Tuesday, February 23, 2010
The condition of the world will improve if we support businesses that sell high quality, ethically produced products, and if we find ways to avoid financing industries and practices that hurt people and the planet. Whenever we buy something, whether we are aware of it or not, we are saying in effect, "I support what went into making this product and bringing it to me".
Today people are often referred to as "consumers", a stultifying characterization that underlines our modern dependence on large industries for everything from housing and clothing, to food, and even water. Even so, we will be part of beneficial change in the world when we are guided by a sincere desire to support ethical practices through our purchases, and a sincere desire to avoid supporting practices that we know are unethical.
In my hometown, we are fortunate to have a store called Mountain People's Market,"The Co 0p".
More than other food store in town, the Co op makes an effort to carry quality goods and healthy foods that reflect a corresponding commitment to ethical integrity on the part of producers. The overall feeling at Mountain People's Market reflects an underlying belief in the direct relationship between right methods and quality results.
In some cases prices are more expensive at The Co op than in the grocery stores. This unfortunately deters many people. Certainly,it is unwise to automatically equate higher cost with higher quality. Many companies successfully sell inferior products expensively. But simply going for the lowest price is equally unwise. When we buy things just because they are the cheapest, it is likely we are getting inferior products and supporting practices we do not want to support, such as the use of pesticides and such harmful chemicals, the destruction of natural ecosystems, and the exploitation of people around the world.
When it comes to food, we want to eat fresh, nourishing foods that are untainted with harmful chemicals, and if we save some money on food but our health suffers, we cannot then claim to have gotten a good deal.
Other than growing it ourselves, the best way to save money and get the best quality food is to choose whole, minimally processed foods. Foods become increasingly expensive and decreasingly nutritious the more they are processed, refined, chemically treated, and packaged, and the longer they sit in factories, warehouses, trucks, and on store shelves. This knowledge should lead us to choose dried beans over canned, and locally grown, fresh beans over dried.
We can also reduce waste by supporting more sensible and honest ways of distributing food. Excessive packaging creates unnecessary waste. I like to see what I am buying, not read a lot of honeyed words. A company with integrity spends more time and effort on their product than on packaging and advertising. A good feature in many Co ops and some grocery stores are bulk bins.
Bulk means "Just the Goods, Please", maximum product, minimal packaging, bring your own container, help yourself.
Bulk distribution reduces wasteful packaging and is customer friendly. You may want much less or much more than an arbitrarily pre-packaged amount. With a bulk system you buy just what you need from a spoonful to a 50 pound bag. It is nice to be able to buy in small amounts for 'experiments' or to sample unfamiliar products. Or to special-order a large quantity of something you use as a staple, which can be even more economical.
The idea of bulk dispensing is applicable to many products. Besides the dried grains, beans, flours, nuts, and fruits (upper left), Mountain People's Market has bulk dispensers for soaps, hair and skin care products, dish and laundry detergents (upper right), vinegars, edible oils, honey and other sweeteners (bottom right) herbs, teas, and spices (bottom left), and also nut butters, coffee, fresh cows' milk, and maple syrup (not pictured). The bar soaps visible in the top right are actually made by one of our co op members.
It's not a perfect system, but this store's set up is generally a more sensible, friendlier way of distributing our high quality, ethically produced goods.
There are progressive companies who are doing us a service by striving to make high quality, ethically produced goods available at a fair price. It might cost more than what another company is offering, but if the added cost is related to a making a better product in a world more beneficial and fair, that seems like money well spent.