Fair Trade at the Supermarket

I don’t have enough time to solve all the world’s problems."

It’s one of the most common attitudes I hear when talking about social issues with Christians. In our Churches today we have "ministries" for everything under the sun, and we each have the wonderful chance to pick which ones suit us best, then do our act of service for an hour or two a week. The problem is, our "ministry" mentality has caused us to divorce "service" from Christ-like stewardship from the choices we make in our everyday lives. We need to be aware of how the choices we make each day affect those around us.

Each day we have three moments of "ministry" that will have a greater impact on the world than all of the church ministries we will probably do in our lifetimes.

What are those three moments? Our meals — the food we choose to purchase, as well as where we purchase it, has a huge impact on the world around us. We can sponsor as many kids as we want, but if we continue, knowingly or unknowingly, to purchase coffee (or other commodities) from their communities at oppressive prices, those communities will never be able to grow out of their poverty.

If we are going to truly have an impact on the world around us, we need to begin making a conscious effort to buy our food in a way that does not oppress others.

“Just by taking a couple of easy actions, anybody can use his or her consumer power to help small-scale farmers around the world,” said Elisa Arond, organizer for Oxfam America, an international development and humanitarian aid agency that seeks to address issues of poverty, hunger and social injustice worldwide.

Maybe you’ve never considered that the food you purchase might be oppressive; such thoughts can be a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, Organizations like Oxfam, the folks who organize the Supermarket Day of Action each fall, have made it easy for you to familiarize yourself with the issues and information about the stores you shop at and the foods you buy. Primarily, fair trade efforts focus on products like coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, rice, sugar and other fruits. If you do nothing else, you could start by picking one of these items and choosing to ONLY buy it Fair Trade whenever it is available.

Trouble is, fair trade products can often be difficult to find, considering that a vast majority of grocery chains across America do not carry fair trade products. That is why it is important to ask your local grocers to consider stocking fair trade products in their stores.

“Since most shoppers in the United States buy their food at supermarkets, greater access to Fair Trade products in grocery stores would allow more consumers to support struggling farmers,” said Arond, who coordinated the Supermarket Day of Action for Oxfam America this November. “Whether it’s shopping Fair Trade, filling out a comment card next time you head to the grocery store, or telling a friend about Fair Trade, it’s easy to make a difference in the lives of farmers and artisans worldwide.”

So what is Fair Trade, anyway? The specifics vary, but the main idea is simply to make World Trade "fair" in the same way you’d like everything else to be fair. The economics of capitalism often do not take human need into consideration at all. The idea of having a living wage runs counter to what our mathematically-focused, economic system would allow; and yet, it is crucial from a human rights stand point.

At one point in this country, we decided that there was a wage floor that every working person in the United States should not be below. I would argue that it is still too low (have you ever tried living on a minimum wage income?), but it is still there: a barrier that takes human rights into account.

But when we look at World Trade, we often don’t see any standards as to what is fair and right.

We should have higher standards when it comes to world trade. This is such a simple concept, and yet we rarely address it, in the church, or amongst Christians. If you were going to buy something from another person at your church, would you pay them as little as you possibly could regardless of how they felt about it? If the youth group was having a bake sale, because they themselves did not have enough food to survive, would you pay them a nickel for a brownie?

These are the basic types of situations Fair Trade seeks to address.

See Also

“Families and communities have been torn apart in coffee-growing areas around the world where farmers just aren’t able to earn a decent income to support their families,” Around said. “Fair Trade allows communities to hold on to their land, keep their children to school, and provide health care to their families.”

There is a disturbing similarity between our country today and an ancient city we read about in the Scriptures: "Now this was the sin of your sister [name of city omitted]: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." There are some striking similarities to the United States in this passage, not the least of which deals specifically with fair trade.

Want to know what happened to that city? Flip your Bible to Ezekiel 16:49 to find out the name of the metropolis.

Find a friend with whom to share your thoughts on Fair Trade, and together decide to do something about it. There are plenty of resources to learn from and many ideas of activities to be a part of. Try to be conscious of how your everyday decisions impact those around you, and your global neighbours.

Start by learning more about Supermarket Day of Action at www.oxfamamerica.org.

For other ideas on where to buy Fair Trade for the holidays, visit www.oxfamamerica.org/whatyoucando/gift_center.

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