Ethical Consumption. Am I a jerk? Let me tally my mitzvah.

First, read this article in Slate.  It's a good read and conjures up a healthy, constructive dose of self-criticism.  Hard not to read and wonder where one's own ethics fall.

Also, read this.  Good quote here:

The word “Green” has become a separatist adjective. A term used to separate something from the norm. Until products become Green by default, Green will always be an outsider.

I find myself in regular discussions with certain friends about the buying choices we make (or don't make) in our daily routines.  The ubiquitous conversations are happening with books like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and The Omnivore's Dilemma.   Films like Food, Inc. and The Future of Food.  (Here's a longer, fantastic list of movies.) 

You ask yourself questions like - Is it better to buy organic food at Walmart or local, non-organically certified food (that may actually be grown organically, just not labeled as so) at your local grocery store?  Should dairy have RSBT in it?  How free-range are those chickens?  Do I really need to eat so many corn, soy and wheat products?

In one of my past lives, I worked a short while as a sales rep for a really high-end pet food.  We were only distributed at one, big-box pet-supplies chain.  For six months, my job was to drive up and down the I5 corridor, from Bellingham to Eugene, OR, and try to get people out of the habit of buying their Purina kibble and into the habit of buying a more expensive, but vastly superior brand.  Without grains, filler, by-products, etc.  With added nutrients.  It wasn't organic (nor raw, which is really what makes the most sense), and there are lots more products in this super-premium category now available.    But, in its time, it was a great product, but not everyone wanted to pay for a food that might actually relieve their pet's itchy skin, crystals, or joint issues.

Times have changed.  This was less than 10 years ago, and when I worked for this company a lot of people didn't read their food labels.  A national rep mentioned their observation that people in the Northwest were more likely to read labels.  I found this true in some stores - Bellingham, Portland, closer to downtown Seattle.  But there were still lots of people who refused to look at or care about the ingredients in their pet's food.

I'm not sure when I became a label reader.  Maybe when I decided to no longer consume high-fructose corn syrup and chemical sugar substitutes?  I know the studies waver on this, but I can feel the difference.  Maybe I'm in tune with my body, maybe it's placebo effect.  Either way, diabetes runs on both sides of my family and I've learned that many sugary foods make me feel sick.  And sucralose and aspartame make me feel sick as well.  And healthy fats and proteins and fresh vegetables and whole grains make me feel good.  And not in a morally-superior way. 

Maybe I started reading labels when Breyer's started to market their all natural ice cream brands.  Remember those?  With the little kids stumbling over difficult-to-pronounce additives?

I try not to even talk about these topics unless I know I'm in company that wants to.  And I'm only bringing them up here, because this article sparked some thoughts I felt the need to lay out.  If you've gotten this far, you're obviously interested in this topic as well, right?

And that's just food.  What about green products that are greener, but still just disposable products that emphasize the throw-away culture we live in?  Is it better to buy cloth napkins than paper napkins made from post-consumer materials?  Is it better to use a handkerchief than a facial tissue?  (I just can't seem break this habit.)    Is it better for me to buy a handmade dress off Etsy, or an organic-cotton mass-produced American Apparel dress, or a custom-tailored dress by someone making $1 a day in Thailand, or a second-hand dress at Goodwill?

A brand of deodorant may not contain aluminum, but it still contains propylene glycol.  I'd be happy to tell you all about the glories of menstrual cups, depending on your level of comfort discussing female hygiene products.  I can tell you, I haven't purchased other products (like tampons) in years, and that, in and of itself, is quite liberating.  Then there's the question of phthalates in toys, both of the children's and adult varieties.  As you can tell, the discussion of "green buying habits" can get very personal, very quickly.  (We haven't even touched on the ingredients and materials associated with things like condoms and lubricants.)

Anyway, I've managed to bring up a lot of topics, without really offering solutions or conclusions.  Typical.  I also only talked as a consumer, not about the habits and lifestyle modifications that likely have much more impact on the world than buying organic produce. 

Back to the ideas in the original article, I'm not sharing any of this to pat myself on the back.  I'd love to believe that my personal actions and lifestyle choices are altruistic.  But, while I may spend my time and money doing do-gooder stuff like volunteering abroad, I can't deny that I get a lot out of these types of experiences.  And I probably lack some humility in the way I discuss them later as well. ;-)  I'm proud of some of the choices I make, but more-so, I hope to share positive stories in a positive spirit that may inspire others to give.  Is this ego-based? 

As a wise friend pointed out recently, "Only the ego wants to get rid of the ego."

Ponder that one.

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