What is Ethical Consumerism and Why Does it Matter?

*This post is the essence of this blog and it means a lot that you are taking the time read what I wrote below.*

Hello friends! Thanks for taking the time to educate yourself about ethical consumerism. It’s a movement that is changing the way we treat the planet and each other, and I’m so excited for you to be a part of it! I hope this website will be a stepping stone for you and others to feel empowered. Empowered to live as your best selves and feel informed enough to make the choices you want to make. These are changes that are unique to every person, and ultimately up to you. However, I hope that by sharing why I care about ethical consumerism, it will inspire my readers. Perhaps after reading this you will have a clearer picture of the impact your choices have on Earth. But first a quick definition.

What is Ethical Consumerism?

To me, ethical consumerism means understanding where the things you buy (consume) come from and acting accordingly. How often do we think, “I wonder how these pants can only cost $10? They were shipped across the world from India”. Or, “I wonder if the meat in this burger came from a factory farm?”. In a capitalist society we prop up our economy through consumption, and therefore get to “vote with our dollar”.  For example, over the past few years more people have started buying organic. Businesses, well, businesses want our business so they started carrying more organic options. Go figure. It was the smart business move. The public told businesses what they wanted to see in the market place by being selective with their money, and it elicited change.

ethical consumerism, apples

How I Came to Care about Ethical Consumerism:

There was a time when I thought having a partner and a comfortable amount of money would bring me happiness. Even though I knew intellectually that peace comes from within, I still found myself caught up in seeking external stimuli. I wanted people to like me, I felt like if I didn’t bring attention to my accomplishments no one would notice, I found myself seeking after the thrill of material things. Purchasing a new outfit, going out to eat… if I didn’t have a lot of activities going on I felt bored. I was living for sensation; a lot of times without even realizing it.

In the last three years I have moved seven times, taken classes at five different schools and had four very different jobs. Every time I moved I got rid of more possessions. I even got to a point where I could fit all of my belongs into a minivan and go. (Still can!) I had never felt so light and free. Living with as little as possible started to sound more appealing to me and I began to shift my priorities. I would go back to my home town and see the excess that I wasn’t even aware I was a part of. It is not a judgement on having nice things. I just noticed that I was just as comfortable and happy as I was before when I had more.

*Side note*:

The standard of living in America is very high compared to a lot of places and even aside from that I am privileged. I don’t want to diminish the struggle that others’ face to put food on the table, but I am always so inspired when I meet people with nothing handed to them, yet somehow the most humble and thankful in demeanor. I have also seen that attitude from people who are very privileged in their live. The point is that I began to learn more and more over time that happiness does not come from external conditions, but rather our inner state of mind.

The first steps:

And so I began to work on my inner state of mind. I recognized the compassion I wanted to see in the world and tried to become that change. It’s hard. It’s something I am still working on and will be working on for many years, but I’ve noticed the more compassion and patience I have towards myself, the more I have to give to others.

I think the hardest part of finding internal peace is knowing the steps to take. Knowing where to start can feel murky when it seems like much of the world is a wreck. However, there are a few concepts that made working on myself easier. It is hard to take the first step towards change when your focus is too large and on things you cannot control, i.e. other peoples’ actions. I’ve learned that I may be just one person, but my choices and actions do matter.  To make a difference you have to start with what you know. What I am familiar with and can control is myself, and that is the only thing under my control. In the famous words of MJ, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change”.

A Step Towards Ethical Consumerism:

To me, giving is closely related to compassion. I take so much in my life from my apartment, to my clothing, to my food or my laptop; it is all stuff. Some of it is stuff I need to survive and some of it is a luxury, but they are all things I consume in one way or another. In order to live I must consume life and materials, but I don’t necessarily have to give much back for basic survival. Sometimes we give without even noticing, but for the most part I think it takes a conscious effort to give. To put a person, place or thing above convenience or my own desires takes intention. My goal for myself is actually quite straightforward. I want to give more during my life than I take. It’s a straight forward idea, but perhaps not as simple in practice.

How can we give?

So what are ways we can give? By extending patience and acceptance to ourselves and others, by donating our time or resources for the benefit of others, by sharing the things we have, by making sure no suffering was involved in the things we consume, by living in shelters that use clean energy, by growing our own food, by minimizing our consumption and waste. These (and many more) are things we can do to make a difference. This blog discusses all these things, but for now let’s focus on making sure there isn’t any suffering involved in the things we consume.

kale

Finding Ethical Businesses:

The concept is simple, but finding a company you can trust is tricky. Businesses that have unethical, inhumane or environmentally damaging practices don’t want you to know. They say they use the finest artisanal ingredients and would never cut corners, but those words are just marketing schemes and the proof is in the pudding. All you have to do is look a little bit into most of those companies and what you find is… nothing. There is a lack of substantial information to back up their claims. And trust me, if a business has truly gone out of their way to be ethical they’ll want you to know!  But be warned. Pseudo-ethical companies are smart marketers and take advantage of the fact that we are busy and may not take the time to really check to see if the claims they advertise are honorable.

This is why there are organizations out there that have created certification programs that have merit. For example, if a product has a “certified humane” sticker on the package you can go onto the certified humane website and find out exactly the criteria that business had to meet to become “certified humane”. It has a legal definition. Healthy? Natural? Those words do not. But have no fear! Get Cultured Kitchen is dedicated to helping you weave through pseudo-ethical businesses.

Where Get Cultured Kitchen Comes in:

Actually, the whole point of Get Cultured Kitchen is to help take the guess work out of “doing the right thing”. Finding the healthiest choices, for you, your family and the world you live does not have to be a daunting task. On this website you will find countless interviews discussing different ethical issues and how to guide yourself through them. What is sustainable agriculture? How can I reduce my impact on the environment? What are conditions like in sweatshops?  You can find answers to all those questions here and much much more. There is also a map on this website where you can find ethical businesses by category near you. How convenient is that?

Below I have explained five basic ideas for you to start practicing ethical consumerism. I use the word “practice” with intention. There is probably not going to be a specific point in which you can consider yourself an official ethical consumer. It is a process. The change will be slow. We can read all we want about ethical consumerism, but it doesn’t really make a difference until we act on it. I believe it is greater of someone to truly change one unhealthy habit in their life than read a dozen articles about healthy habits.  Even if just one product you buy changes you are already making a difference in your life and in the lives of others. Please, vote with your dollar or the absence of your dollar!

Get Cultured Ktchn

For more information read my 5 Tips to Becoming an Ethical Consumer.

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