Join the Banana Revolution

Join the Banana Revolution

I have a new hobby horse. Bananas.

“For well over a century, the banana conglomerates, specifically Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita, Bonita and Fyffes, have influenced every level of social, economic, and political history in Latin America. They have controlled the fate not only of the millions of workers who toil on their plantations, but have also been responsible for determining national lending, tax credit, land allotment, environment, and labor policies, even dictating the fate of the highest government officials. The most infamous case occurred in 1954, when the United Fruit Company (predecessor of Chiquita Brands) received the support of the CIA to back a military coup against Guatemala President Jacobo Arbenz, because his land reform policies interfered with the company’s expansion plans.”

I’m not pleased to be learning that many of these giant banana companies not only ravage the earth and abuse their workers, but also employ child labor. Just think: the ubiquitous yellow fruit that is packed in our kids’ lunches or cut upon their cereal might have been picked by a child just like them.

This isn’t once a year at Halloween candy time (which is bad enough); this is daily, for most of us.

Bananas are fascinating anyway – did you know that the strain most of us currently eat is not the strain our parents ate (which died out)? And the current banana will go extinct in the next generation or so, leading to yet a new “regular” banana?

I’m telling you, this fruit is ripe with possibilities. I hope the author of Tomatoland, my most favorite recent fruit expose, is working on it!

Buy fair trade bananas. The link above will take you to Equal Exchange, where you can read more about all of this (the quotes in this post are from the article). In one fair trade cooperative, “the members have voted to spend 80% of the Fair Trade premium they receive ($1 per box) for the sale of their bananas on community medical clinics, teachers, and a school for autistic children.” They’re doing the right thing.

Let’s do right by them.

It’s October!

Now there’s a concept…

Time for beer and candy! Plus, my kids are freaking adorable in costumes. What a great month.

Well let me rain on your parade just a little bit. As my thoughts turn to the many, many occasions this month at which my children will be buzzed on sugar, I also think about the realities of the cheap and abundant candy that is thrown at them like so much manna raining from heaven. And those realities suck.

Because sad to say, the whole candy thing – in particular, the chocolate juggernaut – rides on the backs of, you guessed it, slaves. Or at best, sorely underpaid workers. At worst, forced child labor.

I am going to just let a couple of excellent posts from the very much more popular “Rage Against the Minivan” blog speak for me here, because why reinvent the argument?

This one features several clips from a devastating BBC documentary that will hopefully change your mind about those giant Costco bags of chockies.

This one is a helpful list of steps – starting from the most baby all the way up to the most committed & preachy – for making your Halloween more fair (also I am 90% sure that the organic lollipops I’m buying at Trader Joe’s are the very same as those listed in this post).

I hope you’ll read them, watch them, and implement their suggestions.

As for us, we’ll be doing those organic lollipops and regiving anything the kids receive. Which, if we go by last year’s haul, will be MORE than enough.

Oh and we buy our beer locally…I really hope I don’t learn there’s a whole hops slave trade going on or I just might lose it.

[another "fun" post by RATM is this satire about non-fairly traded coffee...]

The Five Minute Pitch

Last night a woman asked me about this blog and what I write about. It gave me the opportunity to practice my “five minute pitch” – that is, the distillation of the ideas you’re considering for a book that can be given in an elevator ride. Technically I realize five minutes is too long. But once I get going I tend to keep people’s interest. :)

Anyway I failed at being very coherent last night (granted, there was wine involved, which I felt the need to imbibe while speaking so as to underline my points about eating well), so I thought I’d better get this figured out on here and then I will hopefully have a better spiel for next time. And Tina if you read this, hope it clarifies things for you!

Many Christians want to integrate their faith into all aspects of their lives, but often don’t think about how to do that with their choices around food. Yet the way that we shop and eat is so deeply important to our ethics and our general approach to life, and absolutely can and should be a spiritual act. To make it simple, I take as my starting point the three tenets of the Slow Food Movement: food should be good, clean, and fair.

Food being “fair” means that the processes by which it is produced respect the dignity of all creation. This starts with treating the earth well: not poisoning it, tending it with patience, etc. It means allowing animals to be the creatures they were made by God to be: so pigs, for instance, will root in a forest, not be crammed into a crate. It continues up the chain to human beings: paying the farmer a price that reflects his or her work, ensuring that slave or near-slave labor does not continue, and supporting legislation that lifts up the individual, hardworking people who labor to bring us food. Respect and Fairness also means giving all created beings, including the land,
the Sabbath rest it deserves.

Food being “clean” goes right along with this. Christians can think of it as purity, as not polluting our bodies with inventions masquerading as food or poisons that may give a moment of pleasure but contribute to a lifetime of illness. It means having a clear idea of where your food has come from, and connecting to the people (and animals, if you like) who are part of the process. It means personally knowing your farmer and even visiting the farm, showing your children the beauty of the earth and its abundance. Again, it can mean supporting certain types of legislation. And the best way to ensure you’re eating clean food is by growing it yourself: a wonderful way to connect to God’s creative work in the world.

Finally, food should be GOOD! It should taste good, it should make our tongues and our tummies happy! That means we eat real food, not foodlike substances (it means we throw rules out the window now and then, too). We take time to cook and honor the recipes of our ancestors. We use premium ingredients from around the world, that remind us just how varied and exciting God’s handiwork can be.

And it should be good for you, not just in the physical sense, but in the emotional, social, and definitely spiritual senses! Pondering your apple while you eat it will settle your mental state and put you in a place of gratitude and connection with your world. Eating with other people will bring you close together and cement community. And there is a great reason why the Eucharist is the primary sacrament of Christian discipleship: it is through daily bread that we return thanks to our Creator for sustaining our lives, and it is through wine that we return thanks for the grand enjoyment we are given in life! Blessing God for the gift of food makes us priests before him, sharing and stewarding, correcting the selfish error of Adam and Eve who took for themselves alone.

Good, clean, and fair food connects us to our families, our communities, our God, and our best selves. And that is why eating well is, inherently, a spiritual act.

(ok that is probably over five minutes….like I said, I really get going. It’s a work in progress!)

A Cruelty-Free Easter

I thought about titling this post “The Only Cruelty on Easter Should Be the Cross,” but that was a little long and not exactly liturgically accurate, seeing how Christ wasn’t crucified on Easter per se.

Pain to chocolate bunnies notwithstanding (but check out this cool slide show of fair trade, vegan, and organic candy options!), let’s consider a few ways to make this a more friendly holiday for all.

If you’ll be dyeing eggs this season, consider their source. This article lists some ways to find a humanely-produced egg.

Consider also the cruelty to your own body (or your kids’!) that comes of using artificial dyes that seep through the porous shell. Look here for a great tutorial on naturally coloring your eggs.

Finally, for Easter dinner, may I remind you of the succulent and healthful benefits of locally and sustainably raised meats from your friendly neighborhood rancher, or the abundance of delightful spring vegetables available at this time of year at your farmer’s market?

Easter celebrates new life. Let’s not taint it with cruelty and ugliness towards the earth, animals, or our fellow human beings.

How does your church eat?

Eating begins with shopping – or really, growing (and some churches do have gardens, to their credit). When we shop for the church, do we consider where the food is coming from, how it was raised, how its cultivation impacted the earth and the farmers? Do we think about the people who might be enslaved to pick produce, or despite doing all the work, receive only a tiny portion of the price we pay for coffee? Do we know what legislation affects people who work in agriculture, and do we advocate on behalf of the powerless and put-upon? There are safeguards in place: fair trade organizations, rainforest certification, humane certification, and organic laws which specify some quality conditions for animals and people and protect the environment. These are easy shortcuts to help us consider more than the price tag when buying our food. Continue reading