The food we eat can have a high price tag for others.
I recently watched the film BANANAS! at Chicago Fair Trade’s latest member meeting, a documentary by Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten advocating for the rights of banana plantation workers in Nicaragua. The film follows the actual court proceedings as Dole Food Company faces a series of lawsuits regarding their long-standing use of controversial chemicals on banana plantations in Nicaragua. The pesticides resulted in several health problems for plantation workers, most notably sterility among men.
The chemical, Dibromochloropropane (DBCP), was synthesized in 1955 and used all over the world to protect plants from worms until 1977, when employees handling the chemical in California were found to be sterile. Despite restrictions from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and several health reports and studies showing the harmful effects of DBCP, Dole continued to use the pesticide in massive quantities on banana plantations in Nicaragua. I was shocked when watching the film to see large quantities of DBCP being sprayed from irrigation guns attached to airplanes, pouring a deluge of toxicity over the trees and workers, and at times even flooding the ground.
Filmmaker Fredrick Gertten said he was amazed at the audacity of Dole to continue using a pesticide that was known to cause infertility, and wanted to delve deeper into the issues. His film goes on to expose how the multi-million dollar agribusiness of bananas has taken advantage of workers in the developing world.
The story is quite disheartening, and presents a challenge to us as consumers to educate ourselves about the products we consume, and make choices that matter.
In the words of the filmmaker:
“The bananas we’ve been eating all these years look to have caused horrendous suffering for these people. To me it is very unsettling to find that out now. Who knows what chemicals are used on bananas today? Who knows if any consequences will be felt in 30 years? I want to highlight the moral dilemma - that the food we eat can have a high price tag for others.
“I eat less bananas now, but I consciously try not to quit entirely but instead choose Fair trade products. I don’t believe in being 100% orthodox. That goes for my private life as well as my films. I don’t want to preach morality and BANANAS!* shouldn’t leave the audience feeling guilty and depressed. Change does not come from despair, but from seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, that our actions actually matter.”
- Fredrick Gertten in an Interview with Orvar Safstrom.
You can watch the trailer HERE.
At Chicago Fair Trade’s screening, we also had Sharon Hoyer from The Dill Pickle Food Co-op talk to us about their commitment as a store to ONLY carry fair trade bananas. This means that if there are not fair trade bananas available, they will not stock them. This is a notable decision for a business to make, as it means at times sacrificing sales for the sake of supporting fair trade practices.
This presents a challenge to us as consumers to not only be educated about the products we consume, but also to be willing to sacrifice when fair trade options are not available.
I truly believe that as consumers, we have the power to hold corporations accountable for unfair businesses. Ultimately, consumers drive the market as we are the ones spending money on consumer goods. The more we are educated about where the products come from and the conditions under which they were made, the more we can consciously choose to support businesses with ethical production practices.
(Some related comments from a previous blog):
This is one of the things that fair trade does for consumers – it puts us in direct contact with the PEOPLE who make the products we enjoy. It reconnects us with the human side of our food, our clothes, our jewelry, our sports equipment. It makes us consider the work and skills that went into the product’s production, it brings us to a new level of appreciation for craftsmanship and talent, and it plants a seed of RESPECT inside of us – a seed that continues to grow as we continue to become more connected to the people behind our products.
As you go through your day today, I challenge you to be conscious about the producers behind the things you consume, touch, wear, and enjoy. Who picked the coffee beans that were brewed into your morning cup? Who designed and sewed the clothes and accessories you choose to wear? Who made the computer at your desk, what trees did the paper you use come from, who processed the raw material into paper?
Whose life are you respecting (or disrespecting) by the choices you make today?
I add “disrespect” because in all honestly, as many of us know, a large number of products on the market DO indeed come from a production line that disrespects their workers. Walking through a supermarket or department store, customers are often quite disconnected from the people behind the products they are browsing. We remain ignorant about whether they were made with child and sweatshop labor, unfair wages, and worker exploitation or by people paid fair wages and treated with RESPECT. We make the decision to support the wrong group because we are uninformed.
But in a society of knowledge, awareness, information, and global connections, we no longer can afford to make ill-informed decisions.
In a world where we have the CHOICE to purchase either from retail lines whose producers are unknown or exploitative, or to purchase from lines that put us in direct contact with producers and their stories – why would we WANT to remain ill-informed?
Fair Trade products are increasingly becoming available. If you are Chicago-based, see Chicago Fair Trade for a listing of Chicago-based fair trade businesses. If fair trade products aren’t as available as you’d like, there’s a lot you can do to change that! A suggestion or a petition can go a long way. Contact your alderman, speak to the buyers for your local coffee shop, make a suggestion to your grocery mart, bring fair trade products to your workplace. See Chicago Fair Trade’s website for more resources about how to increase the availability of fair trade products.
Your choices and your actions make a difference. In this new year, be mindful. Be CONSCIOUS. Make a difference that you can proudly stand behind.