local honey to satisfy our cravings, nourish our bodies and quieten our consciences.
Similarly I’ve had a few chats with people about their vegetable buying habits and it seems we are all juggling efforts to buy organic, locally/British grown, unpackaged or from independents and have our own systems to make sure each purchase qualifies in at least one of these categories. At the moment my table runs:
- miles travelled
- bought from a local independent
Understandably people with little budget or lots of mouths to feed do not have the luxury of making these choices but for those of us who can it is empowering. In our world of shady politics it is one way we can be sure of being heard. What we think and feel may not be important to 'the powers that be' but how we spend our money still is and in this way we can change the world.
One of the things that is confusing is the conflict that occurs when a product that is good for you is not good for the planet or causes problems for others with whom we share the world. Avocados travel miles and take tonnes of water to grow. Quinoa is now too expensive for the Peruvians and Bolivians, who grow it, and for whom it has always been staple food, to eat. Cashew nuts are difficult to harvest and workers without proper protective equipment are asked to use acid to get through their armour-like shells. Even my now regular honey consumption may be contributing to declining honey bee populations.
Enough enough I hear you cry. Like you there is only so much information I can absorb and so many of the complex global issues that I can unpick, understand and apply. As I state in my brand page the term 'ethical consumer' is oxymoronic and for those of us who try to marry our principles with our shopping habits the way is an impossible minefield.
Nonetheless I think it is important to try.
It is also important to give yourself a break. No-one’s perfect and neither can we carry the burden of all the world’s problems without going completely mad.
Running a business along ethical lines is no simpler and as you’re a bright bunch who know full well that companies do a great deal to ‘greenwash’ their products I won’t lie to you and claim too much but there are three basic principles I apply when considering the brands that I sell:
1. Do they make great quality clothing that will last.
2. Are they thoughtful and pro-active in tackling climate change/environmental pollution.
3. Are they strict about avoiding sweat shops and child labour
For my part I continue to support small local brands and service providers, make every effort to re-use any plastic packaging that comes into the shop and buy only recycled paper packaging new.
You will have your own ethical priorities, or you may relish the thought of a future where everything is just as cheap as possible, but for those of you who are interested there is great brand information at www.ethicalconsumer.org where you can specify your priorities as you search.
My life and my business, put under the microscope, are far from perfect (as the woman who saw me eating a Mcdonald’s once was very keen to point out) but I am going to keep trying and pledge this year to take the time to switch to a greener energy supplier and to try again to move my banking to someone who considers people and planet when making their investments.
Because with every purchase we make we cast a vote for the type of world we want to live in.
Shopping is politics. Empower yourself.