Organic foods are expensive!
Prices for organic ground beef are 134% greater than their non-organic alternatives. Growing organic coffee costs about 15% more over conventional methods. And there are a number of reasons why they’re so exorbitant. Organic foods are produced and purchased in smaller quantities. They tend to expire more rapidly without the use of harmful preservatives. The current supply-chain isn’t set up for organics.
For many shoppers, these reasons prevent them from supporting organic farming and foods. But this decision has widespread effects. Firstly, by ingesting pesticide-laden foods such as bell peppers and cucumbers, they can wreak havoc with your body. Secondly, there’s a farmer and/or migrant worker for every vegetable and fruit that might be exposed to the chemically-dubious pesticides. This part of the equation is often overlooked.
One research study looked at migrant workers in California who are regularly exposed to pesticides. The consequences were painful to read. For these workers, chemicals and pesticides account for over 50% of “acute illness.” Many are afflicted with awful skin disorders, and these dangerous chemicals can also cause systemic and ocular (eye) problems. Big agribusiness likely has some responsibility for our misinformation and naivete, but the person that must pick our crops suffers greatly.
When we choose non-organic certified foods, we are complicit in the maltreatment of farmers and workers — contributing to the capitalistic destruction ahead of values-based treatment of others. As someone who self-identifies as empathetic to others’ struggles, I was admittedly ignorant to this part of the puzzle until watching the preceding clip. Remarkably, while I understood the consequence on my own body, I didn’t realize how my purchase affected others.
Frugality isn’t synonymous with selfishness
When I first started my frugal journey, I looked for any way to save money. Shopping at Walmart and Target made a lot of sense. These stores buy massive amounts of product, warehouse it, and negotiate the lowest prices possible with their suppliers. With low margins, shoppers at these stores benefit from “Always Low Prices.” But this marketing mayhem is a trick. We are hurting ourselves with pesticides and preservatives, while hurting our fellow humans that must come into contact with these chemicals (not to mention the horrific, food-stamp-needing wages).
There’s a powerful alternative, and opportunity to break out of this system. It requires two key variables when purchasing food: fair trade and organic certification. Each of these titles protects farmers, workers, and the health of those that come into contact with the product. By utilizing each, we can have a friendly society for all.
We need a revolution, as it’s hurting everyone involved. Fortunately, there’s one company that’s trying to change the entire system: Equal Exchange. They’re leaders in producing fair trade, organic, and worker-owned products.
The empathy revolution we need
Equal Exchange was started by a couple founders that envisioned a friendlier system, and began buying fair trade coffee in 1986. They’ve grown from coffee to tea, chocolates, and more. Their methods support democratically run farms and co-operatives (“co-ops”). Simply put, employees are given respect and rights. They are allowed to vote in important company policies and can receive more profit revenue.
Everything about this counters big business models such as Walmart. “Big Blue” pressures producers with ever decreasing prices and threaten them to deliver despite diminishing revenue. If you grow bell peppers, you’ll be competing with Walmart’s massive supply chain, which forces you to find the cheapest possible way to grow as much as you can. This can encourage nasty practices using cheap and/or illegal farm labor, while splashing boatloads of pesticides over your crops. The entire model is corrupt and toxic.
I’m not sure that being environmentally friendly, respectful to workers, and fair to everyone involved is taught in business school — it goes against the current economic model. The zeitgeist is aimed towards profits and revenue — not health, morality, and respect. Our invisible hand doesn’t account for these important latter points. Equal Exchange’s concept of business includes an important variable: empathy. Isn’t that a crazy idea?!
Yeah, but how does organic, fair trade food taste?
Halloween just came and went. If you went trick-or-treating, you probably noticed a gluttonous amount of Hershey’s and Mars candies. Most all the chocolates are made with milk, sugar, and artificial flavors (e.g., engineered vanillin). Most of the candies made by major producers use artificial colors and flavors to fill in the flavor gap. The imperfections are masked.
So, I created a little taste test for myself. I lined up a Snickers bar and one of Equal Exchange’s Milk Chocolate Crisp bars. I bit into the Snickers, and got that heightened rush of sugar and peanuts. Then, I unwrapped the Equal Exchange bar and was blown away. This organic, fair trade chocolate bar was fantastic! There was a distinct cacao taste and liquor mix that was rich, vibrant, and unique. This wasn’t your average Hershey’s bar. Yum!
Then there’s the price question. The Snickers bar (outside of Halloween season) regularly costs about $1.25-1.50. Meanwhile, Equal Exchange’s Milk Chocolate bar costs about $1.59. Do the math: for about a quarter more, you can respect small farmers, their workers, the land, and your body. That’s an incredible value.
The system is broken, but we can work to change it
Every purchase and consumer-based decision we make has tremendous effects on the world around us. The current system discounts everyone involved — workers, ourselves, and the environment. We need an empathy revolution, because what goes around comes around.
While organic and fair trade foods may be too expensive for houses in large amounts of credit and/or student loan debt, I’d encourage those who aim to live a frugal life to consider better alternatives. We all deserve it.
Check out some of Equal Exchange’s products on Amazon!