A couple of weeks ago I purchased a book called, “The Better World Shopping Guide” and the corresponding “Better World Shopper iPhone App.” It is an invaluable resource for anyone who cares about ethical buying. Tools like this remind us that what we purchase at the grocery store, fast food restaurant, car dealership, coffee shop, pharmacy, department store, clothing store, etc can have an impact on planet, communities, families, and individuals. Business is not simply competitive, but can become a form of social Darwinism that oppresses people.
I’ve been on quite the personal journey in the area of ethical buying (fair trade) over the past few years. The first time that I ever realized that my purchases are connected to people across the globe, and that they can have ill effects on the environment, was when I read the life changing book “Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire” by Walsh and Keesmaat. I then got online and determined that everything that I would purchase from then on would be ethical; I would not be part of the system of injustice! I was ready to subvert the imperial machine! But, the more I searched the more difficult it became to make this a practical lifestyle. Perhaps that is the problem, but maybe not everyone is ready to become a vegan who never goes to restaurants and makes his or her own clothes out of organic fabric. (I truly do admire the radical monastic’s that live this way, but this isn’t that simple for everyone). Eventually, the fire died down and I began living with an awareness of the global issues involved in purchasing, but suffered from postmodern glocal paralysis… too many problems to make a difference, so I am stuck!
Later, the fire was reignited to begin making ethical choices regarding food when I watched a video called: “Eating Mercifully” (featuring Greg Boyd) which exposes the cruel ways in which many farms produce the food we eat. Upon this, my wife and I made the decision to do all our grocery shopping at Whole Foods. This was great until we moved to a city that doesn’t have one. Fortunately, our local grocery chain has a whole line of organic products… unfortunately, not meat products. So, what is one to do? Well, my wife and I decided that we didn’t want to be paralyzed into inaction, so we made the following personal policy. Whenever there is an ethical alternative available, whether food or clothing or other purchase, we will buy that product instead of the “mainstream” brand; and we will support companies that seem to be moving in an ethical direction. This has been liberating because we are able to make a difference by purchasing the ethical options and communicating to stores that these are the types of products that we want more of, but it hasn’t meant having to cut ourselves off from the ‘real world.’ And with this new resource, “Better World Shopping Guide,” we can make better-informed decisions about which mainstream brands to support, and which ones to ‘boycott.’
Now here is the struggle that I want to pose to you today. There are many times I am at the store with my iPhone app and it becomes easy to make judgments about others who make purchases blindly. Also, when there is not an alternative, it becomes easy to live in guilt for having to purchase this or that product. There have been times when I clearly have slipped into legalism, when the Christian life is all about freedom. Do you think that ethical buying is the new legalism? If so, why? If not, what are your suggestions for avoiding such?