How Do You Afford Fair Trade? 7 Tips For Affording Ethically Produced Foods
A couple of weeks ago, I published a post about the use of child slave labor in the cocoa industry. I then gave over 20 options for ethically sourced chocolate and non-chocolate candy.
My family is passionate about only purchasing Fair Trade-certified chocolate (and other products that are commonly produced in unethical, unsustainable ways). Since October is Halloween month AND Fair Trade Awareness month, so it’s the perfect time to talk about this!
After all, even many “health nut” families — ours included, once up on a time — indulge in a few bags of mini Twix or Snickers to get in the spirit of Halloween (and not be seen as the weirdos who hand out toothbrushes and stickers… I kid).
I don’t believe for a minute that those families are purchasing Halloween candy with any thought about slave labor or unethical practices. Certainly, it’s not intentional. They’re just trying to come up with budget-friendly Halloween costumes!
Therefore, my goals with that post were two-fold:
- to bring awareness to normal families about where their Halloween chocolate comes from
- and to provide ethical, sustainable candy options so they don’t have to resort to toothbrushes and stickers (Again, I’m kidding here. There’s nothing wrong with toothbrushes and stickers.) 🙂
How Do You Afford Fair Trade?
Within minutes of posting about fair trade chocolate, I received a message…
Sarah B. asked,
How do you afford Fair Trade everything? We live on a super tight budget and I’m overwhelmed at the thought of changing it all for a soon-to-be family of six!
Sarah happens to be correct: Fair Trade stuff is MORE expensive!
From chocolate to coffee to clothing, buying Fair Trade-certified anything (like organic) simply costs more.
There’s a reason for the higher cost — and no, skeptics, it’s not a labeling gimmick for gullible consumers. (I’ve gotten that comment before, so I thought I’d clear that up.)
So, before we dive into affording Fair Trade, let’s discuss what items are commonly produced/grown in unethical ways and why Fair Trade costs more.
Items Commonly Produced Or Grown Using Slave Labor
This is by no means a comprehensive list. There are very likely industries using slave labor that have not been exposed yet. So, here are some of the items commonly produced or grown using slave labor:
- coffee and tea
- clothing, cotton, and textiles
- sugar (cane and sugar beets)
- name brand shoes, like Nike
- diamonds, gold, other precious metals and stones
- leather goods from India and China
- produce from Mexico and Argentina
- Here is the US Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.
It’s daunting. In fact, much of what’s in my house and in my closet (and yours) was likely produced on the backs of children or enslaved adults.
Next, we have to address the second issue…
Why Do Fair Trade-Certified Products Cost More?
You’re not alone in asking this question! I’ve asked it, too. (We’ve also asked why certified organic and certified non-GMO stuff costs more too — and the reasons are generally the same.)
Fair Trade means…
Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives. (Source.)
In the cocoa industry, for instance, workers aren’t working in decent conditions, aren’t being paid a living wage, aren’t educated, and aren’t growing or harvesting cocoa in an environmentally sustainable way.
This is the type of chocolate that’s sold by the corporate chocolate giants — Nestle, Hershey, Godiva, and Mars. Their only concern is the bottom dollar. How cheaply can the chocolate be produced and sold to generate the most profits?
Therefore, in comparing cheap chocolate with Fair Trade-certified chocolate, the results are vastly different.
It costs more to pay farm laborers a living wage. It costs more to shorten their work day and provide a safe, clean working environment. Leaving children in school and paying adult workers costs more. Educating the communities to work for a better future costs more.
The question is no longer, “What is the lowest price I can pay for chocolate?” Rather, it becomes, “Is my chocolate worth it if it was produced on the backs of children?“
I think we can all agree; the answer to the latter question must always be NO.
In the end, the conscientiously produced chocolate (or coffee or textiles or bananas) costs more. And it should.
So, now that we’ve established the what and the why, let’s talk about the how.
7 Tips For Affording Ethically Produced Foods
You understand the reasons behind Fair Trade. Your eyes have, hopefully, been opened, you know better, so you want to do better. Awesome!
Except… as with the transition from buying conventional to buying organic, there’s a bit of sticker shock.
“Fair Trade chocolate costs what?! [Insert expletives of choice here.] There’s no [bleeping] way I can afford this!”
I hear you!
Now, I’m not saying we have to throw everything out and start over. That’s unrealistic and expensive! However, what I am saying is that we can’t do anything unless we’re aware. Awareness is step one.
Also, this is a Real Food blog, so it’s outside my realm to pretend to know solutions or sources for fairly traded diamonds or tobacco or running shoes.
With that, here are my 7 tips for affording ethically produced foods:
#1 — Mindfulness
What we buy begins and ends with us. We rarely give a second thought to where it comes from or how it was produced.
Yet, before we put the item in our cart or before we press the Checkout button at our favorite online store, we can stop and ask a simple question first: “Where did this come from and how was it produced?”
A quick Google search on just about every product known to man will almost always reveal the answers. Try to look for third party sources. When a brand is trying to hide something, they don’t usually include relevant information on their own website.
RankABrand.org is a helpful website, too. Simply type the brand name in the search bar, and if that brand is in their database, it will display a letter grade ranking for sustainability. (Sustainability is one aspect of Fair Trade. Companies that are practicing sustainability aren’t often employing slaves in their workforce, but anything is possible.)
For example, I searched “Pepsi” and got these results. Not every brand in existence is represented, but this is still a great tool for quick searching before buying.
#2 — Differentiate Between Needs & Wants
Please hear me… I’m not condemning anyone for wanting anything!
Our culture (I’m including myself here!) often doesn’t give a second thought to our needs versus our wants.
We’re also often fixated on status, so we’re drawn toward trends and brands and our own comfort more than necessity or practicality.
Food is a need, yet coffee and chocolate are wants. No one needs tobacco or diamonds or cosmetics or leather goods from India or clothing from Bangladesh. Those are all wants.
When you establish how much of what you buy isn’t truly a need, but a want, it puts things into perspective really quickly.
Our family has had to re-evaluate many of our purchases based on this alone. This has been particularly hard for me, but over time, it’s gotten easier and easier to distinguish between my needs and my wants.
Sure, chocolate and coffee are lovely, yummy things to have, but I don’t need them. If I can’t afford to buy ethically produced chocolate or coffee, then I shouldn’t buy chocolate or coffee at all. My body will survive without them.
#3 — Re-Work The Budget
Whether it’s affording healthier foods in general or specifically Fair Trade items, you may have to re-evaluate your budget.
- We don’t pay for brake jobs on our cars; my husband can swap out our brakes.
- Our kids aren’t enrolled in every extracurricular activity.
- We stay home a lot and aren’t going and doing all the time.
- We rarely eat out.
- Heating our home with a wood stove instead of a furnace saves us between $3,000 and $4,000 annually.
- We don’t have cable. ($80 per month savings.)
- Our cars are paid for.
- We buy as much food in bulk as possible.
Healthy, real food was/is a priority for us, so we found ways to make it happen for our family. Now, buying Fair Trade is a priority, too.
I’m not saying you have to do what we did. Yet, if being able to afford Fair Trade chocolate, coffee, tea, or bananas is important to you, then you have 2 choices: Do without them, or creatively re-work your budget to afford them.
#4 — Buy Used Clothing/Shoes
Slave labor is rampant in the textile industry. Fair Trade-certified clothing and shoes are SO expensive. We all know clothing is a need, not a want, so what are we to do?
Pay a visit to your neighborhood thrift or consignment store!
This one practice has saved our family literally thousands of dollars over the past few years. We now buy 80-90% of our clothing and shoes from thrift stores and consignment stores!
First of all, we’re saving money. Lots and lots of money. That savings can be reallocated to our food budget (or any other area where we need extra).
Second of all, we aren’t perpetuating the cycle of slave labor in the textile industry. Slave labor is only “required” to produce new items, not to re-sell used ones.
So, in purchasing used clothing or shoes (or cars, tools, sports equipment, and more) you are withholding those dollars from the companies that use slave labor AND you’re saving those items from the landfill, too! Double win!
#5 — Cut Back & S-T-R-E-T-C-H The Budget
If affording Fair Trade coffee seems impossible because you go through a pound of coffee a week, can you think about cutting back?
If you make a batch of your famous chocolate chip cookies once a week and can’t afford Fair Trade sugar or chocolate chips, can you make homemade snickerdoodles or peanut butter cookies instead?
Buy simply cutting back on the items we use, we can s-t-r-e-t-c-h our dollars and our food.
That $7 bag of Fair Trade chocolate chips lasts longer when you’re not making cookies every week. That $11 bag of Fair Trade coffee lasts a lot longer when you cut back from 3 cups a day to 1 cup a day.
No one is saying do without — just can you do with less?
This became true for us when we cut out gluten and switched to grain-free baking. Suddenly, I was using more expensive coconut and almond flours, more eggs, and more oil to keep our family supplied with waffles, pancakes, muffins, cookies, and other baked goods.
Then, I figured out real quick… This isn’t sustainable for our budget. We can’t keep eating the same amounts of these baked goods as before because all the ingredients cost so much more!
So, we cut back on those foods. I make a baked good about twice a month now — not a couple of times a week! Yes, it was a sacrifice at first. Yet, it also put things into perspective.
We started focusing more on simpler, nourishing foods — like eggs, hash, Instant Pot meals — and it saved our budget in the process. Win-win!
#6 — Pick 1 or 2 Things & Leave The Rest
Can’t live without chocolate? (You’re not alone!) Would you die without coffee? Do you just have to have sugar in your tea?
Ok, great! No one says you can’t have those things. I mean, you’re an adult…
But, you’re woke now. You’re aware of the issue of slave labor in all these industries, and you want to do your part. You can’t afford Fair Trade everything — and no one expects you to.
So… what one or two things are absolute must-haves for you? And are you willing to leave the rest until a time when they are affordable?
If it’s coffee and chocolate for you, then that means you live without sugar (not a bad idea anyway… 😉 ), shrimp, and leather goods from India — until you can afford to purchase the sustainable, ethical versions.
#7 — Buy Local When Possible
My eggs come from friends. Our beef comes from a farmer an hour away. I pick blueberries, mushrooms, and plantain out of the woods behind my house. I shop at our farmer’s market every week that it’s open.
Surprisingly, this saves me a lot of money because we’ve cut out the middle man. And, I know where my food comes from!
Because of where I live (and you, too, if I had to guess), it’s literally impossible to buy local coconut, coffee, or cocoa.
By keeping a good portion of my food purchases local, I save money, support my local economy, and am guaranteed to get ethically produced foods in the process. So, when I do buy “exotic” foods, I have a little extra money and can do my best to get them from a reputable source.
This tip probably isn’t going to save you a lot of money, but hey, I’m doing my part to encourage local business support!
And remember, chocolate, coffee, coconut, tea, and bananas ARE a local business for someone, somewhere. So, if we buy those products, we need to make sure we’re supporting the companies who value and practice Fair Trade Standards.
I encourage you to take an honest look at the items in your pantry and find out: Where are they from? How were they produced? Do I have anything that was produced in an unethical manner? Do I need to find other sources for some items? Are these items in my budget? If not, am I willing to go without them until I can afford them?
These tips have worked for us. I hope your family finds them helpful, too, as you seek to source the most sustainable, ethical foods possible.
- The Dark & Bitter Truth Behind Your Halloween Chocolate + 19 ethical chocolate options
- What If I Can’t Afford Organic Food?
- Fairtrade: How A Few Pence Can Make A Big Difference
- The Hidden Cost Of Junk Food + Ideas To Stretch Your Budget
- US Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor