Paying a fair price
Caring about where your food comes from, the people at the source
I'm all for buying local, but that said, I think it is important to think globally and care about what goes on abroad. Food issues aside, out of pure compassion, we should be interested in the lives of the people producing our food, the commodities we rely on in our everyday lives. We should want to help the less fortunate, hard working and hungry in poor countries around the world. We feel guilty and give to charity at Christmas at the very least. But, what we should really be doing as citizens of the world is making a difference through our daily purchases. Increasing fair trade with third world countries is a better solution to poverty than giving charitable aid. In a PBS documentary (Independent Lens), it was claimed that a 1% increase in trade in Africa would be the equivalent of 5X what they receive in financial aid.
Secondly, as eaters of an abundance of tropical delights, we should care about the farmers as producers. We consume the fruits of their labor on a daily basis. Things like bananas, coffee, chocolate and cotton are a part of our priveleged lives, and we rarely even think about the lives of the people at the bottom(or top) of the chain. Despite the fact that big corporations and corrupt governments have been struggling to conceal the truth for years, it has long been established that the farmers' living and working conditions are most often miserable and exploitive, child exploitation and slavery are rampant, that they are powerless and beyond poor. All because they don't get a fair price for their product, and we accept it, seeking out the lowest price, choosing to play ignorant and eat our treats that the kids producing it have never even tasted. We would never conceive of turning a blind eye to such exploitive behavior (beyond what we can imagine) here, and we certainly wouldn't endorse it.
Activists for promoting fair trade (including my mother) have been at it for years, Fair trade coffee is now good and easily accessible, more fair trade products are becoming available; there is hope for big change yet. The fair trade label assures that the commodity was produced according to a set of standards (fair price, no slavery, sustainable practices, investment in the community..); it is a minimum. Think about it, we shouldn't need a label; everything should be fair trade. It is shamefully inhumane and incredibly lame that it has taken this long for people to even start talking, to get 1 in 10 brands on the shelves. I've been a coffee convert for some time, but it took Carol Off's book, Bitter Chocolate to turn me off mass produced chocolate and turn me on to doing more all round.
For all imports from developing countries, choose fair trade.
A must see documentary on the coffee trade, with a focus on Ethiopia. http://blackgoldmovie.com/
Top fair trade roasters in NA; they have cut out the greedy middlemen. www.coopcoffees.com
Where to buy fair trade coffee: http://www.cbc.ca/consumers/market/files/food/coffee/greencoffee.html