Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Living ethically, from soup to nuts

There are some decisions that are obviously ethical in nature.
Some are mundane and readily apparent: more than once I've come out of the grocery store and realized that the cashier (and I) both forgot about the case of Diet Coke I had stashed under the cart. That's simple; just run back in and pay. Sometimes things get a little thornier, especially in professional situations. If I'm on call at the hospital and admit a man I know from church--and in the process find out that he's having an affair-- it would be unethical to disclose this to anyone else, even his wife. What do I say if she's my best friend? What do I say if she comes to me later, in a situation completely unrelated to his treatment, and confesses she's afraid he's cheating?

Other decisions are less straightforwardly ethical--but I've come to appreciate that, in fact, every decision I make is important and has effects that extend beyond me to the world at large. The global community is currently more densely interconnected than it has been at any other point in history. Everything from the clothes I wear to the way I get to work to the things I eat and drink matters--to me, to my neighborhood, to the planet.

I wake up in the morning and have a cup of coffee. Do I have conventional coffee or fair trade? Is it worth it to me to pay twice as much for coffee that is produced humanely (ie, not on coffee growing plantations that are the agricultural equivalent of sweatshops)? Do I spring for shadegrown too and help protect the rainforest? What do I have for breakfast?

Then I put on my clothes, which I bought at a thrift store (true facts--I buy 90% of my clothing at thrift stores) both to save money and to avoid contributing to corporations that use sweatshop labor. Sweatshop labor is ubiquitous, and it's not just the bailiwick of the Walmart or Kohls brands as you might expect (triple word score for squeezing 'ubiquitous' and 'bailiwick' into one sentence--up top!). H&M, Wet Seal and Forever 21 are able to offer clothing-ish products at bargain-basement prices because they 'employ' children in Bangladesh and Vietnam--and do a brisk business, likely because the majority of people aren't aware of their use of sweatshop labor (I'd like to believe that no one, if made aware of these companies' labor practices, would prioritize inexpensive clothes over human suffering). However, I reserve particular ire for the Gap family of brands: Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic. I can't buy a pair of chinos that was made by an eight year old, no matter how cute and cheap they are. Ditto for my running shoes: the only ones I can wear are New Balance, because Nike, Adidas, Saucony and ASICS all use sweatshop labor (which bums me out, because I love Nike's pro-woman marketing campaigns).

Then I walk to work (or bike, if I'm in a major hurry--ie, I woke up late, again). I try to take the Metro or other public transportation when I can, since the car I have at my disposal is an enormous twenty-year old gas guzzler that kills a piece of Al Gore's soul every time I start it. I want to get a Prius but, y'know, money. I don't have it.

When I get to the hospital (and every few hours thereafter) I have a diet Coke. Tap water in a reusable bottle would be more ecologically and socially friendly--and friendlier to my wallet--but I am for-real, hard-core addicted to diet Coke. Sadly, there's an entire page on wikipedia devoted to criticisms of Coca-Cola, from its suppression of trade unions to ecological and human-rights abuses...so that's a big FAIL on my part.

For lunch, I have leftovers--I have doubts about the quality of the food in the cafeteria, both from a sustainable-sourcing perspective and from a nutritional perspective. There's the whole processed foods vs 'natural,' trying to find local foods, getting organic vs. conventional.

I go for a run in the park after work's over, wearing the aforementioned New Balance sneakers, then come home and shower. I have to use Cetaphil cleanser because I have crazy sensitive skin that gets all eczematous and nasty if I look at a bar of regular soap or body wash--Cetaphil is literally the only thing that works for me. Galderma Labs, the makers of Cetaphil, do test on animals--which sucks, but as Cetaphil is technically classified as a drug, the FDA requires it to undergo animal testing. FAIL for me, though I'd really say it's a FAIL for my skin (I can't really help it). However, when it comes to washing my hair and using lotions and cosmetics, I'm super careful to use only products that haven't been tested on little bunnies and guinea pigs. PETA has a good list of cruelty-free beauty products that's updated regularly; I may not agree with a lot of PETA's tactics, particularly 'liberating' laboratory animals that then have nowhere to go, and advertising campaigns that aim to save animals by throwing women under the bus, but I trust them on this. My personal favorite brands include Zum (Indigo Wild), a natural beauty product line that was started in Kansas City and makes an utterly delicious-smelling Frankincense and Myrrh body oil, Burt's Bees for makeup, which is kind of spendy but worth it as it doesn't make my skin revolt, and LUSH products, which are often organic and always smell mouth-wateringly good (scent is a big deal for me).

I screw around doing...whatever until bedtime, then take my meds which are made by big, shadowy, ethically questionable pharmaceutical companies (which I will continue doing until I'm somehow able to compound sertraline and valproate myself, on account of they keep me--comment se dit?-- not crazy).

Point being: Every action has consequences, and while it's not always feasible to avoid making a decision that has inadvertently crappy results, we can at least make an effort to be aware of the ramifications of what we do, from coffee in the morning to bedding down at night.

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