A Better World course exercise 5
Exercise 5 – Take a personal inventory, part 2
(Inquiry & Introspection): Today, choose just one product, article of clothing or food from yesterday’s inventory. Do your best to more fully trace its impacts – from raw materials to use to disposal – examining its effects on you, other people, animals, and the environment throughout its lifecycle. Obviously, you will not be able to analyze the item completely (this could be a dissertation, after all!), but use the Internet to dig as deeply as you are able in the time you have. Then ask yourself if there is a product, article of clothing or food that does more good and less harm. To what degree are you willing to pursue such an alternative in the future? What steps will you take to do so? If you’re not likely to make changes, what stops you? Money? Time? Motivation? Cultural or family pressures? Desires? Fears? Inconvenience? Reflect upon the obstacles you face in choosing MOGO products, foods, and clothing. What steps can you take to overcome these obstacles (assuming you want to)? You may want to refer to Key 7 (p. 69) in Most Good, Least Harm to hear how others overcome their obstacles.
I've chosen to look at coffee.
I enjoy drinking coffee in the morning. It's a nice way to start the day.
From my research I learned that coffee was traditionally grown in the shade of trees that provided habitat for birds and other wildlife. In the second half of last century, though, new varieties of coffee were developed that could grow in the sun, planted more densely, and would produce greater yields. However, these new varieties require the use of artificial fertilizer and pesticides and forests are cut down to make way for coffee fields.
Fair trade coffee grower cooperatives are paid a higher price for their coffee than conventional coffee farmers, over $1 per pound, or roughly twice what conventional farmers are paid. This may not seem like much, but these higher prices have enabled farmers to send children to college, set up health care programs, and more.
On the environmental side, one cup of coffee requires about 140 litres of water to produce. I don't know if this is reduced through the use of more traditional methods and varieties. This use of water is of additional concern when the coffee is grown in countries that have water shortages.
Lately I've been drinking yerba mate instead of coffee in the morning. I buy fair-trade, organic yerba mate, and I always thought this was a better, more environmentally friendly choice than even organic coffee.
However, yerba mate production has many of the same issues as coffee production, including the price paid for the product and the ways it is grown. Yerba mate used to be grown in a traditional manner, mixed in with other plants and trees, but in the green revolution began to be grown more intensively.
Coffee is often referred to as "black gold" and yerba mate is sometimes referred to as "green gold." Mate is not grown in as many places as coffee, but where it is, there are similar problems.
It likely, though, does take less water to produce than coffee.
So, I'm pretty much left with a toss-up between coffee and yerba mate. In either case it's possible to choose an option that promotes traditional farming methods that favour sustainability over maximized yields and pay fair prices.
I do have the option of choosing to drink neither. By choosing this option, though, I would not be supporting communities that depend on these products to survive – or is that just me thinking about the "developing" world from my perspective of white privilege, as a middle-class North American?
http://yerbamate.com (in particular, the paper "Cultivating Green Gold" linked to from here: http://yerbamate.com/fairtrade/)