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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things.

Kenny Rogers anyone? I grew up thinking Kenny wrote this song. "Creamed colored ponies and crisp apple strudel." Okay, I'll spare you the rest. But Kenny was one of my favorite things growing up, because little did I know about culture growing up. Amy Grant and Kenny Rogers made up most of my mix tapes. Ace of Base was as cultural as I got. When I heard about Tupac junior year of college...(that's embarrassing) I really thought I was the shit. My husband, however, knew every word to every song of Tupac's in like 4th grade (and still does.. I often find him at the lab buried in his calculations, plugged into "Changes" and "Hit Em Up.") Franklin county is a much different place than "Dirty Duval."  So while I know you wish I was including both Kenny and Tupac on my list of favorite things this year, I think you'll be satisfied with my finds.  Move over Oprah, my list is cooler than yours.

First and foremost,
1. Sprouts. SPROUTS. made of 80% recycled material, 100% biodegradable watches. They are amazing. I was holding out on a sports watch for Ted's birthday back in September, so badly not wanting to give in to some watch made in China. And then one day, in Ross of all places, there it was. Sprouts.   They are made or organic cotton, corn, bamboo and conflict free diamonds. Made in the USA. I loved them so much I found one for myself too!

2. Second on the list is fair trade olive oil. FLO helped Palestinian farmers in the West Bank certify their olive farms and sell their olive oil for a fairer price. Higher Grounds Coffee Roasting, based out of Michigan, sells their olive oil online. It is smooth. Creamy.. and so nice with some organic ciabatta and herbs. I highly recommend it for the chef in your family this Christmas.

3. Celebrate Advent with a Divine calendar. This is the first time Ted and I have decided to celebrate Advent together. Read through the passages. Open the calendar together. Light the candles. It's been beautiful. It's keeping us centered this year and its way cool to celebrate Advent knowing we are doing it fairly.
4. Preserve Tooth Brush. A stocking stuffer must!
Based out of Waltham, MA, I recently discovered this company at a Bioneers conference this fall. So, the toothbrush is made out of recycled yogurt cups. They are packaged in an.. envelope! Yes, once you are finished with the toothbrush, you stick it back in its original pre-stamped packaging and they recycle the toothbrush for you!
How freaking cool is that. LOVE this company. You can find them at Whole Foods and they also make tableware and dishes too.

5. Simply Organic and Fair Trade Cake Mixes. Seriously- are we still sifting flour and sugar?  Check this out. Gluten Free. Dairy Free. Fair Trade. Organic. DELICIOUS. A must for on-the go Christmas baking.

I'll be back in a week or two with My Favorite Things Part II...

I hope this Christmas season you take space to reflect. You'll never make space. You just have to take it. Say no to a party or that one present you must find to make Christmas extra special. It's special without the fluff. Even without the fair trade presents. You being present is the most important thing you can offer to Christ. To your family. And to yourself.
Kenny forgot to add 'being present' to his list of favorite things, but you- You put it on your list.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fair Trade Chocolate Can be 100% Unfair

This is truly breaking news. Sad news. Sit down. Grab your handkerchief. Have your moment. Then get off your bum and START PETITIONING!!!

I am proud to be an American (where at least I know I'm free...? (except of course I'm part of the 99%)) I deck out the patio for 4th of July in red, white and blue. I try to remember folks on Memorial Day and reflect on the work and courage of abolitionists during Black History Month. But dammit. When the hell will be choose to go the whole way with something? Do we only rock at the Olympics? (which, we do. I'm counting down until London 2012. Ted and I were glued to the games, Summer 2008 in Beijing... on our honeymoon. We weren't staying up all night to get our freak on. We were staying up all night to watch Michael Phelps to get his freak on and break some records!!)  Bottom of the West for education. Bottom of the effing world for recycling (check out how Sony recycles in Japan compared to how they recycle in the US) and we are labeling products FAIR TRADE with only.........ready??......25% OF THE INGREDIENTS SOURCED FROM FARMERS WHO WERE PAID AN EQUITABLE WAGE!!!!!!!!

I wrote a while back about Fair Trade USA. They joined up with FLO (Fair Trade International) and were operating under their standards. See, I'm learning this: Dozens of NGO's have decided to make their own fair trade standards. Some incorporate organic, some invest into the farming communities. Some use third party audits, some don't. And some, like Fair Trade USA (who is leaving their partnership with FLO) will stick their label on fair trade products without it being a purely fair trade product. For example, Hershey, who has been pushed to become more socially responsible, can use fair trade sugar, but NOT fair trade cocoa in their chocolate bars. Fair Trade USA will call stick their label on it. What happens then? Shoppers like you and me think we are good to go, that we are supporting small farmers and giving money to businesses who are doing things right. Incorrect. The chart up there shows you exactly what the Fair Trade USA label allows. Here it is straight from their website: Oh, and part of the reason they left FLO was b/c they have a goal to 'double their impact by 2015." But except, they aren't really doubling impact. They are creating more problems. By lowering the standard, more companies will get involved. Like Hershey. Like Proctor and Gamble. They will incorporate the bare minimum of 25% of their product and call it fair. This is prostituting the label and the label will loose it's credibility. 

The term 'greenwashing' has been floating around the sustainability community. It's a growing debate about how big companies are slipping into the fair trade and green movement, but are either doing it to increase profit or aren't really doing it, but are still increasing profit. What do you think?
I think we boycott Fair Trade USA-- their label looks like this:
 Needless to say, I'm trying my hardest to maintain my American pride......give me a break.                                                                                                                                                  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Visionary or Over-Extended?

 To all who have continued to check back for updates on my blog, you truly are a committed follower! It was a hell of a summer-- we lived in paradise in southwest Florida, spent almost every day outside. Ted was real sick and we were both getting ready for school to start. Our journey in equitable consumerism has continued nonetheless and you can check back (after you read this amazing post, of course) in November for a list of "My Favorite Things." I found some great things this summer including green and fair watches, shoes and goodies. The fair trade market is growing--more products are arising!

I'm absolutely loving my MBA in Sustainability program. In the past 2 months I have learned a ton about what makes a business great, how "mighty businesses fall" and how challenging it is for corporations to take on corporate social responsibility standards. (We are digging deeper into that now in my Foundations of Sustainable Business class). One of our recent assignments in this class was to compare why one business fell and why one made it during the recent recession. I jumped on the opportunity to compare Equal Exchange with a company called ForesTrade. ForesTrade was an organic spice and coffee company who didn't realize their potential in the Sumatran coffee or fair trade spice industry. The founder was scattered and unorganized. They were at one time, the fastest growing fair trade industry- but because the founders failed to build a company, and over-stretched themselves-- they fell apart.

Have a read if you like and by all means, leave your awesome thoughts!

More than Passion
Succeeding in the fair trade coffee industry is neither easily achievable nor easily sustainable. Not only does it demand an expertise in the system of fair trade and organic procedures, but it also requires a solid understanding of doing business in developing nations. A company who sets out to be a leader in this industry must be highly idealistic and highly pragmatic. Both people and profit must be part of their core DNA. Because of their clock building founders, core ideology and keen ability to care about equitable profit, but profit nonetheless, Equal Exchange has maintained its leadership in the fair trade industry throughout the recent recession and has watched a local competitor, once the fastest growing fair trade company, ForesTrade, go bust.
A tour through the coffee roasting plant of Equal Exchange in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts will turn the most devout Mormon into a coffee bingeing addict. Their coffee is smooth. Their chocolate is creamy. But it’s the indistinguishable cult-like culture and devotion among Equal Exchange employees that converts the multitudes from the $1 Hershey bar to the $4 Equal Exchange bar. Equal Exchange was started in 1986 by Rink Dickinson, Jonathan Rosenthal, and Michael Rozyne with the vision to fix the broken food system. For three years prior to the launching of the company, the men met to converse about how they could change and improve the system and how they could empower farmers ( By 1986, the men had come up with their core ideology which 25 years later, continues to define who they are:
  • A social change organization that would help farmers and their families gain more control over their economic futures.
  • A group that would educate consumers about trade issues affecting farmers.
  • A provider of high-quality foods that would nourish the body and the soul.
  • A company that would be controlled by the people who did the actual work.
  • A community of dedicated individuals who believed that honesty, respect, and mutual benefit are integral to any worthwhile endeavor (
This core ideology isn’t framed and hung in the offices of the department heads. In fact, Equal Exchange probably isn’t the only fair trade company with this set of values. But what sets Equal Exchange apart, what makes them a truly visionary company, is that these values represent who they are. Employees of Equal Exchange live and breathe their commitment to the company because not only do their employees believe 100% in the positive impact of fair trade but also because every employee is a shareholder of the company or “worker-owned cooperative”. The cooperative is serious about good products; mainly for the customer, but also because they love the taste of their products so much too. As described by Lucas Conley in an article of Fast Company, Grounds for Rejection, quality control at Equal Exchange is a spiritual experience:
In a session of coffee bean testing, Beth Ann Caspersen, the director of quality control at Equal Exchange, asked an employee standing in a corner, sucking on a breath mint to leave the room. Cupping--the subtle art of testing coffee beans for flavor defects--is a near-religious affair [at EE],” (Conley, 19).
And it isn’t just the quality control or marketing departments talking about their coffee and other delicious commodities. Members of the Equal Exchange co-op love their chocolate and coffee so much that they hang out buzzing on caffeine in their comfy, employee cafĂ© which hosts an endless, free buffet of their products. They love what they do and they can’t help but educate others about their work because their work is who they are.  
Similar to Merck & Company, Equal Exchange has displayed throughout most of its history both high ideals and pragmatic self interest (Collins and Porras, 47). The founders and current CEO’s of Equal Exchange have built into their identity the priorities of both people and profit, but people first. The clock-building founders knew that long term success in the fair trade coffee industry would only be a result of healthy and nurtured relationships with their international coffee cooperatives (not simply extensions, but independent cooperatives) and with their US-based team. As part of the worker-owned cooperative, every employee, from the coffee pickers in Uganda to the CEO, shares in the profits and losses of the company which creates equality within the company. Other benefits of the worker run cooperative include the freedom to share feedback to higher ups, a democratic voting process, open financial information and the equitable distribution of income ( In fact, the cooperative is set up so that the highest paid position will never make any more than four times the amount of the lowest paid position.
Just as it’s no coincidence that Merck is the largest pharmaceutical company in Japan, the long term benefit of their decision to give away streptomycin during World War II, it is also no coincidence that Equal Exchange is highly profitable. Equal Exchange has made it their main objective to preserve their core and stimulate progress and it shows. Their revenues have grown an average of 34 percent annually, reached S13 million in 2003 (McKone-Sweet, 55) and jumped to $36. 5 million in 2010 (Dinkison and Everts, 1) Equal Exchange pioneered the way in the fair trade coffee industry and was the first U.S. company to espouse the international fair trade requirements. Their commitment to both profits and people have ushered them to the top of the fair trade, coffee industry. But the “both and” is exactly what ForesTrade Inc. neglected to do.
ForesTrade Inc. was started by a husband and wife team, Thomas and Sylvia, in response to the need for work for the farmers they met when they lived in Sumatra. Within two years of incorporation, ForesTrade had contracts with approximately 3,000 farmers in 45 communities in Indonesia and 30 communities in Guatemala (Farrell, 24) to outsource organic spices and fair trade coffee. In fact, according to Ian Diamondstone, the former Operations and Customer Relations Manager of ForesTrade Inc, ForesTrade was the first company to import organic coffee from Sumatra. While many companies were unable to do business with this region of the world because of war, the founders’ previous relationships with the farmers proved very profitable for ForesTrade. However, while Equal Exchange was deeply investing into and monitoring the success of their international coffee coops ((each new US-based employee is required to make a trip to a farmer co-op within his or her first 30 months at the company, (Conley, 19)), ForesTrade was missing the opportunity to market their rare, Sumatran coffee; coffee that was bringing in 75% of their profit. Diamondstone describes the time-telling founders of ForesTrade as “true entrepreneurs with passion and good intentions, but absolutely not good managers.” He said that it was quite frequent for Thomas to get stuck on an idea, commission the staff to research it and then jump on a plane to Indonesia to make it happen without even knowing if there was a market. “Both Thomas and Sylvia lived far from reality. They were very innovative but demonstrated no control over their thoughts and actions because they wanted to see things happen,” (Diamondstone).
Jumping all over the place is exactly what ForesTrade Inc did. ForesTrade took out loans to invest into organic spices. They used investors’ money to maintain their coffee production and took out more loans to spend a year researching the Ramon nut; which was never capitalized because of limited capacity. The continuous expansion of ForesTrade spread their resources so thin that they not only lost an opportunity to market their Sumatran coffee, but also lacked enough resources to label their spices as fair trade; an industry that, like the Sumatran coffee, had yet to be maximized. “Although there was no one else in the fair trade, organic spice industry, they thought it was too cumbersome, too much for where they where and they never set goals around this,” said Diamondstone. While Equal Exchange set and met a big, hairy, audacious goal to build the largest worker-owned coffee roasting operation in the U.S in 2005 (, ForesTrade was losing the opportunity to do what it did best: fair trade coffee and fair trade spices. Already considered a leader in the organic spice industry, according to Diamondstone, with their name printed on every bag of spices sold in Europe, it would have been quite an easy transition into the fair trade spice industry. But ForesTrade missed this opportunity and slowly but surely, lost the interest of their farmers.
            Equal Exchange has established cooperatives with farmers in over nineteen nations spanning 4 different continents and they are deeply connected to each of them. Each month, Equal Exchange employees visit the cooperatives to see how they are progressing, check on the quality of the coffee beans and assess future needs. Instead of dropping vendors for the slightest infraction, or pressuring them to offer lower and lower prices, Equal Exchange forges closer, more-forgiving relationships with its farmers in the interest of providing better products (Conley, 98). Often many of the farmers will spend time at the Bridgewater location, learning about coffee and how to grow tastier beans. Equal Exchange always communicates product quality trends and market pricing data to farmers and assists them with credit needs, understanding the market, and acquiring the skills and resources to meet changing market need (McKone-Sweet, 56). They care about the farmers, the quality of their product and growing profits. With this feedback," says Caspersen, "farmers are able to provide a better bean," (Conley, 98). But the clock builders didn’t stop there. Equal Exchange provides farmers with more than $1 million in pre-harvest financing which provides food and the essentials and the pre-harvest financing provides Equal Exchange with the best beans (Conley, 99). The better the beans, the better the profit: yet another example of how the founders created the company to be both highly idealistic and highly pragmatic.
ForesTrade, on the other hand, visited their farmers only two times per year and no staff were designated to build the relationship long distance.  The farmers lacked proper instruction and support they needed to become self-empowering (Porter, 35) and eventually, the farmers decided they didn’t need ForesTrade to act as a middle man. Diamondstone explains, “ForesTrade plaid a critical role in fair trade, coffee farming, but with technology the farmers figured out how to get their coffee to market without us. This happened in Guatemala. We should have had 20 field staff on the ground.” A lack of relationships with farmers brought a lack of business which brought a lack of profit. By January 2011 the company was operating out of Diamondstone’s home, after the bank had taken over and a wealthy, “hippie-hating,” VP of Sales from Boca Raton tore the company apart.  
            Unlike Equal Exchange, core ideology at ForesTrade was neither solidly defined nor clearly communicated to staff.  In fact, Diamondstone, an employee of ForesTrade for seven of their eleven years and the main touch point for every customer, could not remember the mission or vision of ForesTrade. Thomas and Sylvia lacked an understanding of clock building and nurturing both profit and people. Dickinson, Rosenthal, and Rozyne, however, spent three years creating a company before they ever responded to their passion. They developed a strong organizational framework and a worker owned cooperative which ensured that employees are aligned with and excited about the company’s mission. This in turn provides leadership continuity and thus a longer-term perspective (McKone-Sweet, 55). And indeed, a longer term perspective is what they created. The worker owned cooperative agreed that their goal for the next 20 years would be to create "a vibrant mutually cooperative community of two million committed participants trading fairly one billion dollars a year in a way that transforms the world,” (Dickinson and Everts).
            The clock builders of Equal Exchange knew that a passion for creamy chocolate and smooth coffee wouldn’t be enough to create a sustainable business. In fact, they knew that passion for justice in the food system wouldn’t do it either. They knew that to be sustainable you have to stick to your core, invest into your people, and keep an eye on the dollar too.  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

You say tomato, I say tomatto

My husband has many amazing qualities. His dark chocolate eyes, his sculpted bi-ceps, all those beautiful locks. Oh yeah, also non-physical qualities (do those matter as much? Beauty is vain and fleeting, my ass. No offense woman at the end of Proverbs that I hate and will never live up to. Fearing the Lord is great, but I know my husband be feelin the fear of God when I walk out the room in my strapless turquoise dress and black strappy heels. Just sayin.) Anyone who knows Ted will say he's slow to anger, rich in patience, full of kindness.

And full of shit. Literally. The man has major constipation issues. (God I hope he doesn't read this post.) I only make this public declaration to encourage others who are living with backed up family members. Like most of you, we have tried (yes, we. I'm proud to say I'm regular, but Ted's shit issues have taken over my world and made me a little crazy. I'm sure you can't notice the crazy though.) enemas, laxatives, colonscopies, cleanses, fiber (oh the fiber. The man, who I often refer to as my old man was surviving on Metamucil. So much Metamucil that when it stopped working, we gave every last extra bottle of it as white elephant gifts at the 15 Christmas parties we attended last year.) Currently he is living off of polyethylene glycol, to which my friend Ellen refers to as 'poo goo.' (Yes, she is the wife of a Harvard Law student and she says poo goo. Oh, I adore you Ellen. In fact, it was quite a bonding moment when they both pulled out the white powder before Thai curry one night. This discovery led to another discovery that they both wear mouth guards at night to prevent tooth breakage from grinding. Oh Ben, you and I need to stick together and remember that romance is all about what you make of it. Bring on the sexy baby, I love the way you kiss me with your mouth guard....)

Today, however, is a new day. Ted and I have discovered..... drum roll please.... juicing!!! Today Ted started his day with 5 carrots and 3 cups of spinach, liquid style. The juicer is a bitch to clean, the organic veg will take our grocery bill from 800 bux a month to 1800 bux a month. but for the sake of a clean colon and a functioning husband, I'll pay any price for this situation to be rectified. (insert laugh)

Juicing has caused me to think about the produce I am purchasing and how it's picked, who picks it, etc. (Fair food is the point today because fair trade findings are the point of this blog. I know you were wonderin.)I came back to thinking about Immokalee, Florida. I know I"ve mentioned this little place before. It's the county I'm living next to this summer and although I haven't visited it yet, I have started following the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). I heard about slavery behind the tomato industry when I was in college in Palm Beach. I heard horrific stories of men who were traffiked from Mexico, told that they could enjoy the good life in Florida with the cystral, clear waters and Mickey Mouse. These men were taken to a farms in Immokalee to pick tomatoes, sleeping 15 men to one small room, being paid less than a dollar a day and in some cases, being fed cocaine by the farm owners (aka, slavemasters) so that they would stay on the farms. A coalition of people and workers was formed in 1998 after a strike and protest from Fort Myers to Orlando. Today, this is what the CIW does:

The CIW's Anti-Slavery Campaign is a worker-based approach to eliminating modern-day slavery in the agricultural industry. The CIW helps fight this crime by uncovering, investigating, and assisting in the federal prosecution of slavery rings preying on hundreds of farmworkers. In such situations, captive workers are held against their will by their employers through threats and, all too often, the actual use of violence -- including beatings, shootings, and pistol-whippings.

In 2001, the CIW got involved in boycotting large corporations who used the produce from slave-run farms. Taco Bell was their first victory after only 4 years of pressure and national protesting. They agreed to improve wages and working conditions for the workers in their supply chain. The network of people who collaborated together against Taco Bell formed the Alliance for Fair Food. AFF hosted and won many other campaigns against McDonald's (who agreed to develop an industry-wide third party mechanism for monitoring conditions in the fields and investigating abuses.) Subway, Burger King, even WHOLE FOODS, jumped on board with the principles of CIW and AFF. In late 2010, CIW signed an agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to extend the CIW’s Fair Food principles – including a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process – to over 90% of the Florida tomato industry. This watershed moment ended a 15-year impasse and followed the establishment, just weeks earlier, of two direct agreements between the CIW and two of the largest growers in the industry, Pacific and Six L’s.

I know the focus of CIW and their partners has turned to Publix (come on Publix, shopping really does feel like a pleasure when I walk in your doors, have a few free samples, get  my fish steamed at the fish counter and am able to order more organic choices.) Trader Joes (again, seriously? You rock at so many other things you do such as Fair Trade chocolate and mochi!) and Stop and Shop (no surprise there. Perhaps the suckiest store of my life) Check out this video for a protest against Publix on 4th of July.

But I know it doesn't stop with tomatoes. Or Florida. What about corn? Soy? (the two biggest agricultural industries in this nation) Many of you have seen Food Inc, and we know the grossness behind chicken, beef and milk. Or even the organic carrots and spinach that keeps my husband movin? I'm not so sure that organic means fair. There is so much more reading and learning to be done about the food industry. It can feel overwhelming, but one tomato at a time. I plan to get more involved with CIW this summer, seeing as we live right here. And I hope that we can juice and shit, more fairly. And more regularly.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wishing for more Freedom at 27.

It's easy for this journey to become about me..and I had a thought a few weeks back, that maybe I've become somewhat bonded to Fair Trade. Am I no longer free? Is this an offering or an obligation? Some days are harder than others, but if I'm bound to this, then it's really all about me....and pointless
Not that I ever forget about the people I'm standing for when I say no to all the stuff I want (why are there so many plazas in Florida? Seriously, do we need 3 DSWs within 5 miles of each other? and I love me some sexy, strappy sandals.I should get off their mailing lists..damn coupons suck me into going in and browsing and feeling guilt..) but the guilt. The guilt, which becomes pity, which turns back into guilt. Which does shit. And shit does nothing. (Except for Ted, haha, shit does a lot. Oh Jesus bless that lazy colon....)

But the guilt keeps me thinking about me. What I can't have. What I'm giving up. The beautiful things in the store windows. I'm familiar with their backgrounds, I know where they come from and I always question: Who put those straps on the heel of that shoe? Who runs the machine that stitches up the lace on that dress? Is she pregnant? Is she getting enough time to sit and have a snack? Is he bent over all day, breathing in cancer causing fumes? Are they going to school? So, I think of them. But I also think of me. I guess that's natural. But I wish it wasn't so frequent. I wish my offering wasn't so tainted. This summer has been hard so far. Ted started his internship (paid, close and working with other geniuses on issues like chemicals in dry wall which have poisoned tons of folks). Ted needed some collard shirts. The boy owned 2. Count em. And one we found in the free box at Westgate. (God knows we should wear gloves when we dig through there cause God knows, that box is rank.) So, he's about to start his first day at this awesome environmental firm and he's wearing faded pantalones and a faded, short polo (yes, mid-drift was showing. And believe you me, I like that six pack of his, but I'm the only one allowed in this relationship to be flaunting the summertime mid-drift. That is just not what a man with dreads should do. Or any man, regardless of hair style.) I'm like, Ted, you can't. You can't go like that. They'll think you're one of the hippies from the nude beach at Playalinda. (and maybe he is, but he's gotta try real hard to convince them otherwise.......SIDE NOTE: We put the patchouli away for the summer. I think our elderly neighbors have appreciated that, but I still sense their suspicion. Especially from Snowbird Chicago who came down to ask about the Navy military tags on our Jeep. When he found out the Jeep belongs to a friend of ours (we love you Waylon!) who is deployed and we are borrowing it, he immediately followed up with, "oh by the way, They call me the pool Nazi around here. No floats, no beer, moderate swimming in the pool." WOWSAS. Why didn't I lie and make up some shit, that yes, I was in the Navy. Yes, out of Mayport, JAX of course, in platoon #898. Oh yeah, I've saved lives. (which is true. I once saved the life of 2 turtles on US-1.) But, Snowbird Chicago probably knows the folks at HSA engineering. So we are trying to keep up face around here. I'm hoping this weekend's midnight pool party won't be too much of a problem for him. Maybe we should invite him... hmm, maybe not.

So, we are also on a tight budget. Although Ted is making more than me at his summer INTERNSHIP. (Brian and Jeff, yes, this is true.) (Brian is my boss. Jeff is Brian's boss) (They know about my blog and occasionally read it. Which I appreciate. But I told them to put on their liberal Christian hats when they read it. I put on my conservative one at work. I'm the only one who thinks gambling in moderation is OK, go figure. The entire room was silenced when I said, "what the heck is wrong with gambling?" If they only knew about my other sinful habits......muwahhhh....(keep imaging Brian and Jeff. hahaha) Because of this tight budget we could probably only afford 1 or maybe 2 of the polos from Tompkins Point Apparel which I found a few months ago. 1 or 2 are good, but again, this leaves Ted naked on Wed, Thurs, Friday. So, we went to TJ Maxx and then the damn outlets. To which we found polos shirts for $7 on clearance at Banana Republic. I felt like shit the entire time I was shopping, but justified it by thinking of how cheap the shirts were. I mean, are they really making a profit off of me? Hardly. I'm still supporting their lousy asses, but only $14 worth. Does it make a difference when the stuff is on clearance? Yes. But, again, I feel powerless in this. Clothing can be the hardest sometimes.... Probably because I love it too and it means more to me than other things that are easier to say no too. I can say no to Hersheys and Starbucks and Dole all day long. But a curve hitting, black strapless dress that would look killer with my green heels for my birthday party this weekend... that's hard. (if you find a dress like that, my birthday is June 19th. Gifts can be sent to Island Sound Circle, Estero, FL)

I can't be defeated though. It's a journey, Jesus knows it's hard. And I can't let guilt hang out with me too much or ever. I need to buy minimally, sometimes unfairly, so that my husband can be respected at his work, so that we can eat and so that ultimately, we can avoid becoming a slave to Fair Trade. Because if I do this out of obligation, then I'm a Pharisee. Doing it to make me feel good about me. And that's useless to God and useless to the people who really are in slavery. I'm praying that 27 will be full of offering and joy in this journey, once again.

Happy Freedom to me.

PS. Yours truly was a guest blogger with the Boston Faith and Justice Network. Click Here

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Don't Buy from Firestone

I'm putting together a presentation for our weekly staff meeting about Conscious Consuming. I'd heard from some friends that rubber was a highly exploitative industry. Little did I know...Check out the video above.

Here's the DL from the International Labor Rights Union:
Workers talk of hardship at Liberia's Firestone | International Labor Rights Forum

Firestone has had numerous law suits against them in the past several years and although they claim they are making changes, labor rights workers have seen little change. For example, they claim they offer their workers free housing. The housing is small, dilapidated huts that haven't been updated since they were built in 1920. Also, the workers are children. CHILDREN. Again, they claim they offer free education to their workers, but only to the 9th grade and no school supplies or clothing. Children don't go to school because they can't afford the extra costs.

I'm not sure at this point what to do about this, as far as alternatives. I guess used tires are an option..and I'm not sure about other tire companies. If anyone has any info on that, please comment.

See you soon.

PS: Good News! I got into an MBA program which focuses on Sustainability. I get to take a whole trimester on corporate social responsibility. Can't wait to start! 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bringing Home Baby

I gotta make this short cause it's the NCAA championship tonight and I'm in the running to beat Ted in our brackets. Both our teams are out but if Butler wins, I win and I really like to win, especially in competitions with Ted. We find ourselves making competitions out of everything. I typically lose when he says, "who can be the most quiet for the next 3 hours while I study.' I gave up on that competition a long time ago. But tonight is mine....

Anyway, since I'm getting old, by getting old I mean, my friends are starting to reproduce aka have babies, I thought I'd throw up my findings on baby gear. This won't excite all of you, but maybe someday you'll look back when you find yourself at baby showers once a month on Saturdays. I skipped the one I RSVP'd for this past Saturday. Mainly exhaustion kept me home (sorry Tina, let's do lunch soon though?!), but also I can't handle any more finger sandwiches and sickening sweet punch. And also the 'name the poo in the diaper' game. I'm over that. (So Pam, if I ever and you know I mean like if I accidently find myself pregnant and I call you flipping the hell out, puleeazzzee take me out dancin and for virgin drinks for me, I mean my baby shower...)OK, so get to it Julie, it's almost the end of the first half.
For those of you with child, check out Levana Naturals. They have organic clothing, blankets and staples for infants and a few pieces for toddlers. They don't say where their clothing is produced from what I can tell, but they claim fair trade status so I'd say they are a go. Plus their prices are actually reasonable. I love their knot hats for infants.
The mecca of baby gear seems to be Oompa You can select on the left hand column 'Made in USA', 'Made in Europe', Organic, etc. You have to do some sifting, but I found fair infant plates and silverware, cute toys, bedding. It's a must for soon to be parents.... (hint hint Tina!)
For those of you supporting a child via baby shower check out: Conscious Child
They carry slightly used goods and handful of fair trade baby tees and cute finger puppets. Their used gear is actually quite decent and eco friendly.
Maybe one of my favorites is Isa Booties (the photo up top) They are the cutest, made in the USA, eco friendly leather little shoes. They cost $29 a pair, but a very solid company both environmentally and fairly.
Lastly, Fair Indigo has a cute line, just a few things, but pretty cute animal blankets and pajamas. 

Okay, moms and pops, this kiddo is hitting up some Ben and Jerrys and some NCAA.
Until next time.....

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Deal on Discount

I'm going to admit something because as my boss always says, "Confession is good for the soul." I'm not sure if I agree with that because I tend to always feel like shit when I admit to my crap, especially to my boss. Anyway, I'm going to admit this because Ted thinks it will do me good and usually, (and again, admitting this is not glamorous) Ted is 8 out of 10 times, right. But when he is, I remind him that he's still the college kid. Hah. Who has the BA in this marriage, that's right homie, me. Who will walk outta here with a degree that matters?....moving right along...

I'm admitting this: Discount Shopping has been my scapegoat:

1. I dig a discount. 2. I hardly ever buy something that isn't on sale 3.I cut coupons. (Yes, I'm in my twenties and right with the llittle old ladies, I cut the coupons.) 4. I loveeeee TJ Max, Marshalls, Home Goods, and Ross. Maybe those aren't horrible things to admit. But I've allowed myself to believe that because stuff is on sale or I'm using a coupon to get the sale, 'The Man' isn't making profit off of me and therefore, "I'm not really supporting slavery, right? If it's from a discount store, it's kinda like secondhand and so I don't need to worry about it being fair, because the money isn't going directly to the label." WRONG.

Here's how TJ Maxx, etc work:
They are considered "off-price" buyers: (from the Washington Post, 2008)
That's because T.J. Maxx is an off-price buyer, which means they benefit from ordering mistakes made by mainstream retailers and over-production of items by the clothing makers. Off-price companies buy that excess merchandise. So if a vendor has enough fabric to produce 600,000 blouses but a department store only ordered 500,000, off-price buyers will purchase the extra 100,000 blouses. It doesn't necessarily mean that T.J. Maxx's inventory is from last season. They promise that at least 85 percent of it is in season.

It's not the excess from JC Penneys or from Macys. It's the excess straight from the production lines, straight from the factories. THIS SUCKS. The reason they can keep the prices so low is only because of two things:
1. They don't advertise particular labels.
2. They buy the rest of stock after the name brand buyers have their go.

SO. this sounds awesome, especially if you want to shop cheaply. But if your focus is buying fairly, shopping from TJ Maxx, Ross, Marshalls, etc is exactly like buying from major department stores. It's absolutely no different. Your dollars are going directly to 'The Man' behind the labels and the 60 factories they buy from. And more often than not, pennies are going to the people who work in the factories. In fact, when you buy from these discount stores, even less! of your money is going to the factory workers. As I've mentioned before the American myth is that the cheaper the better. Again, we are so accustomed to paying so much less than things actually cost to produce,  give someone a decent wage  and ship across the world. Just like with the Hershey Chocolate bar or the 17 cents per pound bananas, exploitation is happening. The costs of shipping the bananas, the cocoa, the clothing across the world is way more than 17 cents per pound, or a dollar per bar, or $15 for jeans.  I'll be the first to agree that capitalism has it's benefits. Entrepreneurship fuels this nation and I love that folks can make a profit off of something they create. As I've stated before, where we've gone wrong is not in using our opportunities in this nation to become wealthy, but the injustice lies in how we use the wealth. Sure, the guy who started Calvin Klein or Levis should probably make more than the guy in the factory who puts them together. BUT, the guy in the factory should we be able to work 40 hours and feed his family. This is not happening in most clothing factories.
According to some research from NPR, the total cost to produce a basic pair of jeans that we would pay between $20-$40 (depending on the label, but the same pair) costs $7.78 in Lesotho to produce, $7.52 in Haiti, $7.89 in Nicaragua and $7.84 in China. Labor costs are about $2.00 of the total. The fabric costs are more than the labor costs. Check out the chart above and the link for the full article: Cost of a pair of jeans

Bottom Line: Discount stores cut the corners on fair wages for the production in the exact same way that department store buyers do. I'm not 'sticking it to the man' when I buy discount. I hate this and feel both extremely frustrated with the system, knowing that I will from time to time have to buy something from a TJ Maxx and again, feel even more empowered to hook us up with other options. And eventually, open a business myself with more options. (The beginnings of the business plan are in the works!)
For some laughs, check out this article: Confessions of Dress for Less employee

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fighting Entitlement

I hardly know how to begin this posting. Let me try. Money is not a human right. Wealth is not a God given right. (In fact, many God fearing folks are the poorest of the poor. Poor in resources, rich in the things of eternity. What does that say to the 'health and wealth' gospel? ....oh do NOT get me started.)

Opportunities aren't rights either. My hot shower, my Chevy,Valentine's Day roses delivered to my door, our Craiglist beach cruisers, the wine tasting I'm planning for my best friends bachelorette party... I know those are priveleges. I know it's a privelege to be at MIT, I know it's a privelege to have a job, I know it's a privelege to be an American woman... or do I?  Being born into this nation is a catch 22. I'm born with limitless opportunities, yet I always hunger for more. It's a privelge to have an opportunity.

Tonight Ted and I spent the evening listening to the story of a friend who lives far from the jumbled thoughts I'm sorting through. He comes from a place where 1 in 1000 go to college. He comes from a place, read it, 90% drop out of middle school......90% DROP OUT OF MIDDLE SCHOOL....He's the third ever from his village to go to college. To get to college meant his three older sisters had to drop out of middle school to work in the factories so his family could support him. With joy they did this. With joy his father worked a labor intensive job in the city, coming back to the village only during harvest season to plow the crops. My friend has little to no childhood memories of his father because his father was working for the sake of his son's education. For the sake of opportunity. I'm not talking about a family who didn't have enough money for family vacations or cable tv. This isn't a situation where the father worked a second job so his family could have new clothing. Not even that. I'm talking about a situation where opportunity is at stake and the family, with joy, took it upon themselves so that just one of them could finish middle school, go to high school, finish high school and then the ultimate, get into college. I know nothing of this life.

My friend is a hero in his village. He's a legend. He's the scholar who is studying for a masters degree in America, the one who made it out. The one who will be filthy rich. Except, he doesn't want to be filthy rich. He wants to go back and farm. Because he wants to teach his village the beauty of organic farming, empower his village through micro enterprising and invest his opportunity so that there are 4ths, 5ths, 100ths, to make it to college.

We both fought back tears tonight. I didn't want him to think I was crying tears of pity. I don't have pity for him, I have pity for me. It's more than about feeling bad about complaining because I hate that I don't have a dishwasher (If I walk into your kitchen and start caressing your dishwasher it's because I'm in a state of lust). It's beyond that I know I'm selfish and most of my days revolve around, 'what can I do to make me have a better day?' It's that I'm so unaware of the lack of opportunities most of the world lacks. How could I possibly think that my life is the norm? In my head I know it. But it's not until I hear it, from a fighter, that I start to understand it. He fights for opporunity, I fight to not buy stuff that isn't fair. Those are two different worlds.

I'm not going to bed tonight defeated or feeling like I'm a horrible person for being a product of my society. I'm laying my head in excitement understanding the real battle I face: the fighting of entitlement. I don't deserve any of it, but it's mine. Most others don't have it, but it's all mine. But it's not all mine for me. It's all mine to invest. And what an opportunity.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Just Don't Do It.

Nike is never the option. Not their shirts, their sports gear, their shoes. Nothing. I knew this, but today I came across this news report. After this Channel 7 in the UK exposed this, Nike's VP of Social Responsibility said this: 

Hannah Jones, Nike's vice president for social responsibility, said she would not qualify the violations as human trafficking but said the investigation is ongoing.
"This isn't about definitions, this [is] about action on the ground to help these workers," Jones said.

Nike can't even admit it and call it what it is. Here's the rest of the article:

Google Nike +sweatshops and you will see numerous accusations and charges all around the globe. Bangladesh, Honduras, El Salvador, Malaysia just to name a few.

Just because Tiger and Serena and Michael Jordan endorse Nike, doesn't mean anyone else should.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Certified Clothing is Here

And as Ted and I prepare ourselves for yet another snow day, we have made sure this time we are stocked up on cheap red wine, local, frozen raspberries for pancakes and of course indoor activities. Playing monopoly, or watching 5 movies is just too boring and we all know there's only so thumb wrestling the thumbs can handle. But perhaps, after two or three glasses of vino, the claustrophobicness of 350 square feet and the inability to spend money (AKA, we are too broke for online shopping) means....spontaneous underwear dancing. Turn the beat around baby.
On another note, Trans Fair (the mecca of fair trade certification, based in San Fran) after 3 years, has finally slapped it's label onto clothing! I did discover this on my snow day indeed! Transfair is taking the lead in this, and not only does this mean we will know clothing is organic and sustainable, but also FAIR. From the making of the fabric, to the production, to the tailoring- they will label the whole process fair. Europe has been kicking our ass in this process, so it's about time this has happened. Look for the black and white label or this logo to ensure what you are buying is fair:

    So there is now no reason, but to strut yourself in only fair trade polos and tees. Check out Tompkins Point and Hae. These are really easy ways to make a small difference. The polos cost the same as Ralph Lauren and the tees are great for printing on. 

Get your fair on. Get your whistling on. Get your underwear on.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I'm a Pelican, not a Penguin and that's OK

This is a snapshot from my window today:
At 8:30 AM Teddie shouts, "SNOW DAY!"
Ok, ok, so I wasn't as excited. The Florida grown child has seen rarely seen snow, let alone been given a day off because of detrimental weather in his life. So 'Ok', I tell myself, 'let him enjoy this moment of no school. Don't ruin it by telling him you left his cell phone in the car last night and it's probably frozen. Or that we are supposed to pull up the windshield wipers and now they could crack our windshield or that we are out of Earth Balance which means no pancakes, muffins or any sort of something you bake when it snows. As long as he doesn't pee all over my new sheets, he can jump up and down on the bed and be excited for snow all he wants...he's got 5 minutes. Don't get me the wrong, the snow is beautiful. But over the Christmas holiday, I was left with the strong impression that I'm a pelican, not a penguin and that's OK.

As I we walked along the shoreline at Mickler Beach on Christmas Day, I reflected. On the birth of Christ, on the transition of the previous year, my regrets, my successes and my longings for 2011. I'm huge on New Years Resolutions, but for the life of me, I couldn't come up with anything besides toning up the abdomen and reading more shallow, girlie magazines. (yes, it's true) A few days later, after Ted and I had checked into our favorite B n B in southern Florida (after a crazy week with a puppy, 7 adults, 2 broken sinks, and a headache) we walked along the coast again.  This time, around 4:30 PM; apparently the official hour of pelican partying. There were swarms (herds, crews, flocks,) yes flocks of them. As lovely as ever. They fly together in a V like other birds, but every so often, the one rebellious/hungry pelican nose dives into the ocean. I don't think he's always looking for fish. I think that maybe sometimes he's bored or restless. Or just in need of a dip. But one thing is for certain, he's always going to be a pelican. He will never waddle, he will never eat salmon, he will never march up icebergs to breed or have happy feet. He will soar, he will nose dive, he will eat sashimi in one gulp, he will sit on posts, perhaps he'll save Nemo and that's who he'll be. That's who she'll be. And she will be ok with being who she was made to be. I highly doubt pelicans feel the need or desire to be anything but a pelican. It's not that I have felt the pressure to conform, but often times, I think I, us, feel guilty for not being adaptable in certain situations, or for not having even the slightest desire to run an orphanage in Africa or to get our Masters degree or to care about politics. It's effing OK. So,this year I'm a pelican. And next year too. That's my resolution.

What does this have to do with fair trade you ask? Absolutely nothing. Except, It's only fair to be you. (Ok, so I tried to work it together and that was shit)
Happy 2011!

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