x45 (ethical consumerism as a resolution)

So, I know I’m a bit late on this front, but I’d like to talk about things I’m giving up and why in a sort of “new year’s resolution” type post. So, here goes:

* PETA
* Quinoa
* Salvation Army

Now, I was never big on PETA from the get-go. While I will admit to monetary donations in the past and considering opening a PETA credit card, primarily I was a fan of their resources and not the way they went about promoting a vegan/vegetarian diet. PETA seems to have two different fronts: the more conservative (but still flaunting of female sexuality as an advertising trick) and more ambassadorial promotion machine, and the obnoxious shock-and-awe protest machine. Throw in the fact that there are other animal rights organizations (some even more obnoxious than PETA and some even more ambassadorial and “vanilla”) that frequently get confused with PETA by non-veggies, and it makes it a bit difficult to tell what action has been sanctioned by whom. So on that note, I apologize for any statements I made regarding what PETA does and does not do that may have been incorrect.

While I normally wouldn’t advocate caving to peer pressure in order to make a decision, the fact is I’ve always been an ambassadorial veggie and if people I know are bothered by PETA’s business practices, then I need to stop supporting them. Not all vegans are snotty, blood-throwing, holier-than-thou hippie tree huggers, and I’d like to think that I’m a good model of a rational vegan who can engage in healthy debate and respect other people’s dietary choices. If I can separate the concept of veganism from the actions of an organization like PETA, I think it lends more legitimacy to the cause and makes me look significantly less like a dick. While I can say that it’ll probably be a while before I stop relying on PETA to help me judge which bath, beauty, and household cleaning products I use, I will no longer donate to them, participate in their brand of advocacy, or read their “Living” blog, which focuses primarily on recipes and fashion. There are plenty of other animal friendly organizations, including the ASPCA, In Defense of Animals, and Farm Sanctuary that offer aid to animals and activist roles for supporters of animal rights to take on. They will be getting my money and support instead.

So. Quinoa. Here’s why I like it:

“Adventurous eaters liked its slightly bitter taste and the little white curls that formed around the grains. Vegans embraced quinoa as a credibly nutritious substitute for meat. Unusual among grains, quinoa has a high protein content (between 14%-18%), and it contains all those pesky, yet essential, amino acids needed for good health that can prove so elusive to vegetarians who prefer not to pop food supplements.”

So that’s good, right?

…right?

“But there is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.

In fact, the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here unwittingly driving poverty there. It’s beginning to look like a cautionary tale of how a focus on exporting premium foods can damage the producer country’s food security.”

Yikes. Who knew that a tasty and nutritious grain was causing so many problems? The people over at The Guardian did, apparently, and they aren’t the only ones. This article that I just linked you to is the third such kind of article (all from different news sources) that have documented this problem that I’ve seen floating around on Facebook. And while I am ashamed to admit to being a sort of pseudo-hipster, if you will, I am nothing if not a believer in the power of the first world dollar. If my choices as a consumer can even moderately help a cause I believe in (or if the boycott of my monetary services does the same), then I am glad to be selective in what I purchase. That’s the thing about living in a first world country: the world is going to hell in a hand basket, and there’s only so much one can do to help improve things. To steal a quote from this article on Offbeat Home about ethical consumption:

“In the end I think the best you can do is find the little corner of the world you are going to make less shitty. If we all improve our corners maybe we’ll eventually meet in the middle of the room and find we’ve made it a pretty good place.”

And ethical consumerism is one of my corners. So, adieu to you, quinoa. You were tasty.

And here’s the final thing I’m giving up starting in 2013: financial contributions to the Salvation Army. While I was never much of a red-bucket donator (I don’t normally carry cash on me), I did used to frequent Salvation Army stores, both as a high school student who lacked funds for cute outfits and as an adult on disability who can’t afford to spend big bucks on a new wardrobe when I suddenly develop sensory issues. In addition to that, I’m helping to reduce waste and buying secondhand makes me feel better about buying goods that aren’t produced in the United States, so shopping there seemed like a pretty sweet deal.

However, Facebook was plastered with articles this past holiday season – some dating back to 2010 – that detailed the Salvation Army’s anti-gay policies and asking people not to make donations to them. If this were just a matter of another church organization getting their panties in a wad about gay people while still doing good, I might be able to overlook it. That being said, one man’s firsthand account about being denied aid by the Salvation Army because he was in a homosexual relationship really hit close to home for me. I pull in less than $800 per month, and if my parents were for any reason unwilling or unable to house me, I’d need to wait a year before being eligible for subsidized housing in an area where there is no public transportation and in a situation where I can’t own a car because I can’t have more than $2,000 in assets. And in case you’re unfamiliar with rent in Massachusetts, $800 is not enough to afford non-section 8 housing and still be able to eat or pay for medication. In short, if my parents weren’t awesome, I’d be one of those homeless gay people being refused help from the Salvation Army. No thanks. And no more shopping at Salvation Army for me.

I definitely don’t mean to sound pretentious, but ethical consumerism – whether that entail buying from, donating to, or simply the patronizing of certain establishments – is one of the few ways in which I’m able to give back. Without a driver’s license and living in an area where public transportation is in short supply, volunteer opportunities are slim (although I’m always looking for new ways to contribute to that arena). If I can feel good about the purchases I make and the organizations and corporations I affiliate myself with, then I feel that much more like a functioning member of society – a feeling that is in short supply when one is dependent on government aid to survive. Tease me if you like, and go ahead and point out that my decisions may not have that much of an impact, but these are the choices I make to (hopefully) benefit the world I live in.

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