Monday, 2 January 2012

Buying ethically & vegetarianism

Ethical buying is a big problem in society's consumption. Ever since starting university and doing my own shopping, I've been a lot more conscious about considering the ethical and environmental impact of the products I buy. For example, one thing that puzzles me is why cucumbers from Holland are cheaper than locally grown cucumbers. Of course, the answer is probably the exploitation of the workers. Why buy a cucumber that's travelled all that way when you can get one that's been grown a few miles away? I buy most of my vegetables from a local greengrocer and   I can even taste the difference between locally produced vegetables and vegetables that have been imported from a lot further afield (and it's the locally produced stuff that tastes better to me). I don't know too much about localisation and self sustainability, but I like the idea of it.

Going into the supermarket is even more depressing. It's practically impossible to ensure that everything you purchase is Fairtrade or environmentally friendly. The range of Fairtrade products that are available generally has actually made me more aware of the fact that it's not just coffee or chocolate that needs to be Fairtrade. You can now get Fairtrade cotton, flowers, juice, fruit, cakes, biscuits, honey, beer and wine. Yet, when I scan the shelves and compare the products, I'm lucky if there's one Fairtrade option. If there isn't a Fairtrade option, then I'll go for something that is better for the environment. And if there isn't even something environmentally friendly, I just go for the cheapest item, because at least that way the corporation won't get much money for selling it and it saves me some cash. I dread to think how the workers that produce Tesco Value products are treated, but then again, I doubt the obscene profits that the corporations selling the more expensive products obtain are going to be shared fairly with the workers and buying these will just allow the corporation to expand.

I've been a vegetarian for about four years. At first, I just stopped eating meat because I decided I didn't like the idea of eating a dead animal and I wanted to lose weight. However, after a few years when I was more able to start thinking more deeply about things, I realised there was more to it than that. Firstly, I hate animals that are caged up in horrible, cramp conditions. I don't really have a problem with the concept of eating animals, but like Fairtrade products, it's just so difficult to access free range meat. On the rare occasion when I'm buying meat for somebody else, I look to see if there is any British meat available and usually I'm lucky to find some and if I do find some, the price is normally pretty high, which again makes as much sense as the cucumber situation does. So, I find it easier to eat more ethically and environmentally friendly by just avoiding meat altogether. Otherwise, I'm just going to end up buying meat from McDonald's or Burger King and don't even get me started on how KFC treat their chickens. I was considering becoming vegan, but I don't think I'd end up being very healthy and to be honest, I love dairy products too much! I do try to buy free range eggs and milk from local sources.

What we wear is a further of a dilemma. When I walk down the high street, I doubt that any of the clothes shops have an effective ethical policy for their clothes. I've decided to completely avoid Primark nowadays, as tempting as that shop is, not only because there should be reason for concern due to their cheap clothes, but because I'd probably find about 20 people wearing the same thing as me within a mile radius. It's got to the point where I don't really enjoy shopping anymore. Now I usually just go to charity shops; the charity makes money, resources are saved and I get cheap clothes. Everybody wins!

I think if a lot of us really knew what was behind what we buy, we'd think twice about buying it.

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