Eating Ethically – review of “Food Chains”

Food Chains is worth your time.

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The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a human rights organization based in Immokalee, Florida, made up of agricultural workers (turned activists) who campaign for fair working conditions.

The average person in the US is pretty divorced from the process that gets their food on the table. You may have a backyard garden, but probably most of your food comes from a grocery store. This gives the illusion that food is a simple commodity and not connected to politics, capitalism, and human labor.

Food Chains follows the (CIW) as they protest Publix (a grocery chain in Florida) to pay one penny more per pound of tomatoes. Does that sound crazy? For consumers, that translates into paying approximately 44 cents more per year, but it would effectively double what the agricultural workers in the CIW earn per year.

The CIW gets a fair amount of press (I’ve been seeing more about them recently as students at several colleges have recently fasted for CIW awareness), and in 2014 was awarded the 2014 Presidential Medal for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking, but even if you’ve heard of them before, Food Chains is really worth watching because it puts human faces to the food process. Agricultural workers in the US  are typically some of the most exploited workers, and not that long ago, it was a system based on slavery. After the Emancipation Proclamation, share cropping, convict leasing, and early migrant worker programs effectively continued slavery because even when workers were paid, it was so little that they didn’t have any other options. And even today, migrant workers are still exploited under slavery. The CIW works to ensure there are more protections for workers, that workers are educated about their rights, and that the agricultural industry has more checks and balances, and they have had a lot of success.

I think there’s a lot of emphasis now on what we’re putting into our bodies– is it organic, is it clean, is it … –but not a lot of emphasis on how we’re getting that food. Agriculture is one of the most deeply unequal systems out there, so it is crucial that we ask those hard questions and do our due diligence.

This article 4 Not-So-Easy Ways to Dismantle Racism in the Food System is a great primer on the history and issues that food justice faces:

Farm management is among the whitest professions, while farm labor is predominantly brown and exploited. Meanwhile, people of color tend to suffer from diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and obesity, and to live in “food apartheid” neighborhoods—high-poverty areas flooded with fast food and corner stores, but lacking healthy food options. While some writers refer to these areas as “food deserts,” I prefer the term “food apartheid” because this is a human-created system of segregation, not a natural ecosystem.

Our food system needs a redesign if it’s to feed us without perpetuating racism and oppression.

Building a just society is hard because it means thinking outside of ourselves. Food lobbies and government and large corporations do not want us to see where our food comes from, because it makes it easier for them to exploit labor and maximize profits for those at the top. But this is inhumane and unjust, and ultimately a drain on society. I love a good documentary and I’m picky about what I recommend, but Food Chains is really important and really worth the watch.

Grana Racerback Tank

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I accumulated a lot of neon athletic clothing while I worked at Athleta after college, and as soon as I stopped working there, realized that a lot of what I had didn’t fit my lifestyle. What I do value in athletic or athleisure clothing is versatility and comfort, and my neon/high performance stuff was not making sense. So I sold a lot of it. Now I tend of wear the same things over and over, but I do pilates every morning so I do rotate through workout clothes pretty often, and a few months ago realized that I was lacking on simple workout tops. (For some reason I have plenty of bottoms? How does that happen?)

Grana is a clothing company based out of Hong Kong with a transparency model similar to Everlane. They came out with an athletic line recently, and I purchased the racerback tank because it looked like a simple and versatile piece.

So what’s so special about it?
When I received it, I was surprised at how soft it was. As you can see in the picture, the cut is pretty severe, which for me is not a big issue because I’m pretty flat chested and I don’t mind showing off a little sports bra. It’s a very simple top, so for doing pilates on a mat, that’s great for me. No bunching/scrunching and minimal adjusting. The fabric is moisture wicking and lightweight.

What’s it for?
My workouts are typically pilates and light cardio, so I’m not usually soaking my clothing with sweat. For my workouts, this is perfect, and I definitely wear it often on weekends just for chilling out.

Is it worth it?
The racerback top is $25 (and get 10% off your first purchase with this link), and though I haven’t bought any other products from their activewear line, I’m pretty enamored with this fabric and would consider buying it in another color or one of their other tops if it made sense to add another work out top to my mix. I think it’s a reasonable price for a quality product.

Natural Skincare – What Works for Me

I have struggled with acne since puberty. Part of it is my own fault – I pop pimples and touch my face all the time. And the best way to stave off this bad habit is to keep my skin as clear as possible. I have tried nearly every drugstore brand of face wash, maybe more than once, and for many years was constantly switching up my skincare routine when it wasn’t successful. This probably made my skin worse.

In the last year I’ve made more of an effort to get away from drug store brands, partly for the chemical/environmental impacts, but also to see if I could really simplify and figure out something that worked. I bought some TreeActiv products off amazon for several months, which were OK for a little while. I got an IUD last summer and in the first few months that my hormones were ~*settling*~, my skin went crazy, which drove me crazy.

In December I tried Dr. Hauschka’s line for oily skin and I was delighted/dismayed that it actually worked. The routine is gentle and simple and it works for me! Plus, I never thought that adding oil to my skin made sense at all but it does. Somehow. However, Dr. Hauschka is pretty expensive. Since I’m not buying a new $7-10 face wash every 3 weeks anymore, it’s probably not all that different, but Dr. Hauschka products are not cheap.

Once I ran out of the sample/travel sized products I’d bought to try it out, I invested in the regular sizes of the cleansing cream, toner, day oil, and lotion, which consequently get used up at very different rates, but do last long enough that they feel worth it. Since the Dr. Hauschka routine recommends that you wash your face in the morning (and do the whole routine) and wash and use the toner at night, I use Duross and Langel Naked face wash, which is made locally and has 1% salicylic acid. (It also smells amazing.) This way I can stretch out the more expensive Dr. Hauschka face wash and use it just in the morning.  I still get breakouts, mostly hormonal–during my period–but this routine has really minimized my breakouts and made my skin so much clearer.

Other products I love:

Duross and Langel green tea mud mask – Nothing like a weekend mask to really relax, right? This is green tea and avocado and it’s nice and light and is cooling on your skin.

Duross and Langel tea tree toning mist and rose water toning mist. I really just like spritzing my face with nice smelling toner. The tea tree toner is definitely more firming, and the rose water toner I find pretty calming. I even have a travel sized rose water toner that I keep in my desk at work so I can have a little spritz when I’m feeling stressed.

Running Around in Wool Runners

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So, what’s so special about them? 

Allbirds, a new, very instagram-friendly company produces shoes made of merino wool. Merino wool comes from a specific type of sheep raised in mostly Australia and New Zealand, it’s naturally super-fine (so not scratchy like old wool sweaters) and naturally odor-resistant. Merino wool as the base of a shoe means that it uses 60% less energy than the typical process to make a shoe of synthetic materials. Allbirds is a certified B-corp and the wool is ZQ-certified, so they’re paying attention and following strict guidelines for sustainability, animal welfare, and company transparency and accountability. On top of that, they’ve designed their packaging to use 40% fewer materials than typical shoe packaging. Allbirds just launched a second style, their wool loungers, in addition to the wool runners, and color options are limited to a few standards and short-term seasonal colors.

What are they for? 

So, these aren’t shoes for hard workouts (the packaging even notes that these are for everyday wear, not marathons), which is fine with my lifestyle. The loungers look similarly cute and comfortable, so depending on your style and what you plan to wear them for, I recommend checking them out.

Are they worth it? 

In my opinion – yes. I’m a big fan of the look of the shoe- clean lines, minimal distractions, and neutral colors. I purchased my pair off an ebay seller who got the wrong size and missed the return window, so their loss was my gain, and I ended up shaving off a little from Allbirds $95 price tag. These are incredibly lightweight and unbelievably soft– I’d been eyeing them for a long time but still wasn’t sure if all the hype about their comfort was true and it 100% is. It is like walking on little clouds all day. So far, I’ve been wearing them without socks in some pretty up and down spring temperatures, and the temperature regulation has been great so far.

In sum, I love these shoes and I’m so interested to see how Allbirds (or maybe other companies) incorporates natural materials into everyday items for more sustainable shopping!

 

Budgeting and Shopping for Deals on Ethical Clothing

My senior year of college, I got a part-time job at Athleta, which then became my only job after I graduated and couldn’t find a full time job for the next 8 months.  At that point, I was making slightly more than minimum wage and just covering my basic expenses, it felt like saving money was so far away. If I had leftover money, I spent it, often at Athleta (I had a 50% discount). At the time I thought that I had this limited time to buy nice clothing at an extreme discount so I was lucky to use it. I would use these things forever! I was wrong. Five years later, I don’t have a lot of those things anymore and I feel dumb for having bought stuff that I didn’t wear a lot after my brief retail salesperson career and not saved that money for something actually useful or paid down debt faster.

I know that I am an emotional shopper. I buy things when I’ve had a bad day, or when I’ve had a really good day! It’s a way to treat myself. But, I recognize that the more I do this, the less it’s an actual treat. And I know that–at least at this point–moving into a strict budget with no room for buying things that I want instead of need would also make me miserable and probably wouldn’t work in the long run. So, where’s the balance? And, if you’re eschewing brands that make $6 t-shirts in sweatshops, can you still be a savvy budget shopper?

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:  Continue reading “Budgeting and Shopping for Deals on Ethical Clothing”

When Minimalism Feels Oppressive

For however much I am trying to be more thoughtful and purposeful about my consumption, I am not a Minimalist and probably won’t ever be one. I’ve got a lot of stuff. Craft supplies, DVDs, games, books, tchotchkes… I live in a small, city apartment and this thing is full.

That being said, sometimes I lust after pictures of those perfectly curated instagram-ready homes that have like monochromatic themes and clean lines and no clutter. (No clutter! What a dream!) I am very fortunate to have stuff and also have a partner who gives me a reality check when I get too amped about cleaning when people come over.

However, when thinking ethically/minimally about consumption, I think it’s important to not start treating minimalism as its own product to fetishize and consume. The Financial Diet just posted about this and it’s full of some good real talk:

Long story short, the past 10 years or so has sold us one of the most oddly logical, yet no less cloying, answers to our hyper-consumerist late capitalism: minimalism as a secular kind of religion, an add-on to the cultures of yoga and green juices and general living well by putting together a tapas platter of cultural and spiritual practices without ever fully committing to one.

So, it’s not an article against minimalism so much as against minimalism as a product that purchases superiority: With $5,000, you too can get rid of all of your clothing and own a 100% ethical, sustainable wardrobe of shapeless tunics and solve all your problems! 

Even ignoring the class angles, this idea that any “decluttering” in your life is automatically a positive thing is simply an aesthetic choice being reframed as a moral one because, let’s be honest, it’s really easy to look at a lot of what (mostly) women own as being totally frivolous. Makeup, more-elaborate wardrobes, cozy home decor, art, supplies for hobbies, nice home goods – it’s not a coincidence that most of the stuff we’re being told to flush away from our lives happens to be stuff that women mostly accumulate.

And, yes, there is a very strong capitalist-critical argument to be made about buying in more intentional and ethical ways, but color me shocked that very few of these minimalist troubadours ever really take things to an economic or class-based argument. It’s about reducing for personal enlightenment and pompous blog posts, it’s not about arguing for a more equitable society in which people consume proportionate to their needs.

The class dynamics of consumption are important, and it’s hard to see that zoomed out view when you’re thinking about yourself. If I commit to buying sustainable and ethical clothing, will Walmart go out of business? No. But I’m going to feel pretty good about my own shopping practices without looking at the systemic issues that depress wages, exploit workers and segregate ethical and environmental products into price points that only the wealthy can afford.

My approach (so far) is trying to be realistic about what I use and need. (“Need.” Do I ever “need” another dress?) I can appreciate the minimalist #inspo blogs and instagramers I follow and definitely get ideas from them, but I am never going to be the kind of lady who wears $250 linen culottes and an oversized kimono cardigan. That is not my style, and I would look like a clown and feel extremely uncomfortable.  My mindful shopping can’t just be theoretical, it has to be practical.

I want to be mindful of the way I consume and why I consume (a work in progress) as well as mindful and thoughtful about the broader systems that perpetuate inequality (a much larger task). That second part is something I’m still mulling over and researching… and it seems like it’s definitely an uphill battle, particularly with this current administration (like for regulations that would protect labor and ethical manufacturing or crack down on companies that use cheap overseas labor). So, this is kind of a bummer post, but I liked the article on TFD and think reminders to check my privilege are helpful and warranted.

Read more:

Minimalism is Just Another Boring Product Wealthy People Can Buy
    –This reddit thread
discussing the article is also interesting

Marie Kondo and the Privilege of Clutter
On the immigrant experience and why minimalism doesn’t always translate

How to Declutter Your Life, Assuming You Can Afford to Buy New Possessions at Any Time
some satire to lighten it up

 

Clothing Manufacturing is a Women’s Issue

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, which, like many holidays with more radical roots, has kind of been co-opted by capitalism.

International Women’s Day was actually not created so that we could post #inspirational memes or pictures of your #WCE girlfriends. IWD was in fact created after female textile workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York went on strike over labor conditions in 1909. (After the strike ended in 1910, in 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred, which prompted more government oversight into the safety of factories and working conditions.)

It is crucial to remember the roots of IWD because the same gendered power imbalances are still an issue today.

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Jewish factory workers on strike

The striking workers in 1909 were largely Jewish immigrants and the victims of the fire in 1911 were mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants who took on factory jobs because they were available–not because they were good jobs. This dynamic still rings true. Although most clothing manufacturing today occurs outside of the United States, most garment workers are female (estimates range between 60-80% of all garment workers). These workers are typically paid very little and frequently work in unsafe conditions. (The 2012 factory explosion in Dhaka, Bangladesh is one modern example among many.) To keep up with consumers’ want for fast, cheap fashion in developed countries, clothing manufacturers make clothing as cheaply as possible to maximize profits and keep prices low.

Modern garment workers are threatened with violence and loss of jobs if they demand better working conditions. With depressed wages everywhere, leverage is hard without a united front of workers, although workers who form unions are also often punished. In Cambodia, the government denied a request of female garment workers to use city hall for a rally space on IWD for fear of appearing “political.”

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Police outside a factory in Bangladesh after a 5 day strike in 2016

Consumers have the power to vote with their dollars and demand more from companies who produce clothing under unethical conditions. Likewise, this is something that matters not just for big brands but also for one-off t-shirt fundraisers or merch associated with causes. Broadly’s article, Was Your Feminist T-Shirt Made by Factory Workers in Exploitative Conditions? brings up important points. When you’re buying a t-shirt off zazzle or from a t-shirt table at an event, how do you know where that t-shirt is made? And isn’t it extra ironic if that t-shirt is emblazoned with a message about gender equality?

Thinking about clothing production as a gender issue (even if there are also factory workers who are men and who can and should benefit from improved conditions and wages along with their female coworkers) is important because it gets at some of the systemic inequalities involved in labor issues. “Women’s jobs” have historically and continue to be under-valued economically and socially. Think about who you imagine as a nurse vs. doctor or teacher vs. professor, or cook vs. chef. In professional hierarchies, women are more frequently in the lower-paying, lower-prestige positions. (Some of this is by choice, but choice is also guided by opportunity and social norms, so don’t give me any of that “women choose lower paying jobs and that’s why there’s income inequality” nonsense.) For professions that are dominated by female workers, like garment workers, systematic low wages are not just an issue of fair pay  but gender inequity.

(Locally, this dynamic played out yesterday as over 900+ female teachers called out from the Philadelphia school district for the IWD Day Without a Woman strike. Teachers are predominately female and in Philadelphia, have been working for over 3 years without a contract. They are underpaid compared to their suburban counterparts and in a chronically underfunded school district. Funding Philadelphia’s schools properly is important for students and for their mostly female teachers!)

IWD is now over, but gender equality is an issue every day. Don’t get lazy, keep learning and listening and challenging default narratives about gender and labor!