I want to talk a little about a simple question that I’ve started to ask myself more and more lately.
Where does THAT come from?
Whether it’s my clothing, my personal care products, or the food in my refrigerator… Where does THAT come from?
As consumers we’ve become very isolated from the production process of almost everything we buy. We see the end product but we don’t see how it was manufactured, grown or raised. It’s easier not to ask “Where does THAT come from” because, often, even the most innocuous items have ugly histories or environmental consequences.
Whether it’s the plight of underpaid garment workers facing dangerous work conditions, the suffering of animals raised in conventional meat and egg processing operations or the toxic ingredients present in beauty products and processed foods, it’s critical that we consumers KNOW about it. So we need to keep asking the question… Where does THAT come from?
Every dollar we spend is a vote. It’s a show of support for the practices that went into the creation of the products we buy. When we’re informed, we can effect change. We can be more intentional about the way we spend. We can tell companies what we approve and disapprove of.
Asking “Where does THAT come from” has drastically changed how I consume. It’s a question that’s enabled me to become an empowered consumer. It’s enabled me to avoid rewarding business practices that I don’t agree with. It’s taught me the importance of directing my consumer dollars toward businesses that behave better.
What can we do when we know the history of the products we buy? What happens when we know where THAT came from?
We Can Stop Supporting the Exploitation of Garment Factory Workers
The origins of cheap, fast fashion items are well documented and I don’t need to go into too much detail here. Poverty level wages, brutally long hours and dangerous working conditions… all so we can pay rock bottom prices for low quality clothes that fall apart after a few washes. Really??
There are plenty of alternatives out there that we can support instead. Ethical fashion companies not only avoid sweat shop labour practices, they strive to be eco conscious by using more sustainable raw materials. Plus you get a higher quality product. Win-win-win!
Here’s an awesome round up of 35 Fair Trade and Ethical Clothing Brands That Are Betting Against Fast Fashion.
We Can Choose Products With Less Environmental Impact
For almost every ordinary product on the market there’s a more eco-friendly version. There are many ways we can tread a little lighter on the planet, we just have to get in the habit of doing a little research before we buy.
Be aware though. With more companies trying to appeal to the eco-conscious consumer we see more examples of “greenwashing” practices to make products seem more eco-friendly than they are. We’ll be writing a whole post on this topic soon, but for now just remember to employ your critical thinking skills when confronted with a green claim. A disposable paper plate is terrible for the environment even if some marketing team calls them “Eco-friendly biodegradable tableware”.
Of course the product with the smallest footprint is the one we don’t buy. One of the most important ways to reduce our pressure on the environment is to reduce our consumption. But when you DO make purchases, prioritize quality items and take care of them so they last as long as possible
We Can Protect Ourselves From Exposure to Questionable Ingredients
Day to day we are exposed to a barrage of questionable chemicals and ingredients in our foods and personal care products. I seriously question the effect that these products have on our long term health, and I’ve started to systematically remove them from my life.
It’s possible to reduce or eliminate our exposures to potentially harmful ingredients in personal care products. If you’re a DIY lover you can start making your own lotions, creams and even deodorants. If that’s not for you there are skin care lines that are committed to a higher standard of ingredients. For more info on what to avoid read our post “Why We’re Searching for Better Bath and Beauty Products”.
Many of our foods are also loaded with substances we should be avoiding. Processed foods are an obvious source, but conventionally raised animal products as well as fresh fruits and vegetables are guilty of introducing all kinds of unappealing substances into our bodies. Choosing to go organic is a huge step towards eliminating these daily exposures. If you can, produce some of your own food! Vegetable gardening is a great way to take control of some of your food supply and you can be as simple or as elaborate as your space and interest dictates.
We Can Stop Supporting Inhumane Animal Husbandry Practices
Unless it specifically boasts otherwise, the animal products in your average grocery store have come from CAFO’s (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) aka Factory Farms. The animals raised in these operations are managed as commodities. They’re kept confined, often in unsanitary conditions for the duration of their short lives without the ability to engage in natural behaviours. Chickens and pigs are some of the worst off, kept in cages that permit almost no movement at all.
I don’t have a philosophical problem with eating meat but I strongly believe that the animals raised for food deserve good, comfortable lives. They don’t get those in the factory farm system.
There are better options out there! Most grocery stores will carry some variety of alternatives such as free run eggs, grass fed beef etc. But one of the best ways to ensure your meat and eggs are produced ethically is to buy straight from the farm. Check your local farmers markets, they’re a great way to find farmers in your area!
Here’s the first in a great series of articles from Organic Consumers – How to Boycott the Factory Farm Food System.
Don’t Get Overwhelmed!
When you first get motivated to make changes it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are so many things to change! Once you start asking “Where does THAT come from” you may start to feel like you have to change EVERYTHING.
Don’t try to overhaul everything in your life at once. Some people can maintain big sweeping changes, but for most of us it’s a recipe for failure. Changing our consumer habits is a process and it’s OK to take it one step at a time.
Think about making progress, not trying to become the perfect ethical consumer overnight.
Here are some of the ways our household has embraced this concept over the last few months.
// We built three raised garden beds and planted a vegetable garden. This is my first year gardening for produce so I don’t quite know what to expect or how much I’ll end up harvesting, but I want to learn. I want to take responsibility for producing as much of our own food as possible.
// I’ve learned how to make my own face lotion, lip balm and solid body lotion. I switched my deodorant to a natural version from Ashley Asti and my shampoo to one from LUSH. The rest of my products are conventional ones, but I’ll replace them too as they run out.
// I’m switching out my household cleaning products one by one. I’ll be sharing the recipes I find to replace my conventional products in a series of posts here over the next few months. Check out the first instalment “Natural DIY Air Freshener”
// While not an option for most urbanites, the Mr. and I are raising some of our own chickens this year. We’re so excited to take on this responsibility and feel great about the fact that the chickens raised for our table will lead good, comfortable lives with lots of room, outdoor time and a natural diet.
So lovelies, have you started asking “Where does THAT come from?” What changes have you made to avoid questionable ingredients or practices you don’t believe in? We’d love to hear your take on the subject