Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Choose your own moralizing pitch

I know this is a cop out. I know I owe you all a post about what I'm doing right now, and I promise, it's on the way! Just so you know, I'm working with International Development Enterprises (IDE) on their Gates Foundation funded Rural Prosperity Initiative in Zambia. More to come, but you can peruse their website while you wait: http://www.ideorg.org/

In the meantime, I wanted to share this, an article I wrote for Dalhousie's Gazette/Sextant newspaper. Much love to Graham Lettner for pushing me to write something that says all the things that usually go unsaid.

T :)


Choose your own moralizing pitch

Today, I wandered into the market in search of a lady selling roasted peanuts.

When I lived in Kalomo, small town Zambia, I knew exactly where to find the ladies hawking their little bags of salty goodness. I also knew with 96% certainty that the nuts were grown locally – so a hard-working small scale farmer got a cut, the struggling market lady got a cut, and I gots me some peanuts. It felt like I was having a bit of direct impact in this world.

But now I'm in big city Zambia. Lusaka. The market has lots to offer but no roasted peanut ladies. So I headed to the grocery store and found some roasted peanuts at the counter. The not-so-impressive label stamped on the not-so-fancy plastic bag said these nuts were grown, roasted, and packaged in Mongu, Zambia.

“Locally grown, locally processed. I’m going to buy local. That seems like a good thing to do.” But before I could pat myself on the back, I hesitated:

Did a village farmer grow these nuts? Probably.
Was the farmer given a fair price for the nuts? Maybe.
Is the processing company good to their workers? Gulp.

I was suddenly reminded of the anxiety I’d feel back in the supermarket in Canada. How could I know that farmers half way around the world were getting a good deal? Now, here I am, in country, and I still don’t know for sure!

This is where you, kind reader, roll your eyes into the back of your head and think, “Buy the peanuts already, you self-righteous, melodramatic hack. While you’re at it, take that patronizing bleeding heart of yours and shove it up your…”

I’m aware that you’re aware of the food crisis. The energy, financial, and climate crises. You’re likely tired of the barrage of pleas to eat less meat or buy a Prius. Plant a tree. Exercise. Talk to old people. I’m not trying to convince you of any of this. Here is where you get to choose your own adventure:

Go to A) if you want to hear a didactic rant about why you should think more about your food.

Go to B) if you want to hear why I bought the packaged peanuts.

A) The world is going to hell in a hand basket, and you – YOU – should care more about it. You should be worried about where your food comes from, how the environment and people get hurt all along the way. You should be worried about the long term effects of fertilizers and pesticides on your pituitary gland. Or those of your unborn children.

Maybe you should consider that 100-mile diet. Or maybe you should think about the farmers in nowheresville Zambia that would rather get something from YOU than nothing. Think about sweat shops. Think about the bird flu. Think about bird flu inoculated terrorist bombs. Think about whatever it takes to make you ACT, because let’s face it, if we don’t act soon, Chernobyl won’t look all that bad.

B) I bought the peanuts. I bought them because this isn’t an either-or kind of thing. It isn’t about thinking global and acting local, about being guilty or being noble. This isn’t about us and them and it.

I bought the peanuts because I had a hankering for them. And when I bought them, I appreciated the work of the farmers, processors, and transporters that brought them to me, and how those people have as much a right to make a living as I do.

At some point you have to put your stake in the ground and say, “I think I’m ok with this.” This world is wrought with complexities beyond my comprehension. I don’t claim to have answers.

All I know is that change is possible as long as good, sensible people around the world (like you) are allowed to make decisions not from fear or anxiety but from prudence and sincerity.

Or maybe we should just buy Fair Trade. It’s easier.

For the past year, Thulasy has been working to increase the participation of small scale farmers in fair and sustainable agricultural markets in Zambia.


If that's given you some food for thought, these might too:

Farmer in Chief

Britain on a Plate

And if you're in Edmonton on November 12th, you might be interested in attending an event at City Hall regarding Food Sustainability for the Edmonton Region. Email Debbie Hubbard at: dreidt@telus.net for the deets.