FAIR TRADE MATTERS: Rationale

When, in my “Human Rights in Cultural Forms” class, we learned about where most of the world’s cocoa comes from, I knew that I wanted to do a project raising awareness about, and discussing the issue of, fair trade.

This English class has been one of the most relevant and engaging classes I have ever been enrolled in. Explaining the depths of it to peers and friends and even here on the blog, I have often tried to put to words the compassion I see in the course’s prof, Dr. Hron, but one that is almost tired of just teaching, tired of the same looks and responses that are sympathetic toward the issues raised, and wondering herself where real change is.

As cliche as it sounds, real change IS in each one of us starting with the “man in the mirror,” and committing to making lasting changes.

This past month, I have blogged about the reality of where we as North Americans get bananas, cocoa, coffee, and clothes. The style of these posts is different from the style and content I usually engage with in blogging, and so the hope has been that my usual readers would be intrigued, and note the relevance the posts had to their ability to make changes.

Accumulatively, these posts have been viewed by 63 people, and received likes and comments. I made friends and family aware of the posts, and a Facebook event advertising the “Fair Trade Student Meal” I hosted.

To summarize and inform more personally for the blog posts, I wanted to engage with people in “real life,” and so I hosted family and friends for a dinner made entirely from fair trade ingredients for cheap. The goal of this event was to reveal to people, particularly students, that supporting Fair Trade Brands is inexpensive– the only real investment is in being educated and informed.

My guests and I ate enjoyed dinner, a red lentil and sweet potato soup that I made from scratch, while discussing current knowledge and awareness of fair trade, and talking about what we’d learned from my blog posts that I had encouraged each guest to read. I shared how much these issues had been put on my heart, and that I have checked my regular groceries to ensure that I’m buying only fair trade brands, and that I have committed to only buying from fair trade clothing stores for Christmas gifts this year. I also shared that I have personally switched to buying only fair trade cocoa. Everyone was very engaged in conversation, understanding that we were discussing an issue very relevant to their everyday lives.

After dinner, I also showed the video on cocoa processing that we watched in class, and guests were shocked, and again drawn into conversation.

I ended by presenting the guests with common fair trade brands, and asking each of them if there was something they think they could commit to changing within their lifestyle in order to make a difference.

Here, two answers:

“I’m only going to wear and buy clothes from second hand or fair trade stores as long as it depends on me. I love the clothes at Harmony and Lustre and Oak, anyway!”

“I’m going to stop buying American Eagle jeans, and eat only fair trade chocolate.” –(my roommate as she fearfully Google-searched her favourite jeans brand and learned that her jeans are made in sweat shops).

I chose to publish posts about fair trade issues on my blog, because I knew that it was the avenue I would be most likely to truly reach people. Since my readership on this blog has grown tremendously in the past two years, I wanted the opportunity to use it to spread awareness for something such as this.

Then, I engaged the issue personably by hosting a dinner aimed at students, with the goal being to show students that it is easy, affordable, and delicious to eat fair trade food! Here is my recipe:

Sweet and Citrusy Red Soup

Serves 8-12

Ingredients

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 tsp coconut oil

1 1/2 cups baby carrots, chopped

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

2 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

4 cups red lentils, rinsed

10 cups vegetable broth

2 Tbsp lemon juice

Method

  1. In large soup pot, saute onion in oil for about 3 minutes over medium heat, or until browning. Add carrots and sweet potatoes, and saute another 3 minutes. Stir in spices, lentils, and broth.
  2. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lentils and potatoes are soft; about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice.
  3. Serve warm with diced, cooked chicken, crackers, or bread, if desired.

The main challenge I encountered in executing this project was in arranging an evening to host dinner that would engage as many people as possible. With students very busy, and with so many different schedules, it is not easy to find a time that works for more than a handful of people. However, we had a good group of enthusiastic and engaged individuals, excited about spreading their new knowledge.

It has been both disheartening AND empowering to learn more, and engage with, the issue of fair trade. I am grateful for the new knowledge I have acquired, and determined to use it in order to live more in accordance with my beliefs and values.

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