This post is inspired by my wife coming back from Mondomundi today with a huge bag of new variety coffee beans. Yum 😀
Coffee. Tea. Chocolate. Mmm, chocolate. They’re great, but most of us also know by now that the people that produce them have been generally getting screwed over the years. I saw a BBC documentary recently in fact about cocoa farmers and what a crushingly poor quality of life they had, getting paid the same base price for cocoa that they were paid up to 30 years ago. That’s right, no inflation rises for 30 years. They interviewed a spokeswoman for the big chocolate manufacturers like Nestle, and it was rather amusing to watch her squirm, trying to avoid the question of why precisely that was the case. Of course, her answer was that the farmers should utilise greater bulk production in order to reduce their overheads (they’re all smallholdings) to cope with the price demands of globalisation. Sure, tell that to a guy who can’t even afford transport to get his produce to the next town, never mind investing in industrial farming machinery.
We’ve been buying Fair Trade coffee and chocolate for quite a few years now - initially not because we were particularly energised about the underyling issues, but when we found out that this stuff is actually really good. It cost a little bit more, but these are generally ‘luxury’ foods (when you buy the decent stuff anyway, not the cheap instant coffee that tastes like a gorilla relieved himself in it). We generally buy a big bag of coffee beans every month or so to chew grind on demand, and quality is important. From there we tried the tea, which was also good. Then, the ethical issues of fair trade started to get a larger amount of press and documentary cover and you start to see that buying this stuff really does make a genuine difference to the people that produce it.
It’s perhaps questionable how far this can run - whilst as a regular person I don’t mind paying a premium on luxury items, I’m not so sure I could manage paying it on absolutely everything, but I think it’s a positive thing; ethical purchasing is emerging as something of a theme in the noughties, and that can’t be bad. Sure you can get cynical about the middle men who are still making money out of this, and that it’s all a bit self-righteous and just a symbolic move to salve the guilt that we’re exploiting so much elsewhere in our lives, and the fact that it’s a drop in the ocean when compared to all the bad things that happen in the world, but hey, you have to start somewhere. One positive step is still a step in the right direction, no matter how small. So where we can afford it, and the produce is good, we’ll carry on buying more ethical products and I’m guessing a lot of other people will too.