I think there is this general attitude amongst us people in this capitalistic world – that if you can afford it, you are entitled to it. It doesn’t matter if that something has caused pain in the making (ivory, for example). The people with the most money wins the game of life. Especially if we look at how insanely much of the world wealth is in their possession.
I think we need a paradigm shift. Where the pain inflicted on other beings made something less desirable or even ugly.
But these things relate to more non-tangible things as well. Why should you, generic rich-mc-rich person be entitled to fly everywhere in your private jet daily, when we know emissions from planes are a serious problem for climate change? Why should you be entitled to waste oodles and oodles of land and resources, just so you can build a sprawling mansion with a huge park around it to keep the common folk at bay?
And why should we, in the so-called “developed world” be entitled to use much more than our fair share of the planet’s resources? I have heard people express how awful it would be for the planet if everyone developed the habits of the West. But do they try to reduce their consumption? Strangely enough – no. Even more abhorrently – I’ve heard distant family members express that the developing world can’t expect to enjoy the same levels of comfort we are enjoying.
And they say this with a completely straight face. As if theirs is the obvious and responsible argument. It blows me away when it (rarely, luckily) comes up. What makes us entitled to more resources than others? To buy whatever we want without a thought to the fast fashion workers stuck in a low-paying job?
These are interesting times we are living in. Most people prefer to live and engage with people from their own group and similar social status. Many of us as so removed from practical poverty that we do not see it on a daily basis.
It used to be that you would see the village poor on your way to your chosen place of religious devotion. If you were one of the village poor, people knew you by name. Of course there are poor people still in the west too. I need not go further than my time in London to confirm that. But by and large, poverty has shifted as the world became more globalized.
Working slums producing consumer junk for us people in the west are miles from where we live and work. We do not see the pain or pollution our small party favours and funny plastic animals are inflicting. Nor do we see the people trafficked and forced into the chocolate industry. We try to deny to ourselves how our overconsumption of meat is wrecking the planet. We choose to ignore it. It is more comfortable that way. If it is offered to me in the shop, that is not my responsibility, right? “Someone else” should make sure the products they sell me are ethical?
The problem is, there are nobody else.
We cannot depend on other people, policies or companies to keep our goods sustainable and ethical. We know businesses need to protect their bottom line. Politicians will not act if they lose support from it for fear of not getting re-elected. Other people have their own lives to lead.
If you agree that palm oil is wrecking essential habitats, you need to make the painful decision to stop buying products with palm oil. And you need to make it again every time you’re in the shop. You can petition the producers to use different oils if you want to. But the most important thing is to not buy the product which is causing harm. It is not beautiful or delicious any more when you realize the impact it is having. And the only way to force companies to make change is to hurt their bottom line – don’t buy their products.
It might sound like I am a dreadful pessimist or killjoy, but I am really quite optimistic.
When one environmental protection organization in Norway launched a campaign against palm oil, there was change. Consumers became aware of the problem and started reading ingredient lists. They opted out of the products with palm oil, and producers changed their ways after only a few years. The campaign was a massive success. Many products in Norway now display proud tags saying “palm oil-free!”.
Consumers have the power, even if marketing tells us we don’t. Voters have power, both with our vote and by getting engaged locally.
Conundrums like these are one of the reasons I do not want to be rich. Obviously, it would be very handy to be rich. I could donate a lot of money to charities. Or focus research in fields close to my heart. But I don’t agree with all the power you get entitled to, just because you have money and purchasing power.
I just want financial independence, so I can live in our little dream cottage, grow our own food, and do no harm. In many ways, the dream life of a hobbit. I don’t need to be rich to do that.
But it is more than that. I remember Faramir telling Sam in the Lord of the Ring movies: “The shire must truly be a great place – where gardeners are held in such high regard.” From the Hobbit (the book), one of the dwarves express how much better the world would be, if everyone were more like Bilbo, and favoured peace and quiet over wealth and hard coin.
Hey, it may sound like I am some patron saint of ethical shebangs from the way I am writing this, but that is absolutely not true. I have, on occasion, been tempted to buy a box of cookies, even if I know they contain palm oil (hey Oreos, I’m looking at you). Heck, just this morning I ate half the slice of cake Mr. Frugasaurus packed in my bag before lunch. I am no poster girl for resisting temptation or mental strongwill.
But I try. And with time, conscious choices become unconscious habits. If you avoid your palm oil-containing favourite snack nine times out of ten, that is still a 90% reduction.
So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t be perfect. None of us can be. All we can do is go forth and do our best. That is actually one of the primary reasons I strayed off the vegan path. I was so tired of bringing it up every time we visited new people. To feel like a bother and a nuisance for asking for other food even though I wasn’t allergic. To spend hours in the kitchen by myself during holidays because I had to bring my own food to the party.
So I decided “fuck it”. It’s not going to make a difference if I eat aunt Martha’s buttercream cake. She would have made it anyway. A flex approach suited me much better, although I am not sure I would have managed if I had not gone cold turkey to begin with. I am entitled in many ways, and I try to be aware of it.
But if we all work on being conscious consumers, both by choosing to buy products from companies we agree with, and simultaneously opt out from products from companies with dubious ethical/environmental/religious/whatever you care about, you can be damned sure we’re going to make a difference.